I didn't need another bird dog. I had two National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial (NSTRA) Champion Setters, already, and an everyday workhorse of a Brittany, too. I was living in the city of Marietta, GA and a fourth bird dog would only complicate things. Somehow, I found myself squinting through a blinding Tennessee rainstorm, driving to pick up a little fur-ball Setter. Wade is my dog man. A bird hunter will appreciate it when I say, "I would buy a dog sight unseen from him." Since bird dogs take years to train and live for years after that (hopefully), it makes a lot of sense to start with the best pup you can get. Knowing and trusting your source is really important. I went to Wade when needed a pup. Three pups over the years, in fact. Two English Setters and one Brittany came off his farm in the hills outside Pulaski- all of them incredibly talented, Champion dogs.
We pulled up to the farmhouse in a cold drizzle; Wade was there to lead us out to the kennels. "I only have two left, Randy, but I saved the two best. The one you don't take, I'll keep!" Puppies are always cute, always loveable and a lot like that special little present under the Christmas tree. You look at the wrapping and dreams of joy and pride and special times run through your head. You can't wait to get your hands on it and open it up and see what wonderful times are ahead! I scooped the little, white Setter up and smelled his puppy breath; tucked him under my chin and made sure he got a sniff of me, too. At forty-nine days old, his brain just switched on. I was his momma, daddy and universe all in one. This was going to be a special bird dog.
Fast-forward one year later. The phone rang on a Saturday morning. My good friend Brenda was on the other end calling from Lafayette, GA. Bo (that was the pup's call name-"Julia's Bocephus" was his registered name), she said, was an unusual dog and would I come up to visit.. ... soon! Brenda was a dog trainer; one of the very best at introducing a dog to birds. She knew dogs and could see the potential right away. As I rolled up to her barn, I just knew that Bo was either going to be (a) one of the best she's ever seen, or, possibly, (b) he was so far advanced he was already finished with the puppy stuff and was ready for advanced work, or, maybe, (c) she knew he was young but wanted to mate him to one of her best females! What she told me stunned me. "He ain't gonna make it as a NSTRA dog, Randy." were the first words out of her mouth. She might as well have said, "Hey, your kid is ugly", "Your momma is no 'count.", or, perhaps, "You drive a sissy, rice-burning, chick truck!" It hit me like the right rear leg of a mean mule -center in the stomach! She told me he lacks intensity and style and she's not too sure about how bright he is, either. Ouch! Actually, she was a lot more diplomatic than I make it seem, but that's what I heard in my head! I tucked my tail between my legs and threw gravel getting out of there with Bo sitting right next me, smile on his face, tongue hanging out and thinking "life is pretty good". That knot-head was already pondering life as a bird dog of leisure. He figured, "Heck, I flunked out of puppy school! Surely, the big guy won't keep working me!" Wrong, Bocephus! I didn't have a gun I didn't shoot; a watch I didn't wear; and I, for sure, would not keep a bird dog that didn't hunt. The bonehead started school in my back yard that day.
Bo was not even second fiddle in this band- third was about right. Ruby was a brag dog (one you could go to every time) and NSTRA Champion. Rocket was a hardheaded Brittany meat dog- tough and mean and loyal to a fault (many is the fellow that jumped back from the truck with Rocket tied in the back, after hearing a growl and snap of jaws). Bo came next in the line-up. He was last in training and feeding and everything else. He was just one of the also-rans. I worked him as a casual afterthought, remembering what the trainer said about him. I did put some time into him, teaching him to retrieve and back (honor another dog's point). But he pretty much did the rest on his own.
One day, a few years later, in eastern Montana, just south of the Missouri River on the Indian Reservation, Bo became top dog. Rocket was getting up in years and his range shrank. He was like a companion dog, more or less. Bo had good range on him and he replaced Rocket on the card. Ruby was the "eyes and ears of the fleet" as she flew across the hills in front and to the sides. On a day that will never be forgotten, Ruby was gone. (I buried her on a bluff overlooking the Missouri, not far from an ancient Indian council bluff and buffalo jump.) The next morning, I walked outside, unhooked Bo, looked him in the eye and said, "'You're up, Bocephus. Let’s see what you got!" What he had was good stuff, and he did the job. He was ready for the call when it came.
