By Luke Thorell
Dispatching cripples is part of life if you are a wingshooter. Sooner or later a bird will get clipped and fall out of the sky with its head up, indicating you have a runner, or at very least one who is going to make you get your hands dirty. Pheasants are notorious runners, and if you don’t have a dog, well then you are in for a real treat. Ducks and geese usually fall from their loft about a mile or two away from the blind just to test your stamina.
There are several methods used to complete the gruesome although necessary task of finishing a bird.
You can shoot them again.
This often leads to your buddies laughing at you while they wonder how in the hell you hit the damn thing in the first place. They laugh as you pump shot down range at a running bird, missing to the left, to the right, not knowing where you missed. You tell them you are trying to hit him in the head to “save meat.” They don’t care as they watch you do your best Ray Lewis impression by running it down and tackling it after you run out of shells.
Another technique is a good old neck-wringing.
Once you run out of shells and finally grab hold of the cripple you swing the body around its head until … well, you get it, the other Ray Lewis impression. This one can get nasty if you separate the bird into two. The result is blood on your pants, blood on your coat, blood on your gun, blood in your eyes, it’s just a shitty mess. It’s not pretty, and none of us like it, but it’s a part of hunting.
But the ultimate way to put a bird out of its misery is via hand-to-hand combat.
Que Metallica and enter the sandhill crane.
This prehistoric, flying beast is about 2.5 million years old; he is the closest thing we’ll ever get to hunting a pterodactyl. Living through an Ice Age, a Stone Age, and the current age of dumbasses, this species knows a thing or two about how to survive.
Once maimed, this bastard prefers to stand and fight; he will turn and square you up, sprawl out his wings, and hiss. Waiting for you, or the dog, to come into his little circle of misery at which time he will strike with his seven-inch beak, trying to puncture muscle and tendons or put out eyes. If that doesn’t work to free him from his captor, he’ll use his razor-sharp talons to rake flesh and cut wounds. Most dogs tasked with retrieving sandhill cranes wear specialized goggles to stave off career-ending injury.
A wounded Sandhill Crane is not an easy out, which is why most require the use of blunt force trauma from the swing of a miniature bat or club. This tool helps create distance and put his lights out before he can strike; it’s instant if performed correctly.
It’s a technique that came in handy on a hunt down in West Texas last season.
“Here ya go!” our guide Stephen said to my 11-year son, Hoyt, and his friend Graham as he tossed them each a wooden trucker bat.
“Time to fight some dinosaurs.”
Our hunting party of dads and sons had just laid waste to the morning’s first decoying flock, dropping several stone dead, and scattering cripples across the picked cornfield. We frantically dispersed to pick up our bounty.
“Hurry the hell up! More coming!” someone screamed.
I hustled back to the blind to reload and cover up for the next wave when I noticed Hoyt and Graham still in the field, going toe to toe with a wounded redhead. They were frozen in fear, the crane hissing and striking at them, wings flared up as he waddled toward our retreating heroes.
“Let’s fuckin’ go!” Stephen yells as a form of encouragement, showing no remorse for the dire predicament in which the young lads were placed. The growing sound of rolling trumpets from the next approaching flock only adds urgency to the situation.
Backpedaling, Hoyt pump faked a few swings in an act to look tough and tell the crane he means business, then he swung but came up about four feet short. This didn’t deter the crane, who at this point can smell fear and moves in for a kill shot.
I start pondering excuses to tell his mother as to why he must wear an eye patch for the rest of his life or perhaps eat from a straw, when from left field Graham delivers a knockout blow with a mini–Louisville Slugger and promptly ends the rope-a-dope. The old-distract-them-in-the front-come-at-them-from-the-back-trick.
Well played, boys.
The boys sprint back to the blind, trophy in hand, chests high, smiles on their faces, and both sets of eyes still intact.
Dispatching cripples is part of life if you are a wingshooter.