When the pegasus flushed, I shot it without thinking.
I was pretty surprised when it folded up and went straight down. I was using my standard quail load, 3/4oz of 7.5s in a 28ga, which in hindsight didn’t seem sufficient for a giant, flying horse.
Never-the-less, there it lay, it’s wings splayed out in a patch of tall grass and dead as a doornail.
It was at that point that I got really nervous.
What will everyone think? Did I need a special tag for this? Did I have my license? Did I have a migratory bird HIP number? Did I need a migratory bird HIP number? How ridiculously high is the fine for shooting a flying mythological creature?
Pre-season dreams are weird.
Extremely Polite Southern Accent Customer Service Girl:“Hello, welcome to “_______.” How can I help you?”
Me: “Yeah, hi. I’m not sure how I got on your mailing list, but I’d like to be removed, please.”
EPSACSG:“Ok sir, I can do that for you, but can I ask why you’d like to not continue to be informed about our fine offerings?”
Me: “Uh, you’d like to know why I don’t want to receive your catalog?
Well, since you’re asking…to be honest, I don’t think I’m exactly your “target clientele.” You see, I live in the West, and hunt for wild birds on public lands, on foot. I’ve never been to a private $7k/week plantation lodge. In fact, I’m pretty sure that someone in a position of influence would make sure I never even made it to the front door of such an establishment.
Nor have I ever been transported from one planted bird location to another in a horse-drawn carriage. Do those things have a wet bar?
I’ve also never faced the peculiar dilemma of which sportcoat I should pack for standing around the fireplace after a day “afield,” while discussing my many and varied accomplishments in both the realm of canned hunting and finance.
Me: Great. Also, I can’t ever imagine myself in a pair of your $200 bright green jackass slacks with the embroidered Labradors and ducks on them. In fact, I would fully expect that these pants come with a clown nose, a ball gag and a pair of handcuffs. Is this true, or are these accessories extra?”
Me: “Hello? Ma’am? I still have a few more reasons I’d like to share… Hello?”
This post comes to us from Steven Brutger, a good friend and bird hunting buddy of MOF. We can’t tell if he’s making fun of himself, of a certain type of hunter, or of us specifically. Regardless, it’s funny.
Mouthful of Shit
By Steven Brutger
Scent fills her nostrils. Her tail cracks back and forth like a windshield wiper. She quarters into the wind. My finger creeps near the safety.
Her ancestors, training, years of experience all lead to this moment. Muscles ripple down her sides as she hones in on the target. A lone, compact turd of cow shit.
Without missing a stride she scoops it up, swallows and quarters.
It seemed like the neighborly thing to do. I was hunting a narrow patch of public ground edged by a gravel road, they were cruising the road in their orange getups on a similar quest for ditch parrots.
When they jumped out of the truck a few hundred yards in front of me to hunt a prime patch of Russian olive I was obviously headed toward I felt a hell of a lot less like waving anything but my middle finger.
What kind of road hunting scum bags would cut in front of a hunter, park in the middle of a road, jump out and hunt a 50 yard patch of cover, then slam the doors and speed away?
The kind of guys who would wave as they drove past you knowing they were about to screw you, I guess.
I’m not sure if they saw any birds, but I know they didn’t fire a shot.
A few minutes later and 75 yards short of that sweet but now pre-chewed patch of cover, the dog put up three birds and I shot my first double of the season.
He’s a knife-in-the-teeth type, a run-hell, fast-go, wound-tight, son-of-a-bitch, so when he yelps down by the creek—out of sight (again)—I don’t think much of it. He comes roaring back and I can see blood dripping from his ear. The cut is perhaps a quarter of an inch in length and right at the tip and not bleeding very heavily. Yet. As a horseman friend of mine would say, “It’s a long way from the heart.”
And we’re a long way from the truck. It’s 15 below zero and the pheasants are holding tight. There’s about one point five minutes of debate. We push on. If he could vote—and he can—he’d vote “aye.”
This is the way. His way. He’s pretty good at it. Full-fricking-tilt until he’s completely gassed and done. This is also the way of Western pheasant, those savage bastards of greasewood and buffaloberry, their craws stuffed with Russian olive pits, their hearts full of bitter fuck-you fire. No other bird evokes the chaos, the running pandemonium beneath the wide skies. Wild bird, of course. Feral is more apt. You hit the ground running and you need a “Katie-bar-the-door” dog. Barbwire, thorn, bur, be damned. Late season? Snow? Even more so. Those runnin’ sons-a-bitches. David Alan Coe, or perhaps it was Chris Ledoux captured it this way: “Oh, it’s forty below and I don’t give a fuck, got a heater in my truck, and I’m off to the rodeo.”
