There wasn’t always a fall turkey season so years ago I used to do the next best thing – upland bird hunting with a bird dog. My partner Bailey, pictured here, has been gone eight years now, but here’s a little story to remember her by.
Tumbling a grouse on a difficult shot is even more satisfying if there is a witness. And the flubbed easy straightaway shots are easier to take with some good-natured ribbing. But if none of my buddies can go with me, I’m just as happy to head out alone.
Going alone is good too because then I have the freedom to wander in any direction to check out a likely cover without keeping track of a partner. When going alone I can take a poke at any bird that flushes because it won’t be on my partner’s side or between us.
Truthfully I haven’t really gone solo for a decade because I’ve had a bird crazy four-legged partner with a magnificent sense of smell who craved the rush of the flush as much as I do. Bailey, my yellow lab cross was an unwanted two-year old dog that we rescued as a family pet. When I discovered, on hikes with the family, that she had a strong prey drive and was hooked on bird scent I started taking her hunting. She now lies beneath the soil of Three Bird Cover.
I call it Three Bird Cover because that is where three woodcock flushed close together to flip the switch in her head and make her into a useful flushing dog instead of a self – hunter tearing around flushing birds out of range. We entered this cover together and for once she flushed a woodcock within shotgun range that I hit. She saw it fall and retrieved it which is what she really loved to do. Before she got out of range again she flushed another timber doodle that I knocked down. After her second retrieve, a third bird came up. In a rare display of adept shooting I made that shot too and she got the idea that every time the gun went off a bird fell from the sky. It sunk into her bird crazy head that if she wanted to get a bird in her mouth she had to stay close to me and hunt for the gun. From then on we had a lot of good hunts.
Now she’s gone and when I go out hunting alone I am truly alone. It’s not too bad. When I grab the shotgun to go I don’t have an excited dog tearing through the house and skidding into the half opened door then squirting through it to get to the car. My car isn’t full of yellow dog hair now either. When I sit on a log for a sandwich I don’t have her soft brown eyes riveted on my sandwich expecting half.
I do wonder though, on days when I get hardly any flushes, how many birds have held tight on the ground and let me pass by that my old partner would have scented and flushed. When I dropped a grouse last week and couldn’t find it I remembered her retrieving crippled birds after long chases through nasty cover. There were even some birds that I didn’t think I had hit because they flew off so strongly. When we followed up on them expecting another flush, she found, to my surprise, a dead bird with a single pellet in it or a lively cripple to chase down.
Now, I’m huning alone near her grave at the edge of Three Bird Cover, about to wade into the prickly blackberry canes. It’ll be all up to me this time with no canine bird detector to locate the birds and give me an early warning by getting birdie – every muscle taut enough to hum, hair bristling and tail slamming back and forth as it always did when she struck scent. Now every flush will be a total surprise. I love it that way.
I’ll have to mark precisely where the birds fall or I’ll never find them without the old dog that didn’t quit looking for a dead bird till she found it. The more the challenge, the better I like it. It’s great to be hunting alone.
A surge of emotion is twisting my innards like a dish rag. I step into the brush to scare up a bird. Now I’ll have to try to track the twisting flight of a woodcock or grouse with tear-blurred eyes. It’s great to be going alone. Ya sure.