As the calendar turned its last page on 2015 our dismal success took a needed swing in the right direction. The first two months of this year’s bird season was a struggle at best and had me shaking my head and my fists more than I want to admit. Dog work was a spotty mix of good and bad and my shooting prowess was at an all time low. We did have some pretty good hunts early on, considering it always seemed to be 70 degrees and windy. But we could never quite put it all together. For the majority of the dogs on this years team it was to be their first year hunting wild birds. As the dogs struggled with poor scenting conditions and learning not to crowd birds, I failed to be disciplined enough to pass up shots on mishandled birds. To make it worse, I struggled to connect the little dots on the birds that were handled correctly. It was shaping up to be the worst season I have ever had.
How can things change so abruptly, I haven’t a clue. I am still having issues with being cross eye dominant and my shooting still isn’t what anyone would call good, but things have taken a turn for the better and I am not complaining. I have come to the conclusion that my expectations were too high and I was hinging my perceived success and failures on bar that was set too high. I vowed to “just go have some fun” for the remainder of the season and see how things worked out. Essentially I took the pressure off, both myself and the dogs. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care if I missed that easy straight away shot and that if didn’t matter if the dogs bumped, knocked, ran over, or totally missed a covey of birds. Of course I did care, but I had to pretend it didn’t matter. And in the end it really didn’t. I lowered my standards and both my performance and the dogs started to get better.
I had a few short, local hunts at the end of the year and they were good for both the dogs and I. We didn’t find a lot of birds but we did get some birds pointed and a few tumbled. The biggest success was releasing the tension. “It was the start of a new season,” I told myself. Let the dogs make mistakes and learn from them. Let the birds to the teaching. And for God’s sake, don’t shoot at mishandled birds. It doesn’t matter if the only covey we see the entire day gets a free pass.