Written by: Tommy Launer. Saint Marys, PA
Every year the feeling is the same. Winter has rolled in, Christmas has come and gone, the Super Bowl played and suddenly it’s March. The season has passed us yet again and I spend my evenings sitting with the dogs, cleaning guns, taking inventory of gear, just doing anything to continue thinking of hunting. This long lull between the last day of season and the days when the weather will warm and we’re running dogs in green grass again is always the hardest.
We all have different methods to keep from going stir crazy. Those of us lucky enough will head south to run dogs, whether that be an extended trip or just a long weekend. Obedience training, agility classes and shed hunting are all great activities to keep ourselves and the dogs in shape. For me, it’s the reminiscing. Sitting on an oversized recliner, a dog laying on either side of me as I write, just reflecting back on past hunts.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a hunting family. Friday evenings after school in October and November dad would load up our bags, I generally toting one or two small items, and we’d go to camp. Sometimes there’d be 8 of us in camp, sometimes just Dad and I. Always sitting by the stove, discussing our strategy for the next day. The quarry for my Dad and uncles was always the same each fall – squirrel and turkey in October and November, then deer for two weeks after Thanksgiving. My dad and his brothers had grown up with hounds chasing rabbits. By the time I was old enough to hunt they had all moved on from that for one reason or another. Hunting now was an excuse to be at camp, away from the world for a few days with family and the hunting as an added bonus.
I always enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until I was 13 that something changed. I’ll never forget walking along and suddenly at my feet an explosion from the forest floor erupted. I had never seen a grouse before, and to say I was shocked is an understatement. By the time I recognized what was happening I heard a single shot to my left, my dad had crumpled the bird with his 16 gauge. My heart was three feet out of my chest and all I wanted was redemption, for I to make the shot. That fleeting moment will forever be etched in my memory and led to many years of dogless treading through the woods, searching for the drummer in the woods.
Now, 20something years later, I still spend my days dreaming of wings exploding from the brush, of watching the bird try to elude us, of first flushes. The first flush of a season, the first flush of a new hunting ground, the first flush for a new bird hunter that’s tagging along. I now get to enjoy those flushes from behind two good dogs, somedays with newer guns, and somedays with the old faithful’s. The landscape is ever changing, even the destination and species may change. One thing that is forever as wonderful each and every time, is the flush. Each brings me back to that first autumn day, and that first flush, the first memory in what I’m lucky to call the beginning of my bird hunting life.