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In the south during the 1940's, hunting was a necessary method of putting meat on the table for the sharecroppers or poor black farmers who had to provide food for their families. For the gentleman farmer, however, hunting was a sport and the hunting ritual was quite different from the trapping and killing executed so well, but with so little equipment, by the poor. The gentleman farmer took pride in his guns; shotguns for dove and quail, and rifles for deer and wild hogs.
A man's bird dog was treated with the respect accorded to great athletes like thoroughbred racehorses The dog was either a registered pointer or setter and was trained to stalk the quail, wait for the hunter to give the command, then flush the covey of birds into the air for the kill. A quick marksman could sometimes get four or five birds out of one flush. Avid hunters swore by either the pointer or the setter and were convinced that their breed was the superior hunter.
Quail hunting had its own language, and I used to love to hear my uncle work his dogs. With a quiet and gentle voice he would guide the eager dog to "Steady, Steady now," as they stalked the birds in the field of lespedeza. Some dogs could never be trained to wait for the commands and would rush the covey before the hunter could take aim and fire. I loved to watch the dogs retrieve the birds on the command of "Dead, Dead in here, Jack. Dead bird."
And always Jack would come bounding back through the sage and briars with a big, fat Bobwhite in his jaws. My uncle would pat his head, take the bird carefully from his mouth, and wipe the tiny pin feathers from his face. You could judge a man's character by the way he treated his dogs, and my uncle treated his dogs very well.
After a long afternoon in the cold, wet fields, I always looked forward to returning to my aunt's warm kitchen. She would meet us at the door and my uncle would say, "I hope you have the grease hot." That meant we had been successful and were anticipating a great meal. Nothing will ever erase from my mind the excitement of pulling the still warm birds from our hunting sack, and the smell that eminated from that magic canvas pack. One by one I pulled the birds, counting them with dramatic flourish, and placing them side by side on the counter. My uncle had already begun to dress the fresh birds, cutting into the gizzard to see what they had been eating.
The hunt culminated in a scrumptious meal of fried quail, smothered in quail gravy, with hot biscuits, butter and muscadine jelly.
My uncle taught me to fire a gun and to kill game for food, never for pleasure. He also taught me that all creatures are to be respected and cared for, just as he cared for his dog and his cattle. Jack went on to become a field trial champion, an honor my uncle treasured for the rest of his life.