The Hunting Club members lined up at the edge of a cornfield. Stubble stretched half a mile into the distance, terminating at a dirt road. Several pheasant hunters lounged beside there trucks parked down there. Called "blockers," they were waiting on us.
Our job was to walk the cornfield's length, driving pheasant to the blockers. Hopefully, the birds would panic enough to fly, giving us a shot or two before we reached the end. That's where the action usually got hot and heavy. Driven by the walkers (that was us) and seeing the blockers ahead, the pheasant were supposed to erupt from the harvested stalks.
At least that's the theory.
Last time we were there, the birds cooperated for everyone, giving the walkers plenty of shooting en route to the blockers. Our problem then was cold and snow.
We thumbed shells into our shotguns and waited for Youngster to leave the Suburban and join us.
"Hurry up!" Wrong Willie shouted.
"Just a minute!" Youngster shouted back through the open door. "I'm checking the Weather Channel online, so we'll know if it's supposed to snow."
"What difference does it make?" I asked, staring at the leaden sky above us. "We'll be at the end of the field in an hour. It won't make any difference then."
"I'll just feel better if I know," he said, tapping furiously at his laptop computer. "It's supposed to snow by 3 o'clock!"
"He still hasn't put on his boots," Doc frowned. "Boy, you're making us wait too long."
"In a few minutes," Youngster answered. "I'm having trouble gaining a signal out here. Y'all just do something until I'm ready."
I checked my watch. "It's nearly 4."
"Wait a second," he said. "I'll check the other weather service. Maybe they're more accurate. It's loading now."
"Forget it," Doc shouted. "Let's go!"
With that, we stepped off smartly into the stubble. I hadn't taken more than a dozen steps when a rooster pheasant rocketed out from under my feet, giving me a perfect straightaway shot. I leveled down on him and squeezed the trigger.
Thinking I'd missed the safety, I pushed it again and pulled the trigger, seeing the bird gain distance. The gun finally fired, and the bird tumbled. But then I noticed something wrong with the shotgun.
It hadn't properly ejected the shell, which was sticking halfway out of the ejection port. I pulled on the operating handle to clear the port, but it wouldn't budge. Seeing I was having trouble, Willie retrieved my bird and joined me. The rest of the guys stopped.
Someone honked a horn at the other end of the field. Everyone waved for us to hurry up. Doc waved back as if he'd just seen them down there, then stuffed a chew into one cheek.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Shotgun jammed," I said. I walked back to the Suburban's open tailgate, and while they waited, I unscrewed the magazine cap and pulled off the forearm. Willie and Woodrow joined me, and we disassembled the shotgun.
We still couldn't find out what caused the gun to jam. I sighed and stared toward the frustrated guys in the distance. "Y'all go ahead and get started. I'll figure this out."
"That ain't right," the Cap'n said. "You're the one who set this trip up. You should get to hunt."
I toed the ground. "Well, I didn't bring a backup shotgun like I usually do, so y'all go ahead on and hunt."
"We better hurry," Youngster said. "Impact Weather says it's really gonna snow in a little while."
Doc grinned around his chew. "Hey, what does the local service say up here? Check that."
"I'll check," Youngster answered, excited. He bent to his laptop while Doc rummaged through the Suburban's cargo hold.
"They say there might be some sleet in it," Youngster announced. "What do you think we ought to do?"
Doc pulled a shotgun case from under the bags. He unzipped it and delivered an over-and-under 12 gauge to me. I looked at the shotgun and frowned. "Who's ... ?"
I stopped when Doc held a finger to his lips and nodded toward the back seat, where Youngster's head was bent over the laptop. "Hey, check the weather back home, then check between here and there for tonight," Doc yelled at him. "We might have to leave about dark and drive straight through to beat the snowstorm."
"Yeah!" Youngster said with enthusiasm. "I'll check the hourly forecast."
"Don't forget the Department of Transportation's highway Web site for road conditions," Woodrow said, catching on. "They'll tell us if the roads are clear between here and Dallas."
"Okay!" Youngster said, intent on his screen.
"Let's go," Doc whispered to me.
I broke open Youngster's shotgun, thunked in two shells, and we stepped smartly away to resume our hunt.
"We need to get on the road before 7!" Youngster shouted at us.
The Cap'n waved an answer.
"Good!" Willie said as we walked away.
Our ruse was a grand idea except for one thing.
Without a recoil pad, Youngster's stinkin' shotgun kicked like a mule.
Reavis Wortham's e-mail address is email@example.com.
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