Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Years Eve Birdless


The four wheel drive came in handy as the truck bounced through hedgerow snowdrifts after the hunt. I felt like the black lab sitting behind me I think-disappointed on this last day of the pheasant season. It's never discouraging not shooting a bird, on this day it was about it being...the last day. Molly, who is usually always able to roust up a couple birds found none. The deep snow was a challenge to be sure, but also offered a chance to track any roosters that were around. We saw zero.

Maybe that was the toughest part-no sign, no birdyness from the dog, no excitement, just cold stinging- your-face wind and tired legs trudging through drifts.

It was New Years Eve day and my last push to get the dog out on pheasant. Sure, I'd maybe try for grouse yet, but we like chasin those big gaudy colored birds the most. Fall had been busier than I liked. In my mind, autumn would be filled with endless days afield hunting. It didn't turn out that way, although a gallant effort was made. State DNR land and nearby private land held roosters, so as often as time would allow, the black lab, a double barrel 20 and bird vest were all tossed in the truck and we were off.

The corn stubble farm land here is surrounded by a huge swamp grass lowland with a couple drainage canals and usually we find birds all over. The dog always goes a bit tail wag crazy when she hits a scent cone. I figured the wind blown snow may make it easier, limiting birds to some select cover near the plowed field. Surely I could hone in on those triangle pheasant tracks to make things simpler. Nope, nada, nothing but mice and ermine prints...everywhere.

Perhaps turning the dog into the breeze would help, but all it did was drive colder than the tempurture wind through my orange bird vest. I tightened down the hat further below my ears and tried to ignore my burning cheeks and nose. More than enough winter blast to remind me what time of year it was, forgetting the sweltering gold days two months ago.

Although most snow cover had been sheared off the bare field, tall grass acted as a snow fence and piled drifts a couple feet high. I'd thought of bringing snowshoes, but they remained useless back in the pickup. We beat our way through, at times Molly cheating by following in my tracks. I'd “shussh” her ahead and she'd go back to her bird dog business-but to no avail.

After an hour and nothing encouraging happening, the sad descision was made to call it a day- a season. It'd be a slow trudge across the vast field to the truck. Molly followed alongside, venturing to and fro only occasionally to investigate some random crow track or scattered corn cob.

It was hard to just be done, so before breaking open and casing the shotgun, I wandered over to some prickly cover near the railroad right of way. Thick berry brush tangles flank the tracks and maybe there would be a “last chance bird” in there. The dog dove in and worked the thicket-I stayed alongside and hoped something would flush, but again, nothing. “Alright, we're good I guess,” - not really wanting to throw in the towel.

The pick-up retraced the truck tracks back out through the deep snow along the field. I wouldn't be back here for 10 months I suppose. Minutes earlier the tinking of the brass bell finally went silent as I removed it from Molly's collar and stowed it in the game bag. Returning home, the over and under bores were cleaned and a spritz of gun oil wiped across everything before tucking it away. Like the bell, the gun, the game bag, and the sleeping lab, it'll be too long a wait for me until the next time we afield. Somehow maybe having a final day like this is good-it'll make the anticipation all the greater next season when we're bouncing along the same field, dog whining with excitement ready to flush birds again.

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