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August 20th, 2012 - 04:26 PM
When one has been walking this earth long enough one discovers a myriad of memories bouncing around the old brainpan. In my rapidly increasing decades of walking the hunting fields across the USA I have gathered enough fodder for many, many stories. I enjoy writing down my recollections but I have some small incidents that will not make a whole story, merely a sentence or two. I am calling these Snap Shots. Enjoy.
• Back in the late 1970s I acquired my first decent shotgun. It was a nice little .20 gauge over and under. Made in Brazil, it was not a bathing beauty but boy that little gun could shoot. One nice fall day I was walking along a likely little tree filled ditch on Ronnie Wurster’s farm. Old Jake my sainted Black Lab stuck his nose into a promising patch of grass. The world exploded in quail, some headed into the ditch and trees others went right and left hugging the grass between the ravine and the bean field. I shot one quail and down he went, swung my gun fired and missed. I reloaded quickly. The covey kept flushing and my third shot brought down a second quail. I stepped down into the trees to locate my first bird (Jake had the second) as my boot hit ground a big old rooster flushed almost under foot. I raised the .20 firing the second barrel and down he went. By the time I had my quail in hand Jake was fetching up my surprise rooster.
• As a young boy I did most of my hunting within walking distance of my home. Of course that was several square miles of territory but as is the human condition we always think the hunting is better “over there.” I would walk the roads and often meet hunters from out of town. For a free ride I would be their hunting guide, getting them on places they could not hunt. It was a good arrangement. My hunting dog at the time was a Border collie we called Boots. Boots was hell on game, he would point for sure. Of course he could be pointing a rooster, a hen, or a rabbit. Potluck. One of my companions for the day was busy making fun of Boots when the dog did his version of a point. I stepped in to flush the unknown game. A hen flushed out about five feet ahead of the aforementioned hunter. The fast flushing bird hit him square in the chest knocking him ass over teakettle. He should not have been making fun of my dog.
• It was just before the Iowa opener when I decided to take Cromwell on a warm up hunt to Shore Winds Hunting Farm down in the Pine Barrens of south Jersey. My good buddy Jerry set me up in a field just right for a single hunter. As is customary Jerry set out half of my birds for the first go ‘round. Cromwell was in great form and within a couple of hours I shot several quail and two of my three pheasants. It was a warm day so the birds were slipping into the woods when they could. Jerry stopped to check on me and I suggested he grab his shotgun and walk in the woods to see if we could find my errant rooster. Just shy of a large fallen tree trunk Cromwell hit a rock solid point. When I moved in I was shocked when the bird that flushed was a wild turkey and not my rooster. He looked like a B-52 coming off of the ground. Jerry laughed and lowered his gun. “Wait!” I admonished. Cromwell had not broken point. “There’s still a bird there. You take the shot.” I kicked at the tree trunk and Mr. Rooster rocketed out of his hidey-hole. Jerry made a pretty shot and we got a good laugh out of the situation.
• It was a beautiful Monday in Iowa, our half-day hunt before we headed home. Today it was Mr. Ed, GK, and I. We were on Quail Run Rd in the forbidden area north of the bridge. I decided to take the fencerow in towards Wurster’s land. That fencerow has rarely failed to yield at least one rooster per year. As we bracketed the fence line Cromwell had his nose down and was real birdy. One side of the fence the land widened into an acre of heavy grass/weeds. I don’t know what type of weeds they were but they were three foot tall and thick, laying down willy-nilly and making it damned hard to walk in. Cromwell went on a hard point, I kicked at the heavy cover, Crommie moved, I moved with him, he hit another point, repeat action. That doggone rooster had a freeway under the weeds and we could not make him flush. For fifteen minutes Cromwell chased him from point to point and I chased Cromwell. My leg was tired of kicking the unyielding weed cover. At one point Mr. Rooster stuck his head up to see where we were then immediately ducked back into the cover. We never did flush that wily old boy.
• Scott Busch and I were on the north side of Miller’s place coming around the hillside. I was watching Cromwell track a bird through some low ground cover. I knew he was on a bird and I was ready. Mr. Rooster made a beautiful flush not ten yards right in front of me, and easy shot for an old pro like me. I threw my old NR Davis double to my shoulder and fired (twice) hitting nothing but blue sky. Mr. Busch was a good thirty yards to my right and as my bird sailed away he raised his .20 and decked the old boy with one very long and very nice shot. I may never live that one down. Well done my friend.
• Way back in the 1970s Porky B Flowers and I were hunting with Jake my faithful old black lab. We were at the edge of a picked field of corn when Mr. Rooster flushed out of a stand of grass, over the fence line, and over a bare bean field. Cary made his shot and the bird went down then immediately was up and running, trailing a broken wing. I set Jake through the fence and he was off disappearing over a low rise. Cary was hard on their heels when he too disappeared from my sight. I shouted, “Can you see your bird?” “No!” was the reply. “Where’s Jake?” sez I. “He’s right here.” What’s he doing?” “Just laying down.” “Well, sez I, “turn him over.” Jake was laying on the errant rooster legs crossed and a happy smile on his face. You see, he was spurred by a rooster as a pup and did not like to pick up live birds. He also did not like to lose them.
• When I first began hunting at the game farms in New Jersey it was became obvious that using a .12 gauge on close flushing birds was not very sporting. I scouted up a nice little .410 side-by-side made in 1915 and it really fit the bill. Mr. Ed seeing my neat little shooter got the green monster so when I found a barely used Stoeger .410 I put him on it and he snapped it right up. We have had some great times shooting both pheasant and quail over the last 20 years using those diminutive guns. I prefer the three-inch shells but not to be outdone Mr. Ed uses the tiny two and a half inch shells. On one hunt an errant quail surprised us at the end of a field. Ed busted him on a beautiful right to left shot. When he picked up his bird the quail’s head was completely gone. Mr. Ed, with a totally straight face said, “I always like to shoot their heads off it’s a nice clean kill.” You could probably hear my eyes rolling.
