Snow pack that had partially thawed and then was refrozen overnight crunched under hunters’ feet as they got out of the car. There was no wind and their breath crystallized in front of their faces. Duchess quartered about the farm yard, with her nose brain, capturing, analyzing and cataloging the scents that she found.
Her owner, Marlin, and his friend, Chuck, sipped at their hot coffee. They were early to the farm. Marlin’s son, Don, though anxious, waited patiently and drank hot chocolate. As the time neared 8:00, the three broke the shotguns out of their cases and finished off the last of their drinks.
Duchess looked up at them occasionally as if to ask what they were waiting for. Finally, the big hand was on the 12 and the little hand was on the 8.
“Lock and load!”
Marlin handed Don two 20 gauge rounds. He put one into his pocket and chambered the other in his youth-sized shotgun. Chuck and Marlin loaded their shotguns, chambered a round and checked the safeties.
“Let’s go, girl.”
Duchess knew this farm from several years of hunting it. She headed for the field. Marlin hupped her before they got too close to the standing corn.
Duchess was good for holding range with the hunters until she picked up hot scent in standing corn. Glenn, the farmer, always started his harvest by taking down every other ten or twenty rows. The standing corn was inviting for pheasants but, with the rows cut down on each side, it was also inviting for hunting.
When the other two were set and Marlin and could see Don standing in wait, he pointed to the corn and commanded, “Hunt ‘em out!”
This was what Duchess lived for. She took off into the corn rows as Marlin hurried along side. Glenn was kind enough to set his fields for good hunting but he was adamant that no hunters were to tromp through his corn and, thus, reduce his yield by knocking corn to the ground.
When Duchess picked up scent she started snorting. She was chasing with her nose brain now and would have run into a lamp post if it was in her path. Marlin chirped the whistle to alert the other two that the dog was on hot scent.
Duchess disappeared down the rows, in hot pursuit, when the pheasants sensed her and they started running. When the birds ran out of the cover, their fleeing feet left the ground as their wings lifted them to escape from the dog. The sound of panicked flapping wings was interrupted by two shotgun reports that came almost simultaneously.
There had been two hens and a cock. Iowa law forbids taking hens. When Marlin arrived at the end of the corn rows, Chuck was grinning from ear-to-ear and holding up the fallen cock pheasant. Duchess was hopping about near him in anticipation of her take in the hunt.
“You got one!”
“No, Don did.”
The look on Don’s face was one of surprise. He had taken a shot but had no idea that he bagged the pheasant. Again, Chuck insisted that Don had dropped the bird. Still looking surprised, Don took the praise that was lavished upon him.
Marlin gutted the bird and gave Duchess the heart, as was the practice for every downed bird. Zipped into a plastic storage bag, Don proudly put the bird into the game bag on the back of his hunting vest. He showed more enthusiasm and walked with a little more spring throughout the rest of the day.
Marlin had a word burning tool for crafts that he used to print onto the stock of the shotgun Don’s name with the words First Wing and the date. A few years later he added commemoration of the first fur, to the gunstock, for one of the younger boys.
As the boys grew into adults Marlin split some of hunting firearms among his sons. At the time, Don had a son of his own and so he got the youth-sized shotgun.