I sat in the tire shop yesterday. Two tractor tires and two trailer tires coming right up. I had a few phone calls to make and it didn’t make sense to drop them off and come back later. It was a 30 mile drive into Columbus. So, I waited.
Tire shop waiting areas are a great place to meet interesting people. Strangers often will talk to you like you’re old buddies if you willing to be interested in what they have to say. Sometimes you regret ever opening your mouth. Sometimes you find a kindred spirit. So, I took the risk.
I overheard this customer telling Lloyd at the counter that he was with Three Notch Farm. When he walked back to his seat, I asked him,
“Why not Four Notch?”
He laughed. “Been Three Notch all my life. Don’t reckon we had a fourth.”
“So, what kind of farm? Cattle?”
“Oh no. No sir. It’s a plantation.”
He had my interest. I didn’t think he meant cotton plantation. So I pressed on. What he told me next made my jaw drop.
“Three Notch is a bird hunting plantation. 7500 acres. I’ve been working for the family for 49 years. I train the bird dogs and take folks hunting.”
I have to admit that I was immediately jealous in some ways. I love the outdoors, hunting and fishing and everything that goes with it. I don’t go as much as I used to anymore. But somewhere deep inside these bones, the love of it has never faded. I’m thinking that this guy has the job that I could drool over.
I’m driving through the field in my truck. Sam, a white and brown speckled Pointer, all brown ears, is sitting in the seat across from me. A double barrel leaned against the seat. A couple boxes of shells in a jacket. I could see it plain as day.
“So, what’s it like over there? Where is Three Notch?”
“About 40 miles west of here, I guess. We only hunt about 4000 of the 7500 acres. Tall pine stands. Saw grass underneath. I reckon, last count I took, we’ve got about 450 wild coveys of Quail on the farm. It’s a beautiful place.”
Henry tells me that there are a lot of bird plantations in Bullock County, Alabama. Three Notch is the small one. Midway is about 18,000 acres. I’ve driven past it before. Sedgefields is just down the road closer to Union Springs and claims around 20,000 acres. I’ve delivered trees to them. Their dog kennels and horse stables are nicer than most houses built for humans.
“You ever imagine that you’d be bird hunting for a living, Henry?”
“I don’t think so. But I’m 72 years old and I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t imagine not doing it. I love my job.”
It was obvious he does. We talked about shotguns. The lady of the house doesn’t like the noise of a 12Ga. They only allow 20Ga. over and under; or maybe a 410.
“But, Lawd, it’s hard to hit a bird with a 410. These wild birds are moving on once they get up and git.”
“If you bring a 12Ga. to hunt with, that’s okay. We’ll keep it safe for you and just give you one of our 20Ga. to use for the day.”
We talked about training dogs. My Dad would take a long cane pole with fishing line, and tie an old sock full of feathers on it to get the dog used to the scent and to get him where he could begin to learn to set hard on a point.
“I do nearly the same thing,” Henry said, “except I use a live bird. It’s the only time I buy pen raised Quail. I tie his feet up at the end of the line and set him out in the grass to get the dog to know what I want him to do. If he don’t know what I want him to do, it’s not his fault. I got to work with him.”
I would love to see Henry at work. To see how he touches the dog. How he speaks to him. Taking a gangly pup and teaching him to be a disciplined pointer is not easy. But you can tell, training a good bird dog is a passion for Henry.
I sat there in the tire shop and, for a few moments, lived vicariously through Henry. His speech. His manner. His story carried me to another place and time.
“I’ll be doing this as long as they let me,” he said.
And I believe he will. What a great day. Glad I met a real gentleman.