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November 15, 2005

Just Shoot It

By the fourth day, everyone’s tired. The dogs. The hunters. Old war injuries start acting up. Cell phones are starting to ring. These people are captains of industry when they’re not hunting. Business has been neglected. And now it's wanting for a little attention, calling to them. We have a couple of planes covered and tied down to the tarmac out at the Pierre airport three miles south of town. Sometime this afternoon, our crew will climb into them and disperse, like tumbleweeds before a South Dakota wind storm. But for now, we’re getting ready for another day of hunting.

Occasionally, a hunting dog will bark from his hotel room, betraying his position. They’re technically not supposed to be eating scrambled eggs and sausage in the rooms, much less sleeping in the beds. But this is a hunting town, and the owners have to know what goes on.

The hunters are hard on the hotels. They return at night, muddy and wet, and strip down their guns. The dryers in the laundry room are full of feathers. These rooms would drive a forensic pathologist insane. People are field dressing birds on their beds. There’s blood on the walls. If you ever wanted to commit a crime and get away with it, a hotel that caters to hunters would be the place to go.

Our guide drives this old dilapidated diesel Suburban with the rocker panels rusted through. Has that old-school 4wd where you have to get out in the rain to lock in the hubs. The headliner is held in place by a series of jury-rigged little wooden top-bow slats. The handle on the rear window crank is broken, so it takes about 5 minutes to open the back window. He never puts it overdrive. Runs it in D2 all the time. "Runs better that way" he insists.

We hunted today until about 2:30. I really didn’t do very well on the last day, as I couldn’t really focus. I was too tired or too something. I started getting gun-shy from the birds. It’s hard to describe the terror that those birds can put in you. I nearly stepped on two roosters and more hens than I could count. When those birds explode right underneath you, it will make your heart stop. Twice I couldn’t even get the safety off before the bird was gone. The hens were just unnerving the way they’d let you nearly step on them before they flew.

Every time the dogs started coming by me and getting birdy, I’d just hold my breath and sort of pull back, afraid of what would explode from the grass. It’s really the most bizarre illusion. You can sit there staring at the grass, and there’s nothing there. Just six or nine inches of hay or winter wheat stubble. And a Labrador retriever will walk through it and out comes deer, grouse, prairie chickens, pheansants, rabbits. It’s the damnedest thing you’ve ever seen.

We pushed through a couple of fields and then ended up in some thick creek bottoms. The birds were flying so thick that I just couldn’t process that many targets. It’s really intimidating. If one bird jumps up, I’m pretty good about calling “HEN!? or “ROOSTER!? in a split second. But when eleventeen come flying right at you, it’s really a different game at that point. I’m looking at the flock and trying to tell the roosters from the hens and they’re flying this way and that and I’m trying to pick out a single target and suddenly they’re all gone and I’m standing there with three empty shells on the ground and my chamber open and there’s smoke pouring out both ends of my barrel and I’m not even sure what happened.

We ended up plowing through this ditch choked with five foot tall cat tails, so thick you could scarcely push through them. The invisible dogs were stamping around somewhere in there, flushing birds like mad. Blockers were posted up on both sides and ahead of us. Pheasants were just streaming out and anything that jumped up was just slaughtered.

It was so thick that you could barely see the guys beside you and it looked like every animal in Noah's ark was going to come out of there. I was half expecting a giraffe or a zebra to come running out when hen we jumped three does. I thought the deer were going to kill a couple of pheasant hunters trying to get out of that carefully orchestated ambush.

It was just sheer carnage. Insanity. I was carrying a hand full of pheasants, because I left my game bag back in Colorado.

“Brian – will you put these in your game bag??

“No room. I’m full up.?

“What about Bill??

“He’s all full up too.?

So we’re standing down there in these cat tails, and I’m shooting 3? Nitro Steel at these birds, just because I was tired of shooting 2 ¾? shells. And sounds like World War III. And the worst thing about it is that you know that it has to end. That the cat tails won’t go on forever. That there’s a plane hog-tied to the tarmac outside of the state capitol with your name all over it. And it’s covered and in canvas and right now, some guy with his name on his shirt is refilling the wing tanks and, come hell or high water, we’re going to be inside of it in a couple of hours. And then I’m going to have to go back to Colorado and try to reassemble the pieces of my life into something workable. Like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with no picture on it.

But right now, that doesn’t matter. Right now, the sun is shining and the birds are flying and all I have to do is try to hit the birds without shooting the Californians up on the hill.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on November 15, 2005 at 8:49 PM


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