What are the true prizes that you take home from a hunt? At the end of the day, what are the things that you really cherish? Is it the birds harvested? Is it the thrill of the dog’s point, flush and shot? For sure, these things are a big part of what keeps us coming back for more year after year. But for me, there’s something else. Every time we go afield, each of us take home a few souvenirs,
if you will. Here’s a few that I gathered from a sharptail hunt with my eight year old son, Thomas, and good friend, Matt Lucia this past October.
As the sun arises, Tommy and I sit patiently in the car waiting for Matt to arrive. Meanwhile, we talk, laugh, and gag over our stinky, old beloved dog, Sunny. We text Matt that sitting in the car with Sunny is “like eating a crap sandwich.” Despite the pitiful entertainment, we are hopeful for the day. I take a picture of the horizon with my iPhone and post it on facebook with the label: “Hope on the Horizon.” For it feels like it’s going to be one of those days.
There’s nothing like a rising sun in October.
Matt and his Lab, Darby, veer to the west in pursuit of a bird that staggered at Matt’s shot. Tommy and I stay on the rounded ridge top hoping to find our own birds. Lo and behold, two sharptail breeze past us at seventy-five yards and drop into a food plot. I know right where they are. With a tough start to the bird hunting season―both in bird numbers and in shooting―my heart instantly pounds in my chest with nervous excitement. One of the pair rises out of range, but its companion jumps nearby and I determinedly shoot, the bird falters, and I follow up with a solid shot. The monkey is off my back! Sunny makes her first retrieve of the year. The GSP pup, Brandy, is so excited she tries to steal the retrieve, but Sunny will have none of it. Even when the grouse is secure in the bag, the pup stands on her hind legs and sticks her nose in my old, stained Filson bag sucking in the scent of her new-found passion.
Two young pups: Tommy and Brandy. Brandy gets a noseful of her first bird
We stop temporarily at the truck to water the dogs. We try to keep them out of the deer gut pile that lies alongside the road. As I take a knee and fill the water bowl for Sunny and Misty, Matt says, “Andy, What’s in your pup’s mouth?” I look up and immediately in front of my face is Brandy with some things dangling from her mouth. Instantly recognizing the fury package before me, I yell, “SICK! . . . BALLS!” Brandy has located her own souvenirs from the deer gut pile. Matt and Tommy have a good chuckle at our expense.
One particular hill that we work along is loaded with sharptail sign. The dogs get noticeably birdy and Misty locates and flushes a group of 10 to 20 almost out of range. To no avail, I unload my over and under in their general direction. The birds fly uphill near a brushy hillside shaped like a crescent moon. We think we know right where they are, but we’ve been wrong before.
The wind blows steady now, which is not a good recipe for sharptail hunting. Matt and I look long and hard for the sharptail covey, but can’t seem to locate them. Tommy follows Matt and talks his ear off the whole time. I decide to try one final overlooking another smaller, brushy belt. I soon lose sight of Matt and Tommy, and yell, “MATT!” to try and get their attention. Right at that time, the elusive sharptails take to wing and head for Wyoming. There goes our chances, I murmur to myself.
My three dogs and I start to make the long trek back to the vehicles. The wind is blowing strong enough now that I realize the hunt is just about over. Sunny thinks otherwise. Although arthritis has slowed her down―so much so that watching her work is sometimes akin to watching grass grow―her love and drive for the hunt has not dimmed one iota. She is all heart! I love that about her. There’s absolutely no question she is working a bird so I try to stay close. Sure enough, the bird flushes in range giving me an easy straightaway and Sunny is on the bird almost as quickly as it hits the ground. With that gleam in her eye, it’s like she is the energetic pup all over again. At that moment, I feel so much gratitude for the day and its bounties that I take a knee and offer up a prayer of thanks.
There you have it. These are my souvenirs that I gathered from this special October hunt, the mental pictures and memories that I have stored up for when Winter sets in, in earnest. When the snow flies and the hunting seasons close, I will bring out these treasures and relive them once again in my mind. These souvenirs, and many others from numerous days afield, are precious to me. I would not trade them for anything.
Here’s a few more souvenirs from this hunt.