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Bird hunting’s Instant Replay

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Am I the only one who starts telling the story of my hunt in my head before I’m even done hunting? It’s not intentional, and I don’t usually talk to myself. So why do I do it in the field?

Muttering to myself while I walk through the switchgrass, thumb double-checking the safety, one eye on my dog who’d resumed hunting after we worked two birds, … “Scratch went on point about 80 yards in,” I hear me saying in my head. “When I got to him, he started tracking real slow, but his tail kept wagging fast, and I thought I heard a bird moving somewhere in front of him but I couldn’t tell where exactly. So I kept up with him, and just when we were almost to the drainage ditch – you know the one where they planted that strip of milo perpendicular to the road and the deer pounded it down – two birds came up, definitely sharptails, one straightaway and one veering off to the left, and I missed them both. I got so wound up trying to pick one, I missed them both!”

No doubt one of the fun parts of hunting is rehashing the day – how many birds and where, the good shots and the bad shots, and the other surprises long the way. Whether we report in immediately back at the truck or wait until a more mellow moment at home or camp, everyone gets a turn. Trading tales is part of the sporting tradition, but it usually occurs after the hunt.

Since I prefer to hunt alone, my internal storytelling is paradoxical. If I choose to be in the woods or fields by myself with my dogs, why does my mind want to talk to someone?  The answer must have to do with time.  Reliving moments of action by retelling them not only extends the excitement but fixes those moments in my brain.

There are always days hunting wild birds when you don’t find many. On those days, each bird encounter seems especially vivid. Those few minutes of bird contact, with or without shooting, are very short compared with the many longer minutes of walking and stalking, searching and hunting.

Police try to question witnesses to a crime as soon as possible after an incident, knowing that with the passage of time, details fade in memory. Say what you saw soon after you saw it and the information will be more accurate and lasting in your mind. Similarly, why do we repeat things aloud when we’re trying to memorize something? Saying it makes it stick. So too, with going over what happened when that spectacular rooster sprung out of the cattails and Scratch leapt upward, spinning in the air trying to catch the bird’s tail. Or when the covey of quail split in two with four birds flushing forward and three right over my head. Or when both dogs locked on point facing that deep crevasse in the ledge where I could just barely see the porcupine’s back as it huddled in the far corner.

I’ve decided to let my mind wander into these one-sided conversations while I hunt. The way I figure it, anything that replays the intensity, surprise and wonder deserves a place in my thoughts.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

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