Friday, September 18, 2015
Gilbert, the Magnificent Hunting Cockapoo.
Ruffed Grouse, Grouse or Partridge are small chickens about three quarters the size of a standard chicken. They have vicious beaks and big claws. Up close to my like cockapoo, Gilbert, they’re about the size of Big Bird. An ostrich really!.
Gilbert has accompanied me hunting since his first year. He’s been ‘finding’ grouse we shot since then. Grouse with exquisite camouflage, when they’re shot, especially when they’re shot on the wing, fall but aren’t always killed. They ‘hide’ and hunters like myself alone can’t find them. Dogs are the solution. Without a dog a hunter will lose half or more of the grouse he shoots. They will become the food of eagles and coyotes and foxes but they won’t go home in the game bag.
When three of us guys went hunting for moose one week we didn’t get a moose but we shot 90 grouse and ptarmigan, a tougher more northern chicken. We all attributed 60 of those birds to Gilbert’s genius nose. On that hunt Luke was the best grouse shot and Gilbert stuck right with him. Once a gun went off he was off into the woods finding the bird and subduing it and holding it down till we could catch up and collect it.
I’ve never taught Gilbert to retrieve a grouse. He fetches tennis ball ad infinitum but had never brought back a grouse. I figured they were too big for him. When I wanted my other bigger dog to fetch back grouse I ‘trained’ him by wrapping a grouse wing onto a piece of wood which I threw time and again. The dog went on to be a great retriever.
Well this hunt Gilbert outdid himself. I was with Laura and Gilbert driving through deep brush in the truck when I saw a grouse dash across the road. I stopped and got out of the truck. I took the 20 gauge over and under shot gun and loaded it as I walked forward. Gilbert had jumped out of the truck and was following me. When I’d loaded the shot gun I called Gilbert forward pointing to where the grouse had run into the bush. He was immediately on scent. His tail wagging as he ran back and forth looking for trail they heading straight under the bush into the thick of the forest. Moments later a grouse rose on thumping wings above the 8 foot bush. It was an easy shot not 20 yards away even if it was almost from the hip. The bird fell and I began to stumble through willow wall. As I was doing that I looked down and there was Gilbert with the bird in his mouth going the other way. I turned around and followed him to the road where he dropped the bird at my feet. I got a picture. Everyone I know has seen that picture. If he’d graduated Harvard University that weekend I couldn’t have been more proud.
The other thing I learned about Gilbert is that he’s not a pervert. For several years I’d arrived on him holding a bird down with his paws while biting at the bird’s bum. I thought he had this thing for bird shit. He rolls in cow shit and sniffs asses whenever he can. It’s not surprising I thought that. But then I saw him facing a bird still alive trying to peck and claw out his little cockapoo eyes. I couldn’t blame the bird but quickly got a hold of it and wrung it’s neck nonetheless. That’s when I saw on the next bird that he was using his paws to hold the head down and away. He trying to kill the bird by opening it’s belly with his teeth. We’d seen him going at squeaky toys in the very same way. I can’t say why but I felt better with him fending off the claws and beak of Big Bird some weird dog predilection for grouse shit. I guess I didn’t want my dog to be a canine Cheech and Chong.
Laura and I loved the country. 9 grouse over a couple of days of hunting. Another half dozen got away. We saw rabbit. Some 20 doe. A couple of young bear. I could have shot the bear and they’d have been good eating but I would rather wait for an older bigger black bear. The doe were illegal and I didn’t see any buck. The rabbit almost ended in the pot because it stopped and waited till I got the 20 gauge out. Then as I was loading it took off like Speedy Gonzalez. I let Gilbert run after him for a glorious race in which the rabbit definitely had the lead.
We stopped at Merritt. I love the high cowboy country and ponderosa pine. The air was still fall with just a scent of snow. I swam in a lake the first day but by the second with the cloud covering I was noticing the chill. Still it was God’s country. The trees were dressing up in fall colours. A few more weeks and the land will be white with winter.
Autumn in Canada is my favourite time. As a child I hunted prairie chicken and ruffed grouse with my older brother Ron, my dad, and Sonny, our springer spaniel dog. Later my dad and I borrowed Ron’s red setter, Tartan when we went hunting, he as an older man, I as a young man, my brother home with a wife and babies. Later I’d hunt alone with Shinto. Shinto was the great setter cross springer I hunted alone with for countless years. Gilbert, Shinto, Tartan, and Sonny would all have been great buds.