My flu symptoms subsided and there was a break in the rain today so Patty and I made a dash for Hastings Island Hunting Preserve. We were so happy to be outdoors again that we barely noticed the still low and threatening clouds.
Patty had a great day. He hunted up a dozen or more birds in the three hours that we were there. Early in our walk, we were still in a no-shooting zone, he pointed and I flushed a group of a half-dozen roosters that came up in a rush of wings like a covey of giant quail. I wasn’t loaded of course so after the shock wore off, we just watched them fly off.
The next time Patty got birdy we put up another cock but he flew low and close so there just wasn’t a safe shot. Next, we had a couple flush wild, well in front of us. We were seeing (and/or smelling) lots of birds but the hunting vest was still empty.
HIHP is on irrigated farm land so the hunting fields are all bounded by and crisscrossed by canals. The canals typically have the thickest cover and that’s where we often find the birds. When Patty locked up the next time I looked up and just caught a glimpse of the escape artist, running along the edge of a canal almost 100 yards ahead already.
Patty and I have done this drill enough times that we are starting to trust each other a little more. He points, I walk ahead 20 yards and then release him. He follows the scent trail , perhaps 20 yards ahead of me and locks up again. We repeat that leapfrog process all the way down whichever canal the pheasant is running along.
Today, after dozens of position swaps, all in a straight line down the canal, I looked back and released Patty again. As usual, he dropped his head and started blood hounding along the trail. This time though, he only went a few strides before slamming on the brakes and turning 45 degrees out into the field. I circled around just a couple of steps and we had that bad boy in a pinch.
The rooster flushed, I shot and Patty fetched him up as quick as you’d like. One shot, one bird in the bag and a healthy dose of praise for the dog.
By now we were a long ways from the truck. We crossed the canal and turned to work our way back. It wasn’t long before Patty was locked up on point again. This time we were out in an open field and Patty’s body language was intense and clear. This wasn’t just recent scent that a runner left behind. This bird was still here and he was close.
I chose to come in from the front, right towards Patty’s nose. When I was 15 feet away, I stopped, hardly believing that there hadn’t been a flush. I scoured the grass between us but it was too thick. I couldn’t see anything.
Then I noticed a little patch of red, right at my feet. The rooster’s bright check patch had caught my eye in the pale yellow winter grass. I turned my foot just a hair but his nerves were already at the breaking point and his nature said, “Now’s the time to fly!”
I finished my pivot and took my second shot of the day! Another quick retrieve followed and my vest was getting weighted down nicely. More praise for Patty too of course.
As we approached the truck two more pheasants flushed wild from the reeds of the canal we were crossing. They flew a ways, but not far enough to discourage us. Patty and I were on the hunt again.
It took a little longer than I had expected but with patience and perseverance, Patty eventually found one of them. It could have evolved into one of those long chases but in his first attempt at sneaking out from under Patty’s point, the big bird turned left instead of right. The rooster and I were both pretty surprised when we came eye-to-eye, me standing at field level, him standing on the levy right in front of me.
In his shock he flushed and once again, I got the shot that I wanted. He fell into the canal. My third shot of the day and Patty’s third retrieve. This time he had to swim a bit and splash through the reeds to complete it but it was short and sweet like the others. Even more praise for Patty!
I was so pleased with Patty’s great dog work that I hardly even thought about my quality shooting. Although, after going three for three today, my hat did feel a little tight as we walked back to the truck.