Archive for the ‘Quail hunting’ Category

Hunting with Hemingway: Part 2

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

We made our way to downtown Piggott on that wet, cold Saturday in January for breakfast at the Inn at Piggott.

In addition to enjoying the company of those in the hunting party with whom I would shoot quail later in the day, I visited with Link Fuller, a hometown football star who graduated from Piggott High School in 1969 and went on to become a well-known high school coach in Texas and a scout for the Dallas Cowboys. Fuller was in town to speak at that evening’s Piggott Mohawk football banquet.

Following the Saturday quail hunt, most members of the party planned to go to southeast Arkansas to hunt ducks for two mornings near Yancopin in Desha County, near where the White River and the Arkansas River empty into the Mississippi River.

The group — including the grandson of Ernest Hemingway and the granddaughter of famed book editor Max Perkins — was determined to re-create a trip Perkins and Hemingway took to that area in late 1932.

Perkins wrote in a letter dated Dec. 25, 1932: “I’ve just got back, two days ago, from the sunny South. In six days on the White River in Arkansas, we saw the sun once for a couple of minutes and all the time we froze. Hemingway wrote that he ‘needed’ to see me, and it had to be done while duck shooting, in the snow, on the shore of a river with cakes of ice in it. And you have to kneel down a lot of the time or sit. We got quite a lot of ducks, but not nearly so many as Hem thought we should; but I had a fine time.

“We were five hours by train from Memphis, but we went half of that by motor and almost ran down several hogs that ambled across our road. The whole country and the people were just as in the days of Mark Twain. We went into several houseboats to get some corn whiskey and saw men who lived always on the river. They were dressed just like the men told about in Huckleberry Finn, their trousers stuffed into their boots, and they talked just like them.

“We walked one day for several miles through the forest to a desolate narrow lake. I never was in a perfectly natural forest before. I never understood how people rode through them, but you could, rapidly, because of wide spaces between the trees. It was a ghostly walk. The trees were all whitened with ice and snow. Everything was white, and there was a white mist. We heard a dozen old trees fall under the weight of ice. But the lake was frozen over so we got no ducks there, and a big branch almost fell on Hem on the way back.

“We got up in pitch dark every morning, Hem’s idea of daybreak. I had an argument with him about it, but he said the sun had nothing to do with it; that was the only way to shoot ducks. So I gave in, with mental reservations. We really had a grand time. After dinner in the evening, we’d have two or three highballs and talk. He’s wonderful company.”

I would later hear that the duck hunting was good for our modern Arkansas visitors, but I get to duck hunt on a regular basis.

It had been years, on the other hand, since I had been behind bird dogs pointing quail on Arkansas soil.

There were few things my father loved more than what he referred to simply as “bird hunting.” And there were few things I enjoyed more as a boy than hunting with him.

I knew I was becoming a man when he would allow me to take our truck and our bird dogs out alone. When I was in high school, winter afternoons meant going out after school for an hour or so of hunting before dark — just our Brittany spaniel, our English setter and me. I never much enjoyed hunting pen-raised birds. Once wild quail became rare in Arkansas, I stopped hunting. I miss the sport.

Alas, we would hunt pen-raised birds in Clay County.

Stephen Crancer of Rector has transformed his family farm on Crowley’s Ridge near Rector into a beautiful facility for guided quail and pheasant hunts. Crancer hosts everything from corporate retreats to church outings at what’s known as Liberty Hill Outfitters. After breakfast, our group took the back route in the rain along winding gravel roads as we made our way south down the Ridge from Piggott to Liberty Hill. Several wrong turns later, we arrived, only to find that the rain had gotten harder.

After we had waited for about 30 minutes, the rain stopped.

John Hemingway, who lives in Montreal and is the grandson of Ernest, warmed up by shooting clay pigeons over a pond.

Our group, led by Crancer, walked from the pond to the fields where the quail were. It was a joy to watch Crancer’s two dogs — one of them is 13 years old — work. These were not wild birds, but it was still enough to bring back memories of those hunts with my father. And I was hunting with a Hemingway in Clay County, a story I no doubt will still be telling years from now.

Following the morning hunt, it was time for lunch, a meal catered at Liberty Hill by Chow At One Eighteen, which is located in downtown Paragould. The menu consisted of grilled quail with mushrooms, black truffle oil risotto, green beans, biscuits and a French apple tart for dessert. In other words, it wasn’t the average Saturday lunch.

