Boone & Bo: The Autumn of Their Years
By Larry Whitely
Bo was a beagle and beagles are usually rabbit dogs but he was all squirrel dog and cared nothing about rabbits. He loved to chase and tree squirrels around the farm. Creeks, barbed wire fences, briar thickets, or even a brake-squealing car couldn’t keep him from his mission. Treeing squirrels was his job and he was good at it. He would do it all day long before finally coming back home to supper. When finished he’d curl up on the porch completely worn out from his day’s adventures.
Bo was my Grandpa Boone’s dog and both were as independent as they could be. Boone was in his 80s and I was 12. He enjoyed taking his grandson hunting and was teaching me to be a squirrel hunter too when the time was right. Back then we were poor so it was important not to waste a bullet. It would take a while to save enough to get more. Getting a couple of squirrels was our supper. With Bo’s help that was never a problem. I still remember how good those fried squirrels and grandma’s homemade biscuits and gravy were.
Boone had worked hard on the farm all his life and his heart was beginning to wear out. He slowed down a bit, took his medicine, and kept hunting squirrels with Bo and me. Like Boone, Bo was in the autumn of his years. Bo’s gray muzzle reminded me of Boone’s gray beard.
For Bo, chasing and treeing was the game. It was fun to watch him go after a squirrel. When it would run up a tree he would climb partway up it in his excitement to get at it. As soon as he gave up climbing he would sit at the base of the tree barking until Boone got there and shot the squirrel. A dead squirrel was not important to him anymore. He would trail up to a freshly killed squirrel and then take off after another one.
Our last day was perfect squirrel hunting weather. A crisp, clear morning had dawned when we reached the back forty of Boone’s farm. The early sun sparkled on the frosted grass as we left the old truck. The trees were bare of leaves now. Bo saw the movement of a squirrel and he went to work. Boone took a position by an oak tree and watched. He smiled with pleasure as he listened to the sounds of Bo. He held his old .22 rifle, still in mint condition, in the crook of his arm.
Bo was out of sight but his bark told us he was after his quarry. His voice muffled as he chased it across a gully and it ran up a tree, as we knew it would. Boone walked slowly to the tree and prepared for the shot. The squirrel came into view out on a limb high up in the tree. Boone sighted down the barrel but it moved slightly as Boone fired. The squirrel fell to the ground and then ran into a thicket of wild blackberries. Boone muttered to himself.
Bo was after him but like Boone, slower than before. His voice high and clear, he started after the squirrel at a walk. As we watched, Bo fell. Quickly scrambling to his feet, he yodeled as he entered the thicket. He gave voice for another fifty yards or so and then there was silence.
I looked at Boone. His face was gray, his breathing was heavy and his old face seemed more wrinkled. “Sit down Boone,” I said. “He found the squirrel. I’ll go get them.” But Boone just stood there and didn’t say anything.
I walked through the thicket toward the place where I’d last heard Bo. I found him stretched out, mouth open, eyes glazed. There was no life left in him. A couple of feet beyond his muzzle, the squirrel twitched and was still. I left them both and returned to Boone. He was leaning against a tree with his head bowed.
“I knew it when he fell,” Boone whispered. We walked back to the truck, thinking our own thoughts. Boone broke the silence. “I hope to go like Bo, doing something I really like to do.” “I’ll come back later with a shovel,” I said. “Thanks,” Boone replied, “I don’t think I could do it. One more thing though, would you bury the squirrel in front of him?” I nodded as a tear ran down my cheek.
We got back to the truck and Boone reached in and got out an oiled rag and carefully wiped his old rifle and cased it. He handed the gun to me and said, “I don’t think I’m going to hunt anymore. I want you to have it.” In just a few months Boone was gone too.
I hunted for many years with Boone’s gun and took a lot of squirrels with it. But, it just wasn’t the same without Boone by my side and the sounds of Bo treeing a squirrel. Today, the rifle sits in the gun safe in my office. I am now in the autumn of my years.
My sons grew up hunting squirrels with that gun. I taught them like Boone taught me. My grandson Hunter got his first squirrel with it after his Dad had taught him. There was never another dog like Bo though.
When I am gone Boone’s gun will be passed down to one of them. They all know the story of Boone and Bo in the autumn of their years.
(Top) Bo the squirrel dog.
(Middle) Grandpa Boone.
(Bottom) Get the biscuits and gravy ready.
*This article previously published in the Conservation Federation Magazine here: https://issuu.com/missouriwildlife/docs/september_2020_vol_81_no_5/6