Clyde stomped away. "See," he said to Jug. "See what he learnt in college?"
We stayed with the wheat stubble fields, hopping into the pickups, getting out, walking a field, hopping in again and driving a mile or two to the next field. Pete tore the stuffing out of the front seat of one pickup, clear down to the springs, irate because he didn't get to work a certain field. I kept Clyde entertained with my zigzagging and in the middle of one field it paid off when a cackling rooster jumped out of a clump of tumbleweeds I had zigged toward. It paid off again 10 minutes later at the end of the same field when the birds had decided to sit tight instead of running across the road.
John left at noon, heading back to Denver, and some of the relatives left, so we had only five walkers and one blocker. We still got 13 birds before dark and Clyde walked every field, even with a hole in his leg incurred that morning while breaking up a dogfight. We had taken just as many birds the second day as we had the first.
It had been dark and quiet in the garage for 15 minutes and I thought everyone but me was asleep. "Dammit, Tar," Terry said sternly. "If I miss another easy shot tomorrow I'm going to cut off your tail."
We were in the fields again before sunrise, Clyde walking only every other field, Pete walking the first two and then tiring, his knees giving way when we tried to help him into a pickup. My Achilles tendons ached. The best remedy is to keep walking, but I had a bad knee too and had to hand-lift my leg into the pickup. I didn't zigzag as much, only near the end of a field. We had six birds by noon. We were down to four drivers, one dog and two blockers. Still, we got birds. We got birds up in almost every field. The highlight of the afternoon was a cock that the Lieutenant rocked twice, knocking out a good pile of feathers the first shot, only to watch it fly strongly away straight into town, disappearing into the green trees between two white houses. Fifteen minutes later Clyde drove up with a dead cock found in front of the cafe on Main Street.
Four of us were in the garage on the third night. A tubful of cleaned pheasants in cold water was beside the night crawlers. We had 50 birds now and even the Lieutenant had stopped grumbling. I could feel the hunt ending. Terry was talking up duck hunting at the Cheyenne Bottoms, Jug had left for Topeka, Clyde's leg wasn't healing properly, the Lieutenant had something in his eye that nobody could find. My groin muscles were sore now along with the bad knee and Achilles tendons.
But how nice to go to sleep trying to remember every bird I had shot, which was now 13. I remembered 12 of them the first time and then I remembered all of my birds in order and then it was time to get up.
We were late getting into the fields. Clyde's leg was feeling better and he walked with us and there was only Francis, his wife, left to drive the truck, and no blockers. The Lieutenant's eye was running and he missed two easy shots and Pete gave out after the first field. Tar had learned a lot in the last three days and was beginning to hunt. We worked two more fields and Clyde got a bird and Pete tried another field with us but ended up walking behind Clyde, looking sad and old, not hunting or caring to. Suddenly it was time to quit. We all felt it. The Lieutenant surveyed his troops, four battered, tired veterans of three days' continuous walking, the only survivors from an army of 10 or 12. After lunch we said goodby.
Yet, I was anxious to find out if one man walking alone on the fourth day of the season could take pheasants. I had to try. The first place I stopped was that two-story abandoned farmhouse. Weeds grew up to the empty window frames, the wooden planking was gray and aged, worth thousands of dollars back East where gray, aged wooden planks are in. I jumped three hens beside the horse barn, cut across a junk-filled, burr-filled draw, walked a fencerow beside a milo field, cut across the draw again and shot a cock in the front yard. Half an hour later and five miles down the road I got another cock out of the knee-deep brush alongside the railroad tracks. Then I got one out of a draw.
I shot my last bird in the backyard of another deserted farmhouse. He flushed wild, coming up out of the weeds and quartering away, and it was suddenly too easy to pull up on him, touch off, see the explosion of feathers and dust and the bird tumbling in a graceful arc toward the ground. I ran to where I thought he came down, stopped, looked down, and there he lay at my feet trembling in death. I felt the quick rush of hunter's remorse, the sadness and guilt that comes from killing too much too easily.