From around the corner he came, a big black and white dog. My brother and I didn’t know it then, but Butch would be the best squirrel dog we ever owned.
Butch hated bedsheets. Actually, the reason I was able to purchase the world’s greatest hunting dog was because of Butch’s hatred of bedsheets. The saga of Butch began when my older brother, Archie, and I became lost on a squirrel hunting trip. We weren’t lost. We were just sort of misdirected. When we climbed up a small ridge to try to shoot a bushytail out of the top of a tall tree, we found ourselves standing with guns loaded in a farmer’s backyard. However, the farmer was a pleasant sort. When we explained our dilemma, he offered us a glass of ice water to drink and showed us his trick horse, which could count, take a bow, roll over and play dead on command. We were thoroughly impressed.
“By the way, you don’t know anybody who might have a good squirrel dog?” my brother asked.
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do,” the farmer answered. “I know where there’s the finest squirrel dog in the world, and he’s for sale today. If it hadn’t been for him pulling all of my wife’s bedsheets off the clothesline and dragging them through the mud this morning, there wouldn’t be enough money on Earth to buy this dog. But when my wife saw those sheets, she informed me that either the dog went or she did.”
“Well, what will you take for the dog?” asked my brother.
The farmer said,“Butch is worth $100, but if you boys strike a bargain today, I’ll let you have him for $50, because that dog needs hunting.”
“If you can wait until Monday,” Archie told him. “we’ll return with my dad and try the dog out. If he’s as good as you say, we’ll buy him. Let’s take a look at him.”
“Heah, Butch,” the farmer hollered.
From around the corner came a relatively-big, barrel-chested black-and-white patched dog. Because the dog was much bigger than most squirrel dogs we were accustomed to seeing, we questioned the man as to the dog’s heritage. He explained that Butch was half birddog and half bulldog. After examining the dog, I believed his pedigree could have been traced to more than two lines. But the dog would sit, stay and shake hands-all of which impressed me. You could just tell he was well-disciplined and smart.
“Butch will point quail; however, he doesn’t hold them very well,” the farmer explained. “And, he likes to run rabbits, but he really favors treeing squirrels. I think he will make a topnotch squirrel dog. With just a little work, you can probably make him solid on quail and use him to hunt rabbits. Why he may even be a duck dog! Watch this.” The farmer picked-up a large stick and threw it. Unmoved, the dog watched the stick hit the ground. Then the farmer said “Skittit, Butch!” Like a coiled spring, Butch burst into action, retrieved the stick, sat down in front of the farmer and waited for him to take the stick, just like a Labrador retriever. That was the moment I fell in love with Butch. That dog could already do more tricks than any dog I’d ever had. We told the farmer that we’d meet him on the next day and bring our dad to try the dog out on squirrels. All the way home, Butch was all my brother and I could talk about, we were so excited.
But when we got home, Pop said, “I don’t really know if a dog is worth $50.” In 1963, $50 was a high price to pay for any kind of animal, particularly a squirrel dog. “I’ve got $25, Pop, that I made from selling honey, and I’ll buy half the dog,” I said. My brother, who never could let me get the best of him, insisted that he pay the other $25. Pop wouldn’t be out any money, and we promised to let Pop hunt with us and Butch, which made buying Butch an even-better deal for Pop. “I’ll go look at this dog with you tomorrow,” Pop said. “If he’s everything you say, you can buy him.” On the following day, Butch passed the test, and a love affair between three men and a dog began.
Every Saturday during squirrel season, my dad, my brother and I went to the woods with Butch, one of the most amazing hunting dogs in history. The men in our family could best be defined as scrounge hunters, because we bagged whatever game hopped up and was in season. Butch fit right into our hunting program. Eventually we learned to communicate with Butch and to explain to him what we were hunting. For instance, when we went squirrel hunting, we’d go into the woods, look up into the trees and shake vines growing on the sides of trees. That was Butch’s signal to be a pure squirrel dog, and there was nothing finer. Not only did we never catch Butch lying about which tree the squirrel was in, but we rarely were able to lead Butch away from a tree, after we took one squirrel there, if the dog was certain another squirrel was there. Butch also developed a passionate hatred for squirrels, and I remember the day it happened. Up until that time, the dog only had had a minor dislike of tree rats. As a matter of fact, squirrel hunting was a game for him. He’d run a squirrel up a tree and bark until we arrived at the tree. Then, when we shot the squirrel out of the tree, Butch played outfielder. He’d watch the squirrel come tumbling from the treetop and run to position himself, to catch the squirrel before it hit the ground. He’d shake the squirrel like a rag doll. Then, with his head held high, he’d march over to us like a proud drum major and drop the bushytail in to our waiting hands.
