If you read My Confession To The King post, you’ll know that I have spent most of my days in the grouse woods without the companionship of a four-legged friend. Although I have enjoyed every day, right down to the last-minute, in pursuit of the Ruffs, I could not be more excited about bringing home my first bird dog this summer. I’m sure most dog owners can relate to the fact that right now I am filled with anticipation of the adventures and hunts that this little pup and I will share in the coming years. I understand fully that it will also be a journey into the unknown, as I attempt to train and raise the pup into the bird finder that I hope SHE can be!
So why after all this time of hunting without a dog, with exceptional success I might add, have I finally decided to seek the help of a bird dog?! Well, apart from the fact that I have always thought I should be hunting with one, I also realize that the pursuit of game in the presence of a driven bird dog is a different experience entirely and a sight to be seen by anyone, hunter or non-hunter. The spectacle of said creature, so eager to please, in full chase and pursuit of its quarry is absolutely captivating. The amount of intensity and passion with which a bird dog can work is nothing short of amazing and truly an example for us all. I have decided that I would rather spend the rest of my days in the grouse woods with a dog’s companionship, for better or worse, and I look forward to the ups and downs of it all that will inevitably result.
All that being said, the seed was truly planted about 10 years ago on my first grouse hunt with a dog. A high school friend of mine happened to be the proud handler of a snappy little English Setter named Chloe. This beaut of a dog decided I was at least worthy enough of her services and provided me the chance to shoot my first birds over point, an experience I’ll certainly never forget. Even with my lack of experience with bird dogs, it is no stretch for me to say that this dog had a knack for pinning birds, especially woodcock. On a cool overcast day in October, lost in a tangled thicket of aspen, I remember approaching my first bird over point. My friend’s father had joined us for the day, and as any good dog owner should, he explained to me the basic ins and outs of hunting with a dog as well as his preferences and what he expected of me as a gunner. Still, none of that could have possibly prepared me for what happened next. As I approached the setter on point my eyes frantically scanned the ground (I now know this is a rookie mistake) for a grouse as I was so used to doing, however there was no grouse in sight?! With my heart racing and my palms sweating, I finally leveled with the dog’s nose, took a step out in front of her, and froze. At this point I wasn’t certain what to expect and couldn’t help but think something had gone awry.
“What is this dog’s deal, I don’t see any birds here? This isn’t how it happens on TV!”
As I was busy with this nonsensical internal dialogue, the woodcock on the ground beside me was having a much different dialogue with himself, and it was at this point he decided enough was enough. Suddenly to my right, no more than a pace from the setter’s nose, still intense as ever I might add, came the frantic flutter of wings and the distinctive escape cry of the Timberdoodle. The bird launched vertically to the tips of the broomstick-thick aspen at which point he leveled, as they so often do, and then began to put some distance between I and he. Lucky for me, my reflexes completely took over at this point. I took a heavy step toward the bird, stabbed my barrel into the sky and squeezed. To my utter amazement, the steady winged escape artist folded against the gray October sky and unwillingly began his descent. I excitedly shouted out “I hit him,” to which one of my hunting partners replied, “nice shooting.” If only they knew!
Certainly this day turned out to be one to remember! I went on to shoot another woodcock over Chloe’s point, and I also missed on a grouse flush that every hunter dreams about. I can still replay it in my head, the Ruff bursting out of the tangled brush pile gaining altitude quickly and then tilting his wings clockwise as he arced and floated directly over a pair helpless shooters to the safety of nearby conifers. Neither of us could believe it, but that is the joy and beauty of hunting the Ruffed Grouse. If there was any doubt in my mind that I truly wanted to hunt birds with a dog of my own it was effectively eliminated on that day. I knew then and there that I would someday be the proud handler of an English Setter and now that day is finally approaching.
Be sure to stay tuned to the blog as the trials and tribulations of our rookie season will be chronicled here!
[NOTE] Do you remember your first bird over point? Have a favorite young bird dog/hunter story? Please share in the comments section below!