As I pulled up to the field to go out hunting it felt just like any
of the other days that had taken place in the previous weeks.
The only difference was that today was the end of Prairie
Chickens for the early season in Midwest Kansas.
To give a few details I have only been in Kansas for 3 years and
this has been the first year that I have seen any of these
elusive birds. In fact, last year I joked with my husband they
were "Ghost Chickens". After having a sparse bird year last season,
the good hatch this year had promised to bring an abundance of
I parked the truck on the side of the field, put my visor, orange
vest and whistle on. Grabbed the e-collars and receiver from the
seat, reached in the backseat for my 12 gauge and went around to the
back to get the girls out. As I go around to the back of the truck,
a smile comes to my face as I see the anxious faces of my
constant companions. A three year old experienced German Shorthair
Pointer female named Otis, yeah I know a girl with a boy's
name, that was my husband's doing, a 10 month old
inexperienced English Pointer named Soo and a 11 year old Labrador
Retriever who has been hunting with me since she was 7 months old
and is now as in the past season getting slower with age but has
never failed to amaze me, the people who meet her, hunt with her or
get to have her touch their hearts, named Tara.
They are more than ready for me to get them out so they can go. We
had seen birds the day before but had never even gotten close enough
to take a shot. The pointers hit the field at a run, and Tara goes
out about 10 feet in front of me looking at them going full out and
feeling confident that slow and steady is always better.
As I blow the whistle for them to come around back towards me, Soo
does a turn that would surprise even the best of trainers. Hits
scent and stops as if slow motion, comes down, tail straight in the
air and freezes in a classic point we all wait to see from a young
dog. At the same moment Otis sees her stops and backs. This sight is
one that makes all of the birdless days seem worthwhile. In the
meantime, I am so excited about the scene that has developed I
almost forget why I am out here! Now you have to understand that Soo
has been conditioned on quail and pen raised birds. She has the
willingness to do her job but the inexperience that comes with a
young pointer in her first year of figuring out this "bird
I command Tara to sit, she has a habit of running forward when
"whoa" is called and turn to see if we have a bird. As I get closer
I can see that Soo is creeping. Step by step in slow motion she
moves forward, and Otis seeing that she is moving figures that there
is no bird so she begins to move in. The pressure being too much for
the dogs and knowingfrom past days these birds are spooky and will
jump with little or no reason just one more step will mean they are
gone with no chance to shoot anything. Then to my surprise, three
birds come out of the grass at breakneck speed. For those of you
have hunted these fast flying birds you can understand what I am
I pull up, see that one has flown away from the others, shoot twice,
unsuccessfully, but the third shot hits home and a bird drops from
the sky like a rock. My first "Ghost Chicken" proof that they are
really here on Fort Riley and that the stories I had heard the two
years before were in fact true.
Tara goes over retrieves the bird and brings it in. I am standing
there hollering and jumping up and down praising the dogs, who I can
see are going after the other two birds, yelling "Did you see that?"
I got one!" "I really got one!"
Then I realized in all of my excitement that there was no one else
out there. I was standing hollering and jumping up and down in the
middle of the Kansas prairie with three dogs and a dead bird in my
hand and nobody to hear me. Funny thing is that I could sworn I
heard "Way to go hun" "Good Shooting!" My husband's voice! It
sounded like he was right there!
I never saw anymore birds that day. I covered the rest of the field.
The dogs doing what they love best, showing their excitement which
comes to them after the smell of birds is fresh in their noses,
wanting only to find "the ones that got away!"
As I returned to the truck, got the dogs loaded, gave them water and
sat on the tailgate I tried to figure out just what had happened.
And as I sat there looking out over the grass, listening to the wind
I began to feel the tears start to gather and then begin to slide
down my face.
I believe it really was my husband's voice I heard. We have been
hunting together for 18 years together. Between deployments, we have
hunted Washington, Colorado and now Kansas. This is the time of the
year we look forward to, condition and train dogs for and enjoy the
real closeness it brings to each of us. But this year, like many in
the past, my husband is gone defending his country. Iraq. "To defend
and serve" is what he was told him when he joined 21 years ago and
he like a lot of soldiers with his years of experience take those
words very seriously.
I believe it was my husband's voice. Carried on the wind to me from
a far away place, letting me know that even though he is away he is
always with me, in my heart, in my thoughts, walking in the field,
enjoying the dogs, encouraging me as he has always done, enjoying
the fall, hunting.
He'll be home by next fall, God willing, safe and sound. Ready to go
out on the prairie. Watching the girls work and perhaps even
shooting a "Ghost Chicken" and this time hearing him telling me "I
This is dedicated to my husband, my friend and hunting partner
SFC William J Brugge
Stationed in Al Habbaniyah, Iraq