My sister, Becky, and I never really got along as kids. This following statement won't be a revelation to anyone; most siblings don't get along at a young age. But we had a distinct disadvantage and I won't candy coat it for you; I was a dick. Most kids squabble over who gets to name the cat. Not me (oddly enough that was what she ended up naming it, Not Me), so long as I got to "decorate" her cat. The screams ensued while I looked helplessly at my parents, figuring I improved the situation by making the ugly fur ball into what looked like an Amish quilt with legs. I mean who doesn't want their cat painted in a plethora of colors from Sharpie pens? And what's more, who wouldn't want them coated from head to tail? Time went on, she may or may not have forgiven me and we both moved away to different colleges. As often happens with distance, lines of communication were stifled. After school I made my way out west as many people do to find themselves. What is it about that cardinal direction that brings us hope in starting anew? Perhaps it was the western movies I grew up watching with my dad that told me the answer was out there. Funny enough, it was.
She one upped me and moved further west to San Diego. Maybe she had more to figure out than I did. We gained a few things in common; we both lost our vegetarian ways and we both started to take on the mountain-man attributes of our father. She got the beard and I got the affinity towards flannel. I guess we both made out ok.
Thanksgiving for my group of friends has been a long tradition. A Friendsgiving of sorts, created out of necessity. We were all poor and didn't have the money to get home to see our families. My sister and her husband Chris have been making it out for the event for quite a few years to join in the debauchery that we loosely called a holiday.
This year was the same, they made the long drive out from San Diego, with the car packed down, looking like they were headed to a booth at the local flea market.
Hunting became a part of Becky and her husband, Chris's, life and for the second year in a row we were going to head out to the eastern plains of Colorado to get them their first pheasants. That was the unsuccessful plan last year and it continued to be the plan this year.
We left for the plains at 3:00am on Black Friday. Along the way I hyped them up on stories of a successful opener this year and how the cover had made a comeback to rival the New York Giants 2012 Super Bowl win.
The morning sun set the horizon into flames as we parked at a field that looked to have potential.
"Let the dogs do the work, you just worry about knocking the right ones out of the sky. Look for the long tails and gaudy feathers, those are the ones you want to hit." I said with a smirk as we spread out into the field.
They must have smelled my confidence coming and high tailed it, because there wasn't a bird to be found.
Field after field the same rang true. Panic set in, as this felt awful familiar. If this was anything like last year's hunt, I might lose my big brother's guide status. These two have never shot at a pheasant and I desperately wanted to instill a sense of success with them.
We pressed on until our legs could take no more. Off to the hotel, maybe a good night's sleep would reset the frustration button.
The next morning was a glorious previous. We set out into the fields in search of that one pheasant dumb enough to stay within shooting range. There had to be at least one left that had been held back in the first grade. There was and let me tell you we searched high and low for him.
We were creeping the car down a non-distinct back road that at first looked like all of the others, completely barren, and then there he was, standing in a flat field no further than 150 yards from us.
"There's one!" I whispered to the other two who were nodding in and out of sleep. With the way things had been going, I somehow rationalized to myself that these birds had bat-like hearing and cleared out before we approached the same county.
"In the middle of that bare field? There's not a blade of grass out there for him to hide under!" Becky said.
"He's trapped with no cover, and he sure as hell is gonna fly." I replied. " Let's see where he wants to go."
Shutting the doors quietly, we made a bee line for him. There was no way to conceal ourselves, so a straight shot at him was our only chance. Luckily we were on a big tract of public land, so unless he was headed south with the Canadian geese, we would find him.
Sure enough he rocketed off well out of shooting range. He took flight across the desolate field and made his way to a set of trees in an old stream bed.
"Look at that, he even picked an obvious landmark for us. We should drive around, I'm not sure if that field was just seeded and I'm not looking to piss off any farmers today." I said while double and triple checking the landmark.
We moved the car and made a plan.
"Becky, you take the top, right next to where the field meets the grass edge. Chris you take the thicker cover in the middle of the stream bed. I'll work the dogs in-between you two." Came the directions.
We were walking for about five minutes when I noticed the dogs weren't with us. Observant, I know. I turn around to see them both sitting. There is only one thing that would cause them to do that.
"Cactus." I muttered under my breath.
Their paws were so saturated with them that you couldn't find even find their pads. Out came the tweezers and the next ten minutes consisted of us pulling out these porcupine impersonators, then the dogs hopping into another patch just to start the process all over again. Much to their protest, Chris and I end up carrying the dogs out to the safety of the car.
"Let's try this again." I say with a sigh. "Same plan minus the dogs."
The wind was pushing straight at us. I knew this would slow the bird down on his flush, that was if he was still out there. I had a bad feeling that the temporary veterinary clinic that we had set up might have given the ring neck time to make the slip.
I kept my mouth shut about my fears and we pressed on; after all we were running out of options. At least we knew one was within the same vicinity.
There was the double tree landmark. I slowed down a little bit to allow Chris and my sister to get head. I wanted to see this, probably more than they wanted to find the bird.
Then it happened. Like a painting out of Gray's Sporting Journal, the rooster exploded out from my sister's feet, leaning his head forward, gaining speed, fighting for distance between himself and his executer.
One shot rang out.
A second later came a smile over my sisters face that I haven't seen since we were young children.
She picked up her bird and cradled it like a pet, smiling at it. The gesture made me thankful that she understood what she just did. Aside from his love of the outdoors, our father also instilled in the both of us respect for taking life.
"Way to go sis." Were the only words that I could get out of my mouth, poetry I know. My mind was racing with too many emotions to formulate anything more eloquent than that.
There was little else to say as we walked back to the car. My emotions eventually settle down and I realized I hadn't even picked on her yet.
"Guess I won't have to paint this pet for you, the man upstairs already did that." I nudged at her.
On the drive home, she took the bird in an out of her game bag, blown away by the beauty of the feather's explosive colors. I don't know what see was thinking about at that moment, but I was sure glad that I was there to see her get this victory.
"So we're hunting California for quail over Christmas right?" I asked as I looked at her through the rearview mirror.
"You're damn right we are."