Opening Weekend at Bird Camp 2013
The first day, a downpour (wet dog). Then the winds picked up (dry dog). In the middle of the night, the local coyote packs made a point of waking us up (guard dog). And it dropped into the upper 30s (cold dog). But these were merely minor inconveniences as my cousin, Jake, and I opened our 2013 upland bird hunting seasons by setting up bird camp in North Dakota. And “Sprig,” my English cocker spaniel, couldn’t contain her excitement about starting her second campaign in the field (happy dog).
My bird camp doesn’t have a permanent address – it’s wherever I am that weekend – but even if we wanted a hotel in the area we hunt in North Dakota, we’d be looking at driving 30-plus miles just to find lodging. So an abandoned farm place it is, with just enough trees to block the wind, but not enough to hide the sunrises, sunsets and star shine that have a way of making me feel a little more insignificant when they fall on me from the prairie sky.
Two hunters and one close-working flushing dog isn’t exactly the ideal setup when it comes to finding birds in this wide open country to which pointing dogs are much better suited, but “ideal setup” and “how to” articles probably filled up a good portion of the pages of the outdoor magazines that filled our mailboxes while we were gone. I can read about what I was supposed to do come February.
We earned and cherished every bird, stopping to take pictures and recognize special occasions, including Jake’s first-ever sharptail and, after force fetching her this summer, Sprig’s first wild bird retrieve to hand. Not photographed were the areas of grassland hunted last year now growing beans, or the miles and miles of drain tile rolled up and ready to be laid in remarkably unproductive looking farmland. Even in this area north of the primary pheasant range, this modern agricultural revolution, fueled by the weakest federal conservation measures in a generation, marches on.
Deep down, I believe we’re going to turn the habitat tide. That for the sake of the land, we will realize the unsustainability of our current ways. And, a bit more selfishly, that better days for man and gun dog lie ahead. But Monday and this hard work will come. It always comes. The opening of seasons are about remembering good times and hunting for new ones. And on this trip, we found them: first birds, fresh sharptail on the grill and enjoying the company of one very, very happy dog.
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