Morning Hunt

Updated: Jan 17

That Sunday was cold. It brought the years first real morning chill. Cold enough to deter me from establishing permanent residence above Dallas. I grabbed my barn jacket but wouldn't need it after breakfast. We sat in the main dining hall. Eleven men sat around an old wood table and said grace. We gave thanks for the opportunity to share a weekend of hunting and camaraderie. Then broke bread one final time before going on our last hunt and back into our own worlds on our own paths.

As I walked through the grass to meet our guide for the last hunt I felt the fresh dew brush against by boots. I was not reassured about my footwear choice when I saw the guide wearing knee high water boots. My socks were already wet. "At least we're not laying in it" I said. My words didn't reassure anyone, including myself.

Our guide was tall and thin. All of the guides out at Joshua Creek Ranch seemed to be tall and thin. I suppose it's only natural after walking 10 miles a day for 15 years while living off a ration of freshly shot pheasant, quail, and Marlboro reds. His face was covered by a black beard and sunglasses. He wore a beaten flannel shirt under a tin canvas jacket and the kind of distressed jeans you earn with wear.

My hunting partners and I gathered around his truck as he got the dogs ready. Spaniels would lead the days hunt. Small in stature but big in drive these dogs were. As soon as they hit the ground they became sopping wet as their heads poked just above the wet morning grass. We loaded our game bags with shells and followed the bounding spaniels to the hunting grounds.

The main road between the county road and the parking lot area at Joshua Creek Ranch is about half a mile. On one side of the road are fields and a pond that hold ducks, pheasants, and chukker. On the other side of the road is a row of trees that feel more like Georgia or South Carolina than Texas Hill Country. Behind the trees is a big creek. Or maybe a small river? It's up for interpretation. Finally, on the other side of the creek is an open field. The field is cut in strips, leaving tall grass for birds to hide, and shorter grass on either side for the hunters to walk.

The guide assigned us our rows for walking and let spaniels take off. The spaniel is a flushing dog. It boldly dives into heavy brush and looks for birds. When it finds its intended target, the spaniel then jumps towards the bird so that it causes it to fly away and allows the hunter the opportunity to deliver a fatal shot to the bird. It's an experience unlike anything else to watch a dog work so selflessly. It's only goal to find a bird, not for its own sake, but for that of its human counterpart. When done correctly, it's a harmonious song between dog and man that stirs the soul. Those who have hunted over good dogs know to go back to a style of hunting without a dog is impossible.

We walked the fields and dogs flushed the pheasants and hens. I had not seen a pheasant before this weekend. The mix of greens and reds and purples and browns proved to me God existed as much as any Sunday service I've attended.

An hour went by and my feet were soaked from the grass. I could only count my luck this wasn't a 20 mile forced march in the Vietnam jungle with gang green in my future. We returned to the trucks and took a break. The guide replaced the dying cigarette between his lips with a new one as he put the war weary spaniels back in their kennels. Birds were counted and put away. The hunting party traded stories with the guide, and we all took some time to take in the creek and the trees and count blessings to have such a day as this.

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