Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

In the Dakotas, a chicken-chasing pup becomes a dog

Bacchus had a lot to learn. The year-old chocolate Lab loved to
fetch tennis balls, but his experience with feathered creatures was
limited – and dubious at that.

“Well, he likes chickens,” my friend Brian Sherburne of Hovland
told me after Bacchus had a romp in a neighbor’s hen yard.

Actually, I wasn’t too concerned about Bacchus as we prepared
for his (and Brian’s) first Dakota pheasant hunt. He has a great
pedigree, coming from the same father as my yellow Lab Tanner
-_Minnesota trainer Pete Fischer’s famous Rex. I had no doubt about
his hunting instincts.

Brian was another matter. His bird hunting experience was
limited to North Shore ruffed grouse, primarily ones that made the
mistake of wandering into his backyard. As anyone who hunts them
knows, a high-strung Dakota rooster is an entirely different
creature. In addition, I wasn’t sure that Brian was used to the
endless walking that defines hunting pheasants behind a flushing
dog. I tried to put it to him tactfully.

“If you go lame, I’ll have to shoot you,” I told him. “That’s
what they do with horses.”

He took my advice in stride. “That’s OK,” he said. “When I
sailed across the Atlantic, we had a conversation about tossing
your body overboard if you kicked off. After all, you really can’t
carry a corpse on a sailboat.”

Morbidity aside, we were primed for the trip. Brian had endless
questions about what he needed to bring along. An online shopping
trip to Cabela’s for a hunter orange vest resulted in $300 in
purchases. Then there was a search for affordable nontoxic
shotshells for shooting on public land. Not long before we left,
Bacchus got a new electronic collar. For a newcomer, Brian was
getting into bird hunting in a big way.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” he explained. “I’ve always
wanted to have a good hunting dog.”

And soon enough, after driving west for a day, we were hunting.
We started out along a tangled creek bottom and moved some birds
that flew into a patch of brush. I instructed Brian to walk around
the outside edge and took Tanner into the cover. I heard pheasants
flushing, but couldn’t see them. Brian shot a couple of times. When
I emerged from the cover, he was grinning. Bacchus was at his
feet.

“Did you get one?” I asked.

“He fluttered down right here,” Brian said.

I winced. Dead pheasants don’t flutter. And live pheasants run.
Bacchus didn’t know what he was supposed to do, so he stood by his
master. Tanner hit a scent and started working through some
knee-high rushes. Thinking he was chasing a cripple with a broken
wing, I didn’t stay close enough behind him. He flushed a healthy
rooster out of range. Brian’s bird? Maybe.

At any rate, he learned a lesson. Pheasants are much harder to
kill than ruffed grouse. We kept going through the creek bottom,
walking about 30 yards apart. Tanner, in his fifth hunting season,
was working hard. Bacchus mostly stayed at heel – often my heel.
Brian was disappointed.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him.

I recalled Tanner acted much the same way his first year, as we
hunted with my older Lab Casey. He was tentative, and clearly
didn’t want to interfere with the older dog. I suspected Bacchus
was doing the same thing.

On the second morning, I told Brian to throw a pheasant he’d
shot for Bacchus to retrieve, again and again. The dog’s enthusiasm
was evident. That afternoon, he retrieved a rooster Brian dropped
into some standing water. I’m not sure who was prouder, the dog or
his master.

By the third day, Bacchus was starting to work the cover,
although he still followed behind the older dog. Best of all, he
started acting “birdy” when he hit fresh scent. Brian and I decided
to split up so he and Bacchus could hunt together. It proved to be
a good idea.

On the fourth day, we walked an extra mile and a half to reach
some lightly hunted public land. Grumbling, Brian called it a
“death march.” In turn, I advised him not to go lame. Once in the
cover, I knocked down a rooster that hit the ground running, with
Tanner and Bacchus in hot pursuit. When they disappeared into the
cattails, Bacchus was in the lead. After some long moments, Tanner
marched out with the bird, but I suspect he pulled rank on Bacchus
to get it.

That evening, Brian and Bacchus went one direction and Tanner
and I went another. Twice I heard Brian shoot. When we got back to
the truck at sunset, he had a story to tell.

“I didn’t get out far enough ahead of the bird when I shot,” he
said. “Bacchus had to chase it down. I watched him catch the
rooster. It was great!”

By this time Brian was so revved up by pheasant hunting that he
didn’t want to go home. Unfortunately, we would be able to hunt
only a couple of hours on the fifth day before heading east. This
hardly deterred Brian, because he was already planning a return
trip.

The wind picked up during the night and was gusting to 65 mph
the next morning. We thought about hunting and, over breakfast in
town, decided against it. Tanner already was stiff and sore from
four days of hard work.

For his sake, I didn’t mind giving up. We can always return to
the Dakotas.

I don’t know if Bacchus will forsake his chicken-chasing ways,
but he certainly added pheasant to his repertoire. He went to the
Dakotas a pup and came home a dog. I suppose, in a way, you could
say the same about Brian. At least he didn’t go lame.

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