After hunting the day before, the grouse wagon rumbled on up again to camp. And again without Annie however this time the passenger seat was occupied. My dad decided to come along which is the first time in 2 or 3 years and post hip replacement. The snow from the day before was quickly settling and starting the melting process as warm air was moving in. Thankfully the air kept moving and fog never set in. Tipper was run first and down the main drag at camp, the section of cover that always produces a bird regardless of the conditions, this day being no different.
It was nice to have the wind keep the fog clear but we could have faired better without the gusting. That appeared to be the cause of Tipper all but running over a grouse within view out in front of me. Snow flew as grouse busted up and out with Tipper feet behind and completely through the small cloud of snow before it settled. I whoa’d him to a stop, an released him when I got up to him. Certainly not the a way you want to teach a dog stop to flush (while hunting) but ignoring altogether would be a step backward. I released him and on we went. He’d have a point a few minutes later out ahead. After no bird was produced I’d found the sign as to why (track shoe photo). Striking out, we made this run a little longer than usual. We dropped down below into a small hollow with a sizable brook down the center of its bilge. The same place Annie had been finding birds earlier in the season. Having no luck we hiked back up out and headed back towards the 15 year old cut we’d just gone partly through. We worked the top edge of it’s southern facing slope and Tipper’s bell stopped on out ahead 100 yards or so. At that point my dad had veered out to our right a tad (ever scouting for deer) and he wouldn’t be a factor on gunning this bird. Tipper came into view out in front to the right, pointing at a 45* to the left indicating the bird should be directly in front of me 20 yards or so. The bird let me cut about a third of that distance before flushing out to the right before using that big tail rudder to veer straight away. I whiffed both barrels. Back to the truck.
Blaze was pulled, belled and collared. Again with the snow on the ground I put an orange collar around his middle for better visibility. We dropped down in the main hollow. The hollow is its own ecosystem. A two or three hundred acre mix of every sort of cover mix you’ll ever find birds in. In the late season however it seems to be feast or famine. You might find a single or two but they’re usually stacked up. The first we’d encounter would flush from a limb high above us in a section of white pine along one of the hollows many brooks. Dad snapped a shot at it over Blaze (completely safe shot, the bird barely made a sound when it went- we just saw it) and missed. Blaze unaware of the bird was really none the wiser except the gun revved him up a tad. “I guess I shouldn’t of shot.” said rather frankly thereafter inferring that it wasn’t a handled bird. Blaze would later have an unproductive a little further down the basin. His nose indicating the bird was up the bank within another stand of white pines. Circling around through them with my eyes up scanning limbs revealed nothing. I tapped his head and on we went.
As we circled on around to head back up towards the truck I made the remark about birds “probably stacked up somewhere”. A few minutes later that proved true. As we walked along a skidder trail Blaze’s bell went silent down below to the right. I’d lost tabs on his approximate location, we headed down the trail a little further before stopping again to think about dropping down in to try and find a white, black and brown dog in white, black and brown cover. Before we cut down in we heard the clapper of his bell faintly clank a few times. Whhhhirl. “Crap.” More vigorous clanking. Whhhhirl. Whhhhirl. (sigh) The bell paused, envisioning in my minds-eye his brief dilemma on which of the two to briefly chase. Whhhhirl. “Son of a gun.” Clanking bell… Blaze thinking that one will do. And finally whhhhirl again. “You dirty bugger.” Five birds, a bad time for the wheels to come off but generally the sort of situation that leads to the wheels coming off anyway. Too far out to correct, too much time elapsed ticking off his memory of the incident (or at least the ability to relate a correction to it) to do anything about it. Something you just have to shrug off … a familiar scenario for this type of dog at this age. Something that will be entered into his log book to make sure gets tightly ratcheted up upon this summer for next year as then he’ll be three going on four… time to start acting like a big boy.
