“Scratch” Hunt

“Scratch” Hunt

Upland hunting with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever isn’t something that you see every day, but when you are new to hunting and trying to figure it all out you don’t necessarily let the minutia stand in the way of a day in the field.

When you’re from Central PA you pretty much learn that you have to create your own upland hunting opportunities. Be it a trip to the game lands or to a local pheasant farm chances are you’re shooting at pen raised birds. I’m not sure if its due to fertilizers, pesticides, changing farming practices or less hunting pressure on predators, but no matter how you slice it our wild pheasant numbers are pretty weak around here. You can’t automatically discriminate between fair chase and canned hunts when you’re just trying to get your dog on some live birds.

I’d prefer a wild hunt, however, I certainly do not want to slander my hosts as these folks couldn’t have been any kinder to a young man with little experience and even less money. I was trying to teach myself the finer points of upland hunting, shooting my shotgun and training my dog and they, not only allowed me on their property, but they were always encouraging and willing to answer my questions (#eachoneteachone). They allowed me the run of the entire farm and the chance to hunt “scratch”.

“Scratch” meaning that I didn’t pay a dime to hunt unless we stumbled onto a bird that someone else had missed during their time in the field. The good news being that there were apparently some really bad hunters out there before me! Being selective with my shots and only paying half price for the “scratch” birds allowed me to afford continuing to utilize this resource.

And so it was that I found myself, my reluctant wife and my dog chasing after birds on a blustery day at the local pheasant farm.

It sounded like a good idea.

My wife loved our dog and the idea of seeing him do what he was breed to do appealed to her, but I knew that getting her out on a duck hunt wasn’t going to happen. For some reason I thought an early winter pheasant hunt would be a good idea and something we could enjoy together down the road?

A little tip here fellas…sometimes your ideas simply need to remain ideas.

Based on my limited knowledge on the subject I cannot say how unique this is, but my dog needed to burn off a little energy right out of the truck and we usually needed to have a quick “conversation” before the hunt started. This “conversation” included me putting him on his back, staring him into submission and telling him to “calm the heck down”. From that point on he was focused and ready to go. He was a great dog, but the same “conversation” took place before pretty much every hunt. Not saying that you’ll find this technique in any reputable dog training book, but it was our routine and it worked for us.

The horror story resumes in the middle of a sorghum field with a relentless, freezing cold wind blowing over us. At this point I’ve already had the “conversation” with our dog (which of course “was mean” according to my wife) when the first, and last, bird of the day took flight. Obviously I hit the bird just well enough to bring him down. My dog did exactly what he’s supposed to do and made a beeline to the wounded bird delivering it to hand. Without hesitation he gave it up and I gave the bird a quick spin. Off came his head and the now headless carcass bounced directly off of my screaming wife’s leg.

This hunt remains simultaneously the shortest and the longest day I’ve ever had in the field. As we quietly walked back to the farmhouse I knew this was the last hunt the three of us would ever share. There was a brief moment of wishful thinking when I thought the reason we weren’t talking was the vicious wind that was slowing our retreat, but alas that was not the case.

Our hosts must have sensed what was going on as this was the one and only time they had coffee and cookies waiting for me. They spoke kindly to my wife, gave her a tour of the facility and listened to her stories about the worst husband in the world before we started the hellacious trek for home.

Needless to say my hosts had a good laugh the following Saturday as we settled up my account on the next “scratch” hunt.

Pete Anstadt

Grateful son to two amazing parents, big brother to an awesome sister, husband to the woman of my dreams and proud father of the greatest son in the world. Mediocre waterfowl hunter, novice fisherman, aspiring cook and recently retired high school lacrosse coach. I'm looking to improve my physical health and to find a way to turn my "work brain" off through exploring my love of the outdoors, spending more time in the field or at the sporting clays course and expanding upon my admittedly limited cooking abilities. I look forward to the chance to share my successes and to poke fun at myself when I fail miserably with anyone crazy enough to read my posts.

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