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By Ray Gauthier

The weatherman promised the usual for the Los Angeles basin. More of the hot and dry, with high wind advisories in the passes and a smog alert for the inland valleys. The plan was to spend the weekend far from this bad air zone. I was anticipating no smog, hotter, dryer and windier conditions. What else are we to expect on a prairie dog hunt. Rain! "This is perfect" I tell myself. What better way to start a new adventure.

I got my first hunting license two weeks earlier and was raring to go on my first varmint hunt. I admit I was pretty proud of my accomplishments, having passed the Hunter Safety Course with a point to spare. I sure wish that kid next to me had paid better attention, if I hadn't guessed at question #3, I would have failed. I spent hours planning every detail, right down to the garnish for the prairie dog pot roast.

My neighbor Judd invited me on this prairie dog hunt, because his regular hunting partner couldn't go along. Of course I jumped at the chance to show off my stuff and insisted that we use my new/used truck. Judd goes hunting a lot, but obviously he is not a very good hunter. He regularly comes home without meat for the table. Oh, he brags all the time about popping prairie dogs, blowing away ground squirrels and busting coyotes. But, WHERE'S THE MEAT!

At last it was Friday! Judd offered to drive until we were out of the city so I could catch some Z's then take over in a few hours. We finally left sometime after midnight. The plan was to leave about 4 PM but the fan belt broke. This required that the battery, air conditioning pump and the jack be removed to gain access to the belts. No! I would not accept his offer to use his new 1997, 4x4 Suburban. I volunteered my vehicle and by ---, and we are going to use it. I can see this guy already wants to change my plans.

Once out of the driveway, the first stop was at the ATM machine for traveling cash. Then we needed to stop for groceries. Mine only, Judd picked his up the day before without consulting me about the menu. Next thing you know, we are hauling down I-10 near Cucamonga, when I remind him I haven't had my dinner. I told him to get off at the first 24 hour fast food stand. The best he can do is a 7-11 store. Judd gets himself a half gallon of hot black coffee, a pack of Alka-Seltzer and a large bottle of extra strength aspirin. I on the other hand, see things more practically and get some dinner; two jumbo dogs with everything, a large bean burrito, giant bag of chips, box of cookies and a Super Slugger soft drink. He asked me if I had a craving for a pickle then started laughing. I still don't get that one.

Back on the freeway headed for the high desert. Passing through Victorville, I tell him to get off at the first exit that has a bank with an ATM machine. I just remembered, I need more traveling cash! Judd drops two Alka-Seltzer tablets in his coffee and takes four aspirins. Finally far out in the desert on I-40 Judd mumbles something about being tired and asks if I am ready to take over. Of course I am. I haven't had a chance to drive my new/use truck on a freeway at speeds above gridlock since I got it the day after I passed my hunter safety exam.

I looked at the clock and it was near 3 AM and we had only gone a 102 miles. I wanted to ask Judd why he had driven so slowly. Now I and thinking we won't get there before the sun comes up. But, out of politeness, I said nothing. The road looked great, what I could see of it. "The head lights need a little adjusting" I said to Judd. He agrees, "Yup!" "Boy, this road sure gets rough don't it Judd?" "Yup!" "Seems like I have the worst luck with the rough road. Every time I get this rig up to speed, about 50-55 mph, the road really gets rough and I have to slow down to keep from bouncing out into the median." "Amazing!" Says Judd. He takes two more aspirins.

After a short time behind the wheel I needed a nature stop. I took the very next off ramp and just in time. In the darkness I could make out some trees to the South so over that direction I went. How unusual to find a forest of well watered trees, this far out in the desert. I figured it must be a popular nature stop. After my visit with nature I drove around the forest to find a way into the inner darkness. This looked to me to be a likely place to find prairie dogs.

