Sometimes, I forget what I’m doing. Seeing him locked up like some ancient, graven image, with a level of simmering, white hot focus beyond anything I’ll never truly know, yeah, I’ll admit that I can easily forget everything else, including why we’re supposedly here. That there is an unseen third party somewhere close by. That this is merely the prelude to an explosion that can go any one of several different ways. I want the moment to continue; this traingulated tension to be savored indefinitely, but all such swings of the pendulum eventually seek equilibrium, and the longer the build up the more abrupt and chaotic the release tends to be.
But sometimes, all of this just goes out the window, and I look at him, truly dumbfounded by the capabilities of this high-performance animal, and the ways he must experience the world so differently from my own, though we stride through it together. I’m so distracted with admiring the beauty of this point that the bird gets up and I’m not ready and I feel like a head in clouds idiot. And the briefest of glances from over his shoulder makes me feel even more so. But he immediately forgives and forgets and throws every bit of himself into getting out there and doing it again, and it is this, not the missing of the shot, that lets me know I’m the lesser of two creatures here.
The frequency of this doesn’t decrease with experience. In fact, quite the opposite.
Part of the reason we started MoF is because we felt that fresh, down to muddy earth writing about the upland experience, unencumbered by formulaic nostalgia, is a hard thing to find. But when we do come across those all-too-rare exceptions, we’d like to offer props and give our readers a heads up. A while back I discovered a fine book – a book that finally takes a humorous, unflinching look at the reality of owning, and more importantly living with, bird dogs.
“Reverse Points: Bird Dogs Reconsidered” is truly a fun read, full of great, atypical pics of canine partners doing what they do best (especially when they’re at their worst). The book features the photography of Nancy Anisfield, taken at dog training clinics and on hunting trips around the country. Contributors include Alan Liere, Jon M. Bronson, , Michael A. Halleran, Tom Parmelee and our own Matt Crawford.
From the publisher:
“Tired of all the noble tales and images of gun dogs, Nancy Anisfield and five other outdoor humor writers take a look at the darker side of bird dogs and stare it in the face, even though that face is coated in mud with a cluster of slobber-laced pheasant feathers matted to its jowl.”
Definitely a kindred spirit.
Reverse Points can be ordered through Ugly Dog Hunting.
(p.s. – we aren’t in the business of product endorsements, just celebrating and supporting good writing.)
We wait, patiently or otherwise. We try not to think about it. We occupy the time with other things – fishing, yard work, sports, clays. We frontload – getting things done that purportedly need getting done so that we will have more time when the time comes. It may even be the only thing that motivates us to be pro-active about anything in our lives, truth be told. But it’s always there, in the back of the cerebral dustbin, ready to run your intentions of productivity afoul at the slightest hint of summer waning.
It’s there every time you look at your dog – an uncomfortable reminder that for too much of the year, they aren’t allowed to perform to their fullest; that you owe it to them to get them out every chance you can during the season and watch them do what generations of breeding have finely honed. To watch them do most of the work. To hold up your end of the bargain. To have them teach you things, in spite of your pre-formed opinions and all the books you may have read on the subject. To watch them be so entirely focused and in the moment that it inspires deep envy.
And then suddenly, despite having thought that you put everything away in good style at the end of last season, it’s opening tomorrow and there are boots to excavate from underneath the better part of a year’s worth of closet detritus. Guns that have been tucked away for far too long, and you pull them out with more than a little trepidation that signs of rust haven’t developed in your neglect. Snack wrappers and spent shells and the remnants of a dog treat from last season, all to finally be removed from vest pockets in typical last minute preparation for the next.
It’s here, and we better suck the marrow out of every single friggin’ moment spent afield, for the all too rare thing that it is. Git busy living or git busy dying, as they say. Anything less would be unconscionable.
7) Ted Nugent
*Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be taken seriously. We have friends who swear by their “pointing” labs and even some who git all giddy over the notion of chasing what look to me like landlocked sandpipers. Please feel free to post things that crack you up as well, as long as they don’t include making fun of real pointers or good over/unders, ‘cuz that shit ain’t funny…
I love Redbreast Irish Whiskey for a few reasons:
So little of what we’re left with at the end of the upland season is tangible. Sure, there are guns to clean, maybe some birds still left in the freezer (though I rarely show that much self-discipline), and inevitably, finding new ways to try and occupy highly-energetic four-legged athletes. Ultimately, though, most of it will live on only in memory.
But then there are these feathers laying in front of me on the tying table. Ruffed grouse. Sharptail. Pheasant. These aren’t detached, consumable products in neatly-labeled plastic bags purchased from the fly store, packaged and shipped from Dog Knows Where – these came from birds my dog and I worked hard to find, birds I caused to drop from the sky, birds that, well, to be totally honest, he only sometimes half-heartedly retrieved in that way that so many pointers do who can’t be bothered with such mundane tasks, tearing off already to find the next holding covey instead.
These feathers sit in front of me on the table now, haphazardly strewn about amongst threads, tinsels, furs, tying tools, in a system of highly-subjective organization that others would likely call a mess; raw material from which I hope something useful will eventually emerge. The flies that will come of these feathers will occupy a special place, if not in my fly box, then at least in my mind, easily recognizable as different than those commercially tied by others in Sri Lanka or the Phillipines from materials of mysterious origin.
