Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: My Life of Crime
Saturday was the big day. Thinking back, not too many days in my life were dreamed about more than the first day I would be old enough to go pheasant hunting. I had been shooting clay pigeons with my bolt action 20 gauge for quite awhile, discovering I had a natural ability for hitting the flying clays. Dad used to throw them for me just to see how many I could hit, and it was usually more than he could.
Our neighbor Wilbur Hoffman taught the hunter’s safety course that Fall, and after classes he would take me out to his farm to shoot clay pigeons. He asked me to go hunting with him the opening day of pheasant season, since Dad wouldn’t be home from barbering in Pierre until that evening. I was excited! Wilbur picked me up about 11:00 that morning and we drove outside of town to a patch of Soil Bank ground with lots of cover on it. Waiting a few minutes until it was 12:00 noon, straight up, we started walking the edge of the field that bordered the gravel road leading to a farmstead. We hadn’t gone 20 yards when a rooster flew up and over the road, heading towards the farm house. My first shot at a pheasant wasn’t even close, but it rattled the trees near the house, causing Wilbur to give me a refresher course on gun safety right then and there. Chastened but not discouraged, I continued to walk with Wilbur, waiting for a pheasant to fly up. Then, just as it does now, the sudden sound of a pheasant flushed from heavy cover startled me, but this time my aim was true and I had downed my first pheasant! Wilbur said he would cut across the field and meet me on the other side, so I walked the edge of the patch, shooting two more birds by the time I joined up with Wilbur. I was pretty proud of myself. Four shots, three birds. Wilbur chuckled at my big round eyes and wide grin. Later, he helped me clean the birds before I went home to wait for Dad.
Dad enjoyed hearing about my first day of hunting, listening while bolting down a sandwich and grabbing his shotgun, determined to hunt before the sun set. He told me to get my gun and help him walk a nearby cornfield that lay next to the railroad right-of-way east of town. So I did. We took Mike and we soon were walking the corn rows, Dad telling me to walk the edge of the field while he took the dog in a few rows. Before long Mike flushed a pheasant that flew out of the corn ahead of me. I hesitated until Dad hollered, “shoot!” I didn’t think twice before I shot the bird out of the sky. That was enough for Dad. We switched spots, Dad hoping he would get to shoot a flushed bird as it came out of the corn. The dog did his job, flushing a rooster, who apparently hadn’t heard Dad’s plan, and flew straight away in front of me. Dad didn’t have to holler, I aimed and shot, getting another pheasant. By the time we had made the trip around the corn field, Dad had his limit and so did I. Again. I had my second limit on the first day of pheasant season, the first year I could hunt. Mom was aghast at my flagrant breaking of the law and worse yet my dad’s complicity in the crime. She never talked about that day without doing so in hushed tones, just in case a game warden was nearby, but she usually did it with a slight smile on her face.