Since I normally walk the dogs at 4:30 in the morning, we routinely run across deer, raccoons and possums. Some mornings I can hear hoot owls calling each other. But this morning as we topped a hill, there at the bottom of the hill standing very still watching us was a fairly large animal. The animal had a large full tail that curved down to the ground. It had its’ left front leg lifted as if it was in mid stride when it spotted us. I could tell it was brown in color. Not a real dark brown and not a tan color either. The head was squat and did not have a pointed snout like a dog. But it could have been a dog. The animal had large powerful looking legs. It wasn’t a deer. It wasn’t tall enough and deer don’t have long tails.
The dogs stood very still with their ears at attention, and watched the animal with their whole being. You know how you can tell when a dog is totally fixated on something. None of the three dogs moved a muscle toward it. That’s why I not so sure it was a dog. After an eternity, maybe fifteen seconds, the animal gave us a final look and walked quietly away into the dark wooded area at the bottom of the hill.
Did we see a dog or maybe just maybe we saw a mountain lion?
Mitch waited until Todd left and said, “There are never any birds in these places. My father would take us into the woods all the time and there were never any birds in the woods. Oh well, let’s go and get this over with and then we can head over the hill and down into the back side of this field.”
Against Todd’s advice, Mitch decided that we would both go down into the draw. The draw had a mixture of snow and frozen mud. There wasn’t really any easy way down the slopes into the draw. The good news was that there was a wide open area with very few trees that I could use to slide down to get in the middle of the draw, because I could tell it was not going to be a question of if I was going to slip and fall, but when.
Once down in the draw, we both started off toward the other end with the dogs going back and forth, in and out and not having the trouble I was having keeping my balance. What looked like snow up top was actually ice-crusted snow up close. Carrying the gun, not falling on my butt and dropping the gun was immediately more important to me than “no birds.” Not too safe, huh. Mitch got up ahead of me about twenty feet and saw what Todd was talking about. At the backside of the draw, there were birds everywhere. There were chukars and pheasants just milling around the tree line and the junk farm pieces. He couldn’t get close enough fast enough. The dogs were on the birds making them scatter and fly. Mitch started shooting his gun at the birds and nothing was dropping. I was down in the bottom of the draw trying to get up the slick icy sides of the slope. As I was crawling up the hillside, I could hear the gunfire and the birds cackling and the whump whump whump of their wings flapping and Mitch cussing and yelling for me to get up there and help out, and I couldn’t get up the hill. Just as I had crawled almost up to the top, the shotgun sling slipped down my shoulder. As I grabbed a tree root to pull up on, the shotgun slid off my arm and slid down the hill back to the bottom. I looked at the gun at the bottom of the hill and then turned my head back up to where I had almost reached, just inches away from level ground, debating whether or not to slide back down to the bottom of the hill. I was seriously considering just leaving the gun down there, but I couldn’t, it had been a Valentine’s Day gift. Still holding the tree root, I turned and sat on my butt. Then I let go of the root with one hand and pushed off with the other. Sliding down the hill with only lycra running tights and canvas field pants as a buffer between my backside and crusty ice.
Mitch was still shooting at birds and screaming, “Susan get up here! Where are you? I can’t do this by myself!”
Digging my heels in to stop my slide at the bottom, I just missed a close encounter with a large tree stump. I yelled, “I’m trying, but I can’t get out of here!”
I picked up my gun and crawled upward again. I realized that day, that not giving up is essential to hunting. By the time I finally got out of the draw and topside, all of the birds were gone. Mitch didn’t hit anything. Oh yeah, we sure cleaned out the birds for Todd; they flew over the road to the neighbors land.
This year we have been experiencing a real winter, with cold temperatures and snow. Mitch told me this would be “real” pheasant hunting (you mean all the other times weren’t?). This was going to be a short trip, just a weekend trip with an overnight stay. So I didn’t need to pack my whole wardrobe, I was reminded. But I would need to think COLD and pack “warm”, in other words, my whole wardrobe. Can’t have too many layers.
When we got to Todd’s preserve there was another group of hunters just heading off in the direction that we normally went. Todd came walking over to us and we caught up on what had been going on since November. The morning was cold with a strong wind out of the north and there were heavy clouds, looking like it could start snowing soon.
Todd said, “I’m going to take you to a different place to hunt this morning. It’s over by my house and there are lots of pheasant and chukkar that have escaped and are just hanging out around in that area. I want to get that area cleaned out.”
It didn’t matter to us where we hunted as long as there were birds, and this sounded like it would be just too easy, so we said sure. We loaded the dogs back into the car and followed Todd over to the property close to his home. Mitch pulled the station wagon in and parked alongside Todd’s truck. We got out and surveyed the area. We had never been to this area before and felt kind of special, like we had made it to the inner circle or something. There was about 200 acres of more land that Todd owned. To our left was a corn stubble field, in front of us were small hills and down over the hill was a wooded area. But Todd wanted us to work a small wooded draw off to our immediate right. It started at the road and went back into his property about the length of a football field. It wasn’t very big at all. Along side of the draw on the left were old junk, parts of some farm machinery, tubes that looked like they were part of a silo and various other sundry items. On the right side of the draw was where he kept some cattle at the edge of his family lands. So we had to be careful about shooting in that direction. Down in the draw we could see a winding creek and open ground with no cover except for the tall trees growing out of the draw.
Mitch was clearly skeptical and we were both a little disappointed. We thought that we were going to “hunter’s heaven” and here we were standing at the edge of what looked like a huge waste of time. But outwardly Mitch didn’t show any of his disappointment to Todd. Todd told us to start at the street and work our way to the back and we could go to our left and work the cornfield and after that we would go farther into the fields. Todd suggested that one of us stay up top on the outside edge on the right side of the draw and the other one go down in the middle and work our way back. Todd said he had some things to do and would come back by in about an hour and see how we had done.