Tales from the camp

How ‘Bobcat’ got his nickname

Fervent Rainwater shifted his cud as I walked up to the camp porch, and spit a long stream of Skoal between the paws of Ol’ Blue, the redbone hound lying at his feet.

Ol’ Blue’s name matched his physical description about as well as calling him a deer hound described his breed. Which was the reason Fervent named him such.

“Sorry!” He had been heard to complain. “Thet hound’s sorry. If’n he would stay on the trail of a deer longer’n the first piddlin’ ditch he had to cross, I’d a named him better. Wouldn’t waste the feed on ’im each year if’n the old lady and kids ain’t took such a shine to ’im.”

Fervent eyed the new piece slung over my shoulder, and allowed as to how he figured I must be going out to the range to sight it in.

“Never seen a feller so dead set on beatin’ hisself to death with a rifle,” he said. “How much ammo you figger to burn today?”

Between sighting in and testing loads, between 30 and 40 rounds, I replied.

“Shoot,” he snorted, “most fellers around here set up a five-gallon bucket and shoot off-hand at it. If’n they hit it more than twice, it’s sighted in.”

Right, I replied. Most of them don’t shoot their rifles at all between seasons, and miss more deer than they hit.

Ol’ Blue, finally tiring of the odor of the brown puddle growing around his paws, groaned and heaved himself to the end of the porch, seeking a dry spot. Several blue bottle flies landed in the most-liquid pool, kicked their tails skyward and began to imbibe.

“Reminds me of ol’ Joe Bob Cupit,” Fervent began, as I shifted the rifle in a show of discomfort. Any display to ease my escape before the tale became too involved.

“Joe Bob brung his cousin up here from Baton Rouge a couple years ago. ’Nother real rifleman, thet one. You never seen such fancy equipment. Looked like he’d been shopping in thet fancy New York sportin’ goods store — what you call it?”

Abercrombie & Fitch? I hazarded a guess.

“Right. Thet one. Anyway, you never seen such a dude. Had his shootin’ breeches on, a padded vest with all them piddlin’ little shell loops, a snappy cap, the whole works. Looked like he was right out of one of them outdoors catalogues.”

Could he shoot, I asked?

Blue groaned again, as if criticizing my encouragement. One of the blue bottles staggered backward from the brown puddle and attempted a takeoff, falling from view off the side of the porch.

“Oh, right well enough, I suppose.” Another stream of Skoal broke the surface tension of the largest puddle, knocking two more flies from its edge. Both wandered drunkenly around the porch, finally following each other down a convenient knothole.

“He had some ol’ big rifle, and new high-falutin’ scope. Burned ammunition out there ’til the cows quit givin’ milk the next mornin’. Brought out all these fancy sandbags, spotting scope and all thet damn stuff. Joe Bob allowed as to how this feller shot in all them fancy matches all over the state. Real marksman, he said—trophies an’ all thet.”

The thought of the range was pulling me, but I found myself being drawn into the tale of this city slicker.

“Shoot, most fellers look at 100 yards and think it’s 200. They’s been more deer killed at 500 yards ’round this country than rabbits at 20. An’ most of them fellers would die if’n someone had them actually try to shoot a deer at 200 yards.”

Right, I said. Not too many people can accurately judge distance. So what happened with the new guy?

“Well, as I said, he near shot his shoulder blue that afternoon. Sighted it in real well, he said. Joe Bob took ’im out the next mornin’ and set ’im up on the Outer Limits.”

I was familiar with this stand. Backed by a hardwood bottom, it looked out over miles of soybean fields on one side, and a vast cutover on the other. Nice place for a rifleman, I said.

“Right,” he snorted again.

One of the blue bottles crawled out of the knothole, to be greeted by a glob of brown spittle traveling at jetstream velocity. The fly bounced back into the hole, stunned.

“This feller, can’t remember his name right now, set up there all mornin’— ’bout midday, we heard him shoot. Joe Bob was all excited. Just knew he’d tagged a buck. ‘Just wait,’ he said. ‘He’ll have one drilled dead center.’ We loaded Ol’ Blue, just in case he had crippled one and maybe we could get thet worthless dog to trail the blood. Rode on out to the stand and found him standin’ by it. Pleased as punch, he was.”

Had he killed, I asked?

“Oh yeah. He killed all right. Nice shot, too. Near ’bout an honest 200 yards. He was some proud. Only, he tole us it weren’t no deer. Biggest damn lynx he ever seen, he said. Come slinkin’ out of the cutover, and easin’ around in the brush at the edge of the field. Said he was goin’ to get it mounted, and put it in his den.”

How big was it?

“Well, it were right big, I guess. Biggest damn house cat I ever saw. Will say this, though — he drilled thet sucker dead through the center. Weren’t too much left but some ears an’ a paw. Kinda’ looked like road kill, to tell the truth.”

Did all of you ride him much?

“Hell, no. If’n anyone’s thet dumb to shoot an’ ol’ house cat an’ be proud of it, we was just gonna’ play ‘long with it. Made a big to-do ’bout him and how them lynxes is a curse on the wildlife ’round here. Thanked him for savin’ all the turkeys an’ young deer, an’ all. Then, we even tried to hang it up, an’ skin it out for ’im. Kinda’ difficult, to tell the truth, what with there weren’t too much left of it. Joe Bob an’ the rest near cut theirselves with the skinnin’ knives, they was workin’ so hard to keep from laughin’.”

What happened then?

“Well, we told ’im everbody always got hung with a nickname ’round here, and we was gonna’ dream up somepin’ real special for ’im. He swole up some proud at thet. Told us he was gonna’ send us pictures when he got it stuffed. Then we packed him off to Baton Rouge with the carcass on ice. Packed it up real good, we did.”

Did he ever come back?

“Oh hell, yes. Turned out to be a real nice feller. Came back the next year kinda’ embarrassed. Said the taxidermist feller in Baton Rouge had a real laugh when he brought in a piece of a house cat, an’ said he wanted it stuffed. He laughed about it, got drunk with us the first night, an’ we all come to like him real well. Never did live down thet nickname, though.”

And just what did you hang on him?

“Hell, what else? Everbody ’round here calls him ‘Bobcat.’”

Editor’s note: The above story is true; only the names have been changed to protect the real rifleman from embarrassment.