Saturday, September 29, 2012

Into the Field

Hastings Island is a working farm island.  Islands in the San Joaquin Valley Delta area were created in the late 1800's by building hundreds of miles of levees and draining the swamps.

This has made the soil exceedingly rich for farming. Water is abundant from the channels that flow sometimes ten feet higher than the islands that are created behind the levees.  The crops are fed water through shallow ditches that criss-cross Hastings.  The fields that grow food crops get watered, but the farrow fields are left dry and just receive the rains that come in the late fall.   All this area hasn't seen any rain since April.  That is six months of dry.

On Thursday morning with Bailey out front, we entered our first hunting field.  The dew had developed on the grass and my boots and lower legs of my Levis became soaked.  The ground cover ranged from four inches to almost thirty inches high but under the cover the clay soil was cracked and very uneven.  The fissures in the soil was a couple inches wide and many inches deep.  How a hunting dog is able to run these fields without breaking a leg amazes me.  It is hard to even walk.  My ankles were twisting constantly making the going tough.   Thought about how my knees were going to hurt that evening.

The closest hunter was maybe a half mile away.   Bailey was in heaven again.  He ran hard staying about fifty yards ahead of me as he worked left, center front, right, then back to the center using his nose in the air.  He knew the objectives smell.  Pheasant.  He was on a mission.  My Acme 211 whistle was used to keep him working with me when he went off on a mission that did not include me.  We were hunting together.  Just had to remind him every once in awhile.

This is our second season hunting these fields.  Bailey, at 4 years old, is fully mature and trained.  He has been through all the skills training done professionally.  He knows how to find, point, be steady to wing, be steady to shot, retrieve to hand.   When just the two of us are hunting I find myself "judging" my dog on his skills.   Is that what I need?   A Master Hunter?  Bailey is not that and never will with me as his rookie hunting partner.

Within half an hour the dew was gone and the temperatures were raising quickly.  The air off the delta waters felt good as we walked into the wind.  Bailey working the scents on the breeze coming from the hidden prey.

Next: Part III  The Point.

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