I remember a few things from those early years, things that will always stand out from the many memories of birds flushing, shotguns booming, feathers flying and fine retrieves through mud, swamp, river, creek, prairie grass, wheat and corn. That white body tight and quivering, eyes glassy, jaw moving slightly as he was "eating scent". It was a common sight when he locked up on a pheasant, Hun, quail, chukar, grouse and, occasionally, rabbit!?! I remember the time he learned about porcupines-ouch! Fifteen minutes of pulling quills out of his nose and mouth with a Leatherman tool, disabused him of the notion of ever trying to eat one of those things again! I remember the time we were hunting quail in Arizona, some miles south of Tucson, and Bo crossed a fence following scent. I figured he'd come right back but he stayed across the fence hunting for about 20 minutes as I watched him-working the draws and hills. The six-strand barbed wire fence was substantial and tight, so I didn't cross it but walked alongside it for about a half mile. I called to Bo to get him back and he loped over to me, under the wire and on his way. It was then I noticed a huge sign hanging from the fence -"United States of America"! Old Bo was hunting in Mexico for the last half hour! An international hunting dog-that's what he was, for sure.
Once, in a different part of Arizona, Bo learned all about Cholla cactus-"leaping cactus" the locals call the stuff. If breaks off onto the dog if they even brush up against it-then they bite at it to get it off and the barbed quills get in their mouth.... nasty stuff. Yep, Bo stayed at the vet for about a day recovering from the anesthesia from that little incident. Twice. That Arizona hunting is real close to mystical- lots of birds, wide open land; blue sky so bright is almost hurts. But Bo isn't allowed to hunt at certain elevations anymore. I can't afford the vet bills. When I see Cholla, I keep on trucking.
On his way to becoming an accomplished dog, we've had some really spectacular days. In North Dakota, after a hard rain, we got stuck right on top of the farm road. Now, I'm not saying our wheels were up to the hubs in mud, either. We were on top of the road and all four wheels were turning at the same time and the truck was going ...... sideways! That glop they got up there on the roads turns to snot after a hint of rain and you'd better hope you are on one of the graveled portions of the county roads when it comes time to go anywhere. The gravel is hard to see for a southern boy like me and I kept getting deeper and deeper into the back country on non-graveled roads. Finally, the tires started spinning and I was going nowhere. My friends had a little more weight on the rear wheels and they kept the forward momentum on their truck just enough to get to a portion of the road that had gravel. They didn't stop or wave or do anything-they just kept on moving until they were a dot on the horizon..... gone. My phone rang after about fifteen minutes of trying to figure out this mess and my buddies said they'd call a local friend and get him to come get me. "Hang tight and we'll see you tonight at the house." No one was coming to get me, I figured. They don't have special trucks up there; they just know enough to stay off the really back roads after a rain-at least for a few hours until the wind dries it out. So, I kicked back and pondered this situation..•... I walked along the road for a while and about fell down. So I moved over into the ditch where walking through the grass was much better and smoother and the dirt was hard...... Wait a minute... I ran to the truck, popped it into Drive and let her spin; right off the road and into the ditch. Yep, that was the secret! After walking the ditch all the way to the next house to make sure there were no culverts, I put it in 4-wheel drive and drove easily to the next section of gravel! Then I really started looking around and noticed all the local boys driving across the cut wheat fields to get where they needed to go. How about that? The things you learn when you open your eyes. Now I had the rest of the day to myself.
I figured I'd go see a friend that lived about an hour away, Gerry Noll. We've been hunting Gerry's ditch through his cornfield so long we watched his boy, Danny, grow up, get married and have kids. It started a lot of years ago. One hot, dry October day, we were driving the back roads looking for a likely place to put out and bust up a few pheasant. We noticed a perfect spot-a wide ditch about a mile long with a stream between two cornfields! Perfect. And right across the road, two fellows were up on an old house repairing the roof. We pulled in to ask permission to hunt and I shouted up to them. They didn't say anything until the bigger guy started coming down the ladder. Like most farmers up there, he didn't make a lot of small talk. "Yeah, you can hunt it. But after you're done, we will be in that building over there and you'd better show up to tell us how it went! Hey, you guys drive all the way from Georgia just to hunt these ditch-chickens? (Yep.) Anybody that crazy deserves a chance at the creek-that's for sure!" Gerry turned back around and headed up that ladder. "You'd better show up, Georgia-boy", he yelled over his shoulder. We hunted, had a great time, and we showed up to tell him all about it. A friendship developed over the years and we always made it a point to hunt the Noll ditch, even in bad years. It's not about hunting the ditch for pheasant any more.
