Topping Out

There are tears in your eyes. Or maybe it’s sweat. In either case your vision is a salt-stung mess. The watery glimpses of black dog that you catch – cresting the ridge directly above you and birdier by the stride – quiver and bounce like a glass of water in Jurassic Park. There is no t-rex though, just your heart, trying to ram its way out of your chest, by way of your neck. It must be trying to escape the fire in your lungs.

You top out, scrambling like an animal to gain the final few feet, then pause at the sound of an unusual bird call. The instant you realize the whistling is in your throat – not a bird at all, but a trick of your penny flavored gasps colliding with frozen air – the covey erupts, hard, fast and low.

Looking back, you have no recollection of picking an individual from the crowd, shouldering your gun, clicking the safety, sighting down the barrel or slapping the trigger. The process of dropping the second chukar, a split second later, is equally lost to you. The steps all happened, but they were conducted by a part of your mind with no room for recording. You retain only an image of striped flanks below grey wings, racing, then tumbling, over the brush.

Truth be told, you don’t even hold that memory of your own volition. It was burned into you, like the blinding white spots left by a paparazzi’s flash. You’re still marveling over its brilliance when the dog, buzzing with joyful satisfaction, reappears with the first bird in her mouth.

You lock eyes, and for that instant, before the rest of the world floods back in, you know exactly how she feels.

4 Comments on “Topping Out

  1. That, sir, is an exceptional piece of writing–as good, word-for-word, as anything I can remember reading about the dog-hunter partnership, the act and art that joins them, and the existential drama at the rim of the world called chukar hunting…..

    • That’s incredibly flattering Tom – and would be even if you weren’t the best hunting dog and wing-shooting writer that I know. Thanks so much!

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