John and I took a trip to North Dakota for a week of pheasant hunting! If you haven’t read The Brothers yet, you might want to read that first.
It was the last field of the day on the last day of our hunting trip. The brothers were sore and tired but they weren’t going to show it now. While I’d been letting one rest at a time all week nobody needed to rest any more. They’d be riding in the truck the next two days. It was the last chance for everyone and none of us wanted to miss it.
The temperatures had finally cooled and the wind had picked up. Those boys put their noses into the wind and I followed, one hand on my gun the other on the dual controller for their collars, whistle in my mouth. Whistling when they both needed it, using the tone on their collars when just one needed direction. Working our way up the field at a quick pace because these brothers only know how to move at high speeds.
For dogs that hate each other out of the field, they hunt well together. Coursing back and forth, staying close to one another but not following each other around. Then they’d get on scent. And I’d better be watching for each of their tells to see who got on it first. After hunting with the boys all week, I was catching on to their subtleties. What they each looked like when they smelled a bird. What they looked like when they saw one running. What commands they each obeyed solidly and which ones they didn’t.
If it was Trip, I just had to make sure I could get my legs in gear to keep up with his sneak, knowing Sunday would hold point. If it was Sunday, I would need to get Trip closer to help trap the running bird before the egg beater started it’s engine. Or if Sunday locked on point I had to make sure I stopped Trip with a “Whoa” because he wouldn’t honor. There’s no time or thought to spare for wool gathering or cloud watching on a hunt like this.
We raced up the field. The wind in our faces, sun low in the sky and a field of pheasants in front of us.
Waves of birds, twenty or more at a time, would flush wild in front of us and then the dogs would pick up the few that stayed behind. Hen after hen they found, pointed or flushed in front of me all the way down the long field. Then, just before the field ended the rooster we’d been hoping for went up and I shot it. Filling my limit for the day.
Still wild with the joy of the wind and the hunt and flying high on the success of the dogs I turned the dogs to the the truck one last time.
On our way we met with John and his equally successful dogs. I regaled him with arm waving stories of our last hours while enthusiastically blowing my whistle too loudly in his ear when the dogs tried to head back up wind. When we reached the truck we all six collapsed to the ground. My brain was tired from working the dogs and my legs were exhausted from keeping up with them. I had a perma-smile from the hunt, the dogs, the birds, the open sky, the tired man across from me and the week. I had three pheasants to my name and the sun was setting. We had things to pack, birds to clean and dinner to make but we didn’t move. John and I and the four dogs lounged in the what stubble and enjoyed every last bit of that North Dakota sunset.
And now you should probably go read Just One More. While it’s true at the end of just about any hunt, it was written about those last bits of sunset.