I’ll probably title this episode “Did you ever have one of those days?” Because I did. Lucky there were no barns with broad sides on the South Dakota prairie, because I’d have missed them, too.
Was it the odd-sized prairie chickens and sharptails? That microsecond’s hesitation as one wonders if it’s a hen pheasant? Bow legs from riding the horse? Nah, I was just shooting even more poorly than usual … which is dismal on a good day.
So was Amber. Normally a wrangler with Tinker Kennels and Horsefeather Lodge where we stayed, she’d been dragooned into serving as second gunner on this day. New job, two TV cameras following her, still responsible for the horses on many occasions and then expected to shoot straight.
Lemme tell ya, she was handling the pressure damn well, considering. Here’s a shout out to Amber – YOU ROCK, girl.
Even the birds we hit were hit softly … single magic pellets felled sharpies and chickens, but we only learned that after long searches for grouse that glided over ridges and died gently, as if laid to rest by a taxidermist. I was grateful for every one of them.
We flew dozens of birds on the open grassland, many wild, a few under beautiful points by Bob Tinker’s setters, and even some pushed out by the rock-steady horses. At times, it was easy to imagine walking next to a Conestoga wagon as our forefathers did, small dots on a green sea, headed for the promise of Oregon, hungrily watching the wild supply of camp meat flush at our feet. Why did any of them continue past such riches? [Historical note: the conventional wisdom of the time was crops wouldn’t grow on the prairie … hah! Thousands of corn and wheat, sunflower and barley producers eventually proved that theory as bunk.]
The show will be very exciting thanks to my lousy marksmanship. You’ll see a week’s worth of points and flushes, a box of shells expended and one day’s worth of shots that connected. But in a strange way, that made the day even better, instilling in the incredible fertility of our prairies when well tended, and the connection to our ancestors one can only get when pursuing the same coveys in the same places they did on their way to a new America on the westward edge of the continent.