The Last Windrow: A young farmboy's pheasant hunt
I've never forgotten that hunt or the boy who was on the track
The young farmboy pulled the box of shotgun shells off the shelf at the Neptune general store.
He opened the box and smelled a mix of plastic and gunpowder and made sure he was buying number 5 shot. He was going pheasant hunting the next day.
The late Iowa pheasant season always seemed to produce a certain amount of snow and this year was no different. The second week of December saw a foot of snow cover the now picked cornfields and high grass crop set-aside acres.
Pheasants that had been hunted earlier in the season were now pared down to the older, experienced birds who had grown leery of any human that entered the fields in which they lived.
In other words, pheasants had gained knowledge.
The boy pulled down his granddad's Model 97 Winchester shotgun from the two nails that held it at the top of the farmhouse basement stairs. It was the shotgun that his granddad had used to garner prairie chickens on one of his long ago hunts, before pheasants were introduced to that part of the country.
The old 12 gauge shotgun had a number of scratches in the stock and the barrel shown a metallic steel color, not the blue color as the newer guns now sported.
But, it had worked earlier in the season when the boy had brought home three brightly colored rooster pheasants for his family's dinner.
The day dawned gray and clouds scudded across the sky, producing a mix of sleet and snow. The northwest wind howled through the countryside and the boy tossed on an extra sweatshirt under his tattered farm jacket.
He left the house and leaned into the wind as he headed for the picked cornfield that laid behind the farmhouse.
He was stomping though the foot deep snow when he came upon a single pheasant track. Also in the track was the telltale sign left by a rooster's long tail feather. The boy knew instantly that this was a track worth following.
The track led him out of the cornfield to a weeded fence line and then headed east across a pasture and to another cornfield on an adjoining hill.
The boy could see that now the tracks became further apart, meaning that the rooster had noticed something following it and the bird was on the run, headed for a weed patch on the other end of the cornfield.
The young hunter also knew that this bird was onto him and he sped his pace. He was breathing heavily when he crossed the crown of the hill and saw that the bird's track led into a patch of high weeds inside a corner post. He could see that the tracks didn't come out the other side.
The bird was there.
With the old shotgun at the ready, the boy slowly approached the weed patch. A few kicks into the grass put the bird in the air and a shot was placed through the pelting snow and sleet.
The bird was tucked inside the farm jacket for the wind-whipped trip back to the homeplace.
A pheasant dinner was served that night.
It had been a good pheasant hunt. I've never forgotten that hunt or the boy who was on the track.
See you next time. Okay?