The Cowboy Snipe Hunt by Gary Benton
Now, most of y’all don’t know me, but my name is Cy and I’m an old cowboy. I jus’ hope the good Lord lets me get a little older a-fore he calls me home to them golden pastures in the sky. See, when I was a youngster, I headed to the country to learn how to be a cowboy and to make my fortune. I moved away from city people ‘cause I’m more or less a loner and like critters. While I did learn a powerful lot ‘bout them cows, ya know, I never did make that fortune. Or, did I?
I may be fairly short on greenbacks, but let me tell ya, I’m a rich man in memories. I’ve lived a life most of y’all would envy and some of ya would be scared of. I’ve fit wolves, bears, wolverines, and even a wife ‘er three, to protect my cows. But I would do ‘er all oveh again in a heartbeat. Why? With all of this heah jabberin’ I jus’ remembered a time, way back when I first workin’ cattle and a huntin’ trip where I played the fool, or was it the other way ‘round.
I was a young man back then, mayhap fifteen years old, and my body was better worked than my brain. Oh, I was smart ‘nough, but had a heap a learnin’ to do yet. My huntin’ partners, Slim and Zee, had taken me under their wings and taught me things that would keep a cowboy alive in rough country. Times was hard, but them two old men had the hair of the bear on ‘em, and as y’all know, that means they was tough no nonsense men.
One cold night in December, iffen I ‘members right, them two fellers decided we was gonna go on a snipe hunt. Waugh, how did I know they was fixin’ me up fer a tease! I found out later on in life there is a snipe bird, but they fer sure don’t live in the woods of Mississippi. Any who, they gave me this big empty grain bag, took me out into the dark cold night, and put me on a less than slightly used critter trail.
“Son, no matter how cold ya get, or how tired ya be, stay heah and wait fer me and Slim to drive them birds right to ya. I ‘spect they’ll come right down this heah trail fast like and all ya gotta do is scoop ‘em up in that bag.” Zee instructed as he filled his old briar pipe with tobacco.
“What do these birds look like? Do they make a sound when flushed? And, why don’t they fly away from y’all iffen yer gonna scare ‘em to me?” I asked in my innocence. I then assumed the bent over posture Zee indicated I had to use to catch the fast little critters, and pushed my cowboy hat to the rear of my head. Lordy, she’s cold, I thought.
“They is small son, ‘bout the size of a quail. They’ll not make a sound as they come, so ya gotta pay attention all the time. Plus they cain’t fly, but they do run pretty fast.” Zee replied and I still remember the serious look on his face as he spoke in the pale moonlight.
“Got it, Zee. Ya can ‘pend on me to get ‘em iffen they come this a-way.”
“Good, now I gotta go and get Slim, so we can start a-drivin’ them birds towards ya.”
Well, I wasn’t the smartest man riding herd, but after five hours I started to think I’d been had. A light snow began to fall and the temperature dropped to the point even the bears was a-thinkin’ ‘bout puttin’ on coats. I kept thinkin’ bout a cup of hot coffee and finally gave up the waitin’ game. Now, cowboys don’t give up easy, but I figured five hours was long ‘nough. In that time, Zee or Slim should have walked up to me, iffen they was a-drivin’ them birds toward me. So, I started back to the campfire, with a sore back I might add, from bein’ bent over fer so long.
As I neared the fire I hear’d Zee give a loud laugh, so I injuned up on the campsite. Why, them two old fools was a-sittin’ by that warm cracklin’ fire sippin’ on coffee from their tin cups. I knew at that moment they’d been a-funnin’ me and I was hot!
“That young jasper took it all serious like too, Slim!” I hear’d Zee say and then break into a loud horse laugh.
“Well, it’s purt cold out, but I’ll bet ya my bottom dollar, that boy will ‘member his first snipe hunt fer years!” Slim replied and then gave a loud belly laugh that echoed through the still night.
“Heck fire, he cain’t be no cowboy without a snipe hunt under his belt!”
