Hunting Dogs photo

I have a confession to make. Yesterday I cheated on Pritch. I left her home while I went marsh hen hunting with a friend. Worse yet, my friend brought his dog, a Boykin named Seamus (pictured above with a few birds). And here’s the final kicker. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Marsh hens, often called rails, can only be hunted on a full or new moon tides when the Spartina grass of the Lowcountry marshes is covered by water. The rails find cover on the slightly higher marsh hummocks, and that is, of course, the best place to hunt them.

This was my first true rail expedition, but my hunting partner, Stephen Johnson, had the particulars dialed in. We would run the jonboat up to a likely spot, hop out in shin deep water and wade toward the higher patches of ground while the dog zig-zagged ahead of us. The birds, singles, would flush in front of us, behind us, and right at our feet. As Stephen put it, pursuing rails is a cross between upland hunting and flats fishing.

But back to the dog. Seamus wasn’t absolutely perfect (which was refreshing in it’s own way), but he was a real pleasure to hunt behind and he nosed up a few birds where we were sure there were none. And for the morning I enjoyed not tooting on whistle, hollering to get my dog in range, or worrying about the stray possibility of an alligator. But best of all, I learned what skills a good rail dog needs (hunting close, working the right cover, boat skills), and this morning I started working on them with Pritch.

The early rail season closes in a few days but will reopen in a month, and Pritch and I will be ready. And once again I’ll have my pup to thank for getting me interested in another type of bird hunting–reason enough to get a gun dog. I’m already counting the days.

But yesterday I had good time without my pup. And I always learn something from watching another hunter handle their dog. How about you? Do you enjoy hunting behind another man’s dog? Or do you experience pangs of guilt while your pup is on the couch?