At a northwest Iowa hunting preserve more than 1,000 miles from Washington, a group of hunters clad in neon orange formed a line at the top of a hill, proceeding forward through a deep thicket of brush, kicking up pheasants.
A bird spooked, was shot with precision, got picked up by a dog and promptly stuffed into the back of a hunter's vest. The President of the United States' eldest son had gotten another.
Donald Trump Jr. was the guest of honor at Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King's annual Col. Bud Day Pheasant Hunt on Saturday, kicking off the 2017 hunting season at the Hole 'N the Wall Lodge here in Akron, a couple miles from the South Dakota border. The two-day hunt, a campaign fundraiser for King, garners a few dozen hunters and about hundred guests for a Saturday evening pork chop and deep-fried pheasant dinner at the lodge.
Trump traveled to the lodge late Friday evening, flying commercial on American Airlines to Sioux City with a layover at Chicago O'Hare, where CNN spotted an incognito Patagonia pullover-clad Trump grabbing a quick dinner at the food court. Once he arrived, Trump regaled a group of hunters, including King and Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, with late-night stories of his life on the 2016 campaign trail, when he was a top surrogate for his father's presidential campaign.
"Don Jr. just held court. It was just a lot of fun," King told reporters after the morning hunt, calling Trump "witty." Trump did not speak to reporters Saturday and maintained his distance from cameras.
Trump, who joined the president at an appearance and met with the Trump-aligned America First Policies super PAC in Dallas, Texas, earlier this week, is expected to continue as a key surrogate for his father in 2020, as well as Republicans across the country during the 2018 midterm campaign.
The weekend hunt comes as a federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources briefed on the matter. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. Trump's June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer has been part of Mueller's ongoing probe.
Asked whether Trump indicated any concern about a potential indictment or his father's impeachment, King dismissed the idea as a "ridiculous proposal."
"We didn't even bring that up because we're not concerned either," the Iowa congressman said, adding, "There's always a chance of anything like the sun coming up, but no, there's no substance."
Trump and his younger brother, Eric, are both hunters, learning the sport from their maternal grandfather, Dedo.
"Dedo was a true outdoorsman, and it's because of him that my brothers learned to hunt and fish and hike. If it had been up to my father, they would have been out on the golf course or playing tennis, but they really took to Dedo's pursuits," sister Ivanka Trump wrote in her 2009 memoir.
The pursuits paid off: King described Trump as a "very, very good shot."
"Nobody had to back up Don Jr.," King said of the first hunt, which warmed up from 17 to 42 degrees over the course of the morning. "It was a beautiful, clear, still day in Iowa and the sky was so filled with feathers one could be convinced the angels were having pillow fights."
Fellow hunter Gohmert echoed his praise of Trump's skills: "Guy's a great shot --- he knows what he's doing, he knows ammunition, he knows weapons, and I'm very impressed," the Texas Republican said.
The eight-year hunt tradition, which King described as "as Iowan as it can get," has included a wide swath of GOP presidential hopefuls making their pitch in conservative northwest Iowa ahead of the caucuses over the years, including 2016 candidates Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal.
The hunters were briefed on safety and also instructed about one strictly enforced rule: "Whenever the gun goes off and a bird folds, you have to always say, 'Nice shot, congressman,'" King joked.
Gohmert interjected: "And then that was modified: Let's include, 'Nice shot, Mr. Trump.'"