A Bad Hare Day?

The Jaws of Penny

Originally posted on CityStink
September 9, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The author, Al M. Gray is President of Cost Recovery Works, Inc., a provider of Cost Avoidance and Cost Recovery for America’s leading companies, businesses and governments desiring Superior Returns.
Red and Georgette were the plug-eared rabbit’s nemeses out on Owens Road in Evans. It was an age in which there was no Rhineharts on one end of the road and an Academy Sports on the other. Only 5 years separated those days from the time Owens road was dirt. Beyond  the by-then-abandoned old Owens Place, the families along that stretch were folks named  Strickland, Fleming, Thompson,  and Cone.  The term “Brandon Wild(e)” might have been figured as some punk rich kid from the Augusta hill throwing a drunken party brawl at the American Legion lodge over by Reed Creek.  There were plenty of those.
Sometime in mid-1968 a red and white rag top Ford Bronco pulled down the drive to a new home for the beagles and their aging mentor, Penny. One can sense the wonderment of those three, because the trip was not in hunting season and the beagles never went hunting with Penny, as much as she might have fancied herself a rabbit huntress. Moist noses would have been held high, trying to get a olfactory clue of where they were. Maybe they detected fresh asphalt, a smell alien to their former abode down on Stevens Creek Road. Perhaps it was the fragrance from all of the broomstraw and blackberry vines across the road. Whatever it was, it spoke of a new life in a new place.
As happy-go-lucky and adventuresome as beagles are, Red and Georgette were soon poking noses in brush piles, trying to roust out a cottontail for a chase. Old Penny was another case. Penny was a lemon and white English pointer who had roamed free alongside her siblings for nearly a decade. The move was traumatic. Penny slept every night for two months under her reliable companion, the Bronco. It was her security blanket – one supposes she figured that when that wagon left, she was going with it.
Eventually she decided to get as close to the family as possible which meant a position in the garage near the kitchen door. That garage opened to the rear of the house onto a large parking area which also served as the neighborhood basketball court. Alongside the home were the obligatory shrubs of hated holly (trimming was torture), pittosporum,  ligustrum,  sasanqua, azalea, gardenia, and boxwood. In places they were several tiers deep. Snakes, lizards, and birds loved the habitat.
The first time the plug eared rabbit was seen he was tipping around a pile of freshly-cut saplings from clearing the yard. Later it would be found that the brush pile was one of his hide-outs. Curiously, that particular brush pile was closest to the dog pens. It was almost like Plug Ear had his very own sense of daring. Most of the time the beagles ran free, but that rabbit did not know when those times were.
There is no substitute for experience and those beagles got plenty of it chasing Plug Ear and his relatives.  The next winter Red and Georgette would team up with Jinks and Blue for some sizzling races down below Girard, Georgia. Practice on their home boy rabbit might not have made perfect, but it made for very fast beagles.  The poor rabbits down there in Burke County paid dearly for trying to escape over some hill. Unlike Plug Ear back home, they didn’t have ponds to swim or culverts to run into when the chase found the bugling beagle foursome nipping at their heels.  The teamwork between the hounds in pursuit of an open field quarry was stunning in speed and effectiveness.
At heart, old Penny was a rabbit dog, too.  Our family of quail hunters had to be greatly disciplined with her rabbit pointing.  One could tell when it was a rabbit that she had pointed, for her tail would have a pronounced crook in it. If it was really, really twisted, that meant “snake,” not “rabbit.” One didn’t dare reward Penny by shooting a rabbit she had pointed, especially early in the day, for if you did, she would spend most of the day pointing rabbits instead of quail.
Back home, Plug Ear was getting more inventive with his escapes. Red and Georgette had started strategies to cut off his pond swims, runs on smelly asphalt to hide his scent and bolts through Mr. Cartledge’s hog wire fencing.  He came to run up to the house, slip and weave among the shrubs, and hug the foundation. He got by with that one day.
The next day he didn’t.
The hounds struck Plug’s trail down where he got a sip of water coming out of the Cartledges’ pond overflow. He shook them for a moment at the fence, allowing time to scoot into our pond’s far side. From there he jumped in, swam to the dam, crossed over, and ran a flanking trail down the cane break. Plug doubled back on his trail and leaped over the creek. After crossing the dam again on the near side, he made a run up to the house and tipped along the base of the wall. Then he stopped in an opening to listen for Red and Georgette.
It was in front of the garage.
A lemon and white energized bundle named Penny lunged at Plug Ear from his blind side, but the combination of pointer toenails on asphalt and one intact bunny ear provided salvation.  The gaping maw of Penny’s mouth snapped at Plug’s head, but caught his fleeing tail instead.
It was a shame that Red and Georgette were still down by the pond when Penny made her charging lunge. They would have screamed approval. Plug Ear survived.  If he were seen after that day, one would have branded such a species as a Plug  Earred Nothingtail.
There is a human moral to this tail.
 Sitting on your haunches gloating is not Penny wise.
Originally posted on City Stink.

