If it were possible to buy pure joy, it would come with a label that read “Compliments of a Brittany.”
There is a place along the Jordan River that’s accessible only by canoe or an overgrown two track – when I say overgrown, I mean, if you’re fond of the paintjob on your car, walk in. Seamus and I hunt this not easily accessed acreage several times a year, especially when flights of woodcock migrate their way from Canada to Louisiana, stopping to rest along streams and rivers.
This is a special place and the odd timberdoodle can be found most any time of year. The ground is moist to wet most of the year and suitable for a good food supply and makes a good nesting area. When the flight birds are in, shooting is fast and furious and an extra box of 7 ½’s is a must.
Once part of a working farm, it has since been reclaimed by nature. Although furrows are evident they are hard to see because of tall grass and weeds that hide the depressions – I’ve stumbled many times in the ruts. It is a place where Seamus is in his glory and if I want to stay with him, I’d better be willing to cover a lot of ground. So after a day’s hunt that ended in a twisted ankle and a bruised ego, I opted to purchase a new pair of 10 inch Red Wing Irish Setter Boots for the next hunt; following Seamus through thick and thin – mostly thick.
There are beaver in the area as is evident by felled trees with pointed ends that look like sharpened pencils. Deer trails crisscross the swamp between the river and fields and turkey appear on occasion. I’ve heard of bear being seen in the area, but so far, Seamus and I apparently make enough noise to warn them off.
It is in this place that Seamus learned the difference between grouse and woodcock and I would have traded my 20 gauge Red Label for a video cam.
It had been rainy and windy for several days with wind coming from the North West and temperatures flirting with the freezing mark. Duck hunters were chomping at the bit and so were woodcock hunters. Seamus and I had been looking for signs of migrating birds by driving two tracks at dusk hoping to come on “doodle” picking up gravel along the dirt roads. Spotting the occasional bird, Seamus became antsy and almost unable to control himself in the front seat of the pickup. The decision was made; tomorrow we’d hunt our secret spot, searching for “timberdoodle”.
The truck jostled its way down the two track, taking scratches from overhanging brush. The abrasiveness of the scratches was softened by the dew still covering everything. No visible frost was a good sign but drops of water dripping from branches made it clear Seamus and I were going to get wet.
Seamus was geeked. My ears were ringing from the whining – almost howling – I’ve had next to my right ear since the truck turned onto Old State Road. It begins when I put on my boots and gets louder when I attach the bell on his collar. By the time we arrive, he’s out of control with excitement; it’s that way since the first time we hit the woods and hasn’t diminished since.
Climbing over me when I opened the door, Seamus jumped from the truck and buried his nose in the grass and leaves and debris. Several short blasts on the whistle and “stay” commands kept him dancing around the truck impatiently waiting. I knew from previous hunts I needed to get geared up quickly or he’d be off.
Finally, sliding two 7 ½‘s in the barrels of the Red Label, I gave another blast on the whistle and gave the command “hunt’em up”….we were off.
Almost immediately Seamus, nose to the ground, made his way into a thicket I could see held pockets of standing water surrounded by rich black dirt. I followed the best I could and got my first jolt of adrenalin when the bell stopped. Stepping deliberately through grass and around downed timber until I saw Seamus on point; his head cocked, nose angled downward, staring intensely into a clump of vegetation. I must have startled the bird as I made my way through bushes, trying to create an opening while keeping the 20 ready to get off a quick shot, because suddenly I heard peening and a whirling sound and saw a woodcock take off like a helicopter zigzagging to avoid treetops. Seamus bolted forward and almost ate the ground the “doodle” was sitting in.
I tried to see where the bird went but he was quickly out of sight as he flew thru the slit like openings of the thicket. No matter, there would be more.
We hunted for several hours. Seamus was on his game and seemed fresh as a pup. Most flushes were “doodle” but a couple of grouse were thrown in the mix; one ended up in my game bag. Then something strange happened that still makes me wonder.
Seamus was searching along the edge of conifers separating the bog along the river and an opening dotted with stands of willow bushes. At the edge of one of the thick stands he went on point. As I walked past him, a woodcock flushed from his right but he didn’t break point. I kept walking toward where he was pointing and another “doodle” broke ground. This time I watched him as he almost hopped forward about 20 yards and disappeared in the grass. No shot. Seamus saw him land too and nosed his way toward where we saw the bird land. Again he flushed as Seamus got close; this time not waiting for me to walk in. Again he appeared to hop and set down about 20 yards away and again Seamus went after him.
Six times this scenario played out the same way: The bird flushed, flew in a hopping fashion 20 or so yards ahead and sat down; each time waiting for Seamus to catch up as though playing tag with him. Finally the bird flushed and zigzagged into another thicket and disappeared.
The grin on my face must have been from ear to ear because it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud. I called Seamus off and we worked our way back to the car. We had a few birds and lot fewer shells then I brought in.
We were both soaked; I admitted to being tired and ready for a sandwich, Seamus only slowed down when he saw the sandwich.