And when I remove that ragged, grouse bedecked fly from the cutthroat’s mouth, and release it back into that little creek high up in the newly melted alpine, I’ll flash back to that day last October when I was up to my knees in mud, shotgun in hand, trying in vain to keep up with a dog tracing currents of bird scent across a sweeping landscape, pulled along by compulsions I’ve never fully understood or bothered to explore; satisfied instead by knowing that not doing these things would cause a slow withering of my soul, which is simply not an option.
I have to be honest – I rarely ever think about you. Which, I suppose, is the ultimate testament to how good you are at what you do. At times, however, I know this may come across as ingratitude, and for that, I’m sorry. You’ve accused me of being a fickle S.O.B. and I know there is a certain amount of truth to that. I expect a lot in a lamentably short period of time, and offer little more than neglect the rest of the year. I’ve smeared you in various pastes, oils and creams, seeking to improve upon perfection. I’ve even experimented with others, and you keep taking me back without question. You continue to endure these indignities with a level of class well above my own.
There was that time when the conditions were a lot muddier than I had expected, and I caught myself wondering out loud why I hadn’t worn a good pair of rubber boots instead. You took it silently, as is your way, and then sent me ass over tea kettle as I tried to remove you while standing balanced on one foot in the mud room when we got home. I knew I had it coming, and I can only hope the warm bath and oil rub you got that night made everything ok again.
We both know there will come a time when you’ll need help – there’s no use beating around the bush on that account. Hell, the day will come when I’ll need it too. Trust that I’ll spare no expense, and thank Dog we live in one of those places where skillful cobblers haven’t yet gone totally by the wayside. Your seams and soles will be lovingly taken care of. I imagine by that time my lustful, wandering eye will have been cured as well. We’ll settle into a comfortable, if seasonal, monogamy. Frankly, I’m looking forward to it.
We had decided that we weren’t going to accept the end of the season with anything resembling passive resignation. There would be no finding of lame excuses for occupying these end times with other, less worthy activities, while a few days of permissible bird chasing remained. No pathetic, “it would be nice to get out one last time, but it’s too cold now,” sniveling.
And so, one last trip was hatched. A place none of us had hunted before, interest buoyed by whiffs of rumor and suspicion that an elusive, red-legged partridge might find such barren country to its aberrant liking.
It wasn’t easy, but frankly, in a perverse way, we wouldn’t really want it to be. This isn’t about “easy,” or we would be sharing this country with the hordes; McLodges springing up like blight on a country that deserves to remain desolate and wild and beyond the reach of those who think that with enough money, any sort of instant gratification can be had. These birds, in their wild state, will always demand more than you assume. Unless, of course, you go in assuming that an ass-kicking and a steaming hot plate of humble pie are on the menu.
In the end, we can unashamedly say that we wrapped up the season with deliberateness, with new country under our boots, with a few birds in the bag and the satisfaction of knowing we didn’t listen to any of the all-too-easy excuses for not going that can leave one staring out the window. No. We chose the only conceivable way to face the next seven, bird-less months with a modicum of fortitude, till we can feed our upland souls once again.
There is a headspace you sometimes get into on road trips. Or a headspace that I tend to get into, anyway. In this particular case, it was the pernicious result of a hangover, a couple Reese’s, a bag of cheese puffs, some strong coffee and three surreal days of seeking chukar. I was driving home, the trip behind me and the Tetons in ominous storm shroud before me, killing time by playing the game in my head of trying to explain all this to someone.
Sometimes in the midst of these hell-bent junkets, it feels like the things you see along the side of the road have been deliberately placed there to conspire against your already zoned-out, chemically-fueled, tenuous grasp on road reality. These must be documented in the event that your sanity is some day put on trial. It may be the only defense.
An entire life lived in the West, and there are times when the scale of things still screws with me. I look up at vertical caprock, trying to gauge if it’s 500′ or 1500′ above, though it really doesn’t matter – I’m going up there regardless.
An hour or three later, I’m standing on top, looking at telltale tracks in the snow, the sore legs and lack of oxygen already an afterthought as the little bastards take control of my brain, yet again.
The dog vacillates between ranging too far and alternately doing exactly what he should, still working to find that fine, triadic balance between enthusiasm and focus and teamwork. He slams on point; as dramatic as if he’d hit a brick wall at full speed, and I try to get to him before one of the parties involved breaks this fleeting impasse. Later, it’s not the bird getting up, not the passing shot, not the satisfaction of finding my mark that I will remember – it’s that deranged, amber fire in his eyes as he holds point and lets me know that we’ve found what we’re looking for. This continues to haunt me as I type; those blazing, otherworldly apertures etched into an obscure corner in the back of my brain reserved for a few indelible memories. The same eyes that now just belong to a goofy pup laying on his back with his legs in the air on my living room floor.
In the end, what would I say to the uninitiated? That I had driven over 500 miles round trip, to stay in a cheap motel, eat a lot of bad food, spend hours driving on rough two-track across tragically over-grazed former bird habitat, with but one bird in the cooler to ultimately show for it? And that for whatever twisted reason, this had fed my soul?