Stories of a Bird Hunter
By Randy McCall
Would like to share a few stories I have written along the way.
About 15 years ago I took up the sport of bird hunting. In our area that
sport was practiced by many, years ago, but had dwindled to only a few
hunters in the county. On the street or in the local hardware you could
invariably talk to any one, and at one time or another they had done some
bird hunting. For some reason or another I became interested in bird
hunting even though during my childhood I had only gone once or twice. My
family had recently moved to the country, out from a small town, and I
guess just living in the country brought it on.
My first dog was a female named Sue (Dunbar's Slewfoot Sue) that I had obtained from a fellow in
Chesterfield, S.C. by the name of Charlie Crawford. Someone had told me he
owned a furniture store and had a yard full of setters. So I made a
trip to Chesterfield. She was only three weeks old when I first saw her,
and I picked her because of her solid white body and two black marks that
covered her eyes and ears. Sue had been born on Christmas day so I knew
there must be something special about her plus the fact that Mr Charlie had
been breeding setters for about 30 years. Mr Charlie was one of those
unique individuals that never stopped talking and always held you
captivated by numerous stories of one kind or another. No matter how many times you
stopped by his furniture store he was always willing to stop and talk.
He loved to tell the story of his long time friend Preacher Mopus. He
always wondered how a preacher could train bird dogs, and not cuss. He
said that the Preacher never cussed when his dogs didn't quite do what they were
supposed to do, that he would just spit. Mr Charlie always said that
even though the Preacher didn't cuss, where he spit the grass wouldn't grow.
Walking between two cotton fields toward home, I looked into a dark blue
Southern sky that ran into a golden line where the sun had once shown. On
my left was a rising full yellow moon. Only an hour before I had been
going through all those vexations that occur at the office. Now I was heading
home with two birds in my vest, from what proved to be a very fruitful 60
Sue (Sue's Echo) a two year old setter had done very well. She was a product of two of
my first two setters Dunbar's Slewfoot Sue and Rosanne Mosley. Looking at
their pedigrees you could see almost every major setter in their
bloodlines: Johnny Crockett, Mr Thor, Toronado, I'm Oscar, Sam L's Rebel, Grouse
Ridge John,Flaming Star, Long Gone Sam, Grouse Ridge Will, Smackwater Jack,
Hickory Pride, Tomoka, and Bozeann Mosley. No papers told her story. She
showed what she could do.
We hunted the edge of a bean field that bordered a three year cut down.
Sue hunted the edge and a few times went into the cut down, but soon came out.
After about 300 yards the bean field ran out, so we got into the briars and
small pines and hunted along the inside edges, all the while Sue going
through the weeds like some bandit possessed, hunting an snorting her way
checking the honeysuckle vines and thick briar patches. We started back
through the middle and about 50 yards from the end of the cut down Sue
pointed. She held until I got there and I searched to flush a covey, but
there were none, so I sent her on. Just before the ditch which marked the
end of the cutdown Sue pointed again, the covey flushed before I could get
to her, but I knocked down a single. Sue didn't see it go down but I was
able to get her in the direction of the fallen bird. The wounded bird shot
out of some vines, and began running with Sue behind it like a rocket. She
was like a dynamo through the vines and briars searching, and looking. She
finally nailed the single with a short point and lunge that caught the bird
still alive and brought it to me.
It was almost dark, but not quite, so we hunted the end of the ditch. Sue
pointed again and two birds flew out to the tops of the trees, the second
shot tumbled one into the ditch which Sue found and brought to me.
Even though the sun was down it was still shining to me. Only 60 minutes,
but what an ending to a day.
What Kind of Fool is This?
Thanksgiving is about two weeks away. The dogs have been waiting. I too had been waiting. I started birdhunting in 82 and have not stopped since. It’s almost an addiction this time of year. It must get in your blood. There is a certain mystic, tradition, whatever, to raise a dog that has been bred to find and point game, and to really see the results of generations of dogs cumulate in a pictorial point.
I have always hunted Setters up until about 5 years ago and for some reason obtained a pointer from a friend of mine to try. Late this afternoon I thought I would take him for a run to see if he was tuned up for the up coming season. Apparently "Pete" was so tuned up I didn't see him for the first 15 minutes. I finally got disgusted and turned around for home. In about 5 minutes he came on back. I've got a friend of mine that would have laid something on old Pete, but I just patted him on the back and said a few cuss words to try to hurt his feelings. He just looked at me and grinned. I guess he just had to get those first 15 minutes for himself.
