It’s that time of the year again. Hunting has come to an end and fishing regains control of the outdoor psyche. It’s time to rub oil into the deer rifles and shotguns, clean each barrel, and lock them into their cabinet as if they were beginning a hibernation of their own for the winter.
However, as partridge season dwindled down to its end this past week, I felt my single shot 20-gauge was not quite ready to be put away.
On Monday I headed out on Route 156 to hunt the strip of land around Wilson Lake, the other side of which is bordered by Route 43. A friend of mine, Latisha, happened to be visiting before my departure, and I inquired to see if she would like to tag along for a walk in the woods. She excitedly agreed, but quickly made her intentions clear that she did not want to harm any animals; rather, she would simply go for the walk.
“Ok,” I said and, regardless of her intentions, equipped her with a formidable single-shot .22 to carry around for the fun of it, as well as a handful of bullets to throw in the pocket of her puffy black vest. After she adorned equally puffy bright-fluorescent pink snow pants, the two of us were on our way.
We began our hunt following a snowmobile trail – an option we were forced to make after the icier-than-usual roads denied us access. The recent snowmobile activity had caused the snow to pack down, which made walking very pleasant. The white trail wound its way through the hardwoods, with a high over-hanging canopy above. The lazy winter sun did not have much longer to go before reaching the horizon, but it did not fail to fully illuminate the forest around us – light glinted off nearby white knolls in every direction we looked.
At the thought of such pervading light, I was temporarily distracted with thoughts on snow blindness, a perilous condition where the eyes are rendered blind due to the overabundance of reflected sunlight off the ground. Although Latisha and I were in no danger of it, it is something one might want to keep in mind if voyaging outdoors on a bright winter day. Sunglasses always help, too.
Generally, as dusk sets in, partridge fly into the trees to roost. Knowing this, I glanced to Latisha behind me and told her about the evening-behavior of these birds, and how they behaved so in order to feed and stay away from ground-roaming predators. I then proceeded to point out a clump of oak leaves which had the general shape and size of a roosting partridge, “Just like that,” I said, and we continued on.
The snowmobile path soon split towards undesirable terrain, but it allowed us the option of a left-hand turn away from the snowmobile trail and up a steep, untrodden path. The snow was deep and the walk challenging, but the two of us endured our slow progress by enjoying light-hearted small chat amid the beautiful scenery surrounding us. It was delightful to have a cheerful and curious companion at my side to share the rewards of the great outdoors.
We had planned for only a short hunt, and it was closing in on the time we had to head back while there was still light left. However, as the two of us crested the slope we had been steadily climbing, we spied an old collapsed building ahead of us, just off the side of the trail. The area in front it opened up a little, as if there had once been a large front yard. It interested us to say the least, and thus we progressed towards it slowly.
As we got close to the weather-worn and beat-down structure, an explosion of birds shredded the silence as they took off from somewhere in the bushes ahead, next to the building. I took aim at the partridge flying across my path heading to the left and led it with the bead (sight) on my gun. Squeezing the trigger, a shot rippled through the forest and the bird’s wings tucked in, causing it to plummet to the ground.
“Whoa!” I heard behind me.
Latisha and I did a quick stroll around the area of the wooden building and its disappearing yard to look for any of the other birds that we heard and saw take off. We didn’t see or jump anything, so we made our way through the snow to where the other one had landed. After a fruitless 10 minutes of investigating the approximate area, Latisha’s eyes eventually spied the partridge in the snow. Instead of ending up on the icy crust, it had actually penetrated and almost disappeared beneath eight inches of snow.
Before we headed back, I kicked away a square-foot area’s worth of snow and field-dressed the bird. Because the animal was still warm, I was able to show Latisha the quick and easy method: step on the out folded wings and pull the legs, as simple as that.
I think her open mouth was from bewilderment, rather than from being grossed out.
We headed out of the forest then, towards my car a mile or so away. Both Latisha and I had a rifle in each hand, but whereas I held the breast of the recently dressed partridge in my other hand, Latisha had hold of two tail-feathers and a wing for souvenirs (as well as her Nalgene bottle full of hot chocolate).
Ripping a few .22 shots off at the edge of the woods near my Civic, Latisha showed a keenness that can only be explained through a genetic tie with Annie Oakley. After several sticks lay dead, broken, and in pieces on the path, we hopped in the car and headed home.
After arriving at my humble abode, I wiped my rifles down and placed them in the cabinet, closed the door, and locked the key. Turning around with a smile, I then began organizing my basket full of traps; good bye to hunting, now bring on the good fishing!
And watch out for that thin ice, folks!