Back at the truck and both pretty brush worn for the day, the air cooling down to much sit around outside, we loaded up and headed back down out with one final stop in mind for Pop. Pop has kind of had to long-suffer along through various situations and scenarios his first season. He’s had to share attention with as many as five other dogs throughout portions of his first year. (a side-story writing tangent indented, skip ahead to finish reading about the day’s unfolding)
He showed early that he wanted to point (with poker straight style) and has proved this season he can roll and range yet stay in the pocket on his own accord most of the time. He’s no less brazen in briars and can more than hold his own for his age in the alpha dog antics that happen here. Yet by my own admission, he started the season further behind any of the others I’ve had at his age regarding his bird handling AND being a January pup he was about as old as a pup can get for his first season. Namely this was in dealings regarding the whoa command. In what I do here personally, it boils down to a tricky dance of teaching/introducing whoa without taking any pep out of the pup. The whoa-post, belly-band method I really like to use runs too high a risk of damaging a young, impressionable first-year psyche. In short, it’s for older derbies – two year olds. At any rate all that mumbo jumbo is all up in the air pending the dog… if you’re going to err, do it on the side of caution as one bad association can be costly in not overcome regarding it enthusiasm level. Too much “heat” early will turn happy-brazen to blinking-raisin. The only way I’ve found to do ‘whoa’ that young is treading lightly with a check cord on quail that are in good enough shape for several re-flushes. Again this is when I introduce whoa, not birds, birds have been popped and chased all ready. Walk young pup into a bird, (if alone: step a stake into the ground behind it to loop the cord through) keep the slack out of the cord so no forward progress can be made between the point and flush, if pup comes unglued before the flush- walk back (keeping the cord taunt) and gently pick it up slightly to reset its feet breathing “whoa” (calmly and gently) whoa only audible while its steady, and then repeating as necessary until the flush happens. At and after flush, there’s no inhibitions placed on pup, chase away. The tiny bit of drag created by the stake on the check cord gives (a healthy) quail time to get away and land in the nastiest cover it can find and then run a tad further. Pup charges in slowed by his cord and outs itself and bird at another impasse. Try to avoid having to stand restrain pup again, it’s usually to much of a situation-hinderance in the cover and turns into an ordeal. Walk in quick and put the bird up again. Pup breaks again, slowed even more by his cord snaked through the cover and looses its visual on the bird. Wrangle pup up, love pup up and repeat on another day. Use whoa whenever practical, usually on a tailgate getting belled or de-burred etc. I know there’s a camp that says keep your mouth shut on birds… for a pup, the fun is in the chase. Whoa being said when you see him working a wild bird, point with ‘whoa’ commanded the moment he breaks and begins his final stalk, root or rip on where it thinks the bird is. You then hightail it there and try and flush that bird. If whoa is not introduced, since he’s allowed to chase, why wait for you unless told to do so, the bird may escape?. . .just my thoughts scattered on paper.
We’d parked at the bottom of the “golden covert” a place the day usually ends, golden referring to the sun’s cast made just before in sinks behind an adjacent ridge line. We walked the up the logging road with Pop off in a hemlock patch to the right. Near the peak of our accent Pop hit the road 100 yards further up and crossed over into the cut on the left side working his way down, we were waiting until he got down to our level before entering. As he neared our level his bell slowed. Dog at work. It stopped and was almost immediately followed by whhhhirl. The bird came towards us after cresting the tips of the young stem shoots, the faint sound of wing-sliced air seemed to drown out Pop’s pursuing bell. Another station 8, high-house scenario I can never hit at the skeet range – the trigger being touched off immediately as the gun hit my shoulder. I kept the barrels moving as the bird folded, “flew” overheard and landed 10 yards past- Pop bursting past in pursuit. He had a few minutes with it as I declared the improbability of my shooting ability in making that sort of connection. – All happening so quickly I was asked jokingly, I think to guise the honest sincerity of the question, if I’d even mounted the gun. I had. And for those wondering… RST Shotshell’s Best Grade Spreader load connected again. (in my favorite config. 1 oz, 8-shot)
We did then head into the cut and had one flush wild off to our side. We also walked an old access road out a little farther than normal to stretch the length of Pop’s run. Before we headed out, Pop, grouse and gun were all poised for a photo just as the cover behind started it’s evening golden transformation, of all places in front of a raggedy bank with an out-of-focus lens. It hasn’t been an ideal year you like to see a pup like Pop get, but there’s mutterings of heading south for some Bob White before too long. He’ll being given gunning priority there for sure.