Well, there’s been a few hunts to report in the last couple of weeks. I finally broke loose for some much awaited grouse hunting. Made one quick afternoon trip up the road to a spot that I hadn’t been to this season. Bad weather and not a lot of time meant we had to be on the ball. After about one hour in the woods we had only one wild flush that I never even saw. Several days later my hunting buddy met me at the house for a half day outing to some of our trusty bird covers. The weather was overcast and we were following 2 days of hard rain. The creeks in the area were swollen necessitating some bridge building to get across and several nice swimming adventures for Gus. No shots at birds at all that day after 3 hours of hunting. We did have several false points and I suspect there had been birds sitting that either ran ahead of us or flushed before we could hear them. Before we finished we managed to get one flush but not a look or a shot in our favorite scrub oak thicket. With tough conditions in the woods and VERY little forage for anything we made the decision to lay off the pressure on the birds for the season. We may still make a trip north where the cover/food/bird numbers are all a little healthier and make a hunt but that remains to be seen.
I made a few calls and found that my friend who provided me with many of my quail after my own hatch was depleted had called in some favors to get a couple dozen birds. We made a trek to the farm we hunted last year. Not having been there this year I was interested to see how the cover looked. Overall I’d say it was far better than last year. The fields had been planted in corn which had long since been cut, but they were kind enough to leave the corners where the broomstraw grows alone. The patches that had been logged last year were a nice tangled mess of greenbriar, brushpiles, and young pines. It was a really close approximation to grouse cover. There are 4 or 5 distinctly different covers in about a 25 acre plot ranging from hardwoods, to open fields and everything in between. We had a great day of hunting with really strong flying quail. We didn’t loose any of the 13 birds we set (no thanks to our shooting). That was a true testament to the dog’s work. The birds were skittish, and after busting one of them, Gus started standing off a little bit. He found several cripples that we never would have located, the most memorable of which was shot at by a full compliment of loads out of not 1 but 2 double barreled scatterguns only to sail off seeming unscathed a good 200 yards to another thicket. After a push of the remaining cover in that direction, Gus found him. He established a solid point and I moved in for a flush. After several minutes my partners came over to see what was so funny after hearing my laughter. The bird was on his back, stone cold dead with his feet fully extended and wings still stretched out in full flight position. It is unclear if some of our shot found the mark or if he flew into a tree but the result was the same. A quick “Dead” command and Gus brought him to hand.
Wonders never cease it seems. Gus decided that it was high time he start behaving as a proper finely bred English Setter should and retrieved all but one of the 13 birds to hand. I don’t know what brought this on, as at home he still has no interest in fetching more than once or twice before he finds something else to do. It seems that something in his wiring finally told him to bring the birds to me after watching me pick so many of them up and take them home with us. The final bird of the day was the only one he made me pick up. It was a hard fought battle…He pointed the bird at least 40 yards from where it had been set earlier in the day. With dense cover near, the bird opted to scurry under the pointing dog’s nose and bury himself in the thick tangle of Rose of Sharon. The dog stayed stauch though I know it took every ounce of restraint he had within him. With a tap on the head I released Gus to move on the bird and once again establish point. We did this three or four times (the bird momentarily coming into view each time) each time ending with a solid point and no chase. When I finally flushed the bird it offered my partner only a quick, poorly led shot which he missed. The bird sailed off to the edge of a barbed wire fence, touched down, and calmly walked into the nearest school bus sized mess of greenbriars. The dog marked the bird and then (complete with thorns still stuck in his bleeding nose and ears from the last round with this scrappy opponent (see Tweety-Bird and Sylvester cartoons for a pretty good representation of this particular bout) dove into the tangle to establish a point again. Almost the same scenario played out with multiple relocations and points only this time all three hunters chased/stomped/threw hats at the bird trying to flush before he took off in a low downhill escape only to meet a lethal dose of #7 1/2’s. Gus immediately ran to the dead bird circled and pointed. I proudly commanded “Dead bird Gus…Dead…fetch him up!” Only this time was met with a “Get him yourself fool…I’m done” look from my dog.I’m really getting good at reading his body language. I think this may be an exact translation less a few choice words mostly pertaining to nobody’s mother in particular. A true Englishman should really show more class than that. Only fair I guess. He stood with a high head and beautiful point until I released him playing it off as a miscommunication, but I know what was going on.