By Hannah Hayes
It’s the little things that draw me to the uplands. Fishing, hunting, and falconry are just a few of the many hobbies I enjoy. I love ice fishing and open water angling, upland hunting and duck hunting, and it doesn’t get more exciting than catching rabbits with my red-tailed hawk. However, in all of those options, the uplands remain a special place for me. I think most outdoorspeople can agree that we all find a sort of solace when we are enjoying the outdoors. Maybe the only way to properly de-stress from a hard week at work is from a boat with a line in the water or hunting alongside friends is the only means to connect in a way that brings you back to what’s important. Whatever the outdoorsperson needs, the outdoors can provide.
I depend on the uplands for perspective. It’s a place where I can get completely lost in the smallest details. It’s a type of mindfulness that can relieve the worst stress, mend the most broken heart, or remind me that life is good no matter how heavy it weighs. I like to call these magic details “little things.” The uplands provide the space to find them, and I know who I need alongside me to uncover them: my vizsla, Cooper.
The little things are watching Cooper take the downwind side of every single thicket I turn my body towards, even if he has to go out of his way to do so. My thoughts trail to imagining what led him to learn how to do that. How many birds had to surprise him when he took the wrong side of cover, and what lessons did that teach him? I imagine him watching my movements from 150 yards away and working through where he needs to be to have the wind in his face when he approaches each thicket. This layered strategy isn’t something I taught him. Only wild birds and plenty of opportunity can do that. I can easily get lost in the vivid memories of Cooper learning lesson after lesson from wild birds.
Little things are the subtle changes in Cooper’s body language which tells me he’s not hunting anymore. He’s tracking the faint scent of a rooster that just walked through. I watch how he holds his head and his mouth. The way he breathes and how his tail wags a little more than usual. I can see when he loses the scent and decides to take a big loop to find it again. My thoughts trail to imagining how my goofball bird dog is able to work through this hard-earned strategy that nearly always results in a flush, and that maybe I’m the only person in the world that can see Cooper’s subtleties. There’s a lot of space for my thoughts to trail while I’m standing still, watching the little things and waiting for his abrupt stop that proves yet again that his strategy is fool-proof.
When Cooper is on point, it’s the smallest cues that can tell me exactly what is going on in front of him. If I walk up to Cooper’s point and he is holding up one of his legs, that tells me there is a rabbit, porcupine, or some other furred animal in front of him. If I find Cooper on point and all four feet are on the ground, that means the scent in his nose is coming from feathers. Taking a closer look at Cooper on point can tell me more of the story. How high is his head? If it’s as high as possible, the bird is further out there and it’s probably best to release him so he can get closer and save me time kicking around. What is his mouth doing? If it’s open, that means the bird isn’t there anymore and we should move on. If his head is lower than his shoulders and his mouth is closed, that means the bird is holding tight directly in front of him and I better get ready. It’s easy to get lost in Cooper’s narrative. He can tell me the most detailed story by simply standing still.
Getting lost in the little things is what I seek out when the big things in life weigh heavy. I know the uplands are where to find them and I know I can count on Cooper to lead me to them. It never fails. A day spent afield with a trustworthy dog will always leave space to find perspective under the guidance of these little things.
Hanna Hayes is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and the Education & Outreach Coordinator for North Dakota Pheasants Forever.
Featured Photo: The author’s vizsla, Cooper, holds a rooster in cover on an autumn hunt. DEO Photo by Hannah Hayes.