It never ceases to amaze me as to how easily a train of good fortune can go off the rails without warning. Until this afternoon, my grouse and woodcock season went well–given the less than stellar conditions in the woodcock coverts. I got into birds every time I took to the field with Hera. James, a new hunting buddy, got a woodcock on his first hunt for woodcock over a gun dog. Stella is making progress in her training as a gun dog. She is not gun shy, and she is quartering through the wooded areas in the parkland where I take her and Hera for their daily training run. Initially, I thought Stella would not be old enough to accompany Hera and me in the field this season. However, I decided to bring her along on my last three hunts, as I am pleased with the progress she made to date. Everything seemed on track with Stella and her training; I could not be happier. What could go wrong?
The morning got off to a rocky start. I was late getting up, no matter, better late than never. I got on the road close to 8:00 am en route to the farm near Spencerville. I was hoping we would get into some grouse and woodcock. As I drove on the 416 south toward Spencerville, Stella climbed over the back seat and took the box of Nutri Grain bars I brought for a snack. By the time I got off the 416 and pulled over, she had eaten all the bars. Okay, fine, I chose not to install a barrier in the back of my Jeep as Hera stays put in the back without it. Ah yes, when I opened the back of the Jeep to get the Nutri Grain bars from Stella, I found she had torn the upholstery on the back of the seat loose. Okay, you know when you take on the job of training a Brittany pup to become a gun dog that puppies are destructive little creatures. I bought the Jeep for use in recreation so that I can carry the damage it will incur along the way. What else could go wrong? I had to exit the 416 and pull over once more in short order. Stella climbed over the back and picked up the package with the Dollar Store headlamp. I got to her in time before the headlamp suffered any damage. I moved everything that Stella could damage up front with me. I put it in front of the passenger seat and on the passenger seat, safely out of reach of Stella.
It was well after 9:00 am when I arrived at the farm. I stopped in Kemptville to fill up the Jeep on the way to the farm. It was chilly out at the farm. I needed to put gloves on as I set out with Hera and Stella. There was very little wind blowing as we made our way into the cover. Hera and Stella quartered through the cover as I listened carefully to the sound of their bells ringing through the woods. Our sweep of the cover on the farm turned up two birds: a grouse and a woodcock. Both birds flushed wildly. I shot at the grouse; it was more a parting salute than an effort to down the bird. The woodcock suffered the misfortune of flying toward me. I turned and downed the bird as it flew straight away from me. I made the retrieve myself. I stopped to chat with Val, the owner of the farm, before moving on to Cowan’s Corner in the Marlborough Forest. It was afternoon by the time I arrived.
Hera found and pointed three woodcock and bumped one bird in the first pocket of cover I took her and Stella through. I shot at the three birds she pointed and missed spectacularly. It rained earlier in the week, so I thought it worthwhile to check out a patch of cover that was wet the last time I hunted Cowan’s Corner. I thought it likely we would get into birds in the boggy ground around the pools that formed after the rainfall. The only drawback is that the cover is composed of dense stands of cedar and conifer mixed with scrub brush. It makes for challenging shots at flushing woodcock. The ground was nice and wet as I hoped.
In spite of Stella’s destructive behaviour on the drive to our hunting grounds earlier in the morning, the hunt went well. The birds were there, the girls were working together; Hera found and pointed woodcock and Stella did not get in the way. Hera locked up on point in a stand of cedar. It took a fair bit of effort to find her and make my way to walk up the point. A woodcock flushed and flew up through a tall cedar. I mounted my gun and fired–a snap shot. I followed up the shot, thinking I might have got the bird. When I got to where I expected to find the downed bird I saw that Stella found the bird already. When I saw her pick up the downed woodcock I was elated–thinking this was Stella’s first retrieve. My elation quickly turned to dismay when I saw that she intended to eat the woodcock. I ordered her to drop the bird, but she ignored me. The cover was so dense that I could not catch her; she managed to stay out of reach as I tried to get to her to take the bird from her. By the time I got Stella back under control, there was little left of the bird.
Looking back, now I realize I should have stopped the hunt then and there. Stella disobeyed me once she had the bird to herself. She does not understand yet that she is hunting for me. Also, when I ordered her to come, then tried to catch her; this upset Hera, who thought I was angry with her. Unfortunately, just as soon as I had Stella brought to heel, another woodcock flushed. Foolishly, I shot at the bird, downing it cleanly, only to have Stella get to it before I could. She compounded her previous disobedience in leading me on another merry chase. This time I caught her while some of the downed bird remained. Reeling with the dread of what I had done, I took the dogs back to the Jeep, calling it a hunt. I know that in training a gun dog, you will make mistakes. I should not have brought Stella into the field so soon. One thing I learned over the years in training the four gun dogs that came before Stella is that you should not expect too much of a young dog too soon. I need to spend more time with Stella in obedience training. Stella will stay at home for the rest of the weekend when I take to the field with Hera. I cannot risk making a bad situation worse.
After having a bad day, you can only hope that things will get better in the morning. I will try again tomorrow with Hera. I hope our hunt goes better than it did today; that my good fortune will be back on track.
Posted by Geoffrey