And lo, it is ended

crockett

New member
Well my friends, with the setting of the sun on December 15th, or rather exactly 30 minutes afterwards, came the end of the 2012 pheasant hunting season in Nova Scotia. Although the tally of flushes, birds and limits downed are a natural metric of our hunting success, they really are meaningless measures of an activity that means so much more than birds in the bag. By my standards, the flushes were many, close and beautiful. My game-bag was heavy more often than empty, and my heart was light and happy throughout. If there is a silver lining to the cloud that is Ruby’s elbow, arthritic before its time, it was her vet’s advice that she should be hunted for shorter periods, but more frequently. Some minor adjustments in my professional life (doctor’s orders you know!) allowed this to happen, and we hunted twice a week more often than not, rather than the day-long Saturday marathon’s of yesteryear that would leave us both dragging ourselves home, out of commission for the rest of the weekend.

Looking back, there were three definitive memories in the 2012 season. The first came in the dying minutes of a Saturday hunt, Rob and I each happy with a single bird in our game-bags, a comforting bulk bumping warmly against our tired backs. We were strolling along in idle chatter or introspection, I can’t remember which, just barely watching the tired dogs wagging along before us. For no apparent reason, Ruby broke rank and curved off across the open field of grass too short to hide even the wiliest rooster. Twenty yards from me she stopped to look back, with a subtle look in her wise brown eyes that seemed to ask “Permission to speak freely Sir?”. I stopped and looked her (“What’s on your mind soldier?”). She looked across the field to the ditch on the far aside, and then back at me. This time, her look said “If you’ll follow me Sir?” We were in no rush to get home, and the field was only a 100 yards wide, so I shrugged and followed her lazy meander over to towards an apple tree sprouting out of the ditch. As we approached it, her ambling gate gained purpose, and her tail came up to let me know to “Step lively Sir!”. In the last few yards she got red-hot, cut a hard right-angle and dove into the heavy cover of the deep ditch. After a few seconds of frantic snuffling there was a panicked rustling of feathers and a great rooster flushed from behind the apple tree and curved cooperatively into the open on my left side at 30 yards or so… Ruby dashed to the retrieve with her usual exuberance, but she showed no hint of smugness as she delivered it to me. As I turned back to rejoin Rob on the other side of the field, I saw him kneeling beside his aging lab, holding his big blocky head in both hands and talking to him. Suddenly, I was reminded me of the fridge magnet that my sister gave me that reads “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” Taking a page from her book and Ruby’s too, I tucked the bird into my vest without fanfare and rejoined Rob on our amble back to the car. This time, there was more introspection than idle chatter.

The second came on a quick hunt on a weekday morning – just a quick jaunt before work. Hunting alone, with only an hour or so to spare before I was due in the office, I was letting Ruby hunt at her pace, and doing my best to keep up. So when she picked up the scent of a running bird, I let her have her head while I loped along at a military trot, shotgun at the ready across my chest. As we approached the riverbank I picked up the pace to close the distance between she and I, knowing that the bird was quickly running out of options. Ruby worked the bird out to a point of land formed where a narrow inlet cuts inland some 100 feet or so, forming a small embayment that is obscured from view by the high riverbank until one is right above it. Knowing that a flush was imminent, I positioned myself in a clear area and planted my feet just in time to hear the glorious cackle of a mature rooster with nowhere left to run. He flew straight out and low behind some wild rose before crossing out over the small inlet, the early morning sun deepening the red hues of his plumage, stark against the broad white ring that my front bead swept past to deliver the shot that folded him. As he fell there arose a great roar from beneath the high bank, as 50 or more black ducks clambered skywards, passing my falling rooster on their way up. The roar of their wings was loud enough to obscure the splash of the rooster, and Ruby stood on the bank, tail wagging furiously as she wondered why I was not still shooting. In the calm that followed the last black duck whistling away downriver, Ruby spotted the fallen rooster and launched into the water with glee – Dad’s not so hopeless after all! The image of that bright red rooster tumbling down through a thundering wave of rising ducks will stay with me forever.

The third was my last successful outing of the season, on a day when I really needed to be good at something. Having just been force-fed generous helpings of humble pie on two consecutive days in my professional life, I took a morning off and headed for one of my favourite pheasant covers to clear my head and lick my wounds. Ruby got birdy nearly immediately, and the first pair of rooster flushed back towards me behind a row of alders. Despite having never yet achieved a true double on roosters, I did not fire at them. Early in the season, I would surely have hammered a few shots through the alders in the hopes that a wayward pellet would sneak through – a strategy that has worked well for me in the past. But for some reason, that day I just watched them go. In retrospect, I think it was because the sting of recent humiliations had me wanting to do something well – to feel the satisfaction that only comes from a deliberate and successful wingshot, not some clumsy Hail Mary through the brush with little expectation of success. At the next bend in the cover, Ruby doubled back again and pushed a second pair of roosters around the end of the hedgerow, and I was once again watching a pair of rooster flush behind a screen of trees – foiled again! As I watched their flittering silhouettes disappear behind the grey trunks, I felt somewhat less noble about not having taken a crack at them, because it’s not every day that you flush two pairs or roosters in Nova Scotia! So perhaps it was that slight regret, when Ruby flushed the next pheasant towards me, close and passing over my weak-side shoulder, that caused me to spin and sweep an instinctive shot over him, sending him tumbling in the most satisfying wild-west gunfighter kind of way. Replaying it in my mind, I don’t seem to bend that way – it should have been an impossible angle. As I watched Ruby make the retrieve, I heard a cackle from behind me, and watched yet another pair of roosters flush behind a row of thin birches. This time, my peripheral vision picked out an opening and I followed the lead bird to it, pulling out in front of him just in time to greet him as he passed into the open. Ruby, intent on her first retrieve, did not mark the fall of the second bird, but he had tumbled well, quite dead, so there was no rush. I let the whistle drop from my mouth and gave her the go-ahead (“Dead bird. Find it”) to use her nose and abilities to work it out on her own. It took her a while, but I enjoyed watching her work while I reflected on the satisfaction that comes from doing something well. As I tucked the second bird into my vest and made tracks for the office, the acrid aftertaste of humble pie was replaced that of fresh air and satisfaction, with a dash of wet dog and a sprinkling of gunpowder – much more pleasing to the palate. On a day when I really needed to feel like I was good at something, Ruby and the pheasants had made it happen.

And although my closing day hunt was fruitless, it was as a guest with some new folks, on some spectacular cover. I watched my buddy Rob’s old lab beautifully work and flush a hen for him, which was an important thing in what may be his last full pheasant season. Ruby worked some magic on a few hens of her own and flushed them for our hosts, who saw the whole show and said all the right things. And so, it is with a sense of fulfillment that I look back on the 2012 season, and quote my favourite poet in saying, “And lo, it is ended”.


Reluctance
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?


Robert Frost











 
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oldandnew

New member
Wonderful! That story reminds me of what kindred spirits we sportsmen are across the continent and the world. That ought to count for something, to our diminishing numbers. You stated it better than I can! Do More.
 

roche1982

New member
He probably thought you were a lawyer because you write so well. Where in Nova Scotia do you hunt. I am just getting into Hunting this year. I am looking forward to Pheasant hunting. I have a friend who hunted in Berwick last year, curious what other spots are good in our province.
 
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