By Nick Simonson
Even in these times of want and woe and low pheasant numbers and dwindling CRP and the tales of empty fields and bare draws and a million other stories that the would-be-hunting populace spins to justify the lack of wear on their boot leather, there are still many more reasons to be out in the field than in front of the TV at home. One truly never knows what will happen in pursuit of fish, birds or big game, and each adventure holds the possibility of memories great and small. Whether it comes at the end of a walk, or straight out of the gates, or somewhere in the winding grass stretches of the middle, our area of the world provides opportunities unlike any other that are tough to replace; whether they’re lessons and laughable moments, or truly unique happenings.
While walking the back stretch of a small drain near the little Interstate pull-over town, I remarked aloud to my young dog sniffing the edge of the grass – “remember when we got that grouse up here last fall and I missed it – TWICE?” Not ten steps further, the singleton sharptail took to the sky from the same cut edge of the wheat field along the drain we planned to walk back into the wind; and, as has become an annual tradition apparently, I missed the slow-rising, easy crossing shots the bird provided, and stood there dumbfounded, trying to figure if it was déjà vu or I continued to be just a horrible shot in the same spot.
A circling rooster proved it was the latter as my dog and I made our way through the next stretch of cover – thorny tangles of buffaloberry bushes and small spruce trees in a conservation planting along a grassy field. After a winding pursuit by Ole, twisting and turning his way through the grass and crashing through the low branches, the bright bird flushed a few feet in front of my boots and my rushed shots at five and ten yards were not only grossly premature, but also horribly off as I hurried and mounted the butt of my gun low. The sting in my upper bicep was a reminder to breathe, mount, slow down, focus and try not to let the loud cackling, pounding wings and bright colors a barrel-length away sway my shooting form. From season-to-season, there’s always a few that do.
With the experiences in the bag, but no birds, my dog and I wandered up the draw back toward the truck, winding with the dry creek bed and searching for sign of the birds to come. Ole’s nose, which had gone silent since the small set of shrubs, lifted to the air as we made our way through the final switchback leading up to the old stock pond that held the remnants of water for the small valley, despite nothing in my pouches, a disappointing heaviness grew on my shoulders as the two-tone Toreador red and gravel-road brown of the truck came into view.
Suddenly, a hen flushed ahead of us and Ole took off after it. Next, a wounded hen caught the dog’s attention as it attempted to escape, flipping and jumping and trying to take to the sky. Ole closed in to finish off the bird, and his teeth gnashed at her tailfeathers as I attempted to find the control to his training collar to get him away. Suddenly, the light blue head of a young cackling rooster broke cover ten yards ahead of me, and I instinctively shouldered my gun firmly as a second one lifted to my right. There were five birds in the air and one running on the ground all at the same time. The shot pulled Ole’s attention away from the running hen as the first rooster toppled into the edge of the bordering portion of the wheat field which remained uncut. I turned and followed the second rooster’s flight path out of the ravine and fired again. It too fell just inside the standing grain.
After some searching along the field edge – which required a little more work than I’d like to admit for the sake of my young retriever’s good standing within his breed – both birds ended up in my vest. Once again dazed by the happenings, but pleased with the results, we made our way up to the truck, with a true double for the first time in many years tucked away for dinner and my optimism restored, not only in my shot but in the opportunities to come as the season progresses.
Featured Photo: The author’s lab Ole with a pair of yearling roosters collected on a double near the end of a hunt. Simonson Photo.