"Here," T. H. said, unlatching the gun cases and handing me a beautiful over-and-under. "You shoot the 12. I'll shoot my 10." His 10-gauge was the biggest gun I had ever seen. It looked like a cannon. "I'll tell you when to shoot. First bird's yours."
I lay down and loaded my gun. T.H. and Travis nestled in behind me. The geese now had Travis's full attention. He had forgotten all about the spicy sausage. His mind was riveted on retrieving.
T.H. produced a goose call and started honking. A couple of dozen birds immediately peeled off from the main flock and were decoyed right to the diapers. Travis whimpered as he watched them coming in. "Steady, boy, steady," T.H. softly crooned. Honk! Honk! Honk! "Steady." Honk! Honk! The geese circled in right on top of us. "Now, "T. H. said.
I sat up, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. "Damn," I said, fumbling with the safety.
"Shoot! Shoot!" yelled T.H. The flock wheeled and flew off across the fields. I clicked off the safety, raised my gun and fired. At the sound, Travis burst past me. "Whoa! Whoa!" screamed T.H., knowing that the geese had far outdistanced the pellets I had sent their way. Travis ignored his master. He splashed across the furrows, trustingly expecting a bird to fall. He must have run half a mile before he stopped and watched the geese fly out of sight. I could see he was confused. Why hadn't any fallen?
T.H. was red-faced from blowing his dog call. "Back, Travis, back!" he hollered. "Back, boy!" He whistled some more. When Travis finally returned, he was caked with mud. Saliva foamed in his otherwise empty mouth. He didn't look like much of a star. He flopped into my lap, obviously expecting at least one patty for all of his effort. "Damn. That dog has got a big heart," T.H. marveled. "I'd of bit you if you had done that to me."
"I got mixed up with the safety," I apologized. "I've never shot this type of gun before."
"Never mind," T.H. said, scanning the sky. "Quick, get down. Here come some teal."
I looked up and watched a flock of blue-winged teal drop from the sky and sweep in low over the pond. They were wingtip-to-wingtip. It was like watching a precision flying team. "Shoot! Dammit, shoot!" hollered T.H. I rolled up to a sitting position and fired wildly into the formation. Travis was off at the flash. He plunged into the pond. I prayed at least one bird would fall. None did.
T.H. pulled out his recall whistle again. Tweet! Tweet! "Back, Travis! Back!" Tweet! Tweet! Travis paddled on, unmindful of T.H.'s frantic calls. He wasn't about to surrender. Lieutenant Colonel William B. would have been proud of his namesake. "There's no bird, daggone it!" screamed T.H. "Travis! Come back, boy! The damn Yankee missed again!"