• In yet another .410 adventure at Shore Winds, Ed and I were in the Pine Barrens chasing twenty of Jerry’s best flying quail. That morning Jerry had a surprise visitor. A stranger stopped to ask Jerry if he could audition as a guide for Shore Winds? When Jerry asked if we minded giving him a try we assented. Jerry and his dog were with Ed. I got the stranger and his pup. We were in the same general area but far enough apart to be safe. I have to say up front it was a good day. We walked leisurely through the woods watching the dogs hit their points. Then Bang! Down would go my quail, sometimes a double. Bang! Bang! came from over where Ed and Jerry were working. And so it went. We flushed quail from laurel thickets, in the open going away, and shot around trees. By the end of the afternoon we had 19 of our birds in the bag. The stranger sat his pup down, pushed his cap back, and said, “man you boys can sure shoot.” Maybe the best compliment I have ever had, it brought a big grin to my face for sure.
• I’ve seen dogs do great things and I’ve seen dogs do silly things. After old Jake passed on to Doggy Heaven I was made a present of Droopy, a Springer Spaniel. Droopy was well trained and a great dog. His nose was infallible and over the years he picked up many wounded birds. One fine fall morning I was hunting along the creek south of our farm. Droopy was in full hunt mode so when a rabbit shot out of a clump of grass Droopy took off after him like a coiled spring unwinding. The cottontail had a good ten-yard head start and went zipping by a small tree. Droopy intent on his quarry never saw the tree. He hit that tree head on and at full speed. I think he bounced backward about eight feet. He scrambled to his feet shaking his head but all of the rabbit chasing was whacked out of Droopy that day.
• The hunters were working a field of standing corn south of our farm on a beautiful November Saturday. Scott B. was in the party along with Mark A., Porky B, and his new stepson Shane. Shane had recently turned fifteen and this was his first Iowa pheasant hunt. The guys were walking east in the corn, Shane and I were blocking at the fencerow. A nice cock rooster flushed with a loud cackle right in front of the boy. Shane threw up his gun and fired, the bird sloughed to the side, waggled but remained airborne soaring down the long valley. I watched him go but he stayed in the air for at least a half a mile. The disappointment showed on Shane’s face. “It was a good shot,” I said. But that didn’t help much. Once back at the truck I suggested we hunt a rarely hunted piece of picked corn west of the bridge. Working along the corn stubble and foxtail Droopy got birdy. Soon his nose was down, his stub tail whirling like a helicopter rotor. I got Shane in a good position to shoot and sent Droopy in to flush. Droopy sat back on his haunches, looked intently at a pile of corn stalks, then leaped ahead sticking his nose under the corn. That dog backed out with one dead rooster, still dripping blood. Droopy had found Shane’s wounded bird. One the happiest experiences in my many years of hunting is to present a boy with his first wild pheasant.
• Opening weekend in Iowa was a hot one that year. Scott B., Mr. Ed, and I were south of the creek on Belding’s. We were working along the heavy cover provided by the fencerow. Back north towards the creek was a picked bean field and across the creek standing corn. It was hot so we decided to take a break and settled into the soft grass to rest and chat. When we resumed our march almost immediately a nice rooster burst out from the fencerow. I don’t now remember who shot I know Ed did, being on the far left and having the best angle. Mr. Rooster barely waggled but Ed stood staring after the bird as he soared across the empty field, across the creek and deep into the standing corn. “I got him,” said Ed, “I have him marked and we’ll find him dead.” I looked at him with incredulity it was at least a quarter mile to the middle of that cornfield. But over the years I’ve learned to trust Mr. Ed’s eyes more than mine. We worked our way to the end of the fencerow, then across the creek. We had both Scooter and Duke so we loosed the boys into the corn and started our march, guns at port arms. About halfway into the field was an island of weeds. “This is where he went down,” says Ed. I called Duke in and told him “dead bird.” And I’ll be damned if ol’ Duke didn’t snap on point within a few yards then nose in and come up with the dead rooster. It was quite a day.
• One of the funniest shots I have ever made was the day our group was hunting our farm. We were on the west edge of the farm where it comes together with Belding’s and the old cemetery. One group was coming up the hill along the tree line and two others and I were working east along the fencerow that separated the cemetery from the farmland. We met at the corner where all three properties meet. As we met we naturally formed a circle about ten feet across. The dog was off elsewhere and everyone relaxed. That’s when the rooster flushed right out of the middle of our circle. Having nowhere else to go he went straight up. He hit his peak at around twenty feet when I raised my shotgun and fired. The dead bird had gone straight up and come straight down barely missing the surprised hunters.
• One of my fondest pheasant memories has nothing to do with hunting, shooting, or even eating the beautiful game bird of the Midwest. It is a tale of Nature at her best. One spring morning in 1970 I stood transfixed at the kitchen window and watched two old cock birds perform a mating ritual for the favors of their prospective harem. They were strutting along the fencerow in the hog pasture. For nearly an hour each colorful bird would strut and cackle marching back and forth getting closer and closer. Periodically one would raise his hackles and flutter up in an implied threat. Finally they were within a few feet of each other face to face. I don’t know what one sees and another doesn’t but one of the would-be grooms suddenly flew away leaving his rival to claim his girls. That vignette was a real life National Geographic film running forever in my head.