If the boss orders tequila, you drink tequila. If he likes to talk about NASCAR, you learn about NASCAR. If he invites you to play golf, you play golf. But here’s what you tell him before you put on your plaid pants: "Why don’t we go hunting instead?" Even if you can drive a wood off the fairway, shooting is a better way to bond.
Try to follow me. I’m in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, land of Coors Banquet, suburban camouflage and camouflaged Suburbans. In the back of this one: lock boxes and canisters full of shells. The hangover, which I packaged for myself the night before by being unable to say no to another one of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malts, feels like luggage too - it’s bouncing up and down along with me and a bunch of guys I just met and the guides from Thunderstik, who don’t mean to be reductive, but are basically explaining which things we should shoot and which things we shouldn’t shoot.
List of Things Not to Shoot:
They’re not wearing as much orange as the rest of the team and they tend to dart around between corn stalks in almost precisely the same way pheasants do. Only assholes kill dogs.
Walk in a line to make sure no one gets ahead or behind, which is how you end up in a Dick Cheney situation. Putting a shot in a buddy’s back is not just impolite, it’s political suicide.
It’s illegal to kill the lady bird, which don’t have white feathers around their neck. There’s a fine if you fuck up.
4) The Ground
It’s not a big deal if you shoot turf, but you won’t. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot. Keep the gun up. You should only be shooting at birds in the air. You won’t hit them when they’re running around.
Pheasant hunting isn’t like deer hunting: You make noise, move the entire time, and, apparently, keep the truck idling. If you’re lucky enough to have guides, they’ll not only assign you places in the hunting pattern, they’ll carry the pheasants (or whatever bird you’re hunting) for you. And the dogs do all the real hunting: rustling up the birds, digging at little pockets in the snow, running birds in circles until they get up in the air to make their escape. It’s a two-front war: half the team pushes down field while the other half keeps birds from running out at the other end.
And if you hit one, there will be pats on the back (high fives are awkward when you’re carrying heavy artillery). The sight of the bird spiraling down to the ground is rewarding, but in the way that beating “Duck Hunt” on Nintendo was rewarding. The birds taste better when they’re not pixelated and this is about establishing yourself as a human capable of getting dinner. Expect a nickname: unload both barrels of a side-by-side and curse enough times, you’re going to be “Boom-Boom-Fuck” for the rest of the trip.
And don’t get lazy. After you knock down a few birds, the gun won’t be pressed against your shoulder just right, like the guides told you, and you’ll start to ache. There may be some bruising, which looks badass if you tell everyone you’re also a cage fighter. Your hunting license grants you a quota of birds for the day. Hunting ends when either your group quota or the light runs out (it’s probably going to be the light).
When that happens, the best part starts. There’s nothing quite like hanging out with the guys you just went hunting with - especially if there’s a pool table and a tap. This is where the business gets done. Walking the fields for half a day gives you and your customer/boss/rival a shared experience. A couple of drinks and time to talk gives you the chance to make something of it. Bonds get real intense real fast and it’s not even that complicated to plan a hunting outing. You have to keep precisely five things in mind.
List of Things to Keep in Mind:
1) Embrace the Rhythm
Follow someone else’s lead until you get the hang of things. Nobody’s going to fault you for being too late, but too quick can lose lives. Unload your gun and safety it after every strip (there are a lot of strips).
2) Pack Light
Even if you’re using SUVs, there’s a lot of hiking, in whatever protective outerwear you’re wearing, and often through snow. This is made worse by uneven terrain, so you’re lifting your feet high, and plunking them down hard to get a firm hold before taking the next step. Add a couple dozen pounds for a gun and shells, make the air painfully cold, and it becomes an endurance exercise. Don’t add too much weight.
3) Don’t Go Gun Crazy
Pump-actions are great for getting a lot of shots off quickly, but it’s rare that more than a couple birds will be up at the same time. And if they are, chances are the other ones will be in someone else’s shooting field, not yours. A double barrel will do it—it worked for most of the guys in my party. Plus it’s a lot easier to unload.
4) Buy the Right Shells
Believe it or not, there are a lot of variations in shotgun shells: gauges, lengths, and the shot itself are all different. Make sure to say the right things if you’re procuring your own: “I’m hunting this in this state/location/time of year, and I have this gun.”
5) Watch the Damn Dogs
It’s more than just their safety that’s important: dogs follow scents, so if you pass a bird but the dog doesn’t he may scare it out anyway. Don’t miss out on the easy kills. Of course, sometimes the birds don’t get up at all. If you’re a shamefully bad shot and one of the dogs gets a bird before it takes off, call dibs. After all, that one won’t have several ounces of lead in its chest before dinner.
And after a day of remembering checklists, it’s guaranteed that hunters will want to let it all hang out. There are no rules once the guns are back in their racks.
Well, there’s the one: Don’t eat metal. Tell your boss to spit that shit out.