Hera with the hapless black squirrel she caught in the garden this morning.
I was late for work this morning. I was running late from the moment I woke up shortly before 6:00 am and let Hera out into the garden through the kitchen door. I had a quick breakfast, Weetabix with fresh blueberries, milk and a little brown sugar. When I finished my breakfast I went to the kitchen door to see if Hera wanted in and to my surprise saw a black squirrel sitting atop a fence post overlooking the garden. The squirrel seemed to be taunting Hera, scurrying around the top of the fence post and short distances across the fence as Hera calmly watched as she reclined on the porch. “Oh, you foolish squirrel,” I thought, “you really should not underestimate my Hera. She is no house pet, rather a keen little huntress who views you as prey.” I left Hera to her hunt and continued getting ready to leave for work.
It took me about twenty five minutes to shave, shower, floss, brush my teeth and dress. It was almost 6:30 am when I came downstairs, grabbed my lunch from the fridge, put it in my backpack and went to let Hera in. I had ten minutes to make my way quickly to the bus stop to catch the 6:40 bus to work. When I got to the kitchen door to let Hera in, there was no sign of her. Usually, she waits on the porch for me to let her in. “I hope she did not find a way out of the garden in chasing the squirrel,” I thought. I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and called her. There was no response so I walked down the steps off the porch to look into the back of the garden. It was then I saw Hera standing proudly over the carcass of the squirrel that foolishly taunted her a short time ago. As soon as she saw me, she picked up the squirrel and bounded up the steps, across the porch, through the open kitchen door and up the stairs to the second floor.
Hera proudly displays her kill at the top of the stairs.
“Okay,” I sighed, “I’ll catch the 7:00 am bus to work.” Hera was very pleased with herself, but followed my lead as I brought her outside to the garden. Once outside, she grudgingly gave up her prize when I told her “give.” I put the hapless squirrel in the green bin and rewarded Hera with a cookie back in the kitchen. As I made my way to the bus stop I thought about how much enjoyment I get from having Hera as my gun dog despite the minor inconvenience of being a little late for work.
Bill McClure was a breeder and accomplished handler of Brittanies, bookseller and outdoor writer. He was a columnist for Gundog Magazine and Wildfowl Magazine for many years. I met him in 1989 when I was looking into buying a Brittany of my own. He became a friend and mentor to me, ultimately helping me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first Brittany in 1994. I enjoyed visiting the book shop he operated out of his home outside Manotick (a town outside of Ottawa) and bought a number of books on Brittanies, dog training and hunting from him over the years. He liked hearing me report on my hunting experiences too. He made the comment “multiples of ten excite the young,” in a column he penned for Gundog Magazine back in the early 1990s. The comment was a passing reference to an occasion when I reported on a woodcock hunt back in the days I hunted without a dog. I told him there were several woodcock flushes and I “had never seen so many.” Yes, in the many years I hunted woodcock without a dog, finding as many as 9 or 10 woodcock was a triumph. What made me think of this was my most recent grouse and woodcock hunt with Hera. Ten birds were flushed: 6 grouse and 4 woodcock in all. Continue reading →
A particular article I read when I was my mid-teens in one of the old hunting magazines my father collected resonates with me to this day. The article in question was penned by a retired US Army officer who lived in Maine. He enjoyed duck hunting on the Penobscot River, gunning for black ducks and goldeneyes in the late season. He hunted with a friend, a man named Dave Bell , a serving officer in the US Army, and noted carver of working duck decoys in Maine. I so enjoyed reading his article as it really piqued my interest in gunning for the common goldeneye. I really wish I could find a copy of the magazine with the article and believe me, I have tried over the years to find one with no luck. I remember learning the colloquial term for the goldeneye in reading this article. Goldeneyes are commonly called whistlers, due to the distinctive whistling sound they make when beating their wings in flight. The author likened the sound of goldeneyes in flight to that of the sound of artillery shells as they approach the target. I spent many years learning the finer points of gunning for the goldeneye and it is something I look forward to every hunting season. Continue reading →
Hera is my fourth Brittany, so you think I would be seasoned enough in gun dog training to manage the embarrassing situation when she decides to disobey most spectacularly during a confrontation with non-hunters. My buddy Jason Quinn and his dog Nos joined me as I took Hera to the vet for her annual vaccinations and a heartworm test. Following the visit to the veterinary clinic, we made our way to some parkland along the Rideau River in the south part of Ottawa for our daily dog run. I have been running my gun dogs there since the 1990s and only on one other occasion had a confrontation with people who complained about my dog. I remember standing my ground on that occasion; it was with Maggie, my second Brittany. I told them, calmly, I would look after my dog, that they should just continue with their walk. When one of the persisted in berating me I shut him up telling him to “piss off.” He went on his way muttering insults. Today’s confrontation was far more dramatic. Continue reading →
While out for a training run with Hera this song sparrow was good enough to pose for me. Hunting is a year round activity, especially when you own a working gun dog. Hera needs to exercise and practice her hunting skills. She found and pointed a woodcock while we were out today and scared up a pair of mallards on a wooded pond. We have daily training runs on some parkland in the southern end of Ottawa along the Rideau River. A well rounded hunter appreciates the outdoors in its entirety and concerns himself with the conservation of wildlife and its habitat. In addition, learning about the ecosystems that support the myriad of living creatures, game and non-game species, enhances the experience.
I learned only yesterday of the death of a man I knew and respected for many years. Barry Cowan was a good and decent man, a keen hunter and conservationist and skilled craftsman renowned for his skill at carving wildlife figures and for taxidermy. Long before I met Barry, I remember being acquainted with his sons as we attended high school together. In the years since I met Barry, he carved two sets of working duck decoys for me: a beautiful set of puddle duck decoys including mallards, black ducks and wood ducks and a set of goldeneye blocks that are so life-like I once mistook one, while out hunting, that had drifted from the decoy spread for a live bird. He also mounted a number of game birds for me over the years attesting to his skill as a taxidermist. I have a pair of giant Canada geese mounts he provided me I include in my decoy spread when hunting geese on land.
Barry lived a long, full life, peacefully passing away at his home on July 16, 2013 at the ripe old age of 82. I extend my sympathy to his family and keep them in my thoughts. I feel blessed that I have in my possession samples of his carvings and will take care to preserve them. My hunting buddies and I will be reminded of him and his legacy every time we take to the field in pursuit of waterfowl. May he rest in peace.