Pheasant hunting brings together good friends and good dogs
A reliable and accomplished pointing dog works a zig-zag pattern through good pheasant cover in front of the hunter, sometimes cautiously and sometimes a bit too aggressively for the handler’s comfort. But this is pheasant hunting.
The handler has to fight the urge to command or correct the dog. Hunting companions unfamiliar with the dog’s proven ability, wondering if the dog is going to unexpectedly flush a bird, are overly anxious. They glance at the handler repeatedly, holding back any advice or criticism, determining when and how they will voice their opinion.
Then the dog turns its head slightly, almost imperceptible to those not entirely in tune with a dog in the field. A moment later the dog stops solidly. Its naturally born instinct is so strong that one foot remains above the ground. It’s a classic bird dog stance, head held high, allowing the dog’s keen sense of smell to detect the presence of a pheasant. Another half step, says the dog’s posture, and a bird will take flight.
The dog remains statue still, fully locked as handlers would say. The dog’s eyes glaze over slightly. There’s not a twitch. No movement of the tail. Complete intensity.
With a motion of a hand the handler signals a fellow hunter to move up within shotgun range. Yet, with two hunters moving close to the dog, the dog doesn’t budge. No bird takes flight. The handler reaches down to tap the dog on the hind quarters, a silent signal giving the dog permission to move. He doesn’t. He won’t. He knows the pheasant is too close. Now the handler knows it too.
As the handler steps in front of the dog a long-tailed rooster pheasant, somehow hidden in what appears to be very scant cover, bursts into the air. The hunter’s aim is on the mark and the dog is rewarded for excellent work with a triumphant retrieve. His tail wags rapidly as he makes a celebratory parade lap around the hunters before being asked to drop the bird, which the dog does willingly in return for a pat on the head and a kind word.
A hunting companion who a few minutes earlier was quite doubtful about the dog’s ability to contribute favorably to the hunt, struggles to find the right words of praise. No matter. Facial expressions say it all. The words will come. All concerns about the dog have vanished.
This is pheasant hunting at its best. Dog’s rule. Not hunters. It’s a team endeavor. It’s making friends and solidifying friendships. It happens ever fall and winter in North Dakota.
“It’s just such a dance. It’s exciting. It’s surprising. It’s exhilarating,” said Susan Davy, Burlington. “You have days when you miss the one chance you have but, without the dogs, I don’t think I’d do it.”
Davy has trained and hunted behind pointing dogs since the early 1990’s. It’s an activity, she says, that she “didn’t even know existed.” Now you can’t keep her out of the field, usually not far from her dog, Tracker, a 8 1/2 year old Griffon.
“It gives you goosebumps and keeps you going back. Ninety percent of it is the dogs,” said Davy. “It’s not about birds in the bag. It’s sharing what those dogs do for us, mostly pure joy and fun. It really is.”
Davy relishes her time in the field with a dog or two and good hunting companions. This hunting season, in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, places even more importance on being outdoors.
“Hunting is great exercise and now, with the COVID, social distancing isn’t a problem,” said Davy. “Not too many people are willing to walk four to six miles or more over hill and dale. It’s the best thing we could be doing and we are so lucky to still be doing it.”
North Dakota’s pheasant season continues through Jan. 3, 2021.