Don’t Feed the Dead Bolted Bears

Dead Bolt from a Wildlife Refuge
Sunday August, 12, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray 

Some of the most tense, relaxation-devoid, and snafu-filled experiences an outdoorsman can have is to try to jamb pack a meaningful hunting or fishing trip into a long weekend. For starters, every guy and his brother have the same idea. The fields and streams can be crowded.  The highways get traffic jams. The destinations can be miss-booked or overbooked. Having a meaningful, positive experience is a challenge. 

The Memorial Day weekend of 1979 was like that. A small group of us: Freddie and Sandy Norris, my sister Arlain and her fiancé, Robbie Robertson and this author decided to make a dash for Lake George in east central Florida. The idea was to catch the bluegills bedding atop the large mussel shell beds out in the lake upon the weekend full moon.  We made reservations with Blair’s Jungle Den at Astor. The manager assured us that unit, B2 would be open and awaiting our intended late arrival around midnight. 

Multiple compelling emergencies delayed our intended 3:00 PM departure from Evans. After considerable debate, we decided to go for it anyway, leaving around 6:30 Friday evening. We were extremely tired after a long day of working and packing. Passengers slept in order to take their turn at the wheel. The trip down was pure torture. 

Around 1:30 AM we pulled into the Jungle Den parking lot. Mobile home unit B2 was very clearly occupied, but A3, an old 2 bedroom Jim Walter shanty with an improvised attached bedroom to the rear, was empty. This discussion ensued:
Sandy: “I AM NOT staying in that place!” 

Me: “Why not?” 

Sandy: “I am scared to death of bugs and that place looks like it is roach infested, with maybe fleas, too!” 

Me: “There might be some dead crickets from the case that Uncle John insisted upon opening in there last year. We got serenaded and leapt-upon the whole week, but other than the bugs we brought everything was OK 

Sandy: “Well, if I see a bug, we are going to the Holiday Inn back in Orange Park. 

Unloading luggage commenced in earnest. Freddie, Sandy and Arlain got the main bedrooms and were settling in when I started into the rear bedroom, which turned out to have 2 single beds. One was opposite the door and the other was perpendicular to it at the end of the room. Robbie was just behind me, when I turned on the light switch. The sight of an enormous hairy spider on the wall greeted me. A quick decision was thus prompted. 

I exclaimed: “Look what a HUGE spider that’s perched over YOUR bed!”
Robbie laughed as he pulled off one of his sandals. WHAM! The wall shuddered as the heel of that sandal squashed the spider, leaving a smear on the wall, as the spider fell limply alongside the bed to the floor.
Sandy yelled: “What was that?” 

Me: “Nothing. Robbie is so tired that he crashed into the bed.” (Not a lie – he had!) 

Sandy: “I was afraid you were killing insects.” 

Me: “We have not seen any insects” (A spider is an arachnid, not an insect.) “Good Night!” 

The wind was blowing the next day too briskly to fish on the big lake. The bluegills did not cooperate on the river channels, either. Being constantly buzzed and pushed around by the weekend boat traffic from Astor headed out into the lake might have had something to do with that. Robbie had brought his blue Glasstream  boat, which was so fast it was spooky, but he left the river respecting that the big boats of the commercial fishermen were deceptively fast.  We caught some bluegills in some of the backwater sloughs but the total catch disappointed. 

Monday morning and departure time came quickly. We were loading the last luggage, when Sandy stopped at the threshold and looked back into Number A3. “Well,” she said, “I was worried about bugs, but y’all were right – this cabin was bug free. 

We broke into uncontrollable laughter. “Sa……Sa……Sandy…… the reason there weren’t any bugs was because the giant wolf spider we killed the first night had eaten them all! 

What prompted thoughts of disastrous weekend jaunts was opening the junk drawer in the kitchen this week and seeing a pitiful collection of metal parts that had rested there for a decade. Seeing it again brought a belly laugh. It was a souvenir from the Great Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge hunt of 2002. 

The Yazoo hunt began innocently enough. As a brother-in-law, Robbie is as good as gold, but when it comes to impromptu hunting trips, he can be a little dangerous. 

Robbie: “Don’t you want to go with us to Yazoo this year?” 

