Joel Reichenberger: Just a shot in the dark

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— I wrote several months ago about how much I missed hunting turtledoves near my childhood home in Kansas.

That column drew an e-mail from a reader who was concerned that I had described the killing of animals in too carefree a manner.

I'd like to give that reader and all others - not to mention birds everywhere - hope.

I can't shoot anything. I miss all but the unluckiest of birds, as well as most clay pigeons I've ever targeted and every rabbit I've ever come across.

My terrible aim was evident again last weekend when I trooped out with my dad, my brother and several family friends to hunt pheasants, a Thanksgiving-weekend tradition.

Several strips of milo remained on the family farm ground, so we spread out and walked end to end, waiting for the pheasants to jump out in front of us.

It was almost perfect weather for such a hunt. There had been a decent number of the brightly colored birds around when the season opened early last month, and it had yet to get very cold. Cold weather - snow, especially - usually encourages pheasants to sit tight. They often are more active in the warmer weather we encountered, meaning they'll often jump out in front of a line of hunters and make a break for it in a suddenly leaden sky.

The "line of hunters" part is one of my problems. I have plenty of experience walking milo fields in search of pheasant, but the guy walking next to me appeared to have gone every day for the past 10 years. He was decked out in camouflage from head to toe. Even his shotgun was camo on camo, complete with a camouflage shoulder strap, an accessory I didn't know anyone this side of the Civil War used for shotguns.

Apparently, his effort was worth it. He killed two of the first three pheasant we kicked up before I even could click my gun off "safety." Had he missed with all three of his shells, and had the pheasants fallen into a slow orbit in front of us, I might have had a chance.

But even that's debatable.

My best chance to bag a bird came on one of the last fields we walked. I literally stepped on a quail. I jumped back a step, and he flew up and away, cutting well behind the line of hunters. For a whole second, I was the only person who knew what had happened. I took the safety off my gun and took careful aim at what was a relatively short, straight shot.

Of course, I missed. High, low, or far to one side: I have no idea. All I know is that quail probably still is flying, his avian family intact.

I wasn't at all surprised, but I initially was disappointed. That didn't last long. The thought of avoiding any more bird-friendly e-mails is a sure pick-me-up.

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