Groundhog: it’s what’s for dinner
Vail, CO Colorado
Another way Dwayne and Frank passed their time was to practice with their .22 rifles.
They became good marksmen. About mid-summer Frank senior arrived at the cow camp with a cowboy riding beside him. His name was Slim, and he needed work so Frank decided he could lend a hand at the camp and at the same time keep tabs on Frank and Dwayne, too, if need be.
Frank and Dwayne were pleased to have someone around who could cook and who would take rotations with that old milk cow. Being a single man, Slim was not happy to be the watchdog over a couple of preteen boys but he did what he was told and gave the boys chores to do.
However, Frank and Dwayne didn’t like to be given orders and decided Slim needed some pay-back. So on this day, Frank and Dwayne cleaned their guns and made sure they were oiled just right and had enough ammunition. They thanked Slim for cooking breakfast and headed out on their horses.
The Doll Ranch at that point encompassed some 6,800 acres. Game was more than plentiful. All a person had to do was sit still for a short period of time and wait and something would come into view to shoot.
This day the boys bagged a couple of fat rabbits, and then as they were sitting in the shade of a cottonwood tree, they watched a grizzled groundhog climb up on a rock and make some groundhog chattering noise. The thickset marmot looked like a giant rodent.
“You ever tasted groundhog?” Dwayne asked.
“Nope,” Frank said. “But I bet it tastes like rat.”
“How would you know if you never tasted it?.”
“Just because they look like a big rat.”
Dwayne loaded a shell in his rifle. “I think we should feed a groundhog to Slim and find out.” He put the rifle barrel to his shoulder, looked down the bead, and pulled the trigger.
That groundhog fell over dead as a rat in a trap. Not to be outdone, Frank hunted until he found a groundhog and shot that one as well.
When they began to skin the groundhogs, Dwayne said, “That groundhog stinks.”
“Yeah, don’t it,” Frank replied. “I bet it tastes like it smells.”
After placing the skinned rabbits and groundhogs in a sack, the boys returned to the line camp and gave the sack to Slim.
“Whatcha got, boys?” Slim asked.
“A bunch of rabbits,” Frank replied, keeping a straight face.
“It’s about supper time, so I’ll cook them up and we’ll have them for dinner.”
When Slim put dinner on the table, Dwayne and Frank were careful to pick out the rabbit meat and eagerly ate it, all the while watching as Slim consumed the groundhog.
When he was just about finished, Slim’s dark brows pulled together and he said, “This rabbit tastes sort of strange.”
Dwayne couldn’t help himself and said, “That’s because it’s not rabbit, it’s groundhog!”
All color drained from Slim’s face. The last they saw of him was his backside as he raced from the shack and emptied his stomach in the bushes. Slim stayed angry at the two boys for days but the worst thing was, Slim wouldn’t tell the boys exactly what groundhog tasted like and they never did find out.
Another time a fine lazy summer day lay ahead of them. After milking the cow and chopping some wood and brushing down the horses, Slim said he had fence to check in the north section of the ranch and would see them later. He told the boys to behave themselves and climbed in the saddle.
“What shall we do?” Frank asked.
Dwayne replied, “Something interesting.”
“We could hike all of Deep Creek again.”
“No, we proved that was possible, if not life-threatening.”
“Yeah, but do you remember that huge pool below the first set of cliffs we climbed? Remember the fish we saw in there?”
“Yeah, I remember.”
Dwayne looked toward a new hatch of blue flies fluttering around a bucket of water.
“Let’s go see if we can catch one or two.”
“Good idea,” Frank replied and headed to the shack for his fishing pole.
After hitching their horses, the two boys made their way to the deep pool with plenty of shadows and enough incoming water to bring lots of little bugs for hungry fish. By the time the late day sun disappeared behind the rock cliff, Frank and Dwayne had caught more than 100 trout. These they cleaned and left a pile of innards for the coyotes. They put the fish in a sack, rode back to the line camp, dumped the fish in the dish pan, and then heard Slim ride up.
A few minutes later, Slim came in the shack, took off his hat, wiped his brow and looked at the dish pan to see it brim-full of shimmering fish. “What in the hell am I supposed to do with these?” he asked.
Frank said, “Well, I guess cook them.”
That night the three of them consumed at least 30 trout each, and later Slim would say to Frank’s father that he never knew what he would find when he came back from a day checking fences.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.