Up north of the house, tight against the highway to Opheim, it looked good last year. Tall weeds and snowberry in the gullies stringing off a patch of uncut wheat. A stackyard of old round bales and shoulder high kochia. You’d have to go easy in there, listening for the dog, watching out for hidden barbwire. But a rooster in that weed jungle would have to climb ten feet like a timberdoodle before leveling off and heading for friendlier parts. And in all these years, we’d never hunted it. Checked the map again. Yes, it was ours to hunt.
So we hatched a plan. The old man would drop us on the highway and we’d dodge grain trucks, hold the dogs tight, just two of them, and plunge into the tangle working quietly and quickly away from the traffic. The old man would drive the old truck–your new truck–around to the other side a mile away on the dirt section road and block. He might even get some shooting but his jungle days were over. We’d walked while he blocked every day for the last three days, hobbling on arthritic heels maybe ten yards to the edge of tree rows and ditch edges, swinging that beautiful double gun and dropping the occasional rooster. That felt better, far better, than shooting them yourself, just seeing him down them as he had done for seven decades.
It was a good plan except the truck was as arthritic as the old man. The synchros were going out in first and second, and you had gotten to where you could move forward without grinding, but it took some practice.
“You haven’t forgotten how to drive a stick, have you?” half joshing, half serious, laid out more sarcastically than intended.
Away we went from the traffic, quickly, worried just a bit about the dogs, both veterans, but there is no figuring a canine hot on a rooster and big rigs don’t stop for bird dogs.
We’d made it twenty yards when the grinding and revving started. More grinding. Black smoke. Grinding. Forgetting the vow to go quietly, all you can think about is a transmission ground to powder and a mechanic’s bill bigger than two house payments.
“Damnit!!!” you yell. Although over the revving and grinding and with two hearing aides that whistle fitfully and aid not much at all, there’s not a chance he can hear you. So you yell louder. And louder.
He gets out. “I can’t get it into gear.”
No shit. You do not say this aloud. You walk back, holding the shotgun in one hand, stooping to hold the collar of the eager dog next to the highway.
“Okay, shut it off, put it in gear, then start it with the clutch in.”
You walk out twenty yards, following the dog.
More revving engine and now the smell, the sickening odor like shit-covered hair burning in a burn barrel full of garbage. A clutch burning. “Goddamnit!!!!! The brake is on!!!! The brake!!!”
There is no chance of him hearing you over the diesel engine and the squalling clutch but somehow he makes it off the little pull-out and onto the highway, brake still on, engine hitting maybe 5000, smoke everywhere, the stink of brake and clutch and the truck barely going 10 miles an hour. You yell louder and wave your shotgun over your head, still clutching the confused bird dog so she won’t rush out into the traffic. And louder still, cussing vehemently.
To make matters worse your hunting partner is giggling his ass off and so you scream at him too. “It’s not funny asshole, he’s destroying my truck!”
This just makes him laugh harder and makes you angrier and the F-bombs just add to the fury and hysteria.
Finally, the old man figures out the brake is on, just as an 18 wheeler is bearing down. You can hear its compression brakes, see it lumbering up on the pickup and then all is well as the brake comes off and the old man accelerates in a cloud of black smoke en route to the rendezvous point.
Oddly enough, there are very few pheasants in the field. Your partner speculates that maybe this one little spot, a spot we’ve never hunted in a decade of hunting this place, has been hit hard by neighbor kids.
To which you respond, chastened: “It might have been all the yelling and gear-grinding.”