What should you expect from a four-month old english setter? I’m not exactly sure, but what I can tell you is that I could not ask anything more of my pup after a full month of grouse and woodcock season. Given that he is my first bird dog, my experience is quite limited. That being said, his apparent natural ability, along with his progression from the beginning of the season until now, combine to make me one very proud puppy handler!
In my last post, I wrote about Hartley’s recent breakthrough in the grouse woods. Through the first month of grouse season, Hartley has transformed from a fun-loving pup out for a walk in woods to an independent, game-seeking, flash of fur amid the dense aspen thickets we’ve been frequenting in Northern Minnesota. While he is still having loads of fun out there, he has clearly found a new form of entertainment in the pursuit of game.
The past weekend resulted in an even further progression of Hartley’s development. It began on Friday evening when I left the office and opted for a different sort of happy hour. I quickly loaded up the truck and hit the highway with Hartley as we headed north, to spend the last hour of the day in the woods, a.k.a. the golden hour. With daylight dwindling we went straight for one of our best producing coverts this season, which happened to be the same place Hartley’s lightbulb flipped on the week before. We broke into the cover and it wasn’t long before Hartley froze up briefly in a quick point. He then took a few steps and flushed a nearby woodcock to which he excitedly gave chase! A couple of minutes later the same thing happened, a quick puppy point, a few encroaching steps and another woodcock in the air along with a young setter bounding after it.
The next forty-five minutes are a bit of a blur in my memory but it’s a hunt I won’t soon forget. With two quick woodcock finds under his belt, Hartley decided to turn it up a notch and in doing so, he left me in a cloud of dust. He tore up the cover, as best a four-month old puppy can, going anywhere and everywhere in search of more birds. We went on to flush three more woodcock and ten grouse, including one covey of five grouse. Needless to say it was beautiful chaos for the pup and me. During said chaos, Hartley managed to find two more woodcock and a handful of grouse including the large covey of birds. I think the excitement was a bit much for him and there was no additional points on any of the birds. When all was said and done, not a single shot was fired but regardless, it’s still some of the most fun I’ve had in the grouse woods to date.
The fun continued for Hartley and I on Saturday as we reached two more milestones in his young hunting career. In total we flushed ten grouse and ten woodcock on Saturday, of which Hartley had a handful of finds and two points. The first highlight of the day came when Hartley unofficially pointed his first grouse. We were both making our way through some heavy cover, with me trailing behind and Hartley up ahead and out of sight, which is the norm now that Hartley has decided he doesn’t need me to help him find the birds. As I struggled to place one foot in front of the other while simultaneously being whipped and slapped in the face by the young aspen stems impeding my progress, I noticed that Hartley’s bell could no longer be heard. I quickly halted my progress and focused my eyes and ears ahead. For the next five seconds nothing could be heard but for the gentle breeze meandering its way through the golden, sun-soaked woods that surrounded me. The silence however, was broken when I heard the unmistakable sound of a ruffed grouse thundering into flight and up through the canopy of young aspen trees. This was immediately followed by the resuming clings and clanks of the copper bell strapped to Hartley’s collar. Although I never saw what took place between the grouse and the dog, I was nonetheless filled with joy after witnessing, by sound only, what I believe to be Hartley’s first point on a ruffed grouse.
As we begun to wind down a day that I didn’t believe could get any better, Hartley decided he wasn’t quite finished. After working a nice piece of cover and flushing four woodcock, I could clearly see that Hartley was tired. It was mid-afternoon, the temperature had climbed into the high fifties and we’d already had what I considered a successful day in the woods. With that in mind, we headed straight for the trail and started making our way back to the truck. About half way back to the truck, in the midst of bounding around through the grass, up and down the trail with his tongue flopping in every which direction, my young setter pup quickly shifted his course and went straight into the aspens directly to my left. He took three steps into the woods and froze in a sideways point with his head turned and pointing into the breeze. I quickly readied myself, took a step in his direction and froze myself. As I stood there for what was only a brief second, I managed to take in the moment as the sunlight cascaded down and flooded the gray aspen stand accented only by the golden leaves which still clung to the tips of the young trees. In the middle of it all, watched over by his handler and his best friend, stood a young English setter pup, frozen in time and on point. It was only then that I noticed the fleeting and fluttering wings of the woodcock that had flushed no more than a foot from the dog’s nose. Without another conscious thought, my gun effortlessly made its way to my shoulder and in one smooth motion my thumb slid the safety, my index finger felt the trigger and the barrel caught up to the bird. A moment later, I was on one knee in the middle of the woods on a beautiful October day, with my newest BEST friend celebrating the first bird shot over one of his points.
I certainly look forward to many more memories with Hartley, but this one is certainly one I will not soon forget! My eyes have been opened to the joys of hunting with a bird dog and I am forever changed as an upland hunter. I hope this year’s hunting season has brought similar memories to readers of Northwood’R and we’d love to hear about them. Please feel free to share in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.