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Two deer bounded across a spring wheat field and everyone shouted and then the first birds got up two or three hundred yards ahead of us. Five, eight, 10, 15, 20 birds coming off the side of a hill and flying into the grayness of the morning. It was too dark to tell the cocks from the hens. It was exciting to be hunting pheasants again and I waved at John on my right and could tell he was excited too. Then a bird got up close going straight away and I pulled up on it not knowing what it was. "Come on, cackle, you birds. Damn these clouds," I was yelling, and John was yelling, "Hen! Hen! Hen!" I lowered my shotgun, aware of the charge of excitement that had flashed through me. That was the thrill of pheasant hunting, or any hunting where the action happens so fast you are never ready. If the bird had been a cock I wouldn't have been aware of the shock because it would have been lost in the act of shooting. You only notice it when you don't get to spend the excitement.
Then we swung into the draw and there was a single shot and someone said that Terry had a bird down and needed a dog. And then two hens got up between John and me. I was sure they were hens and so was John, but the morning light was deceiving. You couldn't pick up any colors at all. The brush was head-high and wet and thick and there were dusting bowls underneath the bushes, wet and dark, smooth, round pheasant craters. Then there was the rattle of wings from a bird I never saw.
"Did you see it?" I shouted to John.
"Hen," he shouted back. Then added, "I think."
Next, five or six birds got up ahead, in range, going straight away and flying low just over the bushes below the horizon. I pulled up on one, two, three birds, but how can you shoot if there are no colors? Then it dawned on me that the second bird had a bluish sheen just above the tail feathers—a cock.
John and I took his two dogs and climbed a steep hill into a small field that had been recently pastured. It still had a good cover of weeds and sunflowers. We could see the rest of the party below us and decided to work the field down into another draw to which the blockers should have moved.
We started into the field and two birds got up between us and something in me said, "Don't shoot. Don't shoot," and something else said, "Are you sure?" Then a bird as long as my shotgun got up right in front of John and the whole world knew it was a cock.
"Shoot!" I shouted.
The bird came down and bounced and flopped once above the weeds and was gone by the time we got there. John's dogs were crazy with excitement, running around looking for a duck or a sock or something to retrieve.