The old boy is gone now. When he was little, you couldn't wipe the grin off my face. He was fast and sure, didn't bump birds, retrieved to hand. He was a bull in the field, no matter the cover or terrain. Confident and very sure of himself, I would bite my tongue to keep from bragging about him. Every so often, I'd slip up and would reply, "Oh yeah. Not to worry." when asked if he was going to be able to make a particularly difficult retrieve in Idaho. Or, if he would get out and hunt the prairie in Montana for Huns and Sharps.
I have hundreds of pictures of him coming in with many different game birds in his mouth. The one on the homepage of my BLOG brings up a particularly intense memory.
|Ace and Two|
Eight years ago, I was hunting, alone, in North Dakota. I was covering ground, every day, that I'd covered year after year. I knew every roll of land, coulee, stream, tree and badger hole. After a few days hitting the favorites, visiting friends and killing roosters, I sat down over dinner and grabbed the PLOTS (Private Land Open to Sportsmen) Map and looked for something different. I noticed an area designated a Waterfowl Production Area. A big lake surrounded by grass and tree lines, surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of cut wheat. Anyone who hunts ditch-chickens will begin to drool at that habitat. It was perfect.
This was late in the season, however, and I knew, since this was public land, the hunting pressure would have been intense on this perfect piece. But, the old boy and I left the young pups in the truck, loaded the 20 ga. with Prairie Storm 3" 5's, and eased down from the parking area toward some tree lines in the distance. The weather was perfect with a northerly breeze, blue skies and a nippy chill. The dog waited until I took a few steps to indicate the direction, then he took off into the light brown grass. We headed down a slight hill into some rows of millet and corn, headed for the tree line that bordered the area. On the other side of the trees was cut wheat.
We crossed three other tree lines and the grass fields between them. I gave him plenty of time to run the edges and through the center. Nothing after a half hour, or so. He was the perfect predator on a perfect day. He wasn't even breathing hard- just working that nose and looking for likely habitat for the pheasant. I never said anything, or whistled. He worked from 50 to 450 yds away- most of it out of sight. I used an early model Garmin tracker and occasionally was lost in thought on my stroll through the country. We hit the last tree line and I got on the upwind side and let him work the downwind side with that nose of his. It wasn't long before the Garmin paged me back to the real world- POINT! I couldn't see him in the thick trees, but he was 150 yards ahead, and slightly right. We were getting to the end of the row and, knowing him, he had one pinned between him and me. I walked up with the gun ready as the big, old rooster blew out right in front of me heading for the big wheat field. The dog was ten feet behind and in full stride when the rooster hit the wheat. He scooped it up and put it in my hand. We sat for a little and admired the colorful rooster before we started back to the truck. Back up the hill, through tree lines, temp dropping and the wind biting a little bit. Point! Right in the middle of a grassy field, straight ahead 50 feet. I chuckled when I saw the old dog turned like a pretzel and locked down on a big clump of grass. His eyes were glassy and his jaws worked- "eating scent" I like to call it. Something else was different, though. I was just about to take a closer look, when the grass shook and a squawking, cussing flash of mad rooster blew up and out. He dropped easily and Ace brought him to hand. I grabbed my water bottle for him and he was drinking when I saw what was different. He had 10+ porcupine quills sticking out of the side of his face! No doubt due to a close encounter in one of the tree lines. We sat down and I pulled them out with my Leatherman tool. He was stoic through it all. Just as I knew he would be. He bagged two roosters with fine work and got quilled in the face. Just another day at work.