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The author’s dog Grady showing off his grand prize after a morning pheasant hunt east of Bozeman. PHOTO BY TROY PAULSON

Hunt ‘em up

By Megan Paulson

You don’t need to tell the dogs. They just know. Whether it’s the smell in the air, cooler temperatures, leaves changing colors or the shift in the sun’s position on the horizon, the dogs can just tell hunting season is around the corner. This time of year is certainly one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences for hunters and their furry, four-legged companions. 

When contemplating why bird hunting is so fulfilling, surprisingly, the answer doesn’t revolve around the outcome, but rather the experience.

“Hunt ‘em up!”

Three words have never meant so much. The dogs are poised at the edge of a field for the hunt, shaking in anticipation to run and barely able to wait a moment longer.

For our two Labrador and German shorthair mixed-breed dogs, hunting season is the equivalent of bird Olympics. Brushy fields and mountain hillsides lined with aspen and pine act as their stadiums. The competition is pure and simple: finding and flushing prey. The contest is fierce. They bring their best agility, performance and work ethic, and demand only a first-place finish.

“Hunt ‘em up!” 

Hearing that command, the dogs are off, noses to the ground, zigzagging methodically from one side of the field to the other. Despite the chaos of unleashing dogs into an area potentially full of birds, it’s amazing to watch their precise and systematic approach. No scent is left unturned.

When they locate a bird, they slow their pace to inspect the area. Then they come to a complete stop, pointing at the spot where the bird is bedded down. Holding point tests not only the dogs’ patience, but also the hunter’s.

“Hunt ‘em up!” 

The dogs erupt for the final flush. As the silhouette of a pheasant with colorful tail feathers comes flying out of the cover, only one thing goes through the mind: Don’t miss.

A hunter never wants to experience that look, the look your dog gives you for missing. However, a successful shot garners the look of joy on your dog’s face. Their gallant stride and prance after fetching—with a mouthful of feathers—is sure to crack a smile across the most serious of hunters’ faces. 

In that moment, everyone is fulfilled. But then those dogs give another look: Let’s go get more!

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