Dogs put the fun in pheasant hunting.
With their keen noses, predatory instincts, boundless energy and will to please their masters, they tilt the field toward humans, who by ourselves would seldom feel the weight of a plump rooster in our game pouches.
When I replay my 2020 highlights reel, dogs star in every scene.
Arthur Clark’s German shorthair Gunny with a downhill point of a rooster in the bottom of a road ditch.
Terry Franck’s yellow Lab Rocky finding a rooster that crashed in thick cover an eighth mile away.
Rusty Chesmore’s young Lab Chase living up to his name by running down a broken-winged bird.
Maverick Gatrost’s German shorthair Bear fetching a pheasant that fell dead in a distant willow thicket.
Mike Bergman’s 13-year-old part-Lab pal Rudy flushing and retrieving with youthful joy and abandon on a golden fall afternoon.
Yes, humans stomping through native grasses will flush the occasional pheasant, but with our wooden noses we will never sense the untold others that sit tight while we pass or skulk unseen out of harm’s way.
And yes, we will find downed birds when they fall dead in plain sight, but with our wooden noses we will not find the wounded ones that take refuge in thick cover.
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Dogs, however — with 50 times as many nasal scent receptors as humans and a resume that includes finding bombs, drugs, cancer, fugitives and human remains — will sniff them out.
Perhaps the most dramatic of outdoor tableaux is the bird dog point, when the chronically hyperactive dog abruptly freezes, head tilted toward the source of hot scent, tail stiffly extended rearward, eyes glazed as if entranced.
Time stops, animation suspends, silence reigns and tension mounts.
Finally the bird’s nerve fails and it launches itself skyward, its thumping wings (three beats per second) and its raucous cackling shattering the frozen moment’s stillness.
Forewarned being forearmed, these are high percentage shots, but the shots themselves are anticlimactic.
Most of the fun of the point already has been had when the pheasant clears the ground.