So, Bo and I headed over to hunt the Noll ditch and catch up on what was happening in the county over the last year. We rolled in to the farm, but it was empty of folks-harvesting probably-so we drove across the road to the round bales piled up along the creek and parked. I let Bo out all by himself-just the knothead and me this time. He ducked the barbed wire and flew down to the little creek-tail snapping and nose to the ground as I straddled the wire and worked my way over the fence. By the time I made it across, loaded my gun and found the whistle, I heard the "beep, beep, beep" of Bo's collar on point. He was only 20 yards away locked down tight on a clump of sage near some weeds and under a few scraggly trees in a bend in the creek. His signature stance-low, head stretched out, tail up to about the 10 o'clock position", and perfectly immobile,was a thing of beauty to me. As I moved to him, I checked my old A.H. Fox 20 ga. was loaded and safe, my hat was down to shade my eyes from the sun and I was alone with no people, cows or other dogs around. I moved around a little to the side to get a better shooting lane and to keep from walking directly up from behind him, letting him know where I was. As I got within 10 yards, the bush exploded with feathers, squawking and beating wings! Two big, old, rooster pheasant boiled out of that bush and headed airborne to the cornfield. It's amazing what the mind can do-I remember the color of their red and white heads, the blue of the sky, the white of Bo's tail, the light brown of the sandy grass, the smell of the sage and the gurgle of the creek! The Fox fit my shoulder perfectly as I dropped the bird on the right-dead! Bo was on it immediately. He picked up the big bird and trotted over to put it in my hand- “Here, Big Daddy, nice shooting!" he would say, and we would be off again. The thousand times that event took place over the years never seemed to change, yet every time was fresh and exciting-dog and man harvesting game. A little farther down, we managed to trap another one up against the creek in some tall grass and farther along, towards the end of the Noll land, we bagged our third and final bird of the day. It was a long and satisfying walk back to the truck. Three roosters in the game bag can be a load, but this load was an easy carry. I called Bo in and we walked together across land we just hunted, chatting about the day and the flushes and the wily ones that got away. I made it to the barn just as Gerry and Danny were getting in from cutting corn and we lived it all over again as I told them about the best day I'd ever had in North Dakota. Not many men are as lucky to be able to hunt where and when they want to. And no one is as lucky as I am to have a long-tailed, shaggy-eared, spotted, school -flunking, curly-tailed setter to hunt over, either. The adventures of "The Bocephus" bring a smile to my lips every time; even as I mutter, "That scrawny, knothead's done it again ... !"
Even after I was told Bo wouldn't make it as a competition field trial dog, I had hopes for him in NSTRA The National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association (NSTRA) is a group of bird dog enthusiasts that compete with their dogs. Even though it isn't "real" bird hunting, it's a lot of fun as you go head to head against another dog and handler in an effort to find and bag birds! It started as an extension of the bird hunting season to allow folks to have an outlet to work their dogs in conditions similar to hunting, but rapidly grew into a venue of its own. Anytime serious athletes (dogs and/or owners) compete, the intent always morphs into something else. I was successful with my other dogs and they had the Championship label attached to their lineage now. I was hoping Bo would be my next NSTRA Champion, but a trainer let me know he probably was more suited to the hunt. Of course, professional and well reasoned advice is typically ignored when that advice is contrary to what you want to hear. I convinced myself "the experts", while normally spot on, missed the mark on their assessment of Bo. I figured he had what it took and forged (blindly, my wife loves to point out) ahead with my plans to compete. To be successful in the NSTRA game (and "game" it is), a dog must hunt with style and intensity, point like a statue, retrieve quickly and consistently to your hand, back other dogs (honor the other dog's point) with style and obey commands. I thought Bo had the makings of a great dog even though many thought otherwise. One lesson, hard learned, about bird dogs and bird dog men is that you never talk bad about another man's dog within earshot of the owner. Even though I never heard anything, I'm pretty sure there were a lot of behind the hand
comments about Bocephus. He sure wasn't that classic, big-headed setter you see in the Orvis Catalog- he was kind of scrawny and, when he pointed, his tail was not straight up- kind of curvy at the end. But the little guy was intense! When he locked up on a bird, he went rock hard in a flash. That was a thing of beauty to me. Many times over the years a judge would comment, "I love to judge Bo, Randy, but I hate to score him!" Meaning they had to cut points because of his low tail or low stance. I kept telling the judge, "That's the way he hit the birds- he froze- solid on scent, Judge! If it was me, boss, I wouldn't penalize him for his incredible intensity!" But they marked him down anyway. It was obvious he wasn't going to win any beauty contests. Bo and I came up with a plan- the only way to win would be to find more birds than anyone else. Bo could do that. "A bird finding machine, Randy, that's what he is!" I heard a lot while leaning on the truck bed at field trials laughing and scratching.
