The farmlands along the narrow road on a cold early October morning brought back fond memories. Some were from the farm next to the road, and others were from a similar agricultural country in the Dakotas and Idaho, where bird dogs waited impatiently in truck taxis at dawn, and wild pheasant cackled from the field.
An invitation to hunt someone else’s property is a gift, and the Tachick Homestead on the Kenai Peninsula has hosted a large gathering of bird hunters and dogs for the annual Upland Bird Hunt of Women and young people for over a decade. While Steve and I had volunteered at the event in the past, it had been eight years since we had been there.
It’s a long time in the life of a bird dog. As we drove at 8 km / h towards the farm, I remembered Trigger, an 8 month old griffin who pointed and retrieved birds on the farm in 2013. It was my first introduction to his breed, and he has become a masterful hunting dog. .
I smiled as I remembered all the dogs of old – Cheyenne, our chocolate Labrador, in his prime, and a black lab named Sana. Both dogs are now 12 years old and can no longer volunteer for a big day of recovery.
There was also Dixie, a funny little English setter known as Llewellin’s setter. She was then just a freckled puppy, whose pointed bird style had an acrobatic flare. As much as I adore setters, living with up to 7 at a time, Dixie stays in my mind as the most tightly coiled ball of affection I’ve ever encountered.
Bird dogs hold a sacred place in the hearts of bird hunters, and although the highland bird hunting of women and youth is an annual opportunity for women and youth to learn and participate in the shooting and cleaning game birds, bird dogs are a big part of the day.
Starting in 2020, the Alaska-Yukon Chapter of NAVHDA, a group of people passionate about bird dogs and bird hunting, be it waterfowl or waterfowl, have partnered with the Kenai Peninsula Safari. Club International to co-organize the annual event, which takes place on the first Saturday in October.
The Safari Club offers trap shooting and the ability for participants to harvest highland game birds in a stationary setting using scavengers to retrieve slaughtered game. At another station, the Alaska-Yukon NAVHDA gives participants the chance to hunt with pointers and work in the field in search of upland game birds. Participants can see how the stop breeds use their noses to search for game.
Highland bird hunting can be intimidating for beginners. This has been attributed to everything from the steep learning curve associated with regulations, the use of shotguns, hunting logistics, cleaning and bird preparation, to the sometimes formal look of the lodge. activity with highly trained dogs and a tag in the field.
The event is free for those who register, and the clubs provide shotguns, ammo, instruction, game birds, bird dogs, and lunch. Participants receive shotgun training with clay pigeons, and each field is landscaped to ensure safety with a safety trainer for each shooter and a dog handler for each dog, among many other volunteers.
When we arrived the tents were still pitching and a young Breton spaniel darted out of the grass – my first glimpse of what was to become a bird dog lover’s paradise.
A man walked past us next to two large Munsterlanders, a long-haired breed resembling an English setter. The pair walked side by side at a perfect pace. On the pitch I could see a friend I hadn’t seen for a while and Magnus, his majestic Munsterlander, playing together. I had seen pictures of him and wanted to meet him “in person” – a term that seems to lack a canine equivalent.
Before I could say hello to them, I met Chickadee, a lover of a Munsterlander, whose person picked her up for a kiss. I was in dog heaven, but the day was just beginning.
Steve and I walked around the grounds where the scavengers – all Labradors – got a training bonus for upcoming pheasant hunts in Lower-48.
“It’s his favorite day of the year,” said one owner. His yellow lab sat at his feet, waiting for his turn to recuperate. Alaskan dogs aren’t often as exposed to dogs in game-rich states like North Dakota and South Dakota. Here they picked up the pen bred chukar and pheasant and looked as excited as they could for their next chance.
I watched a young girl shoot her first bird on her first shot and saw her mother’s joy over her daughter’s success. All experience levels are welcome at the event – there are moms and even grandmothers who attended with family and friends. At the end of the day in the field, everyone returns to the tent to learn how to clean and care for the birds to take home to eat.
Steve and I had to leave early, but not before we brought out Rigby, our chocolate lab, still a one-year-old puppy, to meet new friends. One of the coordinators suggested letting him retrieve a bird, and he was happy to help.
As I walked to the parking lot, I saw a dog sitting in the cab of a truck and immediately recognized it. It was Dixie, the Llewellin. She was a little older, and so were we. The years had calmed her, but she was perhaps sweeter than ever.
The annual bird hunt is a growing tradition – this year more than 50 volunteers and 30 bird dogs, representing 15 breeds, provided a wide range of individual efforts to help beginners learn to shoot, hunt at altitude, to cleaning the game and sharing the love of all things bird dogs in a safe and happy environment.
Dogs and humans look forward to it every year. I was a little sorry that I let her slip away on a busy schedule, and seemed to put all that feeling to use to tell Dixie how much I missed her and was happy to see her. and reconnecting because that’s a big part of it, too.
In these difficult and unsettling times, I realized how important it is to rekindle and share the things that we love. And, in the words of Tracy Smith, vice president of Alaska-Yukon NAVHDA, “Everything is better with bird dogs! “