AJ (First excerpt of a story from my short stories)

Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.  I had heard that first from my mother when I wanted something that she thought was inappropriate for me at a certain age.  I heard it again when I found I was pregnant and later found out that I was carrying twins.  On both of those occasions what I wished for came true and I never regretted the outcome.  However, that was before AJ.

Whenever Todd brought out any of his dogs to hunt with us, they were always in a crate in the back of his truck.  So to play it safe, we took a large travel crate with us in case AJ didn’t travel too well in cars, or if he and Buddy didn’t get along in the back of the station wagon.  We met Todd at the hunting preserve and after we took care of the preliminaries, we paid Todd and he gave us AJ’s registration papers (imagine that – our first registered dog!), Todd let AJ out of his kennel so he and Buddy could get reacquainted.  AJ was a little reserved around us, he was waiting to get to work and start looking for birds, but we didn’t have any guns with us.  To AJ, we were just more hunters there to hunt with, he didn’t know yet that everything he was used to was going to change drastically.

I asked Todd if AJ was housebroken and he just laughed at me.

“He’s a hunting dog.  He doesn’t come in the house.  Just give him a doghouse and put him on a chain, he’ll be fine.” Todd said.

“That wouldn’t be right.  Buddy is a hunting dog and he stays in the house.  AJ will stay in the house too.  We’ll just work at house training him,” I said.

“You are going to be sorry if you do that.  AJ is a male, he will mark every wall and piece of furniture you have before you get him house trained.”

“Well we thought about that and we’re not interested in using him for stud,” Mitch said, “So we will probably have him neutered.”

Todd said, “That would probably be a good idea.  But I still think you’d be better off leaving him outside.”

When it came time to load up, AJ wouldn’t get in the back of the station wagon.  It wasn’t what he was used to.  This was the first clue, but we weren’t paying attention.  We coaxed and pleaded and Todd ordered AJ in his oh so “stern” voice, to get in the crate.  Buddy was jumping in and out of the back of the car and barking at all of us and being a general pain in the neck.  Finally we got AJ into the car, but he wouldn’t get in the crate so Mitch just said to leave him out.  Buddy was still barking and now AJ wasn’t sure what was going on but he didn’t like it at all.  He looked up at Todd with this scared look on his face as if to say, “Please don’t leave me with these people.  That dog won’t shut up and the woman keeps touching me.  Make her stop!”

We said our goodbyes and started off down the road.  AJ just stood in the back of the station wagon and watched not real sure about everything yet, but he didn’t panic.  Buddy settled down and picked his favorite spot to lie down and take up as much room as possible.  We stopped at every rest stop to give both dogs plenty of pee and sniff time.  AJ started warming up to us a little more and actually started to relax and lie down.

The first of many challenges we encountered with AJ was when we got home.  We let the dogs out of the car and let them wander around and stretch before going inside.  Buddy went down the steps to the door of our home and AJ just stood at the top of the landing and wouldn’t budge.  Being a strict “outside dog”, AJ didn’t know how to go up or down steps.  This was going to be really interesting trying to teach AJ the mechanics of going up and down steps in one easy lesson.  It ended up that Mitch had to carry him down the steps and into the house. 

Mitch said, “He better figure out stairs real quick.”

Challenge number two became immediately apparent when we finally got inside.  AJ didn’t know what linoleum was.  I had never seen a dog stand on his tiptoes before.  I didn’t know a dog had tiptoes for that matter, but AJ did.  He locked his legs, extended his toenails out and lifted the pads of his feet and wouldn’t move.  He just froze.  He didn’t know how to walk on the smooth cold surface.  It never occurred to either of us that a dog would be afraid of a floor.  We stood there and laughed at him and each other, because not only was Stairs 101 on the lesson plan, but now we had added Hard Floors 101 also.

I took all of the throw rugs and extra towels and laid them end-to-end as a sort of pathway for the dog to walk on, covering all of the smooth surfaces throughout the house.  Didn’t that just look special?  I couldn’t believe it.  Housebreaking was going to be a little tougher because you had to walk on smooth surfaces to get to the doors.  AJ was a real “outside” dog.  I was beginning to wonder at the wisdom of our decision.  We decided that this was enough stress on all of us for one night and put AJ in the bedroom with us and closed the door so if he got any “urges”, I would wake up and take him outside.