It took a year or two, but Bo earned his NSTRA Championship. He flunked out of puppy school, but I guess there was something in the scrawny setter that had to come out- something that he had to prove. He would whine and whimper while he was on the lead waiting for the birds to be hidden in the trial field. He knew what was coming and knew it was another chance to show me that he was ready for the call. Another chance to show me he had what it took to be the top dog in my kennels. At the line, he would be calm and cool, but when the judge yelled, "Turn 'em loose!", he became that "bird finding machine" on autopilot, following that nose, going full blast across the field, checking any cover and scenting the ATV the bird planter rode to hide the birds to follow that trail to the hidden birds. He became a different dog, a high-powered trial dog. I wasn't his master at all on the trial field. I was a co-worker, a partner; and I'd better not let him down. I remember, one day, I shot at a bird and missed after the flush. Bo had to chase it down and catch it to complete the retrieve. He ran two hundred yards chasing that quail, but he caught it and brought it back to my waiting hand. "Nice shooting, Knothead!" his eyes would say. And off he would go, looking for that next bird, leaving a somewhat chastened handler in his wake.
One day, in one of the many National trials we entered, he was advancing steadily through the days-making the cut every time they had one (only half the dogs would advance after every run). He would find that one, last bird every time he ran and advance on points. This year, we were competing close to home, so after the first day, I drove home to spend the night in my own bed and to let Bo spend the night in familiar surroundings, as well. We have some "yard dogs" around the farm, a couple of, “mostly Labs" that have the run of the place. Somehow, one of the yard dogs, a big male Lab name Yellar, and Bo, got mixed up together out in the barn. Typically, I keep these two dominant males apart. I don't know how it started, but when I got out there one of Yellar' s ears was bloody and Bo' s right front leg was swollen and tender! I was hoping the nex1: day he would be better, so I cleaned the wound, gave him some antibiotics and pain medication and put him up for the night. The next day, his leg was swollen and he was limping around the pen. I loaded him up with the intentions of honoring my competitor with at least an explanation of why I had to pull Bo out of the competition. We drove to the trial grounds and got there about thirty minutes before the start of my scheduled brace. I was explaining to my opponent about Bo, when the Field Marshal walked up and said there was no one to fill my slot. Since we were running this trial with the "beat your bracemate" advancement rules, if Bo pulled, my opponent would advance without even running. I told him I figured he'd have to beat my dog, hurt or not, if he was going to advance to the third and final day- the Elite 8. I pulled Bo out of the box and led him to the line. He was limping a little, but he was game. I was hoping he'd have it in him to at least find a bird or two so we could leave with our head's up. Also, I figured watch him closely to make sure he didn't hurt himself any more. When the judge ordered us to turn the dogs loose, Bo took off like a shot across the field and nailed a bird about 50 yards out. It must have been my imagination, but the campaigner looked taller, straighter and even more intense as I walked by him to flush the bird and shoot it for the retrieve. He dropped it in my hand and took off again across the field looking for more scent. At the end of 28 minutes of this, jumping grass thickets and rows of sorghum and pushing into briars and around pines, Bo was beginning to limp. He had three birds on his card and had the desire, but his leg rarely touched the ground anymore- he ran along mostly on three. The judge wanted me to pick him up (meaning: pull him off the field and be disqualified), but there were only 2 minutes left in the brace and I asked if we could just finish it out. That way, my opponent could say he won fairly and completely and advance on merit. The judge, an experienced National Trial Judge, approved my request and we eased through the remaining minutes- enjoying the day and just being there in the big trial. We started with 128 other dogs and were in the Sweet 16. It was a good time to take our loss and head home. The judge called "Time!" and I clipped a lead on Bo and we started back to the start line and the truck. He couldn't put any weight on the leg now, so I picked him up and threw him over my shoulder for the last hundred yards or so. We got to the F-150 and I eased him into his kennel, checked his foot (swollen and tender but otherwise in pretty good shape), gave him some food and water and some encouraging words and cranked up the truck to head on home. I was driving past the scorer's table waving goodbye to the remaining handlers, when Rick, a good friend and fellow trainer, yelled that I'd better come over to sign my scorecard to make it official. I stopped the truck and jumped out to complete this formality and witnessed a commotion at the scoring table. Evidently, the three-legged Bo managed to beat his bracemate by the slimmest of margins- 1/2 of a point out of 600+ points scored! Bo made the cut on three legs! What a tremendous testimony to his drive, endurance and class..... the old knothead was in the Final 8 and made it to the third day in yet another field trial!
