Sunday, September 24, 2006

Veteran dog warrior

Midway through the woodcock opener Saturday, Sept. 23, my wingman for the day, John Breck (of "Double Bagger" lore, see last issue of, pointed to the bloody snout of my faithful four-legged companion Henry as if there was cause for alarm.

"Naw," I shrugged and said almost nonchalantly as a way to play up his red badge of courage, "his biggest problem today is the heat."

Hot it was -- easily in the mid-70s, but more than anything, it was muggy as well for the annual pilgrimage to my favorite public hunting grounds in Gladwin County, Michigan.

But it got even hotter. Which is why I love coming to that spot. What seemed to be slow day in the bird woods turned on like a switch once John and I flushed the first woodcock an hour and a half into the hunt.

I followed the bird to the side of a knoll and then heard John's Mossberg sound off to my left, and then I had my first bird as the woodcock coasted down the slope unwittingly 5 yards away. Boom! The Browning 12-gauge had the last say.

I walked up the hill over to where John was searching the poplar leafy floor for his prize and gestured with my bird in my left hand and then jokingly asked, "Did he go over this way?"

"Oh, you got one?" John replied, a little surprised that he missed his shot.

And onward we went and put up six birds over the next 15 minutes in an area probably not much larger than a 75-yard radius on that ridge between two swamps.

Meanwhile, Henry the springer spaniel, kept weaving in and out of us just having a ball.

He then flushed one up for me directly to my front which almost seemed like a midair rabbit shot, and I picked off that bird as well. And that was it for the action there as the birds scattered across the road and into the next woods.

After a lunch break, I ended up bagging one more, which gave me my limit. Something that doesn't happen too often for this hunter. I was inspired to see ole Hen at nearly 13 years old flag that last bird down down below the ferns and then dare to run off with him, albeit temporarily.

I know these are golden days for me and him. With many hunts behind us, the clock ticks on. But on this day, the veteran dog warrior still had some game left.

I admit I might have been pumped for this hunt and it may have put John on his heels somewhat, being that it was his first bird hunt with me and the springer.

But when I see the dog give all, I know I must follow.

To the others who have hunted with us before, they may take note that I've decided to go easier on Henry this year.

I'm sure there are some doubters but that's OK.

(For pictures of the woodcock hunt and other hunts, log on to

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Passing of a friend

My friend Mike Phillips passed away Sept. 11.

It was expected and actually welcomed. Tough to see him in that feeble condition for the past 3 months.

I care to remember him as the relentless deer hunter that he was. Often, on nasty days, when I would be staring at the bent trees from the window while drinking coffee or curled under the comforter, I would get a call and hear, "Whadcha see?"

"Huh? You're kidding me, right? You didn't go out in this weather, did you?" would usually be my response.

He would then chastise me and say something to the effect, "The big boys (bucks) don't take a day off, now do they?"

Wouldn't make a difference though. I just can't see the point of being in the stand during an all-day downpour. Miserable. And if I do see a deer, I'm not on it until it's too late.

Mike always seemed to make it a test of His will to be under the sheets of rain in his latest Gore-tex suit he got from Cabela's or some other catalog.

The day after his death, Tuesday, Sept. 12, I wanted to do some kind of hunt to reflect on our friendship, even if the only season in right now in Michigan is goose. (Mike wasn't much of a waterfowler.) But it was raining. I stayed in bed. Typical.

To my defense, I did get home from work late and probably would have stared at empty skies with only a couple of hours sleep. Just didn't have enough motivation.

So far, I've been on two goose hunts at my spot on public land and have only heard a lone honker off in the distance. That's been the extent of my action. I realize I need a better spot, or just a few more options. And I'm going to keep an eye out for them.

Where my motivation truly lies is in some of the last conversations I had with Mike. He told me when I visited him in his Butler, Pa., hospital room, in July that "it's going to be a good year for bucks. I just have a feeling." He also told me that this would be the year I would score on a nice one.

I hope I can do him justice.

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