Me: “Yazoo makes lawn mowers, right?” 

Robbie: “No, Doofus, Yazoo as in Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi, down below Greenville. The refuge is on a huge oxbow of the Yazoo River. Last year was the first year they opened it up for hunting – bowhunting only – and there are huge bucks down there. Steve killed a big 8 point last year on our trip there and there weren’t that many hunters.” 

Me: “Count me in. Shooting does around the lake isn’t getting tedious, mind you, but a change in scenery might be good. That’s old Jerry Clower’s stomping grounds.” 

The appointed day for the trip came. As it turned out, this scribe had a bout of stomach virus, so we made more stops than Steve would have liked, as he was gung-ho to get there to scout. Along the way, we were dreaming aloud about bagging a 12 point, 195-class Pope and Young buck out of that ‘pristine’ swamp in the middle of the Yazoo Refuge. Each one of us already had one on the wall. 

Jerry Clower put that scenario to words well with “Want to Buy A Possum?” That one could have been a prophesy for our trip.

As we approached Greenville, I asked a stupid question.
Me: “Where we gonna stay? Hampton Inn?“
Steve, exchanging amused glances with Robbie: “More like Ho-ville Inn
Robbie: “We got the motel covered. We gotta have room to bring Steve’s canoe inside.”
Me: “Why can’t we leave it in the truck locked to the bed.”
Steve: “Bad part of town. People are walking the highway all hours. Robbie about got a girlfriend forced on him last year. Lots of crack dealing. Everything has to be in the room after dark.”
Me: “Ugh. I think I am getting sick again.” “What’s this about the ho’s?
Robbie: “There was a knock on the door late last year. I made the mistake of opening it. This woman walked in and she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. We had to pull our pistols on her to make her leave!”
Me: “You might have to pick me up at the Hampton, but I will give it a try
Steve wheeled into a dilapidated old motel, pulling into a space at the end room. I went to pay the Indian woman managing the place cash in advance through Monday. Upon returning to the room I saw a problem. The door to the room looked like it was nailed back together and the dead bolt was missing.  
Me: “When we go out to eat supper and get groceries, let’s run by Lowe’s.
Robbie: “Why?”
Me: “There is a hole where the dead bolt used to be. No way I stay in that room with that door being unsecure, never minding the fact that it looks pieced and glued together.”
Steve: “Now, I’ve heard of everything. Here we are about to buy our own dead bolt for a motel room!”
We walked out the door and smack into a pimp with a couple of ho’s. He and they weren’t insistent, probably because 3 guys in camo don’t generally look like men to be trifled with. There was drug dealing all over the place.
Upon our return, I took in the bathroom and shower. I have never seen a shower stall with such a menagerie of scum and mildew. Going in there was a grand mistake. Yeah, my gas perm contacts needed to come out, but my two hunting companions got a strategic jump on me.
Steve and Robbie were asleep and they were snoring.
It was Loud.
Before this story continues, your scribe has a confession to make. I have a habit of molesting my fellow hunters in their sleep – with my snoring. It is legendary. The racket gets so loud that no one who goes on our dove hunting trips will subject themselves to it. They all want another roomie.
This time, Yazoo Steve and Robbie were so loud, my efforts just blended in. We joked later that when our gang went hunting, we didn’t go a whoring, we went to snoring.
That sparsely attended hunt we were anticipating didn’t happen. On a trip around the loop road around the Yazoo refuge there were 85 pickups parked. There were so many hunters we had to get to the stands we found an hour before daylight and then blink our flashlights in warning to hunters approaching from the main parking areas. Our stands were almost on the water’s edge, which required that we take a short-cut down an old dike, across a beaver dam, through a pine thicket and alongside the swamp. The huge crowd of hunters pushed the deer out onto the humps and islands out in the swamp, so we saw a lot of deer. My stand was in a 14 inch black locust tree that was dropping its pods at the swamp edge. A very nice 8 point buck came in and started munching locust bean pods at 8 yards. He gave me the perfect shot.
I didn’t shoot. Thinking of the ordeal of getting that buck out of that swamp, across the oak stand, through the pine woods, up the canal, across the beaver dam, down the dike, and across the field to the truck, all via dragging or carting,  overcame the urge to shoot. That buck was doubly lucky, for he sashayed up to Robbie after he left me. He got a double bye-pass.
Back at the motel, the dingy carpet was getting muddy from our boots, the canoe was nestled against the wall, Steve’s boot dryers hummed, and the mold in the shower was getting abused by scent-proof shampoo. The seedy beds and the walls, were they to talk, were getting a new experience from three Georgia bowhunters. All of this went on behind our dead-bolt lock.
With all that snoring at night and maniacal laughter during the day, no pimps, whores, or dealers were coming anywhere near that end room. It sounded like there were grizzly bears in there.
I have to be the only person I know who bought his own motel door dead bolt lock. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
The lock turned up this week. Here is the picture to prove it. 