Instead of letting the fool lose again I leased him and walked about 300 yards to an open weedy field and let him go. This time he minded just fine and turned on the whistle like he was suppose to do. We went across a farm road to a field that had a bean field that had been cut a couple of days before. There was a streak of weeds about 20 yards wide between the bean field and the woods. The field was about 200 yards long. Pete took off and ran the edge of the woods all the way to the end and turned around at the end of the bean field and headed back. When he was about half way back I just turned around and started back to the road. After about a minute I turned around to see what had happened to him. Pete was locked down. I stood there for about two minutes just looking at the "Old Fool". I wish I had brought my camera. Too bad it wasn't hunting season. The 10 birds that got up were getting up, one and two at the time.
Hunting season this year had been better than the last few years. During the first part of the season though it was tough as it was hot and dry. We went about 6 days not finding any birds at all. We got discouraged and so did our dogs. After the weather turned colder (40's and 50's) the dogs found birds very day, although our bag rate seemed to have started to decline probably due to our getting a little older. My hunting buddy's family owns or rents numerous acres of land, but he has failed to educate them in the fact that birds need woody ditch banks with plenty of weeds. Wants me to get on the Internet and research the studies of quail propagation that will let them know it is just not his word. You know how the words of lawyers tend to be. There we were looking and riding the territory in search of such, but kept coming across evidence of a new bush hog on almost all of their property. This bush hog must be a monster or at least equivalent to those that are used by most State highway departments.
I had noticed a small bean field where the crop had been harvested so I suggested we look at this birdy place for our first covey of the day.
The road to the field was bordered by a mixture of hardwoods and pines on the right and a long wide ditch full of trees and hedgebush. As we came to the opening of the field the truck came to a sudden halt. There in the edge of the field feeding was a covey of quail. The quail had frozen in their tracks. The truck went in reverse and as soon as we were out of sight we opened the doors quietly and loaded our guns. Now we know that no gentlemen hunters would think of doing what we intented to do, but our intregity tends to leave us at times when we see such an unusual site. We left the dogs in their boxes and preceded to sneek up on those poor unsuspecting birds to bag a many as possible. As we walked to the covey they remained frozen, we tried to take that extra step. The birds got up and the guns went to firing like the all hell had broken lose. Did we bag a bird or two? Not one. Easy shots we thought, but I guess it doesn't pay to think to much when it comes to birdhunting.
A couple of months ago I let a friend of mine, who had just had a big litter of pointer pups give me one. I am just amazed at how I let him do that considering our worst ever bird hunting season. My hunting buddies and I here in South Carolina had bagged less than 25 birds this year. One of my friends had only knocked down one bird the whole season and we have just got two weeks left until the season ends. Considering the amount of money we spend on feed and vet bills we have all thought of just calling it quits.
The days are getting much longer now and I thought I would take this pup out for a walk after work this evening. She is a very classy thing and runs as smooth as silk even for her very young age. Her tail is carried high and there just is an attitude about her that she just may be one of those great little dogs. Her pedigree may preclude that attitude as both bottom an top sides are close to a dog by the name of "Miller’s Silver Bullet".
I decided to walk her in front of the house to a "cut-down" that is surrounded by a soy bean field. About half way across the field I could hear a quail call from a ditch bank to my left. I turned her lose and in just a few minutes we were in the middle of a covey going every which way. I shot at one at a distance but missed. Pearl was going through the honeysuckle vines like a whirl wind, but no more birds could be rousted. She never flashed pointed, but she was set on fire by this first contact with wild birds. I set off across the field to my original destination, but Pearl flew across and down the field running hard. I whistled to her and she turned an looked back, then came on to me as I kneeled down. I headed her in the right direction to the edge of the "cutdown" and she immediately danced into the briars and weeds looking for a bird. She headed down the edge like some old veteran and went to the end but came on back. Something caught her attention and she darted into the briars, again, right into a big covey. Birds were going everywhere and so was she. After getting her settled down and running along the edge of the back side of the "cut-down" we headed towards where the birds were suppose to have flown. Pearl ran right by a woodcock that I flushed. Going about 50 yards further this little pup locked down with as pretty a point as you could want to see. She held until I got there then moved up the edge. Couldn’t find anything. Had a bird been there? Will I be bird hunting next year? I’m just amazed, as I probably will.
The Perfect Covey Shot
This year has started out like the past few years. Finding quail in December has been slim. We have only been able to find a few coveys and on some days we have hunted all afternoon without the dogs even coming across any kind of scent. Today we hunted a few places in the western part of the county, but had not seen a bird. I told my hunting buddy to drive over to a site we had hunted a number of years ago. As a lawyer he had helped sell the property to someone that would not mind if we hunted it. I think that’s why we have been hunting for the past 15 years together, he has access to the land and I have the dogs. I figure too he could get us out of just about any kind of trouble if it came to it, he’d be good to have around.