Please come back and read more of AJ in the second excerpt.

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My First Bird (final excerpt)

This is the final excerpt of my story, I hope you enjoy it.

For the morning hunt, Todd brought out a German shorthair named Uno.  Uno was a shy sweet dog that adored Todd.  Now I had to worry about NOT shooting someone else’s dog.  Maybe I wouldn’t even load my gun today.

This time after getting all of our gear on and load the guns, Mitch loaded mine for me, how thoughtful, we headed out and we actually went in the direction Todd sent us.  The morning was 100 percent nicer than the day before.  The sun was shining, the winds were calm and the temperature was about 45°, a little chilly but doable.  We walked up the hill to the top cedar break.  With just five of us, we sort of spread out in a crooked line sideways on the hillside.

Buddy and Uno were ranging in and out of the cedar trees and down the slope trying to catch a whiff of a scent.  Harley walked next to me making sure one of us protected the other.  Oh well, at least he wasn’t gun shy.  A rooster flew up and three of us shot at it at the same time.  Steve got the credit, Uno retrieved the bird and everyone’s step seemed a little lighter, knowing that we were going to be successful.

We crossed over to work the other side of a hill with a cedar break across the top ridge.  A row of cedar trees was planted to slow the wind down and help slow down erosion.  It also made great cover for the birds.  Mitch was on one side of the trees, Steve was working his way in the middle of the trees and I was halfway down the hill walking the slope.  The dogs were ranging back and forth in front of us.  The dogs’ heads are down close to the ground, their noses twitching, sucking up all the scents in the grasses and somehow their olfactory glands separate each scent and categorize it.   It never ceases to amaze me how they know the difference in all the smells out there.  They trot along; tails up and wagging back and forth, until the right scent hits their noses and then they make this abrupt turn and move more deliberately.  You can hear them breathing in and out, sucking in all of the smell, like a pig snorting.

They scare up a pheasant and I heard it before I saw it.  There was the very distinctive sound of the “whump, whump, whump,” of the wings flapping.  Mitch fired at it and missed as it flew across the trees.  I turned toward the sound; at the same time I raised the gun to my shoulder.  As I looked down the barrel to the sight I found the bird.  I wanted the bird just off to the left and a little lower than the end of the barrel; I lead the shot to where I was hoping he would fly.  My thumb pushed the safety button to off and as I got set I squeezed the trigger.  If the bird didn’t drop then I would fire again.  The gun recoiled back into my shoulder with a mild kick.  There would be more of a kick if Mitch hadn’t put on a recoil pad, but it absorbed most of it.  The whole process took place in mili-seconds.

As soon as the bird dropped to the ground, I put the gun on safe and charged off after the dogs to where the bird dropped.  If you don’t kill the bird, just knock it down and wound it, it can run off before you can get there.  Pheasants are hard to kill and are notorious for disappearing in the underbrush after being shot.  One of the dogs chased it down and grabbed the bird in his mouth.  The dogs are trained to hold the bird firmly in their mouths, but not to crush the birds by bearing down too hard.  Buddy, got to it first and brought him back to me, dropping it at my feet.  All the others complain that it doesn’t matter who shoots the bird, Buddy brings the kills back to me.  If the bird is not dead then we have to wring its neck, usually by holding the bird by its head and swinging it in a tight circle.  I picked up the bird by the neck and looked at it.  It was just hanging limply, its’ eyes were closed and there was blood coming from its’ beak. 

Mitch yelled down at me, “Did you get it?”

“Yeah I got it.”  I yelled back up the hill.

I laced the bird by the neck on the stringer on my shell belt.  As I let it hang by its own weight, he started flapping furiously on my leg, splattering blood all over me.

I started screaming, “Aah, aah, aah!”

Mitch yelled down from the other side of the cedar break, “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not dead!”

“Well kill it!”

“I can’t! It’s hooked to my leg!”

He started laughing and I know he was bent over slapping his knees, even though I couldn’t see him.  “Well take it off and kill it.”

“I can’t get it off!” thoroughly frustrated I yelled at the bird, “Stop that!  Stop that right now or I’ll shoot you again!”  Like he really cared.

