Doll and I were out hunting the other day, in farm country, working long windbreaks between fields of harvested corn.
Doll was roaming far ahead, as she’s supposed to, while we walked along a rather unpromising stretch. Stubble offer game birds a meal, but little in the way of cover. That’s where the windbreak comes in. A row of mixed conifer/hardwood forest, 40- to 50-feet wide, with a weedy understory, will support birds, birds which sneak out into stubble for spent grain. But if they linger they’re an easy mark for the hawks and owls perched in the same windbreak that provides habitat for the game birds in the first place.
This particular break was less than 10 feet across, and in many places was just a tangle of weeds no broader than the fence itself. Still, Doll was doing her thing, angling into the wind as she zig zagged across the break. I stopped for a bit. There are few things nicer to watch than a smart bird dog working country with purpose.
I noticed movement on my periphery. I looked to my left, in the direction of the four-strand fence. There, perched atop one of the posts about 10 feet away, was a rather nervous opossum, still eyeing Doll in the distance.
My first English setter, Jack, was sometimes distracted by small, furry critters. On an evening walk once I watched Jack charge a skunk — ignoring my urgent commands of course — and take a blast square in the face. He staggered back in shock, but only for an instant. When he realized the stinker was still standing there, tail erect, he couldn’t resist the urge to whirl and charge a second time. He took another point blank hit, which finally cooled his instinct to search and destroy.
Jack slinked off toward home. We spent a lovely evening engaged in an activity we both despised: dog washing.
My current bird dog had a bunny obsession when she was young, one she’s mostly outgrown. Doll still makes occasional note of rabbit scent, but she’s otherwise oblivious if no feathers are involved.
Doll is heck on birds, but her name is apropos for just about any other critter.
I’m sure Doll noticed the opossum. Certainly it was her presence that sent the critter up the post. By the time I noticed the opossum, however, Doll was 30 yards ahead, sniffing for feathers. It’s a good thing for this opossum that I run a laid-back English setter, rather than, say, a German wirehair pointer. If Doll was a wirehair, I doubt that post would have offered much safety.
It later occurred to me that that opossum would have been the easiest shot of the day, removing an egg eater in the process. That might mean better prospects next hunting season, though I suspect the narrowness of the break was the real limiting factor. Big farm equipment can angle too close to this fence line, and fallow ground doesn’t pay the bills.
Well, it might, but our representatives in Washington, D.C., can’t seem to get their act together on CRP friendly legislation, such as Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization.
Earlier in the day a coyote emerged from another windbreak and I had a similar internal debate about predator control. I just don’t shoot things I don’t intend to eat, and killing the coyote would have been counter productive anyway. The coyote that will pass up a meal of pheasant eggs has yet to be born, but nest raiding isn’t the species primary focus. It seems coyotes may actually benefit game bird populations by eating smaller predators that focus on nesting birds, such as opossums and skunks.
If Doll knew that’s what we were up against, maybe she wouldn’t be so blasé when she flushes a opossum up a post.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.