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October 11, 2013

Outdoors: Opening day bird hunt

Sanford, Me. — Last Saturday the sun came roaring up to meet Bob and Steve on opening day of the bird season in Maine. It was hot. The temperature had already risen to at least 75 degrees by the time the tailgate dropped and Magic scampered out of his box. This nine year old son of my Belle dog was raring to go. His whole body just trembled as Steve slipped on the electronic collar and bell.

The Ithaca 20-gauge double trigger side-by-side felt light to the hand. The soft, skin-tight leather gloves, the hunting vest, and hunter orange hat all fitted perfectly from years of use, but it would take a few minutes for them to feel comfortable again.

Steve had been training Magic hard on quail for the past few weeks in the Parker River Wildlife Management area near the house to get him ready for opening day. This long-legged, hard-running Llewellyn English Setter wanted to be away, to get his nose to the ground and find the birds he just knew would be there.

Crossing the low grey stone wall that has slowly disassembled over the years, Steve reached down and unclipped the leash from his dog. Magic bounded off to the right and disappeared into the thick foliage. All that could be heard from him was the tinkling of the bell that dangled from his collar.

Bob worked off to the left and Steve drifted right keeping the dog somewhat between them. The bell went silent. Instantly everyone was on alert. It is amazing how intensely aware you become of your surroundings. Eyes looking for the staunchly pointing dog, ears picking up every vibration, colors seeming to brighten, smells just that much more pungent....

Then without being seen for a moment, the pounding of beating wings as the startled woodcock struggles up straight up through the dense underbrush at the foot of the alders not yet beaten down by frost or snow, helicoptering to about fifteen feet and then darting forward like his tail was on fire.

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