So Steve, another member of our merry group, came down the hill to help me unstring the bird and kill it.  We restrung the pheasant back on my belt and I stomped up the hill to find Mitch exactly as I knew I would, doubled over hee hawing at my expense.  There was the overwhelming temptation to shoot him in the butt, but I controlled it.  Instead, I just threatened him with his life, even though deep down I felt a great deal of satisfaction.  I had just shot, ran down and killed my first bird.  At least now I look like a seasoned hunter, with blood splatters all over my new field pants.

My First Bird ( 2nd excerpt)

This is the second excerpt from my story, “My First Bird”

The sun was going down and we were chilled through or at least I was, so we headed back to the cabin at the entrance of the preserve to warm up.  Todd was waiting for us and asked how we did.  Mitch told him we shot five and missed a couple more.  So we saw a total of seven.  Todd had set out ten for the first day, so there were still three more missing in action.

The way Todd runs his preserve, you request how many birds you want him to set out, then you pay for the total set out whether or not you kill them.  Another difference at a preserve as opposed to open field hunting, you can shoot hens in addition to roosters.  So you can have Todd set out a mixture of what you want.  I haven’t found any difference in shooting at hens.  They’re just as hard to find and kill as roosters.

Everyone was pleasantly surprised and pleased at how much fun we had even with the cold biting wind.  THERE WERE BIRDS OUT THERE!  Everybody got off at least a shot or two at the pheasants.  I hadn’t hit one yet, but I was hopeful.  We were all in agreement that the birds acted just like wild birds.  They flew and ran just the same.

After much discussion it was decided that we would be back in the morning and Todd would set out an additional ten on top of the five that were still out there somewhere.  Plus god knows how many other “free walking” birds were hanging around?

Another adjustment we had to make to preserve hunting was what time to hit the fields.  As Todd explained to us this was our vacation, relax, enjoy.  The weather would be nicer around 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning than at sunrise.  We didn’t have to race around to beat out the other hunters.

“Slow down, hunt for a couple of hours, take a break, rest the dogs, drink some coffee and eat some cookies, warm up at the cabin.” Todd said. “The birds will still be here when you get back.”

Whoa what a concept!  We didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, more specifically; I didn’t have to get up at 0 dark 30 to shower.  We could sleep until a civilized hour of the day.  We could eat a real breakfast at a normal pace, no more swallowing breakfast half chewed, to speed up the process and get moving.  This was throwing Mitch for a loop.  He wasn’t sure if he could handle hunting at such a leisurely relaxed pace.  He was used to the regimented style of his father.  This was the beginning to sound like hunters heaven.

Todd had noticed Harley’s definite lack interest in hunting and that Buddy was doing all the work trying to cover five hunters, so he offered to bring one or two of his dogs out in the morning for us to help Buddy.  It was decided that we would be back around 9:30 the next morning.  Todd took the birds we killed with him to clean.  Wow, he even cleaned the birds too!

We went to our motel to clean up and relax before going to eat dinner.  The dogs wandered over to their bed and start snoozing.  Mitch’s father and brother didn’t make the trip this year, so I didn’t have to fight with anyone about where the dogs slept.  Even though, I haven’t shot a bird yet, this was still the best trip yet.

The next morning after a relaxing start to the day, we loaded up and headed out to Todd’s.  Todd pulled up right after we got there.  He showed us the general area he set the birds and told us which direction we should start off.

“Out of curiosity,” Todd asked, “Yesterday when I pointed out where the birds were why did you go the opposite direction?”

Mitch explained, “I don’t know, it just seemed too easy to go that direction first.”

Todd laughed out loud, “You’ve been hunting the hard way for way too long!”

Man did we have some habits to break or what!

My First Bird (first excerpt)

This is the first excerpt from another one of my stories.

If I said I wasn’t nervous and a little scared, I’d be lying.  I was also excited and eager to jump right in.  I was going hunting with four seasoned hunters, all men.  As I packed up all the clothes and hunting gear I own it seemed like, all these thoughts kept running through my head.  What if I shoot at a bird and miss?  Or worse, what if I line up a shot on a bird and accidentally shoot one of the other hunters or God forbid, Buddy?  I’d heard that happens all the time.  Maybe I wouldn’t pull the trigger at all, nobody would notice, would they?  Can I keep up?  Will I embarrass myself? 

