Nothing beats bird hunting over a good dog in Pennsylvania
Pheasants may be a non-native, imported game bird species, but once glance at their vibrant coloration proves them a dead match for the Keystone state’s fall foliage. It’s almost as if they were made for the fields and brush patches of Pennsylvania.
And although my little bird-dog Cali is of mixed breed, small in stature and doesn’t carry an award-winning pedigree, it’s almost as if she was made for the fields and brush patches of Pennsylvania too.
Sired by a Springer spaniel and born to an English setter, Cali (short for Caliber) was the runt of the litter. Six years ago, my wife and I fell in love with her, and she became the first of her littermates to find a new home.
After some basic obedience training, gunfire steadying and several days of yard-work spent finding and retrieving planted bird wings, Cali grew into a fine hunting companion and housedog. She has proven herself worthy on grouse, chukar, woodcock and pheasants.
Recently, she reminded me of the pure heart and desire a dog can possess when following its natural hunting instincts. I took her out on a crazily crowded, drizzly opening day of the Pennsylvania pheasant season, and it was like reigniting a flame that had been kindled and anxiously waiting to burn since last season.
Though we saw way more hunters than birds, Cali ended up flushing three cock birds in the short time we hunted. The first flew directly away from us through a tangle of overhanging branches, preventing me from any realistic chance for a connected shot. But it certainly confirmed what we were out there seeking.
The second came near the end block of a hillside green-briar thicket, where her low-sweeping tail communicated that I’d better hustle closer and stay ready. As the brilliant bird erupted from the cover, I mounted and hit my mark, dropping it before it cleared the tree line. She sure was proud, and so was I.
After hunters approaching from the other direction forced us from the bird – heavy refuge of the woodlot, we were forced to hunt the fields for any stragglers still remaining. In grass as high as my shoulders, my little dog hopped to and fro with nose ever probing.
Two hunters paralleling the field below us put up a bird, and I watched it tumble, but Cali only heard the shot, for the grass was too high for her to see anything beyond a few feet.
Observing the hunter struggling to recover his rooster, I offered the assistance of my four-legged companion. We circled downwind of where I roughly saw it fall, and Cali blindly located the dead bird within 60 seconds.
Hunting back toward the truck, she impressed me yet again as we came upon other dogs, one of which was retrieving his master’s pheasant. She remained poised and focused and heeded all of my commands.
On our final sweep of the dense pines adjacent to the parking lot, she busted out another cock bird, completing my full bag limit for the day. Though she was eager to stay after it, I had to reluctantly lull her back to the truck.
After nearly an hour of picking thorns, burrs and ticks from her thick matted fur and long wispy tail, as well as tending to a small bloody split in one of her curly ears, we finally packed up and headed for home.
My dog hunted hard and fearlessly- certainly much bigger than one would expect from her petite frame and loving brown eyes. She slept for nearly two days straight after the hunt, but I can tell she has since recovered and is ready for more action.
Hunting is what she lives for. It’s what I live for too, so I guess together we make a great pair… just like colorful pheasants in the midst of Pennsylvania’s vibrant foliage. There’s nothing better, especially when hunting over a good dog.