Downwind Of Jake
On The Back Page With Daryl Gay, August 2020
Lazing in a dove field on a sultry September afternoon, it’s fairly amazing what one can learn… about deer hunting.
For instance, I well recall the exact moment when the upwind/downwind conundrum resolved itself within my brainbox. Eureka!
See, at the time we didn’t have no deer; I’d never even seen a whitetail in the limited portion of Georgia called “home.” (We didn’t have no “online” neither, wherein I could have become a regular Dan’l Boone simply by clicking keys.)
Loved the printed page, though. Still do. And I had read all about the fabled whitetail bucks that roamed the wilds off out yonder around… uh… well, you know… over thataway som’wheres.
I recall delving into the stalking aspect, which sounded like pretty sporty stuff unless one had to walk 900 miles in order to find whitetail range before setting up a stalk. And there was one guy from way out West—Alabama, I think—who raved about the wind and whichaway it was a’coming and going in relation to a buck’s smeller.
“Prevailing” was a word he used a lot. At the time, I knew north from south and east from west, but where in the cathair is Prevailing?
Many moons ago, I’m perched under an oak on this point of trees jutting out into a peanut field. Daddy is 150 yards away to the south, Granddaddy maybe 100 to the east. A slight breeze—which I hadn’t noticed at all until this moment—drifted in from the west, at my back.
“Blast it! I thought I had ye that time, Least ‘Un,” he cackled. “I snuck through this little branch and was gonner surprise ye oncest ye had that scattergun pointed in a different direction. Yer hearing’s getting better all the time. I step on a stick?”
Uh, no. And right then it hit me, bells and whistles going off like quitting time at the cotton mill!
“Downwind, Jake,” I blurted. “I got it! I’m downwind, you’re upwind, so I gotta stalk toward you. He’d pick me up on the wind and be gone. Thanks a million; I never woulda figgered it out if you hadn’t come along. By the way, you know where Prevailing is?”
I was so happy that I was actually wringing his hand, pumping it up and down with glee and never thinking about the fact that I’d have to be deloused.
But the look on his face made me realize I’d jammed a crowbar into his gearbox.
“Least ‘Un, please tell me you ain’t snuck into my shack and pulled at my jug,” he sputtered. “Yer all outta yer head.”
Upon the instant the decision was made to explain it to him at some point when birds weren’t flying, so I asked him what he was doing there in the first place.
“Heard them shots. With yer Pop and yer Pap in the field I knew there’d be birds down,” he leered. “Mebbe you’ll hit one next year.”
But all hint of mirth evaporated as I suggested, “Check the sack.”
He noticed my Ma-made shot sack—bulging with feathers—and got right down to negotiations.
“Ont me to swange them fer ye?”
(Translated thusly: Would you like me to pick and singe each and every feather in preparation for cooking?)
“Suit yourself. We’ll split ’em later.”
He muttered something under his breath, then rambled back down into the branch and built a little fire, the better to singe pinfeathers with.
I had 10 birds—two short of a limit back in those days—and Jake slipped my mind until that final pair hit the ground. By that time, Daddy and Granddaddy had two dozen and were together in the shade enjoying peace that only a bird field provides. Suddenly, I got another whiff.
This time, it wasn’t that of an old man who took a single creek bath every July whether he felt he needed one or not. Right appetizing, this was, as I slipped toward it.
He sat at the fire, surrounded by feet and feathers, licking grubby fingers with the look of a truly happy and satiated hermit.
“Jake! You et my birds!”
Ever scolded a puppy? That’s what he looked like.
“I didn’t mean to, Least ‘Un, it was a accident,” he whined. “I had the far a’goin’ and I spotted this flat rock to lay them dressed birds on and the rock got a leetle too close to the far somehow and before I knowed it them birds was done and just a’callin’ out to me.”
He knew I could never take serious offense, so all there was to it was to make the best of things.
“Well, at least you saved me the feet,” I attempted to joke.
“Yep, I hated to waste ’em, but them toenails pokes into my gums so bad if I crunch down…”
“But look at it this way, now you can bust ye 10 more. Game warden ain’t around, and ‘sides, I et the evidence!”
“Jake,” I replied, “the problem with that is that there are two guys in this field that I’m a heap more concerned about than any game warden that ever lived. Not only can either of them tell you how many birds I have, they can also let you know exactly how any shots it took. I couldn’t live with the fact that they knew I was cheating.”
Being a meateater, he didn’t always understand that tack, but we had agreed to disagree before. Still, I held out hope that such talk of seasons and limits might have touched a tender spot.
“Well, I reckons mebbe I can see where yer comin’ from, but lemme ask ye this: y’all planning on shootin’ termorrer?”
Order your copy of Daryl Gay’s books, “Rabbit Stompin’ And Other Homegrown Safari Tactics,” $19.95 plus $3 S&H and “Life On the Back Page,” $14.95 plus $3 S&H from www.darylgay.com or 16 Press, 219 Brookwood Drive, Dublin, GA, 31021.