Category Archives: Dogs

Where it went

DSCN0595I will never get used to it. The suddenness of it. In human, it is difficult enough. Wake up one morning and you’re having to use one point five readers for the newspaper. The tromp through the cattails seems to go a little slower, the truck’s warmth a little more welcome. The fire for another push needs more stoking. It’s more of an erosion, a slow spin.

But in canine, the slap of years is stunning. One day you look down at her and she’s an old lady, her joints swollen by arthritis, various bumps and warts in her hide, a once-stunning feathered tail now something a rat might sport. She totters where once she used to float. She huffs and coughs at the fountain she once drank.

We drive east, across the roll of Montana, past coulee and pine, pump-jack and silo. Past corn and scrubland to the Dakotas. It has been a long span for me and for her, this leave from the Dakotas and now it is late in this season and late in her life and I wonder how it all happened.

She gets the princess perch, behind the driver, the other dogs in back in the camper shell. She rides in the warmth of the cab for after a dozen years of bringing me to all of those different birds, the least I can do is bring her into the truck where she can curl in a tight ball against that rat tail and snore.

There have been other trips. Many.  I view her mostly backward. Pups are forward, what lies ahead. Old dogs are what you have been and what they were and what it once was. Over the shoulder, behind, when she was young and the truck had one hundred thousand miles instead of twice that and she had ten thousand miles instead of twice or thrice that. I will make one trip to the Dakotas this year, one visit to the river of scent that is hundreds of pheasants in one section of CRP. This journey, I tell myself, is for the young pup who is fire and burst, an uncontrollable effervescence of puppy joy. But really it is for grandma, kinked with time, crippled by the uplands of the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico. Knotted and rusted by roosters and blues, sharpies, ruffs, sprucers and sage chickens, chukar, Huns, Mearns, cottontops, Californias, mountain and Gambel. It has been one hell of a run.

So she sits behind me as the diesel growls east, through Baker and Hettinger and Lemmon and Mobridge. East. Toward. One last trip, one last bird, one last point. Please, God, just one more.

—TR

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Filed under Ditch Parrots, Dogs, Talegate

Rethinking the Relationship

We had completed a fairly thorough loop for one guy and one big running dog to do through the field, and were on our way back to the truck. Downwind. The dog absolutely hates hunting downwind, and will do everything he can to veer from it, since for him, hunting downwind is dumb, and because for him, the hunting doesn’t end when you’ve made the decision to head back to the truck and are returning via ground that you already covered on the way out. No, it doesn’t end for him until we’re at the tailgate. He’s taught me the value of this lesson many times before, but my hard-headed human brain tends to forget.

So when he veers off at a 90 degree angle to the wind, and the direction to the truck, I don’t think much of it, but then I forget how quickly he can cover ground when he wants to. I let him range because I tell myself  that we’ve already covered this, and the day is done and truth be told, I’m fantasizing about dinner. I probably should have noted that he wasn’t just meandering, but heading in a pretty specific direction.

There is a common adage in the bird dog world that, “you must teach the dog to hunt for you.” I used to firmly believe this was the case, with no room for interpretation. After all, the only other option is an out-of-control dog, right? In some cases, that’s certainly true. But I’d like to think I’m growing and learning as a bird hunter (and hopefully always will be), and have come to realize that too much stubborn control over everything your dog does can betray a lack of trust in your dogs’ inherent, amazing abilities, not to mention impacting what ends up in the game bag.

P1000151

The reality of the relationship – if it’s a good one – is a far more nuanced, “give and take” than that; an interdependent push-and-pull across the landscape. At least in the situations I most often find myself hunting in. This isn’t a quaint, 2-acre patch of errant apple orchard, but a wide open, hilly field 20 times that in size, and it wouldn’t even be considered “big” country by our western standards. I need a dog that has no shortage of initiative, not one that is going to be plodding along dutifully right in front of me. And in these scenarios, the reality is that we have learned to hunt for each other. Just as he is obliged to find birds for me in a vast and sometimes daunting landscape, I’m obliged to trust that he knows what he’s doing; that his desire to find birds is unwavering (the occasional rabbit or deer scent aside…) and at least as great as mine. Trusting this arrangement means that in general, he needs to go where I want him to, but it also means that it’s a good idea for me to pay attention when he clearly wants to head in a certain direction. Knowing a good bird dog well means trusting that he probably has his reasons.