The BIG Trial for Bo
In March of 2001, I received an invitation to enter Bo in the Quail Unlimited National Championship in Bronwood, GA. He was a little over 2 years old and we were at the end of the hunting season. We'd been all over the country, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska, hunting anything and everything that flew and could be pointed. In addition, Bo had been field trialing some, on and off- when we could get time on the weekend. The entry fee was pretty stiff, but this one was close to home and they had some great prizes to the winners. I figured Bo could run with any dog on a good day, so we entered the trial. The "beat your bracemate" format meant you would only need to outscore the dog/handler you were running against in your 30 minute brace in order to advance to the next round. This meant after every round half the field advanced, or didn't, and it only took a few days to cut the field down to one dog- from well over a hundred.
Thankfully, Bo wasn't intimidated by the level of competition at the event, because I certainly was! I met handlers and dogs that were only words on paper up until then. These were "the big boys" - professionals in every sense of the word. There were dogs with ten and twenty Championships and handlers that did nothing but travel the country to enter these dogs in major field trials. They had motor homes dragging all stainless steel dog trailers with All Terrain Vehicles loaded on top! And, they all knew each other. Conversations typically made reference to the "that Champion of Champions Trial" or "the Quail Invitational Trial", or just "Amo" (where the biggest trials were held in Amo, IN). Not only was I an outsider to the conversation, but had no idea what in the world these guys were talking about! "Bo, we are in a heap of trouble here, boy! I'm pretty sure we bit off more than we can chew!" I'd mutter. Bo just smirked and curled up to get some rest.
I remember the very first brace we ran in that major trial- on a huge, flat, square field. The gallery, as the on-lookers were called, could see everything and there were plenty of comments, both complimentary and not. A field trialer's nightmare was to really mess up in front of the gallery- maybe miss the bird on the rise, or have the dog run right over the bird without pointing. The hoots and catcalls would travel for what seemed miles as the peanut gallery would get their licks in while they could. And the better you were known, the worse the abuse. Of course, some of it was meant in jest. It was acknowledged as a time to get even between the "big boys" and it seemed the bird planter, as the guy who put the quail in the field was called, would always put one somewhere right in front of the gallery. Bo and Ihad an early brace and there was still a chill in the air. It was cool, but humid, and that was good for the dogs ability to scent the birds.. Bo was likely to strike scent a fair ways off from the bird, I realized, and that meant we should be OK in finding birds. The problem here was this "beat your bracemate" format meant our competition had the same advantages. It simply boiled down to outscoring the other dog over the next thirty minutes. We were nervous, waiting in the little area called the "blind", while the bird planter set out five more birds after the previous brace finished. I don't remember my bracemate, but I do remember stroking Bo's head and making small talk about the weather and scenting and how the opponent's dog looked real tough and "I hope you guys will take it easy on this old country dog!" Itwas the usual talk, trying to appear cool, calm and unaffected by the situation. An unknown, I really had an advantage because they didn't know me or my dog. It was assumed we were one of the local meat dogs that entered just because we wanted to get out of the house. It was also assumed we would be eliminated in the first round. To be sure, I wasn't certain that assumption wasn't correct. I really did feel out of my league- although I had perfect confidence in Bo.
After the birds were hidden, we were called out ("Bring 'em out!") and went to the start line with dogs pulling in eagerness and judges waiting. We stood apart at the line waiting for the start and the head judge called down from his horse, "Everyone ready? Turn 'em loose!" I slipped Bo's lead and he took off like a shot- full stride, it seemed, in three or four steps! He veered to the left, while the other dog went right. That was good; I didn't want the other dog trying to footrace Bo around the field. I took two or three steps in to the field to follow him, loading my gun and watching his progress at the same time. Suddenly, he spun around and locked up in classic Bo fashion; body twisted, tail at the 10 o’clock position, legs spread to support himself and head absolutely still. He went from what seemed a hundred miles an hour to zero in the blink of an eye! We were only 10 seconds into this thing and Bo was already on a bird! I yelled "Point!" as the adrenaline surged, and I walked quickly to his front, checking the position of the judge, gallery and other handler and dog. I consciously noted the direction of the breeze, realizing the bird would be upwind of the dog's nose, and I headed for that spot. I was about 20 feet from Bo when the ground moved and a whir of wings came up from a clump of grass and headed out away from us. I shouldered my gun and pulled the trigger while watching the bird. It kept flying! I shot again, but now the bird was in full fight and a long ways off. I missed! The first bird on the first day of the biggest trial I've ever been in and I missed the bird! I shook my head as the gallery crowed and watched Bo chase that bird all the way across the field- maybe a half mile. The rules don't say you must kill the bird- only that the dog must retrieve the bird. Bo chased that bird down, found it, gently picked it up and ran back to me with an unhurt bird in his mouth. He put it in my hand with a disgusted look and took off again. All I could do was act calm and remark to the judge what a good retrieve that was and he laughed a little as took the bird out of my hand. "Amazing how these little birds can fly with all that lead shot in them, isn't it?” he remarked grinning. I did notice the gallery was very complimentary of Bo and his retrieve, though. “Maybewe can salvage this." I thought, as I watched Bo cover the field. The rest of the brace flashed by; we managed to have three birds to our opponent's two and we beat him on points. We advanced and he went home. Only half the dogs returned the next day. Win or go home is brutal and fair. I knew every time we took to the field we could be heading home in thirty minutes. To advance we would need to win twice this day.
