DAY SEVEN: BREAKING THE CURSE

[Author’s Note: This is another chapter from my forthcoming bird-hunting book, Roadside Revelations: Tales of Bird Dogs, Family & Other Upland Equations.  This story is of Day Seven of my awesome week of hunting in October of 2010.  If you are interested, the posts on the prior six days of the hunt are in the Upland Equations archives.  For this hunt, we hunted a covert named the “Hell Hole,” which I first wrote of in the story,  “Hunting the Hell Hole” which is also in the archives.  I would love to hear your feedback].

DAY SEVEN: BREAKING THE CURSE
By Andrew M. Wayment
Every year, my good friend, Matt Lucia and I hunt in a place so gnarly with pheasants so wily, we call this river bottom the “Hell Hole.” In short, it is a place of deep despair, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. 
After one of the very best weeks of hunting with my brother Shawn, I scheduled one final hunt for the week with Matt and our destination was none other than the Hell Hole.  The pain and embarrassment inflicted upon us over the years by this covert and its inhabitants subsides over time and we always seem to be drawn back for more punishment.  However, this year our strategy was to hunt the pheasant opener, which admittedly, we had never tried before.  We hoped to find at least one young and dumb pheasant that needed a little killing, but they just don’t seem to come that way in this river bottom.
  
To begin our hunt, Matt parked his truck in our typical spot in the farmer’s field on the canyon rim overlooking the river, and we unloaded the dogs, Matt’s awesome Lab, Darby, and my Sunny Girl and Misty.  The day was truly Indian Summer and the bluebell skies brightened the spirits as we hiked from the ridge down into the very jaws of Sheol.  Perhaps this day would be different. 

Matt Lucia, getting ready to take the plunge into the Hell Hole.
As is typical, numerous birds ran through the salt cedar thickets on the extremely steep hillside and bailed out-of-range and in all directions leaving us with no shots.  As the hill’s incline lessened to an almost manageable level, Misty and Sunny came upon this thin willow strip.  By this time, the day felt hot and the scenting conditions could not have been all that great.  Notwithstanding, Misty showed a little interest and began to work up and down the willow thicket.  I didn’t think too much of it or get too excited about the prospects of the pup finding one of these devil birds.  My mistake!  After working the edge of the willows for a moment, Misty zeroed in on a flume of scent and locked up on point. 

Andy and Sunny taking a respite from the steep terrain.  
Unbelievable, Misty is on point!  This is going to be a great day,  I thought to myself as I made my way over to honor.
As I approached, a gaudy rooster flushed in slow motion with long tail feathers streaming behind it like a strumpet’s scarf.  Though it flew straightaway, I missed with both barrels as if I was shooting blanks.  These supernatural demons will do that to you every time.  They have crushed many a man.  I groaned and lamented out loud as I had just missed the first rooster my pup had ever found and pointed.   The Hell Hole offered no other opportunities for redemption, but only thick, nearly impenetrable, cover that we had to fight through to get back up to the truck. 
By the time we made it back up to the rim, we both felt tired and defeated.  What made things worse is that we saw the farmer’s tractor and numerous farm trucks backed up behind Matt’s truck.  Right then, we realized that we were blocking the farmer from gaining access to the field to cut his crop, an obvious terrible predicament to be in.  It was as if Lucifer himself had set up this gloomy situation. 
“Oh no, what should we do?” I asked Matt concernedly.
“I guarantee you that farmer is fighting mad,” replied Matt.
 
“Should we avoid the situation altogether or should we go take our lumps?” I inquired already knowing the answer to my question. 
“We probably should go and make it right,” said Matt.

“You’re right,” I replied, ”but let’s say a quick prayer before we head up there.  I’ll offer it.” 

At that time we both folded our arms, bowed our heads, and I humbly prayed:
“Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this beautiful day and the opportunity to hunt together.  Right now, we are in an awkward situation in which a farmer is likely very upset with us because we are blocking his way and preventing him from getting his crop cut.  Wilt thou soften his heart and help us avoid any conflict?  We say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

We then trudged as quickly up the hill as we could to the truck—Matt being a heck of a lot faster than me.  When Matt made it up to one of the first farm-helper’s trucks, he tried to talk to the driver, but the guy looked at Matt disgustedly, pointed to the truck at the head of the pack, and growled, “GO TALK TO HIM!”

Matt obeyed and humbly walked up to the farmer’s truck and stated apologetically, “I’m in your way.  I am so sorry!”
The farmer—whose demeanor first looked like he wanted to rip our heads off—immediately eased up and any sign of anger quickly dissipated.   Matt then explained who he was and the fact that we had permission to hunt from the landowner who leased the property to the farmer.  I stood back amazed as I witnessed a direct answer to our prayer.  As the scripture says: “A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
“Next time, please let me know when you are going to be out here so that we don’t run into this situation again,” pleaded the farmer.
“No problem.  Sorry for the inconvenience,” replied Matt.
 
With that, we quickly loaded the dogs and made our escape to Matt’s parents’ home for lunch. 
After a good lunch and visit with Matt’s folks, we again commenced our quest to take one of those illusive river roosters, except this time it was on the opposite side of the river from the Hell Hole.  The choice property that we hunted had a field of uncut corn, which was a foot taller than me.  We hunted around the edge of this field and Darby chased a rooster out of the thicket presenting Matt with an easy crossing shot at a bird-of-the-year.  No, it wasn’t a wily old rooster, but in this river bottom, we take what we can get.  The dogs flushed a few other hens from a thick, but narrow strip of canary grass, but the devil birds were not to be found.

Matt Lucia holds a wee little devil bird.

 

Once we hunted through all the available cover on the property, we opted to try another covert on the south side of the river where I had knocked down a rooster the year before, but could not find it.  Unfortunately, the landowner was not home to give us permission.
 
In the words of Lloyd Christmas of the movie, Dumb and Dumber, I stuck my hand out the window and longingly yelled, “GOODBYE MY LOVE!” as we drove away from this awesome covert.  Matt and I both had a good laugh at my goofiness.
 
This left us with one final place to try for a Hades river bird: Matt’s Dad’s farm, which consists of a series of benches that are farmed with good cover on the hillsides and in the draws in the contours of the hill.   In fact, some of the finger draws are so thick we call them, “Jungle Fingers.”  We saw a lot of birds on this property including a big covey of Huns, but they were very jumpy and hard to approach, even though it was only the pheasant opener.
 
We worked our way up one draw and when I reached the top—sucking in wind from the strain of the steep hike—a bird flushed hard to my right.  The bird looked like a hen, but his little devil butt was red, so I mounted the gun and instinctually threw a prayer shot his way.  To my amazement, a halo of feathers puffed out and blew away with the wind.
 
I then wondered: Did I just shoot a hen?
       
I walked over to the downed bird on the hill’s crest and, to my relief, it was a rooster, another bird-of-the-year, still largely garbed in his juvenile plumage.  I felt absolutely no shame for taking this young cock as it took me a full four years of disappointment and despair to get one of these darn river roosters.  Truly, it felt like a little redemption and revenge at the same time. 

Finally, I broke the curse.  Check out that smile!
On our way back to the truck as the sun began to set to the west, Matt and I talked and laughed about the strange, but memorable, day and I declared: “Finally, I broke the Curse of the River Roosters!”
”Yep, you sure did! It’s about dang time!” Matt replied laughingly.
It had been one of those charmed—no, strike that, blessed—weeks that every bird hunter longs for.  I  can think of no better way to cap it off than by breaking the curse.  

Two goofballs celebrating their trophies.  

          

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