Adventures for FoodHunting

Miss Pearl’s Turning Point

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Two years ago, I was gifted two 3.5-yr-old English Setters, true sisters named Ruby and Pearl. At first, I was apprehensive to take on free dogs. “Too good to be true”, I supposed. However, they were referred highly by a bird hunter whose opinion I knew I could trust and, after seeing those setter sisters work, I was sold. They were obedient, beautiful creatures, and I couldn’t wait to get them into the field. 

A week later I travelled with my bird dogs up to Kansas for the opening weekend of quail and pheasant season. Wanting to really test out my new dogs, I ran one dog at a time, taking note of each performance. By Sunday afternoon, I felt I had a good grasp of each dog’s abilities and what needed some extra attention. Ruby had been stellar. No mistakes to speak of, only a pile of birds. Pearl, on the other hand, had done just the opposite. She didn’t appear to have any hunt drive and was just along for the ride. 

This trend continued the entire season. Over the course of 75 days afield, I shot upwards of 100 birds over both Ruby and Ranger, my German Shorthair, and fewer than a dozen over Pearl. I hadn’t been completely burned, I thought “at least Ruby turned out to be a fine bird dog.” Anyways, Pearl was the most loving dog I’d ever owned and there was no chance my fiancé would let me get rid of her. 

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On our fourth hunting trip of 2022-23, we travelled to North Dakota in search of sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge. For Pearl’s first run of the trip, I picked out a field of wheat stubble that was surrounded on three sides by a mixed sage/grassland. Birdy cover if ever there were such a thing. After 45 minutes into our walk, we hadn’t put up a single bird and I began to wonder if I had misread the cover. That’s when it all changed for Miss Pearl. Casting out into the sage with the wind at her back, the little setter slowed until finally arriving at a staunch point, nose low and tail high. I didn’t expect much as I approached the point; after all, this affectionate ball of fur hadn’t produced much in the past. Ten yards out from the point, Pearl broke heading back the way she came from.

“Figures”, I thought as I shook my head. As Pearl continued to retrace her steps, she gradually circled back towards her initial point, this time with the wind in her face. Fifteen yards from the cover that originally piqued her interest, Pearl got a second whiff of feathers and slammed into another stiff point. I took a few more steps in her direction and a covey of Huns came to life, whirling about in every direction. Swinging my brand-new antique 20-gauge, I connected with one of the acrobats. Pearl marked the bird and retrieved it back to hand perfectly. By the end of our trip to North Dakota, Pearl had earned her first “Trip MVP” award, and it certainly wouldn’t be her last. Miss Pearl continued to outperform my other dogs throughout the rest of the season, as if she’d been top dog all along. I am not a dog trainer. I don’t do much in the way of training my dogs; a little obedience work, and plenty of exercise and opportunities. Luckily, Pearl finally got enough bird contacts, pieced things together, and hasn’t looked back since.

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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