Sure enough, about a mile down the fence line there was an opening at the dry wash. The wash was sandy with a boulder here and there. Probably really good class 3 rapids in the rainy season. Anyhow, down in the wash the sand tried to anchor me. Just when I was certain it had me for good, Judd jumped off the seat and hung onto the sun visor. That little effort by him lightened the load just enough to get us over that boulder and up into the meadow. I thought he was sleeping up to that point, but he was only pretending. When he came down from the visor he mumbled something like, hurts, back of head, bump and a few other things I don't think I heard correctly. He took six aspirin and made an ice pack with what ice he recovered from the cooler that had dumped at the boulders. It didn't bother him too much because he went back to sleep real quick.

The drive around the meadow was rather smooth and Judd got some rest. Weird thing about the meadow, there were little paved roads wandering to and fro, and every one of them was so narrow my tires ran off both sides. That was real annoying because I do believe in that policy of "Tread Lightly", and those roads made that nearly impossible.

Finally I found a great spot. Any self respecting prairie dog would be happy to hole up here and call this place home. "Perfect Habitat," comes to mind immediately. Down the middle of the meadow the hay was chewed real close to the ground. Along the edges and into the tree line the grass was longer. Up near the center of dog town the grass was chewed super close to the ground. Just like a parlor carpet! And right in the middle of the carpet was the town entrance with a flag in it. This one had a #12 on it. I figure they use numbers because most of them are illiterate.

The sun wasn't due up for at least an hour so I crawled into the back of the truck and took a short snooze. I could see that Judd needed more rest as he kept mumbling in his sleep. Mostly unintelligible, but some of the words were "kill, first chance, truck, shoot, bury evidence" and a few words I can't print. He sure was anxious to start hunting these PD's. Most of all we both needed some rest right now.

My nature alarm went off just after the sun broke through the trees and I made a beeline for the nearest tree. While I was out there I heard someone off in the distance hollering "Four." I rushed back to the truck and woke up Judd. Hey Judd! The other guys are out there claiming the other meadows, we better hurry. I heard it again and returned a shout, "Twelve!" I pushed and pulled, but Judd wouldn't budge.

I couldn't wait any longer for him. We had to get our quota before these other guys moved in. I grabbed my rifle and hid in the tree line where I had a commanding view of the dogtown #12. Nothing moved! Pretty soon the shouts of "Four" were getting closer. I stood up and yelled at those guys "Field four is to the West about a quarter mile." They ignored me I think, cause they each hollered "Four" again and walked off through the field paralleling #12.

Pretty soon they were on the hill to my left, right between the little red balls. I was beginning to get concerned that they were going to set up out there in the open and start shooting at town #12. Just when I was sure of it, one of them stood up and yelled "Four." That did it, these had to be the most inconsiderate varmint hunters in the state. They had already been to every other town to the West and all they did was scare the dogs so they would not come out of their holes.

I stood up walked out of the trees waving and hollering "This is #12 and it is ours, so get out of here. Pronto." They must have been pretty embarrassed about that one, they threw down their gear and make tracks back down that narrow road. Left that funny looking dune buggy with the surrey top. I don't think I have ever seen varmint guns like the ones they had. "Each to his own." I always say.

I figured all the good hunting was ruined now so I went back to the truck. Judd was just waking up so I told him about these local varmint hunters and said I was ready to move on. But before I left I wanted him to see the beauty of this place. Almost instantly his face lit up whiter that a church candle and his eyes got a kind of glassy look. He took four aspirins refilled his coffee and dropped four Alka-Seltzer into it. I knew then he was as pleased as I was about the shear beauty of the fields and the wonderful prospects of Prairie Dogs here. He was so excited that he lost his balance and fell backward into the sand pit near the pond.

I went down to help him out of the sand, but he didn't want any help. Slowly he climbed out all by himself and hung on the open truck door. All of a sudden he said "Lets get the H--- out of here! Pronto!" He slid over behind the wheel and started the truck. He was in such a hurry that I didn't have time to put my gun away, but I was almost in when he floored it. Fortunately he was driving around the left side of a hill and it made getting in much easier. He hit the narrow road and did just what I tried not to do, tear up the grass on either side. Not only is he a poor hunter, he now exhibited a bad temper and disrespect for nature. Lesson 1. Never leave the keys in the ignition when hunting with Judd.

