Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Opening Day 2009

Awoke exhausted from the school week, yet excited for the pursuit of winged beauties.  Daisy and I practiced some runs on birds the Thursday evening prior.  She flushed near about 12 pheasants, mostly roosters. It was a pleasantly mild autumn evening. Saturday wasn’t.  Steady rain dropped from the slate skies.  Yet, opening day is a special time regardless of the weather. Immediately upon entering the first field, I spotted at least three birds outside of the hedgerow.  But, thinking foolishly in my haste, I failed to seal off the exit route and all the birds flushed well outside of range. We worked our way toward the lakeside bramble.  The darkened morning made seeing difficult, and a few birds flushed, heard, but not seen. Finally, near the marsh, Daisy flushed two, most likely a rooster and a hen.   In my excitement, I blasted the hen clear off the hemlock branch it landed upon.  Somewhat unsporting, but yet, forgivable.  Dad missed a flushing rooster, which was a bit too far out of reach.  So, with one hen in the bag we headed along the outside fields.  The rain kept a steady beat upon our heads. Working the long curving hedgerow more known for its rabbit holes than pheasant, Daisy bugled. I rushed to the end of the hedgerow, switching places with Charles, in hopes of blocking the birds from clamoring into the forest. I almost made it in time.  Seven birds stood out in the open.  I discharged three times, somewhat wildly, knocking down one bird as it rose off the ground.  The bird flew off again.   One cock flew directly over Dad’s head and he pegged it.   Daisy lept back into the hedgerow and flushed a nice rooster, which took flight to my left—about 30 yards away.  Tracking it, I hit it hard as it reached the middle of the field.  I released another round as it began its fall, hitting it again.  Still too excited mind you, but it was nice to knock down a ringneck on the first good flush of the day. 

Three birds in hand, a fellow brought up the bird I had hit first.  It was killed. So, four birds. We worked toward the back grape fields.  After at least 45 minutes of walking, we spotted two roosters in the wooded lanes.  I set a strategy to run ahead and block off escape routes.  Dad and Charles worked toward me with Daisy.  She flushed one and someone fired—later I discovered that Dad had taken the shot and killed the fifth bird of the morning.  I was a bit too antsy.  Instead of staying still,  I walked toward them through the hedgerow and flushed at least three birds.  Again, one swung off to the my left at about 20 yards, and I made my best shot of the day, striking it in the head.  It folded up quite nicely.  So, we packed in our morning hunt with six birds.  Our afternoon goal:  present Charles with a decent flush.

The sun rolled out after I cleaned our morning kill, and we hopped back into action around 2:30 p.m. Daisy flushed a nice rooster in the brambles.  I fired and knocked it down in front of Dad, who also shot it.  Nine-life bird.  The old rooster escaped and was taken on the ground by a pair of hunters with a pup.  We moved on to the swamp rows.  Daisy opened up hotly and I tore up the cover behind her in order to put pressure on the bird.  Dad at my left.  Charley at my right.  A quick little hen blasted away from some dead fall, a few feet in front of me and inches from Daisy.  Dad killed it cleanly with his second shot.  “Damn, Charley!” I shouted. “We’ve got to place you on the right side!” Always amiable, Charley played it off, but I know the growing frustration that wears away at the hunter’s heart who would do anything for just one good flush, one good shot, and one good bird to dissipate the disappointment.  About an hour away from sunset, Daisy picked up a new trail.  We followed.  She worked methodically, yet surely.  There was a bird.  If there is anything I’ve learned from the little holy terror, it’s that her nose always knows. Dad spotted the bird making for cover.  Almost immediately Daisy broke out full throttle.  Caught in the opposite hedgerow, I charged through thorns in an attempt to prevent the bird from flushing away from the shooters.  Halfway across the open lane, the bird did flush, but not like I thought.  Daisy placed it perfectly.  First shot clean miss.  Second shot cracked the bird hard, and the third shot killed it in the air.  Charley’s bird.  It was the prettiest flush and the most beautiful bird of the day.

Daisy's 2009 Bird Count: 8

Tuesday Evening Hunt

Perhaps the finest night I’ve ever had afield with Daisy.  Finally, I broke through for her. All the practice over the summer is paying dividends. I am falling in love with the Mossberg 12 gauge.  Daisy flushed a wily, old rooster in the heavy brambles.  I hit it hard with one shot and it crashed landed.  It scampered only a few feet before dying.  Took some pictures and rewarded the dog with a beef stick.  We moved on to the hemlock thicket above the lake.  Daisy opened up hotly, but I made another mistake.  Tried to follow her into the thicket instead of waiting in the field.  Saw the rooster flushing away, but could not shoot cleanly due to the thick overhead cover.  We worked the long curving hedgerow to no avail, but as we moved across the hayfield, Daisy picked up a short trail as I scrambled over a red-berried deadfall. Suddenly, in a flapping of wings, what I thought to be a wounded bird raised a commotion under the cover.  I lowered the gun and tried to find a better position, when the hen, apparently unscathed, burst out into the open, and escaped my shot. It presented me with the most difficult target a bird heading directly away often does, so my shot was difficult, yet the disappointment lurked inside.  Knowing the bird had landed unharmed about 100 yards down a clear lane, we made our way toward it.  Daisy never completely lost its scent, of this I am sure as I observed her continue to work the bird, despite the fact that it had taken flight.   She was literally scenting the path it followed through the air.  Within minutes she picked up on it hotly.  Switching back and forth between wood lines, I quickly sought a good shooting position, and no sooner had I stepped into place than did little Daisy flush the same hen.  An amazingly fast hen, she zinged away and I missed her with the first shot again!  But, I nailed her with the second shot from about 35 yards and she fell dead.  It was my best shot of the season so far.  A great night! In two hours, we had made a lifelong memory.  This is the evening hunt I know I’ll look back upon years from now and say, “Finally, I am becoming a proficient pheasant hunter”.   Vest heavy with birds, I thanked the hunting gods for sending me the best dog a man could ever want.

Daisy’s 2009 Bird Count: 10