Ungainly Aviators

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 25, 2010

solitude was broken by the high pitched "keek" of several startled sora rails. Our quarry was present.

Rail hunting is a rather simple sport. You wade through the marsh, shooting the reluctant flyers on the wing as they flush in front of you. Ungainly flyers, their legs dangle as if they were anxious to once again stand on something. They seldom fly more than 30 yards, so quick reflexes are helpful if you hope to bag your Missouri daily limit of 25.

I favor an improved cylinder shotgun with number six or four steel shot. My hunting attire consists of a long-sleeved shirt liberally soaked in insect repellant, a pair of overalls over my britches to prevent skin slashes from the sharp-edged blades of rice cutgrass and a pair of army surplus jungle boots which are light weight and keep my feet cool.

I usually wear a bandanna around my head to keep sweat out of my eyes, and I tie a cord tightly around my overall cuffs to keep seeds and bugs from floating beneath my britches. With fowling piece in hand, I cut a striking figure. The main prerequisite to rail hunting is that you be willing to forego comfort for the duration of the hunt.

We began our hunt in a line with Dan in the middle. Dan was not shooting. His mission was to spot our downed birds and assist in their recovery, a rather boring task, unless you happen to be a Labrador retriever. But Dan was young and willing.

We immediately began flushing rails. Tom made some nice shots - two doubles. His lame excuse for no triples was that he was shooting a over and under and had only two shots.

In less than an hour, Tom was out of shells. His comment was "we've never killed more than half a dozen birds before, so I only brought 16 loads." He was shooting a 20-gauge and I was using a 12-gauge pump gun so I couldn't loan him any of my shells.

We decided to dash home, grab another 12-gauge and a couple more boxes of shells and then return. This was primarily my idea since I felt he needed an unfamiliar gun to slow him down - a handicap so to speak.

Our families were pleased to see us home so early with so many rails. We put 14 rails in the refrigerator, grabbed my other 12-gauge and two boxes of shells and left in a rush. "Yes, we'll be back in time for lunch!"

After several more hours of sloshing through the marsh, Dan decided that he would like to try shooting. By then Tom and I had nearly exhausted our ammunition, so we gallantly offered to take Dan back home and pick up my .410 for his use.

While prowling through my ammo closet, I came upon a forgotten box of 20-gauge shells. Great! Dan could use my daughter's 20-gauge shotgun. It should just fit. We put 23 rails in the refrigerator, grabbed the single shot and two boxes of shells and left in a rush. "Yes, we'll be back for supper. I know we missed lunch; we're on a roll!"

By the end of the day I had 25 rails, Tom had 24 and Dan had one. We had gone through five boxes of shells, used four different shotguns, spent nine hours in the marsh, missed lunch and dinner, and temporarily alienated the rest of our families. But, no matter, life was complete. It had been quite a day for three tired rail hunters.

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