Darkest Before the Light

To the Point

Illustration by Gordon Allen

By Tom Huggler

Bird hunters are forever optimistic, which is why we have selective memory. It’s easy to forget about the waders that leaked when you come home with a limit of mallards. Even so, a bad-luck trip will stay stuck in your mind for a long time, especially when the misadventure seemed jinxed from the start.

My first pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota 40 years ago was like that. I had never flown a dog anywhere. Arriving with my setter Brinka at the Flint, Michigan, airport, I learned she couldn’t board without a health certificate. So I rushed her to a nearby walk-in vet clinic and got the paperwork. We barely made the flight.

Maybe you, too, have experienced a “what next” foreboding. A quick plane change in Chicago turned into a milk run all the way to Mitchell, South Dakota. Hours later my gun and gear arrived with me, but there was no sign of Brinka—and no other plane due for 24 hours. Losing a day of hunting was a minor setback compared to a missing dog. The money I spent on a motel that night was wasted for lack of sleep.

When Brinka arrived the next day, I figured my bout of sour luck was over. Um, no. The beater station wagon I rented burned as much oil as gas. During the second or third pit stop at a service station, I drove off without my new Bean hunting jacket with the expensive Murphy shooting gloves in the pockets. Someone surely recovered them on I-90 when they blew off the car roof, but it wasn’t me despite retracing the route to Platte.

When I finally arrived, I joined friends who had shot their daily pheasant limits without me.

The next morning was cold and windy, but I knew that if I walked fast, I’d stay warm in a flannel shirt and thin vest (the only other clothing I had). A pent-up Brinka was also eager to go—and go she did, racing down a half-mile strip of narrow cover. Crazed with the blasting odor of more than a hundred pheasants, she busted them far beyond shooting range. I tried to follow her in the car, oil fumes trailing, and found her hours later, thanks to clouds of pheasants erupting from a neighbor’s soybean field.

Incensed, the farmer caught me stepping on his crop as I marched back with a leashed and exhausted Brinka. Thankfully he softened at my explanation and allowed that I might hunt the leftover strips of beans already harvested.

With my renegade dog banished to the car, I remember shooting a limit of pheasants. Sometimes it is darkest before the light.


1 Comment

  • Reply March 7, 2020

    Jeffrey Cooperstock

    I am a long time subscriber to Shooting sportsman and have always enjoyed your tails. As a relatively new bird hunter, it’s inspiring to read your stories along with the lessons to be learned from them. I am 71 years young and only recently became an avid grouse hunter. It’s all about the hunt for me and the bag limit never comes into play. Keep up the wonderful story telling and I’ll look forward to the next issue as always.

    Jeff Cooperstock
    Hewlett ,. N.Y.

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