It would be, by all measures including wallet width and vacation time, the last hunt.
As if to commemorate the occasion, a blue storm swept out of Saskatchewan, carrying that thin, cruel snow that comes only with subzero weather. Too cold for big flakes. Mean little ones.
Six hours on the road turned into seven and then we were finally there, at the bar, beers before us. Minus twelve outside. Tomorrow, into it. Minus twelve boosted down to minus thirty-two courtesy of our northern wind. Thank you.
I looked at her, sipped my beer, and grinned. “Tomorrow,” I said, “we get even.”
She looked at me as if I were crazy. No, check that. Not as if.
At seven the next morning, coffeed-up, cafed-up, we were at the first cover, snow screaming beneath our boots. The dog paddled out into it, stopping to chew clumps of snow from his toes, but pushing on, collecting burrs as he went, but eager. Minus thirty two with the wind. What the hell? I couldn’t stop grinning and then a rooster went up. Close, cackling and the auto loader was at my shoulder, barking once, twice, and the bird was down and the dog on him and then the bird in hand. Getting even.
Getting even for all of those wild flushes two hundred yards from the gun even after you’ve been careful with the truck doors. Even after you’ve whispered to the dog, heeled him tight until ready. There they go, a whole fucking field full of those bastards, all at once all in the air, all gone before you even have time to piss, zip up, and load the gun. Motherfuckers. I do not apologize for foul language and feral fowl. Pheasants. Or chukar, too, for that matter. Neither are a gentleman’s bird.
The blood in our veins flows like a slow river of lava into a cold ocean. We turn, move back to the truck a mile away, frozen, fingers tight. The dog chews more chunks of ice. Thank god for wool everything. Fingers and toes cold. The tip of the nose. But we are getting even with the bastards.
Drive to a new cover, trying to warm in the old Dodge, the heater going full blast and the temp gauge still not up to normal, despite an hour of idling. Dog out again and then we are in the chokecherries and another big gaudy sonofabitch gets up and swings out overhead and the gun barks and then jams solidly in the cold, doesn’t feed the second shell, but no matter because the bird is down and and the bird is dead.
We move on. The dog makes birds again and another big rooster gets up tight and close and I swing and shoot and the gun jams again. Too damned cold. But the bird is dead and by the time we get back to the truck and gut both of them out, they are cool and stiff and going frozen. But we’ve gotten even. For one day. A limit of roosters. Makes the vengeful heart happy.
Coffee handed out from the gal at the kiosk, a big smile and a shake of the head for anyone out hunting pheasants in twelve below. No one understands. It’s late season. It’s pheasants. It’s revenge.
The next day, out in it again. Up to minus twenty-two now. Wind chill. Still air, if there were such a thing, minus ten. A heat wave. Plugged the truck in at the motel last night. Good move.
Different dog this time. Same technique. Close, quiet, slow but before we’ve had to a chance to enter the good stuff, birds start going out, threes and fours and fives, some cackling. One hundred yards away. Not our fault. The doors were shut quietly, the dog close. Different day. More out wild and I get one quick shot, freezing and slow and a miss. Hit well yesterday. Missed first shot today. That’s all. We try to hunt up the singles, the pairs, but they go out wild before we can even crunch over there, frost in my beard, frost in my lady’s long hair, making her look prematurely gray. It’s a good look, I’ve got to say. A harbinger.
Different cover, another dog and the same result, birds out wild before we’ve even straddled the barbwire. Not the dog’s fault. Not the doors. Cursing.
We move up and even the hens are wild, going out in twos and threes, the dog working close and well, a veteran dog. Chewing snow and ice from pads. Too cold for more than one good run with one dog and then trade off. Finally, at the end of the quarter section, he goes on point, fairly close, a solid-something-is-right-here point and a big old gaudy cockbastard goes up and I swing up. And fumble the safety with my gloves in the subzero. That’s my excuse. And the bird is off and away and I shoot little more than a send off shot. A wide miss that I know is a whiff before the sound even comes to my ear. The day is an empty bag.
Not getting even at all.