Yesterday I reminisced. Maybe 30 years ago, over my yellow dog Rex I'd taken a rooster from a clearing in the swamp, a big classic warm spot fringed with willows and dotted with cabbage trees. He'd landed in a puddle at the shot so looked bedraggled, not at all helped when I'd stuffed him in the front of my shirt which is how I carried birds back then. I had taken 2 pheasants that day, the one and only time I managed that feat in this area. Yesterday I took a walk that I used to do often back then, before the swamp became 'developed' with ponds and literally a road was put through the block. The swamp felt like mine then, a big personal playground. Seeing another human face on a weekday was a rarity, and many fewer hunters worked the area than today.
Yesterday, I'd approached the clearing as I would have back then. Layla worked the fringes, casting for scent. The knee high grasses were wet and with no morning breeze I was looking for shorter shrubbery where a pheasant would hold. I'd first come here as a boy with dad, looking for pheasants. I remember the little SKB side by side that I used then and how weighty it seemed despite in reality being a light gun. We'd found a pile of feathers that dad's lab Bessie snuffled around - someone had beaten us to the bird and made a kill by the looks. A pheasant back then was a bird of mystique, a prize above all others. It would be some time after that walk with dad until I managed one.
Yesterday the black dog and I didn't complete the circuit around the clearing, rather cutting the corner as it were and continuing to move to the east, down the treeline and down the river. Early on we'd seen a distant rooster take to the air, and had possibly bumped another. More than possibly, I knew it had been a cock bird who had heard us, the lack of wind playing against us doubly by not spreading scent and also providing no cover for our noise. The water in the swamp these days is much higher than in the past, so the hunting corridor is narrower. We walked to the end of my planned area then turned back. When we got near the clearing we approached from the side we'd not covered. Layla lit up, a bird had been here. The scent trail was erratic. I moved to where I thought a bird would jump, but I got it wrong and when he did with a series of mini cackles more like clucks, he made good his escape at tree canopy height, earning his freedom by using trees as cover from me. Layla had done well. I hadn't.
A bit later in the day and again reminiscing over hunts so many years in the past and in the company of the big dog long gone over the rainbow bridge, Layla and I covered territory that I knew held pheasants. Warm, sunny, with scrub cover and close to food, its a no brainer to find pheasants here. It always has been. Layla bumped one towards me almost immediately, a tawny hen that flew over me with that brrrr wing sound. Soon she heated up again and the pheasant that jumped at my toes was well covered - again a hen bird. Later on and in the prime zone she moved another hen from in front of our feet. The rooster that went did so out of sight with a big cackle. It was lunchtime. I'd seen what I came to see. Home time.
8 birds seen in 150 minutes of hunting. 4 cocks, 4 hens. I don't remember numbers like those back in the day. Yesterday was as a good day as one could wish for. I'll take that walk again and I wont wait 20 years to do it.