You’d be impressed as you watched Millie deeply inhaling the exotic odor of the male ring-necked pheasant.
Her nostrils flared at the scent, enriched by the newfangled odor. The black Labrador retriever also gave some gurgling sounds as she tried to both breath and at the same time trot her way back to me.
The pheasant wasn’t going anywhere. A seven-eighths ounce of number six shot propelled from my 28-guage Remington shotgun ensured that anchorage.
It was opening day of Ohio’s small-game hunting season; the first for Millie, a transplanted Alaskan by way of Washington State. That’s a long way from here to there but I had eagerly sought this day together for months.
And not just because I’d be hunting with a new companion to join Berry (my other black Labrador) but also for the reason that I like to hunt things that wear feathers even more than I do things that wear fur.
Opening Day has always carved out a favored spot in my heart, going back to the late 1950s and into the mid-1960s. That’s when I started out carrying a Daisy air-rifle and later, a borrowed 16-guage double-barreled shotgun.
My partners included my two older brothers, Terry and Rich. We would hitch our hunting wagon to our father and sometimes, our Uncle Val.
Oh, I can’t forget the dogs, either. There were Rusty and Munk and Penny and Moochie and Pepper; beagles all.
Those were the days when rabbits held high esteem and what few pheasant we did find were true wild birds, not the remnants of a bird dog field trial.
No matter nowadays, though. The dogs don’t care and if you really want to know, neither do I. That is, not on Opening Day.
Problem is, however, I’m one of a diminishing crew. Every year there appears to be fewer and fewer small-game hunters out on Opening Day. It seems that is the case, anyway, given how few vehicles were observed pulled off the highway and into places where you’d expect to see a hunter.
So the opener is greeted both with good cheer and a bit of melancholy. Neither Terry nor Rich have taken in a small-game opener since I don’t know when.
And Dad and Uncle Val both passed on more than 30 years ago.
But their ghosts still come each and every small-game season opener. I can see them as blurs moving through the shadows of a woodlot now almost totally barren of leaves.
I can see all of the dogs as well - hounds, pointers and retrievers - accompanying us in the spangled glint of light that reflects off polished, dried corn stalks and mirrored on the surface of beaver ponds.
They are my companion now, these ghosts that hang close and cling to our walk through the fields and forests.
I swear I can hear too the tinkling of the collar bell worn by Suzie, the pointer, or catch the flash of Rebel and Miss Daisy as they help scout out the ragweed patch ahead of Millie and Berry.
They don’t see her, Millie and Berry, that is. And I also snatched a glimpse of Jenny Lynn, the latest of my dogs to enter my personal hunting netherworld.
I guess I could be sad at having so many ghosts around on a day that should be about having fun and enjoying another small-game hunting season opener.
I am not, though. If anything, I am comforted at the thought of being around them, finding peace in the joy of having known giants among men and owning dogs that knew more about running a rabbit or finding a pheasant than I’ll ever be capable of understanding.
Nope, my ghosts are real and I look forward to our annual visit together every first Friday in November.
That others have decided to herald the remarkable incline of the white-tailed deer and the wild turkey more than they have sorrowed over the decline of the ring-necked pheasant is for those hunters to sort out.
As long as I have the heart, the lung power and my wobbly legs and back hold up I’ll be there on Opening Day. Ghosts and all.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn