Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hunting With Percy Craven

It is more than a mile off the blacktop and down a winding gravel road to Percy's cabin at the lake. The road is bumpy yet soft thanks to the Carolina Pines that litter their needles like rust colored carpet atop the stones. The frost has come early this year, it is not yet October and with the frost comes the smell of burning fires and fresh coffee on a wood stove.

Photo by Cedar Posts
Percy's cabin is more shack than home, the kind of place that Eric Rudolph the Olympic park bomber would have called home while on the run for five years in the North Carolina mountains. There is not even the slightest amount of insulation, in fact some of the cedar planks that cover the walls show daylight as the sun first beams across the lake in the early dawn.

The water comes from a spring up the side of the mountain that collects into a concrete tank barely visible half way up the hill and tucked into the woods. Water pressure is supplied by gravity and the 200 foot run down to the house.

The sound the gravel popping under the tires of my SUV quiets as I roll to a stop. The stillness of the lake is stunning in the early morning sun beams of gold as the fog gently lifts and then falls over the tree tops. There are no signs of life inside the cabin but the fire is burning and the front door's ajar.

Percy is old enough that I often fear I'll find him dead one morning and if that be the case today, I'll take great relief knowing that he passed in his sleep in the place his father built nearly 100 years ago.

A raspy familiar voice from around the back side of the shed leaves me startled and relived at the same time.

"Whatcha no good?" Percy calls out.

"Not much, just looking for the old coot, who owns this piece of shit house in the middle of God's majestic wilderness" I figure I'd get that jab in before he says something about my WalMart boots.

"I see's you wearing your fancy boots again" Percy doesn't miss a thing. "You ready to go hunting?"

"Yep", I reply as Percy shoves a Styrofoam cup of black coffee my way.

This is no big game hunt Mr. Carven has invited me on, while it is deer season bears can't be tracked until mid October. Nope, no wall trophies today because we are going to bag squirrels and/or chipmunks.

No doubt some people consider them, adorable little creatures. But before anyone gets all city slicker squeamish on me let me explain at even Percy Craven won't eat a squirrel. Only thing nastier tasting Percy can attest to this fact, is a opossum. I on the other hand have tasted neither and never intend to.

So, we won't be frying up Rocky the Squirrel today, rather those the little varmints will be "shot" for their tails. It just happens that squirrel and chipmunk tails make great flies for trout fishing.

What Percy doesn't keep to make his own trout flies he sells to a artificial lure company in Kingsport, Tennessee. He'll get a dollar a tail, plus his shipping costs.

The trick to shooting squirrels you have to use a 22 with a scope and a steady hand. Head shot and the scope makes it a rather personal interaction with the squirrel. Percy has a Boykin Spaniel named Jake who spent the night snoozing next to the wood stove. Jake's job is to run in circles until the squirrels start chattering. The squirrels sound off about the dog and Percy takes careful aim and drops the squirrel from 30 feet up. Jake then brings the now dead squirrel to Percy and the process is repeated over and over.

It takes about three hours to bring down around 100 squirrels. Percy killed 99 and myself 1. The chipmunks are spared, Jake is wore out, and the coffee inside me is now cold, so we start our walk back to the cabin a 1/2 a mile away.

I ask Percy if it bothers him killing so many animals at one time. His answer a simple "nope". Then he adds: "I guess if it bothered them they would move away, maybe over the ridge or up the road".

Back at the cabin Percy makes another pot of coffee, and begins sorting the tails, selecting the best for himself. The others are put in zip lock bags, boxed and labled to an address in Kingsport and before I know it we are headed the the post office.

We drive along in silence until Percy speaks: "Whatcha thinking about".

"Dead squirrels" I answer.

"I see, well if you're worrying about a giant mother squirrel that is gonna come charging out of the woods after us, forget about it, I shot her last year right between the eyes. Dropped her dead in her tracks back there a spell."

I play along, "What if there's another one?"

Percy holds up a large hand gun: "That's why I brought this along, you never know."

We round the turn, crest a ridge and and the road swings down and to the right, and in the clearing ahead is a lone buck. The buck stands his ground no more than ten feet from the edge of the road.

I slow down to a crawl and the buck stays put. Sixteen point bucks are rare this close to town and I look to Percy as I stop the truck. It is broad daylight at least a mile from anyone. It is deer season. Percy Craven could step out of the truck walk along the road 20 yards and with one shot have the biggest deer of his life.

The stands perfectly still, looking right at us and the truck. I look at Percy and he looks at the buck. Then without waring Percy speaks up:

"Guess we better go",  and he reaches across the cab of the truck and taps the horn. The sound sends the buck "tail high" and snorting into the woods.

I look at Percy like he's lost his mind, and he just shakes his head and says, "some other day".

We drive on to the Post Office in silence.


Anonymous said...

Just no way I would have passed on a 16 point buck in season. He would have been gutted before you could say drive by.

Anonymous said...

So what is your point, that the old redneck should have killed the deer? Should have broken the law just to collect the head for some wall? Sick just sick.

I hope you get help