The pheasants were running today. On some days they hold tight. On others, they sprint around a bit. But today they were just running and running.
I’ve read stories about wise old and experienced dogs that will circle ahead and pin down a wily escaping rooster. Patty’s technique on these marathoners is a little different. He’s still a young dog and instead of great wisdom, he uses infinite resolve to try to solve the problem.
Patty’s been drilled over and over on the importance of remaining staunch on point and he’ll usually hold pretty tight through the flush if not the shot. So with these runners, he’ll stay locked up, even if the bird slips away while I’m stomping around clumsily, trying to flush something that’s long gone. He’ll usually signal his declining interest with lowered intensity and flagging his tail while he waits for me to release him.
Eventually then, I give him the release command, “OK,” and he’ll search out the trail and continue hunting.
Sometimes along a canal or down low in an irrigation pivot tire track he’ll follow the scent trail, nose down, like a hound dog. Other times in a less well defined broad field of deep grass, he might quarter across, nose held high, air scenting until he comes up with another whiff. In either case, when some threshold of a dog-nose metric, unknown or measurable to me is crossed, he’ll lock up again and we repeat the process.
At the start of the day I broke the cardinal rule, always trust your bird dog. We’d followed a scent trail for at least half a mile and half an hour and I was afraid that with this single minded pursuit, we’d likely passed over other birds. When I finally decided to call Patty off (never an easy task when he believes the bird is just ahead) he didn’t want to leave the trail. As we disagreed on our next step, the big rooster we’d been following burst up out of the grass and flew off to a safer local.
As dogs do, Patty forgave me unconditionally and we carried on.
Patty found another handful of birds to follow as the day went on. In each case the roosters ran and we tracked and trailed them, leap-frogged each other on the trails and doubled back what seemed like a hundred times. A hundred points, a hundred attempted flushes and a hundred releases leading to a hundred more points.
We lost one or two of the trails and one or two birds flushed wild, well ahead of us. My resolve was waning as the birds just were not holding. But Patty’s desire to hunt was still strong. We were a mile from the truck and there was a good breeze, finally in our faces, so we hunted our way back.
Almost immediately, Patty got birdy and then locked up. The pheasant sneaked out ahead and another long chase began.
Patty tracked him along one of the big irrigation canals and then off the side down a smaller dry ditch. When he left that runway for the random deep grass I was hopeful he’d hunker down soon but Patty and I had to track him through that whole field and into the cattails on the far side. We followed that canal for a while until, once again, the trail took a right angle and headed out into the field.
I was ready to give up. We’d covered the mile back towards the truck and then some on this zigzag trail. My legs were weary and my self confidence low. And then Patty locked up again. As usual, he looked intense and sure but I was equally sure that this point would turn out like all the others.
I was wrong. This time the rooster had let us get just a little too close and he decided to hide out instead of running away. When I nearly stepped on him, tucked in under a tuft, he exploded from under my feet. It was startling enough that I was a little slow bringing up my 20 gauge.
Patty held steady on the flush but he broke on the shot, racing out to the spot where he’d marked the big rooster’s fall. I am not the best dog trainer in the world. I didn’t try to correct him or stop him. After the day we’d had and the effort he’d put in, I forgave him. Unconditionally.