I didn’t get a good night’s sleep the first night. Never do. It’s the second night’s sleep up to camp that makes up for it, and how sweet it is.
It was the last Saturday before deer season, which meant my last day to bird hunt with my 7-year-old Brittany, Argos, before I shifted my focus to deer.
Everyone had been saying (and I noticed it too) that there are fewer ruffed grouse along the roads this year. But that didn’t matter to Argos and me; we prefer walking anyway. A day hunting with your dog is really just hiking with less elevation gain, fewer crowds and more wildlife. I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail but when I got Argos as a puppy, I stopped hiking and started training him for his passion — hunting, and we’ve learned together.
Argos is athletic and long-legged (like me, I joke). That Saturday morning, he jumped eagerly into his crate in the back of my 4Runner; he knew we were going hunting when I put on my upland pants. I drove south toward Monson to our first spot. I slowed down when the road turned to gravel and as the road got rougher, Argos began to softly moan with anticipation. I smiled and chuckled to myself. His moans turned to howls by the time I pulled over and parked near a gated, old logging road. Foot traffic was allowed, but no ATVs or vehicles meant we’d likely have the place to ourselves.
I snapped Argos’ orange vest on, put a bell on his collar, and turned on his C-Collar before letting him jump out of the truck. I bent under the gate and took a deep breath on the other side. I love hunting alone. It’s simple. It’s freeing — just a girl and her dog, with nothing to do all day but walk in the woods.
Argos sprinted up and back on the forgotten road, now grown-over with grass. After getting his initial excitement out, he settled into hunting.
“Find the birds,” I told him and pointed to the woods to my right.
Nose to the air, he disappeared into the thick forest. I continued walking up the road, listening for his bell, staying even or slightly behind him. He emerged in front of me and headed to the trees to my left. He was doing what he loves, what centuries of breeding have instilled deep in his DNA, what he was literally born to do.
We continued this way, me walking the old road and Argos weaving back and forth in the woods on both sides of the road until we came to a clearing of tall grass. There were small cuts branching out from the clearing that were overgrown with thick raspberry bushes.
I stopped to debate whether I wanted to explore them now, or on the way back, but Argos made up his mind and headed into one. He quickly disappeared in the tall, prickly bushes and then his bell stopped. I walked quickly toward where Argos had disappeared to.
I spotted him — frozen with intensity, tail quivering. I walked cautiously ahead of him, scanning for the slightest movement. My heart raced, with my finger on the safety of my 20 gauge over and under. A grouse exploded 30 feet away and before I could mount my gun, it escaped into the trees.
“Good boy!” I praised Argos as I released him from point by tapping him on his neck. He leapt forward, jumping up into the air so he could see over the raspberry bushes for an instant, probably wondering why I didn’t shoot the bird he pointed.
Then he headed to the thick woods beside the cut and we walked parallel together — him in the forest, me in raspberry row. I stopped and ate a couple very ripe raspberries, surprised to find them in late October. Clearly this is what the grouse was after, too.
Then another bird flushed about 40 feet ahead of me without warning just as Argos’ bell stopped ringing.
“Is he pointing the bird that just flushed?” I wondered.
I tried to spy his white fur or orange vest but couldn’t. I kept walking, finger on the safety again. A bird flushed from the woods to my right, crossed in front of me and I mounted my Beretta and fired.
The bird fell into the raspberries and I hollered for Argos. He didn’t need a tap on his neck to be released this time. He ran excitedly toward me, nearly stepping on the downed bird before noticing it.
There are very few things I consider purer than shooting a bird over my dog. We are a team. I hunt for the experience. I like the meat, and I like antlers and fur, but I love the experience of hunting the most. It brings me places I would never go, wakes me up earlier than I ever would, and I learn more about wildlife and nature than I ever imagined. And I get to do it all with my best friend by my side.
After a few hours of beating brush, we returned to the truck. I lifted Argos; he was too tired to jump into his crate. We were both tired, but that good kind of tired you get after a long day in fresh air. I scratched behind his ears and headed to the next spot.