As we ate, I thought about the Hemingway visits to Clay County. The Pfeiffer family back in Piggott didn’t realize it, but the marriage between Ernest and Pauline essentially was over by 1939. Ernest was spending most of his time at his home named Finca Vigia in Cuba, and Pauline remained in Key West.

On Dec. 12, 1939, Ernest wrote to Mary Pfeiffer in Piggott: “I counted very much on coming to see you last fall with the children. I wanted to see you very much, and I wanted to ask your advice about some things. … If we could have talked I believe you would have found that I have changed much less than Pauline and Virginia. … I do not mean that I have ever been in the right in everything, but the true version would be very different from anything you have heard.”

Ernest and Pauline’s divorce was final in November 1940, and Ernest soon married Martha Gellhorn, the third of his four wives. He would not return to Piggott. He committed suicide in Idaho with his favorite shotgun on July 2, 1961.

In an August 1934 letter to Mary Pfeiffer, Ernest had written: “Everything is going well with us. As usual when I am writing a novel I am making nothing and am probably regarded by the family intelligence service as a loafer. On the other hand when I am all through with a novel I make plenty of money and then, while I am loafing, am regarded with respect as a money maker.”

The “loafing” time occasionally included hunting quail in the far northeast corner of Arkansas.

On one glorious January weekend, we did our best to relive those days.


Hunting with Hemingway: Part 1

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

The invitation proved irresistible: Hunt quail with the grandson of Ernest Hemingway in Clay County on land near where the famous author once hunted.

Yes, that Ernest Hemingway — the man who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1953 for the novel “The Old Man and the Sea” and was named Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1954.

The invitation came from former state Sen. Kevin Smith of Helena, a longtime friend and a Hemingway aficionado of the first order.

Smith said a group from Savannah, Ga., would fly in on a Friday afternoon in January after having purchased the trip during a charitable auction at Key West, Fla. Part of the attraction would be the chance to spend time with John Hemingway, whose father was Dr. Gregory Hemingway and whose grandfather was Ernest Hemingway.

John Hemingway would come to Piggott from Montreal, where he now lives, with his wife Kristina and son Michael.

Also traveling to Piggott for the weekend would be Jenny Phillips, the granddaughter of Max Perkins, the book editor known for discovering and nurturing famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.

Phillips, who lives in the Boston area, is a cultural anthropologist, writer and psychiatric nurse. In 2008, she produced and directed the documentary film “The Dhamma Brothers,” which tells the story of a group of prisoners inside a maximum-security prison in Alabama who participated in a meditation program based on the teachings of the Buddha.

While working on the film, Phillips collected more than 200 letters from Alabama inmates documenting their lives in prison. The collected letters later were published in a book titled “Letters from the Dhamma Brothers.”

Phillips would be accompanied to Clay County by her husband, the well-known journalist Frank Phillips, who’s the state capitol bureau chief for The Boston Globe.

In 2002, Jenny and Frank Phillips began a project to restore the Cuban home of Ernest Hemingway and save the Hemingway papers that remained in Cuba following Hemingway’s death in 1961. An agreement was signed by Fidel Castro at Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home. The collection included more than 9,000 books, 3,000 photographs and 2,000 letters and documents.

John Hemingway is the author of the memoir “Strange Tribe,” which examines the complex relationship between his father and grandfather. He studied history and Italian at UCLA and later lived for a number of years in Italy. After leaving Italy, he spent a year in Spain before moving to Montreal.

In an interview several years ago with The Hemingway Project, John Hemingway said of his grandfather (who died when John was a baby): “I admire him tremendously. I think that he was a great writer and a very interesting man, much more complicated than the general public usually gives him credit for being. Understanding him and what motivated him has helped me, in turn, to understand my father.

“I think that he was a compassionate person. He had his problems and his issues, but for the most part he was a generous and vulnerable man. He was a poet in the true sense of the word.”

We gathered on a cold, foggy Friday night at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center on West Cherry Street in Piggott, which has been operated since 1999 by Arkansas State University. The property consists of a house and barn built in 1910.

Paul Pfeiffer, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, bought the house and barn in 1913 and moved his family to Piggott, where he began buying what eventually would be more than 60,000 acres of farmland. Paul Pfeiffer lived in the house until his death in 1944. His wife, Mary, lived there until her death in 1950. The Tom Janes family purchased the property in 1950 and owned it until it became ASU’s property in 1997.

