It is finally here, and I am as excited as a UW football coach after the final game of the season. No, I am not referring to the day after the election, though it does deserve its own recognition. Until, that is, you realize that the day after an election is actually the first day of the next campaigning cycle.
For the next six months, we will be listening to losing pundits rail why their candidate should have won but didn’t, winning pundits will extol the virtues of their candidate and amid all the back-slapping and finger-pointing, we will be inundated with the names of possible candidates for the next time around.
So let me be clear, what I am excited about is the opening of pheasant season. Lasting from the first Saturday in November until the last day in December, pheasant season is two months of tranquil, therapeutic bliss. It is the most wonderful time of the year. A brisk walk in a fall afternoon, man’s best friend plowing through the cattails and cornstalks in pursuit of a ring-neck, and an over-and-under shotgun that was handed down to me by my father bring together a wonderful contented recollection of hunts gone by, the friends with whom I have shared them and an eager anticipation of hunts to come.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; I love to hunt elk, deer, antelope, chukars, Huns, anything that has a season, but there is something special for me about pheasant hunting. My dad started taking me when I was 11 years old. After a sleepless night on opening day eve, we would pile into our station wagon, pick up a couple of dad’s uncles and a few of his cousins and make the 2 1/2-hour trip to the central valley to pursue Phasianus colchicus. We didn’t have a hunting dog back then, and, though I wasn’t old enough to shoot anything more powerful than a BB gun, in my eyes I was the most crucial member of the hunting party – I got to be the bird dog.
For two years, from the time I was 11 until I turned 13, I got to dive into cattails, tromp through poison oak and kick any undergrowth that had enough needles, nettles and biting insects to hide a pheasant. I loved it. I couldn’t have been happier than if I had been hung with a new rope, an idiom used frequently by great-Uncle Ira. Uncle Ira was always full of wise sayings and sage advice.
“If you hear somethin’ comin’ out of those bushes, you best duck and duck quick,” Uncle Ira would advise. “We don’t want your daddy to have to go home and tell your momma that we shot the bird dog.”
Then he’d laugh and then I’d laugh, actually mine sounded more like a squeak, the kind a mouse makes just as the trap slams shut. But dad would look at me and nod, and I knew that he had my back.
My mom found out about my bird-dogging responsibilities the summer before I turned 13. It slipped out at a family picnic when Uncle Ira’s son Wes had half a dozen beers too many and lost the keys to his truck when he threw them out into sorghum field next to the picnic area. We were never sure why he threw them into the field, but I’m sure it had something to do with his wife refusing to get in the truck with him if he was going to drive home.
“Bird dog,” Wes yelled in my direction, “come here and fetch up my keys. Just pretend they’re a big ol’ rooster out there in that field, you’ll find ‘em.”
“Why on earth would Wes call Bud, Birddog,” my mother asked looking directly at my dad, a look that indicated that the question was not, by any means, rhetorical.
To this day, I am not sure what the discussion was that my mother had with my dad that night when we got home. What I do know is that when pheasant opened that next fall, not only did I take to the field with a real hunting license and my own shotgun, I took the field with my very first hunting dog. True Story.
So, even though I love Christmas, eat more turkey and pie than humanly possible at Thanksgiving and love a good fireworks show as much as the next guy, the opening of pheasant season is, for me, a special occasion whose sentiment is hard to explain but should be shared with as many others as possible. Good luck hunting out there and take care.
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