The shortening of days now at the tail end of autumn is something I’ve never been a fan of, but it’s out of my control, so I make the best of it. Flying home after work, lacing up boots, sliding the 20 gauge into a case and loading the lab seems to be the best way to deal with it. It’s a half hour drive to my favorite bird hunting spot, which leaves barely 30 or 40 minutes to roam the tall grass prairie to hunt pheasant, before the sun sinks.
Birdless? Well, not entirely true. Birdless because the safety was never slid off? That much is correct, like so many hunts-especially in the grouse woods. Because I missed? Also frequently true, I’ll never win any wing shooting competitions. Birdless just because Molly and I never had the chance to take a shot or put game in the bag and that was the subjective score. It still was a bird hunt, a successful one at that. I’m realizing I frequently write about this same thing over and over-what “success” in a hunt really means and as most of us know, it changes over time.
The “Birdless Bird Hunt” started as the quivering black lab leapt from the back seat, barely waiting for her collar bell and for me to slide 2 shells into the gun. She seems to sense when we’re almost to the field while driving-her tail thumping speeds up several notches. The sun is already touching the arched horizon and colors flood the sky. The birds will have to wait as I pull out a small camera to take home a few images. Molly isn’t as patient, her nose already pulling her in directions I can’t imagine. Off we go and I follow the dog wherever scent steers her-I have no agenda to cover the entire field, just to watch her work.
Over the course of the past two seasons, I think I’m starting to read the labs movements; starting to know what she’s sensing and when to be ready… and when to be really ready for a flush. There seems to be a “I think there is a bird here somewhere” search of the grass in front of her and a “I know there is a bird here!” frantic scouring of every inch of ground. She either slows way down (except her tail) or speeds up to track down a moving bird. That’s when my thumb slides up to the safety and I scan carefully the terrain she’s probing. More often than not, the her nose was right and if I trust in it, we put a bird in the air.
Flush or not, I’m finding that proudly witnessing a few of those “I-gotta-find-this-bird “ frenzied sessions by Molly is what it’s all about. As darkness steals the color from the sky, I snap a couple more pictures of tall grass and abandoned sunflowers against a deepening cold blue horizon. I’m satisfied….cradling the double barrel in the crook of my arm Molly settles in alongside knowing tonight the hunt is over. Her nose is always working however and pulls her away for a couple detours in the dark. I slipped the bell off her collar and the gun into its case and settled in for the drive back home, content in knowing that even a birdless hunt can be some of the most enjoyable an appreciated time spent outdoors.