Sunday, November 20, 2005

Pint Sized Dog Makes Ten Gallon Retrieve

I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool waterfowler. I don't do early mornings well, nor am I comfortable when it it is more than a bit cold or wet. Part nature, part nurture; whatever.

Walked up rough shooting, though, lets me hunt in the afternoon, and the trek through good cover helps me stay warm. Flushing spaniels are a perfect fit for me.

My 14 month 25 lb. English Cocker Spaniel and I hunted pheasants at our release club today. There is a sizable pond in the back of the property. One side is bounded by a cornfield from which a great many pheasants attempt a flighted escape. The other side of the pond, maybe 250 yards distant, has dense, nasty multi flora growing up from the bank, and with only a 6 ft. wide 4-wheeler trail in between, a mature oak woods extending beyond. My old American Water Spaniel and I learned years ago that pheasants missed on the cornfield bank often wound up safely in the gnarlies on the other. The pup and I were looking for such birds again today.

There is also the occasional goose or duck on the pond. Since waterfowl season is currently open, I was loaded with #6 non tox in the lower barrel and #4 non tox in the upper, thinking I would not mince a pheasant with a good first shot nor fail to anchor a departing mallard with a good second.

As we worked down the 4-wheeler track, I noticed geese swimming on the pond. Try as we might to hide, these birds usually see us crouching behind the multi flora and begin by swimming away, only to take off in the away direction in a raucous caucus of honking. But today, one bird swam sideways from the main group, its head sinuating on the water in a serpentine fashion. I took this as a clear indication that the bird was wounded and incapable of flight. After a 100 yard "stalk" behind the multi flora, giving the bird every chance to take flight, I decided that the bird was in fact a cripple and that I'd harvest it and see what pup could do with the retrieve. This is, obviously, not a story about my waterfowl hunting skills.

I killed the bird on the water at about 30 yards from the bank. The pup was out on it like a shot, and had it back to the bank in no time. Had I had the camera, the winning shot would have been of the 25 lb. dog dragging the 10 lb. goose tail-high arse-first out of the water up the bank. Delighted with his pluck, I didn't push for delivery to hand, and went to him about 3 yards up from the bank. He was happy to lay his burden down, and I was happy to "give him a pass" on delivering his first goose to hand.

I'm sure this pup is neither the first English Cocker, nor even the smallest dog, ever to fetch up a goose. But I'm very proud of him just the same, and excited about the future of our hunting partnership.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Good Day Woodcocking

Except for a brief but glorious sunny period of about an hour, today was about as cold and damp as yesterday. The pup and I went 400 yards to the end of the street to hunt woodcock around 3:30 p.m.

This is the same field in which my old American Water Spaniel and I learned together about woodcock back in 1994. The dogwood, hawthorn and arrowwood has been growing in severely. I did not hunt the old guy there at all in the last two years as I thought it too severe for him. But since the pup is full of energy and I, for a variety of reasons, want to hunt this field, we ranged slightly outside our old killing grounds and found, much to my surprise and delight, cover that looked just like that which greeted us 11 years ago.

The recent wet wind from the north must be working its magic. I saw 8 birds in just over 80 minutes. Some of them were instantly invisible behind towering dogwood bushes still 60% in leaf. Two of them, though, just skimmed the tops of the bushes as the pup boosted them, offering snap shots. It is great fun to watch him - he's 13 months old - literally figure out where the woodcock are and aren't. When the season opened, he was still chasing around in the grass, probably because of his training on pheasants. Now he scoots through the heart of the bushes, right where my old veteran would have gone. The pup does not "flash point," though, as the AWS did, so this whole thing is happening much faster than it used to. Coupled with me being an old pensioner, I fear I'll be wasting lots of shells over time.

Not today, though, as I went a crisp 2 for 2. I'm using the Rizzini "New Englander" in 20 ga wearing .000" and .005" tubes. In a move to simplify my inventory of shotshells, my only 20 ga load is Remington's STS Target Load in #8 lead. This load is universally available, has quality components as it is a target load, and features a very slick plastic hull, literally, which feeds well in autoloaders and pumps. I only use it as a target buster and small, close bird killer, roles for which its high antimony content shot is well suited.

The weather man is forecasting happier weather for the weekend, so the pup might have his first whack at grouse then. I am thinking of a treasured but smallish spot where we might also find a duck or two. I'll take the camera just in case.