|Annie the Wirehair fetching a sage chicken|
The British term for what we call “bird hunting” is “rough shooting”—stumbling about the brush and fields hoping our dogs either point or flush birds within range allowing us to blast away. As opposed to taking a stand at an assigned “shooting station” and blazing away at driven red-legged partridge sailing by overhead, meanwhile addled gun handlers feverishly shove fresh shotshells into the chambers of a matched pair of priceless Purdeys—or whatever brand of so-called “London Best Shotguns” one prefers. Having never crossed the Atlantic I am told our modus operandi is frowned upon—the why of which is baffling.
Over here things are not so cut and dried, especially here in the wild west, where it is still sociably acceptable in most circles to shoot grouse off limbs or sage chickens out the truck window. Meanwhile some of us run high class, really expensive dogs , shoot shotguns costing several thousand dollars—high end stuff most of us really can’t afford—and think nothing of tramping countless miles of inhospitable country for the mere chance to collect a handful of feathers. As opposed to gunning down the costly tame variety, raised in flight pens, as often as not dizzied and tucked under a convenient bush before loosing equally costly dogs and wielding equally costly shotguns—one guy told me it might cost more but the results are guaranteed notwithstanding death marches are not an issue.
We are of course like the Britts, a strange bunch, but having chased a variety of bird dogs over hill and dale for 61 years and and counting I’ve come to the conclusion without the dogs well... For-Get-It.
In the beginning our rough shooting dog was a leggy, black mutt, with pointy ears and a white chest blaze, named Tippy. Father told anyone who would listen Tip was a registered black Lab. Non-hunters of course were clueless, but any hunter worth his salt knew better, which often led to some really loud, heated and entertaining disputes—which I’m pretty sure he lived for but can’t prove.
Whatever Tip was he loved to hunt. He trailed ringnecks silently and tongued (rather yipped pathetically) anything else—rabbits, squirrels, feral cats, skunks, you name it. Since I was the only one in good enough shape (I played football, basketball and baseball) to keep up I got most of the shooting. Father and uncle Bob abhorred rabbits and squirrels, were interested only in roosters and got to shoot only when a bird flushed and flew back their way. We hunted grouse and woodcock as well but wisely left Tip at home.
My first real bird dog, a Brittany spaniel, was the runt of a litter of field trial hopefuls. The breeder said, “She’s just too small to run with the big dogs so I can let you have her for 35 bucks.” He then sweetened the deal, “If you give me a hand feeding and cleaning kennels, I’ll get her trained up with the rest.”
To Be Continued...