We Mainers have discovered that there are plenty of ways to hunt for birds.
Some us are lazy. OK. At the risk of offending anybody (especially anyone who’s lazy) I take that back. Some us are … well … efficient. Yes. That’s better. Efficient.
For those efficiency experts, bird-hunting is pretty simple. First, you hop into a truck. Then you find some bird-infested northwoods dirt roads, and start driving, eyes peeled. Find bird. Hop out of truck. Load shotgun. (The order of these events is particularly important. Reverse the “load shotgun” and “hop out of truck” pieces, and you’re likely to end up as the perp-of-the-night on an episode of “North Woods Law.”
Then, shoot the bird. Or shoot at the bird, cursing your crooked-shooting gun after you miss. Repeat until bag limit is full, or you run out of gas.
That’s one method of hunting for birds in Maine’s vast forests.
Of course, there are other (and some would say, more enjoyable) ways to spend a day in pursuit of woodcock or ruffed grouse.
Those methods are not as efficient, of course. And you might need a dog … or a suitable substitute. (We’ll get to the “substitute” part in a bit). First, let’s focus on the dog.
If you’re a diehard wingshooter, meaning that you enjoy the challenge and sporting nature of trying to shoot a fast-flying grouse or woodcock after it’s left the ground (and before it vanishes into the woods, laughing at you), you probably have a dog.
Not just any dog, either. Maybe it’s a pointer of some kind … an English pointer. Or a German shorthaired pointer. Or perhaps it’s a flushing dog, like an English springer spaniel, or a Brittany.
Or maybe it will be my favorite breed, the short-haired American moosehound. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again. More on that odd breed in a bit, too.
Hunting behind a well-trained bird dog is a fantastic experience. After a day in the woods, watching the dog sniff out bird after bird, you’ll be amazed. Actually shoot a couple of the birds he points (on the wing, of course), and you’ll be hooked.
Then, on the way home, you’ll pick up a copy of Uncle Henry’s and start perusing the ads in hopes of finding your very own bird-finding wonderdog.
But be careful. Not all bird-finding wonderdogs are so wonder-doggy.
Not too many years ago, I spent the day hunting behind an avid bird-dog man. His dog, he told us all, was particularly wonderous. It was one of those pointers (we were led to believe) that could sniff out a grouse two counties away, and that would remain on point for hours, should that prove necessary.
This bird-dog man’s hunting companions were not as enamoured. During a lull in the action (read that: As bird-dog man tried to find Wonderdog, who had apparently gone on point two counties away), one shotgun-toting fellow sidled up to me.
“That dog of his,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, looking over his shoulder to makes sure nobody else could hear. “It ain’t worth much, really. Not nearly as good as he thinks it is.”
That, in world of wonderdogs, was about as mean as a hunter can get. Among the things you don’t do when you’re sharing a bird covert with a bird-dog man: Shoot your companions (unless you’re Dick Cheney) … tell someone that their wife is ugly … or (this is a big one) say bad things about their dog.
The dog doesn’t make fun of you when you shoot poorly, does it? OK. Forget that question. I’ve been told that some extremely well-trained dogs do actually show their disdain when hunters fail to capitalize on the opportunities that are presented.
Still, many will tell you that a dog that doesn’t perform particularly well is only doing what bird-dog man trained it to do. And in that case, the blame probably belongs on bird-dog man … not wonderdog.
Alas, all of us can’t afford a wonderdog. Some of us don’t have the time to train them properly. And still others prefer other, more efficient methods of hunting. Nothing wrong with that.
But there are a few of us who would like to shoot birds on the wing, like you do when you’re hunting behind a dog. The only problem: We’re dogless … or we never got around to training our own personal wonderdogs.
As it turns out, that’s not really much of a problem, as long as you’re creative, and energetic, and in touch with your own inner dog.
Looking for a suitable substitute? Look no further. I’m your man … er … dog.
I used to think I was a spaniel of some sort (mostly because my face is kind of droopy and I tend to flush birds before I can point at them). Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not.
Instead, I have discovered that I am a purebred American short-haired moosehound.
Confused yet? Don’t be.
I discovered my canine roots a few years back, when a couple pals and I headed into the woods west of Greenville, hoping to find a few birds. Moose season was nearly upon us, and we figured that at the least, we’d get a few great moose photos. At the most, we’d also find a few birds to cook up.
The problem: None of us were all that fired up to hunt efficiently. And none of us owned a trained bird dog.
My bright idea: I’d be the dog.
Now, my sniffer’s not too good, and I don’t see as well as many. But I figured that I’d manage quite well, as long as I focused on flushing birds.
So I figured I’d head into the woods, walk parallel to the road, and flush a few birds that my buddies might get a shot at.
Before vanishing into the trees, I warned them to let the birds get into the road, thereby saving me from the Dick Cheney treatment, before they shot, and both agreed that they’d hunt carefully.
So in I went. A flushing dog. On the move. Eager to help my fellow hunters.
I learned later that I didn’t sound much like a flushing dog. Apparently most good flushing dogs don’t weigh more than 230 pounds. And apparently they don’t sound like a moose in a china closet when they’re tromping through the woods.
And I did.
I lumbered through the woods, slowly … noisily. Crack! Snap! Oof! Crack!
Before long, my buddies realized something that had not occurred to me.
I did not sound like a bird dog.
I sounded like a very large mammal.
And we were bird-hunting during the peak of the moose mating season, in one of the most moose-y parts of Maine.
“He sounds just like a moose,” one buddy told the other at some point.
Of course, I didn’t learn about this conversation until it was nearly too late — after I had returned to the road, sweating, panting and birdless.
One pal pointed over his shoulder. I followed his gaze. And there, about 50 yards behind him, was a young bull moose.
Lovesick. Ambling toward us. Looking for his mate. Me.
Things got a little hectic after that.
The moose and I had a discussion.
I explained that I wasn’t his type.
I explained that I wasn’t even a moose.
I told him it was my fault, not his.
I told him we could still be friends.
And eventually, my buddies and I hiked back to the truck, making sure to remain in the middle of the road, where we’d be less likely to snap twigs and sound like lovesick moose.
All in a day’s work for a short-haired American moosehound.