I watch a couple skittish sharpies bust wild a hundred and some yards away, as he is quartering toward them, nose held high, before he has a chance to lock them down and point them. His sudden, 90 deg. detour now becomes clear – he somehow knew they were over there, even from that distance. I mark where they go down on the hillside, not far away. It could be tempting to raise my blood pressure regarding my “out of control dog” upon seeing this, but the truth is that he’s doing exactly what he should be doing, and the mistakes are honestly mine. Instead, I call him in, and as a team, we double back and move in together and get them. Birds we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, if it had been left up to me. Another lesson has been reinforced. Luckily, my dog is a forgiving and patient teacher.

Postscript: The following day, the little bastard ran all over hell and back, ignoring commands, whistles and every setting on the e-collar. I accidentally left the laptop open the previous night, and I’m now convinced he must have read this post.

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Filed under Dogs, Open country, Sharpies, Talegate, Upland Hunting

Off-Season Pursuits

He was fully immersed in his second favorite thing to do in this world – chasing a tennis ball.

Without warning, he abandoned his second favorite thing to do in this world, which could only mean one thing.  He hooked a hard left and headed toward the houses, nose to the ground, inhaling scent at a full run.

From a distance, it was obvious he was on point.

A standoff had ensued. The fowl held its ground briefly, before making a fatal mistake.

As the yardbird turned and ran, the shorthair was on it in seconds, shaking the life out of it.

We’ve been politely invited to help our neighbor build a new fence.

vintique_image

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Filed under Dogs, Fodder, Surviving the off season, Talegate, The other 7 months of the year., True stories

One from the Memory Card…

Hank and 2 sharpies

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by | March 10, 2013 · 12:34 pm

Enough

There’s half an hour of shooting light left but with the snow blowing in it might as well be midnight. A handful of chukar call from across the canyon to the half-dozen a hundred feet above me.
A few minutes ago, my young setter got an honest-to-goodness point on this covey of 15 or so birds before they broke and flushed wild.
I was above her, looking down when I saw her go on point.
I’m still out of breath from the hillside sprint toward her.
It was like being the weakest link on the seventh-grade mile-relay team all over again, pushing as hard as I could and still watching it slip away.
It wasn’t her fault though. These are tough birds, tricky in the best of conditions and difficult for even seasoned dogs to pin down.
I got close enough to see them flush at least. And we saw some light halfway up the slope where we now repose.
It was pure adrenaline that got us up here and as it starts to darken, I wonder how I’m going to get back down the snowy slope without sliding on my ass through the mud and the muck.
I can see the road at the bottom and on the other side I can just make out the hillside where we started a few minutes before.
My legs are burning from the climbing, my feet are soaking wet, the truck is parked a mile down the road and I haven’t fired a shot.
But the young dog got a point on chukar and I’ll call that a win.
So when the birds above me answer the call of their covey mates across canyon and fly directly over my head, silhouetted against the billowing white snow clouds, I don’t even raise my gun.
I didn’t come to pass shoot them.
I came to see them pointed and for now, it’s enough.

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Filed under Chukar, Dogs, Giving thanks, Talegate, Upland Hunting

Lunatastrophe

This is not a dog.
This is a nuclear-powered starship headed for another galaxy. It is only coincidence that brings her to earth where she will flush birds at high speed and low regard until she escapes from gravity and continues on her interstellar journey.
Iphone hunting
A covey of sharptails explodes like cosmic dust in front of her and for a moment, while their trajectory lines with her own, she gives chase. When they turn, she stays her course, occasionally leaping sage brush and other obstacles with the glee and grace of a cape wearing nine-year-old.
I watch her turn in a long loop, not because she is re-centering on me, but because she was running out of field and had no choice but to alter course.
“She’ll settle in,” I tell myself, just before she blasts through a covey of huns without so much as easing off the accellerator. A few days ago, she pointed a covey of huns so perfectly, so steady and confidently, that this disregard for her pointing accumen is startling to me.
I whistle her in and try to settle her down but when I turn her loose, I can already tell that she is going to make another break against the bounds of gravity.
So when she blows through another covey of sharpies then proceeds to flush two dozen pheasants one after another without even tapping the brakes, I know that last week was not a turning point, but an anomally.
And so we go home, back to the check chord.
Back to the blue grouse and the huns on the road, back to known birds, back to “whoa” in the garage and yard work.
Back to school for both of us, learning to pilot a rocket ship.

