BY BRANDON RAPP
It’s not always easy asking for help. Sometimes you don’t know you need it, while others you’re too stubborn to admit that you do. As a hunter, it can be at times, nearly impossible to force to question out of your mouth.
Still, as an enthusiastic bird hunter that came to the pursuit shortly after their 30th birthday, early successive years of complete failure left me exasperated and ready to reach out to any benevolent voice of experience.
A breakroom invitation from a few fellows at work got me into bird hunting. These were classic Pennsylvania “all-arounders” who graciously added me to their mid-October strolls in hopes of getting a few pheasants before it was time to sight in rifles and prep for frosty post-Thanksgiving deer stands.
No dogs, tattered gear, and more pump guns than pomp were stored in truck beds and blanketed back seats. It was perfect.
Those early experiences would breathe air into coals that grew flames of enthusiasm for the sport in a place where the best days of birds and habitat were long gone by the time my father had his 30th birthday. Despite making the financial and lifestyle commitments of new gear, more time in the field, and my first bird dog, I still hadn’t put my first bird in the bag.
I finally did what so many of us find impossible to do, and asked for help. I was able to locate two local gentlemen easily 30 years my senior and secured an invitation to hunt with them. Confusion clouded most of that first early morning meeting in a state game land parking lot. These are far from the days when my generation seeks out mentors. It seems like you’re either blessed with them at birth, or you exist without them.
We started our stroll that morning with usual and customary pleasantries set to the sound of wind brushing dry autumn leaves and bells on the collars of eager young dogs.
“Where do you work? Where are you from? How do you like your truck? Any kids?”
Asking more questions than I answered, we made our way through tall grass and gnarled hedgerows. I watched my dog learn from their dogs as I did the same emulating their movements as hunters and absorbing it all.
At the end of one such hedgerow, the dogs went on point and rooster cackles gave way to an explosive flush. Mounting, aiming, and firing I dropped one of the pheasants on a going away shot and my setter was quick on the fallen bird. A skill he knew he had, but not me.
There’s no quantitative measure for the value of a good mentor. No dollar amount, no volume, no number of any kind will ever express our appreciation for their guidance. We keep the ability to go to them when we’re lost tucked away like a treasure.
When I was shopping for my first double gun, I went to them. When I was buying my first house, I went to them. When an unexpected illness took our first dog at a young age, our bird dog’s older sister, I went to them.
I still don’t know everything, so I keep a closed mouth and open ears when around those that are telling me something I’m thirsting to learn. How to take better care of my dogs or my guns. How to put better shots on birds. How to be more patient and a better man as a whole.
Sitting in my truck after that first hunt, I marinated in appreciation at the fortune of now having these mentors in my life. Of how a little effort on my part by asking the question was rewarded with an invaluable resource in the form of two pleasant souls. This was one of those few times I knew something was changing, and I was moving into a new chapter I was excited to read. I sat there thinking about all of those wonderful heavy thoughts when I remembered I had a bird to clean, so I put the gear lever on my truck to “D” and let off the brake.
Contributor to magazines, newspapers, and various blogs Brandon perennially seeks the marrow out of life by searching for his next experience. Whether it be less than sure about his location on a mountain top in Vermont, to pleading for a single bluegill on a local park stream, he appreciates the beauty of being out there. He’s been in way over his head with bird dogs for a few years now and sees no real reason to pivot from that trajectory.