~ Long-Tail Down ~

The crisp, cold air of December was not a deterrent to our plan for an afternoon pheasant hunt earlier today. We proceeded to the fields, myself with my gun dogs TRAD and MAC, my friend Deb with her gun dog JACKSON. All three dogs are Labrador Retrievers, TRAD a six year old champion, Mac a twenty month old retriever with one full season of bird hunting behind him, and JACKSON, a fourteen month old in his rookie year as a gun dog.

Deb does not hunt, but she understands that as a working breed dog, that retriever JACKSON needs meaningful work / activity to lead a fulfilling life. Deb started JACKSON training with me last January to become a gun dog and K9 hunt test athlete. A conscientious dog owner, Deb has spent much time in training with myself and her dog JACKSON and she has become a more proficient handler and has a great bond with JACKSON as a result.

Releasing our dogs with the command "high-on", the dogs were free to quarter back and forth in front of us whilst search through the deep cover crops and hedgerows that stretched out before us. We kept the dogs moving into the wind so that they might pick up any bird scent being carried on the prevailing currents of moving air. As we followed the dogs, we watched them intensively for any signs that they might be on the scent trail of a pheasant. The amount of distance covered by working dogs whilst hunting is nothing short of amazing and they really burn off lots of energy in doing so.

Now having walked approximately 1 mile whilst following the three retrievers, I noted that TRAD was "alerting" to the scent of a pheasant, that being silently communicated to me by the way he moves whilst working a bird. His movements become more deliberate, his nose glued to the ground with the exception of his occasional lifting of it higher in the air and directly into the moving wind, sampling for the origin of bird scent with what seems like pin-pointing accuracy. All three dogs were working in what now appeared as a frantic search grid of no obvious pattern, but movements that indicated their definite intention to find a nearby pheasant. My dogs wear bells of varying tonal qualities, that allowing me to determine which dog I am listening to in a certain area of a field, that determined by the difference in tonal pitch. I also listen to the cadence of the bell and can tell when one of my dogs is close to a bird even when the dog is in deep cover and cannot be seen directly by me.

I knew TRAD was closing in on a bird, the other younger dogs MAC and JACKSON were not as focused. All of a sudden the cackling of a large rooster pheasant could be heard as TRAD flushed the bird from the cover and into the air. The bird was moving from my left and twin wing to the right at about 40 yards distance from my position. My shotgun mounted to my shoulder, I swung the gun smoothly and precisely in catching up to the bird, firing the top barrel of my Browning 20 gauge, and following through the bird with my swing in good form, much as does a golfer when driving a ball. Deb and I watched the bird get hit in mid flight and crumple as it fell toward the ground. "Long-tail down" I thought to myself as I knew my shot had connected with the big bird lethally. MAC was the closest retriever to the bird and he broke from his most often steady sit on the shot, an attempt to beat the other two dogs to the retrieve, an infraction I would not normally condone, but our hunt today was really focused more on getting JACKSON some field experience and learning to work with the other dogs cooperatively, that all going smoothly. MAC's immediate delivery of the big pheasant classically to my hand conjuring my absolution for his infraction of breaking on the shot today, but that will not be the case moving forward.

The big rooster flushed by TRAD and retrieved by MAC was the only bird flushed during our short hunt this wintery day and a real beauty of a bird he was. The hunt got us outside in the fresher and gave the dogs some most meaningful exercise. The rooster will be utilized for meat and likely made into a tasty stew to be enjoyed on another cold winter's day. Our retrievers are sleeping well tonight.