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Filed under Dogs, Glutton For Punishment, Open country, Upland Hunting

Another mouthful

This post comes to us from Steven Brutger, a good friend and bird hunting buddy of MOF. We can’t tell if he’s making fun of himself, of a certain type of hunter, or of us specifically. Regardless, it’s funny.

Mouthful of Shit

By Steven Brutger

Scent fills her nostrils.  Her tail cracks back and forth like a windshield wiper.  She quarters into the wind.  My finger creeps near the safety.

Her ancestors, training, years of experience all lead to this moment.  Muscles ripple down her sides as she hones in on the target.  A lone, compact turd of cow shit.

Without missing a stride she scoops it up, swallows and quarters.

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Filed under Dogs, Ill-mannered Jackals, Keeping it Dirty, Talegate

The inmate needs constant supervision

During her evening yard walk, she must be shackled or watched by an armed guard.
Around the cell block, they whisper about her, “Her dad was a badger,” they claim when she’s out of ear shot. “No,” another says, “the sire was a setter, the dam was a beaver.”
One of the things that got her here in the first place was stealing stuffed animals from children and then mauling the stuffing out of said stuffed animals.
On more than one occasion, she has literally taken candy from a baby. As you would expect, she found it rather easy.
She’s jumped bail so many times that she doesn’t even have another parole hearing for a month.
Still, it doesn’t faze her much.
Even now – the tail end of a bird-dog summer – she lives life like a tethered rocket. You can shorten the rope but she’ll just run faster laps.
And time in the box can’t break her spirit.
Not that she hasn’t been there often enough for violations like digging, chewing, chasing, destroying and insolence.
Given even a moment of freedom, she will dig a crater-sized hole, remove whatever plant material that previously resided there and mulch it.
It happens so quickly that the guard often pleas on behalf of the inmate, sure that he has not fallen asleep on watch.
“It couldn’t have been her,” the guard says, not quite meeting the glare of the warden while hanging his head in shame.
He begins his protest anew, then glances at the inmate and sees the white paws covered in dirt.
So he turns away and goes to get a shovel.
He takes the inmate with him.

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Filed under Dogs, Glutton For Punishment, True stories

The iPhone 5 aint got nothin’ on this

It’s not bullshit after all.
They do actually point.
The crazy part is, you don’t even have to teach them to do it.
They just know.
After all those flushing dogs, it’s hard to fathom.
When I paid the deposit, my bird-dog mentor told me, “It’s simple, just show them a lot of birds and try not to screw them up.”
A 10-week-old pup, chubby and mostly confused, sometimes unable to run across the mowed grass without tripping, freezes solid, pointing a pigeon wing hidden in the grass a few feet away.
All the technology in the known universe can’t replicate this.
 LUna at home first week

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Filed under Dogs, Talegate

Somehow he knows

Somehow, he knows it’s time, and I never cease to marvel at this. He has an abundance of nervous energy these days, as if some internal voice is saying, “I know I’m supposed to be doing more than hanging out on the porch right now. Let’s go.”

We give ourselves over to these biorhythmic pulses, he and I, and the rest of our tribe. Though maybe some of us are just more susceptible to it than others, or embrace giving outlet to it more willingly. Or maybe we’re just lucky enough to know what outlets we truly need – something that some sadly never figure out and find all manner of displacement for.

Regardless, it is time, and with the dead of winter still feeling far, far away, life swells with new focus and purpose and less important things, like jobs and too many other responsibilities, must be shoved aside, in exchange for the preservation of our souls.

Somehow, he knows it’s time, and I never cease to marvel at this.

- Smithhammer

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Filed under Dogs