Ernest Hemingway married Pauline Pfeiffer, the daughter of Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, in France in May 1927 after divorcing his first wife. Pauline was a writer who was in Paris on an assignment for Vogue magazine when she met Hemingway.

Hemingway visited Piggott for the first time in the spring of 1928 so Pauline could be with her family during her first pregnancy. He spent his time working on a new novel, “A Farewell to Arms.” On later trips to Piggott, he sometimes would hunt quail on his father-in-law’s extensive holdings.

In 1932, Hemingway came to Piggott with his wife and three children (a 9-year-old son from his first marriage and two sons with Pauline) for a visit during the winter holidays. He wrote a short story, “A Day’s Wait,” about that visit.

“It was a bright, cold day, the ground covered with a sleet that had frozen so that it seemed as if all the bare trees, the bushes, the cut brush, and all the grass and the bare ground had been varnished with ice,” Hemingway wrote. “I took the young Irish setter for a little walk up the road and along a frozen creek, but it was difficult to stand or walk on the glassy surface and the red dog slipped and slithered and I fell twice, hard, once dropping my gun and having it slide away over the ice.

“We flushed a covey of quail under a high clay bank with overhanging brush and I killed two as they went out of sight over the top of the bank. Some of the covey lit in trees, but most of them scattered into brush piles and it was necessary to jump on the ice-coated mounds of brush several times before they would flush. Coming out while you were poised unsteadily on the icy, springy brush, they made difficult shooting and I killed two, missed five, and started back pleased to have found a covey close to the house and happy there were so many left to find on another day.”

Karl Pfeiffer, Pauline’s younger brother, enjoyed hunting with Hemingway.

“Ernest was unpredictable,” Karl Pfeiffer would later say. “There were times when he’d be at ease and other times when his pomposity would show. He liked to freeze the quail he hunted and give them as Christmas gifts to his friends back east. So one day — it was near the end of his visit — he remarked about not getting to hunt much this trip and how he wanted to shoot quail before he left.

“We all went, and the rest of us had a field day, but Ernest wasn’t doing so well. When they got ready to leave the next morning, I started to get some of the birds I’d shot and give them to him to give away, but he wouldn’t have any part of it. He just snorted, ‘I’m not going to give away brids that I didn’t kill.'”

Hemingway’s sister-in-law, Virginia Pfeiffer, remodeled the barn loft to create a place for Hemingway to write. A fire in the barn later destroyed many of his possessions.

On that January night in Piggott, we all got to know each other better while eating barbecue following a tour of the home Paul and Mary Pfeiffer once occupied and the barn where Ernest Hemingway once wrote.

Most of the hunting party spent the night on the downtown square at The Inn at Piggott, which is in a building constructed in 1925 to house the Bank of Piggott. The bank went under during the Great Depression. In 1930, Paul Pfeiffer chartered Piggott State Bank and also used the building to house offices for the Pfeiffer Land Co.

In 1957, part of the Elia Kazan movie “A Face in the Crowd” was shot at Piggott. The movie starred Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Lee Remick and Walter Matthau and was based on the Bud Schulberg short story “Your Arkansas Traveler.”

Griffith played a drunken drifter who was discovered by the producer of a radio program in northeast Arkansas. In the movie, the character played by Griffith rose to fame and a career on national television. The first scene was filmed from the front doorstep of the building that now houses the Inn at Piggott.

The owners of the inn, Joe and Tracy Cole, are Piggott natives who gave up careers in law and international marketing after 24 years in Memphis and returned to their hometown. One of their projects was to renovate the former bank into a nine-room bed-and-breakfast inn.

I was joined by Paul Austin, the head of the Arkansas Humanities Council, in staying on the edge of town at the Rose Dale Farm Bed and Breakfast, a home built on the Norred Farm in 1917. This house sometimes was visited by Hemingway when he would hunt quail in the adjoining fields.

The home is filled with Hemingway books, and a note from the owner states: “My grandfather and his brother-in-law would take Ernest Hemingway hunting when he came to town. After the hunt, they would have bourbons at the secretary, leaving rings from the glasses. The lady of the house would get so mad she would make Ernest come in the back door of the house and then she would leave when he was in the room. You can still see the rings on the writing surface.”