Right then and there I decided I’d show them two old fools. I made my way down by Little Piney crick where a flock of turkeys liked to roost at night. As I neared the old oak tree, I had to walk ‘round it a few times to finally see the dark form of one against the gray night sky. I slowly bent down, so as not to alarm them big birds, and picked up a nice big snow covered stone. I brushed the freshly fallen snow from the rock, drew back my arm and threw as hard as I could at that sleepin’ turkey.
I was fit to be tied as the bird fell, deader than last years Christmas goose. I picked the big bird up and then gave a loud scream. I had to get those two old bulls away from the fire, so I could turn the tables jus’ a might. I moved up the trail quickly and ducked under the low branches of a large pine tree as I heard them a-comin’.
“Zee, iffen that boy is hut ‘er daid, I’m gonna be all over yer behind!” Slim said brusquely as he ran down the trail.
“Slim, ya knowed I was a-doin’ it and ya thought it was funny too! So, don’t be on my hind-end ‘bout that boy. Ya and me both know they ain’t nothin’ out movin’ in this weather, man nor critter.”
As soon as they moved further down the trail a might, I made a bee line straight fer our campsite. Once there, I moved behind some oaks and quickly gutted and skinned that turkey. I didn’t get all the feathers, but that wasn’t real ‘portant any ways. As soon as that bird was cleaned, I put ‘er on a spit and stuck ‘em over a hot bed of coals from our fire.
For the better part of two hours Zee and Slim hunted fer me out in that cold weather and they constantly called out my name, but I didn’t make a sound. Oh, I hear’d ‘em jus fine, but it was pay back time. Finally, I guess they gave up and I heard ‘em returnin’ to the campsite, so I pretended I was sleepin’ as they walked up.
“Cy, didn’t ya hear us a-callin’ yer name? It’s colt out there!” An angry Zee asked as he stood over the fire and extended his open palms to the heat.
I slowly opened my eyes and sat up as I said, “I guess I was sleepin’ fellers. I didn’t heah a thang. Pard’s, huntin’ snipe is hard work.”
Slim, who had been behind Zee, gradually made his way to the fire and immediately noticed the big bird cookin’ over the coals. Lookin’ at me in total disbelief he asked, “Cy, what is that a-cookin’?”
“It’s one of them snipes, Slim. When that big ole thang run inta my bag, why, it knocked me on my backside. It was Myrtle bar the door fer a spell there. I wasn’t shore who had who, me or the bird.”
I noticed both Zee and Slim exchange questionin’ looks and knew then I had to carry the joke a bit further. I bent over, picked up my skinnin’ knife and cut a big piece of meat off the breast of that huge snipe. I handed the meat to Zee and, of course, I had to cut ‘nother piece fer Slim. As they ate the bird, I watched as big smiles started to form on both of their homely faces.
Finally, Zee broke the silence with, “Dang me, Slim, iffen this heah snipe don’t remind me of turkey meat.”
Slim chewed his meat for a minute ‘er two and then replied, “Yep, she shore does. I thank a feller could learn to like eatin’ snipe birds.”
“Yep, I was jus’ thinkin’ that. Beats the dickens out of sowbelly and beans fer supper.”
I looked up at both men, gave a big toothy grin and said, “Well, I’m glad to heah that fellers, ‘cause since I was all alone out there, I could only get us one bird. How ‘bout tomorrow night, I do the drive and ya two catch the birds?”
Zee gave a loud hoot, slapped his right knee, and said, “By golly, we’ll shore do ‘er son, I do like the taste of these snipes!”
So, yer wonderin’ iffen them two went out the next night ‘er not, ain’t ya? Well, that’s ‘nother story fer ‘nother time. Like I done told y’all, I ain’t got much money, but I have some memories that make me a rich man. I ain’t gonna spend ‘em all in one place neither. Next time y’all can get away from the telly-vision, ‘puter, ‘er them video games, try makin’ a few memories of yer own. And, ‘nother good thang ‘bout memories is ain’t nobody can steal ‘em neither, so ya’ll be the onliest owner. Mayhap one day ya’ll share some of your-un with me. Take care and don’t spit into the wind.