Short Story: Fat Pitch Wood Ignites Laughter

The Fat Lighter Stump Rattler

Sunday, August 5, 2012
Lincoln County, GA

By Al Gray

An indispensable material in country life, a role that will accelerate its current reprise as the economics of energy demands, is the fat lighter stump.  Fat lighter is also known as “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine,” and other similar descriptors of resin-rich pine wood. The stump is the most concentrated area of the tree to be left full of pitch, albeit not the only section, as trees with cat-faces, like this one, are also great sources.

Our modern homes are increasingly equipped with wood stoves and heaters, creating current demand, but strips and splinters of fat lighter have been used to start fires in the Southern United States for eons. One can imagine the nostrils of the earliest Americans flaring to take in the pleasant aroma of pine pitch as they stacked their own kindling to make camp fires or cook fires in their lodges.

For this aging scribe, that smell brings back memories and more than a few laughs.

Back in 1966, my great Uncle Land Rhodes set out to find some hunting land to rent in the Shell Bluff community of Burke County, Georgia. He found a willing partner in Bennie Gilchrist, who had about 250 acres off of Georgia Highway 23. The place had a couple of peanut fields on it for dove shooting, a few covies of quail and some briar patches full of rabbits. Mainly, though, the place was situated in close proximity to vast public lands of ITT Rayonier, Continental Can, and other private lands where the family could hunt.

In the midst of the first season the clan decided to camp out in an old tin-roofed shanty with just two rooms. One room had a working fireplace. The other did not. Naturally everybody with two legs slept in the one with the fireplace, for it was a brutally cold winter.  The greater number of the hunting party was better dressed for the cold and slept in the second room.

To get the fire started, they picked up some fat lighter over around Youmans Road on the way back from the first afternoon hunt. The splinters of that fat wood produced a rich, wafting odor of pine resin. Soon the fire was crackling, the stories were being spun, and before long, the tin roof was buzzing from the snoring from both rooms. No alcohol was involved, because John Rhodes was a tee-totaler and adamant about that.

The morning of the second day was a quail hunt, with plans for a grand rabbit hunt after lunch.  John, Land, and Andrew were the morning hunter contingent as the bigger party for the rabbit hunt was still up on Stevens Creek Road in Martinez. It was a good morning, too, for the uncles bagged 22 bobwhites before the hunting prowess of Bronco, King, and Nell.

Upon their return to the camp they found that Buster, Hugh, and Junior arrived. We won’t engage in a round of overstatement about the fare being sumptuous fried quail, cabbage, corn on the cob, cornbread, and a helping of Aunt Francis’ peach cobbler, because it was mostly saltines, sardines, and Vienna sausage. Afterward came a nap in front of the fireplace.

No one was asleep when a knock came from the front door. It was Alvin Needy, a local inhabitant who worked on farms part time. Old Alvin was known to drink moonshine and he had been into it early that day.  “Hey, fellas, y’all kill many birds this mawnin?” Buster said “Yeah, I wrung the neck of one of the yard hens for Hattie Mae just before we drove down, but you got to ask Land here if they got any quail birds.” Land said “Yeah, we found a big covey, got 5 on the rise and 3 more single birds. We knocked around and got a really nice mess of birds.”

By this time Alvin was inside, peering all around. “You mens got some licca you can spare for old Alvin? “ John spoke up and said “ I don’t drink. I suspect these other boys do, but not when I am around.” “WHAT?” exclaimed Alvin. “Six white mens down heah in dis sandy place in a shack on dis cold day and NO Booze?” By this time he had rumbled and stumbled to the door to the back room. He wasn’t taking no for an answer, believing he was being put off and mislead. Alvin reached for the door knob. One of the uncles said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you……”


Too late, Alvin had opened a Pandora’s box. 16 beagles overran Alvin. Old Bo headed for the front door….John grabbed him and said “Oh no, Bo, not time to go.” Polly, Prissy, Peaches, Jojo, Jesse, Freddy, Hap, Annie, Mabel, Jinx, Rebel, Tom, Fanny, Lucy, and Missy were milling around a still-muttering Alvin. “OOOO….WEEEE..lookit all de rabbit dawgs!”  He turned to flee and tripped over Mabel. Then the licking started.  Imagine 16 beagle butts turned outward while lathering attention on a drunk.

