Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Good, the Bad and the Smelly

When we arrived at Gunpowder Game Farm for Winnie's very first preserve hunt, I didn't know what to expect from her. So I was very pleased when she started off hunting pretty well - albeit without a lot of structure to her search. We were given a general idea of where our three chukar were planted, and as we worked our way up to the first bird she criss-crossed the path ahead of me and burned a lot of energy tackling some really heavy cover.

She got the scent and pointed (this is the point in the video), and waited for me to flush the bird. Kinda. My first attempt didn't get the bird out but did bring Winnie in. I decided it was close enough to what I wanted from her, and I took the shot.

Then I took another.

By then the healthy chukar was long gone, carrying my opportunity to get Winnie's first bird of the day with it. But hey, it was early, with more birds out there and more ground to cover.

But the next two birds were a little harder to find, and both of them flushed before she got a bead on them. They flew to a nearby treeline, and by the time we fought the tough cover to try and find them, Winnie was showing signs of fatigue. So we worked our way back to the car for a break.

At this point, when I was trying to just get Winnie rested, the four hunters in the next field were really enjoying their day. They had added 20 quail to their chukar and pheasant hunt, and every couple of minutes there were huge volleys of nearby shots. While Winnie honestly didn't seem to mind my single (or double) shots, these sets of 6 or more shots from the next field, combined with the physical fatigue from muscling through the heavy cover, left her a bit unsettled.

When the guy who brought us to the field (and who had earlier planted our birds) returned to check on us, we were trying to decide if it would be better to try again to end on a positive note, or to call it a day and risk her going home unexcited about the whole hunting thing. He offered to bring one of the preserve dogs out and let Winnie hunt with her. He said that a second dog often increases the excitement of the first, and when he brought the Brittany out and Winnie got along well with her, we decided to give it a try.

The first thing I noticed about Winnie's new hunting partner and mentor was the smell. I wondered two things: Can a dog effectively pick up the scent of a bird when her own scent is enough to make the hunter's eyes water, and is there a way I could return her to the preserve office at the end of the hunt without getting her inside the car? The idea occurred to me I could roll down the window and hold the leash outside the car as she ran alongside. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

She was a nice dog and a great hunter, and Winnie - notoriously iffy about other dogs - liked her. Three pheasant were planted (as I watched) and this time I took both dogs out. Cammie the Brittany's presence did indeed spark some enthusiasm in Winnie, but she really was done hunting by that point. She'd follow along, but we really couldn't get her interested even when Cammie was on point. I shot the first pheasant, though not particularly well, and it went down close to a hundred yards away in thick cover. I was about to abandon it, but Cammie insisted, and after a brief struggle with the bird she prevailed and brought it to me.

It was a cool thing, a dog I've never met responding to my commands and hunting and returning birds to me. And once I had the bird in hand I threw it for Winnie who excitedly retrieved it. Sandy and I both praised her and she was thrilled to repeat the retrieve for us. But when it came time to hunt the next bird, she was really done with that heavy, prickly cover and, I suspect, hunting in general for the day. But she hung in there as Cammie found the two remaining pheasant. My shooting improved and we brought the three birds back to the office to get them cleaned.

Even though Winnie didn't point these birds, I wanted to get a picture of her and Cammie and the pheasants. When I opened the back to let Winnie and Stinky out, Winnie locked up on her staunchest point yet - at the pen behind the parking area where a couple hundred pheasant were hanging out. Maybe that's the kind of cover she prefers, a gravel lot, neatly mowed lawn and then a big rectangle filled with captive game birds.

So while it wasn't a perfect day, there were some positives. The first bird was handled very well by her, and I am still kicking myself for not being able to put that chukar down for her. The excitement of that bird may have been enough to hold her interest longer. Another huge positive is Winnie's increasing tolerance and even enjoyment of other dogs. And finally the retrieving of the thrown birds was a positive too, she quite enjoyed that.

We stopped for lunch at an awesome Irish Pub on the way back. (I must admit a couple pints soothed the disappointment of that early missed bird!). Winnie patiently waited, sound asleep in the back of the car. She slept the whole drive back, endured a bath with tick shampoo (I've never seen so many ticks, I probably picked fifty off her), and dreams on the couch next to me now. It was a big day for all of us, and I'll be sorting out what I learned from it all for a while. But for now I'm content to just reflect on the basics: an enjoyable, memorable day afield with my dog.


hwvizsla said...

She looked good Ed, and seeing as shes only been out there in the field a few will keep improving as she gets more practice. She will get more into the'll see.
And the main thing is you enjoyed the day with your dog and your there anything better?

Anonymous said...

Looks like a good day-- Need to try her in Remington.