PARRIS ISLAND DUCK HUNTERS
Sport Retrieves for the Trespassing Poachers
It was the late summer of 1965 at Parris Island and South Carolina duck hunting season was just a few months ahead. Maybe I could find some inland ponds or lakes to hunt over from a blind instead of jump shooting on the banks of the Broad River and the tidelands like previous years. I was tired of recovering my ducks from the muddy banks and inlets using chest waders that were always a quarter inch too short. A couple of times sloshing out to retrieve a duck my shotgun carried in both hands waist high had saved me from sinking over my head in the muck left by a receding eight foot tide. The Charleston paper advertised six week old Springer Spaniel puppies for sale. Fifty dollars seemed high but if the pup became the natural retriever reputed for all South Carolina Springer Spaniels, the price would be cheap.
The Depot Dentist, Jim Romero, was my next door neighbor. His wife was out of town and my wife and kids were away for two weeks so I asked Jim if he wanted to accompany me up to Charleston to pick out a pup. It was late Sunday afternoon when we arrived at the house advertising the pups. The owner was not at home but the black housekeeper let us in and took us to the pups. One black and white male was a third larger than the rest of the pups. The big boy was laid back watching the squealing and jumping around of his smaller brothers and sisters. Looking into that pup's face I could see an intelligent, fearless, confident and pleasant Can-do, Will-do dog. Without picking up any pups, I immediately said, "I want that big black and white male."
Jim was not as impressed with my choice. "He looks kind of fat and lazy to me. Maybe he is a bully that pushes the other pups out of the way. Otherwise how did he get so big?"
The housekeeper commenced wailing, "I wuz fraid you'd take him! That dawg is my favrette! I shore wuz hoping no one would buy him." The elderly black woman had a tear running down each cheek as she lamented, "I'm shore gonna miss that sweet boy!"
Jim held the sleeping pup on his lap during the drive home. It was dark when we got back but the pup eagerly checked out the yard. Jim carried him into the house and I laid some newspaper on the kitchen floor near the back door. We created a barrier out of chairs and toys to keep the pup on the paper. Jim and I had a couple of beers before he went home. We discussed how the pup might be ready to retrieve ducks by Christmas. Unlike other pups, ours had not whined once since we got him. We decided "Sport" would be a fine name for our dog.
Early Monday morning I took Sport to Parris Island with me. In the dim light Sport could see birds flying over and raised up on his hind legs as though wanting to fly with the birds. He sure had the look of a natural. I took him to my office on the second floor of the main K Company barracks building. I tied a length of twine to his new collar and put a bowl of water on plenty of newspaper between my desk and my CDI's desk. Master Gunnery Sergeant Nolan Henry entered the room and immediately spotted the pup. He grumbled, "I'm just an old country ass but I know that dogs don't belong in a recruit barracks."
"This is only temporary. The wife and kids are on vacation with her parents. I figured it was best to keep the pup with me." Top snorted, jammed his Smokey Bear hat back on his head and slammed the door on his way out.
A tremendous thunderstorm had passed through during the night. K Company had been asked to police up the limbs and debris that the trash-moving storm had deposited on the parade deck across the street. I walked over to see if the recruits were leaving anything. Dozens of seagulls were screeching and wading about in the puddles of standing water. A half dozen recruits were picking up trash around the bleachers. I recognized a stranger amid the seagulls. "Privates!" I shouted. "Go fetch me that duck from the parade deck." My finger pointed the direction to the duck. The recruits splashed around scattering the seagulls but did not spot the duck. Finally, after much prompting they saw the duck, ran it down and caught it. They came splashing over to me with a Blue Winged Teal while trying to salute, march at attention, report, carry the duck and halt, all at the same time. I returned the salute, took the Teal and dismissed the recruits.
While carrying the duck toward my company buildings, I was elated. The duck's wings were singed apparently from lightening and its bill was bent up 90 degrees as though having plowed into the asphalt with the beak taking the brunt of the high speed collision. I had just gotten a hunting dog and here was a full sized grounded duck for him to practice retrieving. I tied a piece of twine around the duck's leg and put him across the room from the pup. The string length kept the critters apart. I went over to the mess hall and acquired a cup of rice for the duck. I filled the rice bowl with water. The badly bent bill would never work for eating so I bent and worked the damaged bill back to a nearly normal position while the duck squawked and flapped its shortened wings. Sport was straining at the twine to join me and the duck.
