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A Hunt and a Horse

By Steve Van Ert

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. Many people think this is crazy.

The rain let up but the wind was gusting up to 35mph. Light was only an hour away as I crawled up the bank. I made my way into position on the near side of the pond. I wrapped the burlap camouflage around me and waited. The rain and wind were cold, my hands almost numb.  I wasn’t bothered by that though because I heard the occasional honking of geese and the sonic whooshing of ducks landing. 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 though I was not absolutely sure of what the five ducks were that were in front of me so I chose to only take two. I was confident that one of the silhouettes was that of a Pintail, but I wasn’t sure what the others were and I won’t shoot and identify later. I was right about the Pintail. The other was a Ring-neck.  The commotion caused the geese to take flight in a pattern far out of reach. I suppose I would have been safe taking a few of the other ducks that were there at that time but felt good about my decision to accurately identify my game first. I would have other opportunities.

Unfortunately, the opportunity just 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 so I packed up and headed north.

The Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area has been, in my experience, 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 continued toward the Oregon border. The rain let up and the gulch I was following for miles yielded more of the beautiful birds. Having accomplished my goal of hiking as far into the wildlife 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 was startled by the sound of rapidly pounding hoof beats and a strange hissing/snorting coming towards me. I couldn’t imagine what was making this disturbance. I jolted around to see a big, reddish-brown wild horse that suddenly stopped as I heard myself hissing back.  We were both frozen, 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, digesting what I had just experienced and then 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.  At that moment I was aware that my legs were sore, I was wet, tired, hungry and still had almost two miles to hike back. None of that mattered. I had just experienced something that those who choose to stay in their warm, comfortable beds will never know.  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.