My shoulder hurt so much during target practice that I was reluctant to go out with the bow after the season opened. The weather was inviting, the colors striking, autumns smell was wafting all about, and I finally relented and decided to spend a bit of time in my tree stand near the gravel pit. After all, even if I could not pull the bowstring back, I could enjoy my time out and about.
I chose that particular spot because of the conflux of deer runs, or paths that cross there from a dozen different directions. I am also afforded a great open view on three out of four sides, and I love to watch and see what will present itself every time I am in the woods and field.
This particular morning was quiet with no wind blowing as the sun began to inch over the drumlin to the east. I could just begin to make out shadows all around me, some from the spicebushes, some from the spruces to the south, shadows cast from the huge shagbark hickory a hundred yards north. This is one of my favorite times to be out, and I rarely am in the woods at this time of day unless I am hunting. Experience has taught me that magical things can and do happen as night is slipping away and grandfather sun is brightening up the landscape.
I caught a movement of something dark moving through the recently frost killed goldenrod, moving from the gravel pit in my direction. I knew right off that it was not a deer, nor did it move like a fox or raccoon or woodchuck. It’s movements were erratic, herky-jerky, and did not walk a straight line.
Brief seconds later, a rooster pheasant bobbed his way nearly under my tree, causing my head to shake slightly in astonishment. These male ringneck pheasants are gorgeous creatures, with all of the colors of the rainbow on their neck, and iridescent greens and multiple shades of brown gracing their wings. My Dad always called them cockbirds. I think the origin of that term was the cocky attitude and showy effervescence that they exhibit.
A half century ago, I cut my hunting teeth pursuing these smart and elusive birds with my Dad, my friend Tim and my dog Wilbur. We spent many hours walking fields and hedgerows, hoping Wilbur would flush a male, the only legal gender we were allowed to shoot. At that time, pheasants were plentiful and a common sight throughout rural New York State. Over time, their numbers dwindled and it became a rare occurrance indeed to see a pheasant away from those few areas where they continued to be stocked with pen reared birds.
I might have chosen to sleep in a bit that morning, or to have an extra cup of coffee and read the paper. It would have been good. And, I would have missed that proud bird, source unknown, wandering by my stand, exhibiting his pride and his glory.