The thrill of the hunt
Back when I was younger, much younger, I used to walk my brother-in-law’s picked cornfields, without aid of a dog or fellow hunter, in search of the elusive ring-necked pheasant. I was too young to be trusted with a big shotgun, so I carried my trusty Stevens .22 rifle/410 shotgun combination.
The gun was a single shot so when the bird flushed I needed to remember to pull back on the hammer before I could shoot. There was also a selector pin on the side of the weapon which determined where the firing pin would strike. If it was in the rifle position nothing would happen because I wasn’t old enough to be trusted with rifle shells.
A big problem was the stock. It was just too long. Thus, I would tuck it under my arm and then try to locate the bird and line it up with the sight.
This could prove disastrous if I didn’t clamp my arm down tightly against the stock. The recoil would send the gun back with enough force to give me a sore and bloody nose.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of hunting pheasants, there is nothing as exciting, and shocking, as that first pheasant storming out of cover and climbing into the air. It’s a little like a bomb going off. If you’re not ready, all you can do is watch its tail feathers as it quickly disappears in the autumn sky.
So there I was ... walking along the edge of a picked cornfield, my gun resting diagonally across my chest with the end of the barrel pointed skyward. My right hand tightly grasping the metal section housing the hammer so that I can cock the thing on its way to the aiming position.
A million things raced through my mind as I made round after round through the field: don’t shoot a hen, don’t shoot where there’s livestock, don’t get too near the farm buildings, don’t shoot toward the road.
I just knew that with each step a big rooster was about to break the silence and explode into the air. The adrenalin raced through my body like a race car. I was sweating even though the temperature was just above freezing.
The bright morning sun kissed the steam rolling off the thawing soil and sparkled as it struck the frost on the foxtails. Suddenly the ground around me seemed to shudder as the weeds parted and a giant, multi-colored bird let out a cry and pulled savagely at the air with its wings.
My eyes nearly popped out of my head and my heart started beating like a rock band drummer. I brought the gun to the shooting position as I had practiced so many times before. It found its spot under my arm and at the same time my thumb pulled back on the hammer.
I drew steady aim on the mighty bird as it gained altitude. I double-checked to make sure the selector was in the right position and slowly pulled the trigger. CLICK!
As the bird disappeared in the blue sky I let out a few choice words and opened my gun. I had remembered everything but the shotgun shell.
I believe it was Dad who told me later that it isn’t so much bagging a pheasant as it is the thrill the hunt. I guess he was right because I’ve enjoyed many birdless hunts since then.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.