Tommy and Bowswer
Vercy Swamp had provided an exciting night of hunting for Tommy and Melvin as far as Tommy’s new puppy was concerned—for he treed his first, real live coon! In the meantime, Bowser had been trailing an old, cold track, and as usual, Bowser was persistent in his quest for cornering a ringtail in a tree.
By the time Tommy and Melvin finished up with the puppy, Bowser had pushed way into the country, and was encountering a few problems of his own. A deep cut, a big swamp, a sweeping hollow, and Bowser persevered on. He knew Tommy would keep up with him, since Tommy had stood the test of time. Never mind the adventures they had along the way… in Bowser’s world, Tommy would always come through in the end.
However, Tommy was at the moment frantically trying to locate Bowser, and was experiencing difficulty from the getgo as he couldn’t even come up with a signal on his tracking system. Melvin and he had begun a search as soon as the puppy’s adventure with his first treed coon was concluded.
Where was Bowser? The woods they had been hunting in was vast, to say the least. Vercy Swamp backed up to a National Forest area, and it was one that allowed public hunting. Deer season was in and all respectable coon hunters knew better than to leave their dogs in the woods past daylight… if they could prevent the same, that is.
Now, deer season was nearing its close, which meant that those hunters who hadn’t yet harvested a deer would be more serious than ever in accomplishing that end. While some of them were good folks with a deep appreciation for life and everything around them, including dogs in general, others saw dogs as fair game in interference for their sport. These latter hunters might not think twice in shooting any dog that came along so that their hunt wouldn’t be spoiled by a dog jumping or messing with a deer.
Melvin tried to console Tommy as his panic level began to reach major proportions. The more Tommy walked and turned with his tracking system, the more worried he became and the more he began to mutter to himself. How could he have been so irresponsible as to let Bowser get out of pocket in a place as vast as the one they were in – and during deer season?
As Melvin pointed out, Bowser usually came treed within a reasonable distance, and most likely he was simply in a hollow or out of a good vantage point for a signal. They would locate him soon enough. And Melvin suggested they get back to the truck and begin a wider search for a signal.
With despair, Tommy folded up his equipment and conceded this was the only logical move to be made, since nothing even registered on Bowser. He was greatly concerned at the time it would take to overcome the truck. Bowser was on the move, and in his mind, his beloved blue dog was possibly entering grave danger even as they walked. Daylight was now less than two hours away.
As rapidly as they could, the hunters pushed out of Vercy Swamp and with less than an hour remaining before the sky lightened, they burst out on the truck. Quickly, they loaded the puppy and roared out onto the surrounding dirt road that skirted Vercy Swamp. Hopefully, they could find a two-track that went into the National Forest land in some sort of direction where Bowser might be found.
And indeed, a road presented itself that looked like it should work. Tommy veered down it and as soon as they reached more of an interior in the woods, they stopped to try to pick up a signal. Melvin and Tommy both jumped out of the truck. As Melvin walked several steps away in an effort to listen, Tommy broke out his tracking receiver.
The alarm on Tommy’s face tore at Melvin. Truth be told, he was beginning to worry as well. It wasn’t that he actually thought Bowser couldn’t be found, at all. Rather, it was the circumstances themselves. Several dogs had been shot and killed just in the past few months and everyone was talking about it. No—there weren’t scores of dogs killed or anything like that, but three dogs were known to have been victim to rifle bullets, and a few others had never been found and assumed to have met a similar fate.
One of those dogs was a high-dollar competition dog belonging to a coon hunter in a neighboring county. This was a highly publicized case that was headed for court, if further trouble didn’t occur in the meantime. Tempers and emotions ran high on that situation, and everyone in the state was talking about it, and on the internet forums as well.
As Tommy turned, carefully trying to calm down and pace himself and his search, in an effort to be thorough with the receiver, Melvin strained to listen. All he could hear was wind blowing through nearby pine branches, and the trickling water of a creek. It was obvious Tommy had no better luck as he ran back toward the truck.
“Let’s go! We need to get in deeper, and if this road doesn’t bring us closer to him, we’ll have to get back outa here and hopefully find another one that can get us to him. We don’t have much time!”
“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Melvin began.
“What? About what?” Tommy was frantic.
“Well, Bowser has gotten so far in there, maybe that’s a good thing. Many deer hunters won’t go to such effort to get to a place to hunt. He may be safe just on account of that.”
“Not an easy thing to consider,” Tommy said drily. He couldn’t even swallow.
“I know, but it might be the best thing to hold onto right now. At least if he’s been ranging, he may be far from anyone that’s hunting. And if he gets treed, you know he’ll stay there for quite some time.”
“Yeah,” Tommy thought about this. “He would do that. And when he finally got tired, he would probably bed right near the tree. At least for this morning, or today. But we can’t waste any time! I’ve got to find him!”
“Well, drive on,” Melvin urged. “I’m familiar with this particular road. It will dead-end at a river that this creek dumps into, and we’ll have to turn back at that point. However, it’s worth going that far, because we’ll have a better vantage point for trying again to get a signal on your tracker.”
