Out of Bounds

Summer Turns to Winter

The dog and I had the day before Thanksgiving off, so we went hunting

By Rob Breeding

One of the oddities of living on the Great Plains is the absence of fall. The season exists here, but like pyrite, it’s just an illusion.

The dog and I had the day before Thanksgiving off, so we went hunting. It was 60 degrees when we left the house and a dry wind out of the southwest threatened to push it past 70. It was a lovely day unless you were bird hunting.

Jade worked through the afternoon, trying to pin down pheasants in head-high bluestem, but that brittling wind put the birds in a frenzy. I watched one after another leap out of the tall grass and catch a distant rider on those westerlies. I had two marginal shooting opportunities, but reason got the better of me and I didn’t take a shot.

If you’re thinking 70 degrees a week shy of December sounds like a First World problem, of a northern variety at least, you’re right. I haven’t spent the day before Thanksgiving in 70-degree T-shirt weather since I lived in Southern California.

It’s been like this since the season opened in October. Unfortunately, for a night owl such as myself, this has meant getting an early start we could hunt before it got too warm.

If I wasn’t a bird hunter I doubt I’d complain, so clearly this is a First World problem. I’m sure my English setter, Jade, never felt guilty about our inconvenience. The beauty of dogs is that they are immune to existential woe.

Still, she was worn out as the sun neared the western horizon and the wind decided, finally, to lay down. Exhaustion didn’t stop her from making one last excursion in the borrow pit along the road where we’d parked. She acted in the manner I’ve come to understand means that she has had a nose full of bird, but she trotted back to the truck as I unlaced my boots, incredulous she’d been duped.

The next day it remained short-sleeve weather when I carried my contributions from the car to an afternoon Thanksgiving meal at a friend’s home. The wind had some bite, however, and by the time I carried my leftovers to the car for the drive home, winter had arrived.

The day after Thanksgiving I reverted to normal pre-hunt behavior. I slept in, then lingered over coffee and the week’s worth of news I’d missed. It was 17 degrees. The forecast suggested it would reach 25 after lunch.

So we waited.

We went first to a favorite spot of mine, not too far from home. It’s a waterfowl production area with a gentle hill in the southeast corner that gives you a nice view of the prairie and farm fields beyond. The western border is guarded by a shelter belt of red cedar and there seem to be at least two coveys of bobwhite quail who make it their home.

We found one covey, maybe 15 birds. In a frenzy of fine dog work and blown opportunities, we managed two quail. I shot at a few no-chance birds who made it to the shelter belt as I fired, only managing to give the cedars a trim.

Then, with Jade on point in heavy grass, it turned absurd. 

We were just feet from the trees and in the other direction was harvested corn. That coverless, empty field meant the birds would surely arc back to the trees. A single flushed out from under Jade’s nose, then the main covey, a few feet to my left, took the hint and flushed as well. In an instant, it felt like we were in a game show money booth, only instead of dollars swirling around us it was quail, thrust vectoring back into the cedar.

There was no time to shoot. Heck, I barely raised my gun. All I could do was laugh and enjoy the moment.

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