ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
No pheasants died in Kansas during our hunting expedition the day after Thanksgiving-but several of them are more nervous.
The genesis for this prairie safari began months ago when my Chicago friend, Dan Born, told me he and his family would also be in Kansas at Thanksgiving.
(Dan is the editor of a scholarly magazine. I think he saw hunting as the foundation for writing a thoughtful Hemmingway-style editorial and frightening his urbanite staff: “People, pay attention, my finger is slipping off the safety.”)
“Get your brother Ron, take us hunting,” Dan said.
Ron told me he had retired from tramping across fields at “first sun” attempting to kill small animals with fur or feathers. He asked if I would consider bow hunting.
“You get up when it is pitch dark, soak yourself in Eau De Doe and sit quietly in a tree until a deer comes in range,” he said.
Bow hunters strike me as being one small step up on the evolutionary scale from savages running naked across a veldt daubed in mud attempting to hit little animals with a stick while trying to not forget the formula for fire.
In the end, nephew-in-law, veteran hunter Randy Hendrickson from the frontier village of Locust Grove, Okla., was placed in charge of leading the expedition of the inept.
We exchanged e-mails to facilitate planning.
“Whatever you do, buy a blaze-orange hunter’s hat,” he wrote, “Shot in the head, very bad; shot in the butt, and folks will mostly fall out laughing.”
Randy generously offered to bring hunting dogs-named “Butch” and Ollie-plus shotguns in his four-wheel-drive pickup.
I offered to bring along my coffee carafe. Dan offered to make sandwiches heavy with wheat germ, sprouts and smoked ham.
I was told if I brought my French coffee container it would be set on a fence post and used for target practice. Lesson learned: thermos good, carafe bad.
We did agree that any discussion about the relative merits of red counties and blue counties would be delayed until the shotguns were unloaded and out of reach.
The problem was getting a hunting license. The Wildlife & Parks regulations say one can hunt unlicensed on the owner’s land if one is a “linear or collateral relative.” The writers of this regulation have more college degrees than I do.
Dan and I went to the Alco store to get a license to make him a legal killer and to buy blaze-orange hunter’s hats.
Their selection of hunting hats was overwhelming. One optional piece of hunting apparel had camouflage earflaps with a blaze orange beanie. The intended purpose seemed to be with flaps up one hides from the game warden, with flaps down one is protected from fellow shooters.
We settled for an elementary “gimmie cap” look and headed to the counter to buy a license.
The State of Kansas wants $72.50 for an out-of-state license! We inquired about less expensive options-Chicago motto-never buy retail if wholesale is an option. There was a $14 category for shooting on a “Controlled Shooting Area” and we asked the clerk to see if we fit this category. She called the county courthouse to determine our eligibility. Dan paid $72.50.
The Friday after Thanksgiving, I was first in line at Ampride to fill my thermos with coffee. In pitch darkness I drove to my brother’s farm to meet Dan and Randy.
We tramped through milo fields, waterways and pastures on the Pauls place, the Lacquement place and finally the Suderman homestead.
(The naming system for a tract of Kansas land includes the previous owner’s name.)
The dogs pointed. Two birds flew up and shots were fired. They were out of range.
Randy let me drive his four-wheel-drive pickup to meet him and Dan as they walked a waterway. (Age has its privileges.)
We reconnoitered at Ron’s place at noon. Pictures were taken. In my hunting vest and hat I looked more like Elmer Fudd than Daniel Boone. Dan complained that walking in the mud had ruined his boots purchased at Nordstroms.
My niece, Becky Suderman, saw me posing with a shotgun and said sweetly, “Oh Dale, you actually went hunting. I thought you were just going along as a conscientious objector.”
The men piled into a truck for lunch at Klose & Kozy and then an afternoon of standing around in Ron’s yard swapping yarns. Tales of mayhem and brigandage-some told only because the statute of limitations had expired-were shared.
I laughed until the snot ran down my nose. Story-telling and hunting go way back to the beginning of men’s history.