by Fred N. Lee
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Once a bulldog grabs hold, he won't turn loose! And that is why a Wildlife and Fisheries Agent (Game Warden) by the name of Zeke Abernathy got the nickname "Bulldog". He had the tenacity required to track down, capture, and put behind bars those prone to break the wild game rules in Pearl River County, Mississippi. Very few did, at least not after coming in contact with Bulldog. He could put the fear in a person that would make Baby Face Nelson attend Sunday school.
I was never one that felt the need to break any law, especially one in which Bulldog would be involved. My friend Tater didn't have the same conscious as I did. Tater didn't mind shooting a squirrel out of season or even taking a little target practice with doves as the target--season or no season.
Squirrel season opened in Pearl River County the first day of October. Tater figured that getting a little jump-start on the season was not a great sin, since he believed the Good Lord put the squirrels in the woods for our enjoyment and that ole Bulldog didn't have any business telling anyone they couldn't hunt when they pleased.
September 29th came around and the cool weather had already started with crisp, cool mornings, warm days, and cool nights. Perfect squirrel hunting weather! Tater came over to my house Friday evening after completing all his chores and I could see the gleam in his eye--Tater was about to burst to go squirrel hunting. Squirrel season would open Monday morning because October 1st occurred on Sunday. That was two days away. In a weak moment, I agreed to get up before daylight on Saturday morning and go with Tater, if he agreed to come back before noon. I figured that Bulldog being a little older would want to sleep in on Saturday morning, since the season didn't open until Monday.
Saturday morning arrived and as was expected the morning was beautiful. There was frost on the ground and not a limb moving from the wind. A perfect day! The beauty of the morning didn't quince my guilty conscious--and the fear that Bulldog might show up any minute. It didn't seem to bother Tater, who was intently looking for squirrels as we rounded the bend in the woods trail.
We found a large Hickory nut tree and set down under it, waiting for the Sun to come up and the squirrels to start feeding. The longer I sat there, the more guilt I felt. Looking over at Tater I whispered, "better hide your gun, here comes Bulldog". The realization that we might spend the rest of the day in jail seemed to sober Tater who quickly buried his bolt action 20-gauge under some leaves and lit out back down the trail. I did likewise not being in such a hurry since I knew Bulldog was nowhere around.
As we were running down the road, Tater whispered to me and said "good thing you saw him". I said "what", forgetting for the moment the lie I had told. Tater said "walk nonchalant, maybe he won't notice us". Sure enough, there was ole Bulldog, striding down the path toward us. My hair stood up on ends, a difficult task since I had on a pull over facemask.
Bulldog walked up to us, stopped, and looked first at me and then at Tater. "What you boys doing out here in the woods at daylight"? There was silence in the air--I knew for a fact that we were dead meat all because we couldn't think up a decent lie. After about 10 seconds, which seemed like 10 hours, Bulldog said "I'm going to ask you boys one more time, what are you doing out here in the woods at daylight". His voice had a sense of authority in it. I decided to let Tater answer, since he could tell a better lie than I, having more practice his daddy being a school teacher. As cool as Tater was at lying, Bulldogs stare melted his inside. He blurted out "rounding up hogs". I knew then that we were dead. There was silence. Bulldog said, "let me get this straight, you boys were out here in the woods at daylight, frost on the ground and all, just rounding up hogs? I don't believe that for a minute. You know and I know that you were getting a head start on squirrel season. I ought to take you in but since you hid your guns and I don't know where, I'm going to let you go--this time. Next time I'm going to throw the book at you". Bulldog knew how to throw the fear into a person and I knew for a fact that there would not be a "next time".
From that day forward, Tater and I were fine, upstanding, sportsmen who never intentionally broke a game law. One reason was that we couldn't remember where we stashed our guns, our minds being like mashed potatoes the rest of the squirrel season.
Bulldog has been dead for 40 years or more. Like the Indians say, "he's gone to the happy hunting ground in the sky, as a game warden I suppose. Some day I'm going back to them woods and see if I can find the two shotguns we hid under the leaves--that is as soon as I am sure Bulldog is really dead and not just playing a trick on me and Tater Bug.
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