I grew up in a family that always hunted. Grandpa Rankin trained bird dogs and loved hunting quail and deer. All the men in the family hunted from the time they were knee-high.
The women, though, that was a different story. I’m sure my Grandmother Rankin never went hunting a day in her life. She was way too busy cooking for all the hunters that came to hunt with Grandpa. I really don’t know how she always seemed to have plenty of food to eat when there were always more men that came to hunt than she thought there were going to be. It seemed like Grandmother could stretch food and make it work. She could take a box of bought cake mix and make it taste homemade. You see, Grandpa always showed true Southern hospitality and invited the hunters to their house to eat. Anyway, that was way before the days of fast food, so unless the hunters brought their own food, they would have had to do without.
I never went hunting myself until after I was married. My husband always had hunting dogs and I loved to go with him and listen to the dogs run. One afternoon when he was going to run the dogs, he handed me one of his guns and said I needed to be ready to shoot if the dogs ran a rabbit past me. I told him I just didn’t think I could actually shoot a rabbit. He said, “After the dogs do all that work and run a rabbit by you, you need to have to kill the rabbit so they’ll know they did a good job.” I said, “Okay,” and he handed me a gun.
We followed the dogs down into the woods and before long, they jumped a rabbit and off they ran, barking every breath. My husband left me in a place where he thought the dogs were going to run the rabbit by me and then he walked down the trail a little ways. Those dogs were really burning up the trail after that rabbit and before long my husband yelled out, “Get ready. They’re heading right towards you.”
In just a minute, I heard something slipping along through the woods and then I spied it — a rabbit, running just ahead of those beagles. I took aim but I just couldn’t shoot that poor little rabbit, so I shot just behind it. “Did you get it?” my husband asked. “No,” I said. “I missed it.” I didn’t tell him until years later that I missed it on purpose. Well, what he asked was “Did you get it?” and I was not lying when I said I missed it. Right?
Several years later, I went coon hunting with my husband a few times. I really think the reason he asked me to go with him the first time was because he couldn’t find anybody to go with him that night. When he realized I liked to hear the dogs run and tree, he asked me to go with him again. One night when I went with him, we got lost. Of course, to hear him tell it, he never got lost — only turned around! We walked and walked and walked some more and finally came out a long way from where we had parked the truck. He decided to walk back to get the truck and I stayed with the dogs at the edge of the woods. It seemed like forever before he finally made it back to pick me up. It was awfully dark and lonely waiting there all alone. After that experience, I hung up my coon hunting clothes and didn’t put them back on again.
My only other hunting expedition came about when I went dove hunting with my husband. He planned to hunt on our land and he went and picked up a friend of ours that we called Mr. Jack.
I’m not sure if Mr. Jack even brought a gun along because he just sat down on the tailgate of the truck where it was parked on the road into our house. I walked out there with our little dog that we called Snuffy. He was a full-blooded cocker spaniel and I had worked with him some trying to get him to retrieve. Mr. Jack asked me if I thought that little dog would retrieve a dove if we shot one. I told him I didn’t really know, but if I killed one we were gonna find out.
It wasn’t but a few minutes before a dove flew right towards me. I stood there with my gun and looked and looked through the sight at that dove. My husband finally yelled out, “Shoot! Shoot!” I kept on looking through that gun sight and finally I pulled the trigger. That dove fell right down out of the sky and I told Snuffy, “Fetch, boy!” Much to mine and Mr. Jack’s amazement, Snuffy ran out there and picked up that dove and brought it right to me. The problem then was getting him to let go of it but I just pulled on his ear and he dropped it right there on the ground at my feet.
I picked up my dove; told Snuffy to “Come” and he and I started walking back towards the house. My husband asked me “Where are you going?”
I said, “I’m going to the house. Right now, me and Snuffy are batting a thousand so it looks like a good time to quit!”
Mr. Jack almost fell off the tailgate of the truck, he was laughing so hard. As for me, I couldn’t help but hide a little smile because I was thinking about how proud Grandpa Rankin would have been to see that little dog retrieve just like I’d taught him to do.
Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, and member of the Richmond and Anson County Historical Societies.