The dog was onto another bird and maybe more, tail up wagging, working the brush and knee length grass. I thumbed the safety off just as three pheasants broke into the sky. My angle wasn’t right, but Elden shot both roosters dead with one shot each. He nailed the second bird before the first one hit the ground.
“Damn fine shootin!” I hollered
Elden said something I couldn’t make out. I had my earplugs in anyway. The shot had been spectacular. All three pheasants rising into the morning sky, a hen between two roosters. Elden shot the rooster to the left, then passed the hen and hit the rooster to the right, all in less than a second. I took out the plugs and strolled over.
Elden didn’t look at me. “Didn’t seat the stock into my shoulder. Gonna leave a bruise.”
“On the first or second bird?” I asked.
“Both.” Elden opened the action on his double barrel shotgun, took out the spent shells and then reloaded. “Sure don’t make shotgun shells like they used to.”
“Whattaya mean?” I asked.
“Cheaper powder. The plastic casing’s thinner.”
“Seemed to work fine a second ago.”
“Maybe. Can’t reload ‘em though.”
“Sure ya can.”
“Only if you wanna risk a misfire or a blown casing.”
Elden’s black Labrador trotted happily, bird in his mouth toward us. He dropped it dutifully at Elden’s feet then went to get the second rooster.
“Tore the bird in two,” Elden said. “Shoulda let him fly a little further before I blasted him.
“Let me see.”
Elden handed the bird to me. I turned him over, but couldn’t see what Elden was so concerned about. I handed it back as the dog dropped the next bird.
“It’ll make a nice pheasant dinner,” I said.
On the way back to the truck Elden shot two more. We’d agreed to shoot three pheasants each. I’d shot two earlier and didn’t mind Elden shooting one of mine.
“Sure is a good dog,” I said. “Retrieved every one. Worked hard.”
“Sure paid a lot for him.”
I knew for fact Elden got the dog for free because my cousin had given him pick of the litter for hunting access on Elden’s ranch. But if I said so I’d get an argument or some claim of my cousin trespassing.
We pulled off the gravel road to reset a gate that’d come off its hinges then got back in Elden’ truck.
“Ranch is too small if you have to use reverse,” Elden grumbled as we backed away from the gate.
We cleaned the birds at Elden’s house and he gave me a few gallon zip lock freezer bags for mine. Then Elden disappeared and came back with a small cooler that had ice in the bottom. I was headed back to my own ranch, but Elden knew I’d stop to check cows and move some irrigation lines, and that it’d be several hours before I could put the birds in the freezer.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll bring it back.”
Elden didn’t say anything.
“Sure was some good huntin’ this morning.”
“Was better a decade ago. Fewer birds every year.”
Elden strolled with me toward my truck.
“Think beef prices’ll hold a few weeks till we sell?” I asked as I got in.
“Been steady for a while now.”
“Won’t matter. Money’s already spent.”
The dog came over and Elden eyed the animal.
“Sure was a nice morning,” I twisted the key and the pickup belched diesel soot.
“It’ll be hot as all get out in a few hours.”
I put my pickup in reverse, thinking the ability to back up was pretty nice thing.