Lu wouldn’t even look at me.
She’d laid down deliberately with her hindquarters pointed in my direction one evening about a week ago. No amount of coaxing would get her to even turn her head. It was an oddly passive-aggressive comment on the dramatic change my wife and I had forced upon the little springer spaniel.
She’d been living at my folks’ place for the week with her adopted brothers Gil, a young black lab, and Gumbo, a grumpy middle-aged lhasa apso mix. My wife and I, meanwhile, had disappeared for three days and come back with a rather loud, very needy little bundle of joy. I call her Charlie.
Lu very quickly discovered that her days of climbing into my lap at will — at least when said bundle of joy was in it — were now done. My attention and my wife’s attention would now be diverted. And, more importantly from her perspective, our hunting time would be negatively impacted.
We hadn’t gone hunting in nearly a week, which was the longest she’d gone without chasing game birds since the middle of September. Lu was not happy with me. Not one bit.
Gil, meanwhile, seemed to have taken the change in stride. He, in fact, took to Charlie almost immediately. He jumped up on my parents’ couch and licked the baby’s head within 15 minutes of her arrival at the house.
Still, he was beginning to get a bit restless as evidenced by the dog toys, or rather the pieces of dog toys, that were scattered across the living room floor.
Both dogs needed some field time. It wasn’t a hard argument to make. So, while our daughter was just a few days into the world, I was able to convince my wife to let me take a few hours the next afternoon to run our two hunting dogs.
We left the house about 3 p.m. and headed south for Lake Alvin. My folks live in Sioux Falls, so the hunting within a reasonable driving distance is, at best, less than stellar. But, I figured, the trip was more about getting the dogs out and if we happened to flush a few hens, that’d just be gravy on top of a nice walk.
Lake Alvin, or more specifically, the Game Production Area just east of the mid-sized reservoir, is about 15 minutes from my folks’ home. When we arrived I found the cover to be pretty good, though there were a few too many small cedar trees for my liking. A harvested corn field bordered the southern edge of the GPA and, later, I discovered a cut beanfield to the east as well. It all looked pretty promising as I unloaded the dogs and put their e-collars on them.
Both dogs got birdy pretty fast and disappeared into the tall grass. They found some spots that looked like old pheasant roosts but no birds flushed. About half an hour in with no birds flushed, Lu took off into a steep, thickly wooded draw. I hustled after her, knowing she’d found something.
Unfortunately. The birds — three hens and a big rooster — saw us coming and bailed long before we got into shotgun range. They’d been on the opposite side of the draw. I hadn’t expected to see anything, much less a bird I could actually shoot.
Encouraged by our find, I spent the next hour traipsing up and down some fairly steep hills complete with plum thickets and shoulder-high grass. I’d headed down along the draw in which we’d found the pheasants, which lead to an old food plot full of sunflowers and cockle burrs. From there we’d turned east up a steep, grassy hillside separating a pair of tall cedar shelterbelts. At the top of the hill I turned south and bushwhacked my way through some thick stands of sand plum.
Eventually the dogs and I made our way around the southernmost stand of cedars and got pointed back to the west and toward the truck. One obstacle stood in our way: a shallow draw with a big cedar and a gnarled oak surrounded by grass and brush. The dogs dove into the cover. I was tired and trying to take it a bit easy. I hadn’t been sleeping as well as I had a week earlier.
I didn’t notice when Lu and Gil started acting like they’d found a bird. When the rooster flushed from a tangle of thorns and grass about 5 feet from me, I jumped about 12 inches off the ground before planting my feet and ripping off a shot. Feathers flew and bird hit the ground running, forcing the dogs into a tail chase.
They caught it and Gil brought it to hand. Lu forgave me.