We rode to the backside of the area, but there were some dove hunters that had a nice field already staked out. We went back to the front side of the property and put out. The weather was cold and windy. In South Carolina it was quite unusual for December to be this cold. The dogs took the left side of the field around a large ditch and circled back to the truck. Right beside the road in a small patch of trees and honeysuckle, Tye my English Setter pointed with her tail flagging back and forth like she wasn’t sure. Pete my pointer was standing like a statue at the other end. We walked around the honeysuckle and as I got to Pete a single bird got up out of the stand of trees and flew to my right, but I missed the shot.
We let the dogs lose and hunted in the direction of the single in some pines and weeds, but could not find the single. We decided to hunt back to the truck along the backside of the pines. As we were coming back to the truck I saw Tye pointed in a stand of plum bushes. Again she was flagging, as it was really windy. I hollered that Tye was pointed and that we needed to get to her. As I stepped beside her a tremendous covey got up behind me flying straight to the swamp. I turned and with three shots I brought down three within 10 feet of each other. Tye found one, Pete retrieved the other and Donnie's pointer Bo trailed the last wounded bird, chasing all the way until bringing it in. To bring down three on a covey rise is quite an accomplishment in these days and times. Even though we don't put alot of birds in the bag it really brightens up your day when you can end it like this with the "Perfect Covey Rise".
First Covey Point
Crestline Pearl was now about a year old, and was as fast as lightning on a summer's day. I had been working Pearl all summer on yard training, some pigeon work, and alot of handling. After the season had started I had also gotten some pen raised quail to shoot over her. With all her field trial ancestors and her "Blue Blood" she would have made the Queen of England proud. Even with all that said, I had been less than pleased with her performances. She had been running up pigeons and quail and was showing no hope of pointing on her own. I had used and electric collar on her since she was four months old and she handled like a dream. She was one of those dogs that nothing seemed to bother her, a very strong willed pup, but had one of those pleasing female personalities you just had to fall in love with no matter what she did. I had just called a friend of mine and we had discussed her immaturity and he had told me some stories of some of his dogs and how some had been slow to come around at first. I was getting a little disgusted though and had thoughts of giving up on her or turning her over to a professional that might do something with her.
Today was a holiday so I thought I would take Pearl and my oldest dog Tye out this morning to see what Pearl would do. Maybe this old setter could teach the younger pointer a thing or two. We hunted a few big bean fields and some pine woods, but the birds were not feeding yet. My daughter and her husband had bought an old farm home. An ancient farm home with a porch almost all around it, and was located right in the middle of a number of bean fields. She said she had seen quail feeding in her front yard so we hunted the fields and woods in her area. My setter had gotten off from Pearl and myself and we were hunting a ditch bank when Pearl stopped and appeared to be pointing. I whoaed her and got to her but there were no birds. I sent her on and she got on the back side of the ditch and disappeared. I walked about 30 yards and spotted her pointing like any grown dog in the ditch beside a fallen tree. I whoaed her again and she continued to hold until I got in front of her and a covey exploded with birds going every which way. Shot twice but missed. I guess I was so excited about Pearl pointing her "First Covey" I couldn't hit a thing. Oh yes, bye the way, I think I will keep her.
A Good Dog
Glenappin Tye came into this world in sort of a ruff way. She was born one of four puppies. The day she was born was a day when I thought I was going to lose her mother as she refused to give birth to the remaining four pups in her womb. After 24 hours in labor with those 4 remaining pups I took her to Dr Huggins. He removed the 4 dead remaining puppies and the mother seemed to be doing well. While she was hospitalized my mother cared for the new born four that were initially delivered. She fed them with a bottle and took a warm cloth and wiped their rear ends to help them defecate. We did this for three days until Rose could gain enough strength to feed them. After getting them to her mother these puppies thrived and just grew and grew. I keep a large female of the litter and named her Tye. She turned out to be a large tricolor that was heavily ticked like her father who was called Big John.
During the first year I took her running in the fields and training her to come when called. Also did some whoa training. She was showing alot of promise as she handled well. I started training her on pigeons and she didn't seem to take to this very well. It was like she knew it was a training session and refused to have much to do with it. I also worked her on pen raised birds and she just didn't seem to get any thrill out of it. I began to wonder if I was going to make a bird dog out of her and was thinking about giving her away as a pet, but just keep holding on to her for some unknown reason.
