Yesterday pheasant season opened in our home state. The local Fish and Game, oh, excuse me, now it’s the more politically correct Fish and Wildlife Department, released pheasants three days before. The birds are dumb and most poor fliers, but it’s an excuse to walk the woods with a gun and let the dogs have some fun.
We hunted one of the prettiest places on the island, with old pastures breaking up the oak woods, and ancient stonewalls zigzagging across the fields. Every year the birds are released in almost exactly the same spot and seldom do they wander far in the few days before the season opens, so to make an event of the day I lead the dogs in a circuitous route to the release location.
But early on, in the first field after the trail comes out of the trees, the older German wirehair, Chara, gets birdy. I coaxed the younger wire in the same direction, but she showed little interest. In the muted early morning light the somber fall colors appeared shades of rust.
And then the dogs point! I wandered in and the pheasant took off like a helicopter, laboring for altitude. At the crack of the shot it fell and the dogs were on it. Colby, the younger dog, pranced to me with it in her mouth. Chara already searched for another.
Colby bumped a second pheasant up on a knoll that flew quite well, soaring over a cluster of young trees and into a second field filled with knee-high sumac. Marking where it landed, we trekked over there but never found it.
Timeworn cart paths, edged with lichen-covered stonewalls, took us past old stone foundations and through a short section of woods to second set of pastures. We hunted up the fields and then looped around another old tote road that crossed a tiny stream and to head back toward where we came.
Both dogs got birdy next to a thicket of briars, but Chara abandoned the scent and went on. Colby didn't give up though, and cautiously poked into the briars. A few feet in she locked up like a statue. Peering into the tangle, I could see the pheasant hunkered down only a few feet beyond her nose.
Now that presented a quandary. The wall of bull briars was higher than my head and almost impossible to see into, let alone walk into. I circled to the left, but things didn’t get better. Around to the right, things improved a might, so I pushed in. I had to give high marks to the McAllister waxed-cotton coat for protecting my upper body. Chara, by that time, circled back and snaked into the briars too, honoring Colby’s point only a foot or two behind her.
Thorns clawed at my face, dislodged my glasses, and attacked my legs, and why I didn’t wear my brush pants I will never know. If I had tripped, I never would have hit the ground, the tangle would have held me aloft.
When I looked again, the two dogs had relocated, and the pheasant sat only about eighteen inches from two sets of jaws, its eyes were wide open as I’m sure it knew it was in a pickle by then. At that point I knew the dogs would catch the bird if it tried to fly, because flight in the tangle would have been impossible.
So I shouted, “Fetch”, which eliminated the middle man, meaning me with the gun. Chara snapped up the bird and gave it a shake, then dropped it. Colby carried it back to me. I think Chara didn’t want to walk any further in those briars than she had too. She’s a smart girl.
That gave us our two bird limit, so I untangled my body from the prickly vines and headed home. Later I would find that my legs looked like I’d lost a fight with a bobcat.