This morning the alarm went off right at 5 am. I had already been up for a while, listening to the intense wind whip in and around the windows. It sounded invasive and also urgent, and getting up to go outside and spend hours with it didn’t seem very delightful.
Nonetheless, I pulled on my sturdy Carhartt pants and a few layers and trudged upstairs. My gun was already waiting for me. Cooper was excited, walking all over the house as soon as he saw us with our guns and the kennel in the back of the truck. He’s almost 12 years old and still healthy enough to accompany us hunting.
Pheasant hunting is fast and intimidating. I haven’t spent too much time shooting, and my father urged me to get my best Annie Oakley on. I carried a lighter .20 gauge to make it easier to swing the gun up on a bird if one presented itself.
We drove in the dark and the rain. Rain in Montana in November is tricky business- it could be freezing, it could leave icy patches, and it could also make hunting absolutely miserable. Trekking through thick, tangled brush with a loaded gun trying to keep up with an excited dog with the wind and rain in your face made me want to return to my warm bed and curl up for a few more hours.
Luckily, as we drove farther and farther North, the rain subsided. The wind, unfortunately, did not. We parked right outside a closed gate and softly shut our doors. Cooper was amped up and excited, in sharp contrast to my regret in not having coffee.
We began our march into the field when shooting light began. There were several other hunters and we kept our distance. This year we’ve encountered a few idiots who disobey the quiet but firm rules of space, space, space, and awareness. My father and I spread out, watching Cooper. When his tail gets loopy, he’s “birdy” and on some scent. Whether he flushes out grouse, hen pheasants, or roosters, we don’t know until they’re up and flying.
As we walked through several fields we flushed multiple hen pheasants, which aren’t legal to shoot. We watched them fly away. Every flush we made for the morning resulted in a hen. The hunting pressure in the area had most likely made the rooster pheasants head elsewhere for a few days. We made our way through barley fields, wheat fields, sage, and other kinds of vegetation, finally making our way to the edge of the lake. The ice was very slick and looked beautiful. I love how ice changes and moves, how the wind and water and temperature all interact. I’ve fallen in love with the ice on our lake and everywhere else for some reason.
After pulling my hip flexor, it started to get stiff and painful. We had been hunting hard all morning, making good time over multiple landscapes. Cooper was exhausted. I started to head for the truck to let my dad finish up one last field and I was making tall steps so as not to trip in all the brush. I was holding my gun up when about 3 feet in front of me a very handsome, very quick rooster pheasant made for the next field.
This is where I sheepishly admit that I was so surprised that I got my gun up but panicked and thought I wouldn’t have time to get a shot that I gave up before I even tried. He was the only rooster we flushed up that entire day and I missed! Ugh. My father thought it was hilariously tragic, and took us to breakfast in a little town to get coffee and laugh further at my poor confidence.
Overall, though, I had a great day and got to sees some beautiful country. Now, I’m writing this post and applying for jobs and researching grad schools with hot tea at my side.
Note: I know that for some, hunting is controversial. I feel that hunting is ethical when done fairly and with respect to the animals you co-exist with. I would rather eat an elk that my father shot than buy burger from a store when I have the choice. That elk lived without ingesting antibiotics, being in a cage or behind a fence, and that elk was taken in a humane, respectful manner. Hunting allows us to humanely gain access to a healthy food source.