I made it back to the chukar grounds last weekend after two seasons away.
There, my puppy, Jade, had her first exposure to gunfire. Before hunting, we stopped out on the chukarless flats and I had my pal, The Curmudgeon, fire off a few rounds as I scratched the youngster behind her ears while whispering sweet nothings. She ignored the sweet nothings, but seemed curious about the boomstick.
The Curmudgeon fired off a few more rounds. This time I tossed Jade’s chew toys into the wind and she raced after them, nosing her prized possessions. Then she trotted over to The Curmudgeon to see what the fuss was about.
That first gun report can terrify some pups, but Jade was unfazed. It had been that way with my other setters, so it seemed safe to move on to the bird holding slopes. Later, when I put a bird on the ground, she learned that occasionally special things fall from the sky after the boomstick goes off.
On the chukar grounds Jade did her best to keep up with the big dog, following Doll as she zig zagged through the sage. When Doll slowed to more closely inspect scent she’d detected on brush or cheatgrass, Jade did the same. She even followed the big dog out on some of her long casts, but then Jade would notice the space between herself and me, and race back to my side.
She hunts like that now, running back and forth between the two members of her pack. With time she’ll grow confident enough to venture out on her own, going where bird scent leads her.
When we got back to the truck I played a bit with my pup, tossing a bird out for her to retrieve. Three times Jade brought it back to me, but on the fourth toss it seemed she’d had enough. She sat down next to the bird and started to chew, ending our game.
That first day the wind howled, heralding a fast-approaching winter storm. We hunted, and moved birds, though gusts pushed scent around like hockey pucks on freshly Zambonied ice. Doll did her darnedest, but it was almost impossible to determine from what direction that scent was blowing.
Often the coveys flushed wild, sideways to us from the wind.
Most covey flushes were a surprise; the birds taking to the air in tight groups. Those tight coveys fly long and often hit the ground running. A dog’s nose is usually the great equalizer, but not in that wind.
The next day we hunted a bit with no success and then the storm hit. We drove to a new spot and Doll was eager for another round. The puppy, however, barely poked her nose into the wind before it was blasted by blowing ice.
Jade backed up and returned to her bed, curling into a tight ball. If she’d spoken in that moment before she tucked her nose under her tail, saying “I don’t think so,” in perfectly enunciated English, she couldn’t have been more clear of her intentions.
Doll and I gave it a last go with the big dog hunting like a champ, despite the maddening conditions. The snow and blowing ice created a kind of visual white noise, like when a television has lost reception. It was hard to make sense of things in that din, but Doll kept working and got birdy, though her body language made clear she was struggling to sort the data gathered by her nose.
She broke up hill, working scent, just as a covey rose like an apparition out of the snow behind us. I fired a pair of shots, but all of the tightly grouped birds flew on, far and untraceable in the storm.
We’ll return, hopefully when the weather gives my dogs a sporting chance.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.