I did not anticipate that my 12.5-year-old lab, Pride, would make our annual upland hunting trip. He was diagnosed with cancer in June, and had part of his left front paw amputated. His gate after the surgery was noticeably awkward, and moderate running became strenuous. As I attempted to get him prepared for the 2015 season, he tired quickly, and did not seem enthused when we threw the bumper. As our trip neared, I was conflicted on what I should do. I am fortunate to have buddies that own quality, hard-working gun dogs. Hunting over them is a privilege. That said, the experience in the field is enhanced when you’re working in harmony with your own dog; a dog that skillfully corners a running rooster, a dog that locates a crippled bird in deep cover, and a dog that forgives you when you miss an easy shot.
On Wednesday evening I made the decision to bring Pride on the trip. He would not hunt large fields, or be put in situations that would tax his mind and body. Additionally, I brought all relevant medications to ensure that he remained comfortable during the journey.
Five of us arrived in the northeast corridor of Colorado at about nine am on Thursday, November 19th. I am familiar with the Walk in Area (WIA) fields in this part of the state. The drought that plagued this region over the prior three years made hunting challenging. Bird populations decreased substantially as the habitat disappeared. Thankfully, most of Colorado received adequate precipitation throughout 2015, and early season reports were promising. I surveyed the land once I arrived at our first field. The CRP was noticeably higher, and I hoped that would result in consistent action.
Hunting Pride in the first couple of fields was not an option. The cover was too thick, and the walks were too long. I made a call to a friend who is a landowner in this part of the state. He gave us permission to hunt his property. Our initial private field has a center pivot irrigation machine that abuts the county road. Tall grass and tumble weeds sit below the drag hoses. The deep cover parallels a large cornfield harvested weeks prior to our visit. We manned each end of the agricultural equipment and worked towards the center. Pride walked with determination and excitement as we executed the pinching technique. His tail became noticeably active, and he picked up the pace, signifying there were pheasants present. Unfortunately the first two roosters flushed wild and out of shotgun range. A third rooster flew out of the cover thirty yards in front of me. I took immediate aim then fired three quick rounds at the evasive bird. Unfortunately, I did not connect, and was forced to yell “no bird” as Pride headed into the cut cornfield. When the hunters met somewhere in the middle of the field, a final rooster flew, and it was quickly taken down by a flurry of skillful shots.
We made our way to another private section of land that always holds a large amount of pheasants. It is critical to approach the long row of tall junipers from both the north and south. We set up a blocker at the far west end in order to prevent birds from easily escaping. There is a significant amount of cover throughout the shelterbelt that includes two large, deep pits. Cornfields line both sides of the trees, which makes a quiet approach almost impossible. As we moved through the area we noticed a pile of new shotgun shells, indicating that others had recently hunted the land. Given the disappointing facts, three of the guys started to head back to the trucks. Pride and I marched further west, still hoping that there were birds held up in a small patch of cover one hundred yards from the prime area. As I approached the edge of the field the distinct sound of a pheasant taking flight caused me to turn one hundred and eighty degrees. There were two roosters already in the air and moving in different directions. I focused on the bird moving to my right and fired a HEVI-SHOT round from my Benelli Ethos 12 gauge. The right wing of the pheasant was struck, but he successfully glided fifty yards into the middle of the cut cornfield. Pride was already running, but his lack of speed undermined any ability to successfully mark the downed bird. I ran right to the position where I believed the bird landed. I asked Pride to hunt dead and positioned him into the wind. For fifteen minutes, I watched him move carefully up and down the cornstalk rows. Suddenly his turns tightened and his body lowered. He stopped on point, staring intently at a pile of brush. Watching with amazement, Jeremy and I waited for Pride to move. He dove into the cover and grabbed the wounded bird. I was elated at Pride’s performance. He accomplished a feat I thought impossible given his age and medical condition. We took pictures and I ended his day. I could have headed back home as my trip was already a resounding success.
Eight of us enjoyed four great days in the field. Successfully hunting both public and private land throughout Eastern Colorado and Western Kansas. Pride continued to surprise me, finding birds in the nastiest cover. Given his remarkable performance, we will hunt again this season.
|Benelli Ethos (12 Gauge)||I shot pretty well the entire trip. The only birds I missed were my fault. The gun performed flawlessly in some pretty cold weather.|
|HEVI-SHOT Pheasant||Every bird I hit eventually died. The load packs a serious punch.|
|SoundGear||Bob and I wore our SoundGear hearing protection during the entire trip. We love the sound amplification in conjunction with the protection.|
|Orvis Upland Sling Pack||I was cautiously optimistic when I purchased this pack. It performed very well in the field. Comfortable and everything is easily accessible.|
|onXmaps||Imperative on this trip. Needed to distinguish public from private land. A must for all hunters and fisherman.|
|Irish Setter King Toe||I LOVE these boots. We walked 10 miles a day and my feet were so comfortable and warm.|
|Oakley Racing Jacket||Would not hunt without these shades. They perform very well in low light conditions. The lenses are easily scratched so protect them with a case.|
|SportDOG UPLANDHUNTER 1875||The best e-collar in the market for upland hunters.|
|Sylmar Body & Paw Protection||I recommend these products to all of my friends that own gun dogs.|
|Sitka Ballistic Beanie||Awesome hat that keeps you warm. Too warm when the air temperature crests 30 degrees.|