This process was followed through the first squirrel season we owned Butch. Then one morning we were deep in a river swamp, when Butch treed a big boar squirrel in the top of a high beech tree. Because the tree was so tall, and the squirrel was holding tightly to a large limb at the top, our 12-gauges spitting No. 6 shot didn’t inflict as much damage as they normally would. And when that particular squirrel decided to leave the top of that beech tree, he came down with his tail straight up, his feet straight out and his mouth wide open, like a paratrooper ready to do battle. As soon as that squirrel landed in Butch’s mouth, the first thing that squirrel did was sink his front teeth in the dog’s nose. This time was the first time I’d ever seen a squirrel attack Butch, and also the first time I could remember Butch not being in total control of a squirrel hunting situation. For a minute, the dog was dazed, and the squirrel kept gnawing on the poor critter’s nose. But then Butch was transformed, much like Clark Kent (Superman in disguise). He gathered his composure, flipped the scrappy bushytail into the air and caught it head-first between his jaws. With one quick crunch, Butch put the squirrel’s lights out. But he never forgot that nose gnawing and developed a violent hatred for squirrels that never left him.
I’ll never forget the day when my brother and I disappointed Butch the most. Butch had treed a squirrel. In the process of our attempting to shoot it, the squirrel bailed out of the tree where it was hiding into a small sapling that had a hole in it about six feet off the ground. When the squirrel landed on that sapling and went in that hollow hole, Butch got excited and began to bark. My brother and I decided we could get the squirrel out of that hole, if we tied Butch to another tree to keep him out of our way – which we did. “I know how we’re going to get that squirrel out of that hole,” my brother, who always had known and always would know more than me, said with a big smile on his face. “We’re going to twist him out.”
The twist’em out tactic is useful for recovering wounded squirrels that crawl into hollow trees. Using a long, green, forked limb, you stick the limb into a hole and twist until you get the squirrel’s tail tangled in the stick. Then you simply pull the stick out of the hole and the squirrel with it; it’s an effective method of retrieving squirrels that are mortally wounded. My wise, older brother stated, “I’ve got that squirrel, and he’s coming out.” While Archie pulled, I looked at Butch with his head cocked over to one side, and his ears pushed forward, trying to figure out what was happening. Finally, as Archie had predicted, the squirrel came out of the hole. But the agitated creature jumped into Archie’s chest, ran around his body, up the back of his neck and sprung off his head into a nearby tree. Although the episode only lasted a fraction of a second, at least 10 minutes passed before I could stop laughing. When we looked over at Butch, the dog continued to cock his head to one side and then the other, as if asking, “Now what are you two going to do next?” When we unhooked Butch off his leash, instead of racing off into the woods to hunt, he walked beside us, looking up at us often with his questioning eyes. When we patted him on the head and talked to him, he gave us a reassuring look that let us know that he never would mention the incident to anyone.
I later bought out my brother’s interest in the dog and when the time came for me to go to college, I took Butch with me. However, after keeping him in the closet of my dormitory room while I was in class so I could hunt Butch in the mornings and afternoons, my roommate had had enough of Butch. I had to take Butch back home. Once I married and had an apartment where I could keep Butch, he stayed with us during hunting season. One of the advantages that Butch had was that he knew where to look for each type of game every time we hunted together on 8,500 acres in the Tombigbee River swamps of west-central Alabama. We generally hunted four times a week. No one else hunted the property, except on the weekends. That dog and I knew the Tombigbee Hunting Club better then we knew where we slept. On the club, we had five coveys of quail spotted. Butch and I had identified the routes they took in the mornings to move from their bedding sites to their feeding sites. Once we moved to the edge of the field where the coveys lived, Butch and I both understood he should pick up the scent of each of those coveys. When he smelled quail, he knew exactly what to do, and he’d follow that scent until he got close to the covey. He’d stand as still as a granite statue, until I reached where he waited, flushed the quail and then shot. When he heard the fluttering wings of the birds in the air, the shot and my saying, “Get ‘em, Butch,” he knew to hunt for the downed quail.
If I took Butch to the edge of the water and told him to sit still beside me, he understood he was to look skyward for incoming waterfowl, while I shot. The words, “Get ‘em, Butch,” meant he was to hit the water, go get a duck and bring it to where I waited. If I said, “Get ‘em, Butch” again, the dog knew to make a second retrieve. If I shot but didn’t say, “Get ‘em, Butch,” he’d look straight at me and cock his head to the left and then to the right as if to say, “I can’t believe you missed those ducks.” When we went out to the fields, and I started kicking and stomping brush, or if we went into briars and other thick cover, then Butch knew that rabbits were our game. He’d find them by the scent they left behind. Small beagle dogs would stay low and push through the cover for rabbits, but because Butch was a big dog, he’d jump into those briars with all the enthusiasm of a Special Forces soldier jumping out of a high-flying airplane. As the rabbit came out of the cover, Butch would run that bunny like a thoroughbred racehorse in the Kentucky Derby, until he brought the rabbit full circle, and Butch heard me shoot. If I didn’t shoot then, Butch once more would stop in front of me and cock his head to one side or the other as if to say, “I can’t believe you didn’t see that rabbit! Now I’ve got to run it another circle.”
After hunting season each year, Butch would return to my parents to be their companion for 6-7 months, until hunting season started once more. One summer when Butch was 9 or 10 years old, he went to the beach with my parents. While on his nightly constitutional, Butch jumped an armadillo and gave chase, because hunting was just in his nature. He never returned home. I don’t know what happened to ol’ Butch. I believe God’s in His heaven, but it won’t be heaven for me, my dad or my brother if Butch isn’t there.