Outdoorsmen pay their dues with rookie dogs
The unpredictability of hunting keeps us coming back. There’s no such thing as a routine hunt.
A sure way to add to the drama and interest: Bring along three puppies of three different breeds on their first hunt of the season for the opening of quail season.
Throw in two boats, the Snake River and some brushy islands, and you have a hunt spiced with comedy and chaos.
Our group included three hunters and Cash, a 9-month-old Chesapeake Bay retriever; Wyatt, a 1-year-old Brittany spaniel, and Dusty, a 9-month-old yellow Lab.
A hunter buys a puppy to make hunting easier and more effective. But you have to pay your dues in the first season, when you’re a combination of chauffeur and soccer mom.
The hunts are more about training the dog than pulling the trigger. But you take great joy in the firsts – a first flush or a first point, a first retrieve, a first blind retrieve – all of which will become routine as the dog gains experience, you hope.
The puppies were rambunctious and unruly from the start, and three owners trying to keep three puppies under control and loaded in boats is always fertile ground for comedy.
Dusty and Wyatt redecorated the interior of my driftboat in a nice motif of Snake River mud and puppy paw prints and managed to hit every seat in the boat before settling in.
Cash, a male in the midst of an awesome growth spurt, dwarfed his new hunting buddies and seemed to take up half of one boat all by himself.
We hit the first island and almost immediately got into quail and doves.
After a long offseason, the hunters were as eager as the puppies, and we scattered in different directions.
First impression: My wing shooting skills were rusty, but at least my dog isn’t gun-shy.
In fact, once the puppies got a nose full of bird scent, their frenetic energy became focused.
A good hunting dog is a combination of good breeding, constant reinforcement and a liberal dose of patience. All three dogs showed promise beyond their ages.
It was beautiful to watch Wyatt work a field. His effortless, gliding gait seemed to levitate him at will above the grass and brush. He was the “veteran” of the group because he got in a few days of hunting as a “toddler” last year.
Despite it being opening day, the quail were savvy quarry and either stayed in the thickest brush or immediately flew to it after being flushed. It was tough going for dogs and hunters. Credit to the birds, they beat us.
The doves were a little more accommodating. They held a little longer and flushed within reasonable gun range. Wyatt retrieved dead birds with the ease of a retriever.
Dusty fetched her first bird, a dove with a terminal case of bad luck that flew within range when I was actually in a position to make the shot.
After a few miscues, she found the small bird in tall grass and brought it to me. I couldn’t have been prouder if it was a 10-pound Canada goose.
Being on the Snake River would could combine the upland bird hunt with waterfowl field-training for the upcoming duck season.
It was an opportunity to put our retrievers in actual waterfowling situations and let us focus on the dogs rather than the ducks.
Cash was rock solid in a small boat and stayed that way until released. He swam tirelessly the Snake’s strong currents to fetch dummies.
It’s exciting to usher in the new seasons with young dogs eager to hunt and learn.
So if our bag was a few birds lighter than usual, no biggie, we have many hunting days ahead and four-legged buddies to share the experience with us.
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