Game (Not) Over

Game (Not) Over | Shooting Sportsman Magazine
Illustration by Gordon Allen

It may have happened already: the day you needed to block, not drive, on a long-winded pheasant hunt. The day you let the younger fellows set the decoys while you relaxed in the blind and finished your coffee. Anyone who has hunted birds for many years knows—or should know—that the end of hunting days can be abrupt, as in “That old football injury finally caught up to me, so I quit.” Or sometimes it evolves slowly: “I think I’ve shot enough birds for today.” Or “How about meeting back at the truck in one hour instead of three?”

I’m in the latter group. For 60 years my bird dogs have hunted at the pace I set, which these days is more of a leisurely stroll compared to younger years when I tore through the grouse woods and across pheasant fields. How ironic that my dogs move as many birds as ever when we take our sweet time!

During an uneventful afternoon of waterfowl hunting, why shiver another hour when I know the last flock will come in as the decoys are being gathered? Might as well get them now—in time for happy hour.
Did wisdom accrue from maturity, or was it the other way around? Regardless, prompting these thoughts was a recent phone call from Nevada. On the line was Bill Gibson, the Elko guide I’d last seen nearly 30 years before. At age 71, Gibson still arranges hunting/camping trips in the Ruby Mountains for the ultimate gamebird: the Himalayan snowcock.

A bird that lives among craggy peaks towering 11,000 feet has to rank near the top of a bird hunter’s bucket list. Factor in how tough wary snowcock are to find and then get close enough to kill—by tiptoeing along dangerously skinny goat trails—and you can understand why. It’s a wonder that Gibson and his clients have managed to bag 59 of these stunningly handsome, five-pound trophies during the past three decades.

Our group of seven enthusiasts who Gibson guided in the early 1990s killed only two snowcock during five grueling days of trudging up and down those rugged mountains. I lost eight pounds, ruined a new pair of expensive footwear and missed my only shot at a big rooster streaking by between Mach I and II at 90 yards. Which brings me to the point of Gibson’s call.

“You need to come back out this September and finally claim your snowcock,” he said.

“Bill, you forget that I’m older than you.”

“Yeah? Well, think about it,” Gibson countered.

Oh, I am thinking about it. Really hard.

Tom Huggler’s Grouse of North America and A Fall of Woodcock won national acclaim and are now collectible. His Quail Hunting in America (Stackpole) is still in print. A Fall of Woodcock was reprinted recently by Skyhorse Publishing.

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