I don't hunt with strangers and blame Sadie for my singular lapse in judgment. Ah, the wife of my youth, the one who handed me a turtleneck for my 46th birthday.
"Yes, Corbin," she said in answer to my question. "I do sit up late at night thinking of new ways to torture you. It's my only reason for living. Now try it on."
First it was a white picket fence along parts of my acreage. Then it was ugly-as-sin ivy trim painted around our bedroom ceiling. Now it was tightly-woven knit. The woman was slowly getting 'round to strangling me.
"Why can't you be flexible like the snowshoe hare you're about to go hunting?" she asked.
Oh, she's wily. The snowshoe hare, also known as the varying hare, changes with every season. In summer, they're rusty brown with black on the upper part of the tail and ear tips. In late fall, they start to lose their summer coat for white fur. In the spring, the process reverses. Those creatures know something about adaptation.
I pecked Sadie goodbye, doing my best to forget about nooses. Corbin Myers wasn't gonna be hemmed in by no woman—at least not on this trip. Heck, the only female I'd be seeing would be Mike's beagle, Zara. Zara might just be the most well-behaved female I know. And sometimes she licks her behind.
Mike—and someone I didn't recognize—were unloading coolers from the back of Mike's truck when I rolled up the frozen dirt road.
"Neal's been hunting a time or two," Mike assured me. "He's a stand-up guy. I'll vouch for him." That made me uneasy. Sure, Mike was vouching for him, but Mike also vouched for his wife's pot roast.
I shifted around. On the one hand, only a fool goes hunting with someone he doesn't know. On the other hand, the idea of going home to a disgruntled wife and an ugly sweater was unappealing. I decided to let Mike slide. We were experienced, and Neal looked rugged enough.
I'd practice flexibility.
It wasn't long before we'd gathered our gear and were headed out. I got agitated when I had to remind Neal to don his orange vest. But I brushed it off. Everybody forgets things now and again.
There's nothing more beautiful than northern Wisconsin woods after a fresh snowfall. I wanted to enjoy it as we crunched along, but Neal was a stream of one-way conversation. He wasn't loud, but he pontificated on oddball hunting facts as if he'd just read one of those Dummy books.
"Always assume that every gun is loaded."
"Don't forget to look beyond a target before you shoot it."
"Unload your rifle before you climb a tree."
I told Neal, as nice as I knew how, to shut up, thought it might settle my stomach. This guy was green, had borrowed everything he wore. I was gonna kill Mike when we got back. That's what I was thinking when Zara, who had blazed ahead of us, started yelping. She'd cornered something.
Mike and I didn't realize that Neal wasn't following us, until we were bagging a good-sized hare—and praising our huntress. We heard three shots fired into the air—the distress signal. I told Mike to wait with Zara, while I retrieved his friend—we didn't need all of us wandering in the aspens looking for a lost newbie.
Two minutes later, I heard the peal of another three shots. It sounded from just ahead. Neal came into my line of vision. He was walking in circles in a ten-foot clearing, his over and under—the safest gun around, back by his side.
"Neal, it's Corbin!" I raised my arm high, waved.
Most of the six shot that he answered with flew overhead, but some of it penetrated my Jersey glove, embedded itself into my hand. I swore, asked him derisively if he'd ever heard of identifying the target before shooting.
But I still wasn't going home. Especially not after a chill coursed up my back, making me wonder just how warm a turtleneck was.
Out came my flask, which I unscrewed with my teeth. The whiskey burned my palm. I removed the pellets with my utility knife—left-handed.
I was done hunting with Neal.
Call me rigid, I don't care, and that's exactly what I planned on telling Sadie the next time she opened her mouth.
Some things just weren't meant to change with the seasons.
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