October 1, 2001
October 1st in years past has always been looked on
with much anticipation. All of us knowing in the last three quarters
of a decade that October 1st brings many things to the table.
First and foremost, the camaraderie of bringing close friends
together in this annual early Fall experience. The dogs, the land,
the freedom to do this thing that we all enjoy and love so much.
The birds almost are secondary. We have in the past not even seen
birds and although it was disappointing, it was not going to affect
the way we enjoy each other's company. It has become a ritual.
Practiced by hundreds of thousands of men and women and youngsters
all over this country. We have all been very fortunate in our
lives. I don't believe we take things for granted. I believe we
are too smart for that kind of thinking. We take it all in.
The darkness of the predawn, the whining of the dogs, the early
morning fog and mist. The first sounds of gunfire crackling through
the dead morning air. The whistles, bells, beepers and shouts
from other hunters echoing across the fields. The wondering if
there's going to be any birds waiting for us. Gentlemen, this
is what I mean by all of it. We take it all in.
Nothing it seems could alter that feeling. Nothing until September
The events of that day cast a dark gray pall over the nation.
We were all affected by it. It was a numbing sobering experience
for all of us. Up until that day I was eagerly anticipating the
first of October. Max would be turning 10 on September 14 and
I was going to give him my 20GA 870 Pump that my dad bought for
me when I was 12. It was to be a emotional, but happy occasion.
We were all robbed by the events of that day. Still numb form
the shock of the attack, I gave Max the gun in the basement. Just
he and I. We talked about the significance of the gun and what
it meant to me. We tried not to think about what was going on
in the world but it was hard. We tried to focus on his birthday,
but it was hard. We lost a friend on the first plane out of Boston
and Max's Grampy was deep in Pakistan. It was directly affecting
But, we got through it. We all did. Then slowly but surely, the
whole country got back into the saddle. Our lives were all changed
that day. Nothing will ever be the same, but we will as a country
and nation survive this. We will, as America always has in the
past, defeat evil. We will win this long tedious war. We will
live our lives, as our fathers before us, had fought to preserve.
We will go on. We will hunt on Opening Day.
0500 the alarm has not gone off yet and I am wide awake. Doing
my daily sit-ups I try in vain to finish before the thing goes
off and wakes Cory. Too late. "Sorry" I whisper. Exasperated,
she gets up to reset it for 6:30AM. "Don't worry, Max will
be fine." I tell her as I walk past in my brush busters.
"He better be." she answers with eyes closed. Out in
the hallway I glance down at Max who's still sleeping. Heading
off to the kitchen to start the coffee machine the dogs are jumping
out of their skin. How do they know? Is it in bred in them? Is
October 1st something dogs talk about among themselves? In either
case, it's difficult to control their excitement. After starting
the coffee, I gather some gear and load the jeep. The dogs are
out in the pen now and it's time to wake the boy. The moment I
touched his arm he bolted up with a huge grin on his face. "Max
you still want to do this?" I asked. "Yes, Yes dad!"
he replied pulling away his blankets and immediately getting into
his new brush busters. The boy was jacked. Smiling I led him out
into the kitchen for a muffin and a traditional (or soon to be
traditional) drinking apple juice from the pheasant glass. "May
the spirit of Papa be with you today and everyday. May the spirit
of all of those who have passed before us be with us today. All
of them, men, women and dogs. Amen."
Just then Cory came out and said "Please let those dogs back
in they are whining so loud out back." She then gave us both
a kiss and I thought I detected a slight smile from her. You see
boys, I was in the proverbial dog house. I was taking Max out
of school. I was in deep doo doo. I sheepishly said again, "Don't
worry. He'll be fine." And with those words, we waited in
the driveway for you guys. First came Rich and then Jeff, after
a few quiet happy greetings we were off to Sandersons. Jeff, Max
and I in the jeep and Rich in the Mustang.
