Packing shells into a tattered orange vest, itching to load an heirloom Remington Model 11 20 gauge, I was gulping coffee twenty minutes before legal shooting. Pacing The Great Swamp parking lot, kicking stones, rechecking everything already rechecked, I was anxious to be hunting pheasant with Bruce and Sedna. Bruce Leduc is an interesting character who can build, catch, release, hunt, clean and eat damn near anything. Bruce and his pretty black lab, Sedna, rolled up behind blinding bright lights and were on the ground before his motor was shut down. Sedna, daughter of Clover, who passed a few years ago, is a trim, handsome and highly trained bird dog who made me smile as soon as she did lamps around our trucks. Bruce and I caught up, emptied travel mugs and started hiking into one of South Kingstown’s stocked public lands to flush Ringneck pheasants. Having Sedna run ahead made us hopeful for a full day with full pouches.
“She’ll walk to the moon and back by the end of the day,” Bruce said with a laugh. Sedna is ready to go all the time, unafraid of thick cover and wise enough to shun off sharp briers where scent trails are faint. She jounces like Tigger and walks a full country mile of circles for every quarter mile of forward progress. My dog, Arlo, can barely manage a futon dismount for breakfast or a walk through Wakefield to bark at cars, cats and utility poles. He is a fine and loving rescue pet who can bully an uninterested hare but I’m certain we could trot a mature elk past that futon without his ears twitching. Bruce and I have been friends since we met at a bird hunting event, back when Clover was still with us. Given my profession, I’m accustomed to sniffing out bs and Bruce has none of it.
We walked an old tote road as Sedna sniffed and snorted, hunting for opportunity. Bruce did offer positive commands like, “Where’s the bird?” and “Flush ‘em out!” but really, we spent the first hour of new light catching up. Bruce mentioned Sedna’s increasing SPM as a signal not to be missed. Her “snorts per minute;” when she lowers her head and snorts over leaves and logs, means it’s time to pay attention. That’s what we were not doing when she turned right in front of us, pushed into a pile of cold maple branches and flushed two roosters. Neither of us fired a round, although in my defense, I was standing behind Bruce so a clear shot would have been over his head, which is terribly poor form. That’s my only defense for missing two big birds.
Sedna is learning a look she inherited from Clover. It’s a clear message that she’s been busting her backside sniffing out birds while we were too busy chatting to notice. You need that look but once to understand. We regrouped. I slung the Remington over my right arm. It’s a classic autoloader with an identifiable “humpback” design from builder John Brown. Light and true, likely dating back to the late Forties, it’s a classic firearm built for another fifty years. There are scratches on the stock and earned wear on the receiver so it fit nicely there for a long walk.
In tall fields, hunting pheasant with Bruce and Sedna, she was off and bouncing, leading us through still warm deer beds, winding trails and mowed paths. Bruce and I split up to give her room and cover more area. As the morning brightened, we stepped over a dozen torn up birds, clear evidence of a healthy coyote population. The Great Swamp is frequently stocked so predators of all types take advantage of hapless farmed birds. Ringnecks often scramble silently through tan cover then take off down mowed paths, so I walked a few to outsmart them, which did not work. Facing west to train tracks and a long stretch of dark water and light reeds, Bruce was drawn by the siren’s call of Canada Geese. Both Bruce and Sedna are avid waterfowlers so the idea that geese were huddled a few hundred yards away made moving on quite difficult for them.
Fall, with her rich coat of green leaves transforming into a palette of brilliant then muted red, orange and yellow litter, was on full display as we walked field to field, hoping for a shot, savoring such cool clear air that comes before snow. Stepping beneath heavy black powerlines, where we marveled at immense old growth trees stripped naked and milled into smooth totems, sacrificed to power toasters and laptops, Sedna increased her SPM. I moved away from Bruce as she fired into some low grasses and torn up Russian olive brush to push up a healthy brown hen. Bruce was pleased to have something to stuff in his vest pouch and I was happy to see a true hunting dog work, flush and retrieve, allowing me to appreciate the steady, honed communication between man and dog.
For many, in such sports as hunting and fishing, the day really is the goal, not so much a take or catch. We checked the boxes of hunting, exercise and friendship so with lunch on our minds, we headed back, greeted walkers and strollers, unloaded and shook hands. Bruce and Sedna had a long drive and a bird to clean, and I was happy to have taken my Remington Model 11 for a walk in the woods.