So we continue, despite the bleeding, because, darn it, the pheasants are holding tight and the injury is superficial. It is worth a repeat: the pheasants are holding tight. It’s too cold to hunt. But the pheasants are finally, for once, holding tight. This is the epic once-every-seven-years cicada hatch on the Green, for crying in a bucket. The pheasants are holding tight and you may not see this again in his lifetime. Maybe even yours. It’s too cold to hunt? Yeah, right. Unless you are a cold-hearted bastard. So, onward, blood flying from sliced ear. Hey, we’re hunting late season wild roosters. Call the ASPCA. Go ahead, call ’em.
In the whitewash of eastern Montana’s winter, he is lost quickly and then I pick him up again. The ear is bleeding freely now, and he’s frozen on point. I huff up and watch the blood dripping into the snow. He’s oblivious to anything but the smell in his nose and when the cock bird goes up and the shotgun barks, he’s on it. Hard on it. A 24-inch-tailed rooster and he retrieves, then blasts onward. I think for a moment, “Maybe I ought to do something about that ear.” But as soon as that thought enters, he’s gone again, romping into the snow, blood-be-damned, as if affirming my “long-way-from-the-heart” mantra.
By the time we get back to the truck (with three stone-dead rooster pheasants being flash-frozen by Montana December against my back), he’s a red and white setter. He looks like something out of a slasher movie, all from the flopping of an ear splattering blood everywhere, a minor cut with a major bleed. He doesn’t care, though. I tape him up as best I can, but the tape comes off and the ear bleeds more. I wrap his head and he digs into it and off comes the bandage. Screw it, he says, I’m a tough guy.
That night in the motel room, the bleeding finally stopped, he gobbles his feed, then promptly pukes it—and a wad of cocklebur and pheasant feather—up on my bed. Twice. “Get off the stage, you god-damned goof,” sings Ledoux. What an animal. Both. Or all three of us.
He’s running now. Bowling-ball sized chunks of rock are spilling down behind him as he races uphill. Sweat is dripping down his brow and you can read the profanity-laced tirade on his face.
This morning, he was hesitant, waiting for the birds to stop as if this was some kind of gentleman’s hunt where he wouldn’t have to break a sweat and the birds would cooperate.
Two coveys later, the thorns, cacti, brush, hills, rocks and sand have brought him to a more basic understanding of the guerilla warfare that is desert quail hunting.
Sometimes you have to run the bastards down and when they flush wild, you empty your gun at them.
Troy and Samantha are perfectly fine people. He works hard, fishes a bit and uses his small college baseball skills as a Little League coach. She also works (not as hard), looks a little more than good in a sundress and unloads a torrent of dirty jokes after a couple of cosmos.
But the sonsabitches destroyed a bird cover of mine. Sometimes I can’t get past that. Sometimes I want to pull into their yard on a Saturday morning, uncrate the dogs and let ’em shit on the lawn as I stand on their beautiful back deck and fire both barrels at their clothesline.
I won’t do that of course. I took at a verbal poke at them one buzzed night for being flatlanders – chiseling down the price of 20 acres from a nearly broke dairy farmer and then building a tidy $400,000 home in an overgrown apple orchard and taking away a sweet little spot I had to hunt just minutes from my house. It didn’t go over so well – maybe it was my delivery. Maybe it was a little too close to the truth.
It happens a lot around here. A lot, a lot. A new house goes up in the middle of a perfectly good bird cover – an overgrown assemblage of old apple trees, a few awkward aspens, a clumping or two of softwoods and maybe some dogwoods. I’ve stood in Troy and Samantha’s back yard, long before it was a backyard, of course, and killed a big mature grouse as it flushed directly over my head. Where I was standing – I folded the bird with the first barrel, by the way – is now the spot they keep their kayaks in the winter.
Troy told me it wasn’t his fault, you know, that we build new houses on old land. We’ve got plenty of trees and forests around here (which is true), so it’s not like he assembled a strip mall in the middle of a wildlife refuge.
He reminded me I’m not without sin, either. My house stands in an old farm field. It’s not like I live in a old house in the middle of town and walk to work. I should have come up with the money the farmer needed and bought the bird cover if it meant so goddamn much to me. He told me this as I sipped his Crown Royal. As a response I took a big, deep drink.
He’s right. He’s not entirely to blame. I’m not, either. While I’ve gained friends and damn fine neighbors and all that hunky dory stuff, I’ve lost a few bird covers over the years. All in the name of progress and growth, I guess.
I’m waiting for the day they tell me – they’ll be laughing of course – that those birds I always hunt, what are they? Partridge? Grouse? Are they the same thing? Yeah, well, anyway one of them flew into the sliding glass door on their back deck and must have broken its neck. They found the poor thing dead, “Tits up” she’ll say, right there on the Trex deck. She’ll tell me it kind of made her sad.