Hoping to help The Kid achieve his goal of bagging the huge but wily pheasant rooster on his farm last Friday, we set out with high hopes catered by a few inches of fresh snow. He’s now in his second season of bird hunting, and has bagged lots of quail and one Canada goose on their place, but he told me earlier this season that his main goal for this year was to get that rooster. It has tempted, teased, and tormented the poor kid numerous times. (I’ve had a couple of shots at it myself, and can attest to its will to live.)
As we walked quietly across a snowy alfalfa field to work a shelter-belt, The Kid said in the matter-of-fact way I’ve come to expect and admire, “That ol’ rooster won’t make it another year if I have anything to do with it.”
Quail flitted and frisked everywhere, but we weren’t interested. Angus, who seemed tuned to a higher bird frequency, tunneled and burrowed and just plain strove to find him. Although we never found any of his tracks in the snow, we all knew that rooster was there, hunkered down beneath some dog-impenetrable thing, laughing his ass off. “Not today, you suckers! Bwa-haa-haa!”
So we decided to try for a duck or two since they were advertising themselves in the fading light. We grabbed some steel shells and The Kid guided me to a little pond he guaranteed would hold ducks. We crept up on it, and – sure enough – a handful of mallards lifted from the water just as we approached.
After the barrage, I thought we’d struck out. The Kid said, “No! We got one!” Across the tiny pond, a mallard drake lay dying on the snowy bank as its partners flew away across the field that had been plowed just hours before. The duck lay on its back, squirming slowly and then got still as I made my way down the steep slope to the water. Just a couple inches deep, I stepped into the water and immediately sunk into super-fine silt. I kept sinking slowly until my boot rested on the bottom. Up to my crotch in quicksand, I couldn’t move. The Kid stood and watched, unable to help, and only partly able to control his mirth. Quandary took on more meaning. The more I struggled to move my feet, the greater the muck held me. I was trying to keep my upper body from getting soiled with the grimy silt, but leaning into it and pulling a hamstring curl beyond my ability was the only way I could gain any movement toward freeing my feet. I managed to get my boots to the surface, but the duck, eight feet away, still needed collecting. I scrambled across the muck somehow, thinking the snowy bank it rested on was more solid. It wasn’t. But I had the duck, and somehow managed to get back across to The Kid. A thick layer of black slimy silt coated my pants and bottom of my jacket. My boots were full of the stuff. But we got the duck, in the longest retrieve ever (about 30 minutes). I handed it to The Kid. He thanked me and said, “See, I told you there’d be ducks there.”