In The Field: A girl and her hunting dog |

In The Field: A girl and her hunting dog

The author with a pheasant and his hunting black lab, Magnum.
Dale K. Fields / Special to the Daily |

It’s winter, and pheasant season is open. Colorado Parks and Wildlife indicates that pheasant calls are up 27 percent over last year, and so I find myself on the road to northeastern Yuma County at 3 a.m. with Magnum, my black pointing lab. I’m meeting Jerry and Leigh, a friend and his new wife, for breakfast in Fort Morgan.

I haven’t hunted with them before, although I’ve known Jerry for three years and have shot in competition with him many times. He is an expert-class shooter at trap and skeet. Leigh is a recent transplant from England and shoots target, but she has not hunted pheasant. They have their dog, Ronnie (Leigh’s dog), a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer.

Jerry wants me to introduce Leigh to pheasant hunting in Colorado, and we all drive to a farm where the owner allows me access. I’m wondering how the day will play out.

Into the field

Since we have two dogs that have not hunted together before, I decide to see how well Ronnie will do on the ground alone. We are in a food-plot field of millet bordered by tall cottonwoods and Russian olives.

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The night is cold and frosty, good for holding scent for the dogs. After half an hour, all we find is an 18-inch long prairie rattler sunning itself between two rows of millet. These rattlers can be deadly to both (wo)man and dog; fortunately, they are typically more afraid of us than we should be of them.

We continue to walk and thoroughly cover about 40 acres when Ronnie turns hard and locks on a “point.” He’s about 35 yards from my left side and about 15 yards in front of Leigh. Ronnie is quivering with anticipation, his muscles as taut as a banjo string. He’s a beautiful sight.

Then comes the unmistakable sound of a rooster (pheasant) taking to wing. Even my heart skips. Leigh swings fast and BANG! The bird tumbles out of the air. Ronnie is right there and, with a modicum of encouragement, retrieves the bird to Leigh.

Hunter’s best friend

Humans have been hunting with dogs for a long time; some think as long as 15,000 years. We domesticated wolves/dogs to warn of danger, find game and provide companionship.

It’s possible to hunt pheasant without dogs, but it would not be as satisfying or fulfilling. I don’t think I would personally hunt without a dog — I would miss sharing the time in the field together with Magnum. For me, it’s not about harvesting birds but the joyful interaction to reach a common goal. Dogs will do the difficult job of hunting to please us, like playing catch. But it’s more than that. Dogs like to work and take satisfaction from the camaraderie and joint effort of reaching a goal together.

The three of us hunted for the rest of a long day, and both dogs worked well together. In addition to retrieving, Magnum the Wonder Dog provided a good example for Ronnie. We each shot our limit of three birds for nine total. Without the dogs, we probably would have had only one or two birds in the bag.

The pheasants will provide wonderful holiday meals and happy memories, mostly thanks to a girl and her dog. Leigh was pleased with both her success at a new sport and Ronnie’s performance. Her flushed cheeks and flaming red hair put me in mind of Boudicca, the Welsh warrior queen. A good day all around.

Stay safe and well this pheasant season.

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