Of course when I voiced these fears out loud to Mitch, I was given the reassurance that everyone misses sooner or later. 

“Don’t worry you’ll do fine.” Mitch said.

“What if I shoot someone?” 

“That would not be a good thing.  Getting shot happens sometimes, though.  I can show you the holes in my field jacket that I got when my father shot me.” He smiled. “Come on, let’s get loaded up.”

This year we were going to central Nebraska to hunt at a controlled shooting preserve.  This was something that no one in our group had ever done before.  In fact, they had always looked down their noses at hunters who hunted preserves.

“That’s not real hunting, where you have to kick up the birds to get them to fly.” Mitch had often said.  “Real hunting is tromping around in the open field not knowing where the birds are.  And another thing, I’m not paying someone to hunt birds.”

“Well what do you think you’ve been doing every year going to Kansas with Floyd as your guide?” I asked.

“That’s different, we just pay for his meals.”

“Oh, and what about his wife and his grown children and all of their meals, too?  What’s the difference between feeding his family breakfast; lunch and dinner every day, so he can ride around in the truck and take us to places that don’t have any birds and paying someone up front to insure the birds are there?  All we know for certain is that there are going to be birds out there.  We would still have to find them and shoot them.  The only guarantee we have is that there will be birds.  Something that hasn’t happened for the last few years in Kansas.” I pointed out.

It was a long speech for me.  Here I was sounding like the expert, when I’ve only been hunting for 3 years and hadn’t even shot a bird yet, and Mitch had been hunting since he was a kid.  Maybe because I’m so new to hunting, it was easier for me to change and try something different.  He stopped and looked at me like someone that has just had a revelation.

“I never thought about it like that, but you’re right.  We’ve been paying for birds all along.  Okay, we’ll give this a try, it’s not like anybody else wants to go back to Kansas anymore.”

Everyone had gotten thoroughly frustrated with little or no birds, long uncomfortable rides in the back of a pickup truck bumping along the dirt roads in drought ridden Kansas for the last four years.  It was colder this year than previous years, a good thing for the dogs.  But how would I do in the cold?  When we finally got to the preserve, there was a strong North wind blowing and I couldn’t keep my hat on.  It didn’t take long and my fingers were numb, too.  After we got acquainted with Todd, the owner of the land and shooting preserve, he told us the general area the birds were in, but these were wild birds and we still had to find them. 

For some reason, Mitch led us off in the opposite direction that Todd pointed out.  This must have been some new strategy that I didn’t know about.  Maybe he wanted to sneak up on the birds from behind.  Is there a behind in hunting?

We brought Harley, one of my son’s dogs with us to hunt with Buddy.  The idea was to get Buddy help in the field.  Harley is a lab mix and he’s not afraid of guns but had had no hunting training.  So we thought we’d bring him along and let him watch Buddy and maybe learn what to do.  Harley liked wandering around with us.  He ran back and forth following Buddy, but still wasn’t real sure what was going on.

The wind was biting and there were heavy gray clouds, so I offered to head down into the middle of the draw and work under the cover of trees and slope of the hill that acts as a windbreak.  There were no birds down there, but I didn’t care, there also was no wind either.

We finally worked our way back toward the cabin where we started in a wide arc.  Buddy picked up the scent of a pheasant.  His head jerked around in mid-sniff and he abruptly changed direction.  Harley wasn’t sure what was going on, but he picked up the pace and followed Buddy.  Buddy scared up a pheasant, and as it took off, flying off with the telltale sound, whump, whump, whump, that sounds like a helicopter taking off.

Mitch, who is always ready it seems, got off a shot and downed the bird.  Buddy ran it down and brought it back to me.  Harley wasn’t quite sure about the whole process, but he was still game at that point.  He started acting a little more interested until he found his own bird.  We were tromping on the side of a hill when he literally walked up on a pheasant trying to stay hidden in some tall grass.  He stuck his nose on it not quite sure yet about it, when the bird flew up almost in his face and Steve shot it very close to where Harley was standing.  That was all she wrote for Harley.  He was done looking for birds.  The rest of the trip he spent walking next to me.  He never strayed too far from my side and if I stopped Harley would sit down next to me and if I stopped and stood in one place for too long, Harley would lie down and take a break.  So much for training Harley into a hunting dog.  Time for plan B, whatever that was.