Photo blogging my way through the alphabet with:
Photo blogging my way through the alphabet with:
Specifically, my man and his dog.
John and I took a trip to North Dakota for a week of pheasant hunting! If you haven’t read The Brothers yet, you might want to read that first.
It was the last field of the day on the last day of our hunting trip. The brothers were sore and tired but they weren’t going to show it now. While I’d been letting one rest at a time all week nobody needed to rest any more. They’d be riding in the truck the next two days. It was the last chance for everyone and none of us wanted to miss it.
The temperatures had finally cooled and the wind had picked up. Those boys put their noses into the wind and I followed, one hand on my gun the other on the dual controller for their collars, whistle in my mouth. Whistling when they both needed it, using the tone on their collars when just one needed direction. Working our way up the field at a quick pace because these brothers only know how to move at high speeds.
For dogs that hate each other out of the field, they hunt well together. Coursing back and forth, staying close to one another but not following each other around. Then they’d get on scent. And I’d better be watching for each of their tells to see who got on it first. After hunting with the boys all week, I was catching on to their subtleties. What they each looked like when they smelled a bird. What they looked like when they saw one running. What commands they each obeyed solidly and which ones they didn’t.
If it was Trip, I just had to make sure I could get my legs in gear to keep up with his sneak, knowing Sunday would hold point. If it was Sunday, I would need to get Trip closer to help trap the running bird before the egg beater started it’s engine. Or if Sunday locked on point I had to make sure I stopped Trip with a “Whoa” because he wouldn’t honor. There’s no time or thought to spare for wool gathering or cloud watching on a hunt like this.
We raced up the field. The wind in our faces, sun low in the sky and a field of pheasants in front of us.
Waves of birds, twenty or more at a time, would flush wild in front of us and then the dogs would pick up the few that stayed behind. Hen after hen they found, pointed or flushed in front of me all the way down the long field. Then, just before the field ended the rooster we’d been hoping for went up and I shot it. Filling my limit for the day.
Still wild with the joy of the wind and the hunt and flying high on the success of the dogs I turned the dogs to the the truck one last time.
On our way we met with John and his equally successful dogs. I regaled him with arm waving stories of our last hours while enthusiastically blowing my whistle too loudly in his ear when the dogs tried to head back up wind. When we reached the truck we all six collapsed to the ground. My brain was tired from working the dogs and my legs were exhausted from keeping up with them. I had a perma-smile from the hunt, the dogs, the birds, the open sky, the tired man across from me and the week. I had three pheasants to my name and the sun was setting. We had things to pack, birds to clean and dinner to make but we didn’t move. John and I and the four dogs lounged in the what stubble and enjoyed every last bit of that North Dakota sunset.
And now you should probably go read Just One More. While it’s true at the end of just about any hunt, it was written about those last bits of sunset.
The sun is setting. The game bag is full.
But there -just there – he hears roosters cackling.
And so he sits, paw sore, weary, nose to the wind, ears cocked, ready.
Because perhaps, perhaps, we can go after just one more.
I’ve shot my daily limit. The sky is darkening.
I watch him, nose to the wind and my tired feet twitch with anticipation. I too want to follow the siren song of just one more.
But still we sit together, noses to the wind.
Wishing for just one more.
John and I were able to leave the kids and the chickens and the ducks and the geese and the cats with a number of extremely wonderful friends and family (particularly John’s mom who watched the girls for a whole week!) and take a trip, just the two of us, to North Dakota.
It was fantastic.
But, in planning a trip to North Dakota with five full days of hunting, we looked at our two dogs, the completely fantastic one and John’s too. And knew we would need more dog power if we wanted to spend all our days in the field.
Fortunately, when my immediately family gets together, we come trailing ten dogs. So we started the debating and the discussing the pros and cons, ages and attitudes of various dogs that we might be able to borrow. John decided to take my Dad’s dog Buzz, who he’s been able to bring on many hunting trips before, and I decided to take my brother’s dog Sunday, litter mate to Trip.
“You want Weasel?!?” came out of more than one person’s mouth.
(Weasel is his other name, trust me, it’s fitting.)
Yes, I did want the Weasel. He wasn’t in the camp of old dogs that can only hunt part days and then needs pain meds for arthritis. He’s got drive that exceeds his common sense. And when he’s on… he’s amazing.
Of course Sunday and Trip are also the puppies that fought as 12-week old puppies – Cain and Able style. Now that they are grown they mostly circle and growl but, as remarked on the last hunting trip after they were ripped apart, “They don’t start fights anymore but they sure will finish them.” Even when Sunday is having an amazing day he requires a whistle and a shock collar at the ready- just for a reminder that he’s hunting with you. And when he’s not having an amazing day…. he looks like a remorseless eggbeater churning up the field and driving away birds far in front of you.
But I still wanted Sunday.
And so for a week I hunted with the two brothers. Swapping them in and out to rest them, letting John hunt with Sunday when he needed to. Learning more of my dog’s habits and tells, and learning Sunday’s anew.
Trip doesn’t have quite the drive of Sunday but he has enough. Enough that no matter how pathetic he walks while loading up into the vehicle, he runs like it’s the first time out once his nose hits the field. And Trip is also a high maintenance dog, happy to listen to whistle commands, perhaps happier still if you left your whistle and home and just let him fly through the field at will.
