The day breaks cold and clear, slightly overcast and heavy with the smells of autumn. My son and I exit the car, retrieve our shotguns from the back, don our hunting vests, and liberate the setters from their transport box. Quivering with anticipation, they rocket out of the confines of the trailer into the crisp air of this glorious day, noses into the wind, doing instinctively what they are bred to do.
Our orange Belton bitch takes the lead, followed by the blue male, heads held high scanning for the elusive scent of grouse in the heavy mountain cover. I have high hopes for this hunt, as the weather is just about perfect and the bird population is up this year. This will be the boy's first hunt, and he is giddy with excitement and maybe just a little bit nervous. We load up and fall in behind the dogs, trudging up the steep logging road.
Suddenly, the orange lady gets birdy, tail flagging nervously, and cuts off the road up into the thick tangle of laurel, where , just ten yards in,she locks up on point. The blue male dutifully backs, then, oddly, backs out and circles down hill to the left about 30 yards and suddenly goes rigid. I send my son after the bitch, and I circle around behind the male.
Just then, the forest floor explodes in front of the boy as Mr. Ruff elects to depart, flying straight ahead through the tangle. Regaining his composure, the boy mounts his 20 ga., swings through and slightly above the rising bird, and takes is cleanly. I am taken by surprise, distracted by the boy's shot, as number two blasts off straight ahead. Then suddenly, as if jerked by an invisible string, veers left and down hill. Knowing to expect the unexpected from this feathered aerobat, I swing down hill and through, pressing the trigger just as I swing past him, confident that he is mine before I see him tumble.
"Get 'em", I say quietly, almost a whisper, as the magic of the moment casts a spell on my voice. But they heard. A perfect fall day,a quick find, two perfect points, a heart stopping flush. Then,as if choreographed by Artemis herself, two difficult shots connect and a brace of classy setters delivers to hand a brace of America's most coveted game birds.
"Let's go home, son". I know there are more birds to be had, but to add or subtract anything to this moment would spoil it. Perfect is perfect, so we start back down the mountain, the smell of gun powder heavy in the cold mountain air. A very happy boy, two happy setters, and one very proud father, blessed beyond words in this most perfect of moments in God's great creation.
Copyright 2012 Dr. James C. Barger