By the time we got there the lot was pretty full. Maybe 15 cars
and twice as many hunters. Maybe a dozen or so dogs of every breed.
There they were, walking into the fading darkness like soldiers
on patrol. It was only a matter of minutes before the first shot
rang out. Frantically trying to get two dogs set-up as well as
Max and myself, we were looking like we'd be the last to enter
Trying to absorb all of this for posterity, I inadvertently left
key items in the vehicle. Max's sling, and some apples. Could
of used both many times.
Heading down onto the runway, we had already decided that we'd
be doing the easy hunt this year. But I felt like we were on a
conveyor belt and the birds were being taken by the hunters before
us. At the last minute we decide to head off directly into the
back field. The four of us and the two dogs. On paper we look
like a formidable group. In reality, we were like anyone else
out there. Or at least at this time of the day. A few shots did
ring out here and there but nothing like you'd expect on Opening
Making our way through the dark woods that borders the back field
and the stream we avoid having to directly deal with the illegal
Posted sign. Once in the field we start our trek. In and around
the deep grass and weeds, stumbling over hidden roots and sticks.
Beepers coming in and out of earshot, small song birds whizzing
by causing each of us to jolt for that one split second
thinking BIRD! But in the very next second the reality of what
it is. Stupid shitbird. Clueless, they fly in and out of the war
zone. I'm sure many a songbird has tumbled from the sky from an
errant shot from those less experienced. Thank God, none of us
has ever shot the wrong bird. We're after the Ring Neck Pheasant.
And, there's no mistaking them for anything else.
Typically, pheasants will roost in trees at night. They wouldn't
normally venture out into the fields until the sun warms things
up. But these birds are far from typical. There's no rhyme or
reason for their behavior. Which I guess, is another challenging
aspect. It's hard to figure out where they are. In years past
we've found them in the woods, in trees, in swamps, in cold wet
fields. Hell, I've found them hiding right out in the middle of
the runway. Like I said, there's no set pattern of where to find
them. That happens late in the season when they become survivors,
and they acclimate themselves to the surroundings. Right now we're
dealing with liberated birds.
Back and forth we trudge. The dogs coming into more dog scent
than bird scent. The occasional shot rings out and we all look
in the direction of the shot. By 8:00AM we have not fired our
guns nor have we seen a bird. Scout has lost his vest in the thorns
somewhere and Max is starting to tire. We finally stop for our
Max is very happy to here this day. We have both been anticipating
this day for weeks. The last 3 weeks we have practiced every night
"snapping in" on the mounted birds in the basement.
For the record, the United States Marine Corps has their recruits
snap in on targets for just one week before they actually
fire their weapons. Max was ready. I was sure of his ability to
fire the gun and to handle it with safety in the field. I was
however, not sure of how he'd do when a bird flushed in his face.
We were all about to find out.
Deciding to re-enter the back field after crossing the stream
with one unproductive point from not one but both dogs. And also,
the sad discovery of the new golf course raping hundreds of acres
of natural forest and wildlife habitat, we needed to get away
from all of that and go back to our continuing shrinking world.
Back in the backfield we start from the low end and push towards
the houses and the adjacent field. Gunny gets very birdy and starts
tracking along the edge. Scout soon joins in. This is for real,
suddenly all idle chatting stops and we all go into the familiar
hunt mode. Max walks up with gun at port arms. Rich yells that
Gunny is locked up. Sure enough, the old boy is solid. Facing
back at us we position ourselves to where Gunny is pointing. Scout
shows up and immediately locks up. Facing the same way. But then
he turns himself completely around facing the opposite direction.
Gunny remains motionless. This is what Gunny does. He goes on
point and he will only adjust if the command is given. Scout on
the other hand is short on style but big on finding birds. The
set-up is complete. Thanks to the luxury of pointing dogs. This
is not something we can do with any other breed. Pointing dogs
make things more controlled. The stage is set. Except someone
forgot to tell the bird to sit still. By the time I went to flush
the bird, I realized that this bird has vacated the area. I released
both dogs and the madness commenced. Suddenly, to my right the
cackling sound of Rooster with a dog up his butt took to the airways.
