When the school bell rings at 3:30 everyone is excited! The students pack their bags and head for the door, as I hurry to get one more cringe worthy "Dad Joke" in before everyone leaves. I have two 9th grade students who linger longer than their trouble maker personalities and youthful bravado generally allow for. I ask the two hooligans if they are feeling well, and the chuckle and approach my desk. In an unusually polite manner they ask if they may have some band material for their slingshots, as they have both broken their bands shooting rocks. Shout Out to Royleonard! Because of you I have some band material for them. We cut bands, tie pouches and with a wrap and tuck they head out the door to rid the village of hares and squirrels. I remind them that grouse season is closed and they roll their eyes at me.
Feeling inspired I pack up my stuff and head to my beat up old truck. It is officially breakup season here in Alaska and that means the roads are terrible, the snow is a combination of slush ice and heavy crust. One step will be firm the next you might post hole to your belly button. Needless to say there is not much hunting pressure this time of year. I grab a handful of 7/16 steel and the newly remodeled spalted birch slingshot with the Yew butt cap, and go looking for bunnies. I drive about 5 miles of the worst, soggy, pothole infested, frost heaved, road on the planet and park to walk a rapidly thawing ATV trail.
Not more than a mile into my little hike I hear the distinct crowing of a male pheasant! Pheasant are not native up here, and as such there is no closed season on them and no bag limits. They escaped about 15 years ago from a homestead and have slowly multiplied over the years. We do not have a lot of them but they are not rare either. Man are they tough to get a shot on!
So with expectations low I squished my way through ankle deep muddy slush moving toward the sound. As I crest a hill I can see the purple headed bird gleaming in the sunlight as it pecks gravel from a dry spot on the trail. I decide to go off trail, postholing and alternately walking on the snow pack. Trying to be a stealthy as I can in my bright red and black flannel. I was loud, easy to see, and smelled like teen spirit but at least I was slow.
I stayed in the spruce and willow until I was about 25 yards out and set up to take a shot...
SNAP...SWISH...FLAP.... I stepped on a twig hidden by the snow and when it broke the willow sprung forward slinging snow and causing a ruckus that scared me and the bird.
The bird flapped up into the air landed nearly in the same spot and bolted like the road runner into the brush. I slow crept back to the trail then into the brush across the trail and to my amazement, there was the shiny head; bobbing between the sticks on the ground. He was only about 15 yards away!
I took my slingshot out of my pocket and loaded a ball, the bands were still warm and the sun was bright, I love steel ammo because on a sunny day you can see it shine all the way through the air and as I let it fly the world slowed down and I could clearly see my ball flying over the snow, through the branches and watch the impact with the side of the bird's head. He flopped around quite a lot in the throes of death and I was slow getting to him as this side of the trail was in shadow which means no top crust to walk on. Filling my boots with snow I hustled to pick up my prize.
As I approached the brush line I was not disappointed the most beautiful bird I have ever seen laid there shimmering even in the shadows. I picked the bird up, noted that it is about 4 times the size of a grouse and moved it into the dry area of grass near the trail to snap a few quick pics. I made a swift march out of getting back to the truck and headed home. I can't wait to show my students these pictures tomorrow; especially my two knucklehead kiddos the faculty and I affectionately nicknamed Huck and Tom. Hopefully they have pockets full of slingshots and rocks and hads full of stories to tell at lunch! I know I will!