|We began the morning’s hunt by driving the long networks of dirt roads that cut their way towards the island’s interior, looking for birds. Road hunting is how pheasants are hunted during the early morning and late afternoon hours on Chejudo. When birds were spotted, the guide would usually continue about a hundred yards farther down the road, then deploy the hunters who would begin working their way back towards the birds. We made several unsuccessful “drives” at birds we had spotted, but each time they would run far ahead of us or flushed out of range. | Mr. Kim pulled the truck off the road near a power-line that cut it’s way through a thick block of pines. My anticipation soared as I stepped from the truck and breathed in the cool fresh air. Mr. Kim gave us some quick instructions as he lit a cigarette. We confirmed that hens and ducks were legal since it was February and he nodded. Without much haste, he had the dog out and was heading towards a low culvert across the road waving for us to follow. Stepping across the road to the high bank of the culvert I reached into my vest and retrieved two red shells. I stood there momentarily daydreaming as I took in the reality of being in this wonderful place. My trance was broken as Mr. Kim whistled to the dog. I fumbled with the two twelve gauge number 6’s as I quickly tried to load the borrowed SKB over and under. The shotgun felt awkward and unfamiliar. It had been awhile since I had carried anything but my “A2,” and it’s feel was still imbedded in the memory of my hands making this gun feel strangely foreign in it’s place. I felt embarrassed at my own awkwardness. These feelings did nothing to boost my confidence in my shooting ability, or the growing competitiveness and inter-service rivalry being voiced between the two Navy dentists below me. I felt like I did as a kid on opening day, the nervous anticipation was building as we “stepped-off.”
The Author (left) and guide Mr. Kim, near the spot where the Author scored his double on Chejudo roosters.
The culvert ran parallel to the road for about a quarter mile; it then intersected with a small creek that crossed back under the road. The plan was simple, we were going to follow the culvert to the stream, cross the road and work the roadside cover back towards the truck to the power-line. We hadn’t gone fifty yards when the dog locked onto point near a tall clump of cattails and reeds. Mr. Kim waved for me to come down the bank and walk in behind the dog. My senior partners were strategically positioned across the weed filled ditch to intercept any birds that tried to escape. I approached the dog and entered the head-high cattails slowly. The flaxen rushes were dry and brittle; they swayed in the light breeze producing a sound like a drum-roll as the wind increased. As I slowly shuffled my way through the tangle of reeds the dog rushed forward and locked-up again. I took a few more steps and suddenly the reeds erupted as two birds rocketed skyward. I never saw the two hens get-up in the tall rushes, but, the three shots that rang out and the joyous celebrating indicated that Navy was on the scoreboard. As usual, the Marines had done the tough work and the Navy had claimed the victory.
I made my way out of the reeds, to get my first look at a Chejudo pheasant. The rooster had backdoored us; he was standing at the edge of the reeds and grass as I emerged. He quickly ran across the road into the thick cover on the opposite side. He was a flash of iridescent colors with a bright white choker around his neck. The most remarkable thing I remember was the length of his tail, it had to be more than two feet long! Mr. Kim, in broken English and hand gestures, said we would get him on the way back.
We approached the end of the culvert without any other points, the dog continued to work a zigzag pattern with his nose to the ground. He occasionally ventured into the thick rushes and reeds, crashing through the fragile stalks sending a flurry of cattail seeds into the air. He became “birdie” several times, but could not locate the source of the scent he was obviously picking-up. We crossed the road and began working our way back towards the power-line. I knew the rooster I had seen was somewhere ahead of us. My anticipation was growing and my heart pounding harder as the dog almost by chance locked on point. Mr. Kim and I were closest to the road; my partners were to the right near a line of pine trees. Between us lay a tangled maze of vines, low shrubs and knee high broom straw grass.
The cover opened-up ahead of us then got thicker for several hundred yards before it joined the power-line, near where we had parked earlier. My two senior hunting partners told me to take this one. Mr. Kim began whistling softly as he moved in on the dog, which was pointing at a small bush. As Mr. Kim closed the gap, the dog began creeping forward. Suddenly, the cover exploded as a blur of golden brown and gray feathers burst upward from the labyrinth of vines and thorns. I found myself so amazed at the sight of the huge rooster cackling his way skyward, that I momentarily forgot to shoot. As if in slow motion, I remember him looking back at me, his wings beating franticly in an effort to gain altitude. I pulled the trigger and the lower barrel released its ounce of lead. Between the flash of the powder and the gun’s report the rooster folded in mid-air. After the handshakes, I carefully placed the rooster into my gamebag, his tail feathers sticking far out to the side.
Mr. Kim (left) and the Author, with Mr. Kim’s dog after an average day afield on Chejudo Island. During the Korean War era, Quonset hut’s in the background served as lodging for visiting military members hunting on Chejudo.
Photo by: Author
We hiked several miles of the island’s hills and worked their slopes and the thick coverts between them. Each of us shot several more birds as the morning turned into early afternoon. Lunchtime found us resting next to one of a thousand stonewalls that cut through the island’s landscape. Like stoic sentinels, they were reminders of hundreds of decades of labor by a stalwart people trying to make their land arable, some of whose very components where probably laid into place by my guide’s forefathers. We ate our sandwiches in front of a view that photo’s would not do justice. A magnificent panorama of snow capped mountains juxtaposed against vibrant green meadows, pine lots and a turquoise sea. After a much-needed rest we decided to try another area.