At last, the colder weather arrived in Texas, and my mind turned to the pursuit of quail, with the Tiger Woods of hunting hounds, Ziggy the beagle, at my side.
Ziggy spent the summer in air-conditioned luxury, his only exercise humping our other two dogs, Willard the Schnauzenwiener, and Scruffy, a Cairn terrier of dubious lineage. If a fart had hair, it would look like Scruffy, but probably smell better.
We set forth in the F-150 to my pal Eddie's ranch, 5,000 acres of quail paradise just north of San Angelo. Armed with my trusty Merkel side-by-side 28, doubletin Filson chaps and an Acme whistle, I'd packed a two-day food supply in a cooler, dog food for Zig, a good book, and my sleeping bag. I pulled into a Dairy Queen along the way, but forgot to relieve myself, so a covert roadside squirt was necessary just outside of town. By the time I got behind the wheel again, the mighty hunter had savaged my Beltbuster burger, paper and all, and growled his way so far through a chocolate Blizzard that I had to pull the Styrofoam cup off his nose.
We hit the ranch house about 9 p.m. With one eye on the cooler, Zig derisively sniffed the kibble, trotted over to the porcelain for a drink, and was at the bottom of our sleeping bag snoring like a clapped-out Briggs and Stratton lawn mower before I had my pants off. It was like trying to sleep with an epileptic bush-pig, and within 20 minutes, after a battle that was not entirely one-sided, the little bastard had farted and kicked me onto the sofa.
Next morning, I had the coffee on before I checked on Zig, who hadn't moved from the bottom of the sleeping bag. I reached in all the way, heaved the tricolor lump up the bag, and bade him a cheery good morning. Nothing. No movement. He didn't seem to be breathing, and when I pulled his eyelid up, it just snapped shut. For one horrible moment, I thought my beloved hound had been asphyxiated by the gaseous contents of his own bowels. Upon closer look, I noticed he was indeed breathing, just very shallowly. Then it dawned on me. I had left two wrapped Clif Bars and an Ambien on the nightstand before I abandoned ship for the sofa. The bars and the sleeping pill were gone Ziggy was in a sugar-and-drug-induced coma. The hound was down, and now the man would hunt alone, which was problematic. Blues are different from bobwhite quail in that they won't hold for a pointer. You have to flush them first, and then go after pairs and singles fast and on foot. Ziggy might be the worst hunting dog in Texas, and the only thing he'd pointed so far was a thick milkshake, but I reckoned even he could accidentally blunder into a covey or two.
That day, I made several trips back to the ranch house to check on Rip Van Beagle, and he was stone-cold out each time, but still farting, which I took as a good sign. I spotted several coveys of the crafty blue quail on my own, and each time tried in vain to make them fly by rushing into their cover typically Ziggy's role in this opera bouffe. This was not a good idea, as West Texas brush and cactus country is worse than the Devil's pubic hair. I spent the evening reading, tweezing my nads, and checking on my little pal.
With a heavy heart, I slipped into our sleeping bag and spooned my little mound of hound, vowing that not even his poisonous flatulence would separate us that night. However, my beagle's bottom could violate the chemical-weapons clause of the Geneva Convention, and 10 minutes later I was on the sofa with a nosebleed.
At 2:30 in the morning, I awoke to a crash. I fumbled for the light switch, suddenly illuminating a rear view of a portly beagle, who with his nose had pried the lid off the cooler, jumped into it, and was now foraging like a hog, mangling a packet of cooked ham. My boy was back! I told you, he's the canine Tiger Woods he takes off whenever he wants and still comes up with the prize.