A Stolen Hunt

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A Stolen Hunt Empty A Stolen Hunt

Post by JB on Sat Apr 26, 2008 7:22 am

Belle's tail was slapping the floor downstairs as she stood next to the hunting gear I had laying in the laundry room. Her nose was pulling remnants of last week's hunt from the air that drifted out of the gamebag. "Let's go Belle!" I've never seen a desire to hunt birds as strong as that possessed by Belle matched by the keenest sense of pheasant behaviour. When a pheasant would run, instead of following the bird as most dogs do, should would circle ahead and hold the bird until I approached. After that, all bets were off and she depended on me for the reward. She never did retrieve and I was not about to force break her into it either. Her job was to find birds and pin them down in a position that allowed for a fair shot or two. Pin them down she would, literally. At the site of the downed bird, she would stand staunch with a paw on the bird until I came to get it.
Let's go Belle! Let's get some birds! This was to be our last hunt in NW New Jersey. I didn't know it at the time but I was soon to be offered a promotion with J&J that would take us to the Philadelphia area and away from our treasured and secret coverts of the Appalachian Mountains. We wanted to sneak away on a drizzly day for one last go-around. We hunted prime Grouse coverts and flushed what amounted to no birds. I knew of a flat little weedy area about 2 acres in size that was open to sunlight providing for prime cover. Belle circled to the right and I saw the excitement in her movements. The swiss bell around her neck betrayed her location as she moved with a purpose. Expecting a rooster to flush, I was surprised to hear a series of whistles as a brown object moved up out of the boggy ground in a poplar grove. Not until the bird crossed through an opening in front of me did I realize that I was looking at a fleeting timberdoodle who thought it had escaped the last of the years' hunters. Maybe it picked that spot the night before as a resting place before continuing on down to Cape May and then to points farther south. Keeping my eye on the bird, I saw the bird go down with a flop. Somewhere in between my gun must've mounted, tracked the bird, established the correct lead, and released the trigger. I don't remember but the downed bird gave me the evidence I needed for a good guess. "Good dog! Good girl, Belle!!" I was absolutely amazed at her ability to recognize the scent of a gamebird that she had no prior experience with. How did she know? She amazed me with Chukars and huns out West, too. There must be something about the tendrils of scent that tell her "this is game" as opposed to "this is a songbird." At that time, Belle had about 500 pheasants shot over her and to say that she knew pheasants said more than most would ever know. We sat there for a moment, maybe more, and I looked up ahead as she finished her treat. Another hunter approached from our intended path and, in passing, said "no birds in this place." His empty gamebag told me he was telling the truth; at least as far as he and is Lab knew. We circled around the pasture, enjoying the day. The tinkling of the bell added a supernatural feeling to the wet and gray morning. My mind drifted for a bit before I realized the absence of the tinkling that lured me into daydreaming in the first place. Up ahead, by an old McCormick plow that was being reclaimed by Mother Earth, I saw her tail pointing toward the sky, honoring the great Red Gods of the Hunt. She circled to the left, circled to the right. She ran 20 yards to the right and spun around on the spot and locked up tight. Slowly, I took two steps forward, always keeping in sight of the dog. While in mid-stride, the rooster busted up cackling obscenities that would make even persons of questionable character blush. One shot, a winged bird was flying toward the swamp. A second shot brought it down and put to rest the most raucous, intelligent, hard-willed, gamebird I have ever hunted. The water rolled off of my cap and onto Belles face as she sat there and looked at me with pride. "Good girl!"
That secret covert was called "The McCormick Place" and was the last memorable hunt I had with the girl. She now lives in Illinois but has not forgotten who she is. The Woodcock you've seen in photos of my office is the bird this story describes. Memories gain color through time and I'm sure this one has too but that's how I remember the stolen hunt at McCormick Place with the Merkel and Belle.

A Stolen Hunt Dscn0113

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