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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | A Series of Errors
Article courtesy of JB Cornwell

I have known many fine men in my life. Among those that I admired most was my hunting/fishing companion Les. He was a kind and gentle man who never exhibited an ego.

This adventure took place in the late 60s. We both lived in the small town of Warrenville, IL and spent many hours in the surrounding corn stubble fields and fallow fields in search of pheasants and rabbits during the season.

Though we often hunted with two or more companions, and sometimes dogs, this day it was just Les and JB.

Les carried a Stevens model 311 12ga. double with 3" chambers and double triggers. It was a strong, simple tool and Les was very good with it. I carried my treasured Browning Superposed in 20ga.

As we walked up to the first field we intended to hunt, we found it occupied. There was a group of young men walking it out. We stopped to watch.

One of the boys flushed a cottontail, paused a few seconds and neatly rolled it over. The gun blast was louder than I expected and the young man was rocked by the recoil. He tried to pump another shell into the chamber but the gun jammed, refusing to eject the spent shell. He struggled with it to no avail. Les came to the rescue.

"Let me take a look at that." He offered. The young man handed over the shotgun. It was an Ithaca model 37 pump, a popular John Browning design. Les expertly dismantled it, took out a knife and forced the shell out of the chamber.

"This is a 3" magnum shell and your gun has a 2-3/4" chamber. You are lucky it didn't blow up on you." The young man reached in his pocket and took out several shells. . . all 3" magnums. "Oh, rats. That is all I have." Error, selecting the wrong shells.

Ever the gentleman, Les offered to trade him some 2-3/4" loads for the magnums. The gun was reassembled, the deal was done and we moved on to another field. Les dropped a couple of the magnums into his double.

This fallow field had a leftover dusting of about 1" of snow. When hunting without a dog it was common practice to split up and seek rooster tracks, then follow the bird until it flushed. That is what we set out to do.

I pretty quickly found tracks of a mature cock pheasant and began to follow them. It appeared that Les had a trail, too. We both wandered around the field until I discovered Les's boot print following the same bird. I relaxed and watched as Les closed in on Mr. Pheasant.

Then came three seconds of a scene that is etched in my mind forever.

The pheasant flushed, almost at Les's feet. It got about 15', then exploded in a cloud of pink fog with a couple of wingtips corkscrewing to the earth. Les sat down rather abruptly and started laughing.

Here is how that happened:

  • Les had fingers on both triggers of his double. Error. One finger on one trigger at a time.
  • Les saw the bird about 2 seconds before it flushed. Seeing the bird started the "shoot clock" that is in every bird hunter's brain. When the clock ran out he pulled the trigger. Error, watch the bird out to about 10-15 yards, then shoot.
  • The unaccustomed recoil of the magnum jerked the second trigger.
  • The poor bird received, dead center, a pattern of over 4oz of shot about a foot wide. It was vaporized, except for its wingtips.

Les was very amused by the culmination of the series of errors. That is the kind of man he was.

(JB Cornwell writes from "The Hideout" in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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