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    Day's End

    Hope Makes the Hunter

    Daniel Porter, “Portrait of a Woodcock,” 9½ x 12 inches, part of the “Game Bird” series of oil portraits on panels; original works and limited edition prints are available, danielporter.net.
    Daniel Porter, “Portrait of a Woodcock,” 9½ x 12 inches, part of the “Game Bird” series of oil portraits on panels; original works and limited edition prints are available, danielporter.net.

    The point that may lead to Holden’s first bird is at the base of an old berm that separates a poplar stand from a tamarack swamp. The berm is overgrown and rises about a meter above the rest of the earth. At my direction, the boy stands atop the berm. The 20-gauge seems too large, but the boy has proven he can handle it, more through determination than by muscle. The dog, Fin, points back toward the boy, the fur on the nub of her tail flared. I’m behind Fin, looking down the line of her point, and right into the black eye of a woodcock that is pasted to the leaves. The collar beeps. The bell is silent.

    Holden is 8. He reads Ruark, Capstick, Corbett, Bass. He became a marksman by way of a Daisy Red Ryder and innumerable Nerf guns. So far this season, he has lifted his shotgun, flicked his safety and missed 10 times. Maybe more.

    I’m not counting. But this number doesn’t include the many dozens of points we have walked in on only to have the birds flush in unexpected ways. It does, however, include one beautiful red phase grouse that held tight and flushed straight, enormous and loud, louder it seemed than the shot that didn’t kill it. The boy watched the big fleeing grouse as if maybe he hadn’t missed, and the bird was soon to fall. We all have that hope

    . . . never more so than when a bird refuses to accede to the request of the gun

    Holden looks down at me from the berm, stock under his arm, and left hand just in front of the trigger guard. I’m watching the bird. I take a step forward, and Fin’s body ripples in a way only I can see.

    “Get ready,” I whisper.

    I feel the familiar imbedded magnetic charge of an upland point. You do not see it in a film about pointing dogs because you don’t feel it. You cannot infuse it. Engage it. Produce it. Ignite it. But in the grouse woods, it arrives with the point and increases as you stalk past the dog, until the polarity flips in the form of a flush.

    “There it goes!”

    The woodcock flushes, up over Fin, away from Holden and toward the leafless poplar tops. I think shoot. I say it.

    Then, with the shot, the bird collapses. Fin’s bell jingles as I leap onto the berm, knock Holden’s hat off, tousle his hair. Fin trots back with the bird, and the boy holds it, enjoys the blood on his fingers. We breathe in the new calm.

    Fin licks her front paw, sore from a long season.

    For Holden, hunting is of the greatest importance, and he will take this victory – which will one day seem small – and it will define his fall until he can claim a more exciting victory.

    For some kids, the urge to pursue is so strong as to be undeniable. It can be expressed in the right way or the wrong way. Tonight, Holden will eat woodcock shot in what I think is the best way: on the wing, over a point. I tell him this as we sit in the forest.

    We take pictures because this is his first bird, but after that it’s time to go. I do my best to keep Fin at heel, and we walk the berm back to the road. It’ll be dark sooner and faster than we expect, and there is nothing else that the season can give us.

                 – Josh Greenberg


    Wolfe Publishing Group