Word has it that Alvin was in church the next Sunday and didn’t touch moonshine for a very long while.

That day was one for the books. The afternoon was crisp and the thunder of 16 beagles in fully cry carried for nearly a mile. Alvin was long gone by the time the pack returned to that back room of the shanty.

35 years later your scribe went on a hunting lease exploration up at Old Anderson Plantation in Warren County near Norwood, Georgia, much like Uncle Land’s in finding the Gilchrist place. The plantation manager – let’s call him Jim Doe – met me at the hunting camp. At the time the plantation was about 20,000 acres and it had a central area of about 1500 acres that was open to bow hunting only. Jim was very gracious and we spent a lot of time, not just doing the obligatory cruise of the roads and fields, but a lot of actual strolling through the oak stands on the property. About half-way through, Jim spotted a fat lighter stump that he wanted, so we uprooted it and threw it in the back of my pickup truck.

Eventually I had seen enough to conclude the excursion and return to the camp. We were approaching a creek bottom on the paved highway, when Jim yelled “Rattlesnake!,”  pointing at a reptile nearing the centerline. “Kill him” he commanded.I complied, despite having to cross the double yellow line, then slam on the brakes as we crossed the snake’s body. The rattler was slung to the edge of the pavement. 

 We backed up and parked. The snake had somewhat regained his senses to head for the high grass. Jim said “Shoot him.” That brought the response “With WHAT?” There was no gun in the truck. The only thing available was the old fat lighter stump. It was about 3 feet long and perhaps 8 inches wide at its base, but it was solid. While Jim was busily cutting a stick to dispatch the snake with the Gerber folding saw from my hunting pack, I grabbed that stump, walked over to the rattlesnake, and dropped it on his head. The rattle was buzzing furiously. The assault with the fat lighter piece stopped the advance toward the tall weeds, then Jim’s stick finished the job.

Jim said “Let’s take this snake back to Rooster back at the camp. He likes to make hatbands from rattlesnake skins. This is a good one because it isn’t full of birdshot or buckshot holes.”

Rooster had left camp. I was left with the snake in the back of the truck near the tailgate, as I had my cooler and drinks forward against the tool box.

The trip back to Augusta began.  When the on ramp to I-20 at the Camak Exit was approaching a sudden bout of thirst struck for one of the Diet Pepsi’s in the cooler. I pulled off on the apron at the top of the ramp, got out of the truck, reached for a can of Pepsi, popped the top, and started to drink. Out of the corner of my eye, there was movement and something red. At the bottom of the ramp was a fiery red Mustang GT, with the trunk raised. Walking toward me was a guy dressed in an Atlanta Braves T Shirt and jeans. There had been a big game early that afternoon in Atlanta. Obviously there was car trouble.

I pulled down the ramp and rolled down the window. “Hi,”the man said, “I‘m Charlie Reed. My buddy, Dan Potts, and I were driving back to Augusta from the Braves – Giants game, when we hit a piece of metal that blew out a tire. We cannot get the lug nuts off of the wheel because the #%$%$# lug wrench handle is too short to apply enough leverage. Do you have a 4 way lug wrench?” “Sure do,” I replied. “I have a length of pipe to slide over a lug wrench as an extended lever, too!” We located the wrench and pipe in the tool box.

Charlie was a talker, one of those incessant gabbers, to whom you cannot get in a word edgewise. We were about 150 yards from the Mustang.

Charlie said “It sure is hot, could I ride back to the car in your truck?”

I replied “my passenger side seat and the floorboard are filled with tree stand paraphernalia”

He said, “That’s OK I will just hop back there and ride!” The man never stopped flapping his jaws to look what he was doing.

I stammered “No…no!….”

Charlie said “It’s OK, I am not choosy.”

Me: There’s a……”

Charlie, stepping up on the bumper, lifting his right leg high over the tailgate: “I ride in the backs of trucks all the time.”

Me: “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  

Charlie, looking down in mid-giant-stride, his leg perpendicular to the ground 5 feet below: Aiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 


Charlie bailed out in mid stride and catapulted to the ground. No bones were broken, only his stream of talk.

I have that way with people. I go to find a little fat lighter to make a fire. Somewhere along the way, be it to a county commission or just a hitchhiker in a Braves shirt. I will advise “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  They then ignore me but they come to their senses screaming.

I did that recently, warning about how the TSPLOST transportation tax in Georgia was going to bite them. They promoted it anyway.

It went TSPLAT.

They should have banged the TSLOST to death with a stick of fat lighter.  Now they have to bail out and land on their rumps.

I will laugh my large Gray-family-inherited buns off.***