Snow, freezing rain, and a 15-degree cold front swept across the North Country this week, a gift from the Dakotas so that we would not feel excluded from the party. I was perfectly willing to stay in the Clubhouse, read, drink hot tea, and nap, but Abbey would have none of that.
She moped. She whined. She cried. She tugged at the cuffs of my pants. “Okay, fine!” I scolded. “But this will be a miserable day of hunting, and you get all the blame.”
I called a bird-hunting friend to help me enjoy the pleasant weather. “Perfect day to hunt roosters,” I said. “They will be hunkered down tight under the snow,”
He said “No!” I asked to speak to his dog. The dog said “Oh hell yes!” A bird hunter is wise to stay in the good graces of his dog. If you disrespect a bird dog’s opinions, it has ways of getting even.
We spent a couple hours battling 15 mile-per-hour winds, which our faces and hands told us was the wind chill equivalent of zero degrees Fahrenheit. The pheasants surely must have retreated from the cornfields into the heavy, protective cover of CRP ground, we reasoned. But we found none. Slogging through native grass stands with a coating of ice and snow was another challenge for old legs.
No pheasants. None. Not even a trace of scent, the dogs insisted. We took a shortcut across the center of a hilly quarter-section of CRP and discovered — lo and behold — a scraggly wildlife food plot of stunted corn and weeds. Mostly weeds.
There we did indeed find pheasants. Lots of pheasants. A dogs-gone-crazy-with-scent cluster of pheasants. Abbey was in that tangle somewhere — but where? I found her on point. One rooster exploded out of the snow under her nose. Two, three four five, six. I lost count. Many, many pheasants.
We shot at four and knocked them down. Abbey had to root the wounded birds out of the matted tangle of grass and weeds and snow and ice where they had burrowed to escape. They did not succeed. I once read that a bird dog has at least 4,000 times as many olfactory sensors in its long and expansive nasal cavity as does a human. I believe it. Without Abbey’s nose, we would not have found a single one of those pheasants. Aided by her nose, we found them all.
One was still a difficult retrieve. Flush out and chase. Burrow under and search. Another chase. Finally, I threw myself on top of the rooster and grabbed its tail. There was much squawking, beating of wings, kicking of sharp spurs, shouting, and feathers-flying wrestling.
“That was hilarious!” Abbey laughed as she sat beside my prostrate body. “Hand me the bird before you get up. If you CAN get up.”
“Here’s your bird!” I snapped. “And of course I can get up! Probably. Now, help me look for my gun.”
I got even. Back home, I made Abbey pose with the dead pheasants. She hates this ritual.
“Are you glad I made you go hunting?” she asked.
“Ask me again this evening. After I take a couple doses of Tylenol.”