Finally, hunting season has arrived. Upland birds are in full swing and big game season is just about a go.
When I first moved to Montana, taking a job in the summer as a sports and outdoors writer at a small daily newspaper, one of my duties was a weekly fishing report. I’d done the same back in California, where, naturally, the report ran year round. Even in the dead of winter in California there was always a bite on, somewhere.
Not so in Montana. As summer gave way to fall and I made my calls across the region, I began to sense a growing impatience from my sources. Finally, one of them told me, “Dude, it’s hunting season. No one fishes in Montana this time of year.”
That’s kind of true. While there are plenty of ice fishers and other hardcore year-round anglers in Northwest Montana, Cat-Griz football and, more significantly, hunting season, can be major fall distractions.
My bird dog and I did make a half-hearted effort at hunting sharptails a while back, but it hadn’t quite cooled off yet, and heat is Doll’s kryptonite. She gave it a bit of a try when we first set out, but she was in full bootlicker mode by the time we made it back to the truck.
The good news from that trip was I learned with a high degree of confidence that my dog will never intentionally get into it with a porcupine. None of my dogs have ever had a run-in, but I’ve seen photos of the results of these not uncommon encounters. Usually, the dog with the muzzle full of quills is a breed with a stronger “prey drive” than my English setter. These more aggressive dogs find a porcupine, attack said porcupine resulting in a pincushioned muzzle, then, out of anger and despite the pain, reengage for the kill.
On our otherwise uneventful walk, Doll seemed to get birdy, or at least interested as she nosed around a slash pile. As I approached I suspected the critter that had attracted her attention wasn’t a bird. She smelled something, but the body language suggested it wasn’t serious. Doll was wagging her tail like something in the pile of dried timber was offering her a biscuit.
As I walked up behind she turned for a moment to look at me (confirmation it wasn’t a bird), then scurried around the pile to get a better approach on whatever had her attention. Then she offered something that resembled a point.
I still didn’t know what all the fuss was, but her casual attitude suggested she’d found something she wanted me to see, not shoot. Doll’s not exactly a picturesque pointer. Sometimes her tail’s up, sometimes not, but I can always tell when she’s on a bird. Then she’s intense, frozen. If Doll’s on a bird I could wave a five-pound bologna over my head while yelling, “Come and get it!” She wouldn’t flinch.
I also knew that whatever the fuss, it was unlikely to be good. I once caught up with my first setter, Jack, after he’d followed a badger to its burrow. He was nose-to-nose with that weasel when I grabbed hold of his collar to pull him from danger.
That badger was on my mind as I followed Doll to the other side of the pile. I could see something moving in the tangled limbs as I hurried for Doll’s collar. She was looking back and forth between me and the critter when I finally got a good look and realized it was a porcupine. Fortunately, an urgent, desperate command of “Doll, come,” was enough to get her to disengage and avoid an unpleasant outcome.
It’s been too long. We’re stir crazy. The dog and I need to kill some birds.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.
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