Pop, pop, pop.
“Dada, what’s that noise?” asked Everett, excited.
“That would be hunters shooting at birds.“ I explained.
“Why don’t you shoot at birds?” he whined.
“We have to find them first son. But we’re trying” I answered, the picture of paternal patience.
We were hunting pheasants near home with a few stolen hours. A beautiful Saturday on the front-end of a three-day weekend, had brought hunters out in droves. From the sounds of it, everyone was having a red letter day. Everyone, that is, but us. Despite prime looking country and the hard work of Steven’s capable dogs, we weren’t putting up any birds.
“Bird, I see a bird! Quick Dada shoot it, shoot it” said Everett.
“Those are song birds bud. We don’t shoot those birds.” I reply, cringing at the thought of what his grandmother the birder would think.
It’s not a question I’d ever thought to ask. Doves are fair game but not robins, geese but not swans, sand hill cranes but not blue herons. Why are the lines drawn where they are?
“They’re too little to have any real meat on them. Plus it’s illegal” I answered with feigned authority. “Now stop kicking me.”
“Yep. We’re looking for pheasants, big birds.”
“There’s a big bird!”
“On the lake? That’s a coot.”
“Can we shoot that coot?” he asked, probing for the boundaries. I considered the question for a moment, tempted. Coot are legal and in season, if nearly inedible. Maybe a little action would be just the ticket to settle him down. But no I decided. Appeasement by wanton bird slaughter wasn’t the precedent I wanted to set.
“Nope, still looking for pheasants.” I told him “Stop spitting on my neck.”
Upland bird hunting used to be, in large part, about the silence for me. Without a bird dog to hold my attention, or produce reliable results, I’d come to think of it in terms of long meditative walks over big country. If I came home with the occasional fowl, so much the better. Now, on those occasions when I swap the voices in my head for a toddler in my backpack, I lose most of the quiet. I gain, however, a provocative inquisitor and someone with whom to share the ironic little moments of a morning in the field.
“Dada, Dada a pheasant!” exclaimed Everett, finally making the first positive ID of the day.
Sure enough, there stood a rooster, right on the other side of the windshield, standing tall on the double yellow line, just in time to watch us drive away.