The dog and I are fresh into New Mexico, a return of sorts for me and a new adventure for the dog. We are out of our element here, short grass and cacti, everything spiny and dangerous.
The scalies and the gambels are sprinters. The first few coveys we tried to close in slowly, the dog straining against the tenuous strings of obedience as I waited for them to hunker down.
Instead, they simply ran away from us, climbing to the top of the ridge then jumping off the other side, never to be seen again.
That was ages ago, months and seasons and dog years.
Now, I let her run.
Bust them like an out-of-control mutt loose at a city duck pond.
I watch the covey rise and hear the mad beat of wings as the devil birds surge away just out of range. I whistle her back to heel and she comes, ecstatic, thrilled with the flush.
I mark the birds down and know that they will hold for a few minutes. We hike across the rocky hillside, past the cholla and up to the saddle where we saw them anchor.
Now we’re set, this flushing dog and I. The birds are holding tight and she knows it. She flies headlong into the clumps of tall grass, powers through a creosote bush and flushes a single.
At my shot, a second bird erupts from my near my feet and I spin to my right, unable to see him for a moment. Then I’m on him, swinging my gun past the square of my shoulders as he swerves downhill.
She pauses for a moment and I like to think she is checking to see if the bird goes down, but I know it is not her belief in my shooting but a yearning – a fiery urge to chase that keeps her gaze locked on the disappearing speck.
Then we’re back in the saddle, working the patches of grass that won’t hide a dropped 28 ga. shell but can somehow cover a dozen birds. The dog lights up, shortening the strokes of her zigzag as she hones in on the foot trail of a quail. A flurry of feathers and they’re off. It’s half-a-dozen birds and I’m leaning hard, wanting the double and somehow connecting.
We pick up our birds. The dog is still hunting but we both know they’re gone, somewhere in the bottom now and not holding this time but running, hard and fast and without looking back.