The Mudhen King

by Don E. Webster

There has been a time or two during my life when having some knowledge and experience with the outdoor world has come in handy. Especially job handy. As in monetarily handy. I remember one such occasion almost as if it happened yesterday. To say that the story is totally unique is, well, perhaps an exaggeration, but maybe not. I'll let you be the judge. As best as I can recall, this is how it happened...

Mid-eighties. I'm writing screenplays. They invite me down to Hollywood, and things look promising, but they want the horse in my story to be green. By that, I mean they actually want a green horse. Green in color. Don't laugh. People in the movie business can be a little strange. During a heated argument, they offend my delicate sensibilities. Not that it matters, but I notice that my fly is open. We part company. Maybe I don't want to be rich and famous that badly.

Anyway, as I continue to write movie scripts, I happen to notice an ad in the local newspaper that talks about a movie being filmed in my hometown, and they're looking for local people to fill some positions. I figure this might be a good way to learn the movie business from the inside out, so I apply for a job.

The guy doing the hiring tells me they don't need any more people. I say that's fine, but I'd like to fill out an application, anyway.

He tries to give me the "brush off", but I don't leave, and when he realizes I mean business, he hands me a piece of paper. I fill it out, and give it back to him, and as he's saying don't call us, we'll call you and as he's about to toss my stuff in the waste basket, something on the resume catches his eye. He gives me a look and says, "Wait a minute." 
He leaves the room and returns shortly with another guy. The other guy says, "Your application indicates you have fish and game experience. Is that true?"

"It's the only thing on that application that is true," I say. I smile as I say it.

"Do you know anything about birds?" he asks.

"Birds," I say. "I practically invented birds." I'm still smiling.

They look at each other, and they walk off and huddle in a corner, whispering back and forth. They come back, and the second guy says, "Do you think you can round up two thousand chickens for two days for free?"

Naturally, I'm thinking, how in the world does this relate to fish and game experience? (I told you these people can be strange). I work up the best poker face I can muster. "...Do you want them dead or alive?"

"Alive," he says.

"I can do that."

The second guy smiles.

Of course, I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to do it. And I've come to the conclusion that these people are more nuts than I thought.

The two of them look at each other like they've just shared a private joke. "If you can do that, we'll hire you, and you can have a job."

The next thing I know, I'm driving around all over the countryside, looking for somebody to loan me two thousand chickens for two days for free. I remember that some people I know have a chicken farm. It turns out they have a contract with Foster Farms, and the people can't loan out Foster Farms chickens.

I should stop at this point and answer the question that's probably running around inside your head: what about the mudhens? Bear with me, I'll get to the mudhens. This chicken story is just too good to pass up.

Anyway, I somehow manage to locate a family that raises free range chickens for sale at a Farmer's Market. I somehow convince them to let me borrow two thousand of their chickens for two days, but there's a catch. The movie company has to pay them ten dollars for every chicken that dies during the two days. Worst case scenario: the chicken farmers collect a neat twenty grand if I wipe out all their chickens.

I'm mildly shocked when the movie company agrees to this. I will find out later that movie companies are notorious for agreeing to things that they don't necessarily plan on actually honoring.

I rent two large U-Haul vans and move two thousand chickens six miles across town where I tend to them around the clock for two days in an old barn, watering and feeding them by hand, day and night. The chickens are required as background material for a scene involving an argument between two, young lovers. I lose a total of six chickens, and the movie company owes the family sixty dollars, which I doubt they ever paid. (the scene lasted less than a minute in the finished movie).

Word gets out, and I'm something of a hero. Obviously, they didn't think anybody could get two thousand chickens for two days for free. Attractive, young women are giving me alluring smiles. I feel like Cool Hand Luke after he ate the fifty hard-boiled eggs. Exhausted, but glorified.

The next thing I know, they're asking me if I can catch a couple dozen mudhens.

I'm cocky now. "Don't insult me. Why would you even bother to ask," I say.

They're impressed. They give me a raise, a pickup to drive, a gas card, and an expense account. I make a quick phone call to the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area and ask the boys how they catch a few waterfowl. A funnel trap, they say. A wire enclosure shaped like a funnel. You bait it with corn. The birds follow the corn inside it, but most of them can't figure out how to get back out through the narrow opening.

After getting a special permit from the Fish & Game Department, me and another guy set up a trap in one of the town's wastewater ponds. We drive out the next morning and the trap is a carnival of quacking, flapping ducks and mudhens.

Judging by the look on their faces, the two guys that hired me are now thinking that I must be at least part supernatural. I've also developed a following of groupies. I'm pretty sure that song on the radio has been written for me. It's Dire Straits playing "Money for Nothing and Your Chicks for Free".

Alas, all glory is fleeting. When the film production ends, the two guys that hired me disappear like thieves in the night, and it dawns on me that in all that excitement, I neglected to pitch my screenplays.

I come back to the real world and eventually find work slopping offal in a slaughterhouse.

Post Script: The scene involving the mudhens was never used, and Everett Wilson, the guy who helped me catch them, turned out to be a lifelong friend. He's a very talented guy with an M.A. and an M.F.A. in art, and he illustrated my book, "Bury Me In My Waders", and did the cover for my novel, "Double-Ought Buck".

I think it might be correct, what they say: truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

Don E. Webster has been an avid outdoorsman for over 60 years. In addition to being a columnist for, Don has published three books: "Bury Me In My Waders" An Old Duck Hunter Recalls His Fowl Past, "Double-Ought Buck" a novel, and "Bears, Beer, Trout Tacos, Etc." Short Outdoor Tales & Other Quasi-Kindred Illuminations. Webster's books can be purchased on Amazon, Kindle, and Barnes & Noble Bookstores.

Webster's MyOutdoorBuddy column entitled "Canine Comics" won the Phil Ford Humor Award from the Outdoor Writers Association of California in 2013. Today, Webster's award winning articles and many more can be found on his MyOutdoorBuddy column page, The Outer Edge. You can also follow Don E. Webster on his Author's Facebook!

He continues to love fox squirrels and hate eucalyptus trees.