They drove the rest of the way to the end of the road in silence. It was understood that since no signal at all was picked up where they just tried, they might as well get as far as possible before trying again, to save time.
Normally, they would have stopped at least twice more along the way to make certain they weren’t missing anything.
And, when they reached the embankment that served as the end of the line, at the bank of the river, Tommy and Melvin jumped out of the truck. Daylight was brightening the skyline, and time was of the essence.
Once more, Melvin walked away from the truck to listen while Tommy operated his receiver. The air was tight with tension.
“I’m going to walk up this hill,” Melvin hollered to Tommy. “Got to get away from the noise of the river.”
“Okay,” Tommy returned. “I might be picking up something very faint. Can’t really tell.”
Melvin climbed up to the top of the rise, and was greeted with a view of a wide expanse of terrain as far as his eye could see. There was no telling where Bowser might be in that vast wilderness, but he hoped just as much as Tommy that he was safe.
Chances are that he was, because as they had both already realized, this was big country. That was actually in Bowser’s favor, especially if he had treed his coon, because he would stay near that place for at least the day. But, Melvin couldn’t hear anything, and that was of concern.
He journeyed back down to where Tommy was standing on top of the cab of the truck.
“You might want to climb up that hill,” Melvin suggested. “Especially if you think you might have a faint signal.”
Tommy jumped off the truck and clambered rapidly up the hill. His excitement was tempered with concern.
“Melvin, I am getting a faint signal, but I mean—it is faint. And it’s surely in the wrong direction.”
“What do you mean by that?” Melvin countered.
“It’s that way.” Tommy pointed northwest. “There’s no way to get way in there… that I know of, anyway. Do you have any ideas?”
Melvin thought and pondered hard on this question. He came up with an idea.
“Tell you what. Let’s get outa here. Although I can’t think of any roads thataway, we can go and find out. And there is a club way out north from here that is private. I know one of the members, and we can contact him to let him know about your dog being missing. He’s a good fellow, and he can put in a good word with other members, just in case Bowser might happen across someone’s path.”
“Well, that would help,” Tommy said slowly. “At least there is a place somewhere in that direction. I should be glad about that, yes?”
“Yes. And I’m even thinking that perhaps we could get in there and take a hunt tonight, in the hopes of finding Bowser. We may need to get Cole to come along and turn a dog or two loose in there. It would be especially helpful doing that because those would be dogs that Bowser is familiar with… and he may lend an ear where he otherwise would keep to himself and do his own thing.”
Tommy thought on this and agreed. “Well, do you think you could reach him yet today? I mean, should we get out to a phone signal right now?”
“I think so,” Melvin said. “Let’s do that, and we can grab something to snack on at that bait shop out by the main road. I can call the missus and let her know what’s going on so she doesn’t worry. Then, we’ll head along and see if we can locate any other trails or two-tracks we could drive on to check for more signals—sound okay?”
Tommy was all for this plan. They drove hurriedly back out from the river, and took a left, in the wrong direction for their northerly destination, but toward a phone signal, and just as soon as they emerged on the main road, Tommy’s phone registered with a few bars. He handed it to Melvin.
“Do your magic,” he pleaded. Melvin had to call home, not only to let his better half know where he was, but also to have her search for the
phone number to his contact at the hunting club.
She answered on the first ring, having been up most of the night worrying about her man, and both Melvin and Tommy
could hear the relief in her voice as she heard Melvin’s explanation.
“Okay, I will look for that number. Is it in the book in your desk?” she asked.
“Try that first,” Melvin suggested. “If you don’t find it there, I’ve got that old metal file. I think it’s in a cabinet drawer in the back room. I don’t call him much. He’s that old chiropractor from school days. Remember him?”
She didn’t, but was quick to jump into action. “I’ll phone you back as soon as I can find it. Is there anyone I can call to get a number if I can’t find it?”
“Let’s try that first,” Melvin replied. “We’re gonna stop and get some honey buns and sodas. We’ll be in phone range until we hear from you, but then we’re going to drive back toward where we think Bowser is, and chances are most of the time we won’t have any cell service there.”
Melvin hung up and Tommy continued driving to the little store, which sported lively Christmas decorations around the door and windowsills. Many places kept these things up well into January, and this place was no exception.
While Tommy went inside, Melvin stayed out by the truck so that he could answer the phone. They didn’t want to miss the call with the phone number, and going in could cause that to happen. Anything to save time was worth doing.
Within minutes, Tommy had scooped up some snacks, including a bag of crunchy pork rinds, and drinks and coffee, and as he strode out of the store, he noticed Melvin was indeed on the phone, and was in the process of jotting numbers on the back of Tommy’s recent utility bill envelope that he found on the dashboard of the truck.
As Tommy slid behind the wheel, Melvin was already dialing. He had to leave a message, and kept it cryptic but detailed, so as to leave nothing to question about Tommy or his dog. He left both Tommy’s number and his home number, and explained that it might be several hours before they were within phone service again.
