The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Last Bird, First Bird

                                                  In memory of Antônio Roberto Junqueira Meirelles

There is no sweeter fragrance than the inebriant essence of a fired shotgun shell, and that same aroma transports me in time and space to my earliest memories, following my father’s steps while hunting perdiz over our English pointer Diana in our farm in Brazil, and retrieving the spent 28 gauge paper hulls.

Unhappily, from those early years, I probably can count in the fingers of one hand the times that I hunted birds with my father. There was one bright mid-year afternoon in Goiás state, central Brazil, when a very smart perdiz made fools of a nice looking English pointer, my father who was carrying a 12 gauge trap gun, myself bearing an old 28 gauge side by side hammer gun, and the rest of the family that was following the hunt.

Then a couple decades later, there were some preserve pheasant hunts in Michigan. Not many, perhaps three or four times over a five year period. In the first of those hunts in the fall of 2002, my father was still very sharp with a shotgun, and shot eight of the eleven birds bagged, including a true double.

The only memorable fact about the second hunt, that had a bad dog, a worst guide, and when my father did not shot a single pheasant, was that it was the only time in which three generations of my family hunted together, my father, my son Daniel, at the time seven, and me.

Even with other birds at hand, the desire to hunt perdiz, the queen of upland birds, kept burning strong inside me, and with hunting closed and outlawed in Brazil, I booked a five day bird hunting trip in Uruguay, during June 2008.

I did not really invite my father to come along, I just asked my mother to get him the tickets to Montevideo and pack his clothes.

The first morning we shot doves, just to dial in the leads with unfamiliar rented shotguns. We both were using side-by-side hammerless, the accepted game gun in “our world”. My father was using a 12 gauge of obscure origins, and I had a 16 gauge AyA, side lock non ejector. After lunch, always a feast in Uruguay, he took the afternoon off to rest from the pounding of the 12 gauge, while I had my first perdiz hunt solo.

The second morning’s memories are bitter sweet. We hunted a stubble field and then a river bottom of “Estância Mirador”, over the best dog that I ever saw working birds in my life, a small Epagneul Breton named Popó.

Popó is one of those few precious dogs that combine a love of hunting with unique hunting abilities, including superb nose and bird sense. I believe that Popó could produce a perdiz in your living room.

The unspoken code of ethics for two hunters shooting over a single pointer in that part of the world is to shoot on alternate points. This is not only safer, but allows the bird a more sporting change following a double gun salute.

I knew for some time that my father was not the healthiest person in the world, but his dismal shooting performance should have warned me. I am not sure if it was excitement or fear, perhaps a really uncomfortable gun, but he could not hit a bird that day.

On the other hand, I could not miss. We were hunting together, but that was not how it was supposed to be.

On his fifth or sixth point, and with as many birds to my credit, my father hurried towards Popó and stepping in an armadillo hole he fell very hard, hitting the ground over his shotgun. For a split second I feared the worse.

Ariel, the secretário and dog handler, and I helped my father up as one of his legs began to swell, but he wanted to keep on hunting.

Just as we crossed the fence that separate the stubble field from the river bottom, Popó went on point and in a second a perdiz flushed right between my father and me. I can no longer remember whose point it was supposed to be, but we both hit the perdiz in full.

After the retrieve my father said that he was tired and we just hunted back to the car. Neither of us could realize that at the time, but that perdiz was to be my father’s last bird.

On February 28th 2009 I received a message that my father had just entered the intensive care unit at our hometown hospital, in Brazil. As I entered that room the next day, and saw my unconscious father in bed, tubes keeping him alive, I saw that his hunting injury was not totally healed eight months later.

After recovering conscience, my father once told my mother that he thought that he would not be able to make it to Uruguay that year.

We buried my father on a Saturday morning, May 16th, and my son was one of the pallbearers. As we led him to rest the sun shone for the first time since his last coma.

By mid-afternoon I could not stand to be indoors any longer, so I called a friend, and drove to the farm where I was raised, with Aluísio, Daniel and my nephew Gustavo. Daniel decided to go horse ridding while Aluísio and I went dove shooting. The big white-wing doves were coming to roost, but neither of us was doing great.

Towards the end of the flight, Daniel joined us and I asked him to shoot one bird. I was using my father’s Beretta 28 gauge side-by-side and told my son that his grandfather would be both happy and proud if he used that gun to bag his first bird.

I had three shells left, but Daniel picked only one, loaded the right barrel, and locked his eyes on a big blue white-wing that had just come past a certain avocado tree. He flexed his knees, mounted the gun, and that dove stopped in mid-air as it hit the shot wall.

The worst day of my life was over. A week later I landed in Uruguay headed for a certain stubble field.


  1. Digo, meus olhos se encheram de lágrimas. Não sei se de saudades do papai ou porque meu amor por você aumentou ainda mais. Te amo. Beta.

  2. Rodrigo,you are a sentimental person that love your family.Actually after read a tale of your father I felt so emotive, cause you like me loved our fathers. Our father loved hunting just we love and they were the best partner.
    I hope you have time to write goods tales for us.
    Eloir Mário- From Brasil

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