The old man slurped another spoonful of the soup from his bowl. It was the soup of the day at the small town diner across the street from his hotel home. The warm chicken broth beat away the cold in his muscles and bones still lingering from the morning duck hunt. He and Jake had shot a full limit of ducks in under two hours of hunting. After picking up the decoys and gear they headed back to the hotel for a morning nap.
The man stared out the window at the passing cars of the quaint main street drive. It was the kind of town where everyone knew each other. Passers by spoke about the weather, family members, and the local high school football game last Friday night. While the soup warmed the mans body, these small town interactions warmed his soul. He liked it here.
After paying for his soup and sandwich, the man gathered his light coat and left overs to head back to the hotel. He would wake Jake up with the left overs and soon they would head back out to the fields for another afternoon of upland hunting.
Jake was waiting at the door when the man walked in. The dog immediately sniffed at the napkin in his masters right hand. The old man unfolded it and tossed the remnants of a cold turkey sandwich to his waiting companion. The old man slid back into his briar proof pants, laced up his hunting boots, and grabbed his worn ball cap. They were in the truck and heading to the prairie fields they had roamed the day before.
The route to the spot was the same but the old man found it difficult to keep his eyes on the road. The wide expanse of the prairie provided so many breath taking views, so many possibilities of travel. He wondered what it would be like to hunt this field. If maybe just over that hill, the ducks might be flocking into a cut corn field. He passed a cane patch that was guaranteed to be holding a few secret pheasant. The possibilities seemed endless and he delighted in the daydream scenarios he created as he passed by.
Another 15 minutes passed and they found themselves in that familiar grass parking lot. Jake’s pant slowly turning into an excited whimper as the truck came to a stop. With the engine off, the old man opened the door and exited the vehicle. The opening of the rear door sent the brown and white flash of a pointer out into the open field. He circled around the property, marking his territory as he pleased. The old man donned his upland coat and checked the pockets for shells and snacks. Not wanting to repeat the same mistake from yesterday, he loaded the Beretta first and then he closed the door to the truck. There was no need to lock the truck door here. Most of the locals still left their keys in the ignition.
Jake ran up by his owners side as they set off in a different direction for this afternoons hunt. The old man had spotted a patch of cane and a dense stand of evergreens on the opposite end of the property. He hoped the thick territory might hold some better bird numbers.
50 yards into Jake’s first cast and the old man got to see the staunch performance of the bird dog. The cover was thin, as they had not reached the cane just yet. The old man hastened his steps. He gripped the over and under tightly, ready for a wild flush. Jake stood still, intently staring, as if peering into the eyes of the bird his nose told him was there. The old man followed the point past the dog into the brush and in a moment the ground erupted beneath him. A large cock pheasant cackled upwards out of the grass and into the afternoon sun. The old man lifted the gun out of instinct more than coherent thought. When it met his shoulder he touched off the trigger. The pellets met their intended target and the bird stiffened in midair, allowing gravity to take its course. The old man knelt down to receive the prize from Jake’s retrieve. It was a marvelous bird. He held it low for Jake to sniff one more time before storing it away in the bird vest.
They set off again, making their way towards the cane and around its perimeter. Jake worked into the heavy cover and out again. The old man, occasionally losing sight of the dog, followed the tops of the tall stalks being pushed about by the working dog. Jake went deeper into the cane patch and began working a small circle. Suddenly, the movement stopped. The old man knew what this meant and began pondering how to go about bush whacking his way to the action. He started in at the down wind side, working his legs first, then his body into the tangled wall of fibrous stalks. 5 yards in and the only path of sight the old man had was to look up. His vision clouded out in all other directions by the dense web of cane. A few more laborious steps towards the direction he last saw Jake and the old man heard the unmistakable sound of wings. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash and spun to get a better look. At the same time drawing his gun and tangling his feet in the underbrush. The man took aim and pulled the trigger at the last instant on a flash of wings in the falling sun. The recoil of the blast and his bound feet sent the man backwards, down into the dirt. He cussed the cane and then he cussed his old legs for not doing their part. After wiping himself off, he headed out through the tunnel he had made coming in. At the end of it was Jake sitting, waiting with another dead rooster. The old man could do nothing but smile.
“Two birds in just 30 minutes”, the old man said aloud. Taking his time to gather himself after his fall while Jake hunted the nearby brush, it was a good time to light his pipe. The tobacco burned smooth in the afternoon air. The all to familiar taste and aroma consumed the old man. He walked on in no particular hurry, drawing a puff of smoke from the pipe from time to time to keep the ember properly maintained.
Jake worked in front of his master with the vigor of a wise hunting dog. He let his nose do most of the search. Young dogs tend to rely on their legs to find the birds, but not Jake. He held his head high into the breeze, each sniff analyzing the brush ahead. If he found a smell he liked, he ducked low and pursued the scent until he was satisfied. His long legs carried him over the tangles of tall graze. His docked tail told the story his mind was thinking. It was a beautiful sight.
Another 100 yards and the old man found himself, again, in front of the statue of a bird dog on point. Jake held as if he were chiseled from marble in that very spot. With the gun half raised, the old man eased up to the bird dog and paused to appreciate the beauty of his companion. After all, this would be the last bird of the day. If he were to rush it and kill the bird, the hunt would be over and he wasn’t ready for that. But still, the pheasant flushing from the edge of the corn could handle no more suspense. The man raised his gun and found his mark. The afternoon’s hunt was at an end.