Each time I returned to the company office, I would go to the duck, grasp its head and force its beak into the rice bowl to encourage the duck to drink and eat the rice. Every one to two hours I would return and perform the rice ritual. Finally, at the end of the day, I entered the room and the duck ran for the rice bowl and stuck his beak into the water while looking up at me with sad, pleading eyes. It was a huge surprise to find such quick learning capability in a duck. I hoped Sport was also a fast learner.
That evening I put the duck under the air conditioning unit near the backdoor of my quarters at Laurel Bay with a line on his leg to keep the duck from running off to be killed by cats or wild creatures. Our house was across the street from hundreds of acres of forest and swamp. I built a dog house for Sport on the other side of the back door with a clothesline rope to keep him from straying. The duck would run under the AC unit to escape the retriever so all was good with the world.
The family returned from vacation and found the beautiful pup and a scorched duck. Being eight and six, the boys enjoyed playing with the animals. In a month the duck appeared healthy and had all the wing feathers looking flyable. My wife was eager to get the duck and his deposits away from the back door. Sport and I took the duck across the street to the nearest pond in the woods. I released the Teal. The duck flew about 50 feet away into the middle of the pond and alit amongst the lily pads and coots. Sport had to be restrained to keep him from jumping into the pond to retrieve the duck.
Deer season was in so I took my 30-30 carbine and sport into to the woods to try our luck. We had been in the woods less than an hour when I turned toward a bounding noise and saw an antlered deer running only 40 feet away. As a kid hunting cottontail rabbits with a .22 rifle, I was accustomed to shooting game on the run. But I learned to stop the rabbit just long enough to get a shot off for a clean kill rather than take a chance on missing or wounding the rabbit. I would whistle, "Tweet. Tweet. Tweet. Tweet." in a rhythmic sequence. I whistled at the deer just like it was a rabbit. The deer stopped and looked at me. Sport stopped and looked at me with his right front paw in the air. I raised my rifle to a between the eyes shot on the deer when out of the corner of my left eye I saw a movement six inches in front of the pup. I glanced over and saw it was a good sized coiled copperhead snake. Decision time. I knew the young dog would start when I shot the deer and I knew the copperhead would strike with his movement. I moved the rifle 45 degrees to the left and sighted in on the snakes head. When the shot rang out, the snake's head exploded, Sport sprang straight up and the deer crashed away into the underbrush. I took the Copperhead home and showed it to the boys for them to recognize in the future and told them how I had saved the dog instead of choosing the prize deer.
Duck Season arrived and Sport was about 7 months old. The previous year I had found an island on the opposite side of the Broad River which had been dammed on both ends to form a pond where ducks were plentiful. Jim Romero, the Navy Dentist, and a Parris Island Lawyer JAG Officer had asked to go duck hunting with me. Jim wanted to see how Sport would do as a retriever. So, I invited them to accompany me on my first trip to the island across the river. At daylight, I was hooking up the boat trailer to the car and loading the shotguns and ammo into the boat. Chris, my six year old son, got up, dressed, and followed me outside on my several trips. When I started to drive off, he began crying and begging to go. He was six years old and was an obedient and trustworthy little guy so I told my wife, I would take him with me. No more crying.
Jim and JAG met me at the boat ramp. They weren't happy about Chris being with us but couldn't reverse my decision. We briefed on approaching the Island in the center. Jim would go around the left side of the island and take a position on the bank of the dike while JAG would go around the right side and prepare to shoot ducks flying out over his embankment. We launched the boat and went directly across the river to the small island. I tied the boat up to a stump on land with a sign that read "No Trespassing." I briefed little Chris to stay in the boat driver's seat and not move until we returned. Sport and I headed into the center of the Island as Jim went south and JAG went north. In order not to spook the ducks early, I crawled and duck walked through brush and bushes the 100 yards down to the edge of the pond. Peeking through the reeds and bushes, I could see several mallards and canvas backs on the pond. When fairly sure the other two hunters were at their dikes ready to shoot, I let go of Sport's collar and stood up. Up rose about forty ducks, their wings beating furiously as they turned in the direction of both dikes. "Blam! Blam! Blam!" I brought down three ducks. Sport leaped into the pond heading for the nearest duck. I quickly reloaded. As I walked to my right where a dead duck was within reach, a Woodcock flushed and I shot it too. "Blam!" There had been no other guns firing so I figured my companions had been surprised.
