Late-season small-game hunting stirs memories

I still miss my dog. His name was Smokey and he was a beagle mix. That’s all we knew about his bloodlines because he was found on the side of the road by a family friend. He had beagle markings, a beagle’s bark, a beagle’s energy, and he thought he had a beagle’s nose.

For nearly 17 years I took this dog everywhere: camping, paddling, hiking and even small-game hunting. I knew nothing about training a hunting dog when my father got Smokey as a puppy a year or so after I’d moved home from college. But I took him out one winter’s day on a small-game hunt to see how he’d do. He was only a few months old at the time and came back to me shivering. So I took him home until a better day.

As ambitious as he was in his prime, as long as I kept moving in the woods, he would move with me. There was no purpose, no method, just me walking with a shotgun and him running in all directions around me, having a ball, being a dog.

Then one day, he put up a grouse that flew directly over my head that I promptly missed. That’s when I realized I sort of had a hunting dog. I began strategically working grouse and rabbit cover with him. His nose was only good enough to chase a rabbit so far, but he routinely flushed grouse in his travels. Occasionally one would fly in my direction, and on fewer occasions I’d connect.

But enough about my dog, and my apologies for burying the crux of the story here. What became a ritual for me and Smokey was late-season small-game hunting. After the fall hunting seasons, when other hunters were out of the woods, that’s when we’d go. And that’s still when I go today.

When I was young, and before Smokey came along, small-game hunting was the thing to do after school on a winter’s day. Those years with Smokey helped me re-live some of those old times and make new memories. These days, it’s more about exercise, perhaps some post-season deer scouting, or just a chance to get outside. The weather has been nice and there’s very little snow in the woods, so walking has been a pleasure.

Unless there are dogs involved, I’m not much of rabbit hunter. But I’m always up for pursuing grouse. They’ve come sparingly this year, despite my making mental notes during the deer season. But I know that sooner or later, I’ll catch them in a patch of wild grapes, or sunning themselves later in the morning under a pine or hemlock bough.

We have our own reasons for not having a dog at this time. But a walk in the woods with the shotgun, when I’m usually the only hunter in the woods, still brings me satisfaction and even a little rejuvenation.

Small-game hunting might not be the big ticket it once was, but at least you can say it’s still hunting season and perhaps re-live your own memories. Get out there while the seasons are still open.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Dan Ladd

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