Dodge Thornton is a friend that Buck met after we were married. I always wondered if he got his name because he was built like a truck or because his folks just got creative about spelling Doug. The longer I knew him though, the more I suspected it might have something to do with his personality.
Dodge was the most unlikely sportsman imaginable. He was afraid of everything. Dodge had a startle reflex with a hair trigger. But he dearly loved to go hunting.
We were friends with him for quite awhile, sharing tips and stories, before we had an opportunity to hunt together.
Buck and I were deep into camouflage clothing, at time when camouflage was wearing olive drab. Everything was camouflage. We painted our bows camo, our arrows and everything we carried. All that camouflage was nonsense to Dodge. He was convinced that it didn’t make any difference. That is until the first time we went out as a threesome.
At the edge of the woods, Buck and I separated. Dodge and I headed further in. I settled into a spot on a high stump backed by a couple of saplings and some fallen branches Dodge worked his way ahead of me along a small trail and disappeared.
The afternoon passed quietly. At last I heard some shuffling sounds and saw Dodge coming back along the trail. His dark pants and solid green jacket made him easy to spot, but I was surprised because it was early, at least an hour or so before sundown. I watched him advancing toward me, aimlessly surveying the area and waited for him to get about six yards in front of me before I stood up and waved.
Dodge dropped his bow, threw his arms in the air and ran in place for thirty seconds. The Unique thing about this occurrence is that the same thing happened every time. Dodge never got accustomed to movements he wasn’t expecting
One fall, we planned an all day hunt up on North Ridge. The weather was perfect. The leaves were about half down and it was dry enough that you could easily hear the deer moving. Buck, Dodge, Skinner and I had favorite spots. Buck liked to be close to the ridge where he could see any spooked deer that might head for higher ground. I was fond of a small clearing not far from the ridge. Dodge was good in the denser woods and Skinner preferred to stalk the outer perimeter.
We had been sharing this favored spot a long time. It had one drawback however. It was a large area and communication was a problem. There weren’t a lot of small radios then and the expense of the ones that were available was steep. Skinner was always coming up with new ideas to improve our hunting experiences. I have to say that he was indeed inventive but Skinners inventions were almost never what anyone expected them to be. This particular time Skinner brought along a device he had concocted to let us signal each other without disturbing all of us. This way, he explained, whoever didn’t have a target in sight could respond, if he wanted to, to the signaler. There wouldn’t be yelling or whistling that could ruin someone else’s shot. However, all of us would know if one of us had a hit.
"Here’s how it works," he said. Skinner set out on the tailgate of his truck four tubular structures each about two feet high. They were each secured to their own base. Inside the base was a strong spring and a smaller circular block that set on top of it. When the spring was depressed and secured with a delicate catch, a small chute, like on toy paratroopers, was loaded into the top of the cylinder. The catch that held the depressed spring in place could be released by pulling a length of fishing line. Thereby freeing the spring and launching the chute projectile high into the air.
"See?" Skinner explained, "Ya, just pull on this line, the chute goes up, all of us‘ll see it, and it will float down again without making any noise. I got it all smoothed down so it doesn’t make hardly a sound. Everybody gets one and you set it out a ways from you so you don’t bump it by mistake.
"How strong is that spring anyway, Skinner." Dodge questioned.
"Oh it’s strong alright," he confirmed, "It’ll shoot that parachute up high enough for all of us to see it."
Buck hesitated, "Well okay, we can give it a try."
Everyone picked up a tube and set out for their spot. I don’t know where everyone else set their tubes but I found out later that Dodge had decided to wedge it between two leafless saplings somewhat to the left of him but where he could easily see it. Then he positioned himself where he could look out from behind a large pine.
Everything was quiet. Around four in the afternoon Dodge heard sounds that were very promising. He focused his attention to the area ahead of his tree and geared up all his reflexes. Unknown to Dodge, at the same time, there was a squirrel jumping trees and it happened on one of the two saplings to the left of him. Curious as squirrels are, this one scurried down the young tree and stuffed himself into the tube of the "chute launcher". His wriggling body took only a few seconds to trip the catch and trigger the spring. That Squirrel shot straight up out of the tube at about twenty miles an hour. All of us saw it all right. It looked like a furry bullet. Sixty feet in the air the squirrel’s velocity changed. It somersaulted over, head up, and started clawing the air at high speed like it was climbing a ladder.
Buck was watching from the ridge through field glasses. He figured that squirrel cut straight through the sky for half a mile.
Dodge didn’t even look that way. Like a grizzly was after him, he started to run. He pealed all the bark off the pine he was facing before he realized that he wasn’t getting anywhere. Then in desperation he whipped around it and let out for the ridge.
When I caught sight of him he was running for all he was worth straight down the lane that cut through my clearing. His lips were buckled up around his teeth with the force of the air rushing past him. I knew that something was wrong and I wasn’t sure how much of it had to do with the squirrel. As he raced toward my position I dropped my equipment and stepped out of my blind onto the lane. Dodge took one look at me and he never even slowed down, he just changed directions. Straight up about five feet! Both arms shot out to the sides, one still with the bow and both legs did a spread eagle. He looked for everything like a college cheerleader doing mid-air splits. When he came down again there was terror in his eyes. Skinner ran up and grabbed the back of Dodge’s shirt-collar with both hands. Buck showed up just as Dodge’s feet came out from under him and he slammed to the ground flat on his back. His body was motionless. He seemed to be unconscious but his eyes were wide open. Skinner said later that if it hadn’t been for the slight whining sound he’d have taken him for dead.
We never used the signal chutes again. Skinner agreed they still had some bugs. And Dodge recovered after a few days to go out and invest in powerful walkie-talkies. We never had trouble communicating again. Least not that bad.