Monday, 14 November 2011

Nebraska III

Mike showed up at Super-8 In Ogallala around 9 PM with a bottle of Ardbeg and a copy of the Double Gun Journal.  Like his father and grandfather before him he hunts behind a setter (named Luna) and, on this day,  carried one of a pair of early Woodward under levers with sleeved barrels chambered for 2 1/2" 16 gauge shells.  

 Luna and Mike.
We spent the day hunting walkin areas in Perkins and Lincoln County.  After a days rest, Erdos seemed good, he was not limping and I was relieved that he could hunt.  He started off rather slow, but as soon as he got on some fresh scent he perked up and hunted hard. I apparently misread the walk-in map and we almost immediately wandered off onto private property. As we tried to get back to the approved walk-in, three roosters flushed wild out in the cut corn and we headed across to the shoulder high grass they'd landed in. I asked Mike if we should try to pinch them and he said to just head for where they'd landed as fast as we could, which was not easy in the heavy cover.  We pushed into the absurdly thick cover,  moving together, parallel to one another.  A rooster took off in front of Mike and then another and he missed them both. I did not have a shot.

Hunter and his dog on a country road.
We split apart, Mike heading back into the cover where we'd just jumped the roosters while I headed off into the reeds, ostensibly chasing the ones we'd already jumped.  The cover was so dense and the going was so tough that I abandoned my attempt to hunt and bushwhacked out the back edge of the CRP.  I walked the edge of the corn cut field hoping to hike back to the truck by making a loop. About a hundred yards ahead of me Erdos was clearly making game.  He was onto fresh spoor and headed back into the tangle of reeds; it was not long before I saw three pheasants fly and then land again, perhaps only fifty yards further into the heavy cover.

Following Mike's earlier advice I quickly waded in after them.  The reeds were over my head and I had to hold my shotgun up in front of me to make my way. I could hear Erdos somewhere near me but this was not cover for pointing.  One bird took off not far in front of me, and then another, and then more to my left and right, perhaps eight or more all together.  I finally pushed forward to a spot where the reeds transitioned to a reddish chest high grass that I could see over.  A rooster flew up in front of me, I took the shot and he tumbled as he went down - a solid hit.  I marked the spot as best I could and when a second bird went up in front of me and before I knew it I had two roosters down.  As I started towards the point where they'd fallen I lost the optimistic hope that I would ever find them at all.  Erdos was no help and the cover was so thick that at ground level I could only see a foot or tow in any direction. I started searching in a regular grid from the tall reed I'd hung my hat on where I'd marked the second bird down.  Eventually, I found a few feathers. It seemed like a small miracle. I worked my way out in a spiral until  I found more feathers, and then I found the dead bird a short distance away, along the line defined by the points where I'd I found the feathers.  This started to feel a bit more like tracking a wounded big game animal than bird hunting. I recalled Datus Proper's assertion that a pheasant rooster is a trophy game animal.

I searched for the other downed bird for another half an hour before I finally gave up; I was already late for the appointed meeting with Mike at the truck.  And later, after Mike had a rooster in his game bag we could count the hunt as a success.

Woodward underlever sidelock and Jeffery boxlock and two roosters.

It is a deep disappointment to hunt and kill any animal and to not be able to retrieve it. I killed two pheasants on this trip that I was unable to retrieve.  First and foremost, such a failure is a waste of life that is hard to justify. It seems that uncertainty is the foundation of the compact between hunter and prey - the hunter will try his best for a clean kill and recovery and the birds will enlist all their instincts to thwart that objective.  Uncertainty is the essence and the very nature of the endeavour, to bring down a bird on the wing at a distance with a few pellets of lead. That birds are wounded or killed and never recovered is inevitable and serves as evidence of that uncertain footing.

 A lost bird is an abrupt interruption of the intimate relationship between hunter and prey that begins when the bird falls to the ground out of thin air.  Once to hand, the hunter must often kill an already dying bird with his own hands.  This usually accomplished by wringing its neck.  The attentive hunter inspects the miracle of the warm feathered form closely before depositing it in his game bag and may walk miles with that body pressing against his back in the game bag.  I hang pheasants undrawn for a week and then pluck them and gut them saving the liver and heart.  As individuals of the species, each pheasant is special and they present a challenge in the kitchen. Pheasant should never be overcooked, but nevertheless must be cooked. The intimacy of the relationship ends with the enjoyment and sharing of an honest meal of wild meat. A lost bird is a lost opportunity for a kind of perfection.

British game guns and long tailed rooster.

By the time I was home I'd driven over 750 miles in the course of three days -  and that number does not include the driving Carlos did Saturday and Sunday morning which was at least 160 miles more to be summed with my own total. I drove home leg tired, with a tired and satisfied dog and with three pheasants and two quail.

Sunset on the drive home.

1 comment:

  1. "First and foremost, such a failure is a waste of life that is hard to justify". This and your writing about the "uncertainty" rings very true for me this week.
    Yes, each kill brought to the kitchen is a small miracle.

    Thanks for the comments