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Out of Bounds

Dogs and the Hunt

Without dogs most of what made the hunt special would have been lost in time, like tears in grass

By Rob Breeding

If I didn’t have dogs to hunt with, I doubt I’d hunt. 

The other day The Long Walker and I were out chasing pheasants. We worked a field of heavy grass while three of our dogs covered the space between us as well as a good chunk to either side. We cut a wide swath, with three powerful noses surveying the scene hidden beneath the grass. 

My setter Doll was first to go on point. She seemed certain. Even in her advanced age you can count on a lockdown from my old girl. I came in from the side and moved out in front of her. Her gaze remained steady on an unseen source of bird scent, somewhere in the grass.

After a minute or two she released. By then I’d have stepped on it if the bird was still there.

Then it was The Long Walker’s turn. His Brittany, Luke, went on point near some hay bales along a fence that marked the western edge of the field. Beyond was harvested corn; a dead end for a pressured pheasant.

Still no bird. Luke broke point, reworked the scent-heavy grass, and pointed again.

But like Doll before him, Luke couldn’t quite lock it down.

Earlier in the day I watched as a truck beat me to one of my favorite pheasant fields, arriving just moments before me. While I waited for The Long Walker, four dudes in bright, young-of-the-year hunter orange, piled out and started across the grass, keeping their line like disciplined soccer defenders.

It’s an effective way to hunt pheasants without dogs, but even if they killed birds, they’d still miss the drama Doll and Luke’s noses revealed. We knew there was a bird in front of us, and judging by our perplexed pups, a cagey bird that had evaded dogs before.

Dogless hunters miss this chess match between bird and dog. They know only the flush. 

It seemed we might have been beaten, until my young setter Jade tracked back toward me. The wind was behind her but she had her nose on the ground, working scent. Then the bird flushed, its plan to leak out behind our line foiled.

I took my time aiming carefully. The Long Walker said I swung so leisurely he was able to time my shot. He was exaggerating, a little. I hit the bird, hard it seemed, and the dogs raced to where it fell.

Nothing.

So we began a series of ever expanding loops out from where the bird fell, hoping the dogs could pick up a scent trail.

We spent close to an hour, now keeping time for real. The Long Walker even went back to his trunk to get his older Brittany, Moose, to help.

Then Jade found a bird, in tall grass some 200 yards away. She pointed, and when I stepped in, a wounded bird struggled to fly a few feet. But as quickly as we’d found it, the pheasant was again lost to the grass. We resumed looping out from this new location, to no avail.

Then Luke went on point. He was maybe 20 feet from where I’d last seen the bird. The Long Walker urged me over and I could see Luke, or at least part of him. His head was buried in a hole, beneath the canopy of a plum thicket. Luke stretched deeper and came up with a mouthful of tail feathers. 

I crawled over to him and saw the bird in the hole. I reached in and pulled out the pheasant, where it had died. As we walked back to our trucks I told The Long Walker my lone dog-recovered bird felt better than a limit.

Without dogs most of what made it special would have been lost in time, like tears in grass.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

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