The next brace was in a different field with lots of trees and cut corn, lots of little ins and outs and hills. It was a lot like the kind of hunting we’d been doing all year. I felt very comfortable from the time I left the line. One thing a dog must demonstrate to win a major trial is the ability to "back" or honor another dog's point. He does that by pointing himself at the other dog. In bird hunting, this is a very useful trait since occasionally the pointing dog will be out of sight in bush or swamp, etc. His hunting mate may see him and will "back" him. Now, the hunter may see the --backing" dog and finally find the pointing dog and the birds. I never did work Bo a lot on backing, but during the second run an opportunity presented itself and I called Bo in so he could see the pointing dog and back him. He flew around the corner, responding to my whistle, saw the other dog and skidded to a stop! It wasn't fancy or even elegant. It was a back- pure and simple- and it satisfied the requirement. In the unlikely event we made it to the finals, the judges would be checking the scores to make sure Bo had demonstrated at least one back during the trial. We were tied at two birds apiece and both of us had a back, also. My opponent was a good friend and professional trainer with a great dog. But, here we were, tied up with fifteen more minutes to find another bird in the field. We worked along the edges of the field, hoping to catch a bird either heading for the shade of the trees, or a bird walking back onto the field. As we moved around the back of the field, alongside a row of pine trees, Bo was in full flight along the mowed lane that was the boundary of the field. If he was standing in the mowed lane when he pointed a bird, he would be considered "out of bounds" and the find would not count, even if the bird was "in bounds". I whistled a command to turn and he immediately jerked left back into a clump of tall grass that was in bounds. As I watched, he never came out the other side! "Point" yelled the judge from his vantage point on top of his horse. Adrenaline shot through me as I checked the area for safety and eased into the clump of tall grass looking for Bo. There he was-frozen. His eyes were glazed and his breathing was fast! Intense! I kicked the grass in front of him and a big, fat quail shot up and headed out to the pines for safety. The gun was on my shoulder and fired before I remembered doing it and the bird crumpled dead to the ground. As soon as I shot, Bo released from the point and, when the bird hit the ground, he was only five yards away. He snatched up the bird and ran back to put it in my hand. Three birds on the card now, with a back, too. Bo had done it one more time and we advanced to the third day. The dog was on a roll, the shooting was better, and the "luck factor" was most definitely in our favor. Every trialer knows ability and good nose and perfect training can only go so far. Eventually, choices have to be made, "Do I turn right or left, turn back or head on?' I always figured, for field trialing, about 60% was the dog, 25% was the handler and 15% was blind luck. This weekend, this day, this trial we were firing on all cylinders. Bo was on fire, my shooting was perfect, we were working as a team and every decision we made paid off.
