Monday, November 21, 2011
PA Woodcock 2011 - Coming of Age
It's been so long since I've last posted to the blog that I had to renew my password. Apologies abound. Many significant posts missed.
2011 was the year that I had hoped for my 3 year old german shorthair pointer. No, it wasn't the trip to Wisconsin, which was wonderful but primarily served to show me that I didn't know how to to hunt over my pointer. It was only on the last day in Wisconsin that Lou and I figured out how to work with Lilly. At home in Pennsylvania, it was the warm weather and a flight of woodcock who just wouldn't fly south that cemented the late Wisconsin lesson, helping to convert a (hopeless) flushing dog owner into a (reasonable) pointing dog owner.
In the past 10 days Lilly has pointed - really pointed! - at least 60 woodcock, and bumped a dozen or so more. We stumbled upon these birds one afternoon, in search of grouse on the game lands down the road. A fluke, as many good things in life seem to be.
That first afternoon was pure chaos. The cover was thick, often 6-10 ft high, making shooting impossible most of the time. Lilly bumped many of the birds, but she began to point after I yelled "whoa" in frustration. I shot two birds that afternoon. And she retrieved both to hand. GSP retrieves: saliva soaked birds that were well tenderized. Impossible for me to find on my own.
Lilly, with the cowbell Jim Tantillo gave her on her inaugural hunting trip in 2009. The cowbell disappeared on the first day of 2011 PA woodcock hunting, victim to multiflora rose, hawthorne, locust, something....
After that I recruited my neighbor, Bobby, to serve as gun while I handled the dog. Bobby is a wonderful woodsman but is as new to dog hunting as I am to being his neighbor. On the first day we began to work out our technique. Lilly would point. I would walk in to flush the bird. Bobby would shoot. We killed two birds that day. Out of 10 or 20. Who's counting? Lilly occasionally broke point to flush a bird. But that was rare and I would call her in, scold her, and we would try again. The birds were accommodating.
We repeated our afternoons, several times, always killing a few birds. The points accumulated. The bumped birds declined. A ritual evolved. We would end the day picking ticks off of ourselves and the dog, listening to woodcock twighlighting. The surprising gift of warm weather in November.
Last Saturday found us with a colleague who owns an English Pointer. The pointer, a sweet dog, hadn't hunted in awhile, so we left colleague and dog to their own ways and hunted the late afternoon. Lilly pointed. We missed. She pointed again and again. We missed again and again. At one point Bobby looked at me and remarked: "there's only one hunter here, and it's the dog, not us." Touche. Or motivation.
I shot my first bird of the day at point blank range. Lilly picked the bird up. Dropped it. Refused to retrieve it to me. It was only half a bird. Breasts salvageable, but no lower half. Even a versatile hunting dog has its limits.
We hunted until the light was waning. On the way back to the car Lilly pointed a bird while heeling at my side. She pointed three more until, in the dusk, I finally dropped one. Lilly found it, 40 yards off, and retrieved it to my hand. Much better tasting than the previous bird!
The shooting percentages this last week were dismal, but that's ok. A transformation occurred. Between hunter and owner. Ain't no one going to tell me she's not the greatest woodcock dog. Ever.