The first thing he said was kind of hard to understand. He was shouting so loud I couldn't hear the engine whine, and the tach (if it was working correctly) was past Red Line. He shouted over and over "Do you know where we are!?" Well of course I did, "We are in prairie dog country and dogtown #12 specifically." He acted as though I was totally lost and looked at me with glazed pink eyes. I could tell he didn't get enough sleep. After that he turned his attention to the crowd near the building. He made a hard right and somehow found a better way out than I used to get into the fields.

It really amazed me that way out here in the desert there would be a huge contingent of varmint hunters. This crowd apparently had enough members to build a beautiful club house with great landscaping and lots of parking. They had lots of those little dune buggies too. Not my kind of dune buggy, but, like I always say "Each to his own".

Judd didn't look well. He still had those glazed over eyes and now they were turning quite red. Probably a result of living in the Los Angeles smog too many years. Hope I never get that bad. I suggested that he pull over and let me drive for a while, at least until his eyes cleared up some. He said "I'm okay," and just to make sure I heard him, he said it over and over for at least a minute. He got off the freeway and headed south on a two lane that paralleled a train track.

I had not begun to worry yet, but, when that long freight train started to pass us, Judd hit the gas. I could see the road turned and crossed the tracks and Judd started laughing real loud. Then I began to worry! The gas gauge was well below empty and I was pretty sure it was the one thing in this new/used truck that worked correctly. I was certain we would run out of gas just when we were at the point of "No Turning Back". Luck was with us. We ran out of gas and never made it to the crossing. Judd, sat there and cried for at least an hour.

Well, he finally asked if I had some gas money, and then took all my traveling money and two more aspirins. He got out, waved down the first car to come along and jumped in with all of his gear. Never said another word to me. That was the first and last motorist to pass that way all day. Several trains did go by and all the engineers gave a friendly wave.

I waited the rest of the day and through the night. Judd never came back with the gas! I guess he went out of town the wrong way and got lost. Finally I stopped a passerby that said he was looking for me. He was real nice, gave me a ride to Barstow, let me call my wife from his office and had my truck towed to town. The poor guy, I was feeling lonely by the time he came by and I need someone to talk to, so he had to listen to my tale. I told him everything we did and the fun we were having, but I didn't know what happened to Judd. He probably didn't want to hear all of this, but he was polite and patiently listened. Nice guy, he kept asking me to repeat the details. He let me wait for my wonderful wife to come up on the bus and pay for the gas, towing and other stuff, (he called it bail). Now I was wishing Judd had left some of my traveling money.

That guys office was real busy all day. They kept talking about some jerk that was out hunting at the local Country Club and drove across a few greens and really made a mess of the fairways. Not to mention running off the golfers with a rifle. They said they caught him and had him locked up someplace in town. I certainly hope they make him pay for all the damage he has done.

When I got home I hurried over to Judd's place to make sure he got home okay. His wife said he was doing fine now, but he will definitely not be hunting prairie dogs any time soon. Prairie dog hunting can be very stressful and not everyone can handle it like I can. Well that was okay with me. Judd is a nice enough neighbor, but as a varmint hunter, he needs more help than I can offer. Now I think I know why that other partner of his didn't want to go hunting with him.

I stop over to visit with Judd every once in a while and I have noticed some improvement. He now is able to sit in the parlor, look out the picture window and laugh hysterically when I reminisce about our prairie dog hunt.

I am now planning another hunt for the illusive rock chuck. I have read that they are found in high places that are hard to get to. I have been told (by Judd) that they defend their territory by chucking rocks down at all intruders, thus the name rock chucks. I may have to contract some bush pilots to drop in on them from above. So far no one seems to interested in hunting Rock Chucks. If you have a hankering for a fun trip, give me a call. But, do not expect me to leave the keys in the ignition. Other than that, you are quite welcome.

Till we meet again, Have a Safe Hunting Day.


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