Hunting & Heritage  |  02/02/2021

The Lightning Bird

Story By Tom Carpenter
Art By Ross Hier

Who among us hasn’t taken a chance? Tempted the fates? Rolled some dice and seen if we get snake-eyes or seven-out?

It was such an evening in the pheasant country of far western Minnesota.

A windy early-season day with the mercury topping out at 84. One bird, pointed in the mere breeze and shivery coolness of the hunting day’s first hour, in the bag for me and the dog. An afternoon lolling around the farmhouse waiting to see if gale and heat would subside for one final-hour hunt.

Summery days produce summery results, even in early October: clouds building and billowing; thunderstorms brewing.

“Let’s go,” I announce maybe an hour-and-a-half before what would be sunset: “See what happens and make a game-time decision.”

My hunting partner is a good man, likes to shoot his birds in the cool of the morning, and agrees to act as chauffer.

And so, 20 minutes later, at the north end a big WPA with a south wind blowing and a thunderstorm passing off to the east, I cast the dice. “Pick us up at the south road in an hour.” The dog and I step off. 

First oversight: No collar or bell on the dog. Second oversight: No cell phone. I tend to get excited, as you can tell. But I have a whistle. A shotgun and shells. Lark. And an hour.

The strategy now becomes even simpler for the ziggy-zaggy mile we will cover: Follow the dog, keep track of her visually in case she points, hope we find a bird, pray the weather holds, and end up at the south road.

Maybe 20 minutes in, while the sun still makes peeks, the dog works a bird for a hundred yards before locking up in a hollow in the hills: a hen.

When I look up after all the concentration, conditions are changing. Dark clouds loom. A storm brews to the south. 

We are halfway across the property now. No use turning back. Our ride is ahead. Lightning crackles across the sky, and the dog is oblivious; as the highest thing on the plateau and with a metal-barreled shotgun pointing upwards to boot, I am well aware.

I unload the firearm and hold the barrel down.

But Lark gets birdy before we can drop off into the lee of the terrain. Screw it. I load back up. Thunder rumbles. She spins around and locks up 20 yards ahead. The rooster launches into dark sky and another flash of lightning.

Those who know me know the process that happens upon the taking of a rooster pheasant. Admire the bird. Study the surroundings. Live the moment. Arrange the dog for a picture.

But now, ceremony be damned, the dog finds the rooster as the first splats of rain hit and I pick up the bird on the move as we bear down into the teeth of the storm with our friend and shelter ahead, a chancy but pretty good roll behind us, and the lightning bird in our pocket.

Tom Carpenter, assisted by Lark, is editor at Pheasants Forever. 

Ross Hier painted
The Lightning Bird artwork in watercolor.

This story first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Pheasants Forever Journal.