Afternoon Covey

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Published on: Nov. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

As I write, the little dog is curled behind the chair, chin on paws, breathing regularly. He begins to twitch and his breath comes quicker and his nose flares. He is dreaming and, because he is a bird dog, I know he is dreaming about hunting birds.

In fact, I even know what hunt he is dreaming about, because I was there and we both will dream about it until our dreams themselves become a dream.

In his dream, he again is curled into an awkward point on the afternoon covey. The impossible covey. The covey stranger than fiction. The covey that defied logic.

No matter how many days afield a hunter makes, only a handful stick in memory, unalterably etched and endlessly rehashed. The rest fade and become a running together of experience, like the melting of a graceful ice sculpture into a puddle of water.

The little dog is dreaming of the exception. His mind is filled with the sights and sounds of an afternoon sky full of quail and the sharp bark of a shotgun behind him.

Mid-November, a north Missouri farm gone to the Conservation Reserve program, with foxtail and lespedeza. Quail are everywhere.

I am shooting a 28-gauge side-by double, a straight-stocked gun that tantalized me the first time I saw her. I have bragged about her grace, her ability to reach out and touch something. I have made her sound like a magic wand.

So my hunting buddy, Spence Turner, wants to try her and we swap guns. I hand her to him with a twinge of regret. It is like relinquishing the love of your life to some pizza-faced lout who has cut in on the dance floor.

I take Spence's 20-gauge and smoke three birds while he misses at least that many with my baby. Spence blames it on the gun. Like me, he is a flawless wingshooter who is undone only by faulty equipment, the phase of the moon and evil spells.

"Give me back my gun!" he snarls, thrusting my 28-gauge at me, the way the Army inspector slapped an M-1 rifle at me, half hoping I'd drop it so he could chew on me a while.

Spence continues to miss with his own gun and this does not improve his mood, which now resembles that of a badger with an impacted incisor. I hear him in a gully shouting threats at birds that don't stop to listen. He is invoking

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