Friday, June 4, 2010

A Lucky Hunt

My late submission for Three Words Wednesday and #fridayflash. This week’s words: budge, nimble, theory.

The dogs were off the truck before it stopped. The men piled out next, but Alex waited and then carefully handed the 20-gauge shotgun to his brother, Jake, before exiting. He could still see that bloody, careless teen in the hunter’s safety video from last week.

Alex’s new blaze orange vest was creased along the back, and every pocket was stocked with shells, 40 of them. He wore his lawn-mowing jeans, his mother’s red flannel and new boots. He bent and pulled a burr out of the laces.

Jake handed him the gun.

“You look good, but you need a hat,” Jake said. “Take mine, it’s lucky.” He placed the orange and grey cap on Alex’s head. It had a camouflage pattern formed from silhouettes of naked ladies.

“Thanks!” Alex pulled the brim low.

Jake was back from college for opening weekend of pheasant season. He had been recounting hunting stories to Alex while their dad had driven to their uncle’s farm. Once, Jake had flushed a bird at the end of a field and it ran into a power line and dropped dead at his feet. Another time, he shot a pheasant from the back of the truck as they were driving.

A headwind whipped dust at their faces from the empty creek bed as they lined up for the hunt. The switchgrass on each bank looked greased as it bowed toward them.

They had 10 hunters and two dogs, half the crew on each side of the creek. Jake was on the edge next to Alex.

They marched in a neat line, and Alex gripped his shotgun. His trigger finger circled the safety.

“Hup bird, hup! C’mon bird! Hup!”

It was hard going; he had to yank his foot through a weave of grass at each step. They traced a bend in the creek, and he got stuck fighting a 6-foot snarl of bushes with his gun above his head.

Suddenly, wings brushed the grass. Bouncing cackles chopped the air. Alex pulled the gun to his shoulder and put a bead above tail feathers now clearing the grass.


He pulled the trigger hard.

It stuck.

He pulled again, hard.


Bang! The shot rang from his left and the bird crumpled in a puff of feathers.

“Nice shot!” someone hollered from across the creek.

“Sorry buddy, I was waiting for you to take that one,” Jake said as they watched a lab nose through the brush to retrieve the bird.

Alex looked at his gun. The safety was still on.

“My gun jammed,” he said and adjusted his cap.

They got four more birds out of the field over the next 100 yards, all of them on the other side of the creek. Finally, they came to a dirt road that marked the end of the field. Everyone relaxed.

Then, “He’s on to one!” The black lab was on point; her haunches quivered, but her nose didn’t budge, aimed steady at a small patch of grass.

“This one’s yours, Alex,” Jake said. “Get ready.”

Alex clicked off the safety and carefully walked up beside the dog. He peered into the weeds, looking for the red, green, and gold pattern. He kicked to flush the bird.

Movement, a quick shake of grey, and a nimble rabbit darted between two hunters and across the road. The dog tore after it.

Alex staggered; his foot twisted in a hole; he pitched forward and fell on his gun.

Bang! As the ringing faded, he heard screaming.

“He shot him! He shot Jake! Call an ambulance!”

Alex stumbled to his feet and then to his brother. Jake was on his back with his hand on his side. The grass was tinged red.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Oh God,” Alex said. “Oh God. Are you OK? Jake, are you OK?”

Jake groaned. Their dad shoved Alex aside.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I tripped. It was a rabbit. It wasn’t a pheasant. It was a rabbit. I’m sorry. I’m really really sorry.”

It was 20 minutes before the ambulance arrived. Jake lost consciousness. Alex sat outside the ring of adults and cried.

He rode in front of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. He handed his cap to the driver after the medical crew had rushed Jake into emergency. “Can you get this to him?”


His father hugged him tight in the waiting room as they waited for the news. After about an hour, the doctor entered.

“It’s good news,” he said. “The shot didn’t hit any organs as far as we can tell.”

Alex’s whimpers became sobs of joy.

“He might keep a pellet or two in his side, though,” the doctor said. “We’ll need to keep him here awhile.”

He followed his father into the hospital room. He saw Jake lying in the bed with oxygen tubes in his nose. He ran to the bedside and draped himself over the low rail.

“I’m so sorry, Jake. It was a rabbit.”

“Don’t sweat it, buddy. I’m OK. Come here.”

Alex gave his brother a careful hug.

“My theory,” his father said from behind them, “is that sometimes God fires a warning shot.”

Bull, Alex thought as he looked at the naked ladies camouflage cap beside the bed. It’s the lucky hat.


  1. Very good story. Tight and well written. Good mix of tension and humor. Glad he had that hat!

    Welcome to #FridayFlash.

  2. Thanks! I wasn't sure where I was going when I started, and I wish I'd taken some more time to edit (although I did manage to cut about 200 words out). It was fun to write about my home state's favorite pastime!

  3. I think you've done a fine job capturing the thrill of the hunt - as well as the unfortunate incidents that sometimes come with hunting. IT's not a cautionary tale, it's not preachy. It's just right.

  4. Nice one Matt. It went from eager, to worry, and finally to relief... all exciting throughout. Glad it ended the way it did, it could have been a much more unfortunate outcome.

  5. This story went from the thrill of the hunt, to an unexpected surprise, to tragedy, to a tale of a lucky hat. Wow, you got a lot into that one.

    Now, about that hat....

  6. wow! great details matt... and that hat just plops in as if it owns the joint.. umbilicus

  7. Good story! The details throughout, as well as the main character's thoughts, really brought this to life.

  8. Nicely written. Thank god for that lucky hat. :)

    Welcome to #fridayflash!

  9. Good debut, look forward to reading more from you soon! I was glad that Jake made it. The idea of shooting as a popular family pasttime seemed quite strange to me as a British reader - I guess it's one of the biggest cultural gaps between our nations....

  10. Nice debut!! I love the description of the hat (of everything really) and glad it was the thing to come back and save him in the end. Well done.

  11. Thanks for all the great comments! I'm a terrible hunter, but there's nothing better than hiking through rural South Dakota in the fall. The sound of dry corn and switchgrass rustling in the wind is incredible.

    I don't know how familiar most people are with pheasant hunting, but I hope you know shooting birds off the back of moving trucks isn't the norm. And Heather, I have actually met a British pheasant hunter visiting South Dakota before! It's our main tourist attraction, and we get folks from all over

  12. As Tomara said, I was very nervous somebody would be killed off! So glad everybody survived! Nice debut - welcome to Friday flash!

  13. Nicely done. This created a good image of a hunter not entirely sure of himself especially with the way you delayed/paced the shooting of the first bird while he's got the safety on. You feel for him when he's too ashamed to admit he had the safety on.