Seven or eight miles of heavy brush brought us to the last forty-five minutes of daylight, and a fork in the trail. A warm truck and cold beer waited down the right-hand path. Straight ahead lay more half-frozen river, drifted snow and one last crease of thorny cover. The reassuring bulk of roosters cradled against our backs made quitting feel downright dignified.
The dogs disagreed.
“Plenty of room left in those vests,” their restless pacing seemed to say.
We’d decided we knew better when, as though on cue, two roosters coasted across the river and into the Russian olives a few hundred yards downstream.
“Well… damn,” said Kirk.
The dogs’ smug satisfaction as we started forward again was reward enough for our change of heart.
In fact, it didn’t even sting when, twenty minutes later, we’d reached the end of the cover with no sight of those, or any other birds. Better to have swung and missed, I told myself, than never to have stepped-up to the plate. And speaking of swinging, I thought, now would be a great time to take a leak.
I unloaded my shotgun, tucked it under my arm, and unzipped my fly.
Maybe I insulted the pheasant’s sense of modesty. Perhaps the sound of my relief was more than his nerves could handle. I hate to think it, but maybe he misinterpreted my intentions. Who’s to say?.
All I know for sure is that my hands were occupied, and a bitter breeze was blowing, when the brambles at my feet erupted with frantic wings.
I had time enough to marvel at my idiocy before the reports of “pop, pop…splash” came from Kirk’s side of the trees.
My dog refused to even look at me as Kirk’s pup launched herself into the river to retrieve her prize. At least there was still cold beer and a warm truck waiting.