The Old Man sat at the high end of the small field, in the shade that lay where a single oak stood out from the treeline, guiding the small hilltop down to a narrow point.
He sat in a folding lawn chair, one made back when things weren’t meant to be disposable. The chair had a sturdy frame and was webbed with shiny, nylon mesh belts designed to be worn out and replaced. Orange and yellow and gold, they were the color of September sunshine.
He balanced a 16 gauge Browning across his knees, smoked a Salem menthol and made no special effort to hide. He just sat on his chair, hummed to himself, and waited.
In countless hours, over countless miles, he had followed constant bird dogs, tolerated occasional friends, shucking paper-hulled 16s through pump shotguns of assorted provenance, pursuing birds every bit as wild as any Comanche ever was, not knowing he was living the last, best days of the bird dog, preceding changes in agriculture that would usher out the last freeholds of the noble bobwhite quail. Today, he wasn’t as hungry to fill a limit of doves as the boys, the young men, he watched filling stations along either side of the field below. Not that one game outranked the other, so much as he’d filled enough limits, and run past a few, enough times to suit him.
Up and down the borders, young shooters hunkered level with the soybean tops or tucked into culdesacs of scrub oak and saw briers. They were all slathered in the latest camouflage patterns and equipped with decoys and assorted other gear. Not one among them carried less than a flat of shells, 250 rounds being the imagined minimum precaution against shooting their ammo dry. They were avid and excited, happy to be doing something outdoors and on their own.
The Old Man couldn’t help thinking what good bird dog trainers they’d have made, of the points they’d have seen and retrieves they’d have received, had they come of age back when he had, back when things weren’t meant to be disposable.