Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Middle Aged Bird Dogs

Where is the point in time in which the young, powerful, confident campaigner turns middle-aged?  Then old?  A sadness creeps in occasionally, as I watch my dog, Cap.  His name is 3X NSTRA CH FlyBoy Ace's Delta Captain.  He is a product of my best-ever male, Ace, and my best-ever Brittany female, Ruby, a direct daughter of Nolan's Last Bullet. I chose him out of a litter of 11 pups.  He was a terror.  He would walk across the other pups to attack the second largest puppy, and they would roll around growling and making puppy-mean sounds, scattering the other pups or rolling over them.
Young Cap on Gambles Quail.  Arizona.

He was precocious in his ability. I showed him one time what I wanted in backing.  After that, he absolutely froze with lightening speed in a classic pose to "honor" his hunting partner, whether it be in a field trial or just in the field.  The same with pointing, retrieving, quartering.  He is a natural.  One good thing: he doesn't carry any aggression in him at all. Occasionally, another dog will ease over and try to dominate.  Cap will stand his ground, but I never see his back up.  He is the "nice guy" in the pack. 

Cap and me.  Arizona 2019
His skills are classic and perfect.  I like his build.  From the big chest, with room for a big, blood pumping heart to the stubby little tail with a white tip, over the solid motor, he's built for running all day, over all terrain.  A few years ago, in the southern Arizona Mearns Quail mountains, Wally and I  stopped to take a breather. His two dogs were close by, and my Pearlie was close, too.  I checked the GPS to see where Cap was.  He was about 400 years to the north working a long ridge line, it said. I glanced up, just in time to see him cross over the top of the ridge, heading down the other side.  I quickly gave him a blast in the whistle and a "tone" from the GPS. I watched his distance-out reading for a bit (I keep it at 2.5 second update) to make sure he got the message, then turned my attention back to Wally.  In less than a minute, Cap came rolling in wondering what the hold up was, and ready to get back to his job immediately.

Cap and First Sharptail Grouse.  Montana
 Until recently, he wasn't the pack leader.  Ace was.  When Ace died, Cap stepped up.  Shack and Blue, younger males, tried to push him around in the GP (what we call the large, fenced-in play yard).  He would always stand his ground and de-fuse the situation.  Once or twice, I would find a little blood on the nose or ear of him and one of the bigger males- usually when one of the females was in heat.  But, they settled it themselves, and Cap was still in charge. He would push the bigger dogs out of the way, and his "stare down" was very effective.

Cap and me in the blind.  NSTRA Field Trial.
His style and class make him a natural for field trials.  He is successful at them, and just plain fun to trial behind.  We have fun- win  or lose.  The confidence factor, knowing I can turn him, stop him, and that he is solid in all areas, makes for an enjoyable time- even if we are beaten.

A few months ago, January 2020, I was in Arizona a second time hunting Mearns Quail.  I was introducing some friends to the area.  I took them to a spot I had my best day ever, just a month prior.  Josh put his dog on the ground and I put Cap out.  As usual, Cap took off, heading out for scent.  I didn't see him much, after that.   I just walk along planning my route and wait for his pager (GPS) to go off.  When he gets thirsty, or needs some positive reinforcement, he will swing by.  Occasionally, he will get to higher ground to check my location, then he'll move out again.  (I can watch all this on my GPS.) What was bird heaven a month prior was now a wasteland.  The Mearns moved off.  I imagine that ridge was hit hard after we left, the month prior.  It's hard to hide gunshots that opening week of Mearns Quail season.  The temptation to "march to the sound of the guns" is too great, I suppose, for those not having much success.

Whatever the reason, we did a lot of walking, talking, and hoping, and not much shooting.  At the turn, high on the mountain, where several ridges come together, we sat and commiserated.  Suddenly, my pager went off and I checked that Cap was on point 150 yards away, over the top and down the other side of the ridge we were on.  I knew exactly where he was.  He pointed this very same covey the month before. They are down a steep embankment, in thick trees, at the bottom of a gully.  They will flush when they hear you coming down the steep slope to them.  Over the top and down we went, toward Cap and the covey.  Sure enough, just when we could see him down below us, through the trees, we heard the flush.  Birds went everywhere, but mainly down and up the draw, through the thick stand of trees.  We threw some lead, but they were untouched....again.  These are darn worthy opponents!

Rather than climb the steep slope back up the ridge, we decided to go with the flow and go down to the bottom, then follow the drainage back to the main road and the truck.  Cap was working well, although the hills were steep.  He checked in often, as we made our way back.  Then, Josh looked up and said, "Holy sh$t!  Look at that!", (or words to that effect) and pointed to a shear rock face to our left.  I looked up the cliff  just as Cap got about halfway down, and looked like he might make it.  But then, he got airborne, flipped around, and landed on his left side on a bunch of smooth river rocks in the drainage.  I held my breath, as he got up, looked at me at trotted off.  He was holding his back left leg off the ground, too. Over the next few hours, as we made our way back, he pointed a few birds, on three legs, but showed no signs of quitting.  He is tough one.

Here we are, in my den.  The hunt is long over.  XRays, etc. are long done.  He's still limping, but is putting weight on the front and back legs. He will run the Georgia Championships in two weeks, then he will have the long, hot summer off.  He will be 10 years old in May (less than two months).  But, even though he's reached middle age for a bird dog- even though he limps on his front and back left legs- even though his right eye is opaque due to 3 eye surgeries- even through all that, he is my best dog.  Not that he's just the best one I have in the pack, he is my BEST dog- or one of my Best Ever.  I look froward to another 3 years on the field with him, and a few more after that.  His fall did him no favors, but then, who am I to criticize about limping, slow recovery, and poor eyesight.  I'm right there with him.