Bright blue skies, bright white powder snow, bright blaze orange worn by the people and dogs. That’s my impression now, looking back on it. That, plus sage brush, stands of juniper, and tall clumps of grass scattered along the field. Breathing hard, trying to keep up with the dogs, pulling through a foot of powder with every step, tramping along ruts cut in a small road, down hills, into a cattail- and willow-filled, half-frozen stream along the bottom of the draw. From time to time, the sudden flutter of wings as pheasants were flushed from their hiding places. And the dogs, each one in turn, panting with excitement and effort, themselves becoming more and more bespangled with heavy white balls of snow.
Just as it was getting light yesterday, Tammy, Russ and I, plus three Irish Water Spaniels, left Portland and drove east along the Columbia River and then up and over the Deschutes River into the high ground above Maupin, Oregon. We were there to hunt pheasants. Unlike Tooey, Cooper hadn’t had his share of the bird hunting yet this season, and his brother Mowgli wanted a chance to fine-tune his bird sense.
With three dogs and three people, we quickly formed working teams, each with two gunners, a dog handler, and a dog. We started out with Tammy handling her Mowgli, with Russ and I gunning. It didn’t take long, maybe only 10 minutes of quartering back and forth, road to draw, when Mowgli flushed a pheasant. The bird flew right into range of Russ’s gun. Russ downed the bird, and Mowgli, true to his retriever training, marked the bird’s fall, retrieved it, and delivered it to Tammy’s hand.
The three us covered the length of that field, and Mowgli did his job, flushing up three more birds. We shot at two of them, but we gunners were apparently not warmed up enough, because we missed them all. Mowgli tried to help the situation by running down into the draw, across the pond, and up the opposing hill, chasing after one that got away. But when it became apparent that he would never catch it, Tammy called him back.
By this time, Mowgli was carrying at least 5 pounds of snow on his belly and legs. So we turned and headed back.
After we rubbed as much snow off Mowgli as we could and put him up in the warm car with a bucket of water and some food, we got Tooey out for her turn. Not that we expected that Tooey would get any birds from the area that Mowlgi had just worked, but we did have to give her a turn. She hates being left out, and this way, there would be at least the appearance of fairness.
Russ handled Tooey, while Tammy and I held the shotguns. Tooey, unlike Mowgli, didn’t quarter the field, but spent most of her time in the draw. The stream had dammed up a bit at the beginning of the field, and the resulting pond was frozen. Too bad for Tooey, who loves to swim. She continued to work in and around the willows and cattails, getting birdy a few times where some of Mowgli’s birds had been. Toward the far end of the field, she found the unfrozen section of the stream, and went in and out, washing off the snow that was accumulating on her belly and legs. Finally, we turned around, walked back along the road, back to the car. We spend a few minutes rubbing Tooey to get the snow off, put her up in the nice warm car, and then had some lunch.
After lunch it was finally Cooper’s turn. I’ll cover that in the next post. Stay tuned…
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