By the second run on the final day, only four dogs were left. Nervously, we endured another drawing to determine the order of the last two braces- the highest scoring dog would win. Bo and I drew the second brace, so we would run in the third and fourth slots. We were drawn against a dog that was incredibly talented. He was a German Shorthair Pointer, a mature male, and these were his home grounds. It was a tough draw, but I knew we would have a small advantage. Our opponent did not like briars. This eighty acre field was mostly broomsage grass, but there were some really nice areas in the interior of the field that were sprinkled with a low growing briar. On the other hand, he was fast, smart and very knowledgeable about the fields. The first brace with two very powerful English Setters took off for one hour in the double sized field. For the finals, the field size was doubled and twice the number of birds was hidden. After running five previous times, this last brace, for the championship, was a test of endurance for the dogs, as well. These two hit the field as if they had been resting all day! The level of competition in a national trial is on a plane far above the local trial- all the dogs (and most handlers) are polished professionals by the time they get to a "'big one". The first brace dogs covered every square inch of the field with speed and class. Bo and I couldn't watch. We went behind some cars and sat down and pondered how in the world we managed to get to the finals. I came to the conclusion that sometimes men are successful in spite of themselves, rather than because of anything they did. Bo wasn't talking. Every shot increased my concern. At the completion of the two braces, after all four dogs had run, it was the final scores that counted. Bo and I were running not only against our bracemate, but against the two dogs on the field, as well. The tension in the gallery was high. Men and women talked in low voices and even the wives and friends of the competitors on the field were reserved in their excitement. It reminded me a little of a funeral!
The weather was beautiful. It was about forty degrees with a little breeze from the south and puffy clouds and bright blue sky. The broom sage, a tall, brown grass the original settlers used to tie in bunches and sweep out the cabins, was moving with the breeze. One of the setters in the first brace swung by the gallery and, within the blink of an eye, froze on point- the breeze ruffling the long hair on his vertical tail. He was a beautiful dog and I admired him, as his handler flushed the bird and shot. The dog's retrieve was equally flawless- right to hand with speed and class. "We are in over our heads, Bo!" I muttered. Bo still wasn't talking.
The first brace ended after an hour. One dog found and scored four birds and also was scored for a back. The other found four birds, but was not scored with a back. Out of ten birds hidden in the field, only eight were found. According to the rules, another ten birds were put out, regardless. That was good for us, but we still had to find the birds and, then, beat our bracemate. We took to the blind like we'd been doing this all our lives. A little "devil may care" saunter was thrown in there for good measure. I gave a wink to my friends wishing me good luck- as if to say "No luck needed today, my friends. This one's in the bag!" Inside, it was a different story. The fact that I kept checking my pockets to make sure I had shells, whistle, shotgun and dog seemed to be lost on everyone but Bo. When we sat down in the blind, he sat quietly by my knee and put his head on my leg and looked right at me. "Calm down, boss. All you need to do is shoot them; I’ll do the rest!" My bracemate and his dog sat a few feet away. While this was the handler's first final, his dog had been here many times. So, I asked him to at least leave one bird for me and my broke down dog and wished him "Good Luck". The Head Judge yelled, "Bring 'em out!" and we both left the blind for the start line. I was on autopilot but Bo was fired up. He pulled and jumped and twisted as I walked to the line. I stared hard at the field, looking for movement; anything to gain an advantage at the last second. The breeze was about ten mph from the left so I lined up to the left. When we released the dogs, any bird upwind of Bo would send scent right to him first. I learned a long time ago to take care of the little things I could control- lining up was one of them. We stood at the line, held our dogs by the collar, and waited for word to start. The judges were astride their horses behind us and I could hear them discussing which dog they would ride behind and score. I heard Jimmy, a National Judge and the Head Judge, say he would take the setter (Bo) while the other judge, equally qualified, would take the shorthair. They rode up behind us and Jimmy asked, "Handlers ready?" We nodded and he yelled, "Turn 'em loose!” We both released our dogs and off they went.
