Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Big Alder Patch

    I first hunted that spot about thirty-five years ago.  On first impression it seems the same, but looking around I notice lots of poplars that are less than twenty years old.  As the trees get bigger the walking will get easier, but the alders are going to disappear and, when the trees are large, the prime woodcock habitat will go to. 
    Right now it’s a great place to start a young dog.  Chara, my wise old German wirehaired pointer accompanied Georgia, a five month old German shorthaired pointer, and I. 
    The cover is below the road.  I once thought it was old pasture grown back, but giant old stumps covered with moss tell me that a long time ago it was timberland.  The ground was wet…squishy wet, and in breaks of the canopy vicious raspberries waited to claw at clothing and hides.
    Where wrist-sized poplar stood against the edge of a tiny field Chara locked up on point and little Georgia honored.  What a sight.  Hurrying forward, I flushed the bird and it twittered away, my shot miserably behind it.

    Both dogs shifted into overdrive and scoured the forest floor with a vengeance.  Working down into the alders the plan was to find the edge of the softwood swamp and then hunt to the right.  Later, on the way back to the truck we’d hunt higher up the slope.
    Walking six feet in a straight line was impossible; the leaning alders directed a zigzagging course.   To the dogs, standing only a couple of feet tall, the obstacles were mostly overhead and they dashed about with abandon.  In places water puddled, sometimes thick sphagnum moss was underfoot, or knee-high grass soaked my pants.  Areas of bare soil or matted leaves are preferred by the birds, and there I found white splotches left behind by the feeding woodcock.
    Georgia pointed, frozen like a statue in a thicket of alders.  Chara, well ahead, never knew.  Not certain how long the pup would hold I stepped quickly past her and the bird climbed for the sky.  On the shot the bird dropped and Georgia picked up her first wild bird. 
    Chara came bounding back at the sound of gunfire, but didn’t argue with Georgia about ownership of the bird.  Kneeling, I took the bird from the young dog and rubbed her neck, telling her what a great girl she was.  Georgia shrugged off the praise and went right back to hunting.  She knew there were more birds to find.

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