Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter 7, "Third Year, Part 9"

Blitz was no worse for wear from her episode with the fudge, and we finished the rest of the pheasant season in fine form.  And what a season it was.  Our 300 acre farm held birds all season, and the snowfall in December had made the numerous cattails very attractive to the remaining birds in the area. 

Our last hunt of that season was the most memorable for me as it highlighted just how much of a team Blitz and I had become.  We happened to be the only ones in camp that weekend, which was kind of OK with me.  With it just being us two, we could work the cover as we wanted and with no compromise to others in the party.  It also meant that we could move much more silently, and this was a distinct advantage as the late season roosters had seen, and more importantly heard everything we threw at them.  We saw example after example of birds flushing far ahead of us previously in the season, and now at season’s end, the birds were at their wariest.  So the stealth of just us was welcomed.

Blitz and I started on our usual path down to the point where she had previously broken through the ice.  After weeks of cold temperatures we were in no danger of a repeat episode, as the ice was now thick enough to hold the both of us.  As we pushed through the corn, it was clear Blitz was on a bird, and I hoped that were just close enough that I’d get a shot.  We crossed onto the point without the bird flushing, and I was hopeful that the pheasant would find a nice spot in the cattails at the end and would just sit tight.  As Blitz and I pushed forward through the cover my optimism grew as I could now clearly see the end of the point, covered up in cattails, and it was well within gun range.  If the bird got up now, and it was a rooster, I should be presented with an excellent shot. 

Sure enough, Blitz’s nose led her to the cattails, and she worked the edges feverishly.  Within seconds, she stopped, statue-still, with her head poked into the cover and her rear-end exposed.  While her point wasn’t exactly stylish, it was a point indeed, and I prepared myself for the impending flush.  I commanded “Get him!” and immediately Blitz dove into the cover, followed, as in one seamless motion, by a flushing rooster.  At 20 yards my first shot was true, and the bird tumbled down on the frozen lake, with Blitz right there for the retrieve. 

She picked up the rooster, and I called her into heel, took it from her, loaded it into my game vest, and looked at my watch.  Not even 15 minutes into the hunt, and we had 50% of our two bird limit.  If this kept up, we’d be looking at an early lunch and a lot of college football. 

We walked off of the point and headed to the switch grass fields of the north.  Switch grass made for tough hunting later in the year, as the flat fields are essentially race tracks for fleet pheasants that choose to make their escape via their feet.  And with the birds having been hunted hard all season, they would take as much advantage to this opportunity as they could.  We pushed through field after field, with Blitz showing no signs of any birds, and after about an hour, I felt like my prediction of a quick limit may have jinxed us.  Finally, as we were entering a large field, Blitz’s tail started to show some signs of slight interest. 

As I steeled myself for the switch grass chase that I expected to ensue, a nervous rooster flushed a hundred yards out in front of us and well out of gun range.  So much for the track meet!  The bird caught the northern wind and banked around and back into the middle of the property, 

Now I was faced with the hardest question that a pheasant hunter can face: does one continue the hunt as designed, or does one  try to track down a known rooster?  Most times when the decision is the latter it comes up empty, as these birds tend to land running, and won’t stop until they’re three farms away.  However, given my desire to close out my limit early, and given that I knew the bird was a rooster, I pointed Blitz in the direction of where I thought the bird landed and we headed off. 

We walked about 300 yards to the spot where I thought the bird had landed, yet Blitz couldn’t pick up anything with her nose.  We covered the ground in a circular pattern, getting wider and wider with every pass, but still Blitz showed no signs of a bird in the area.  I was just about to call her to me and head back nearly a quarter mile to where we left off when the tell-tail noise of a bird flushing from behind me made me jump.  I spun to find the rooster in the air and crossing hard about 40 yards out.  I was able to snap off one quick shot while the bird was still in range, but was woefully behind my target.  Again I watched the bird fly off and land about 300 yards out.  “Well,” I said to Blitz, “we’ve come this far.  We better see how this all ends.” 

We again got on a line on where I thought the bird to be and we headed off.  This was obviously a wary and smart bird, so I tried to make our approach to the landing zone as quiet as possible.  Despite the effort, the rooster again flushed wild ahead of us about 100 yards.  “Damn!” I thought.  “All that ground covered, and nothing!”  About that time the flying bird took a hard bank to the left and headed toward the cover next to the lake.  “That might be the break we need, Blitz,” I stated as if she could listen.  “There’s not much cover there.  If we can pinch him against the shore, we could get a shot.” 

We headed in that direction, and finally my hopes were high.  In short order we arrived at the place in which I thought the bird had landed.  It was a small strip of cover which was bordered by 50 yards of hardwoods, then 10 yards of cattails, then lake.  The bird likely would not cross into the woods and expose himself, so if we could catch a scent in the small strip of cover, our odds would be good on getting a shot.  Sure enough, Blitz started to get interested, and her tail beat hard and circled.  Back and forth she covered the grass, but our bird was not forthcoming.  Judging on how she was acting, the bird was clearly here.  But where? 

Blitz continued her grass rampage, and still nothing got up.  For five minutes she went crazy, but without any kind of reward.  The bird clearly was not here, and I walked to the edge of the woods to reevaluate our circumstance.  “That bird wouldn’t have gone into the woods, would he?” I asked aloud.  The old woods were made of mature trees which prevented any undergrowth from being established, and that meant that, if he crossed it, the rooster would have been out in the open an extended time.  While it made no sense, the woods was the only place he could have gone.  I figured we’d come this far, it was worth a try. 

We stepped into the woods, with me hoping that Blitz could catch some kind of scent.  Back and forth we moved, with no kind of reaction coming from the dog.  After about 15 minutes, when my hopes were waning, sure enough Blitz caught a scent in the middle of the woods, and headed like a shot toward the lake.  I was hot on her heels, as I knew our wily quarry would not present us with an easy shot. We were both on a run and eventually came out of the woods were Blitz came to a dead stop in an open, frozen marsh spot which spanned about 10 yards across. There, in the middle of open ground, she lost the scent. 

She looked at me with the same sense of frustration that I felt.  I feared that this likely was the place that the bird flushed, but flown where?  Across the open, frozen lake?  It just seemed so unlikely.  The only other option was either that the bird doubled back on us somehow in the woods, or the bird was nestled into the cattails on the shore of the lake.  Since the cattails were the only good option, I decided to work Blitz along them to see if she could catch a scent. 

We headed south about 50 yards, without any kind of reaction from Blitz.  Since I doubted the bird ran farther in the wide open that that, we doubled back to try the north side.  We got back to our starting point, and began our northern trek.  Again, no reaction came from Blitz.  I worked her about 50 fruitless yards and called her back to me to quit.  It was over.  The bird won.  He must have flushed across the lake. 

Upon my command to come Blitz spun around and was headed back to me, all the while keeping her nose to the ground.  About 10 yards away from me she stopped, raised her head, and looked me dead in the eyes.  The look clearly translated as “Oh, yeah,  It’s on, boss!”  And with that she dove headlong to her left into the thick cattails.  Immediately our rooster flushed, and at 20 yards closer than he had been all day.  He presented an easy going away shot, and I covered him with the sight bead at the end of my shotgun with my aim and squeezed softly on the trigger. 


Blitz made the easy retrieve on the open ice and brought the hard-earned bird back to my hand.   We sat there a second, and I marveled at that team we had become.  We knew each other.  We knew where each other were going and what we were thinking.  We could win against the toughest of circumstances.  It simply could not get better than this. 

While lunch actually got missed, as did some good football games, I would not have changed it for the world.

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