Back when I was a young whippersnapper of about 8, my Aunt Mary remarried. She got hitched to a man I would soon call Uncle Paul, and me and Uncle Paul had some good times together.
It wasn’t too awful long after they got hitched that I went home with them for the weekend and was introduced for the first time ever to fox huntin’. Now this ain’t fox huntin’ like they did, and maybe still do, in England. There were no horses involved and we didn’t dress up in fancy duds.
Our type of fox huntin’ was more akin to a campin’ trip with a bunch of dogs, real dogs, not ugly people. What we did was load up 8 or 10 fox hounds in the back of the truck, in a dog box of course, and headed to one of a few favorite spots.
I think my most favorite spot to go was called Bad Ridge, and it got it’s name honest. The road, or path better describes it, to get to the top of Bad Ridge was, well, bad. There was ditches big enough to swallow half a truck, and if ya didn’t navigate just right you’d end up in one of ’em, and that wouldn’t have been too much fun. Oh, and Uncle Paul’s truck wasn’t a 4 wheel drive neither.
Now, me and Uncle Paul would go fox huntin’ by ourselves most of the time, but there were many times one or more of his sons would go or a brother of his that hunted’, his nickname was Satan for some reason I never did know. I didn’t mind when other folks went with us, to me it’s was lots of fun.
First thing we did when we got to the campsite was to turn the dogs out and let ’em get to huntin’. See, that was the great thing about American Fox Huntin’, the dogs did the huntin’ whilst us humans sat around a big ‘ole fire and talked, told jokes and listened to the dogs chase the fox.
That might seem a bit weird to folks that ain’t never been. I mean, why would ya take a bunch of dogs and just let ’em run through the woods chasin’ another animal? Why not just leave the dogs at home and go campin’? Well, I’ll just tell ya.
There is an art to fox huntin’. If yer good, you will be able to tell which dog was which just by the tone of its bark. You’d know which dog was leadin’ the pack, you could tell when the dogs lost the trail and then find it again. To the best of my recollection, the dogs never did catch a fox in all the years I hunted with Uncle Paul.
So why do it if ya never did catch anything? Well, that wasn’t the point of fox huntin’ at all. The point was to go out, have fun, be one with nature, and enjoy the sounds of life that you can only hear at night.
It is actually a sport and there are, or at least were, a large number of folks that hunted all over these United States. I found dog tradin’ fun. Me and Uncle Paul would sometimes take a dog or three to another hunter and they would commence to tradin’. There was some heated negotiations at times, but in the end, everybody went home happy and still friends.
Now, Uncle Paul and his boys were real big pranksters, and they enjoyed nothin’ more than spookin’ me. There was this one time, it was me, Uncle Paul and another of his nephews, I can’t remember his name, went huntin’, and once we got to where we was goin’, ya had to walk a piece to get to the campsite. I’m sure it was no more than maybe 50 -75 yards away from the truck, but it was thick woods and quite a bit of underbrush.
When we got there, first thing we did was turn the dogs out, gather up our stuff and then we commenced our walk through the woods. Now I didn’t pay no mind to the way we was goin’ ’cause I was just followin’ Uncle Paul. It also didn’t occur to me that we got everything but our grub-sacks, we left them in the truck.
Once we got to the site Uncle Paul had me and his other nephew gather up some kindling to start a fire. We didn’t have to go too far as it was Fall and there was plenty of twigs and such layin’ around. Well, once he got the fire goin’ pretty good and we got settled in, we sat there for a little while just talkin’ and waitin’ on the dogs to hit a trail.
Me and nephew number 2 started gettin’ a bit hungry after a couple hours of waitin’. It was then that I realized that we hadn’t toted the grub-sacks in with us and somebody would have to trudge back to the truck to get em. Now I wasn’t too keen on this idea ’cause it was a real dark, moonless night and them woods didn’t look too invitin’ from the comfort of the fire.
After ponderin’ on it for a few minutes, I finally spoke up and told Uncle Paul I was gettin’ a right bit hungry but the food was still in the truck. Of course, he said exactly what I thought he would, which was, “Go get ’em.” By this time, I had no earthly idea which way to go to even get to the truck, which is what I told him. He just kinda’ looked at me and then pointed in the direction we was to go.
Now keep in mind that Uncle Paul knew these woods like the back of his hand, he had hunted in ’em for years.
So, me and nephew number 2 started on our not so merry way, mine lights on wide beam so we could see as much as possible around us. Remember how I told ya earlier that it was Fall?
The ground was completely covered with leaves and fallen branches as it was late in the Fall, almost winter. It was cold and we was in a hurry to get to the truck and get back to the warm fire and we was talkin’, not payin’ much attention to what was directly in front of us.
Well, one second we was walkin’ and talkin’, the next second we was on our backs in a deep hole, not real deep mind ya, maybe 3 feet, but still, deep to someone that wasn’t expectin’ to even be in a hole to begin with. Seein’ as how neither of us was hurt, we got up and started to climb out.
The first thing my light hit was a really old tombstone, leanin’ so far back that we hadn’t seen it before, but boy did I sure see it now. I began a hollerin’ and diggin’ my way up outta that old grave as fast as my arms and legs would get me to the top. Nephew number 2 had seen the tombstone by now and was hollerin’ louder’n I was.
Once we gained the top, we took off runnin’ like two jackrabbits with our tails on fire. It didn’t take us but what seemed a minute to get to the truck, scared outta our britches, breathin’ so hard you woulda thought we just ran 10 miles.
Well, Uncle Paul was standin’ there by the tailgate of the truck, or should I say hangin’ on to the tailgate of the truck so as he wouldn’t fall over ’cause he was laughin’ so hard.
Ya see, the way he sent us was a bit longer than the way we went in, and he knew that old grave was there, and he also knew we’d either see it or fall in it. Either way, he knew we’d be scared outta our minds, and he would get him a good laugh out of it at our expense.
That’s just one of many pranks that was pulled on me whilst fox huntin’, at least ’til I got old enough to not be scared anymore.
I miss Uncle Paul, he went on to be with the Good Lord some years back, but I’ve got the memories we made all those years ago. Precious memories that sometimes take me back to that old grave and a scared little boy. I can laugh about it now, but back then, laughin’ was the furthest thing from my mind.