My favorite books

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In 1976, Jim Rikhoff founded the National Sporting Fraternity Limited and its publishing arm, the Amwell Press. Rikhoff earlier had founded the Winchester Press and was a well-known figure in the sector of the book industry that deals with hunting and fishing.

A group of sportsmen was organized and limited to 1,000 members. Using money I earned from working at the radio station and the newspaper in Arkadelphia, I joined. Various collectible book titles were published and first offered to fraternity members. Each title was limited to 1,000 copies. All copies were signed by the author and Jim Rikhoff.

Because I purchased a number of these books through the years, I was delighed to read this on a website for book collectors: “These books have become very collectible because of a few reasons. They are limited to only 1,000 copies, they are put together with beautiful bindings and slipcases, and the content is desired by hunting, fishing and history enthusiasts. In many editions, you will also find great photos from the author’s personal collections.”

The most recent of these books I purchased was “A Quail Hunter’s Odyssey” by Joseph Greenfield Jr. It came out in 2004.

As I thought about my quail hunting past (see the previous post), I found myself  drawn to this book.

Greenfield wrote: “The true bird hunters consider this addicting avocation to be nothing less than the key to the enjoyment of life. From late November until early March, the everyday problems of life become unimportant. Quail season is open. Each component of bird hunting — birds, dogs, shotguns — combine in changing proportions to paint a beautiful canvas. Dyed-in-the-wool bird hunters frequently choose to hunt by themselves. My primary reason for hunting with others is that they own the land and have invited me to participate. Without them there would be no hunt. Except for this eminently cogent reason, I am at a loss to understand why one would hunt with a companion.”

I loved hunting with my dad. But I also knew I was becoming a man when he would let me take our truck and our bird dogs out alone. There was nothing like going out after school for a quick hour or two of hunting before dark — just our Brittany spaniel, our English setter and me.

I never much enjoyed hunting pen-raised birds. With wild quail becoming rare in most parts of Arkansas, I stopped hunting quail years ago. I miss it terribly.

“Unless physically unable, the true bird hunter will choose to hunt wild quail,” Greenfield wrote. “This endeavor will entail either many hours of fruitless searching or else taking part in an extraordinarily expensive endeavor. Certainly there are many shooting preserves which make a considerable effort to simulate wild bird hunting. Undoubtedly, for some, released birds may serve as a reasonable substitute for wild birds. But, and it is a very big but, not for me or for other dyed-in-the-wool bird hunters. Wild quail in their natural habitat are the necessary game.”

Greenfield has a chapter in the book titled “Bird Hunting: Is There A Future?”

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll experience in Arkansas what I experienced as a boy when it comes to bird hunting. I’m not an optimist in this area.

“In spite of the long odds, hunters must continue to fight the good fight to preserve the sport,” Greenfield wrote. “On the other hand, while it is available, enjoy the totality of the hunting experience — being close to God in the great outdoors. Perhaps we live at the tail end of a tradition stretching back to the time when our forefathers first crawled out of the primordial slime. If sport hunting disappears, God forbid, man and beast alike will be by far the poorer.”

At least I have the memories. And at least I have some nice, leather-bound hunting books to keep me company at night.

Let’s let Joseph Greenfield close: “Why hunt birds? The simple answer: Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats watching a pair of pointers cover a picturesque piece of ground in a workmanlike manner and slamming on brakes to a stylish point. Or even better, admiring them precisely handling a running covey. This tableau, immediately followed by the feel of a fine double shotgun brought into play and accompanied by the thunderous sound of the covey flushing, is an experience without equal. There may be a few things I haven’t tried, but nothing I have attempted, seen or read about even comes close.”

The bird hunters

Friday, March 5th, 2010

What a difference a week makes.

As I write this on the first Friday morning in March, the sun shines brightly outside. The temperature is expected to near 60 before the day is done. Finally, after what was a long, cold winter (by Arkansas standards), one can sense that spring is near.

A week ago, I was in my hometown of Arkadelphia for the day and the temperature never topped 40. There was some snow mixed in with the rain that afternoon. In other words, it was a perfect day for a late-winter ride through the country.

I had a few hours to spare before having to attend a banquet at Ouachita. Suddenly, the urge hit me to drive past some of the places where my dad and I used to quail hunt.