“Okay. That’s the best we can do for now.” Melvin looked sideways at his younger friend. “Let’s go back to the service road and take it as northerly as we can. We’ll look for ways to get in the direction you picked up Bowser. If there aren’t any, we can drive around the south end of Vercy Swamp and go back up the other side. I’m not familiar with anything over there, but could be a road or something to get in toward him from that angle. And tonight, we can hope to take a hunt in there.”
“You mean, if we don’t find him before that.” Tommy was trying to be optimistic. “Yes. That’s what I mean.”
However, the day didn’t go quite as well as hoped. Although Melvin and Tommy found a few more two-tracks from the west side of the wilderness, nothing got them in as deep as the one that dead-ended at the river. They did go back out and then drove around to the easterly side of the forestland, but all forays into the large tract of land from that side were short trips. There was no other option except to hopefully enter the club Melvin was familiar with, so all hopes rested with the message he had left with an old friend.
They finally drove back into town. Tommy had to check in with work and he left his puppy at home in the kennel. Melvin had said he’d take control of lining up a hunt with Cole, and he would follow up with messages. None had been left on Tommy’s phone.
It was nearly dark when Melvin did hear from his old chiropractor friend. The chap was quite helpful, and told Melvin he would drive up the following morning and post a message about the dog on the club’s board. As he explained it, this particular club had a large wooden “sign” at the entrance to the property, out of sight of the entrance, but from which hunters could post which part of the club they were hunting. This was a requirement so that no member would encroach on another during any given hunt.
All members had to put their whereabouts on this board, and it was used to communicate any messages as well. It would be a perfect place to leave word about Tommy’s dog. Also, Melvin and Tommy were given permission to go in and use access roads to listen for signs of Bowser, or to try to pick up a signal.
“I’d rather you not turn any dogs loose,” the chiropractor said. “We’ll have several hunters in there the next few days. But, if you must, or if you do hear your dog and you think that doing so might help to get him back, I suppose you should. If that happens, I will deal with the consequences.
Just know that if you can refrain from doing so, I would appreciate it.”
“Okay…” Melvin said haltingly.
“And, since we’re touching base here, there’s a chance I might be able to arrange for y’all to coon hunt on the place once deer season is over,” he added.
“Just go lightly for now. Don’t want to make waves with the other members, and at this point we just need to make sure that everyone is aware that Bowser
might be somewhere on the property, and that he’s a good dog and not some wild vagabond out scavenging for deer.
I hope you understand where I’m coming from and I hope you catch my “drift” on that… okay?”
Melvin was quick to agree. Tommy had arrived at his place in the meantime and heard this conversation. Cole soon showed up with two dogs, and they loaded them and headed way out past Vercy Swamp and north, beyond the National Forest, and eventually reached the main entrance to the Buck Point Club property.
Cole exclaimed, “Man, everyone talks about this place. Trophy deer hunting at its finest. This is where you think Bowser might be?” “Let’s just hope he is,”
Tommy said with concern. “You know how big this country is around here. I’m so worried I can’t stand it.”
As they drove into the property, they passed the wooden billboard Melvin had spoken of and slowed down to look it over.
“I don’t see anything about my dog on there,” Tommy worried. “That won’t get posted until sometime before daylight, when my buddy comes out here to hunt,” Melvin explained.
“Don’t worry any more than you have to, because it won’t help! We need to push on and get to where we can try your tracking receiver. If we get any sort of signal, we can figure out what to do from there. That’s the first step tonight.”
About fifteen minutes later, Melvin told Tommy to park on a slope and check for Bowser. Everyone scrambled out and as Cole endeavored to keep his dogs quiet, Tommy pulled out his receiver and whipped in around methodically.
“Can’t help that the dogs are restless,” Cole apologized. “They think they’re gonna get turned loose right here.”
“Wait!” Tommy exclaimed. “I think…” “A signal?” Melvin was hopeful.
“Yes!” Tommy was understandably excited. “Not much of one, but it’s a signal! Can we get farther into this place?” He indicated toward his right and deep from where they were standing.
“I believe so,” Melvin thought a minute. “Let’s load up and go.”
When they reached a bend in the road where it dwindled to a trail, they stopped and parked to try again. This time, Tommy could still find a bit of a signal but it was even more faint than before.
“Well, that means we’re moving alongside but getting more distant,” Melvin thought. “I wonder if we should try to cut the dogs loose, or walk in on a trail.”
The three men stood and contemplated the odds. It was about eleven by now, and they didn’t want to get into trouble with club members they didn’t know, much less upset the one friend Melvin had… while on the other hand, they didn’t want Bowser to get so deep in the country that they would lose the slight signal contact they had managed to keep.
As they exchanged looks, a truck drove up out of nowhere. A petite woman got out, with a gun trained on the three men. It looked like the night was about to get more complicated, and Tommy couldn’t afford anything else to get in the way of finding his dog…
Continued next month