We had fine shooting for the next hour. The birds were more skittish now, flushing earlier, so that the shots became longer and more difficult. Jack knocked down one Hun on a 40-yard passing shot, and Fred hit two others. With six birds in hand, we decided to finish out the day back at the farm pond, hoping to find some ducks.
When we got to the pond two duck hunters were already there, setting out their decoys, so we gave them a wide berth and hunted our way back toward the 4WD. There was about an hour of daylight left. The dogs were covering a lot of territory but could chase up no more birds, which seemed all right. You wanted to leave some for seed. It was just sunset when we returned to the 4WD, and the sky had turned red and orange and purple and lots of other colors I don't know the names of. Jack handed out the Foster's, and as we drank, we watched the sky over the desert. The dogs collapsed in the cheatgrass. "My father lived in a time when, if you didn't like a place anymore, there was always another place you could move to that was unspoiled," Jack said.
"You can't do that now. You have to make a stand somewhere. That's why conservation issues are so important. In general we're getting better hunting and fishing than he ever got out here, but we have to work a helluva lot harder to get it."
A flock of ducks flew across the darkening sky, heading toward the pond. We waited to see if there would be shots, but the flock circled once and headed off. The two hunters had been pulling their decoys.
We talked and drank and watched the colors fade over the hills. It's the best time of day, really, and we all felt it. It was the hour Van Guilder had told Ernest Hemingway how much he loved the fall. The air became chilly, and we loaded up the dogs. Then, eerily, the evening's first coyote howled from a distant hill. It's one of the most beautiful and mournful sounds in nature, and we stopped and listened for a long while, but the coyote went unanswered.