Hobbes, a Pup in Partridge Paradise
By Dennis Doyle
My black Lab pup, Hobbes, bounded out of our vehicle’s back seat at my release command. Whirling about, he surveyed the large crop field, throwing divots of freshly plowed earth into the air in his excitement and, scenting the breeze, regarded the surrounding scene with an admirable intensity.
It had been several months since we had been to this location but Hobbes had clearly remembered the experience, yipping with glee as soon as we had turned off of the main highway. Spying the nearby field of thigh high sorghum, he bolted toward it at once and I had to forcefully call him back.
My middle son, Harry, and I quickly caught up to him. Chambering our 20 gauge over-under shotguns with light loads, we followed him into the dense, birdy looking field. Bounding about in the thick growths Hobbes eventually became even more intense, diving deep into the cover with only his rapidly wagging tail remaining visible. Bird hunters call this “making game,” as it refers to homing in on hot, fresh bird scent. Unfortunately, my son and I weren’t quite ready.
A chukar partridge came bursting out of the stalks not three feet in front of Hobbes’ nose, the loud, explosive wing beats surprising us all. Harry got the first shot as the bird cleared into blue sky but it was a hurried effort and only served to put the partridge into a higher gear.
A quick second shot from my son was just as ineffective and then I finally got my gun to my shoulder. Swinging on the high, grey rocket, it immediately merged with a brilliant overhead sun temporarily blinding me. Recovering my vision took another second but, still swinging my 20, I hit my trigger as my barrels passed the bird … and added yet another miss to the morning’s ledger.
The fleeing game bird, still accelerating, flew out of range toward a distant tree line. My son and I had added yet another loose unit of gamebird presence to the area’s outlying wildlife population. We were hunting at the Native Shore Hunting Preserve in Centreville, just 15 minutes from the Bay Bridge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It is part of Leaverton Farms, an extensive and age-old family agricultural operation now run by young Andrew Leaverton.
The Preserve itself is the family’s homage to the sporting history and tradition of the Maryland Tidewater, especially that of the Eastern Shore. It features easily accessible opportunities for hunting quail, partridge, ringneck pheasant and even mallard ducks. I first met Andrew last year when I was searching for a suitable location to advance Hobbes’ upland hunting training.
In operation for over 40 years, Native Shores has developed into an ideal and safely controlled place to introduce young dogs and humans to the outdoor experience as well as providing convenient opportunities for more experienced hunters.
Andrew allowed Hobbes and I access to some nearby family fields and wooded areas and he occasionally released a handful of quail to allow the pup exposure to live game birds. Hobbes and I chased those quail up and down the countryside on more than one occasion last season and I was able to eventually introduce the pup to gunfire, with blanks fired as quail flushed in front of him. He definitely warmed to the experience—in fact he loved it.
This year Hobbes graduated from the beginner’s class with honors and made some memories for all of us. Finding and flushing over a dozen chukar that morning, and now well accustomed to gunfire, made a number of memorable retrievals of birds. One lightly hit partridge required a 200-yard pursuit that ultimately resulted in an outstanding retrieve. It also garnered him numerous tasty rewards at the ensuing afternoon’s celebration.
It became obvious that Hobbes had really experienced the best time of us all. He was, after all, born to it.
Rockfish season is closed but hardy anglers can still find winter-fat white perch down deep, below 30 feet around the Bay Bridge and at the mouth of the Eastern Bay. Use bloodworms or small minnows and stay warm.