column By: Daniel Porter, Terry Jamieson, James Taylor Webb | August, 17
While hunting one of my favorite covers one afternoon last fall, my eldest setter Jodie locked on point in his typical woodcock pose. I walked up for the flush, and sure enough, the bird I’d eventually name “Winslow” popped up – but only about four feet high – and traveled only about 10 feet. Odd. I walked up again seeing him clearly now. Up he went again, four feet up, 10 feet out – something was wrong.
I dropped the gun and physically went after him. We landed in a pile together, but I managed to do so gently while covering him, much to his chagrin. I assured him it was in his best interest. I secured him comfortably between my soft leather gloves, restricting his movement. I took him back to the truck where I had a spare dog kennel. I threw in some leaf litter for bedding, and he nestled right in.
I finished running Jodie and proceeded home. In the dark, I found him some supper and put him in a comfortable spot for the night – my studio.
Through some top-notch vet care the next day for what turned out to be a minor fractured wing and the use of some good contacts, Winslow is now convalescing at the Atlantic Wildlife Institute. He wasn’t able to make the fall migration last year, but he received good care over the winter after which he was returned to me to be released when his friends returned in warmer weather and when the food sources were back and plentiful. Some folks may have said, “Wring its neck.” Sure, in some sense it may seem counterintuitive to go to the trouble to rescue the bird, but as hunters, stewards of the resource, we have an ethical standard to follow: Do you truly love and respect your quarry, or is it all about the kill?
Being conservationists dictates we show these animals respect, thinking beyond that of our own needs. It is very important that we have care and concern for their tomorrows. This was a personal exercise for me. I want the journal of my days to record that I was indeed about much more than just the hunt.
– Daniel Porter
I still remember it, the peaceful twilight of Indian summer in the South: soft colors and the delightful evening air, the easy conversations around school ball fields, hunters at ease, their sport and all the good fun soon to follow. That was October, and I miss it.
For I am no longer a Southern hunter, not in practice. Our quail faded with my youth, those little Brittanys that kept a boy warm on the backseat of his uncle’s Scout now warm only my memories, while I pursue the noble partridge of the North Woods.
Gallant and game he draws me north, where autumn is already turning to winter: the aspen leaves now brown, bracken ferns defeated by frost, away from October in the South I flee again. No lazy days left, we press on, Lightfoot and I, to hear the beating of grouse wings in the great North Woods!
We learn about tamarack and alder and woods that go on forever, how birch makes a better campfire, and later, the wolves rule the night. It seems early for frosty mornings and snow squalls, but that’s when Lightfoot is at his best; that’s when woodcock are scattered through the popple, holding under a setter’s point like the quail a boy once hunted with his father and his uncle and their dogs.
The woodcock is truly the bird of autumn wearing his mix of browns and black and soft pale russet: He is as pleasant as the season and so rich on the pallet that a cabernet must wash it down by the light of the evening fire.
The grouse is great game, ready to make fools of men and dogs, taunting us. Then in a whir like a deck of cards shuffled and bridged, just a flash, and he’s behind a cedar. But sometimes he’s a blur through bare branches my reflexes can catch, then downy soft and paisley’s in hand, deserving our pause and appreciation. His warm scent brings Lightfoot to a quivering point, leaning forward with his right paw drawn close to his chest, long tail straight, fixed and dazed until the trance is broken by the ripping sound of the flush! The grouse is gone, and we march on; I’m missing October again.
– James Taylor Webb