Yesterday I did something I never would have imagined doing even a few years ago: I stopped one pheasant short of a limit. Five minutes out of the car a rooster flushed at my feet and I shot it. About 10 minutes after that Jed pointed another. Since the landowner lets me hunt this farm a lot and he hunts himself from time to time, I decided two birds was enough even though the law allows a third. Any bird I didn’t shoot was one he or I could chase on another day.

It wouldn’t have been fair to Jed to put him up after 15 minutes so we hunted the rest of the farm. I told myself I would shoot another rooster only as a reward for a perfect point. We found a covey of quail, which I never shoot on this place. Jed pointed a single and I shot behind it so he would know quail are something we’re interested in.

We got our chance at a third rooster a little while after. It wasn’t the point I wanted but it was a good piece of dogwork and I had the pheasant dead to rights. I didn’t raise my gun and didn’t feel the least bit of regret in not shooting.

On the one hand, restraint feels good. On the other, I hate to think I am on the slippery slope to losing my fire for hunting. My dad did.

Then I think about one of my gunwriting colleagues. He’s about 20 years my senior, has hunted all over the world. He has done more bird hunting and waterfowling than anyone I know–he’s been to Argentina 50 or 60 times, for instance*–but for him every hunt is still as exciting as his first. It’s typical to see him make an incredible shot then say, “That’s it. I’m unloading my gun. If I don’t shoot another duck I’ve had a great day.”

Look over a few minutes later and you’ll see him stuffing shells into the magazine, eyes on the horizon, watching for more birds.

That’s how I want to get old.

*Okay, it’s Nick Sisley.