“I think by the end of the year, and next year coming, she’s gonna be a fine dog.”
It’s midmorning in what Jay Robinson would call a “Katahdin Country” bird covert, and the guide’s new English pointer has just announced, in traditional bird-dog fashion, that the day’s hunt is progressing nicely.
Her bell has stopped ringing, which means that Diamond has found a bird. Not far away, we find her, stock-still in the young alders, tail up, neck flat, nose pointing toward the bird we’d bag in a few more moments.
Later, after his tireless two-year-old pointed out a few more woodcock, Robinson admitted that the day was a key one in Diamond’s development.
“She was great,” he said, somewhat relieved at the realization. “I almost wouldn’t give two cents for the dog the first day I went out. She wouldn’t leave my feet. Today helped a lot. I think by the end of the year, and next year coming, she’s gonna be a fine dog.”
On Thursday, during our first covert of the day, she was all of that.
There’s a fine line, after all, between “working close” — a desired trait — and remaining so close to your master that you don’t have to work.
Early on, Diamond didn’t seem understand the distinction.
On Thursday, she did.
A year ago, Robinson and I hunted behind 9-year-old Sadie. Not long after our last hunt, Sadie succumbed to cancer. Now he’s breaking in a new dog. Thursday’s first woodcock — I won’t tell you who shot it, but you probably wouldn’t guess correctly on your first try — was also the first that Diamond had witnessed since Robinson bought her.
The first week of the season, Robinson will tell you, can be tough: The foliage hasn’t dropped, so shots can be limited. The weather might be too warm. Come the second week — this week — it’s better. And the third week of October, he’ll readily admit, is his favorite.
On Thursday, that mid-season transition was apparent. Temperatures hovered in the low 50s for much of the day, and a steady wind knocked many of those leaves to the forest floor.
Diamond led the way, comfortably ranging away from her master … but not too far away.
She pointed birds and held them until Robinson induced them to fly. She waited for the shots to ring out. Then she waited some more, holding her position until Robinson officially relieved her from her stiff-postured post.
Steady to wing and shot. And then some.
“Wasn’t that great?” Robinson said later. “Wasn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?”
“Now that’s what I call October,” he continued. “You don’t have to kill every bird you see. If the dog comes on point and you’re able to get in position and put the bird up and shoot your gun … that’s all it means to me.”
Diamond came on point.
We got in position.
We put the birds up.
We got to shoot our guns.
And as Robinson — and Diamond — would tell you, that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
More bird talk
Every now and then I stop by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife office in Bangor to find an answer to one question or another.
Nearly without exception, no matter which person I’ve planned to visit, the same scenario plays out.
I ask a few questions and get a few good answers I can use in a column.
Then the real fun starts, as the biologist or warden starts telling me things I didn’t even know I wanted to know.
And nearly every time I visit, I leave with two or three columns’ worth of material I didn’t know enough to ask about.
This week, Brad Allen was my target, and I caught up with the state’s bird group leader in his top-floor office.
The topic, at first, was Eastern equine encephalitis.
After a bit, we started talking about grouse … and woodcock … and droughts.
“I love droughts,” Allen said with a chuckle, only half-kidding. “Drought in Maine is kind of a relative term anyway.”
Now, the context: Allen was explaining how two game birds he manages, wild turkeys and ruffed grouse, really flourish when Maine has dry springs. Droughty springs.
When Maine has extremely wet spring weather, that means the number of grouse and turkeys that survive will decrease.
A few weeks ago the biologist blamed those spring conditions on his prediction of a lackluster grouse season in the southern and central parts of Maine.
Earlier this week he said that his prediction seemed to be on target, and he said even hunters looking for another of the state’s primary game birds are a bit disheartened.
“Some woodcock hunters have been disappointed by what they’ve found, but the first week of the season it’s difficult to really ascertain the woodcock population because there are a lot of leaves on the trees and hunting is difficult,” Allen said. “It’s warm and the dogs don’t work as well.”
This week, as leaves began falling in some sections of the state, the hunting likely picked up a bit.
And Allen’s standing by his suggestion for those looking to have the best grouse hunting they’ll find.
“As we predicted, I think the bright spot for grouse is northern Maine, [American] Realty Road, Ashland north,” he said.
And while Allen’s clearly not hoping for an epic drought next spring, he is hoping this year’s wet June doesn’t repeat itself.
“We need a dry May and June. It’ll be next year, with the law of averages and [my outlook of] the glass being half full,” Allen said.
Allen explained that grouse and wild turkeys each lay so many eggs, populations can be increased in a hurry, should conditions be favorable during the nesting season.
And come next spring, he’ll begin looking at the clouds, studying rainfall tables and hoping for the best.
“I do look at monthly rainfall and see how that current year compared to the average,” Allen said. “And boy, if it’s slightly under the average, then we have great production. If it’s slightly over the average, then we expect the numbers to not be so great. And this year was a washout.”
Youth breakfast on tap
Earlier this week I asked for help in letting readers know about upcoming hunter’s breakfasts.
Response has begun, and for that, thanks.
And while I’ll let you know more about many of those meals in the coming weeks, there’s one I’ll mention this morning, just so you can plan ahead.
If you’re taking a youngster into the woods on Youth Deer Day — Oct. 24 — you can give them a taste of the whole hunting experience by stopping by a hunter’s breakfast in Orrington.
Mike Tormey, a Boy Scout with Troop 44, checked in last week to let me know about the feed his troop is putting on.
It’ll be held at East Orrington Congregational Church on Johnson Mill Road on Oct. 24. The breakfast will run from 5 a.m. until 9 a.m., and you can eat as much as you want for the $5 fee. Proceeds will benefit Troop 44.