By Blake Sherburne
Sharing our outdoor endeavors with someone new opens up a whole world of possibilities
I accidentally took a family friend and country neighbor bird hunting last year. I should try to bring people hunting all the time. Purposely. But I do not. I grew up flogging grouse coverts with my dad. He cannot handle the terrain anymore, so I often hunt with my ever-present fishing buddy, Kenny. He has a severe bowhunting addiction that I shed when I had kids. When Kenny chooses chasing big game over small, I hunt alone.
I was getting myself and my dog out of the truck at one of my favorite pieces when I spotted this country neighbor’s truck coming up the road. As one does, he pulled up to me and rolled down the window for a short chat. This led to me noticing that he had a gun case and an orange vest on the seat next to him. I asked him what he was up to, and he said he was off to walk a small piece looking for birds. I invited him to join me and my six-year-old German wirehaired pointer, Jodi. He quickly accepted and moved down the road to turn around and park behind me.
Now, this friend is no stranger to hunting dogs. He had hounds long ago and started acquiring them again when his son became an adult and started getting his own trailing and tracking dogs. Together they chase bears, bobcats and raccoons here in Northern Michigan. He does not, and I think he has never, had a bird dog, but he was certainly knowledgeable enough to recognize the advantage that a bird dog offers.
During our entire conversation, my dog was waiting patiently at heel. We crossed the ditch and climbed a small berm, dog still at heel, and entered the cover on the north edge headed west. I released the dog and cast her into the cover, not that I really had to, as she is a cover buster. She knows where the birds are. Even on walks, she seeks out the thickest cover in the area and hunts it thoroughly. We moved slowly. It is an extensive cover, and I work on both sides.
The dog works the whole thing. It reminds me of an old Mac game I played as a kid, Scarab of Ra. The game took place in a pyramid in Egypt. As you explored the pyramid, the map in the corner was revealed. Likewise, she cannot leave that piece of cover until the whole map is revealed.
I took the inside as I am a cover buster myself and like to be with the dog for the obvious. First, I am there, or at least close by, when the dog goes on point. Second, I feel like my presence in the thick gives the dog the impression that I am working, too.
We did not put up a bird in the first few hundred yards. Wade, the country neighbor and family friend, and I caught up on the latest and let the dog work. We walked slowly. The dog had more ground to cover than we did, and she was doing a good job.
I carry my gun open and over my shoulder. The dog trainer Jodi and I worked with carried his own this way, and when I asked him why, he replied, “It removes any chance that I am going to shoot a bird that my dog has not worked and pointed.” I have found that I can carry my over/under this way with shells in the chamber without having to hang on to the gun barrels even through the thickest of cover. The stock dangles over my back and the barrels slant down my chest. The trigger guard rides just inside the shoulder strap of my vest. My gun will just balance there all day and I am not even tempted to reward the dog with a bird that she has not properly hunted and pointed.
Of course, it looks strange and I had not thought to explain it to Wade when I got slightly ahead of the dog and kicked up a grouse that presented a great shot. I swore at myself for out-walking the dog and Wade chided me. He said, “You might have killed that thing if you had gotten your gun off your shoulder.” I explained the reasoning and received no more derision. Wade has dogs, after all. People who work dogs understand people who work dogs.
This piece of cover, viewed from above, looks like a fist giving a thumbs-up. I rarely walk to the end of the thumb. The dog always covers it. I can hear her beeper collar if she goes on point. So I let her work it on her own, and when she is done, I change direction and head back to the east. Wade waited patiently with me while Jodi worked out the thumb. When she had worked as far as I wanted her to go, I gave two sharp blasts on my whistle, which told her to change direction. She worked back our way and beyond, and so we headed out in pursuit.
Wade quizzed me about Jodi’s collar. His hounds all have GPS collars. Jodi just has shock and beeper. I explained the beeper, admitting that I hated to listen to it but that it was necessary with the amount of ground she covered and that I had not had to shock her in years. “Yeah,” he said, “a dog that listens like that, why would you have to?”
About that time, the beeper on her collar indicated that she was on point slightly behind us. Wade worked up behind the dog while I worked off to the side, where she could watch what I was doing. We kicked up a woodcock and Wade connected. Jodi, of course, retrieved the bird to me, and I never try to get her to do otherwise. I figure she is giving the bird to whom she thinks she ought, which is good enough for me. Wade and I could do the rest.
We worked the edge back towards the truck while the dog filled in her map. She snapped on point one more time just in front of me. I waited while Wade got in position, worked around the dog and flushed the bird. The south edge of this cover is a select-cut hardwood that was recently chopped. It offers wide-open shot opportunities and I have killed a number of woodcock along it over the past couple of seasons. This woody flushed and gave me a great shot. I connected, and soon Wade and I each had a timberdoodle in our vests. Jodi filled in the rest of her map and Wade and I stumbled along behind. We did not have another point. It was late in the migration season for woodcock, and I had blown our only chance at a grouse.
We all burst out of the cover near the trucks, and while I watered the dog, Wade thanked me for the invitation. He offered me his bird, and I declined, saying that I had several in the freezer, before I realized that he was offering because there was not really much point in only having one woodcock. I laughed and offered him my bird when I figured out what he was getting at. When he got home, he would have four bites instead of two.
We parted ways, with Wade encouraging me to hunt a small piece of cover near a section of property that my wife and I had recently purchased. I had not hunted it yet but had recognized it as a potential piece of grouse cover. Wade had known about the property we bought in the way that country neighbors and family friends know those things. He suggested the piece, and I acknowledged that I had been thinking about it but had not hunted it yet. Jodi and I hit it on the way home, and I flubbed yet another grouse.
When I got home, I received a text from Wade. It read, “Thanks. I’d love to go again someday.” Wade and his son, Parker, are on my radar for this coming season. It is great to hunt with someone who appreciates a dog, can hit a bird and is not afraid to work a nasty piece of cover. I already know that Parker is a great ski buddy. I may figure out if he can hit a silly-looking, aspen-dodging, little brown rocket ship this year. The dog always appreciates an extra gun or two in the woods. That way, she does not have to rely entirely on me.