Thanksgiving week for the last couple of years has meant an extended hunting trip for Dad and me. With Maggie’s situation and more precipitation in the forecast, it was looking like we may have to cancel or reschedule this year’s trip. Knowing that we weren’t going to get Maggie’s results until Tuesday, I decided that if Maggie was doing ok we’d still take off for the trip with Belle shouldering the load.
Saturday night it was looking like the crew at home would be fine…except for Lily. I just couldn’t feel good about leaving the little devil at home terrorizing Maggie and Chrissy while they tried to keep Maggie quiet. So after all the gear was loaded in the truck, we put the small kennel in the back and decided to take the little cocker on her first big hunting trip.
Sunday we awoke to snow and icy roads, which meant we got a late start. When we arrived out West the roads were muddy gumbo, and it was looking like Mother Nature was going to have a hand in the hunt once again. We decided to make the best of it and hit a pheasant spot with Belle, as the grouse covers were going to be tough to access. The plan with Lily was not to hunt over her, but rather take her out on training sessions and runs when Belle needed a rest. Since we got a late start that first day she only got one run and had plenty of energy in the motel that night. When her favorite activity was jumping between the motel beds, I was worried this may have been a mistake:
The next couple of days were a different story, and she quickly became part of the hunting team. I’m still doing all my training sans collar but did run her in the field with the Astro…just in case. How can something this cute be so, so naughty:
The first couple of outings went very well, and I decided that I’d have Dad start firing the blank pistol when I’d give her retrieves and we eventually graduated to the shotgun. Do you think she was having fun:
She even undertook important tasks like learning to drink out of the water bottle:
By the third day of the trip we were firing on all cylinders. We had found a small pheasant hot spot where we had ended the previous couple of days with some success. Belle was struggling a bit with uncooperative grouse but she was smoking hot on the pheasants. During the course of the field Dad had dropped a double. Belle was in thick cover over by me. Unfortunately the greatest downfall I have found with these setters is that they are not super enthused about hunting dead. We covered the area for about 30 minutes looking for the downed pair with no success. We marked the area in the cover and continued to hunt with a plan to come back later.
We finished out the field and headed back to the truck and drove closer to the spot of the downed birds. It was just after sunset and the light was fading fast. I decided I’d get the little dog out along with Belle “just in case.” We again scoured the area to no avail. I decided to head to the adjacent ditch and make one more swing up it with Lily. About midway up a truck came screaming over the hill and I called Belle in to grab her by the collar. Just as the truck past and I released the dogs Lily went straight in the ditch and bounced on a bundle of grass. To my udder shock and amazement the first wounded rooster was recovered. Dad happened to have his camera on him and wanted a picture of the event. As we made our way to a spot to take the picture the little dog ran up the ditch and bounced again recovering the second rooster. Two birds that we thought had been lost were suddenly discovered by this little white wonder. I love this picture because if you look close the bird is longer than the dog:
A trip that was looking like the previous three, with poor weather, had certainly turned into an amazing adventure. The next day the roads had dried some and we were finally able to give the grouse a legitimate attempt. I’d like to tell you how Belle handled the birds superbly and the trip was a success. This wasn’t the case with these late season birds. They were continually running and jumping on the little setter and the dog that was nailing roosters less than 12 hours previous was not looking like she hadn’t ever seen a game bird. I managed to scratch down my birds, but they weren’t over flawless dog work, which was a little disappointing in an otherwise memorable trip:
All-in-all a memorable trip in a year that had been filled with frustration and heartache up to this point. My Dad made a profound observation during the trip that really gave me pause. By most people’s accounts I’m a relatively young guy; however, here I was on a trip with essentially my second generation of hunting dogs. It seems just like yesterday when I had traveled to Missouri to pick up Emma or Green Bay for Maggie, and here I was in one of my favorite places on earth to share with my dogs without either of those girls. It really drove home the point that time waits for no one. Thankfully it looks like Maggie will once again be up for future adventures, and while nothing will replace the memories of the adventures we’ve had in the past…I think this second generation of bird dogs have already started to write their own chapters in my heart: