Buck Smith’s Option
Part Eighteen

  By Tom Word
Buck and Kyle arrived home at 11:00 p.m., Tuesday after maddening delays getting through Atlanta.  As soon as the horses were fed and turned out in pasture and the dogs fed and watered, they collapsed in armchairs before the television news.  As usual the news was sorrowful—the stock market down, murders up, and Congress in deadlock.
Wednesday they rested themselves and the dogs, except for walking Naomi’s pups in the afternoon.  At dusk they trailered Hardy Dillard’s roans over to Mossy Swamp and turned them over to a surly Simon Green who was obviously not pleased they would be hunting the trial strings for Hardy Dillard’s guests on the weekend.
On Thursday they worked their strings on Mossy Swamp, and on Friday afternoon they were invited over by Hardy for the cocktail hour to meet his weekend shooting guests, two couples from Virginia Hardy had known since college.  They were like Hardy, down to earth folks, a doctor and lawyer from Lynchburg and their wives of long standing.  They were thrilled to be at Mossy Swamp.  Buck and Kyle were relieved to learn they had bird dogs at home though they had never hunted quail-plantation style.
Friday morning Kyle and Buck brought their all-age dogs to Mossy Swamp.  Hardy had decided he’d use his wagon dogs in the morning and the trial strings in the afternoon.  Kyle and Buck rode during the morning, helping as horse handlers and scouts as Green handled the Mossy Swamp wagon dogs.
The plantation string did an adequate job, though they were short on style and nerve.  Kyle and Buck did their best to be unobtrusive, but their good humor and chivalrous aid to the lady shooters galled Simon Green.
At lunchtime Buck and Kyle ate the bag lunches from their saddle bags in the company of the wagon mules while Simon Green and his skinner, Mose Brown, grilled the quail and served the shooting party on a white linen at a table under a live oak.
At 3:00 p.m., after naptime, the hunt continued with Kyle and Buck handling their trial dogs.  With training collars, the trial dogs were easily adjusted to bird hunting range and a seining pattern.  Through the afternoon, they provided Hardy Dillard and his wife and guests excellent shooting, and the guns did well in marksmanship and manners.  It proved to be an afternoon of plantation shooting at its best.
At Hardy’s request, they saved Headstrong for the last half hour of the day.  At 4:00, they put him down without a bracemate.  Kyle and Buck were nervous, for unlike the other dogs, easily controlled with training collars.  Headstrong could not be hunted with a training collar.  Kyle would have to get through to him quickly that this was not a field trial, but a bird hunt.  To Buck’s relief, Kyle had no problem communicating to Headstrong that his mission was to find birds, not run a big race.  It helped that he was down on the birdiest course on the plantation.
Strong scored two handsome finds within six minutes.  He stayed steady the flush and shot and did not break as he watched birds fall.  But after the second find, Strong became lethargic.
Kyle detected his unnatural attitude and picked him up.
As Buck put him back in the box in the mule wagon, Kyle took Hardy Dillard, riding one of his roans, aside and said softly, “Mr. Hardy, he ain’t hisself for some reason.”  Dillard was alarmed, Kyle detected, so he added, “Dogs just do that some time after they have traveled a lot.”
They put down instead two other mature dogs and in what seemed no time, the day afield was over, each couple finishing their limits on the last two finds.
When they got back to the Big House, the guests tried to tip Kyle and Buck, but they politely refused the offer, knowing Hardy Dillard would not want them taking money from his guests.  They congratulated the guests on their good shooting and thanked Dillard for the chance to work their dogs.
“It does our trial dogs a world of good to have birds shot over ‘em,” Buck said.  Dillard was obviously pleased with the day.
Headstrong didn’t eat his rations when fed, but next morning his bowl in the kitchen was empty, and he seemed himself.
To be continued in Part Nineteen.