The third rooster wasn’t old enough to be wary. A short-tailed juvenile, just getting full color. But no hunter without a dog, a good dog could have shot that bird.
Critter and I stumbled onto this draw when hunting sharp tails in the heavy alfalfa, a month earlier. No corn or wheat for miles and the nearest CRP was a half mile to the south. There were several roosters in here then and who would believe that anyone would have tromped this far from sure-limit opening week pheasant cover, looking for a rooster or two? The pheasants in the ranchers old dump draw had to be opening day naive.
An avalanche of discarded tins and glass piled against a plum thicket and spilled over the hillside to the bottom of the draw. Generations of pre-plastic lifestyle fossils too old to be litter.
The gatherer in me scanned the bottles for Aunt Jamima shapes as Critter, belly-flopped over the bank like a kid into a summer swimming hole. In less than a minute, the hunter in me couldn’t stand aside any longer and I trotted to the next bend with a view of Critter in the bottom.
There she was churning up and down a shallow seep in the bottom of the draw. Not in the brush and grass like a respectable bird dog, and not a belly cooling plunge from the opening week heat, but up to her shoulders in smelly muck with a half rotting cow carcass!
Who would have believed that she was birdy? Do beauty queens practice runway technique pushing dumpsters down alleys?
I was scanning the ground for a stick to brush the clingy goobers off her when I heard a hacking, choking, half-cackle from below. Like a bowery drunk in moldy clothes spewing profanity and spittle at Holiday shoppers, a rooster pheasant rose above the draw with retarded motor skills.
All I could think was, “What the Hell?!”
This was a defining moment for me. The moment that I realized I was a true hunter to the core. I hesitated till he was almost out of range….and then I shot that bird.
Even at that distance, I heard him splat on the ground like a wet bar rag.
This moment also defined Critter. Try as I might, I could not stop her from picking up that bird. She had a proud grip on it and insisted on giving it to me. I’ve accepted all manner of rotten offal from her jaws, ever since she was a pup. I’d pretend to put it in my coat and do that little, “I don’t have it see?” magician thing with my hands so she’d go back to hunting and then toss it aside. By now, she probably thinks I’ll eat anything.
I didn’t want to take the bird from her and mess up my coat with it but I couldn’t stand the thought of her carrying it in her mouth either.
After the hunt, I skinned the bird under a pump at the campground rinsing off the rancid seep water. He appeared to be a healthy young bird that reminded me of another rooster in western Iowa that Critter actually submerged her head and flushed out of a creek.
I stood above her on a high bank, and watched a “v” wake that I thought had to be a muskrat or mink. I couldn’t call her off and was just ready to jump in myself to save her from being scarred up when she submerged her head and a rooster pheasant flushed from under the water! Though just as wet, he smelled a whole lot better than this bird.
That night, I cooked the dump draw rooster over camp fire coals…..and fed it to Critter. I knew she’d eat anything!