HUMOR: Hunting Cats and House Dogs

You know how it is. You just got back from a successful day in the field, which means you didn’t fall in the lake. Or shoot anyone. And you’re drinking something potent and enjoying the fire when conversation turns to the age-old question… Can you hunt with the house cat?

Well, no.

But it doesn’t prevent speculation. After all, cats are fierce hunters. My mother grew up in a small town with a grain elevator, and every night the family cat, a little calico, crossed the neat little yards and ascended ledges and gangplanks to the airy reaches high above Main Street and proceeded to murder again and again the big well-fed muscular rats that lived there.

Mind you, this was a cat so gentle she let my mother dress her in doll’s clothes.

In the morning her father would swear and get the shovel. In the yard lay two and sometimes three rats. He had to bury them. I think he would have liked to bury the cat. She strutted back and forth, meowing with pride. Look what I got for ya, boss.

Cats can hunt. You wonder about some dogs. I had a friend with a high-powered pointer that would only stay close if he kept handing out Milk Bones. That’s not a dog. That’s a politician.

The problem is, you have to have a dog, just like you have to have a wife. You can’t hunt without one. The dog, I mean. And you can’t be too picky. I had a friend who hunted with a poodle, the family pet. It had pink ribbons on its ears. The dog didn’t want to hunt, didn’t like to hunt, but my friend felt embarrassed going afield without a dog. Now, a man willing to carry a gun behind a French poodle has a pretty high shame threshold, but this tells you what it is to be a bird hunter and dogless.

It makes for some creative thinking, like the time my pal Wally’s German shorthair broke his toe jumping off the garage. The story of how he got up there involved a squirrel and a very determined dog leaping from doghouse to shed to roof… one of those stories that only makes sense if you know what a squirrel can do to a dog.

Because of that squirrel, Wally faced a Nebraska pheasant opener with no dog. He told me the whole story.

“We sat there very depressed,” he said. The gang had convened for the annual pre-hunt party. Wally’s dog lay by the fireplace with a splint on his leg and a cone on his head. Snowpuff, his wife’s little Pomeranian stood outside, barking. And barking.

And barking.

Doesn’t that thing ever quit? someone asked. “No,” Wally said. They were drinking beer. “Except he does get real quiet when there’s robins in the yard. He sneaks up on them. He’s quite a robin-hunter.”

The men looked at each other.

Fifteen minutes later they were trying fluorescent collars on Snowpuff. Nothing fit. “Drill a hole,” one of the guys said. “In the collar.” After modifications they got the collar to fit but Snowpuff still didn’t look like much of a hunting dog. He looked like his name.

“Them burrs are going to get him bad.” someone said. They had another beer. Then broke out the electric shears.

You might ask where Wally’s wife happened to be. She was in California visiting her mother, and what happened when she got back is a good story in itself. Anyway, once they finished with that little Pom they had more doghair than dog. He was tiny. Wally got out a shotgun and to the horror of all assembled took the dog outside. He pointed at the moon and fired. The dog stood in front of him, yapping defiantly. Gun shy he was not. Wally carried Snowpuff back inside.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “We got ourselves a gundog.”

The next morning dawned cold and clear. As they drove Snowpuff stood on the dashboard, all eyes and energy. No one had to tell him something big was happening. Once they got out to the cornfields they realized they had another issue. They needed to find a field with no other hunters, or their dogs. It wasn’t embarrassment. The little Pomeranian looked more like a juvenile woodchuck than a dog, and one chomp from a big Labrador Retriever… No one wanted to think about it.

“This is a good spot,” one of the boys said. “I’ve shot birds here.” They pulled over.

Everyone loaded their guns. Wally put the dog on the ground and with a yap he tore into the brush. These were seasoned hunters and their experience with dogs was extensive. But right away they saw advantages to a dog like Snowpuff. With those micro-size legs he was easy to follow. Also he went under, as opposed to over the terrain. He didn’t go crashing around, a real advantage, since pheasants have excellent ears. They crept behind, like burglars.

After ten minutes a rooster shot out of a weedy draw. One of the boys fired and down he came.

They went searching but couldn’t find the pheasant. Cussing, they circled, pushing aside switchgrass. A bark was heard. Then another. They followed and sure enough Snowpuff had found the pheasant. Wally didn’t kiss him. But he wanted to.

They collected three more birds the same way. And Snowpuff was getting better and better. He was beginning to quarter and use his nose, recognizing and working the likeliest cover, the little upturned tail a blur.

“He’s getting birdy,” someone would say. Then the pounce. And flush.

The boys took a break. After giving him water Snowpuff scrambled into the brush again. There was no off switch on that little dog. He dug into a thick patch of sumac, well out of sight, and began yapping. It became clear there was some kind of fight, and they prayed he hadn’t found a skunk.

“Snowpuff!” Wally yelled. “Come!”

That’s when a bull rooster shot skyward, all flaming red and brilliant green and curling tail. And firmly attached was Snowpuff!

“DON’T SHOOT!” Wally screamed.

The pheasant powered up and caught the wind and sailed away. After about 250 yards the dog dropped off.

It took some running and a lot of looking but they found Snowpuff. He gave a happy yip. He was ready for more. Wally put him inside his coat. The day was over.

That Pomeranian didn’t bark for three days. He was too busy sleeping.

Today when he goes hunting Wally has to sneak out. If Snowpuff sees a gun he goes nuts. It’s too bad. But it’s not the right work for that kind of dog, and Wally’s wife isn’t going to allow it.

When she got home from California and found her dog shaved clean and wearing a hunting collar she was a good sport, all things considered. She didn’t make her husband sleep in the doghouse.

A week in the shed was enough. Just in time for a cold snap.

Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little... superior. Mr. Donnelly's first book is 'The Melancholy MBA,' published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.