Bocephus made his mark trialing, but he was first, foremost and always, a bird dog. Intense, determined, smart and driven to find birds, he could be a handful at times. Just keeping track of him was problematic some days. I’ve seen him get birdy and follow scent for half a mile before finally locking down- “Here they are, boss!” Normally, I would teach my dogs to keep me in sight and hunt for me. Bo pretty much considered that backwards- I was there to shoot for him. First, many times, I had to find him to do my job. It gave the term “hunting dog” new meaning. That’s what I was doing some days- just hunting for my dog. He could disappear off a trail in Wisconsin in the blink of an eye. I would be sure he was just around the corner and I would hear his beeper soon. Thirty agonizing minutes later, I’d hear the faintest sound of his beeper- either on point or returning through the forest. Usually, he’d show up, admonish me for getting lost and warn me to keep up. The grouse woods were the worst. Thick and vast, a dog that liked to “get out there” would disappear fast. Every year, I would see posters for lost dogs at the local vet and hung in the entrance at local cafes and bars. I also heard of many happy endings, but, many times, only a collar and fur would be found. The grouse woods are no place for an untrained dog. Bo, on the other hand, was far from untrained. To his mind, scent meant birds and when he hit scent it was time to find the birds- no matter where or how far. Bo’s bullfight didn’t occur in the woods of Wisconsin or Minnesota, but in the rolling hills of Nebraska- a place I thought, for sure, I’d be able to keep him in sight.
We put out on public land. It was nine in the morning and the day was cold, clear and the sky was crystal blue with a heavy frost on the ground. This was day one of a two week odyssey. Since he had seniority, I slipped Bo out of the kennel and notched the beeper around his neck. We had a little talk about staying in sight and he jumped off the tailgate to find some birds. We started down a brushy draw looking for some local pheasant. I’d heard some cackling that morning and knew some birds were in the vicinity. I watched the bonehead work brush along the cornfields, along a tree claim and over a small rise. Suddenly, his beeper went off and I hustled over the hill to find him locked down tight in some tall grass by a small stand of thick brush. The gun was loaded for pheasant when huge covey of quail blew out of there! I dropped one, but the 4’s I had in there for pheasant pretty much made a mess of the poor thing. It was shaping up to be fine day, though. Bo made a good retrieve to hand and we gathered our wits and headed out again. “Good job, old boy!” I thought as I watched that setter tail go over the next rise. And that was the last time I saw him.
As I crested the rise, I saw that the obvious route for him would be down to a small creek bed. It turned in to a ditch, then gully, and finally a pretty deep gorge. I called and whistled and listened for his beeper- nothing. I waited about an hour in the general area. Finally, I headed back to the truck to get another dog. I covered the area several times and worked a mile in every direction throughout the day. No dog, no tracks. Nothing. I wasn’t panicked at that point- I’d seen this act before. We headed for the truck and started driving the roads in the likely direction of travel. I talked to farmers and other hunters. We swapped cell numbers and war stories about lost dogs and they promised to look out for Bo. I got stuck in the mud pretty bad one time and spent hours working to get back on the gravel road. Finally, a tractor as big as a barn showed up and pulled me on to the dry land. It seems he watched me for a while from his barn, until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to come down and help the flatlander get moving again! (This was only one of the many times I’ve depended on the largesse of a farmer with a huge tractor.) By now, it was getting late. The last time I saw Bo, it was nine forty five in the morning. It was now five forty five p.m. and getting dark fast. The temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up and I was beginning to go from concerned to really worried. The nights up there can be really bad, especially for a shaggy eared mutt from Georgia with no place to get warm. I drove the roads in the area one more time, hoping to see tracks crossing. I stopped every hundred yards and blew the whistle and listened for the beeper. Nothing. Finally, I turned the truck toward the nearest small town and slowly headed for a local motel. I crested a rise and my cell phone rang. My poor wife yelled “Hey, they found Bo!” “Where?” I yelled back. “I don’t know, but here’s the guy's number.” I pulled to the side of the road, wrote it down and called the number. Sure enough, the young man that answered had Bo. He gave me directions to his place- seven miles away! We kicked the diesel into gear and made good time to the barn and my wayward dog. When we pulled up, the knothead was on the back of a young man’s truck drinking water from a jug. I thanked him profusely while checking Bo over for cuts, scratches or wounds. He was in good shape, so I loaded him in to his dog box and went back to talk to the farmer and thank him again.
The young man explained that he only checks his cows a few times during the week and he was lucky today was one of those days. When he drove up to the barn, there was a ruckus going on inside. He opened the door and saw a bunch of dust flying around the bull’s pen. His huge bull had a dog cornered in the pen and was about one minute away from smashing that white setter in to the dirt. The farmer grabbed a shock stick, backed the bull off, grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him out of there. It was a near thing, he explained. His bull is a mean, nasty boy when he’s around his cows. It was fortunate he was able to get there in time. Once more, I thanked him for his consideration and we drove out of there. And, once again, I was thankful for the generosity of the American Farmer.
I figured the old dog probably followed the creek, looking for water, for the entire seven or eight miles. It was so cold, the creek was frozen the entire way. Finally, he came upon the barn and the tanks for the cows. As Bo and I chatted about the event, he related as to how I got lost and he went looking for me for a few hours. Finally, he got so thirsty; he went down in to the creek bed and followed it for a bit (!) until he came upon the stock tanks. He was in the tank working on his third lap when some rude, cranky, mean old slab of overgrown hamburger took offense at his joining the party! He allowed as how he was willing to let all this go and be on his way, but a few choice words were tossed about, and Bo said he may or may not have made a few comments as to what the bull’s momma may or may not have done. Well, that was that- the fight was on. Bo told me he was giving as good he got- the bull was mean and big, but Bo was fast, smart and wiry. In fact, Bo was little miffed at the farmer because, “I had that stupid piece of hamburger right where I wanted him, boss- overconfident and right in front of me! I was in the process of telling him I was going to whip his ample butt six ways from midnight and then go service all his cows, when the farmer came in and rescued him! If you ask me, it was that bull’s lucky day.”
Well, now I had a small problem. Who was I going to believe; my best bird dog or the lying eyes of some farmer? The choice was obvious: It was that bull’s lucky day.