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Old Crooked Neck

 We had three dogs, one of them called Boots, because her ankles were brown and the rest of her body was mottled white and brown.  Calling her Boots seemed appropriate.  She was a springer spaniel while the other two dogs were both black Labradors, Pan and Mike.  All three were excellent hunting dogs.  I liked Pan the best because she was mine and I was going to make some money off her pups.  It was my job to run and train the dogs, one of the few chores I had that I didn’t really mind.

Hiding the dummy was really easy.  I would drag it through the grass so they could find the scent.  The dummy was a canvas stuffed tube about 12 inches long with a rope loop at either end for good throwing.   I think it had some pheasant feathers stuck in it to provide the scent, but I can’t really remember.  At the end of his first hunting season, Mike was starting to get a little hard-mouthed, by that I mean that he would maul the birds, making them un-edible; so I buried some sharp tacks in his dummy so that he would carry it more carefully.  It didn’t take too many throws for Mike to learn not to clamp down.

The dummy had a second use and that was holding the lid of the trunk up so the dogs could breathe.  People would laugh to see three dogs piling out of the trunk of Dad’s super 88 Oldsmobile.

Being hunting dogs, they were kept in a pen with walls 8 feet high, made of sheep wire.  Mike was a big dog who would climb out of anything that was lower.  At 90 pounds, he was a sight to see crawling up the sheep wire and then someone would yell from the house: “Mike, Get Down” and he would.   I had to stretch barbed wire around the top of the kennel to stop his climbing.  Then the dogs took to digging under the wire.  I took two inch planks and dug a ditch, nailing the sheep wire to the boards and buried them under the fence so the dogs couldn’t dig out.

They could howl like banshees and keep us up for half the night.  They loved to harmonize with the farm dogs down the road.  Any siren would drive them nuts.  Maybe the sound of the siren hurt their ears.  So Dad had me string a line from my bedroom window on the second floor to the dog pen.  On the other end were hung empty cans on strings.  The command to stop barking was: “Stop that noise”.  Or, call the name of the offending dog or dogs and shake the cans on the rope from my bedroom window.  It usually got results and I could return safely to my pillow.  So, going on a hunt was a way to get out of jail and the dogs would get very excited and jump around in circles, eager to be out and working.
Boots was a great hunting dog who could run down a pheasant and flush it; making it fly into the air, so I could get a shot.  Sluicing or shooting a bird on the ground was poor sportsmanship and not allowed.  Boots would zig-zag back and forth at full tilt, with her nose to the scent the pheasant had left behind.  The Labradors were different hunters in the sense that they ranged back and forth crossing the scent that Boots was on.  The labs would wind scent rather than follow the tracks on the ground.  Pan and Mike could cover a wider part of the field than Boots could.  The labs were faster than Boots because she was older than both of them.

On that particular day, Dad and I were after “old crooked neck”, the pheasant with the broken neck that nobody could shoot.  Somehow he had circled around behind the dogs and they had lost his scent.  On the way back to our house, the dogs picked up the scent again and were on his trail when he jumped wild; too far out to shoot, out of range.  Other people had been trying to get him for years and the Sportsmen’s Club put up a prize for “old crooked neck”.

Mom eventually shot “old crooked neck”, but when he died, his neck went straight and nobody at the Sportsmen’s Club would believe that Mom had shot him; so she rammed a coat hanger down his throat and bent it, so the guys at the club would know that it was “old crooked neck”.