I was taking a duck from Sport's mouth when three smoky bear hats on badge toting uniforms came toward me saying, "No more shooting." The lead officer said, "We'll take your shotgun now. Show us your license and duck stamp." The badges read "Deputy Sheriff, Jasper County." While they were ejecting shells from my Semi-automatic shotgun, Jim Romero was steered into the group from the south by a deputy and JAG appeared from the north side with a deputy. A total of five lawmen were arresting us while perhaps more were still in the woods with their guns ready in case of a problem. It seemed strange to me that on that particular morning about half of the Jasper County Sheriff's Department were on a small strip of land in the Broad River of South Carolina arresting some duck hunters--or should I say "poachers."
The senior deputy wrote down our names, addresses and duty station. He then said we were under arrest and would be taken to the Jasper County Jail for arraignment. I said, "We can't go to the County Jail with you. My young son is still on the boat and we can't leave him and we don't want to leave the cabin cruiser to the mercy of the tides." I continued. "What are the charges anyway?'
The deputy said, "Trespassing for all three of you and no winter 65/66 duck license for this shooter." He pointed at JAG.
I said, "Neither of my two companions shot a single round at any ducks, so no one has violated any duck stamp law."
The senior deputy said, "If you can post fifty dollars bond apiece for trespassing, we won't take you to jail. You can show up on the court date." None of us had more than five dollars..
"Why don't you take our guns as bond. We're officers at MCRD Parris Island. You can trust us to show up at court." I offered. The deputy looked at the three of us and said, "It's a deal. But only because of the kid."
Monday morning we went to our jobs at Parris Island. It was mid morning when the call came down from the Commanding General's secretary. Report at once to General Masters office. I called up JAG and Jim Romero. They had already been notified. The Jasper County Sheriff had wasted no time in contacting the CG. I quickly switched to my winter service alpha greens and headed for the depot headquarters building. When I entered the secretary's office, Jim and JAG were already there. The secretary told us to report to the General. The three of us marched into his office, stopped in front of his desk, executed a left face and individually reported, "Captain Cathcart reporting as ordered, Sir." I said.
General Masters commenced chewing heavily on JAG and Jim Romero. He scarcely looked at me. As he hammered away at the lawyer and the dentist I felt neglected when I was the real culprit. The first deep breath the general took, I interrupted him by saying, "Excuse me General Masters, Sir. These two officers were my guests. I invited them to go hunting with me in my boat. I selected the place we would hunt and I violated the no trespassing restriction. I shot the ducks and woodcock and I am totally responsible for all that happened."
General Masters said, "You chose to trespass on the private land of the Head of the South Carolina Department of Transportation. You invaded his personal duck hunting property. He wants no more violations by military personnel. Stay off of posted property. Dismissed!"
During inspection of troop drill that afternoon, I watched a South Carolina Highway Patrol car drive past the grinder from the direction of the main gate and continue on towards the Depot Headquarters. Five minutes later the highway patrol car went back towards the main gate. A few minutes later the Company Runner ran up to me, reported, and said General Masters secretary called for me to come back to his office. I hurried to to his office. He had softened slightly, "I am angry that the Sheriff of Jasper County did not trust my officers to report on a court date and took your shotguns as bail to insure you would report to court. I demanded that he drop the charges against my officers and return the shotguns to me and I would handle the discipline of my officers."
General Master stood up, reached into his wall locker and pulled out three shotguns. He held up my shotgun and said, "Whose is this? There's rust on it."
I said, "It's mine, General."
General Masters said, "Get that rust off of your shotgun right away. Stay off of posted property. Give the other hunters their shotguns."
"Aye, Aye, Sir!" I said. "Thank you General Masters for what you have done for us. Thanks for getting the shotguns back to us." I took one pace to the rear, executed an about face and marched smartly out of his office.
General Masters order was violated on one occasion. I duck hunted what I later learned was the personal hunting property of then U.S. Secretary of State Christian Herter in Beaufort County and was almost caught by his caretaker after shooting my limit of ducks. I was happy to have escaped the ire that General Masters would have bestowed upon me.
Sport was a natural. His teeth never broke the skin of anything he retrieved. Wounded quail would sometimes fly from his mouth as he released the birds to me. Sport was the greatest of them all.
Back to Back We Face the Past
Mofak aka Donald Cathcart USMC Retired