I did not grow up bird hunting. My dad enjoyed baseball and fishing. Under his fine direction, I learned to love only
baseball. Fishing required a higher degree of
motionless patience than I possessed as a child. I
have little more as an adult. As a result,
the notion of sitting in boat, a tree stand or duck blind possesses all of the appeal of
solitary confinement. Though fishing never
became my pastime, I recall fondly many a warm summer morning with my father cane poling
for blue gill. Like my dad, I want to share
the outdoors with my son.
Bird hunting intrigued me. For many years the lack of hunting ground and my
work schedule frustrated my efforts to enjoy hunting.
However, over the last several years, by shear dumb luck, I stumbled into a
great hunting companion, my German Shorthair, Max. We
recently added a more active female companion, Artie.
With those dogs I learned to hunt. We
hunted both wild birds and, by necessity, preserve birds, without shame. Other than my shooting, the dogs dont seem
to mind either way.
Last summer my son turned eleven and,
that fall, Max, Artie and I added Will to our hunting group. Will lives with his mother and our time together
is limited by geography and schedules. When
we are together, more often than not we spend time walking the fields of east central
Illinois with Max or Artie. Those mornings
stir fond memories of my childhood and my father stepping gently into my bedroom to wake
me before the sun for a day fishing.
To commemorate Wills inaugural hunting
season, Max, Will and I took an adventure in both hunting and male bonding, sorry
Artieno females allowed. We traveled to
South Dakota and Bill Dillions Big Spur Lodge for a week of pheasant hunting. Will and I had never traveled, just the two of us,
and never hunted outside of Illinois.
Based upon our lack of experience, I
wanted to hunt with a guide. But, I did not
want to hunt preserve birds; I wanted a wild bird hunting experience. After several weeks of internet research, I called
Bill Dillon for an introduction. Within
minutes of hearing Bills first, gruff, raspy words, I knew he would be perfect for
our maiden hunting expedition.
Because of work delays, Max, Will and I left
for Armour South Dakota on November 10, about a month after our planned departure date. The packing and planning had paid off and we
managed to leave by 5:30 A.M. on what we had dubbed Bill and Wills excellent
adventure. Iowa provided Will a break from
his gameboy and an opportunity for he and I to address each of the twenty-two offensive
and defensive positions on a football team. Max
slept on his blanket in the back seat. The
days drive put us just into South Dakota for the evening by 3:30.
North Sioux City, South Dakota afforded us a
warm room just off the interstate and pizza. Early
the next morning, Will packed while I supervised Maxs morning constitutional. A quick breakfast and we were on our way to
Mitchell and the Cabellas store. Two boys should never be allowed to play
unsupervised in a Cabellas. I spent
time looking at hunting stuff and Will spent time looking at stuffed hunting. The store had more mounted game than either of us
had ever seen. After an hour and a half, boys
become distracted and we made our way through check out with the other boys. We left with everything from dog boots (Mr. Dillon
had recommended them) to chaps for Will. Each
item purchased served a necessary purpose that seemed absolutely clear at the time of
purchase (all but Wills chaps are now stored in my garage). After check out, Max and several other patient
dogs addressed dog issues in the grassy areas around the parking lot and we were on our
way to Armour. Anxious travelers tend to arrive early.
We managed to arrive in Armour five hours early. Armour is a lovely little plains town
of about 500 people,
two restaurants, a liquor
store, a hardware store that sold more hunting gear than hardware and gas stations:
everything a hunter needs. For obvious
reasons, Will and I chose to kill time in the restaurant with the bowling alley and game
room (a foosball table and a pinball machine). We
dined on fine cheeseburgers and fries and enjoyed several different accounts of the
years bird hunting situation from the friendly locals.
By three, we had enjoyed all the gaming,
eating and talking we could consume and decided to arrive early at the Big Spur lodge. Bill Dillons greeting confirmed our sound
judgment. Just as we arrived, Bill pulled around from behind the lodge in his huge, white
suburban. He and Crockett, his savy French
Brittany, were going for a pre-hunt scouting trip. After
helping us unload the massive amount of gear packed by novices, Bill allowed Will and I to
accompany him and Crocket on their mission.
By the time we had finished scouting the
fields near Bills house, the remainder of Bills guest had arrived and we
settled in for the first of Kathy Dillons outstanding meals. In my earlier phone conversation with Bill, he
said that he and Kathy wanted our trip to be like a visit to a friends house. We were to feel at home and relax. No problem, from the meals to the accommodations,
Bill and Kathy made us feel as friends. Kathy
fattened us all week on home cooking and fresh made desserts. Bill regaled us with hunting stories and sage dog
For the next three days, we hunted. The word hunted should be read literally. Hunting at the Big Spur is not for those who want
to walk trimmed fields with mowed paths for two hours, while shooting fat, planted birds. Big Spur hunting requires effort for man and dog. Bill provided access to great fields and plenty of
wild birds. However, these fields are not
mowed or trimmed. We walked gorgeous grass
fields and we fought cattails and cockleburs to find our birds. Each venue provided a different hunting
environment and a new learning experience for Max, Will and me.
At many fields we would stop at one end of the
field and watch dozens of pheasants fly out the other before the blockers could get in
place. In others, the birds sat like rocks
until cast into the air by a nudge of the boot. Why
some flew and others sat escaped me. Both
afforded Max the opportunity to scent and work more wild birds in three days than we would
see in a season back home. The rocks allowed
this novice and the other hunters to bag our limit every day in a year that frustrated
many South Dakota hunters. Even the birds
that flew offered a visual trophy.
Two memories will last a lifetime for me. The first occurred on the last day of hunting. Max, another fellow and I worked a long narrow
strip of grass between two harvested cornfields. The
other hunter, John, and I positioned ourselves on opposite sides of the strip and Max
worked between us. We had the wind to our
back. I can still see Max casting out farther
than usual and then working back into the wind while quartering back and forth across the
grass. Though we flushed only hens, Max
worked it to perfection.
My second memory and the best occurred
back at the lodge: Will and I playing pool and talking.
For an hour or so, we were friends instead of father and son. For me that
meant more than all the pheasants seen and shot that week.
While dads need to be dads, every once in awhile its nice to think
that your kid just likes hanging around with you. And,
while Willy may grow up to like fishing instead of hunting, I hope that he will look upon
this trip and future trips like I do those fishing trips with my Dad. It had nothing to do with fishing; it was all
about hanging out with dad.
Our thanks go out to Bill
for a great testimonial. We enjoyed having Bill and his son with us!