Friday, August 26, 2011

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Six, "Two Years Old:

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section

By her second birthday (April 15, Tax Day, who could forget?), Blitz was developing into a fine hunting dog.  Tune up work with the trainer went very well, and exercises with me in the back yard and basement were going equally as good.  Her penchant for a random "jailbreak," tussle with the cat, and sneaking of food kept things interesting, and things were never dull around our household.   

Also, during this period, Blitz discovered chipmunks.  And a dislike of chipmunks along the lines of her dislike of rabbits.  I'm not sure what exactly triggered this dislike; perhaps it was their distinct similarity to Beany Babies, or maybe it was their attitude.  In nature, chipmunks are kind of the that undersized kid with the big mouth we all remember from junior high school - writing checks with this mouth that his body couldn't cash.  Chipmunks, when faced with danger, can be quite content to "bark" to their foes from a perceived safe distance, and depending on the level of their agitation, this sounding off can be quite annoying.   

So perhaps it was this attitude that made Blitz psycho for chipmunks, and they appeared to hate her with the same amount of vitriol.  In fact, one early spring day, Blitz had forced one underneath our air conditioning unit in the back yard, and the amount of barking by both animals made one think that next world war had started.  And to them, it kind of had.   

Blitz circled and circled the unit, even at time jumping over it in attempt to get at the offending creature.  In the mean time, the chipmunk was voicing his displeasure as well as agitating his nemesis with the best method he could.  While I tried to call Blitz off multiple times, she was in a berserker rage, and was unable to hear commands, let alone obey them.  I finally had to go into the house to get a lead to ultimately pull her away from the fight scene.  And for the rest of our time at that house, she'd always eyeball that air conditioner unit with distain.    

In looking back, beyond the chipmunk battles, that spring and summer were spent really just biding our time in anticipation of the fall hunting season.  And this season was to be one of continued firsts, with Blitz experiencing her first Canada goose hunt, and her first grouse hunt.   

The explosion of the Canada goose population has been a conservation success story - or a nightmare, depending on how much golf you play.  When I first started hunting as a kid in the 1970's, it was rare to see a Canada goose, let alone get a shot at one.  They were almost a kind of mythic creature, and boys at school that happened to bag one over the weekend were afforded reverential master hunter status.  They were so rare, in fact, that even a simple National Geographic show on them was enough to get the telephone lines burning up with my buddies so that we wouldn't miss a chance to learn more about this incredible bird.   

Fast forward to the 1990's and the whole world had changed.  The population of the Canada goose had absolutely exploded, and add their populations encroached, and ultimately thrived in urban environments.  The result of this population boom was that the goose was quickly becoming a nuisance.  They are prolific poopers as any beach bum or duffer can attest, and they're credited with causing two horrific plane crashes - a USAF E-3 which killed all aboard, and of course Captain Sullenberger's Miracle on the Hudson.  Hence, may states and municipalities began seasons outside of the normal waterfowl hunting framework in order to help better control the burgeoning population of the Canada goose.   

The lake in which we hunt is prime waterfowl habitat, and every season we would raise multiple families of geese.  So when early season goose hunting was announced, my partners, buddies and I knew we would have a good shot at bagging some of these large birds.   

While Blitz had shown her capabilities for water retrieves on ducks the year prior, geese posed a whole other challenge.  The average duck weighed a couple of pounds, the average goose weighed something on the order of twelve pounds.  And for a 55 pound, two year old dog, this was not an insignificant amount.  But my buddy Don and I decided to head out that early goose opener and take Blitz with us with the hopes that she'd be able to handle the big birds and figure things out on her own.   

We departed from the dock about an hour from sunrise on a clear, still, moonless early morning, and twinges of pink were just starting to be visible in the east.  As accustomed to how she performed the year prior, Blitz was actively moving around the boat during the short ride to the hunting area - sniffing the air, visiting Don, visiting me, leaning over the boat to lap at the water, then repeating the whole cycle.  We ultimately arrived at our hunting location: a stand of thick cattails that we had dubbed "goose island" due to the proclivity of geese to hang around it.  We set our decoys into three pods of "family groups" of  six to eight birds, left two prime areas for landing, and hauled our boat into the cover of the cattails.   

The morning was beautiful, and as legal shooting hours approached we noted a large group of geese that got off the upper end of the lake to head out for breakfast.  Goose hunting on our lake was typically very slow in the early morning as geese tended to leave for their morning meal through a safe passage.  Our odds got much better as the geese, full of grain, retuned from breakfast looking for drinking water and a place to lounge through the heat of the day.  This day was no different, and despite a lot of shooting in the fields around us, we didn't see any geese looking to return to the lake until after ten o'clock.  But return they did, in singles, pairs, and groups.   

While Don and I were fairly accomplished callers, we had difficulty calling any birds into gun range.  Fortunately, we stuck with it, and a group of six birds came into the look and made a bee line toward our decoy set.  We hunkered down and mimicked their calling cadence, and felt like we were finally going to get an opportunity.  Keeping my head down and relying on the calling of the geese to judge their location and distance, my heart rate increased thinking that we were finally going to get a shot and Blitz might finally get her first goose retrieve.   

Sneaking a peek, I noticed that the geese that were once lined up on our spot had begun drifting off to our east, and what was looking like a great opportunity was now going to be a tough shot.  When the geese reached their closest proximity to us, I yelled "Take 'em!" to Don, who was still keeping his head down to prevent the geese from seeing his glasses.  Given the approach of the geese, Don had the only shot, and I stood with him to see how he did.  Don got a lead on the closest bird, squeezed the trigger, and folded the big bird in a clean kill in his first shot.   

Because we were in such high cattails, Blitz did not see the bird fall, but must have known that something good had happened as she bolted out the dog door before the goose had splashed into the water.  Blitz appropriately used the direction of Don's shot to head for the bird, and soon saw him a good 40 yards out.  Don and I both looked at each other, wondering how all of this would go.  She soon arrived at the bird, but realized that something was definitely different, and began to circle it as if to say "how am I going to fit all of THAT into my mouth?"  However, I gave her the command to fetch, and Blitz immediately went at the bird, gripped it as best she could, and headed back to the boat.    

The wake she made in the still water with the large goose was quite a wave, and she huffed strongly through her nose back to us.  I lowered the blind, grabbed her collar, and hauled her in while her grip was still firmly on the goose.  I was surprised by her weight as I was remembering how easy she was to lift back into the boat in the season prior.  But then I remembered that with her first goose, she was also sporting about a twenty percent increase in her weight.   

She dropped the bird at my command, and Don, Blitz and I celebrated the first of many goose retreives that she would make for me.        

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