There's no denying that Bo would benefit from the nearly 40 years of upland bird hunting I did before she was born. I'd been hunting the sandhills of Nebraska at least 10 days a season for the past 25 years and knew where to find just sharptails, just chickens and mixed prairie grouse. I'd shot enough prairie grouse to be able to target just sharptails or just chickens without ever mistaking one for the other before shooting. It had been many years since I took a mix of sharptails and chickens. Whichever bird offered me my first opportunity was the species I stayed with. Unless of course I was attempting a specific dual limit.
Like a functioning alcoholic I functioned with little sleep. My job required that I work 19 hours with a five hour break and then another 19 hour day, ending on a Sunday night. I missed a lot of opening weekends, but I tried to make up for that during the week. I could hunt for five days before reporting back to work without burning any benefit time. I was usually so wound up to hunt that I would head out of state as soon as I clocked out, hoping to be hunting somewhere before noon on Monday.
I knew which Nebraska CRP-MAP field I would start in provided I got there before any other hunters. The reality was there were very few hunters chasing prairie grouse in that part of the state. I parked on the north end of the three pivots converted to CRP. There were some wimpy hills along the gravel road that we would work and then turn east along the south fenceline to the back pivot circle. THat back circle was where I had shot several limits of both sharptails and chickens the year before. This first mile wasn't real hunting, just a pacesetter for the rest of the day. I could count on one hand the number of prairie grouse I'd flushed on this end in the past.
I don't know if it was Bo's luck or mine, but she had a dozen sharptails stagger flushing on the first hillside we climbed. All within 100 yards of my truck.
For some mystical reason, I seldom miss a bird the first few hunting days of a new season and today was no exception. (Believe me, once the cockiness has set in I fall into a dismal slump for the next couple of weeks till I eventually shoot my way out of it.)
Bo put up a pair at the perfect prairie range of 25 yards and I tumbled the low bird with my under barrel and knocked down the longer bird with the improved/modified barrel.
I'm no sub-gauge advocate. I grew up hunting pheasants in Iowa shooting 1-1/4 oz. 3-3/4 dram equiv. copper plated lead, Federal Premier 7-1/2's and 6's and and I'll likely die shooting the same 12 gauge guns and loads of my youth. Choke and restraint factor the difference between killing and mangling more than ounces and drams ever did. I like to let birds get a little air under their wings before I shoulder my gun. I've never seen a flusher that doesn't enjoy a 30 yard cast more than 15 and a 40 yard retrieve more than 40 feet. And if you're going to hunt prairie grouse in the wide open, you won't be rewarding your dog with many retrieves if you can't shoot out to 45 yards.
This was Bo's first gun shot, first sight and scent of a game bird, and first taste of feathers. Without any hesitation, she galloped to the fall and scooped up the dead sharptail and not knowing what other opportunities this provided, she brought it directly to my hand.
It took a little convincing to remind her there was another bird on top of the hill untill another sharptail flushed just out of range. Well, I'm not certain she remembered anything but she did catch scent of our second bird just before she stumbled over it.
These were mostly young of the year birds and they didn't fly the mile or more that adult birds typically do, so I was fairly certain our limit bird would come shortly, so I tossed this second bird for her to pick up and when she wasn't looking I tossed the first bird back behind us. When Bo dropped the bird in my hand I excitedly sent her back down the hill. She wasn't a rocket and was most certainly tentative but she did soon re-find a dead sharptail.
After a little frolicking we headed for the next hill, but a lone sharptail flushed from the back side of a round bale. Bo was bounding after it, but it caught a gust of wind when it topped the ridge and turned to fly back over my shoulder.
I'm certainly no dog trainer but for me, the most important training lesson for a flusher is to see at least the first several birds you shoot at, fall. That's how a God rises in front of a dog that lives to flush and retrieve. I care much less about whether or not the dog actually flushed the bird than I do that he/she sees that bird fall. After a few dead birds gun shots call dogs and dead birds turn them into worshipers.
There was a long trail of feathers marking the flight path of the falling bird. I just love watching a high speed bird tumbling from high in the air. I think Bo rather enjoyed it herself.
I hurriedly took a couple of crappy pictures of Bo with her 3 bird limit of sharptails to send to my friend Russ Miller and nephew Adam. I wanted everyone to know that my pup had scored a daily bag limit of sharptails in less than an hour, all poised in front of her birds at 8:45 a.m.