Pheasant hunting on hold with Finn on the mend

I’m never sorry to see deer season come to an end because, by early December, I’ve had plenty of time in a tree, usually have enough venison in the freezer, and have made enough memories in the field that I’m ready to move on to the next big thing.

And that next big thing is pheasant hunting. Our 2-year-old Lab Finn has, through much of deer season, been relegated to some walks on a rural road and some hikes on land that’s off-limits to hunting. She’s never really thrilled to slink into the kennel while we load up the truck for some time in the treestand.

And to be honest, I’m just as happy to pursue pheasants as I am whitetails. Probably even more so now that Finn has shown promise and understands what the game is all about. We piled up plenty of birds last season on state land in both New York and Pennsylvania, as well as some trips to shooting preserves where Finn worked plenty of pheasants and really accelerated her learning curve. She deserved it, and Paula and I look at it as a good return on our investment of time, training and, yes, money, in developing a hunting dog.

But our late-season pheasant schedule has been altered dramatically. A routine, traditional Christmas Day hike with Finn and 13-year-old black Lab Hailey deteriorated into a not-so-routine trip to the vet the following morning. Finn tore a toenail badly and needed some repairs that weren’t too costly as far as the checkbook was concerned, but were very costly in terms of our time afield in January.

It happens, and from a selfish standpoint, I’m disappointed Paula and I won’t be able to hunt pheasants for a while – at least with Finn leading the way. But I also hate to see our dogs suffering, and Finn was in quite a bit of pain and still is. It’s a nasty-looking injury, and certainly has her hobbled right now.

Finn, too, isn’t going to be happy in a few days when she begins to feel better and wants us to turn her loose on some birds. She enjoys the game; actually, she enjoys every day of her life, so it’s a little upsetting to see her struggling.

We’ve had these kinds of situations in the past. When you have a hunting dog, invariably some nicks and cuts and injuries occur. Our worst was when Ben impaled himself on a downed cedar tree as a puppy and sliced open a lengthy gash on his chest. As it turned out, it looked much worse than it was or could have been. Ben had a history of battle scars from pheasant hunts, so much so that I began swiping Vaseline over and under his eyes to help limit the cuts from his hard-charging, brush-busting ways.

Every hunter who goes afield with a canine companion should carry a first aid kit, at least back at the truck, but also a few items in the field, too. There are a number of first aid kits marketed specifically for hunting dogs, but our history has been to go through the inventory of those items and purchase them separately and build our own first aid kit for our hunting dogs.

Finn will be bouncing around in a few days, I’m sure. But it will be up to us to decide when she’s ready to hunt, as it should be. We tend to err on the side of caution, just as we do when we take our older Labs afield. It’s up to us to know when to call it a day, because these lion-hearted Labs will keep going and going well beyond the point of exhaustion.

Hopefully we’ll get Finn back on pheasants by mid-January, and the weather will allow for some preserve visits well into February. We’ll have some catching up to do.

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