Every Dog Has His Day
By Chris Preston
It has been a tough six months. Kristi was diagnosed with cancer in August of last year, was operated on, and is now in her fourth month of chemo. The holidays have come and gone and it is now mid-January, a slow time at the shop. It has been rain, rain, and more rain all winter. It has only snowed up high and rained everywhere else. The back country is saturated and water can’t run off it fast enough. There is standing water everywhere. Every little depression is brimming with it. All the creeks are flowing full and even the intermittent dry creeks are bank-to-bank.
It is a Wednesday morning and I have planned to try bird hunting since Kristi is feeling better from her latest bout of chemo. But when we get up, of course, it is raining like hell. Since I have planned on taking the day off I hang around the house with Kristi, pretty much feeling sorry for myself. Then, around 10:30, the rain stops – gray skies but at least it isn’t raining. Kristi looks at me and says: “Are you going to feel sorry for yourself all day or are you going hunting?”
“You wouldn’t mind?” I ask.
“No. In fact, you need to get out of here. And if you’re going, take Sam.”
Sam is our orange and white French Brittany who has very bad hips and, because of that, doesn’t get out much. Sam gets real sore from hunting but is an orange and white train once he gets adrenaline flowing from a bird scent. He forgets his hips and is unstoppable. Big for his size, he carries more weight than maybe he should since it’s so hard for him to run it off. But he has a great nose, is a natural retriever, and tries real hard to please.
So with Kristi’s encouragement (read as “kicks me out of the house”) Sam and I are off to hunt the back country behind Weiser.
We get there at one o’clock and I stop where I figure the birds will be, right at a spot of mixed sage brush, bitterbrush, and grasslands. I am sure the birds will be in the thicker growth on the right side of the road. On the left are open grasslands, standing water, rocks, and very little cover for birds. I am sure they are on the right so I let Sam out of the truck and head in that direction.
Sam takes off on a dead run to the left.
What is he doing? I think. He has so little experience: he should listen to me… that knucklehead! His kennel mate Luc has tons of experience and very savvy, and I don’t worry about him when he takes a flier. Sam is out in the open running through a field of grass with rocks the size of bowling balls. Then he locks up on point not 50 yards from the truck.
Well, I can see every blade of grass, every rock, and I sure don’t see any birds. What a knucklehead, the birds can’t be there; he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I’m sure of it. As I walk up to him, a huge covey of Huns boils up at my feet. Boom, boom, boom! Miss, miss, miss. Sam looks at me and as if to say, “Nice work, idiot.”
Two of the first things a bird hunter learns is who has the nose and always trust your dog. I’m stunned that he has pointed birds so close to the truck, and that I have missed all of them.
Well, I learn slowly but well. So I follow Sam out through the grass and rocks. The Huns are in the open, feeding after the rain, taking cover in the rocks and large clumps of grass as we approach. He points another covey and I miss again. “Settle down,” I tell myself. We continue to work parallel to the right side of the road, not even 100 yards from it. Sam locks up again. I walk in on the covey, and this time I do my job. Sam retrieves my first Hun of the day.
Now we cross over the road and a little creek to hunt in sage and thicker cover. This is Sam’s idea, not mine, and I follow dutifully. The little creek is full. Thank goodness for Gore Tex boots: it’s one of those crossings where you run and hope you are going fast enough that water won’t come over the tops of your boots. Just 20 yards from the creek are grassy draw that dump into the creek bottom. Sam points again: another covey of Huns. I make a nice shot and Sam does the retrieve. Four coveys and we have only been out a little over an hour. I’m thinking: What has gotten into Sam?
We start up the hillside to an area that has small grassy spots – islands of grass and lava rock – in the midst of thicker cover. As we work in a circle back towards the truck, Sam finds another covey and makes a great point – and I miss – then very quickly makes another, and I make a double. Sam retrieves both birds right to hand, very gentle-mouthed as well. Sam has six covey finds and I have four birds: what a day!
We continue to circle back to the truck and work down a draw towards the creek. The birds are out of the thick cover feeding in the grassy areas and the rocky patches. Sam points again.
I walk up to the covey. A bird crosses from left to right, my best shot, and I drop it. I’m sure I have marked the fall and send Sam to look in that area. No luck. I know for sure where that bird dropped but we can’t find it. I can’t believe it’s not there and I am about ready to quit when Sam takes off and goes about 35 yards back to the left, sniffs around for a bit … and brings me the bird. We head back to the truck. We have found seven coveys; I’ve shot five birds; Sam has retrieved all the game; it’s just three o’clock.
We drive up the road less than a mile to try one more spot. I let Sam out and we walk about 40 yards. But then I start to think: Don’t be greedy. You’ve had a great, great day. Go home. Don’t spoil it. So I turn around and head back to the truck, taking the shells out of the gun.
As I’m doing this I hear Sam’s beeper go off and turn around to see that he is on point again. I put the shells back in the gun, walk over, and flush the covey. The Huns make the mistake of flying left to right. I take two shots and get two. Sam continues the great roll he is on and retrieves both birds to hand. The limit is eight but what a great day: eight covey finds, seven birds all retrieved by Sam to hand, no cripples or lost birds.
I case my gun, take off my vest, and let Sam sleep next to me in the front of the truck all the way home.
If every dog has his day, then this is Sam’s. We would have many good days after that, but this was the first time he had it all together. What a shame his bad hips slow him up so much. A millionaire could never buy a day this good.
Sam passed away from sudden renal failure in the fall of 2012. Chris’s wife has been cancer free for six years. The author lives in Boise, Idaho, and hunts mostly chukars and huns with his French Brittanys.