Bella's First Huns
by Dennis Carlson

Printed with permission

It was mid November and the annual grasses had finally sprouted on the north sides and draws of the rolling foothills of eastern Oregon where I hunt Huns and Chukars. The hunting season for these birds opens the first part of October, but I don't like to hunt them then. For one thing, it can be hot, especially in the afternoon. I'm also concerned about whether all the rattlesnakes have safely hibernated for the winter. But mostly, I don't like to hunt them then because it's too dry. This means the birds are still bunched up in their summer habitat near perennial creeks, springs and seeps where there is water and live green grass. I've found that the most effective way to hunt them in the early season is to stalk these selected spots and stay ready for large covey flushes. For me, this isn't as satisfying as watching my dog work wide expanses searching for scattered coveys.

My hunting partner, Bella, a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, was born this spring and this was her first hunt for Huns. After about twenty minutes, a covey flushed wild off a distant hillside. I walked towards that spot and Bella quartered ahead of me. She decided to do this because ever since I picked her up from the airport air cargo depot, when she was ten weeks old, we would go hunting without a gun in the fields and forests around my home. After a while, she learned that I tended to proceed in a specific predictable direction and if she went out ahead that way to have fun with her nose, I would follow reliably. At least for a while, until I decided to change to another direction and she learned to watch for that too. No verbal commands where necessary or desired. My previous dogs taught me this body language.

When we got to where the birds flushed she went on point. Then she broke point and started tracking. She pointed again and then started tracking again. I love watching a puppy learning to use her nose. With more experience she will know the birds have left. This was her first
experience with Huns. We went down the draw where the birds flew, staying on the north side where the birds where and where there was sprouted grass. I was hoping she would find another covey. When we were just about to the creek bottom, birds flushed above us. I shot one just before it cleared the horizon. Bella gave chase, searched, and pointed. She lunged for the bird, picked it up, and started parading around with it. I told her what a good girl she was. When I thought she was starting to get bored with the bird, I encouraged her to bring it to me but she just wanted me to chase her. I didn't want to compete with her for the bird.

It was her bird now and that was ok. I wanted her to enjoy her possession for a while. I want this to be fun. I walked on down towards the creek. She followed. When she passed me she was close enough for me to catch her by the collar. I told her what a good girl she was and repeatedly stroked her shoulder. She dropped the bird and I was able to take it and put it into my vest. Then she wanted it back. She was distracted about trying to get the bird out of my vest for a while but eventually resumed hunting.

I sensed a heightened interest. We didn't find anything along the creek bottom so I headed up a side draw on the other side and she went on ahead. Not far up the draw she started getting birdy and went on point. I walked in with eager anticipation. When I got close, I realized to my horror that she was pointing a porcupine just a few feet in front of her. I yelled "Aaaugh!" which is our word for "no". She stayed on point. I commanded, "Come!" And she did. I am so thankful all my dogs, so far, have been staunch on porcupines. A friend of mine's Golden Retriever caught and killed a baby porcupine. It took us a long unpleasant time with a Leatherman tool to pull out most of the quills, many of which where inside her mouth and in her tongue. The first aid kit I was carrying includes a pair of hemostats in case of just that occasion.

We were over three hours out so it was about time to head back. A covey of Huns unexpectedly erupted at the base of a rock shelf. Bella crouched down on her belly. I shot twice, missed both times, and Bella gave chase. Bella is my fourth dog and the only one that has exhibited this natural crouching behavior when she's surprised by a covey flush. I've read that it's customary in some parts of the world to train dogs to do this. I don't intend to do this training but it will be interesting to see how long she continues to do this on her own.

At the head of the next draw another covey gets up unexpectedly. Bella crouches down again. This time I fold a bird neatly with my first shot and knock down another with the second shot. The second bird takes off running down the hill. Bella gets the first bird and starts her parading
routine. I run towards the wounded bird and am again able to catch her as she passes by with the first bird. She lets me have the bird, then she wants it back. I keep running down the hill after the wounded bird and she's still trying to get the first bird out of my vest while I'm trying to get her interested in tracking the wounded bird. All of a sudden, she's on to it. She starts slow with some pointing. I stop and let her get ahead. Her stalking is absolutely obvious. She learned to do this with mice when she was very young. The breeze is coming up the hill. At first she holds her nose low and stalks forward down the hill moving from side to side back and forth on track. She picks up the pace as she moves down the hill and ends up running with her head up, nose to the wind. She catches up with the bird about a hundred yards down the hill and runs it down. I am ecstatic. I can't help yelling, "Good Girl!" "Good Girl!"; over and over again. She was so proud parading around with her catch.

She noticed that if she dropped the bird it would take off again. She was having so much fun. I felt bad about not dispatching the bird quickly but justified it because she is just a puppy and wild predators encourage their young to play with their prey. They must have a good reason.
Finally, when she sat down with the bird pinned beneath her paws, I took it from her.

It was a good day. She showed so much potential that just needs more exposure. I was hoping for a shot over a point. The opportunity for that didn't happen but I was sure it was just a matter of time. And it was.

But that's another story.

Note: Hun’s is shortened version of Hungarian Partridge
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Updated 25th Nov 2002