It’s always been hard for me, as a bird hunter, to get very reflective around New Year’s, simply because most upland and waterfowl seasons are still in high gear. But as we inexorably creep toward February, that starts changing. This is the time of year when waterfowl and upland seasons begin to wind down for many of us, which I think is as good a time as any to reflect on the past year and look toward the next.

For me, this past weekend marked the end of duck season, and in about three weeks I’ll no longer be able to walk mile after fruitless mile in vain pursuit of the bobwhite quail, a bird which I’m told is rumored to inhabit this area. Of course, I’ve also been told leprechauns inhabit this area, too, and I haven’t seen any of them, either.

In hindsight, it’s been something of a mixed-bag season for the dogs and me. You may recall my mid-summer optimism about finally being able to duck hunt out of my own boat. You may also recall a short time later when that optimism was ground into dust by the relentless drought that effectively kept me off the water (at least in a floating capacity) for the entire duration of my duck season.

So it goes. My chessie, Tess, and I adjusted as best we could, and ended up having a number of good hunts, in quality and pleasure of company if not always in numbers of birds, and that’s an important thing when your old dog’s toplever is–to use a shotgun analogy–getting a little left-of-center. I honestly don’t know how many more seasons she’ll have to do this, so I treat each one as a jewel regardless of how many birds end up on my strap.

As for the pup, Jenny, well, she’s still a work in progress, as any young dog is. If Tess is the old, well-worn gun, then Jenny is that brand-spankin’ new O/U: a helluva lot of fun to shoot, but still a bit stiff to break open. The lack of birds this year definitely hampered her evolution, but she had her moments, good and bad, culminating in her first real point on a wild Kansas quail.

The bad generally came in the presence of company, while the good was mostly witnessed only by myself and the clouds above, but again, so it goes. You just smile, shake your head and roll with it. If enduring the natural–if sometimes exasperating–exuberance of a young dog is the worst thing to happen to you this season, then I’d say you’re doing OK. And if it irritates your hunting partners, I’d say get new hunting partners.

Looking ahead, spring always brings thoughts of new opportunities. I’d like to get Tess running crisper on long blinds. I need to work on Jenny’s steadiness. I need to start thinking about a new chessie pup for that time in the not-too-distant future when Tess can’t hunt any more. I can’t help thinking about a new setter pup because bird dogs are supposed to come in braces, right? Those are the thoughts (along with fishing) that begin creeping into my head around this time every year.

In hindsight, what was your season like for you and your dogs? What are your goals (or dreams) for the coming year?