Montana has been ravaged by severe drought, heat, and horrific fires over the last few months. Although it has been difficult, I’ve stayed home during the first weeks of the upland bird season. This has been very difficult for me as upland bird hunting has been my passion for over 50 years, but the chance of starting a fire is very high and I certainly don’t want to be the cause of any further carnage. With that in mind, I thought a return to a column from a year ago might be appropriate. It’s one of my favorites; I hope you enjoy reading it again.
My dad had little interest in shotgunning when I was very young. Our hunting season only consisted of the general big game season. Then when I was about 9 years old and at the urging of friends and relatives, he decided to try bird hunting. He was hooked, and as a tag along youngster, so was I. It would be three more long years before I would be able to field a shotgun and join in the early fall fun. A while back I wrote of my first bird, a sharp-tailed grouse taken with my little Stevens 20 gauge, a day of vividly wonderful memories that I greatly revere.
Many decades ago, after suffering serious health issues, Dad gave me his Browning Sweet Sixteen Auto 5. Over the years old “Sweet” and I took a lot of game birds; huns, grouse, ducks, and even a few geese fell to the lovely little semi-auto.
Thirty-one years ago I took my 10 month old springer pup Spot on his first hunt. He, like most springers, had unbelievable energy and drive. Little did I know that day that Spot would be the greatest gun dog I would ever have the honor to hunt over. He was steadfast, determined, and the best hunting partner I ever had. We were a team, and we were also dear friends. On that first day so long ago, a little ruff grouse flushed, old “Sweet” spoke, and Spot got his first bird. While countless other birds came to Spot and me, I’ll always cherish the memory of that little springer prancing proudly as he retrieved his first bird.
This past Christmas another springer puppy came into our lives. Archie is now 10 months old and he really shows the signs of a good gun dog. He’s not as big as Spot was at the same age, but he is a typical springer constantly engaging in what has often been called “happy bustle.” Time spent this summer at the trap club and gun range showed he had no fear of gunfire or much of anything else for that matter.
Our first foray into the field led us to the top of a mountain I have hunted for over 50 years. I haven’t been able to spend as much time training in the field with Archie as I would have liked. But he loves to retrieve, it’s a big game to him and he does tend to hold onto the bird as if it were his own. We’ll get that fixed in time. We came upon a small group of Blue (Dusky) grouse. I released Archie and he somewhat tentatively approached the birds; he had never been this close to such large feathered critters. I had brought out my old “Sweet” just for this day and when the birds flushed that old gun and I again managed to drop a couple of the grouse. Archie wasn’t sure what to do at first, but within a couple of minutes he grabbed one of the birds and like Spot all those years ago started prancing proudly back to the truck.
I consider myself a very lucky man. I have a very dear wife, a normal, healthy, loving family, a dandy grandson; I live in one of the most beautiful and bountiful places on earth. Other than the usual old man ailments, I’m quite healthy, and after a knee replacement, I can still roam the mountains and valleys that I love. Truly great gun dogs are a rarity and frankly, a true blessing. I was blessed to have the spectacular Spot. Maybe, just maybe, little Archie will show me that unlike lightning, blessings do strike twice.
Be safe and good shooting.