© 2011 Aaron Atkinson

Quid Pro Quo

In the darkness of the pre-dawn, January morning, my cellphone rang to life from the cup holder next to me. It was my friend Tracy, calling from the truck to my rear.

Tracy: Did you just run over a pillowcase? We just came through a cloud of feathers!

Me: I wish.

On a lonely two-lane highway just outside of Garden City, Kansas, a rooster pheasant soared high across the road. Silhouetted against the dawny sky, his long-tailed, black outline stood contrasted by the frosty, pink-yellow eastern sky that foreshadowed the morning to come. The serenity was abruptly interrupted by a blurry flash of feathers in the headlights. And then came the solid, hollow thud.

The flock of late season pheasants had flown from their warm, overnight roosts in the thick, scrubby grass across the highway into a harvested, weedy wheat field to feed. But one hen flew too low and when she hit, she punched a ragged outline of her feathered form in the plastic grill of my Ford. Feathers rushed up and over my windshield and littered the highway behind me only to be swept up again by Tracy and his truck.

While I’ve shot a lot of pheasants during the past few years, hitting this one in my car put a slight, somber lump in my throat. This one didn’t come by fair chased, but instead by poor timing and bad luck. This broken mass of feathers won’t end up served under glass, but instead in the belly of a coyote, fox or hawk. This one felt like a waste.

I mentioned this to my hunting buddies as we stood around in a pre-hunt circle, surveying the damage.

Tracy: I wouldn’t feel too bad. This one left her mark. She got even.

Scott: Yeah, by the sorry shape of your grill, the hunter became the hunted.

Jeff: Classic case of pheasant kamikaze.

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