I heard they were out there but never dreamed of coming face to face with one.
It is Saturday morning, 4:12 am; the alarm is beating out “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash. Hmm, good question. My bed is warm and comfortable. The wind is howling and the rain beating the window.
Do I really want to get up to sit out in that weather for the next few hours? Of course I do! I am a duck hunter. When others are sleeping we are out in the field getting soaked with big dreams of limiting out, even when we know we may not see a single bird. I know, it’s kinda crazy.
The rain let up but the biting wind was gusting up to 35mph. Light was an hour away as I crawled up the bank. I made my way into position on the near side of the pond, wrapped the burlap camouflage around me and waited. The rain and wind chilled me to the bone. I was losing the feeling in my hands.
The occasional honking of geese and the sonic whooshing of ducks landing kept me hopeful. It was bound to be a glorious day. But what I imagined would happen, and what was to be reality were not the same.
Officially, hunting hours were upon me. Due to the lighting I wasn’t positive the five ducks I had in my sights were legal. I was confident that one of the silhouettes was that of a Pintail and the other a Ring-neck. They’re legal. I wasn’t sure what the others were and I won’t shoot first and identify later. I chose to only take two.
The commotion caused the geese to take flight in a pattern far out of reach. I would have been safe taking a few of the ducks. But I feel good about my decision to identify my game first. I would have other opportunities.
Unfortunately, the opportunity wasn’t going to be on this day. Four hours after that first shot, I decided it would be a good day to look for Mountain Quail. I packed up and headed north.
The Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area has been a great place to find abundant quail and rabbit. It also appears to be turkey country though I have never seen more than tracks there.
After a mile into the hike, the rain began to soak my clothes. I chased down a few birds and drudged on toward the Oregon border.
The rain finally let up and the gulch I was following for miles yielded more beautiful birds.
Having accomplished my goal of hiking as far into the wildlife area as I hoped, and with a few birds in my pouch, I set off on my return. That’s when the real pay-off of this arduous hike came.
I was about one hundred yards into an opening with a stand of mixed oak and pine to my right when I heard the rapid sound of pounding hoof beats and a strange hissing/snorting coming towards me. My heart quickened and I froze in place.
I couldn’t imagine what was making this disturbance. I jolted around to see a big, reddish-brown wild horse dead in her tracks as I heard myself hissing back.
We stood motionless, staring at each other. I searched the area for others as I supposed this giant beautiful creature was doing as well.
A moment passed and the creature walked back into the protection of the woods. I stood for a moment longer, month still open, digesting what I had experienced. I gathered my thoughts and continued on my way.
I rested upon a hillside that overlooked the bright reds and oranges that made up the fall scenery. My mind wandered into the many amazing past experiences I have enjoyed because I decided that getting up at some ungodly hour and submitting myself to nasty conditions would somehow be worth my time and probable discomfort.
As sat there, I became aware of how sore my legs were. I was wet, tired, hungry, and still had almost two miles to hike back.
None of that mattered. I had experienced something incredible. An experience those who choose to stay in their warm, comfortable beds will never know. That’s why I woke up early.
The hope of one new experience is why I will continue to pack my gear up and down hills, sit in the rain, drudge through creeks, or drive for hours into unknown areas. The discomfort goes away while the memory stays forever.