The alarm clock jolted me, and the dogs, out of bed like the bellow of a ship’s horn on a foggy river. Our morning ritual is always the same, I let them outside, make coffee & breakfast, then let them in right after I set down to eat some bacon and eggs. Those dogs know when I am about to eat some succulent, perfectly prepared, bacon. So, I let them in, filled their bowls, and ate my cold breakfast with a smile.
I noticed, when I let the boys in, that it was cold outside. Now, cold is a relative term in Tennessee because 30 degrees is almost arctic. What a perfect morning to chase, or attempt to chase, a woodcock in the south.
The very second, I grabbed my shotgun out of the safe Ole trapper started for the door. He knew it was time to earn his kibble. As we got to the truck, he promptly sat down by the passenger door like a good boy. Only problem is he was supposed to ride in his dog box. It only took a single stern “Trap” for him to go to the tailgate and load up. I know he does this intentionally just to mess with me.
I happened to know exactly where I wanted to hunt on this fabulous morning. We arrived at a local Wildlife Management Area shortly before 8 in the morning. Normally I would avoid these areas like the plague because of deer season, but that closed last weekend. As I pulled into the designated parking area there was only a single other truck there.
I would say the truck was 20 years old if it was a day old. Not junk yard quality but, it had seen better days. The homemade dog box told me this was probably an old school hunter. Most likely a rabbit hunter, as upland hunters went away when the quail population crashed. In fact, I only knew of one other guy who still chased these wild birds. Trapper and I were waiting for him over coffee and Little Debbie Snacks. Yea I know all the dog trainers are cringing because I share my snacks with my dog. Well, he is mine and he likes little Debbie’s better than me.
Finally, Joe, my partner and the guy who is NEVER late called to say his daughter had his first grandson last night and he couldn’t make it. Normally I would say there is absolutely no excuse to bail, or be late, on a hunting trip. This time though I didn’t get sideways as you could hear his pride over the phone. I looked at trapper and said, “Today is all on you boy” and opened the dog box door.
While I had my back turned Trapper found the only mudhole in miles and proceeded to take himself a mud bath, then he found what was left of a deer gut pile and rolled in that as well. This dog can’t be trusted to his own means. To him everything in life is an opportunity for fun, then I realized if people were more like bird dogs the world would be a better place.
I got the gear together and called trapper over to the truck. Muddy and stinking to high heaven he sat there like he was posing for a magazine. I think he does stuff like that just to see if I will swear.
The plan was to test out my new side by side while we worked some old grown over fence rows, and creek bottoms. I held my breath and put the tracking collar on Trap, he is not a fan of this new collar but, he knows the rules, no collar no hunt. I was worried about him running into a pack of beagles and deciding he was a rabbit dog. I mean he is still just a 75-pound puppy.
I was getting my gun out of the cab when I heard a single shot ring out in the morning air. Odd I thought, as no beagles could be heard before or after the shot. The shot also came from a piece of cover I know holds birds this time of the year. Then about 3 seconds later I heard a voice call out in the distance “Dammit Sam” At that moment I was not a 55-year-old bird hunter with more miles behind him than in front of him. I was a 7-year-old boy on a pheasant hunt in the late 1970’s. Our dog’s name was Sam, and as a pup she was terrible at holding until we got there. My dad yelling “Dammit Sam”, when she flushed the birds prematurely, is a long-lost memory of mine.
I would have daydreamed more had it not been for trapper screaming and running for the truck. He had been doing his thing and peeing on everything within 20 yards. When I looked to see what all the excitement was about, I saw he had made a friend. A very stinky friend. So now he was covered in mud, week old deer remnants, and had tangled with a skunk and lost.
It was at that moment I realized that my hunt was not only over, but it had also been oddly fulfilling. Hearing that man yell “Dammit Sam” took me back a few years and made me remember what’s important. It’s not the birds at all that we seek, it’s the experience and the memories made while chasing them. However, I do wish trapper would make a few less stinky memories on our journey through the uplands together.