A rooster flush has nothing to do with stealth. It's an explosion. One moment, it's just you and your dog. The next, the bird is improbably at shoulder height. He's just there. You almost never see him rising through the grass or cattails. His powerful legs simply launch him.
He's improbably gaudy, and if the sun is right the sight is almost too much to bear. You'd need the 64-count box of Crayolas to color this guy -- the emerald crest, the crimson cheek patch, the white neck ring, the russet chest.
And that's just the video. The soundtrack is equally arresting -- the percussion of wingbeats, sometimes the indignant cackle.
An adrenaline surge initiates the gun's path to your shoulder. Somehow, you must override that chemical jolt as you find the bird beyond the end of the barrel, slow down, swing, find the safety, squeeze. That's what they teach you. What you do, on any given bird, may be the CliffsNotes version of shooting: hurry the mount, mash the safety, yank the trigger. If you're lucky, you'll get a second shot. You'll need it.
One day in last week's hunt, we shot our limit of nine birds. (Minnesota's pheasant limit increases from two birds per day to three on Dec. 1.) One of my partners shot all three of his in just over an hour on the evening hunt. We met back in the farmyard, where we clean our birds. We took turns describing each of our hunts, every flush and just how the dogs worked.
Later that night, he would say, "That evening hunt -- that was worth the whole trip."
We knew just what he meant. Yes, we like to make the most of our opportunities. But beyond the momentary thrill lies a deep sense of gratitude -- for the privilege of hunting good habitat, for being healthy enough to go afield, for friendship, for the intense joy of working in concert with amazing dogs.
On any given winter night, one of us might pluck a neatly wrapped package -- "Pheasant, 2017" -- from a freezer. When we sit down to share the meal with friends, only part of the warmth we feel inside will come from the caloric benefits of these magnificent birds.
(c)2017 Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)
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