Scott Rall: Middle of the night memories
I have no idea what made this column pop into my mind when I was unable to sleep the other night.
Trouble sleeping is not a common problem for me, but every once in a while I am wide awake at 2:00 am. When I was watching a Law and Order rerun for the 10th time I was also enjoying the company of one of my three black Labradors.
Many dogs do nothing but provide their owners companionship, and all of mine do that. Even if my dogs were not hunting dogs I can’t imagine a life without a few four-leggers’ keeping me and my wife company.
My boys provide more than enough opportunities to tell me they love being scratched behind the ears. I think they would all enjoy being petted until all of the hair came off their heads, and still never want you to quit. In addition to that kind of un-duplicatible companionship they also work really hard during our inter-dependent actions in the tall grass hunting pheasants.
I was thinking back about different days I have spent in the field and one particular hunting experience just popped into my head. I remembered it like it was yesterday and it is certainly in the top three hunting memories I have from all my years of hunting.
This solo outing was many years ago and was just me with two yellow labs. The older one was named Windy (7 years old) and the other was her daughter named Scout (3 years old). Most hunters hunt with only one dog because they only own one. In other cases, even if they own more than one, they only hunt one at a time because two dogs are too hard to keep under control at the same time.
I normally hunt with two dogs and sometimes three dogs all at once. This works for me because they all know their job well and do it without much control needed. I hunt multiple dogs at one time to help ensure that they all get enough exercise. A dog at home on the rug gets little exercise. This day was a hunt with a mother-daughter team.
Most Labradors are flushers. This means that they find the bird and put it to flight. Other breeds are pointers where the dog finds the bird and locks up on a stationary point, letting the hunter know that the bird is holding a short distance ahead.
This pair of Labradors had a propensity to point. Some labs point, most do not, there is a growing section of Labrador breeders that are specifically training labs to point, but that is a whole other story for a different time. If the bird would hold (not run ahead) these two would act like pointing dogs and lock up without flushing the bird.
I walked down a fence about a quarter mile to get to a small grass patch. There was a 40-yard wide waterway that ran a few hundred yards from the fence to a 10-acre CRP field. The cover in the waterway was pretty thin and I expected that if there were any birds in this spot they would be in the thicker cover nearby. We did not take three steps into this waterway and both dogs locked up on point. Here is where the details of this hunt start to separate it from any other I have experienced.
First was that both dogs were pointing in different directions. Their butts were about 5 feet apart and their noses were pointed in opposite directions in a perfectly straight line. I wondered if these two points each actually had a bird present. Sometimes a dog will point a scent where the bird used to be but is no longer there. This is called a false point. I then wondered if there were actually two pheasants present, would they be hens or roosters or one of each? It is common to flush 10 hens before you flush a rooster. It was such a pretty sight that I just stood there for a short time.
I then gave the command “get um” and both dogs jumped their respective bird. As the first bird rose it was a rooster and I delivered what I thought was a solid shot that would hopefully result in a clean kill. At the exact same time the other bird flushed heading in the opposite direction and as I spun on that bird I delivered a load of six shot with the same results. In the first 40 seconds of this hunt I had two points, two roosters, two shots and two dogs on the way to make two retrieves.
It is not uncommon for both dogs to head toward the first bird on the first shot, but not today. Each dog focused on the bird in front of them. I thought that I had made good shots, but you never really know for sure until the bird is brought to your side that you connected solidly. Now I had a short wait to see if both dogs would find the downed bird and make a good retrieve.
It was only after this short delay that I saw two dogs each with a rooster in their mouth headed my way. Most dogs are trained to sit and heel on the left side. I had trained Scout to heel on both sides depending on the hand signal that I gave her. Moments later Windy was sitting on my left and Scout on my right with a twin pair of the most beautiful roosters I have ever harvested.
This hunt started and ended in 120 seconds and I was on my way back to the truck. This is not usually the kind of hunt I enjoy, but this one was different. The planets must have been in a perfect alignment that day. I had two dogs on point at the same time, both points were real, with a bird actually where the dogs thought they were. They were both roosters, I cleanly hit both birds, and the dogs made two perfect retrieves. Adding in the fact that they were mother and daughter tops off this outdoor experience like no other.
Both of these dogs left the dog world years ago. Both lived to the regular life expectancy for a dog of their size and breed. Each and every time I harvest a bird I spend a short moment of stationary silence before putting that bird in my game vest.
Every pheasant is special and every dog has its day, but on this day, it was just a lot better than that.