The Wingtipped Bird

The Wingtipped Bird
Photograph by John Stewart Wright/

The action on Dave’s 20-gauge side-by-side clicked shut. Across the stubble, Sky was motionless, her head up. A rare day for the confluence of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, there was not much for wind after the snow and storm had passed, but the December cold was cutting. I unslung the pack, pulled out a camera, settled my own 20 atop the pack, told the shorthair and a pair of springers to heel, and hung back. Dave looped ahead of his pointer, relaxed but alert, moving steadily. And nothing happened.

When we reconvened, Dave broke the action and pulled a water bottle from his vest. As the pointer drank, he explained, “There were Hun tracks in the snow along the ditch. Other tracks too—fresh. A guy and a dog.”

“No wonder the birds have been spooky as hell.” Even by December standards, the sharptails had been wild, launching a quarter-mile ahead of dogs and hunters.

The water bottle slipped back into place. “Let’s go that way.”

The pointing dogs cast off, racing away. Suddenly a springer was at my side, a bird in his mouth. He sat and held it up. I scratched his ear, then took the bird. “Good dog.”

Brown, white, black and gold plumage gives sharp-tailed grouse a subtle, intricate beauty. Snow flecked the feathers. Clearly a recent kill, but already stiff, heat departing the body.

I offered the grouse for Dave’s inspection. “Tipped bird. Probably took a few pellets and flew a ways before dying. Bet he didn’t know he’d hit one.”

Over the bird, our eyes met. Each pair held the same thought. Who’s been hunting our spot? — John Stewart Wright/

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