The pack of dogs is hovering tightly around me right now because they just saw me packing luggage. Which in itself is enough to excite this road-loving pack but even better is that some of what went into the duffle bag was hunting pants. Perhaps it speaks better of their noses than my laundry skills that even though the pants are fresh out of the laundry, the dogs immediately recognize them even though they are simple tan denim jeans. I have yet to get hooked into the tech clothing that many upland hunters swear by, I guess that's another story.
But this week's story is that Firelight is headed to Kansas. Nope, we are not moving again, just for 3-4 weeks of hunting. Winter set in early here in northern Michigan with 11 degrees as the high today and a few fresh inches of snow on top of the icy crust that was already there. So we will leave the grouse to their conifer roosts: we will see them in the spring. But in Kansas it is high season for that Prince of game birds, Bobwhite quail, and they are calling us. And we won't turn down any cackling invites from pheasant roosters either.
This trip is a bit different for me in that it is the first time that I have embarked on an extended hunting trip without benefit of having a travel trailer and I'm feeling a bit like I just took the training wheels off of my transportation. I didn't quite realize how spoiled I was with the RV because I could load up everything and even had a kitchen sink and whenever I wanted I could retreat into the familiar trailer, crank up the heat and open the 'frig for a snack. I am instead renting a house out in Kansas for our stay, we will see how that works but knowing that I will always travel to hunt, at the moment I am thinking that another RV is in my future.
Despite the zombie-long drive to the prairie, the angst of packing for the wide variety of possible weather conditions, feed and care for 7 dogs, and the cost, oh geez the cost, of all of this, I am excited and the thought of not going has never been entertained. Because it is what I do. My passion for bird dogs was lit 50 years ago with the gift of my first setter pup and the flame burns brighter today than ever. And over those years I have learned that if you want to have good, really good, bird dogs, then you have to put the time and effort into them. The 30 or so days that we hunted grouse here in MI has been good and all of the dogs had a decent amount of ground time, but I believe that a really good bird dog needs to show what they've got on multiple species of birds and habitat. The adult dogs have all already proven themselves to me in years past, that's how they have earned their spot here, so with them it will be all fun. But this year I have the thrill of a youngster to prove who so far has been the equivalent of "here, watch this" and I can't wait to see what she has to show me. There is also a little pup who is still very young so gets zero field pressure but she will learn important life skills/road rules such only 2 minutes to potty when we stop so you had better hurry, the world out there is entirely different than our quiet little woods home, and get used to snoozing quietly in your crate until it is your turn.
One week of the trip involves the Ryman Breeders Gathering, a unique annual event that is a highlight of the year. Hunting with each other and dogs from other breeders, big boisterous dinners, and sharing time with serious hunters who care about these dogs is a fun and learning experience that passes all too quickly. I know that my crew will miss the woodstove here at home but I firmly believe that they, like me, will happily give it up for time with Bob.