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The great white maimer

Scott Willoughby

In case you missed the memo, hunting season is currently under way. But only for bow and bird hunters at the moment. Not that it affects my life much one way or the other.As hunters go, I dare say I’m a bit of a flop.Although, I suppose, flop may not be the precise term. Colloquially speaking, flops are akin to failures. And while I’ve never had much success as a hunter, I’ve never actually failed.That’s because, in the truly primal sense, I’ve actually hunted only once. And I not only hunted, I killed. Yup, I’m a killer. A bird killer, if that counts, and, in truth, not a very good one.I began as more of a bird maimer, whacking a Hungarian Partridge out of the Idaho sky with a buddy’s 12-gauge during a cast-and-blast adventure on the Salmon River last fall. We were hunting Chukar Partridge.But no matter, Huns were apparently in season too, and I dropped that chick with one crackerjack pop of the trigger as it blazed across the stark horizon of the steep-walled canyon.Our posse of seven wannabe Nimrods and three hounds had split up to canvass the riverbank and for the first time on our four-day hunt I found myself without the assistance of a pointer or a genuinely qualified hunter when the covey broke. Up to that point, I could never be certain if it was my shot or someone else’s that dropped a bird in the chaotic discharge of firearms that erupted whenever a covey flushed at our feet.Oh sure, I had ample opportunity to establish my incompetence even with the assistance of others, but on at least a couple of occasions I might make an argument for hitting what I was aiming for despite the repeated claims of my old pal Walt dropping an otherwise remarkable string of “doubles” every time two or more birds hit the ground.It didn’t bother me much early on, since this was ostensibly a steelhead fishing trip as well and I was most eager to hook up with one of the notorious lunkers on a fly rod. But after a couple days on the river I began to notice an emerging trend away from the cast and toward the blast. In hindsight, the adventure might have been more accurately described as a blast-and-blast, given the amount of whiskey in the tackle box.So on this third day of gun toting, it suddenly seemed important to set the record straight. I didn’t need to shoot my limit, but it might be nice to walk back into camp with a couple of birds in tow, even if I was too green to bring along a satchel of some sort to carry them.When I heard the shot and ensuing southern expletive from the other side of the knoll I was hunting, I knew my chance had arrived.”You gol-dang mother scratcher COMIN’ YOUR WAY!” came the shout. I looked up in time to see a lone bird winging into my site.There’s an undeniable flush of adrenaline that courses through your veins in the “now” of a hunt. You manage with little effort to disassociate yourself from the life and death reality of the undertaking, scoping your quarry with the keen focus of a batter honing in on a hanging curveball. The gun moves almost instinctively to your shoulder, tracking the bird’s flight as it soars into view until you realize the synchronicity of barrel and target and squeeze the trigger with a modicum of certainty. Like black magic, the explosion in your ear swats your target out of the sky if not out of the ballpark leaving it lifeless on the ground before you.Or so it would seem anyway. As the rush of the hunt oozed from my body and I walked over to retrieve my prey, the bird managed to open its one remaining good eye, blinking slowly as if to say, “Dude, what did you do that for?” The other side of its head was littered with buckshot and I realized immediately that any actual killing would have to be done by hand. Nobody ever told me about that part.There is, of course, a rather effective and humane technique used by seasoned hunters to wring a bird’s neck. Alone and wracked with guilt for semi-deliberately maiming this beautiful creature of god, said technique never occurred to me. All I knew was that I had to break its neck to alleviate any suffering before I could start thinking about dinner.Since I was wearing heavy boots suited to the grueling hike that is chukar hunting, my 220-pound body weight seemed to me an effective means of euthanasia. I dropped the bird on a rock and took a heavy step.To my shock and dismay, the plan not only failed, but seemed to have an entirely opposite impact on the bird. As soon as my boot landed on its neck the bird sprang back to life, wings flapping, feet kicking, feathers rustling. The tough little bastard wasn’t going down without a fight. After a few stressful seconds I decided to get my other boot involved, attempting to tweak its neck with an additional nudge. Soon enough, the headless bird got up and started running blindly in circles just like the chicken in the clich. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.I looked on in disbelief at the Ichabod crane or partridge or whatever the mutant bird with the stump of bone protruding between its wings where a head should be might be considered. After a couple short laps around the field, it toppled over and gave up the ghost.I think I gave up hunting at about the same time.Scott Willoughby is a full-time freelance writer and a part-time poultry eater. He can be reached for dining recommendations at (970) 390-3676 or snowrite@vail.net.


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