By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Pheasants fly up out of the grass. They are promptly shot. The birds drop like pop flies.
The borrowed dogs take Nolan and the physician to the two dead pheasants. The color on their throats spells trouble.
"Can we shoot those females?" asks Nolan.
Killing female pheasants on public land is illegal. "They said we could shoot anything out here," says one of the doctors, as he and Nolan stand over one of the birds, as though staring at it long enough will change its gender or the fact that it has recently passed away.
"We're gonna be on film killin' hens," notes Nolan. Donnie the dog guy, who did not hit anything, says he's sure the game warden will enjoy hearing about it.
Turns out, it is OK to kill hens on private property.
The group walks. The grass crunches. The air smells like hay and crude oil and livestock.
The orthopedic specialist and Nolan are talking about the great cruise he just took. "You know, you and your wife should take a cruise," he counsels Nolan.
"Aw, I can't do things like that."
The doctor assures Ryan that being on a ship isn't what he might think--not like being held captive or anything.
"My whole life is held captive," says Nolan. "I can't do things like that."
At meals during the weekend, no one talks about the strike or how much they wish they still had a fastball. It is much more fun to make fun of everyone's playing ability.
Emu says he has a retriever named "Slider." Someone says this is nice, since he never had a pitch by that name.
On Saturday, there is a dinner (fried chicken and tea on paper plates) at the Nolan County Coliseum, next to a pig show; ACU baseball boys and some community leaders are in attendance. A few kids sneak in from the pork event next door and are unable to speak as the main attraction signs their notebook paper with a scrunched up "N" and a fat "R." He's always liked "Ryan" better than "Nolan."
Back out at the hunt, Reid Ryan gets himself a beautiful some-kinda-Chinese pheasant, which is still alive after the shot.
Everyone pets the bird, except Nolan and the orthopedist, who are way over by a fence row, deep in conversation. They could be talking about MRIs--of which Nolan knows plenty. Or they could be talking about arrowheads, which became a focal point of discussion earlier.
Suddenly a large group of birds flies out of the grass and 12-gauges pop. Some drop; other head over by the fence where Nolan is.
"Dad, daaad, they're coming your way," hollers Reid. Nolan waves them off. That must be a good conversation out by that fence.
"Dad. Daaaaad," Reid hollers. Getting no answer, he screams "Noleeeeey."
They give Donnie the Chinese pheasant because his wife wants one mounted. "So how do you kill him, since you can't wring his neck if you're gonna stuff him?" asks an unknowledgeable member of the group.
"I'll squeeze him," says the doctor.
Oh, dear God.
"I don't think you'll want to see this," says the M.D., holding the bird. Everyone keeps talking, standing there, and blood starts spurting from the creature's mouth. In minutes, the bird's head rolls around like a ball bearing.
Back at camp, Reid goes rattler hunting with some guys while Nolan and former Padres ace Randy Johnson and Emu compete in a celebrity shoot-off.
Emu hits every clay pigeon they send up.
"You can shoot like that when you don't have to work for a living," comes a voice from the gallery.
Nolan, known as a good shot, wasn't hitting much of anything at first.
"I can see why you had so many no-hitters," yells Emu.
Nobody's sacred out here. And that's the way they like it.