The way my job is, I sometimes have a lot of down time with little to do. Sometimes I have A LOT more down time than I like. Recently some of the guys have started bringing magazines to read out to work. Most of the mags don't actually require "reading". Thankfully this last week a number of hunting and fishing rags showed up.
I started reading them. "Big Buck Feed Plots", "Bass Masters Turney" "Get Your Goose, Gobbler and Groundhog", OK I made the last one up. You get the idea though, straight forward hunting and fishing stuff. Two of the articles hit me right in the gut. One was on dog training and the other on grouse hunting.
I wish I never had picked the darn things up.
The first time Abby got on a wild ruff grouse she was just about 3 1/2 months old. It was early fall in northern Michigan. My buddy still owned a cabin that backed against state land out side of Gaylord. I had permission to hunt it.
Up north in the fall is a great time of year. The colors start to change. There is some frost in the air but the days are pleasant. Sometimes you get a little rain over night, sometimes though the dew is so heavy that it seems like rain drops on the ferns. The magic morning it was dry. The leaves were only starting to change color, none had fallen. The ferns were just starting to turn brown. There was just the slightest hint of a nip in the air.
Abby was all bird dog from birth. She loved casting for scent. Not 5 min walk from the house she started to shake her tail more quickly. "Find a bird girl", I told her. Then her whole back end started to quiver. She crept through the ferns with every fiber in her body trembling so violently that she could have exploded. She was beyond birdy, she was orgasmicly hunting. It was as if Artemis or Skadi herself came to life as Drahthaar. Abby worked the scent trail. Then just this side of a downed tree trunk, she froze solid. Every fiber of her body a wash with the pleasure only a dog can know. Right in front of her nose was ... a bird, but not just any bird, a ruff grouse, one she had smelled, she had trailed and she had found. Her right front paw floated off the ground shaking like a aspen leaf in the autumn breeze. It locked backward and her nose locked dead on to the bird just 18 inches or so in front of her under the log behind a cluster of ferns.
I gave the "whoa" command for her to hold steady on point. I was wasting my breath. Abby would not break point. She could not break point if she wanted to. The passion inspired by the fresh warm scent filling her nose was so intoxicating that all she could do was point to that which brought her pleasure. The Bird. Her Bird. That Bird.
I moved. Gun ready. Looking down. Kicking sticks. Trampling ferns.
A burst of feathers and leaves. I brought my gun level with my eyes which were fixed on the bird. I have no memory of the gun going off, but it did. The bird fell from the sky. Neither Abby or I heard the shot. I saw where the bird fell and marked the spot. I looked down for Abby. She was still transfixed on the spot the grouse had held up.
I gave the OK command. She couldn't move. I gave the fetch command. She jumped forward, nose into the fresh scent of the place the bird had just been. "Go fetch it Abby" I said with perhaps just a tad more excitement in my voice than what she was feeling. And go she did. I have never seen another gun dog do what she did next. I know that she never saw where that bird fell. Her eyes were on "the spot" and she never would have seen anything over that downed log anyway. She jumped up on top of the log and cast for scent in the air. Then she took off for the right with her nose high in the air. She made a big loop around a tree and ran forward about 20 more yards. Then she picked up the bird. The trail she followed was the exact one the bird flew when it flushed and I shot it.
The next thing Abby did was run. I mean run hard. She had that bird in her mouth. Those wonderful feathers and warm birdy goodness just filled her with such a overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment that she ran as hard as she could back to her master with the bird held as high as she could raise her head. Abby's tail was wagging hard, she was happy. I said "good girl" and "give". She wagged her tail and held that bird. I said, "give it". Resting my shotgun against a tree, I reached down to take it from her. Her mouth was locked. She wasn't hard mouthing the bird. She had a case of lock jaw, she couldn't open her mouth. She had the bird held perfectly but she couldn't let go. I had to pry her mouth open. Which I did. She just stood there looking at me with an open mouth. Suddenly she regained her composure and shut her mouth and cocked her head, with a look on her face that said, "Oh was I doing that".
The next look was one I immediately knew. "Lets do it again master", was what it said. Abby knew she was my dog the first time I met her. This day she learned everything else she ever needed to know to make her happy. She was my dog, a hunting dog, A BIRD DOG. It was what she was bred and born for.
I walked down the two track and she worked the cover. We had our limit before lunch. In the whole time we were together if she ever missed a grouse or a woodcock I never knew it.
Writers doing two page dog layouts in hunting rags never seem to tell you about days like that.