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The Art of Naming a Covert

We name our coverts to keep them off the grid where they belong; it keeps them undetected and unfound.

The Art of Naming a Covert

We all hunt the same bird covers, but protecting a covert, now that’s top secret stuff that starts with a cryptic naming convention. (Photo By: Tom Keer)

I saw him at the gas station where I stopped to fill my tank. He had a blaze orange ball cap, he was tall and thin, and he had worn the wax off of his frayed chaps. His shirt was as tattered as his face, the latter of which had a slash with dried blood that came from a tangle with some raspberry or sweetbriar thorns. The back window of his truck cab was fogged up, and we eyed each other with suspicion. I was as grubby as he, and I bet we were thinking the same thing: Where had he been hunting, and, more importantly, where was he going next?

If we had met in a bar some several hundred miles away, I bet we’d become fast friends.  But here, at this place and at this time, there was a mix of camaraderie and competition. We were alike in that we were both bird hunters but rivals in that we didn’t want to see each other in our coverts. New friendships often begin with a “let’s first hunt your coverts and if there is time, we’ll hunt mine,” but no one ever goes first. That’s because a bird covert is double top-secret stuff. 

the art of naming a covert
The distinguished name of a covert can come from something notable your dog does on a memorable hunt. (Photo By: Tom Keer)

Covert Conversations

Our conversation wasn’t a lie, but it surely skirted the truth. 

“How’s it goin’?” he asked.


“Fine,” I said. “How ‘bout you?”

“Pretty good. Finding some birds?”    

“A few. You?”

“Some here and there.”


“What kind of dogs are you running?”

“Setters. You?”

“Me too,” I said. “Whose?”

“Long Gone. Yours?”

“Cover Dog and Super Storm, with some Cracklin Tail mixed in.”

“How many ya got?”

“Three,” he said. “How ‘bout you?”

“Four.” 

You want to know the definition of misery? It’s running into a guy with performance, cover dog field trial setters who’s hunting the same area as you. Our lines were different, and though both were strong the odds were high that if we went back a few generations we’d find a common sire or dam. I’d have liked to have seen his dogs run because I knew they were hard chargers, had plenty of bird smarts, were light on their feet and athletic enough to go all day. I’d like to see them run in his coverts, but certainly not in mine.

I saw the mud on his tires, it smelled like cow manure, and I knew he came from what I called the “Good Shepherd Covert.” I named it after knocking on the landowner’s door a decade back. I listened to the deadbolt clear and then looked down to see three attack-trained German shepherds charge, all wanting to rip out my throat. They sulked away after their master’s harsh command and, I was surprised I remembered the deal we struck. 

“Hunt all you want,” he said, “but I let my dogs out at 0900.” That wasn’t a problem for me, for I’d run it at legal shooting time, and then get the heck outta there. He was a good man, he had German shepherds, and the cover was named. I just didn’t wanna run into his string in the woods.

the art of naming a covert
Many covert names come from unique or obscure features that we encounter along the way. (Photos By: Tom Keer)

Covert Naming Conventions

But this fellow setter guy didn’t know the “Good Shepherd Covert” by name. In fact, he probably called it something else. Why? Because creatively naming a hunting spot keeps things on the down low. The code name can be representative of an event, a unique characteristic, a historical reference, or just some of the goofy antics that come about during a season. Try telling another bird hunter that you did well in the “Covered Bridge Covert.” His head will spin trying to figure out which of the 100 covered bridges in the state you’re talking about.

Think about it: If you and I were eating lunch in a diner and one of us said, “hey, let’s go hunt the spot behind the intersection of Route 22 and Route 53 when we’re done, there were a dozen woodcock and six grouse in it the other day,” and the guy with the three Long Gone field trial champions overheard us, then he’d be headed for it before we power-cleaned a piece of apple pie. His dogs would get all of the points, he’d have all of the shots, and by the time we showed up, we’d probably get a lot of unproductive efforts. That’s why I call that place “Spilled Milk.”

“Spilled Milk Covert” is a lowland river bottom. A seep runs through an alder and white birch run. I named it after the old milk can that we found deep in the middle. The Hurricane of 1938 brought an unparalleled water level that rose 40 feet above normal and swept away equipment from the adjoining dairy farm, and a lot of the gear landed in the woods. There was an old tractor, and we could have called it the “Old Tractor Covert,” but we already had one of those. 

“The Bathtub Covert” comes from the old cast iron job that a farmer used as a planter in his yard. It’s filled up with dirt and flowers now, but maybe when he was done working he soaked outside for a while, I don’t know. It’s around the corner from “Ox Team Covert” which comes from the ox yolk hanging from the barn where we enter. That, too, is near the birch whips, tag alders and seep behind “Haunted House.” That spot is productive, even though it gives me the chills when I walk past it around Halloween.

We have a number of old family burial plots in the middle of the woods, so many that we’re running out of names. The first one was the “Marble Orchard,” the second one is the “Cemetery Covert,” and the third one has a big crypt which we named “The Vault.” I hope we don’t find many more, because naming ‘em would get difficult. It’s easier to name “Cow Skull” after the bleached Holstein head we found in the field, isn’t it?

The only time you hear of a spy’s covert mission is if he’s caught, so don’t get caught. Slide your truck into a place it isn’t seen and be as somber as a monk. Celebrate when the coast is clear, as I will when I reach my unnamed Valhalla. But there I go again; I just gave that covert a name.

the art of naming a covert
Always be sure to use your uncrackable code when speaking to your trusted covert cohorts in public places to reference would be recognizable landmarks such as the "Covered Bridge" covert. (Photo By: Tom Keer)
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