I shoot twice as does Rich. The bird undaunted, flies off to the
far side of the field and lands. "I missed?" I hear
Rich say to himself and anyone else within earshot. "I led
him perfectly..." After a quick check on everyone's status,
we move for a quick relocate. With everyone again in position
we get ready to step off and push through the field. I'm convinced
the bird is nearby. I see Gunny out of the corner of my eye wheel
into a solid point. I call over to Max to get into the new position.
As I'm getting Max ready, Scout joins Gunny and he too slams into
a solid point. It is a picture perfect scene. The two dogs locked
up on a bird, their nostrils full of scent. The bird a quivering
mass of nerves and energy counting down the seconds before take-off.
Everyone is in position. Rich to the far right. Jeff to the far
left. Max is next to Jeff and I'm on the other side of Rich. Last
minute instructions to Max and we are good to go. The anticipation
is unbelievable. Where will the bird get up?
I step to the left of both dogs and the bird erupts between Max
and I. All eyes turn towards Max as he lifts the old Wingmaster
Pump and pulls the trigger . The bird takes the shot and falls
to the ground dead. "You did it Max!" I yelled. Max
looks confused for a split second then raises a clenched fist
and yells "YEAAAAAAHHHH!" By the time Jeff and I got
to the bird I was making sure that he didn't shoot. Thank God
he didn't. There were two shots fired. One from Max and one from
me. There are times in your life when events happen that will
never leave your memory bank. A grand slam in little league, a
touchdown in a big game, etc. etc. etc. This will be one of those
times for Max. He will never forget that moment for the rest of
his life. Many many years from now when we are too old to hunt,
and our kids become parents, hopefully they will be able to share
with their own children the joys of what we all witnessed yesterday.
Max will tell his child. On October 1, 2001 I shot my first bird
at the age of 10 with my first shot. 10/1/01. Look at those numbers.
Max shot his first bird with his first shot on 10/1/01 when he
It wasn't until after when Max confessed to us that he was so
nervous prior to that shot. "I was thinking all morning,
what if I miss?" Well, that pressure is behind him now. He
can miss and not worry about it. He got his first bird. The bird
was pointed by his dogs. You could not have scripted a better
Life at that moment was beautiful. We were not thinking about
the uncertain world we live in, but rather the simple pleasure
and joy of watching a young boy take that first step into our
world. Max had arrived. As he later said to me, "Dad I'm
a bird hunter!" "Yes you are Max, yes you are."
Minutes later Rich decides that duty calls so it's off to work
for him. Just as he does, the scene almost repeats itself, because
in the very same spot Gunny goes on point in the far back field.
This time I see the bird. It's a hen. I flush it and realize that
she's wing tipped. Thus begins a series of events that leads up
to Scout eventually pointing the Houdini of Birds. We give the
bird to Rich and say our good byes as we continue to hunt. Max
is grinning from ear to ear. The tail feathers sticking out of
his pouch as he hunts with Jeff and I.
Two hours later we decide to break for lunch.
At the Jeep we take a well deserved break and Max admires his
first bird. Stroking the feathers and holding the bird it is evident
that Max is one of us. Clearly you must remember what it was like
the first time you shot a game bird. It is an amazing feeling.
Max could not be any happier. I'm so very thankful that you guys
were there to witness and take part in the whole process. We are
greeted by other hunters who offer praise to Max. Finally we decide
to get some chow and head off to Dover.
After a drive-thru at McDonalds we pull up at Dover to count 9
cars. Just enough to stay and try our luck, anymore vehicles and
we would of left. As we were getting out of the Jeep we hear a
rooster flying towards us crowing and cackling to beat the band.
