Fred had even more advice as they followed the dog through the woods. This time the dog stopped, pointing in small patch of alders on the edge of a clearing. Art looked into the alders and said’ “I see the woodcock on the ground. Put the kid on the far edge and I’ll flush it out to him.”
Fred put his finger to his lips for silence and directed him into position, then nodded to Art. Art stepped to the bird and it flushed right out into the opening as planned. The first shot was too quick as he didn’t have the gun all the way to his shoulder and it slammed him pretty good. On the second shot he lifted his head as he pulled the trigger and the bird continued to fly away. Fred gave him another quick critique. And once again the dog was sent on. Fred lit up another Winston and continued his diatribe on the art of wing shooting as they were again on a skidder road. The next find was a grouse that they heard flush but neither he nor Fred saw it and no shot was fired.
Three more woodcock finds followed with each time Fred said, “No Pressure. I’m not going to shoot,” which only increased the pressure. On the fourth one, he fired twice and then just as he thought the bird had escaped unscathed Fred’s 20 barked and the bird fell like a stone out of the sky into some thick grass.
Fred turned to Art, “Do you think the dog can help me find this one?”
Art thought about it a moment and said, “You know he doesn’t like picking up dead woodcock.”
“I’ll pick it up if he’ll just show me where it is.”
“All right, I guess he can help you this time.” Art walked over to the dog and stroked his side a couple of times, and then said, “Dead bird,” as he tapped him on the head. The dog covered the space in a few bounds, rooted around in the dead grass, lifted his head with the bird in his mouth, and then dropped it in plain sight before he hit the accelerator and was gone in search of another bird.
It was almost ten minutes before the dog went on point again – this time only 90 yards away. When they got to the dog Art whispered directions in his ear as he positioned him for the flush. Again a brood of grouse blew out, and again he missed twice as did Fred. This time one of the birds landed in a tree and stood absolutely still as Art told him to reload.
“You aren’t going to turn the kid into a ground swatting, limb shooting punk are you?”
“The only time you object to either is when it’s not you doing it for one of your dogs.”
“It’s a bad precedent.”
“Just shut up. We can argue about this after he kills the bird.”
He raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger when the gun hit his chin. The branch below the bird splintered and the bird took flight. He tried to get his cheek on the gun but there was just air there when he pulled the trigger again. He though for sure he’d hear about this miss but instead Art turned on Fred, “You’re ruining the kid’s confidence with all this chit chat. You need to shut up and let him relax. He played frigging lacrosse in college. He needs to just let his instincts take over.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine. Now who sounds like Obi Wan?”
The dog was sent on and the banter continued. Fred turned to Art at one point and said, “Which way’s the truck?”
Art pulled out his GPS and looked down, pushed a few buttons, “I don’t know. I didn’t mark it, but I can get you back to the last cover we hunted yesterday.”
“That’s 20 miles away in pretty much the wrong direction. You know I can’t find my way anymore since I banged my head on that rock when I fell last fall.” Fred turned to him, “How’s your sense of direction, Kid?”
He didn’t know what to say. He thought about it for a moment while the two old men stared at him looking very concerned, “I’m not really sure. I just assumed you guys knew where you were going.”
Fred scratched his head, “Hell, we were just following the dog.”
They stepped out onto a skidder road and Art and Fred looked at each other, then at him, “Which way?”
He figured he had a 50/50 chance of being correct and pointed to the right.
Fred started that way, “Are you sure?”
“No, not really.” He replied as he fell in behind Fred.
Behind him he heard Art begin to laugh. When he turned around Art was headed in the opposite direction. Fred turned and followed him, “The truck’s about 50 yards up the skidder road. I take it your doctorate isn’t in geography.”
He tried to think of a witty comeback, but he was quickly realizing that he was out of his league with these two denizens of the woods. He had had ample opportunity to shoot, but had nothing to show for it except bruises on his shins, a cut on the back of his hand, and a shoulder that was bound to be black and blue if it wasn’t already. After an hour and half in the first cover he was very glad he had stuffed himself with breakfast. Art and Fred never sped up in the woods nor did they slow down. The tension of the day was starting to load lactic acid into the big muscles of his legs and he almost groaned as he thought about the fact that there were five more dogs in the back of the truck.
Fred obviously liked the doctor joke because he stopped referring to him as “the kid” and called him “Doc.” As in, “what do you think about bird hunting, Doc?” “The new guy is supposed to bring the lunch, Doc.” “Don’t worry Doc, when I first met Art, he couldn’t hit a barn with his truck.”
They pulled off the gravel road onto a small landing and parked. Fred rummaged around in the backseat next to him and pulled out a cooler that had been buried under the spare clothes and equipment that was sharing the backseat, “You want something to drink, Doc? I got water, Gatorade, Diet Coke, and regular Coke.”
“Gatorade would be great.” He said a little more enthusiastically than he’d planned.
Fred pulled out red and orange Gatorade and he took the red one. Fred pulled a Diet Coke out and handed it to Art telling the Doc, “Art may not drink coffee, but he’ll get downright cranky if he doesn’t get some caffeine.”
Fred let a young setter out of the box and explained, “This is just a puppy. We won’t let him run all over like we do with the broke dogs. And if you see him stop you have to hurry over because he may not stand for too long. And when they’re this age we want them to get the taste of feathers in their mouth as much as possible.”
They started up a skidder road with Fred making quite a bit of noise as he hacked the dog through the cover. About three minutes in the bell stopped to the right of the path. Fred went to the dog and he followed. Art stayed out on the path. The dog moved and he heard the whistle of woodcock wings and then the bang of Art’s diminutive 28 gauge side-by-side that looked, if possible, even more worn then the 20 he carried. Art called, “Dead, dead, dead bird.”
And the young setter ripped through the cover and followed Art’s direction to the bird that he picked up and tried to sneak away with. Fred called to him and rather than come he dropped the bird and tore off with the exuberance of youth in search of another which he almost immediately ran over and sent flying with no chance of a shot from either gun. Fred got a hold of the dog and set him up where he had ripped out the bird letting him calm down before sending him again in pursuit of more birds.