Marking the exact spot where a bird falls and never taking your eyes off of it until you get there is an important part of hunting without a dog – and I make a point of marking birds even when the dogs are involved.
If you get an imprecise mark on a bird you need to make up for it with persistence, which is how I found this dove last week. I had hit it hard and watched it sail into a grove of evergreens. I went to the last place I saw it, dropped my hat on the ground for a marker and searched in widening circles without finding it. Eventually gave up. I stepped back into the field having almost convinced myself the bird kept flying, then I decided maybe my mark hadn’t been right so turned around, went back in, made an even wider circle, and finally found the dove dead.
Sometimes persistence isn’t enough: you might need dumb luck, too, which brings me to my favorite fallen bird story.
Years ago in North Dakota I was hunting a small pothole surrounded by thick cattails with another writer on a hunt sponsored by DU. We had been dropped off without a guide or retriever at the edge of a small pothole surrounded by thick cattails. We took turns and tried to shoot our birds so they would fall in the water where we could retrieve them easily rather than dropping them into the heavy cover. Tom miscalculated and folded a mallard that fell dead on the far side. “We’ll never find it,” he said, and although we walked around the pothole and looked and looked we didn’t.
A while later I shot a teal that managed to fly out of the decoys and over the far bank before it crashed. I kept my eye on the one particular cattail and waded straight across the pothole to it rather than walking around the edge so I wouldn’t lose my mark.
I found the duck right where I marked it. It was dead, and through pure coincidence, it had fallen right on top of Tom’s lost mallard, which I also picked up. I was thrilled. He was upset because the duck he thought was a drake turned out to be a hen. There is no pleasing some people, even with a 1,000,000 to one lucky break.