It seems through the years I’ve owned several types of hunting dogs. A few still stand out in my mind as being that good — or let’s just say, different. Being a deer hunter, coon hunter, rabbit hunter, bird hunter and last but not least a squirrel hunter, I’ve just about run the gamut when it comes to hunting dogs.
In this story I’ll be telling you about “Rambo,” one of the best squirrel dogs around these parts. And believe me, his name fitted him to a T.
I hate to admit it, but back in the day, every Friday night, my friends and I played a little poker. Now I’m not talking penny-ante poker, no-sir-re. I’m talking winning or losing several hundred dollars a night.
If’en my friend Ralph or myself had a good night at the poker table (or our ship had come in kinda night), we would ride all day on the following Sunday looking to buy a good hunting dog. Let’s just say we wanted a little to show for our winning at the poker table. Why, sometimes we’d ride out a tank of gas going down interstates or down pig path dirt roads searching out leads on a good dog that could be bought.
Ralph seemed to know everyone who owned a hunting dog or traded dogs in North and South Carolina. Why, I have been to places that had the nicest dog kennels or the nastiest conditions you ever seen for their dogs within a hundred miles of Richmond County. Why, some would have nice clean cement dog runs with fancy insulated dog houses — while some folks would have their dogs caged up in small dirty unkempt pens or tied out with very little cover for the dogs to get in out of the weather.
On Sunday mornings, Ralph would call and say that he had a good lead where we just might be able to trade for, or purchase, a good dog and off we would go. We hardly ever came back the same direction we went cause, you know, there might be a deal just around the next curve.
One Sunday, Ralph called saying he had a lead on a squirrel dog in Moore County. Off we go until we finally found the dog owner’s home, it being a small trailer house. As we pulled up in his yard, I beeped the horn. Won’t long, this elderly gentleman peeped his head out the door. I asked him if’en he was the feller who might have a squirrel dog he wanted to get rid of. “Yes sirs”, the man said, “Y’all just steps around back and I’ll show you him.”
As we stepped around back of the house trailer, there, tied to an iron stake with about two feet of chain, was this skinny looking medium-size dog. The dog looked like he’d been missing a good meal for a long time but seemed to have lots of energy because he kept jumping against the chain. As for the breed of the dog, he looked to be part Black Lab and Plot hound with short hair.
I asked the guy, “Say, this here dog, will tree his own squirrel?”
“Why shor he will, but’s he got one fault,” said the man.
“What, might that be?” I said.
“Why’s, when you shoots the first squirrel outta of the tree, he likes to eat them,” said the old man.
“Why, I could see why the dog would do that for sure,” I thought to myself.
I finally asked, “How much you want for this here dog?”
The man replied, “I wants a goat.”
“A goat? Man, I ain’t got no goat,” I said, “but I’ll tell you what I’ll do — I’ll give you thirty-five dollars and you can go buy yourself a goat.”
Well needless to say, I had just bought a pig-in-a poke, but what the heck, if’en you don’t take a chance on something, you won’t never have nuttin’.
On the way home, Ralph said, “That man never did say what the dog’s name was, so what you gonna call him?”
Just so happened the night before I had watched one of those Rambo movies and with my new dog’s energy, the name “Rambo” fit him perfect.
After a week of feeding Rambo up good, I decided one evening I’d take him over to the Pee Dee River hills and try him out, truly not expecting much.
I pulled up on some of our club’s land and dropped the tailgate. Rambo was tearing up the dog box just waiting for me to open the door. When I undone the door latch, out he came like a flash and was out of sight in just a jiffy. I say’s to myself, “Well there goes my thirty-five dollars.” But to my surprise, I heard him treeing just down the hollow.
I got my gun and started to him. He had treed up the tallest poplar tree I most ever seen. I bet it was 80 feet high. Finally, by throwing sticks and rocks on the opposite side of the tree, I seen the squirrel slip around on my side of the tree. Well, that squirrel was so high in the top of that tree, I figured the meat would spoil before he hit the ground. Why you know, I always carry a packet of salt with me for such occasions and I dumped it in the end of my barrel.
At the report of the gun, down comes the squirrel — seems like it took him five minutes to hit the ground. No sooner had it hit the ground and Rambo done and swallowed him. Won’t but about an inch of the squirrel’s tail sticking out of Rambo’s mouth. I grabbed what I could of the squirrel’s tail and it was a tug of war. Finally, I managed to pull the squirrel out but it won’t no easy task, no-sir-re.
Before I could get the squirrel in my hunting coat, off Rambo went. Why, I bet he went a half-mile and treed again with the same results. Now folks, if’en you ever walked them Pee Dee River hills, you know you got to be in good shape or you mightaways stay home. Why, I bet Rambo treed ten squirrels that evening, up one hill and down the other I walked following that dog. ‘Bout wore myself down to a frazzle, I want you to know.
You know, I never did break that dog from eating them squirrels, even though he treed a lot of them. I just started tying him to a nearby tree after he’d treed. That he didn’t like at all.
After several years of following Rambo up and down those river hills, I decided to sell him. A guy in South Carolina bought him, even though I told the feller how Rambo hunted. Why, the feller said that with all those swamps and water down around his place, it would slow Rambo down. Not so. For about a year later, I heard that Rambo adapted to all that water like a duck and the guy had worn out a new crow boat and three pairs of chest waders just trying to keep up with Rambo, “the Wonder Dog.”
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson Co. Writer’s Club, Anson and Richmond County historical societies and author of the newly released book “Just Passing Time.”