Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Pup Grows Up

Blue was slow to develop.  After Cap, Shack, Ruby,and Pearl all developing into accomplished bird dogs by 1 year, I was approaching Blue's second anniversary, and he was still in that puppy phase of life.  He was big.  He didn't weigh more than Shack, at 43#, but he stood taller.  He was solid, too.  A rock.  But, he was still a happy-go-lucky guy that really would rather stick his nose down a mouse hole.  And, there are plenty of mouse holes on the prairie.  While my other dogs, at his age, would turn "all business" when I dropped the tailgate, Blue would smile and start looking for interesting smells. 

Bird dogs bird hunting
Blue and his first Prairie Chicken

I began to worry a little.  I'd never had a dog that wasn't a bit precocious, at least not in recent times.  I worked him on pen-raised birds at home.  I ran him and worked on obedience.  I played with him all the time, and worked on retrieving.  I kept it fun, and light.  He was great. But, when the time came to do the real job, he wasn't focused.  I really liked his attitude, though.  I saw something in the big boy.  It was hard to put my finger on it, but there was something there that said, "I'm your guy, Boss. Just give me some time." 

We were towards the end of the South Dakota hunt for Sharptails and Prairie Chickens.  All the dogs were doing well.  The older two, Ruby and Cap, at 9+ years, easily parlayed that wisdom into birds in the bag (or at least opportunities).  The middle two, Shack and Pearl, were strong and smart, as well.  Blue was a follower, and after a bit, he became more interested in mouse and badger holes than looking for grouse. Once again, I wondered if he really had what it took. 

I determined to put him on the ground by himself that afternoon.  I drove to an area I'd hunted earlier in the week.  I pulled off the road on a two-track, visually checked the area I wanted to hunt (a large grassy area bordering a sunflower field), and leaned back to take a short nap.  The sun was in my face, the wind was light, and lunch was not long ago.  I'm sure my snoring flushed several coveys of chickens. 

My nap was interrupted by several shotgun blasts a few hundred yards from my open window.  I grabbed my binoculars and watched two hunters (with no dogs) sweep an area on the other side of the sunflower field.  They were hunting more in the manner of pheasant hunters than sharptail or chicken hunters.  It was interesting to watch, all the more so since I'd seen them driving down the main road a while back and execute a rapid U-turn to go back the way they came.  I didn't think anything of it at the time, but they must have seen a covey of chickens flush off the road as they passed by.  

I watched as they swept the grassy field.  If they got to the end and swung around to the other side, they would cover exactly the area Blue and I were headed towards.  The expression "You snooze, you lose!" came to mind just then.  Here I was snoozing away, while a couple of guys (with no dogs!) had a great time shooting chickens right in front of me. I suppose I could have just driven to the other side of the sunflowers and put out.  But, I've had people jump in front of me before, and it kind of rankled me, to be honest.  I determined to let them hunt all around the sunflower field, if that was their plan.  After all, I was snoozing, and I was losing...

With great interest, I watched as they approached the end of the sunflower field, and the road leading back to their truck.  First one, then the other, walked up onto the gravel surface and turned back.  Perfect!  I let them get about halfway back, then I cranked the Beast and drove down my two-track towards the main gravel road and the other side of the sunflowers.  They had their chance, I wasn't going to give them another one.  I pulled off the road and called Blue's name.  He pawed the door on his kennel.  He knew it was his time.  

I slipped the TT-15 around his neck, checked the Alpha, marked the truck, and turned him loose. He hit the grass at full speed.  Something was different.  His head was up, rather than close to the ground. He stayed in front, and he checked my location.  He hunted objectives, shrubs, clumps of grass, and spots of thin grass.  About a 100 yards in, with the sunflowers on the left, and a strong wind blowing right to left, we were working pretty close to the crops.  Blue has a great nose, and I knew he was clearing a huge area upwind of him as we worked along the edge. 

He spun and locked up into the wind.  I walked to a point 15 yards in front of him, ready for the flush.  Nothing moved.  I looked back at him- still staunch on point.  His eyes were looking right at me.  "OK!" I said.  He released and started the back and forth, full speed, tracking scent, excited "birds-are-here" motion that's fun to watch.  I knew the birds were there, or had been recently.  Blue made one short cast crosswind, then another. On his third cast, he spun around again.  Hard! He was about 50 yards away, and I hustled over, checking my gun, the sun, the road.   Just as I got close to the area. 20 Prairie Chickens flushed up and headed for the sunflowers. I dropped one, and swung to another.  I hit him and he wobbled, but kept flying.  I was trying to reload as he flew within 10 yards of me, reaching for the safety of the sunflowers.  Reloaded, I swung back to him, but, in the wind, he was a football field away and looking none the worse for wear. 

Blue broke on the flush and was coming back to me, once again learning these guys cannot be caught.  I called him in and told him "Dead bird, Fetch it up!".  His nose went down and he ran to the area I indicated. After a few short loops, he snapped to a point, and I knew he was on the dead bird.  "Fetch it!" I commanded, and he stepped in to pick up the Prairie Chicken.  

He was one proud bird dog, coming across that prairie grass with the chicken in his mouth! I managed to snap a picture of him before he put it in my hand.  I was (and am) proud of my guy.  My Bird Dog.  

Here you go, Boss!