The last week in September, the week prior to Opening Day for grouse and woodcock in New England, had been stunningly perfect. The days were modestly warm and the evenings chilly. Cooler temperatures motivated farmers to cut silage corn early, and some began spreading fields with liquid manure to prepare for planting winter rye. I was scouting for gamebirds, and when I traded the field edges for the dirt roads the mud and manure spun out of my tires and rattled the wheel wells. I never tire of hearing a sound that I associate with hunting season.
A few sugar maples had changed color, and all hunters and bird dogs champed at the bit. It had been 10½ months since we’d last hunted woodcock and 10 months since we’d last hunted grouse. We wanted to liberate dogs from their boxes and cast them through the coverts. Some might say that this time was my Christmas, for I had a new pup that I couldn’t wait to put down. I was a spring coiled with excitement.
She was a little tricolor setter pup from good, solid covert-dog stock. Her daddy was Crackling Tail Blue and her momma was Zipper’s Sassy Girl, and as a yearling she weighed 28 pounds soaking wet. She sight-pointed out of the box, had the snappy footwork of her field-trial lineage, and when the bell went on her neck she was all about the hunt. As the runt of the litter, she was softer in attitude than her siblings, and during our training sessions I was careful not to be as hard on her as I am with other dogs.
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