It is difficult to improve on October – the last good weather before winter coupled with the onset of the first morning frosts. Besides, it’s the peak of grouse and woodcock season. There are few better things.
For a few days of such fine things, my friend Dave Fronczak and I traveled to Minnesota. We hunted north to south through a variety of habitats and landscapes. Each day presented something new and challenging and something wonderful to see.
On the twenty-second of October, Cass County beams fall colors. Woodcock are everywhere, and Dave’s Labrador Jesse seems to find them all. We push through cover just off a county road and work our way east into a tangle of young aspens that she works methodically, quartering until she locates a scent and zeroes in on the bird. She rarely gets too far ahead of us, though a couple of times I have seen her give in to her senses and rush toward an area where there are several birds sitting in the leaves.
I can’t say I blame her. It is a sensory overload that only dogs understand. The scent of birds infuses their souls the way our dreams command our unconscious psyches. I believe dogs relive smells the way we recollect images from our lives: a first love, a place unique in memory, the transition from night to dawn. A 7-year-old golden retriever spinning dizzying circles upon entering a patch of cover where she found rooster pheasants the prior year is clearly aware of some portion of her past. Last year, in good quail country for the first time in several years, my 10-year-old English pointer lay down and cried at the distant scent of a covey – he was home.
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