I kind of like the term “rough shooting.” There’s even a book titled A Rough Shooting Dog. It’s about gunning come-what-may over a Springer spaniel. I also like the idea of following a gun dog and taking whatever game is presented, be it grouse, pheasants, ducks, rabbits, squirrels and such. I like the idea of it, but I haven’t shot a rabbit for quite a while, the red squirrels around here are nothing to put on a plate, and ducks are an entirely different game thanks to non-toxic shot requirements. But I have old photos of my grandfather in his high laced boots and old shotgun posing with a Springer or cocker before truly mixed bags and I have to think how fun that must have been.
Bird hunting this season has been pretty darn good over my setters. Old Ty is finding plenty of grouse every time out, and Jack is trying to do as well. But we have Dad's eager little Springer spaniel, Molly, living here now and she is a delight to have in the woods. No need for bells and beepers. No wondering where she is or how far out she is because she is never far away, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a dog that likes to be with me as much as she does. Whenever I drop the tailgate she's in the truck and eager to jump into the dog box.
She’s fun to watch darting in and out of the cover, searching for most anything, and when she gets whiff of a grouse she bounces up on her hind legs in true Springer fashion and literally rockets in to flush. She’s always loved to retrieve, but the freshly dropped grouse always seem to surprise her with a mouthful of feathers that she hasn’t yet figured out how to deal with. But she always brings ‘em in and I can’t imagine losing a bird over her.
There are a few folks who can still step off the back porch with a shotgun and whistle up the dog that’s been busy keeping chipmunks from getting under the house and keeping an eye out for strangers coming up the drive. They walk out through the woods and fields following a dog that’s forgotten about chipmunks for grouse and pheasants. If there’s a pond or stream nearby there could be a chance to jump a wood duck or mallard. If pooch comes by a rabbit she’ll roust that out, as well, and retrieve it happily if the gunner takes it.
I was happy to often have some sort of spaniel around the house when I was growing up. They are the kind of dog that is great for a kid, because they’d join my friends and me and run alongside our bikes as we pedaled down to the swimming hole and happily splash in with us. They’d retrieve any baseball that was hit out into the long grass, help us find frogs and snakes, and they’d be in our tent when we camped giving us great comfort against any possible marauding wolves or bears. In the fall they eagerly started game birds for us to try for as we learned to wing shoot and were quick to bring ‘em in when we did connect.
While I surely love finding a pointing dog in deep cover with a grouse nailed in front of him, I’ve come to enjoy walking down an easy-going trail and letting the spaniel flush what she can near me. Perhaps she won’t find as many birds as a wide searching setter, but she found three this morning on the short loop we made and I had some easy shooting right from the trail. It may be that there are good numbers of grouse this year, but she’s found enough birds on several different hunts to rival the bigger running setters. And as she was cheerfully delivering my Halloween grouse she paused, looked left and dropped the bird she carried. I read her right and reached for the rear trigger just as she darted and flushed a second bird. That grouse came right at me and I should have taken it then, but I hesitated and tried for it when it turned and crossed in front of me about 15 feet away. I missed, which may have been good at that point blank range and it disappeared into the thick balsams. Molly made a search for the long gone bird and returned satisfied to grab the one she’d dropped and finish her retrieve. Neat stuff.
The first gundog of my adult life was a big liver colored male Springer we named Tyler. He did himself proud on grouse and woodcock, of course, but also pheasants, snipe, and ducks. I hope I get the chances to give Molly the same opportunities.