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June 22, 2021

Mike Wilson column: My life as a dog

By Mike Wilson

I have been duck hunting a few times with others who had well-trained retrievers. It is truly amazing to watch them quiver with anticipation as the ducks approach and then burst from the blind with a mighty splash when given the go-ahead by their masters. Through the years, I always entertained the idea of having one of my own, but I was always dissuaded by the ongoing expense and trouble of keeping them and the certain heartbreak of eventually losing them.

When camo float tubes appeared in my favorite catalog, I knew instantly this was the solution to retrieving ducks out there where the water would lap over the top of the waders. I ordered up the biggest one along with folding fins that strapped onto my wader boots. After a couple of easy tests fishing in a small pond, I figured I was ready for duck season.

I was hidden behind brush on the banks of Briery Creek reservoir when a fine lone drake pintail dropped on the outside of my spread, and I knocked him down easily. I think I should have taken the wind into account a little more…A stiff east wind blowing right up the middle of the lake was beginning to push my pintail away — it had about a 100 yard head start — as I struggled to get into the float tube and strap on the fins. I took off after the duck.

Turns out float tubes are not made for speed. By the time I caught up with that duck, I had traveled almost half a mile. My legs felt like jelly. After resting on the bank a little and realizing that the long trip back would be against the wind, I took off the tube and fins and wearily trudged along the mud bank back to where I started. The round trip took an exhausting hour. I figured one duck was enough for that morning. Not long after that, I got my boat.

I was also once a deer hound. My friend Big Jim, a retired bomber pilot who had flown daylight raids over Germany late in World War II, still enjoyed deer hunting in his later years, but he couldn’t get around like he used to, so he would drive his old Scout to the edge of a field and sit there on the tailgate or in a lawn chair waiting for deer to happen by. He was a handloader who enjoyed casting bullets and developing what were essentially rhino loads for a custom .45-70 his gunsmith buddy had made him with a Siamese Mauser action. Scoped it weighed over 11 pounds. I once saw him consult a little notebook he carried to determine that he needed 30 inches of holdover for a doe we could see about 200 yards away. He fired, we waited, and the doe dropped in her tracks.

On this day, I invited him to come to a farm where I had permission and we set him up looking over a cut corn field that bordered several acres of marsh. Beyond the marsh lay a large tract of cut-over that belonged to a paper company. There was a lot of deer sign in that marsh, so I planned to make a wide circle around to the upwind side of it and drive a buck to Big Jim.

I entered the marsh following a clear deer trail and baying like a hound. I had heard plenty of them and offered a pretty good imitation. The local deer were used to being chased by dogs since there were several clubs that hunted that part of the county. I had only gone a couple of hundred yards, bogging down with every step, when a huge buck — pretty much the Hartford — jumped up out of his bed and took off crashing through the thickets on a dead line toward Big Jim. I held my breath waiting to hear the thunder of that big rifle, and…nothing.

When I finally made my way out of the marsh and into the field, there was Big Jim over there by his Scout, fast asleep and snoring in his lawn chair. That was my last day as a dog! I was a little upset that morning, but later, when he could no longer get out, we would sit and laugh about it when I would visit and take him some venison. He still spoke with moistened eyes of once watching 9 of the 12 B-17s in his squadron go down in flames on a single mission. Now there aren’t very many of those great men left; it was an honor to me to spend time in his company.

Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.

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