Jeff spots it and I tell him to mark the spot he flew to. Just
as we get ready to find that bird a hunter runs up to the parking
lot with a big English Setter. Obviously in hot pursuit. Oh well.
We rethink our destination and then head off. For the next 2-3hours
we walk and trudge our way through tall grass and "HUGE TOILET
We find nothing except the growing pain in our legs and backs.
Deeper and deeper we go. No bird scent, no birds, no shots. This
place is so big...I hope they never sell this off to anyone. We
walk and walk. Max falls and falls. The excitement of his first
bird has worn off and now the constant walking has taken over.
By the end of the day Max has fallen 11 times. Only once or twice
with the gun. Mostly on his own. I end up carrying his gun most
of the time. The rows of corn give us a view of what Pheasant
hunting must of been like in the past in New England. It is beautiful
to say the least. We find no birds out back, we find no birds
walking up the back trail. The dogs are becoming tired too. The
Grouse woods that Jeff and I discovered years ago offer no relief.
We are basically trudging along, like foot soldiers after a long
hard battle. Max dragging his butt, Jeff and I keeping to ourselves
secretly hoping for something to occur. Nothing does. At one point
we are at the field where that nice home is on the edge of the
field and we are walking through this newly cut path. Realizing
that we are here in vain we decide to walk back down. I looked
back to see Jeff just standing there. "What's wrong?"
"I think Gunny's on point." he answers. Sure enough,
off in the distance, the constant drone of the beeper could be
heard. Sadly by the time we got back to where Gunny was the bird
had vacated the area. With several escape routes available it
is impossible to determine where the bird was. Scout's whirring
tail is indication that yes, there was a bird here...but he's
gone now. Sorry Gunny.
So off we go back to the vehicle. If we walked 3 miles at Sandersons
then we walked another 3 and possibly more at Dover. Max was clearly
dropping out of the hump now. Jeff and I were tired and I could
see that Gunny was going to be stiff later. One final rest at
the top of the hill with the rows of corn behind us we sit
and talk. When it's time leave I drop two shells into my gun.
Max says, "Why are you doing that? We're not going to see
any birds." We had not walked 10 paces when one of the dogs
in the corn kicked a big cackling Rooster out of his hiding place.
Jeff shoots, and I shoot twice. "Did we get him?" I
ask. "By the sounds of him still crowing, I'd say no."
Meanwhile Max is yelling"Give me my gun! Give me my gun!"
We get around the other side of the cornfield and the dogless
hunters are already closing in on the bird. A shot or two later
and the bird is in their pouch. We try to find another bird along
the rows of corn but luck is running out for us, so are our legs.
It is becoming difficult to hunt for all of us. Dogs, men and
boy. We are beat. Back to the jeep we reflect. Opening day. We
got two birds. We saw four. Not bad. But how do you measure the
feelings that Max enjoyed? You don't. Like I said before, some
memories we have in our lives stay with us forever. This day will
be one. Oh, driving off...I heard a bing bang bong. My gun was
on the roof of the jeep and fell off onto the dirt road. Could
of been worse for sure. Being tired and dealing with all of the
elements proved to be too much for my frazzled brain to handle.
By the time we hit 95 Max was fast asleep. I stopped by Sandersons
to check it out. Just two vehicles, one was a bow hunter. No takers
in the jeep. I don't think the dogs even raised their heads. Oh
well, off we go into the journals of another opening day.
Later that night while cleaning the bird with Max, there was only
one shot in the upper breast cavity. It was directly from the
angle from where Max fired. The other shots were in the head.
Did Max hit that bird in the head? I don't know for sure. But
some things are better left unsaid. This is Max's memorable day
and I'm so glad that you guys were there to witness it all.
Max said to me last night as I tucked him into bed. "Just
think dad, in two years Richie can join us and in 7 years Ryan
will join us." I smiled and said "Won't that be a special
Opening Day". And it will.