Anyone who reads my articles has heard about Jack Hanley. He has been the subject of many articles over the past 20+ years. Opening day of the New Hampshire upland game season was always a special time for Jack and me. Over the years we have hunted with many great dogs; Buck, Briar, Shagger, Scout and Spencer. Scout is now with another hunter, but Buck, Briar and Shagger are long gone. Spencer is the only one left and he is getting up there in age. Sadly, Jack Hanley passed away last year and due to Jack’s illness, two years ago was the last time we were able to hunt together. It is now opening day of the 2017 upland season of in New Hampshire and I find myself in the field once more. Opening day meant something to Jack and I wanted to do this for him. Jack, this one is for you.
This hunt was special on so many levels. I was hunting a place called Hill, which is just outside of Franklin, New Hampshire and I was hunting with Jack’s son Patrick and his son-in-law Brandon, both accomplished hunters. Joining us on this hunt was Jack’s English setter Spencer. Patrick also brought along Jack’s Benelli 12 gauge over and under shotgun for me to use. We were hunting Jack’s opening day spot with Jack’s dog and Jack’s gun. Patrick, Bradley and I even met at the same place I would meet Jack, The Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, New Hampshire. The most important person, Jack was the only one missing.
Jack was a true sportsman and a great person in every sense of the word. He went out of his way to help everyone. Often, after getting our birds, we would run the dog for those hunters we met up with who didn’t have a dog of their own. Jack was an award winning angler and hunter, but he never bragged about it. With Jack, it never was about him; that wasn’t his way. Jack was one of my best friends and hunting and fishing are not the same without him.
We arrived at Hill at about 5:30am; legal shooting time was 6:15am. Patrick brought over Jack’s shotgun as I got my gear together. Spencer was released from his kennel and as soon as he did what every dog needs to do, he came right over to me and leaned against me. He recognized me and it was obvious that he missed Jack as much as I did. Because of jack’s illness, it had been two years since Spencer had hunted so I was wondering how he would do. At one time Spencer was the best woodcock dog I had ever hunted over, but two years, old age (he was now eight) and sadness over Jack, makes the best of us not what we used to be.
As we walked down the dirt road to the shooting area, Patrick and I had a chance to talk. Patrick misses his father a great deal and thinks about him daily. We talked of good times; of things his father would say and do. We talked on how Jack and I met and some of our adventures. Patrick told me that when he and his mother went through Jack’s things after he passed away, that they found copies of all the articles I had ever written about the things we had done together. Not all the adventures were successful, but they were fun.
As the “young guns” forged ahead, I stayed a bit behind. I did this partly because I was sure that a bird would bust out as they went past, but mainly I was alone with my thoughts. At times it was almost as if Jack was right there. I often found myself looking to my left, as that is the side Jack always took when we hunted together, and expected to see him standing there. As we walked past a certain spot it brought back a memory of how a pheasant broke cover and hit Jack in the head as it tried to escape. In another spot I remembered how Jack, Spencer and I were hunting woodcock. Spencer was rock solid on point. I flushed the bird and missed it as it weaved through the trees. Jack and I never cared about the number of birds taken. It was always being about a good dog and good friends.
It was pretty obvious from the start that the two year break had taken its toll on Spencer. He wasn’t his normal self. Spencer wasn’t picking up the birds, any birds, like he used to. He wasn’t sure of himself and he was tiring out. Part of it was being out of practice and part of it was the fact that Jack wasn’t there. After a couple hours we called it quits. The two “young” guys led us out of the field while the two “old” guys, me and Spencer, pulled up the rear.
No birds were taken on this day and that is OK. This day was more than birds in hand. For me this day was about hunting with Spencer again and to say “good-bye” to my friend. The Hawaiian people say “Aloha” which means “until we meet again”. Jack, the next time we meet we will hunt pheasants, grouse and woodcock with Buck, Briar, Shagger and Spencer. That is a day I look forward to.