A Voice
Jane Brugge with a touching tale

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 birds.

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 thing".

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 talking about.

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 got one!"

This is dedicated to my husband, my friend and hunting partner SFC William J Brugge
Stationed in Al Habbaniyah, Iraq

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