The Heart of the Cover

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A young hunter finds her first rooster … and her hunter’s heart

By Hayden Lewis
 
It was a crisp fall day in October. The leaves crunched under my dog’s paws and my own feet. We were on a two-track dirt road that was dry as a desert. As I walked along with my mom, we talked about what we would do if a cackling rooster pheasant flew out of cattails toward the road. 
 
Meanwhile, Pride and Hurley were rooting around looking for bird scent in the big, thick wall of cattails. The dogs sound like clogged vacuum cleaners. My mom and I always laugh when the Brittanys are snuffling, and we call them “snuffle-uf-a-gous.” 
 
The dogs and my dad were almost to the end of the moat of cattails, when Dad called out:
 
“Pride’s on point!” 
 
Mom and I speed-walked to Pride. Unfortunately, the pheasant didn’t stay put; he had run up the damp creek bottom and was gone.
 

ONE FOR MOM

Soon my family arrived at a river, which resembled a snake winding through the prairie grasslands, and then in no time at all, we arrived at a gorgeous piece of pheasant cover which looked like a mecca for rooster pheasants. 
 
Before sending the dogs in, Mom and Dad told me to go up ahead of them so that I’d be ready if a pheasant flushed out the cattails. The cattails felt like they were a mile across and that they would never end. Once in position, I waited, hoping something would present a good shot, preferably a crossing shot, mainly because those are usually the easiest … as long as the pheasant isn’t going a million miles per hour. 
 
I was kind of losing hope when suddenly Pride came zooming up the side of the cattails looking very birdy. I got my gun ready. My mind was on a NASCAR track, looping around and around, thinking over and over, “What if I miss?”
 
Suddenly, Fwap! Fwap! Fwap! A big, gorgeous, cackling rooster erupted out of the undergrowth. I was so caught off guard that I almost dropped my gun! Thankfully, I didn’t. Then I looked across the cattails. Mom had her gun up, ready to take a crack at the bird. 
 
BANG! The bark of my mom’s 20-gauge Beretta shotgun made my ears ring and my heart sing. Now we would be bringing a rooster home with us to make bacon- wrapped pheasant! 
 
We continued on down the slough in hopes of getting another pheasant. Mom and Dad were on the opposite side of the cattails with the dogs, while I was up on the bank looking down at them. 
 
When I heard cattails snap behind me, it sounded like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park coming! Turns out though, the T-Rex, which would’ve been cool, was actually a humongous whitetail doe. Even though I was a little startled, I continued on.
 
At the end of the cattails, I was ready for a rooster to pop out. I wanted to get a pheasant so badly, but I knew that if I forced it, it wouldn’t happen. I was in that trance when suddenly Mom and Dad yelled in unison:
 
“ROOSTER!” 
 
I snapped out of my trance and was ready. The pheasant then rushed out of the willows at the end of the cattails, but it was too late. The pheasant was gone.
 
“I saw it land just across the wheat field,” I told my parents.
 
“You’ll get another chance honey,” Mom said.

After finishing the day’s hunt, we walked back to Mom’s caribou-brown Ford. We let my puppy, Cedar, out for a walk, so that she could use the bathroom and sniff around. We wanted her to get used to fetching birds, so we threw my mom’s rooster a couple feet out so that Cedar could bring it back to us. 
 
After the sun started to set, we headed back to the La Quinta Inn. Surprisingly, the inn was dog friendly, so we brought Pride and Hurley in to sleep with us.
 

ANOTHER CHANCE

The next morning was cold and damp, so I had to wear my hunter’s orange jacket while I walked the dogs. Afterward, we put them back in their kennels and went into the hotel for breakfast. After, my mom and I went back into the hotel room to get our hunting clothes on, then rushed out to meet Dad at the truck.
 
With all the bird dogs loaded in back, my family headed off. Arriving at the cover, I got excited. It looked like a good spot. Like yesterday, it was publicly accessible land anybody could hunt.
 
I let Pride and Hurley out of their kennels and hooked them up to the bumper. After the scramble of getting our stuff together, we started on our way.
 
Not too long after we had left the truck, we came upon a cattail slough. This one wasn’t as long as the other, but it still could harbor lots of pheasants. 
 
Dad proposed that my mom and I should walk along the edge of the cattails so that if a bird flew, we would have a good shot at it. Amazingly, my mom and I, after walking through a bunch of brambles, came into a clearing that had the cattails on one side and an amber field of wheat on the other. 
 
Mom and I were thinking that it was too early for pheasants to be feeding, but apparently they were: Five roosters and three hens catapulted from the stubble.
 
I thought there was no chance in the world that I would ever get a shot at one, but then a rooster flew right into the wind, giving me just enough time to get my gun up, my head down, and pull the trigger. Only after the CRACK! of my 28-gauge Beretta did I raise my head off the stock to see the magnificent bird plummet to the ground.

My bird was down, but I had mixed feelings:  One side of my heart felt grief and sympathy, while the other felt happy and content. 
 
In the end, I feel that there is more to hunting than where you are and what you are hunting. In my mind, the biggest things to hunting are the emotions you feel while in the field. Whether you are hunting big game, small game or upland birds, an ethical hunter will feel emotion for an animal he or she has taken the life of. That is why I hunt on, pushing through the complexities in my mind and heart, and knowing that after I get back, my family will have a fine meal to eat.
 
Hayden Lewis is a Pheasants Forever Ringnecks youth member, and budding outdoor writer, from Bozeman, Montana.