I chronicled part of that drive in the column I wrote for this Saturday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I first drove east toward Dallas County on Arkansas Highways 7 and 8. I later went west on Arkansas Highway 51 toward Okolona, cutting north on Arkansas Highway 53 to Hollywood and then following Arkansas Highway 26 back east into Arkadelphia.

I tuned into KWKH-AM in Shreveport, the home of “The Louisiana Hayride,” to set the mood for a country drive. KWKH, 1130, is one of America’s famous old AM stations. It seemed fitting to listen to country music on that legendary station while driving by the fields where I had often hunted quail in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was, in so many ways, a sentimental journey.

For all practical purposes, quail hunting is a thing of the past in Arkansas. Or should I say “bird hunting,” as most Arkansans simply knew it? You didn’t have to ask what the bird was. It was the bobwhite quail, of course. One of my favorite meals as a child was fried quail along with rice and gravy. Having fried quail for breakfast on Christmas morning (you substituted grits for the rice when it was breakfast) was a special treat.

We occasionally would kill a woodcock while quail hunting (a good bird dog will also point a woodcock), and I would get the fried woodcock along with my quail at supper. Woodcock is a wonderful dark meat. If you like eating wild game, you’ll like woodcock.

But I digress.

We’re talking about quail hunting today. In his wonderful 2002 book “Hunting Arkansas,” Keith Sutton writes: “We may never see the glory days of  bobwhite quail hunting our fathers and grandfathers experienced earlier this century. Habitat loss has taken a heavy toll, and days when you could park on a hilltop and find eight or nine coveys within sight of the vehicle are long since past.”

Sutton goes on to write about the glorious tradition of quail hunting and how it clashes with the reality in Arkansas: “Though bobwhites range throughout the eastern and central United States, bobwhite hunting belongs to the South with all its color and boundless hospitality. Quail are simply ‘birds’ to Southern shooters, and the mention of ‘bird hunting’ conjures up visions of plantation houses, sprawling sedge fields and a brace of slat-ribbed pointers sailing across the countryside. Some even hear strains of gospel music filtering up from the fields beyond the barn. Though we wish it were otherwise, for most of us, quail hunting bears little resemblance to this idyllic setting. Old Shep replaces the pedigree pointers, and we’re much more likely to hunt on Uncle Jack’s back-forty that some high-dollar shooting resort or fancy plantation.”

So it was with my dad and me. We usually had two bird dogs and bounced in a dirty pickup truck from small farm to small farm in parts of Clark County and Dallas County. But we felt like aristocrats because of the sport’s regal tradition. Quail hunting just always seemed so much classier than deer hunting to me.

“Quail hunting can be as simple or as sophisticated as you want — or can afford — to make it,” Sutton wrote. “Expensive dogs, riding horses and English doubles aren’t required to savor its many pleasures.”

Dad and I would spend entire winter Saturdays bird hunting. We would start early in the morning while the frost was still heavy and go until dark. We often would stop for lunch in one of the two stores at Dalark. They were both classic old country stores with wooden floors and iron stoves to keep customers warm. One catered primarily to whites. The other served mainly a black clientele.

I loved going in the “black store” to listen to my dad visit with the owner, Mr. “Sugar” Jones. Mr. Jones would always be dressed in overhauls with patches all over them. His son, Danny, later ran the store.

After I had spent a Friday afternoon thinking about quail hunting with my dad, I picked up the Democrat-Gazette on Sunday morning to find Bryan Hendricks’ column about a recent Arkansas Game and Fish Commission meeting. The purpose of the public meeting was to discuss how we can increase the number of quail in Arkansas.

In 1982, about the last year I seriously hunted quail, a quail whistling survey reported that observers in Arkansas heard nearly seven birds per mile. In 2009, it was down to about one bird per mile, according to Hendricks. Let’s hope private landowners across Arkansas will become more serious about restoring quail habitat. I would love to take the sport up again if there were some chance of success.

“Quail densities are still adequate on lands that are managed for quail,” commission quail biologist Stephen Fowler told Hendricks. “There’s still a decent population of birds on Fort Chaffee and in the Ouachita National Forest. When the habitat is improved, quail populations respond accordingly.”

I thought about all of our old bird dogs on that Friday afternoon. I thought about the fun times outdoors with my dad. I thought about him teaching me to clean quail as we stood outside under a large light on winter Saturday nights. I thought about the fried quail dinners and breakfasts my mother would prepare.

I thought about how lucky I was to grow up roaming the Arkansas countryside.