My friend Jamie calls them the “Truck Bird” or “Last Ditch Bird” (literally) –the final flush of the day or the hunt, when you’re about to break the gun open, pull the packs out and drape the barrels over your shoulder. Whether or not there was a bird in the game bag yet, no matter how many birds the dog put up or not, I always hesitate to unload the gun until we’re alongside the truck. It seems there is always that last bird, very near the end of the hunt, who surprises with a thunderous flush of wings in places one wouldn’t expect.
My Black Lab Molly and I managed to run about 45 minutes to some state land after work, in the remote chance that we could put up a couple roosters in the last light of the day. It’s the rut now, and part of me wants to grab the archery gear and head out to the woods, but after a day in the kennel, the tip-tapping of Molly’s claws on the garage floor tells me she has other ideas and I give in. The double barrel with be in my hands instead arrows and a bow. I don’t mind. The drive is calming and quiet after a day in the classroom, and petting an excited labs’ head along the back roads isn’t all bad at all.
The property is very hilly, tall grass, old sunflowers and thick brush-perfect. It’s a couple weeks into the season and it gets pounded hard on the weekends-this day, like most now, it’s just me. A storm front is moving in and although sunny, a bank of red and orange clouds are moving in and it makes for a perfect backdrop from my vantage point. Molly charges into the field and races to find the first scent of the day. From time to time, she locks up on something, her nose snorting like a wild pig and my thumb instinctively slides up to the safety. Then, with a huff, she moves on and I watch and follow to a new patch of cover. Her body pauses by a small pine, tail wildly whipping and I’ve seen this before-the gun is at the ready. She dives into the grass and pulls out…. a pheasant wing. Well, it’s the right bird, but one that met it’s demise by most likely a coyote or fox. She drops it, knowing that’s not what we’re here for and we move on.
We cover a lot of ground in the next hour, but don’t put anything up-the light is fading so I take Molly through a patch of flowers we’d missed at the start, within sight of the truck. She starts to get birdy, nose to the ground, her tempo picks up and she works circles in front of me trying to narrow down a direction. There are a couple false starts and then her body drops lower and she’s locked on one bearing. A cackle and beating of wings and the rooster is up-I miss on the first, then actually concentrate on the second pull and the bird tumbles, the lab in pursuit. Molly’s on it and before I slip the bird into my vest, I admire how really beautiful they are-not native to our land, but maybe the finest introduction of a species a bird hunter could want.
Molly pulls alongside me knowing her job is done for the day- I pop out the two casings, and tuck them into a pocket. It’s a short walk, he truck just a 100 yards away and I smile thinking we got our last ditch bird today and sometimes that’s all you really need and all you really want to end a perfect hunt.