Along The Trail 3-9-17

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What do you get when you throw together 16 guys carrying longbows, a handful of German Shorthaired pointers and a few dozen pheasants?

Chaos, uncontrolled laughter and a good time!

This past weekend, my son and I made a five hour trip to meet up with fellow bowmen and friends from Illinois, Tennessee and Michigan to fling – and I do mean fling arrows – at ringnecked pheasants.

The whole idea seemed a little ridiculous in the fact that pheasants can be difficult to shoot on the wing with a shotgun, let alone with a bow an arrow. But, our intrepid group was determined if nothing else, so we marched on.

We broke into groups of four hunters, each with a dog and its handler. The pointing dogs were a thing of beauty to behold and the connection they had with their master was undeniable. The dogs would scent track across the field, ranging out 30 or 40 yards ahead of us. When they would hit upon a bird, the dog would freeze in its tracks and point in the direction of the pheasant. The dog would be stone still except for the twitching of a muscle here and there…

At just the right time, the handler would give the command and the dog would rush in to flush the bird and then the hilarity ensued! If we were lucky, arrows would be launched in the general direction of the pheasant that most of the time was heading towards the next county at Mach speed! But a few of them, maybe suicidal or having a death wish would hover straight up like a helicopter just teasing our arrows, that came within a hair of hitting their marks.

The brightly colored roosters would then cackle that annoying laugh and fly off towards another field, leaving us hunters shaking our heads and fists towards the birds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to kill a flying pheasant with a bow and arrow. It’s been done, just not by any of the yahoos in my group. We spent the day tromping back and forth through perfect bird habitat watching the dogs work and loosening arrows towards the sky. Each time a bird would flush, the shots and laughter would follow. On a few occasions when the birds took flight, some of us managed to knock a feather or two loose from them.

The day had worn on and a check of my pedometer showed over seven miles walked through the fields and my feet felt every one of those steps. The wind had burnt our faces to a blistering red and my eyes were bloodshot from squinting in the late winter sun.

Our day was coming to an end and the dogs were beginning to show signs of fatigue – either that or they were tired of not having any birds to retrieve so they were ready to give up on us. As luck would have it, while working our way back along a brushy fence row, one of my pals spotted a rooster, hidden away in a tangle of blackberry vines and the top of a downed locust tree. The old bird was safe from the dogs and sat tight refusing to take to the air.

A couple of us sent arrows clanging off tree limbs towards the rooster’s hiding spot, but he was still safe and sound.

Enter the kid of the group, a smooth fluid draw of his longbow, an arrow launched and the solid thud when it pierced the bird. The hoops and hollers of success could be heard, but the back slapping was short lived as the tough old bird broke from cover, flopping, half flying and sprinting across the field with a lanky, 19 year-old chasing behind it. Our dog was able to catch the rascal just as it leaped into the air to take flight and brought my son’s trophy back to him.

The rest of the trip was spent sharing stories about the day and hunts from the past and reminiscing. Lots of laughter was had, too much food was eaten and good time by all, but by far the time spent with my son was the best part of the weekend. The picture in my mind of him jumping and chasing after that pheasant racing across the field will provide a lifetime of grins and giggles each time I think of it.

– David Hewitt