But after that their hunting styles diverge. Trip has subtlety. The pheasants we were after run on the ground while they have cover before being forced to fly. Trip would stop on a soft point, get his sneak on and move up, either stopping on his own or when I told him to wait for me to catch up. Then he’d be off sneaking down the field after the bird again until it would either hold still or more often, flush up in front of us. One day Trip and I followed a hen pheasant a half mile through a four-foot wide strip of grass to have her flush wild on the far side. He was sneaky, he was subtle, he whoa’ed and listened, he was awesome (of course he was, he’s my dog). There is the little detail about honoring points (Honoring is when a dog stops when they see another dog on point.) Trip … ummm… doesn’t. But he’s my dog, so he’s still awesome – just ask me.
On the other hand we have Sunday. Sunday has yet to learn the definition of subtle. Sunday runs through the field like a dog on fire. When he catches birds scent that little wiry body you thought was completely wound up, winds tighter. If the pheasant was sitting still Sunday would lock on a beautiful point. But, these were pheasants, they don’t like holding still. With his nose or eyes on a pheasant running through the grass ahead of him, Sunday would go into crazy egg beater mode; whipping around in circles, bounding through the tall grass, determined to scare the bird into the air or perhaps accidentally jump on it and squash it. On a good day, I could keep him near me and often that thrashing he gave the field would effectively trap the bird between us and I’d get a shot. On a bad day he’d be off and the frenzy would start out of range. Then he would come back, tongue out, laughing saying “DID YOU SEE THAT! Wasn’t that great how I just flushed 67 birds on the far side of this field, there were so many it was amazing!!!” In those fields his name turned from Weasel into something less kind. But even when he’s being rotten, Weasel honors another dog’s point like a champ.
And if you were to be so unlucky as to hit a pheasant that hits the ground running both these brothers will run it down, no matter how far it goes, and bring it back.
I started hunting because I love to watch the dogs do what they were born and bred to do. While I could have chosen to hunt with a pair of dogs that were a little easier to hunt with, the exuberance with which these two brothers ran through all the fields couldn’t help but make me smile and walk a little faster myself. The dogs never held it against me that I whistled them back when they got too far (only when I missed another shot) they’d just swing by me for a quick drink of water and go again, noses to the wind to run some more.
So, yes I did take Weasel on our hunting trip. And next time I can find a way to do it I’d happily take these two brothers, whistles, shock collars, growls and all out with me again.
Because by the end of a long day of hunting we were all so tired and happy that when those soft, half-hearted growls would rumble between them……those brothers didn’t even bother opening their eyes.
A Friday ritual.
A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week.
A simple, special, extraordinary moment.
A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
Father’s day is coming. I can tell because advertisements everywhere have been telling me how I should get the fathers in my life a bit of golfing paraphernalia, a new watch and a jersey from their favorite sports team. Or in some cases, terrible combinations of the three.
I don’t know about the dads in your life but if I gave mine any of the above items there would be some serious raised eyebrows and they’d probably preemptively cancel Christmas.
If the fathers in your life are anything like the ones in mine –
The kind who would rather hike through fields and woods all day than play a round of golf.
The kind who you’ve heard argue the merits of their choice of hunting rifle far more often than defend their favorite sports team.
The kind that are more likely to wear a beat up orange outfit as they follow their dog through the field than strap on a fancy watch.
– Then I’m here to save your Father’s Day.
Jerry Johnson (a self proclaimed Old Coot and curmudgeon) blogs at Dispatch from a Northern Town and has collected many of his essays on hunting, bird dogs and commentary on life in the North Country into a series of Old Coot books.
Of course, if your father is a father like the described father, there is a chance that he’s got his own Old Coot stubborn curmudgeonly ways and would balk when presented with a single random essay from this collection.
Don’t let that stop you, if he’s not the kind of dad to be interested in the Science and Art of Rifelry (Old Coots Never Forget) maybe he’s the type who would enjoy an essay on snowshoeing (Crazy Old Coot).
Jerry won my readership with an essay on the difference between hunters and shooters (Old Coots Never Forget) and his dog stories, that often leave me in tears, like Molly’s Grouse (Coot Stews.) Perhaps the effects of Ethanol on the country side (Coot Stews) will get your Dad excited or maybe he would rather appreciate the joys of making firewood (Crazy Old Coot).
And everyone, who’s ever hunted over a dog (and quite a few of those who never have) will love the story of a Bad Day at Crane Creek (Old Coots Never Forget).
Would I recommend these? These are not the books to give your golf loving, tv watching, man cave living dad. Save these books for those of us who love to follow a dog through the field and live part of our life in the outdoors. We are the ones who will appreciate them.
Many of the essays can be read right on Dispatches from A Northern Town and I encourage you to go read a few and see what you think before you go pick up a book (or three) for your favorite outdoor dad (or mom, or uncle, or son, or yourself…). Sure, you could read online or get a copy for your Kindle… but buy a book. Those of us who are slowly making our way to Old Coot status aren’t quite ready to give up the feel of a good book in the hand.