An upland hunter reflects on his last day of the season.
Saturday Morning, February 29, began with a crisp, cool, but sunny morning. It was also the last day of the upland gunning season and a day that brings bittersweet thoughts to my mind each year. It is with regret that I know that it hearkens an end my days afield with my canine companions. Yet I also know that my body needs a rest from endless treks across the mountains, my wife would like to see me around a wee bit more, and spring chores await. And gardening season is upon us and fishing in the creeks is just around the corner as the weather warms.
The month of March is definitely not my favorite; however, it is a month that teases the mind and the body with doses of winter but promises of spring. To me it seems as if the winds of March are colder than any other time of the year.
As I lay in my bed on the night before my last hunt a battle in my mind began as to whether I really wanted that one last hunt. As I have discussed before it has been a real struggle this year to find upland game birds and in many respects it would have been easy to give up for another kind of adventure. Many other hunters have hung it up for the season and in many ways I understand their frustration.
Yet, there is just something inside me that just won’t quit. It could be competitiveness but I don’t really think this is the case. When I coached in high school softball it was a given to my girls that we never quit until the last out was made. The word “quit” was just not in our vocabulary. To be successful in any endeavor this must be a part of your persona.
“Quit” is certainly a word that my sporting canine companions do not know. From the time the tailgate drops until the last hug of affection before they enter the box in the pick- up, the effort they put forth is remarkable. Seeing this kind of effort and athletic performance surely spurs me on as well.
This year has been much different for them and for me. Our bird contacts have been minimal but, yet, the dogs keep running and I keep trying to locate the one thing that drives their soul-game birds to point. Their genetics would have it no other way.
If we had let this be our only goal we would have hung it up almost as soon as it began. It has helped me to understand that this type of winning is not what it is all about. I go to church every Sunday and try to live as the sermons and Scripture tell me to do but in reality I feel closer to God each time my foot steps into the pathways of the woods or the flow of the streams. It is on these journeys that I truly find myself and humbly see where I fit into the big picture of life. If it were somewhere between a flea and a dog I would lie more closely to the flea.
Finally, last days always come about and they come about in many forms. It might be watching your child graduate from high school, leaving for college and career never to return home to live again. Maybe retirement brings about a finality to our existence that is hard to replace and harder to know how to move on. As we age and go through life we lose friends and loved ones as they or we move away. One day we will all face the finality of saying good-bye and sharing a last day with someone we have loved more than ourselves. Not to put them on a pedestal next to people but many can tell you what it is like to part with a faithful canine companion. I know that I have buried many and the bond between a hunter and his sporting companion is truly special. These last days are especially hard to grasp.
So with these thoughts in mind, I decided to take one more walk on this last day of the upland season. With a good friend and my canine companions I can say that I was glad that I came to this decision. I’ll remember the crystal blue skies of the day, the new converts that we explored, an old graveyard that will never be visited by anyone again, and, yes, and the special encounters that my dogs provided. Mixed emotions came over me as I harvested my last ruffed grouse of the season, yet it seemed it was meant to be as Red and Rayna hit statuesque poses on a dark mountainside. With dwindling numbers I have generally practiced “catch and release” in my bird encounters the last few seasons but this encounter was special.
It was a last day encounter that signaled another season of life had passed. We never know when a last day will truly be the last. It is better that we do not know. But on this last day a man, a mountain, his dog, and the upland bird that symbolizes the wildness of nature came together. The circle of life was good.