September can be the cruelest of months.
I’m starting to jones for hunting with my setter, Doll, but it’s still too soon, despite bird seasons opening across the country. My social media feeds taunt me with images of grinning hunters and their dogs showing off the fruits of their labor. Mostly, we’re talking doves this time of year, though some are out in the woods chasing grouse.
Both are fine pursuits for those so inclined. Dove shooting is about as fun as hunting gets, but dove eating isn’t in my culinary wheelhouse. Besides, English setters aren’t the greatest dove dogs. For that you need a partner more comfortable waiting patiently for game to fly to you, then exploding into action when birds are on the ground.
In other words, you need a Lab.
Forest grouse are another matter. I’ve never hunted the woods much. Often that’s because I’m still fishing, but the whole forest thing isn’t exactly my game. I prefer working open country. In the forest I often can’t see what my pup’s doing, and watching the dog is half the fun.
If I was to change my tune it would be to hunt ruffed grouse. The closest I ever came to killing one was when my long-gone setter Jack pointed a bird in the backyard of our place in Pocatello. I noticed Jack seemed a little birdy while watching him from the kitchen. Then he pointed briefly before the bird flushed up into a juniper — where it fanned out its banded tail — then flushed out of the yard altogether.
It was a few weeks before the season, within the city limits and I was inside the house, so the closest I ever came really wasn’t close at all. But it was a thrill.
There are also the partridges: Huns, and my favorite, chukar, but September is no time to be out on the prairie or the sage-covered hillsides of the chukar grounds, unless getting your dog bit by a buzzworm is your goal. Rattlesnakes are too active in September, and I remain cautious in October if we haven’t had an extended cold snap.
I’ve run into snakes while hunting chukar even in late October when it’s been unseasonably warm. September is just too risky. So Doll and I are close to renewing our partnership afield, yet it still remains a month away.
In lieu of hunting, the dog and I are training to get fit. A year ago, Doll and I entered the season woefully out of shape. On a mid-October sharptail hunt I thought she was going to keel over an hour out of the truck. I wasn’t much better.
This summer we’ve been jogging a few miles a day so when the real fun begins we’ll be ready. Last year Doll lost seven pounds over the course of the season. That’s a lot for a dog, even a large setter who weighed 65 pounds when the season ended in January.
Doll’s almost 9 years old, and still going strong in the field, but there are signs age is taking its inevitable toll. She used to ride in a dog box in the back of the truck when she was spry enough to leap onto the tailgate. I don’t ask her to do that anymore and she rides in the cab.
The dog box remains in the bed, however. It came in handy last summer when I visited the Big Horn River near Fort Smith. While I fished, Doll wandered out onto a nearby pasture and found a perfectly wet, ripe and putrid cow pie to roll in, covering herself from head to tail with foul green slime.
I did my best to wash my old girl off in the river, but she still rode home in the dog box.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.