Across the North Country, in local tamarack bogs, the tall slender stalks of Common Cottongrass have sprouted. They have the appearance of marshmellows stuck on sticks, which were mysteriously lost in a bog. With large cotton-like flowers, the plant provides a natural caution flag to warn of potentially deep and dangerous bogs.
Although autumn delivers a wide range of recreational opportunities, one of the true joys of the season is the opportunity to return to the field in the company of man’s best friend.
Whether hunting for upland game such as pheasant, woodcock or ruffed grouse in the forests and fields, or taking to the wetlands for waterfowl such as ducks of geese; time spent in the company of a four-legged companion is always special. Hunting dogs are a unique breed of animal; they live to hunt, to point and to retrieve, and they strive to please.
In fact, some anthropologists believe mankind would have never advanced beyond the stage of simple hunter-gatherers if not for domesticated dogs. Dogs provided the unique services of herding, guarding and hunting, which allowed mankind to control herds of animals.
Several years ago, I had an opportunity to hunt in the company of an old friend, who owns a large farm near Cobleskill, NY. Along with a wide menagerie of animals, Richard also raises pheasants. I joined him and his thirteen year old son, for a day in the field
Although I had experience with both grouse and woodcock at the time; I had spent very little time afield, hunting for pheasants. However, I reckoned that knocking down a few recently released pheasants would be rather easy, given my background with grouse and woodcock. Pheasants offer a larger, and slower moving target than either grouse or woodcock. Conveniently, they also tend to fly off, in a straight away fashion.
It was a cool morning, as we set off with Laddie, a German Shorthair Pointer. The dog, a retired National Field Champion, was literally bouncing off the ground with excitement. And as I recall, so was I.
The dog took to the hunt like a young pup, and as he romped through the open fields and surrounding brush, the bell on his collar sounded a cheery note.
Suddenly, the bell went silent as the dog froze on point. We approached the location, with Richard’s son in the center, flanked by both of us. On command, the dog flushed a pair of pheasants, which immediately took to the wing.
Before I could shoulder my shotgun, two shots sounded in the still morning air, and two birds fell to the ground. The youngster had dropped both of them, before either his father or I could even get off a shot.
“Pretty good shooting”, I muttered to myself, “Maybe I’ll let the kid take a few more shots before I get serious.” It was a good thing I kept those thoughts to myself.
For the remainder of the morning hunt, the pattern continued. The dog would fan the fields, until the bell went silent as the dog held on point, quivering with excitement. On command, the dog would flush birds and the darned kid knocked them out of the air like clockwork. Richard and I were mere spectators and occasional cheerleaders
My initial cockiness quickly diminished, and I began to wonder if I would ever manage to get a shot off. Fortunately, I had an opportunity when a bird flushed immediately in my direction, and I took it with a single shot. Unfortunately, it was only shell I used during the entire outing.
Together, we managed to harvest all but one of the released pheasants. Richard took two, which both flanked left and his kid took the others. I was humbled, darn kid.
Later, as we sat in the cabin sipping hot chocolate, I told Richard how impressed I was with his son’s shooting. “He was truly incredible out there!”, I exclaimed, “You know, he’s a fine shooter, and he’s very smooth. He’s certainly got a great future ahead of him.”
“Well Joe”, Richard revealed, “He’s been at it for quite a while. In fact he’s been a competitive shooter from an early age, and he’s been ranked on the National level since he was twelve. He won the New Jersey State Skeet Championship in 20 gauge for three years in a row, and just lost the 12 gauge title in a shoot-off, against a kid, who was three years older.”
My face grew red with embarrassment, as Richard continued, “We are hoping he will continue with the sport. His coach claims he has the potential to make the Olympic team!”, (which he eventually did.)
It was a humbling experience, and a great lesson learned! Since that time, I’ve never doubted the skill level of young shooters, nor have I failed to appreciate the pleasure of hunting over a well trained, bird dog.
Most importantly, I’ve come to respect the opportunity provided by the specially designated Youth Pheasant Hunts, which DEC schedules annually, for the weekend prior to the regular season opener. Pheasant are the most popular game species utilized for introducing youth to the sport. They are easy to raise, provide great sport and make fine table fare.
Youth Hunts rank high among the many contributions that local Fish and Game, or Rod and Gun Clubs provide. Prior to the opening of the regular season, there are a number of Youth Pheasant Hunts scheduled throughout the region. This year, hunts have been hosted in Putnam by the Northern Washington County Fish and Game Club, and in Willsboro, by the Willsboro Fish and Game Club. The Willsboro event, which is one of the longest standing local Youth Hunts, attracted over twenty participants.
In this age of political correctness, there will always be concerns over firearms and youth. With this in mind, it was refreshing to find an announcement for a YOUTH PHEASANT HUNT posted on the Westport Central School Home Page, sandwiched between the Fitness Room Schedule and information on Youth Commission Biddy Soccer Program.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org