What Time You Need Us There?

By Bob Robb

Sixteen year olds with no clue, no land access, and bitten hard by the hunting bug, will often do foolish things. Growing up in citrus growing country in SoCal in the 1960s, my buddy Larry Chavez and I loved two things above all else—playing baseball, and our Winchester Model 12s. Mine was a 12 gauge Long Tom with full choke 30-inch barrel, Larry’s also a 12 gauge with a more modest 28-inch barrel, choke modified. I was reloading old paper-hulled shotshells at the time, back before Power Piston-type wads, where the powder got dropped into a primed hull, a cardboard wad was compressed atop it, 1 1/8 oz. of chilled No. 7 ½ shot dropped onto that, and the whole shebang was sealed by carefully crimping the hull. Cost me a dollar a box to reload them; I sold them to my buddies for two bucks a box. Beat a paper route all to hell.

We hunted rabbits in summer and doves in early fall. One day, on a deer scouting mission up a nearby mountain—there were essentially no deer around, but we had to look—we stumbled onto the mother lode…a shit ton of California quail living halfway up the mountain. Further exploration showed that the birds lived on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence, on a ranch owned by a notoriously grumpy rancher whose daughter was a snobby cheerleader at our high school. We were juniors, Larry the star pitcher, me the quarterback, the point guard, and the shortstop, so we slyly approached the girl about the possibilities of hunting the ranch when quail season opened. “Not a chance,” she sneered, “daddy and mama love those cute little birds!”

What we also knew about daddy and mama was that they attended church service every Sunday morning, followed by lunch at the Chili Hut cafe. Now, it was something like a two-hour hike to get up the mountain to the fence, but on Sunday morning of opening weekend there we were, watching the family head down the dirt road to town. We figured we had maybe three hours, max, so we got after it, but even with our shitty wing-shooting skills we limited out in less than an hour. Didn’t hurt that we followed my grandpa’s advice—shoot ‘em if they fly, shoot ‘em if they run—and we made sure to pick up all our empties and left no trash. Thinking we were a couple of pretty crafty fellows, we were back at Larry’s house before lunch.

That went on every Sunday for a month before the hammer dropped. Mr. Dickenson came to the house on a Saturday, and asked to speak with me. I’ll never forget it. “Son, I like hell out of you, love to watch you play ball, but I know you and Larry are the ones been shooting my quail up. I gotta tell you, to climb up that damn mountain every week, you must really want to hunt them bad, am I right?”

“Yessir,” I said, “we love to bird hunt and there just ain’t any places to go around here. Your daughter told us you’d never let us, so we figured if we snuck up a few times and kept it clean and quiet, it wouldn’t hurt nothing.”

“Crossing a man’s fence without permission is serious stuff, boy,” he said. “So, here’s what I’m gonna do. We can keep this just between the three of us, but instead of sneaking up the mountain next weekend, you and Larry are gonna come up and do some ranch chores for me. I got fence to mend, a barn to muck out, and some weeds that need pulling. I figure if you work hard at it, you can get everything done in maybe three or four weekends. We got a deal?”

We did. We worked our butts off on that man’s ranch for a month of weekends, and it wasn’t until decades later I found out he’d cut the deal first with both our parents. At the end of the month, Mr. Dickenson took Larry and me aside and said, simply, “Thank you, boys. Now, as a reward for your hard work, I’m not gonna notice when you climb the mountain and kill some quail next Sunday. But that will be the last time, ya’ hear? My wife finds out and all of us will be up the creek without a paddle.”

So, next Sunday, up the hill we went. It was a beautiful bright, sunny day, and the quail, which hadn’t been bothered in a month, were very cooperative, and we loaded up. Then we were back to being bunny hunters, and before you knew it we were playing out our high school baseball season, then summer Babe Ruth ball, and when school started back up and football practice started, I noticed old man Dickenson watching the team work out. He’d been quite the football player in his high school days, and was a big supporter of the team. After practice one day he met me in the parking lot. Being a man of few words, he got right to the point.

“You boys still got those Model 12s?,” he asked. “Yessir,” I said, wondering what kind of trouble we were in now. “I still have a barn that needs mucking out, and a fence that needs painting, if you have the time. And on opening weekend, me and the wife will surely be heading for church first thing Sunday morning. Think you could help me out?”

“What time you need us there?,” I asked, trying not to smile too broadly as the lightbulb went on.

From the FE Films Archive

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