Thursday, March 28, 2013
TJ's Big Adventure
This is a piece I did a few years ago for "Terrier Man" Pete Bassani to help him kick off his own new "Big Adventure" of taking on the writing of his Traditional Working Airedale column in "Full Cry Magazine"
A hunt some years ago with my young at the time male Airedale
"California Tee Jay Mack"
TJ's Big Adventure
I have been pretty busy the past few months and have not had a lot of time for writing. Most of my older dogs have passed on and I am left with a bunch of half trained youngsters. So this past fall has been one of the busiest years ever, too many dogs and not enough time. I've been working the dogs mostly on squirrels, coon, and some grouse and there comes a time when you have to put some game in their mouths. I started looking at some new areas as close to home as possible where I could do some hunting and put something down for the dogs. I decided to check out a state co-op that can only be hunted by permit. I usually stay away from such places to avoid crowds, but I wanted to at least check it out as I knew there were pheasants there. So I signed up and got my permit and maps and took my young male Airedale, TJ with me to scout this area and see if it was worth messing with.
TJ is a 70 pound male that is one of my yard dogs, and far from any kind of finished dog, I have messed with him some on squirrels, coon, and some retrieving work. I would say TJ's biggest turn on is birds. He is crazy about them. This turned out to be one of my best days hunting with a dog ever and I call it
"TJ's Big Adventure".
I opened the gate to this area and pulled down the dirt road and went about half a mile. We came to a parking area and mine was the only vehicle there. I let T J out to stretch while I signed the 'sign in' board. I got my gear out of the truck and my .20 gauge double along with the maps and sat down at a picnic table to plot some strategy.
I was not sitting there but for a couple of minutes when I heard TJ bark once and I saw him tearing through the woods. I grabbed my gun and went over to see him run a gray squirrel up an oak. As I approached the tree I saw the squirrel timber over to a big evergreen and disappear into the top. I wanted to put the squirrel down to reward TJ and bring home, as he was treeing pretty good, but I could not find the squirrel to get a shot. I was not too happy about missing an opportunity right off the bat, but I petted TJ up well and decided to move out on a trail that cut through a huge swamp and see what we could find.
I had not walked too far when I could see TJ was again working scent. I got up close to him and all of a sudden two woodcock flushed. I shot twice and never touched a feather. I reloaded quickly and walked into T J and he flushed another woodcock and I shot and missed again. To say I was not happy was an understatement. I do not claim to be an expert shot, but I was not this pathetic either. TJ was doing his part but I am zero for four on game in the first half hour of hunting.
So on we go. I was in an area of old growth trees that one doesn't see much around here as we come up to a ridge. I saw TJ getting gamey and as I got close up to him I heard a grouse flush but I had no shot. About the time I am thinking what else could go wrong, another grouse flushed straight up and landed on a branch looking down on TJ. Not being proud, I immediately dumped him, as they say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and we were finally on the scorecard.
About a mile up the trail I heard TJ bark and I could see that he was working around a big pile of brush, looking to get in it. I got over there and looked around and saw nothing, so I climbed up on the pile and jumped up and down a couple of times and out shoots a cottontail rabbit which I bagged. Now I am feeling a little better, as things are now starting to go our way.
On we go heading for an old railroad bed that cuts through a huge swamp. I hear TJ bark and whine a couple of times working scent along the edge of the swamp. He was having a hard time moving it out so I figured it must be some kind of feed track. I just followed behind him and let him work and after a bit I moved out some. I had no clue what he was doing but I was ready. He started checking trees for scent and I started looking around myself. The one big oak that he was especially interested in I looked over well and there sat a good sized layup coon. He kept getting up on the tree and whining so he knew the coon was there but lacked the confidence to tree hard. I encouraged him and he started to bark treed well. Now this was the situation I wanted for TJ. My problem was I had the shotgun and didn't want to ruin the hide so I took careful aim at the head and touched one off. It looked like I shot low and just splattered the coon with bark, but out he came. He was full of fight but was no match for TJ as things were settled in short order. I was real happy with his job on this coon and it looked like we were now on a roll.
We found this railroad bed and started through the swamp to an open area where the pheasants were supposed to be. I got my map out and took a trail towards some open fields. We then went about a half a mile and came up over a small knoll and there stood two cock pheasants on the trail about 30 yards away. I could have probably gotten both with one shot, but I put TJ on them. One flushed and went to my left and I shot. I could see him go into the woods with T J in hot pursuit a long way and I assumed I missed clean. The other bird ducked into a field of goldenrod to the right. I called TJ back to me and was just about to see if we could flush the other bird when a couple of other hunters appeared and said they saw the whole thing and were positive I had hit the other bird good and said they saw it go down I should be able to find it. So I took a good look at my map and saw that where the pheasant had gone was a several hundred acre patch of woods, and was surrounded by a trail, oval in nature and kind of looked on the map like a giant NASCAR race track. I got TJ in there where I thought the pheasant flew and he started quartering back and forth. I could see that TJ had scent and was working it so I started following him, staying as close to him as possible. After several hundred yards, I started to think we were not on a pheasant, but definitely on something.
Finally, we came out on the other side of the woods to the trail surrounding these woods and there was that huge swamp full of water facing us, I began mumbling about those two guys being full of it about me dinging that pheasant. I was just about to call TJ in as he was heading towards the swamp when up flushes the pheasant and he lands in a tree looking down at TJ just like the grouse had done earlier. Needless to say the way I had been shooting, I flattened him right where he sat. I must say that TJ put on quite an exhibition of tracking on this pheasant.
I forgot to say this was getting to be a fairly hot day. It was now 3 PM and we had been going since 8AM and I was beat. I found a resting place and sat down to eat one of those power bars. While sitting there I got out my new varmint call. It is produced by a local outfit called a Black Creek and it is a three in one call: squirrel, rabbit squeal, and coyote howler.
I tooted on the squealer a few times and was just sitting there when I saw TJ coming to attention. Looking in the direction he was staring I see a red fox coming in on the run. We were busted immediately but I got off two quick shots with three inch number fours. TJ got on the trail and went only about 50 or 60 yards and he found the fox.
Well by this time my old bones had enough for the day and it was a long way back to the truck so we started out. I can't remember when my feet hurt more but I also can't remember having a better day afield. A pleasant Fall day with your Airedale, in the woods that contains a good population of game animals, man life don't get much better than that.
I'm not trying to kid anyone, TJ was still pretty green and could stand a lot of improvement in order to be a number one hunting dog, more experience and some polish. That being said for the actual amount of hunting he has had, he sure made me proud. The thing I was most interested in seeing was that real natural ability and drive geared toward hunting multiple types of game animals. If I would have done my part, we would have bagged seven different species of game this day which in my opinion is a pretty good feat in any hunter's book! In traditional Airedale fashion, he showed he is a versatile meat dog and game for anything that walks, crawls or flies, I am sure the breed founders would have been happy with him.....a pretty good hunting Airedale.
TJ and our catch