Tuesday, October 06, 2009

She's ready

Well, any ambivalence I might have had about taking an untested yearling setter into the Michigan and Wisconsin grouse woods has now vanished. The short version: we got Phoebe out onto the Hector Backbone today for the woodcock opener, and in one hour's time I watched her go from a completely clueless doggie doofus to an absolute woodcock-pointing machine.

The somewhat longer version: We were in the woods by 4:00 pm, under sunny skies, 62 deg F, 6-10 mph winds out of the north and northwest, and as usual I was wearing jeans, my torn and tattered Carharrt vest, Filson hat, and toting the 16 gauge loaded up with early season 8s.

For the first hour and a half we scoured two coverts in a row (many of you have been there, but if I told you where it was today I'd have to kill you) and turned up nothing. nada. zilch. I was beginning to doubt if I had any woodcock finding talent at all.

By 5:30 or so, things started to heat up. Phoebe had had one or two false points up to now, a pattern I'd seen fairly frequently, so when she went on point in some gnarlies I was expecting more of the same.

WRONG! wrrrrrrrr. WOODCOCK.

BANG. . . . . BANG.

Ouch. I missed two shots on Phoebe's for-real-first-ever live point on a live bird. Ouch. We hunted for quite a while where I marked it down, but never did get it to flush again. Oh well. So we kept going.

Ten minutes or so later: the same scenario was repeated. Point; bird; bang; bang; NOTHING. Ouch.

Now I'm starting to get pissed at my poor shooting. Damn. I really want to get a bird for this dogge now, and I'm blowing some very easy opportunities. Fortunately I had marked the second bird fairly well, and when we got to its general location, Phoebe went on point. Staunch! and there it was, the woodcock on the ground two feet in front of her nose. Cool!

I make my move on the bird from three feet away. That blasted bogsucker escaped two more shots from my mighty Parker . . . mighty powerless Parker, that is. DAMN! now I'm starting to foam at the mouth and swearing at my self in the woods. (Honestly. I'm talking to myself, and had to stop because I realized Phoebe was hearing my tone of voice and thinking it was being aimed at her.)

We move on. At this point I'm 0-for-six and am praying to the Almighty that I be given another chance. And then it happened.

Phoebe goes on point. No ambivalence now, no uncertainty, no doubts about my untested puppy. This dogge is for real. I move in, and two birds go up simultaneously--and they're GROUSE!!

BANG at the farthest one, flying away left to right. I don't see any reaction whatsoever from the first bird to that shot, and then I turn to shoot at the second, closer bird. BANG! and the bird falls!

Thank God. I call Phoebe over, who at the moment is going absolutely crazy with bird scent, so it takes her a while to come over to the spot that I've marked with my hat. And then it happens: I can't find the bird. Phoebe can't find the bird. I walk around the spot in circles with a sense of deepening despair. I saw the bird fall, but now I'm beginning to think that it was a crippled grouse that then ran away. Damn. This is quickly becoming one of the most depressing hunts of all time.

And then it happens. After circling and circling and circling, Phoebe comes right back to the small tree where I've hung my hat, and she locks up. There, two feet away, is a stone-cold dead woodcock laying camouflaged among the leaves.

HOORAY!! the dogge has found the dead bird, has done it by pointing dead, and in finding it has accomplished what I was not going to be able to do by myself. Her first dead bird over one of her points. Needless to say I experience an instant mood change. You know, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat kind of mood swing. I'm on cloud nine. I'm a bit surprised that it's a woodcock, having had the impression that the flushes were grouse, but I'm happy nonetheless.

After letting her nose the bird a bit, I put it away in my pouch and we move on. By now I am truly following the dogge every step of the way. She has come into her own as a hunter. And then it happens.

She locks up on point again. As I move in, she lunges at something on the ground. She's got it . . . and it's a GROUSE . . . the second of the two birds that ten minutes earlier had flushed simultaneously. And then it dawns on me--this is the first double of my upland hunting career. Granted, it is a woodcock and a grouse, but a double's a double I figure. (Judges, give me a ruling on that one. Grouse purists may insist that a true double consists purely of partridge. Discuss.)

Phoebe's first double

Wow. At this point I've got a grouse and a woodcock in the bag. It's getting dark, the dogge is now going absolutely nuts after having had the taste of grouse tail feathers in her mouth, so I decide it's best to leash her and quit while we're ahead. We exit the woods at 7 pm, happy and secure in the knowledge that this dogge is ready to hunt.

See you all in Wisconsin.

Kate the Great and the Puppy Formerly Known as Doofus


KGT (aka Cagey) said...

YEE Haw Jim! I am so happy for you. In my book, a mixed double is best. Awesome.

Have a GREAT time in the north woods.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Congrats, and thanks for the great story.

...I think I have a dog that can take up the goofus title if it is now available.

Mr. Bill

Jim Tantillo said...

thanks guys. I am outta here. Back on the 19th.


Dr. Dirt said...

Talk about the birth of a new season! Congrats. See you in the Wisconsin coverts.

Path Walker said...

That's a great story, Jim. Double over a pup. In 11 seasons with Spy I don't recall even coming close.