Field trails started in our area that fall and I belonged to one of the local clubs here in the next county. One weekend, a trial was held and I helped that day. The next day was a Sunday so I took her back to see how she would do on the liberated birds. I turned her lose in an area where I thought maybe the birds would covey up and to my surprise I saw her pointing about 50 yards away in a small brush pile. She held until I got there, and when the three birds got up I killed one. She finally found the bird and brought it right to me. Looked like I had been right in keeping her. We hunted on through the scrub oaks and low pines and found another bird which I killed and she retrieved. We went on and she ended up finding two more birds, pointing and retrieving both. I was amazed at how she would not let me work her on pigeons or planted birds but when left alone did it on her own. I guess you have to be careful not to give up on a dog to soon.
Her bloodline goes back to Brawny Lad and Bozeann's Moseley, but for the most part was a close working and careful dog. I took her to a field trial that I was judging in the spring of the year and while I was judging she got off her chain and I lost her that day. The trial area was about 10 miles from my home so every day I went back to the area and looked for her. I rode all the back roads in the area and got as many people as I could to keep an eye out for her. After about 5 days of searching I had almost given up hope of ever finding her again but said I would go back one last day before giving up.
I went to a new brick house that was close to the trial area and saw a boy riding a lawn mover and stopped to see if he had seen the tricolored setter. To my surprize he said there was a dog sitting in the back yard in a field that might be mine. I thought to myself it would be too good to be true and it was probably some other dog. I went around the house and there she sat, thin and shivering looking like she had not eaten anything since I saw her last. She could not walk she was so weak so I picked her up and put her in the truck and turned the heater up so she would get warm. We were both glad to see each other, and from that day on, I rarely had to call her as she always kept with sight or calling distance.
Tye turned eleven years old this year and still seems as strong as ever. She has been the best singles dog I have ever had in the 20 years I have been bird hunting.
We went birdhunting yesterday and she found a covey on a ditch bank beside a dirt road and even though we didn't cut a feather it didn't make much difference. The way she nailed the covey, not moving a muscle, just quivering with excitement, with her daughter Sue backing, it just made my day.
The Last Day
Hunting on the last day of the season has always been a special day for me. My hunting buddy was sick and couldn’t make it. The weather was blustery with a high 30 mile an hour wind blowing. I waited until late in the afternoon hoping the wind would die down, but it wasn’t cooperating. During the morning I had decided that I would only hunt one dog that afternoon and it would be old Pete. He was turning real gray and I was wondering whether he would be able to hunt next year. He was one of those great dogs you get in a lifetime and I had been lucky to have four so far, Sue, Rose, Tye, and Pete.
We went behind the house to a hay field that had some bicolor that I had planted twenty years before. Pete hunted around the field and we went into the back woods, but could not find anything. On the right was a large bean field that I sent Pete around. He got out pretty far so I called him back and he hunted the edge until we got to the back. I thought we had missed them but I turned an saw Pete going around the bend when he suddenly pointed. He looked like a pretzel he had hit the birds so hard. I got in front of him and then got into the woods. I let Pete relocate and when I moved further into the woods the birds got up. I hit one and saw him go down. Pete had to search a good bit but I saw him pick the bird up. Instead of going through the briars back to me he got on the outside of the field and just put the bird down. I guess he didn’t want to make a trip back through he briars to me.
Pete and I hunted a couple of other places until we got to an old house site close to a main road. The only beans in the area were behind the house and we had found these birds about four other times during the season. I let Pete out and he pointed no further than 20 feet from the front of the truck. As I moved towards the edge of the field about eight birds got up flying back towards the truck and the road. I only had one shot out in the field but missed as I heard some vehicles on the road. It always made me nervous to hunt this close to the road.
We left and tried to hunt some of the singles that went into a broomstraw field. Could only hear some getting up wild and never did see any nor did Pete get a point.
Driving back towards home I decided to try a place we had hunted the day before, but had come up empty. I decided to park about 40 yards from the edge of the field. I let Pete out and he headed directly to some plum bushes and went on point. As soon as he pointed about 4 birds got up out of range and flew to the woods.
There was one more place to hunt before dark. I let Pete out and he hunted the edge of a bean field and into the woods. After circling through the woods we came out at the truck and decided to call it a season. Even though we only got one bird it was a good day. Even with the wind still blowing hard we found birds and got some good dog work.
After 12 years, maybe, just maybe Pete will be there again next year, maybe. Pete is as good a dog as you could ask for……………….
Three months after writing this I found Pete dead in his pen. He had gotten a cold of some variety and just couldn’t get over it. As you can read he was a good dog, no a great dog. I have been lucky to have 4 dogs of his caliber in a lifetime. You couldn’t ask much more than that.