The shorthair sprinted out front and stayed in a straight line with Bo only a few feet behind him. After about twenty yards of that, I whistled and Bo cut to the right and headed back to me. Suddenly, the shorthair spun around locked up like a statue! "Point!" the handler yelled; "You got it!" the judge answered. As the other handler walked to his dog, I had a choice. Should I leave the scene and try to find another bird while he was tied down with his find, or should I bring Bo in for a back and the lesser points associated with that? Bo made the decision for me when he looked to his right, saw the other dog on point, and stopped to a point himself. "Back" I yelled and walked over to Bo to take his collar and hold him while the other handler flushed and shot his bird for the retrieve. Bo looked good. I could tell he would listen to me today, and that was a good feeling. Some days, you could see wildness in his eyes. "When I saw that, I knew he was going to be a handful But, today, he looked all business. Bo was a bird dog with birds in front of him- an animal in the situation for which he was bred and trained. This was the "perfect storm" - all the hard work, hunting, genetics and situational training came to focus on this day and time. Right here-right now. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's a beautiful thing. The other dog completed his work and the judge told me to turn Bo loose. As I did, I started walking to the left, into the wind and towards the larger part of the field. Bo flew by me, moving back and forth and maximizing the amount of area he covered with his nose. Remembering what an old bird hunter told me, "Son, a bird dog is nothing more than a life support system for his nose!", I tried to put Bo in a position to work upwind as much as I could. On a day like today, he could scent a bird thirty yards away, if he was downwind of it. He was fast; he quickly worked out of sight in the broomsage. I followed his progress by watching the judge on horseback. The judge stopped, raised his arm and shouted "point!". Bo had his first bird, but he was two hundred yards away. I picked up the pace to get to him and not waste any time. By the time I got there, I was out of breath and sweat was running in to my eyes. I was thinking I'd never see the bird if it got up. I scanned the area to make sure the shot would be safe and then I stepped in front of Bo. The bird exploded out to my right and the gun was on my shoulder and the bird dropped. Bo was on it the second it hit the ground and ran it to me, dropped it in my hand and took off to the back corner of the field; one down. Then,I heard a shot from the front of the field- down two to one! I can picture the day like it was yesterday with the blue sky and white puffy clouds. Spring in the south can be really pretty- once you get past the weather extremes and tornadoes. The breeze was blowing from the south and it was still cool and dry with just enough humidity for the dogs. Part of the field was planted in sorghum strips with a few rows of three or four year old planted pines. There was a section along a bottom that held some stunted oaks with large patches of a low growing briar. Along the other end, the field bordered a pine forest. All this was separated from the surrounding land by a plowed strip of land perhaps twelve feet wide. (Bo competed enough to know that when he reached a plowed strip, he would turn and head back into the field. Some dogs never figured that out and the frustration was evident in the handler's voice tying to get them back on the field.) The gallery disappeared. I would think of where Bo had been and where we needed to go next. I would watch the judge, Bo, the other dog, when he was in sight and the other handler's orange when he wasn't, and always head for ground not yet swept by that nose. The hour passed by so quickly, I was sure there was a mistake. After twenty minutes, we had two more birds- three now. I knew we needed at least five on the scorecard to have a chance. We already had the scored back and five finds and a back would beat the first two dogs and, hopefully, our bracemate. I started working Bo around the edges of the field. Typically, the birds will walk away from the commotion in the center of an area. Eventually, they will reach the edge up against the plowed strip. They won't want to expose themselves to hawks, so they will stay in the grass along the edges. We were in the downwind, northwest corner of the field, when I turned into the wind and started along the edge. I whistled Bo along with me, and he fell right into the routine- hunting from the plowed strip back in to the field about thirty yards then back to the strip. We moved along, into the wind, hoping we'd made the right decision. "Point" I yelled! Bo was working back from the strip into the field, when he spun around and froze. Yes! It was working! Bo had a big, fat, male quail pinned down. The flush, shot and retrieve were classic and we were on our way again- four birds on the card. We combed the edge for another half-mile and found another bird in the southwest corner of the huge field. This one was in the last, little piece of grass before he was safe out of bounds. But the bird counted and Bo had five birds! We had ten minutes left and we were a long ways from the start line and gallery. I could see the trucks in the distance and barely see a few folks watching with binoculars, I thought. I knew that every shot would bring the question, "How many has he got now? How about the shorthair-how many for him?" We worked along the short southern boundary and then turned north to the gallery. We only had about five minutes left, now. I was trying to remember, in my concentration, if I’d heard any shots from my bracemate- and I couldn't remember hearing any. I was concentrating so hard on my own handling that I blocked out the other stuff. I asked the judge about it when he was close enough to me, but he couldn't remember either. I knew the trial was over for us, as we walked to the finish and the last few minutes ticked down. We'd done all we could do. My raggedy, old knothead setter- my school dropout- and I had done our best. I chatted with Jimmy, the judge, and relaxed as we covered the last few yards waiting for the seconds to pass. Point! Bo swung around and locked up! He wasn't ten feet from the boundary and two ladies talking about the long drive back to Indiana! "Time" yelled the judge. I was allotted one minute, in this situation, to finish my work and get a score. I quickly moved to Bo. He was twisted like a pretzel just in front of the gallery- wound tighter than a coiled spring and, I swear, he had a grin on his face! This was the "money bird" I knew it, the crowd knew it and my bracemate, who was just coming off the field, knew it. I kicked the clump of grass five feet in front of Bo's nose and out the quail came! He flew straight at the ladies from Indiana- they screamed and dropped to the ground- worried about a load of birdshot. I yelled, "Safety" and let Bo chase the bird through the gallery and into the woods beyond. I let him go, knowing with six birds and a back on the scorecard, we had just won the big one- the 2001 Quail Unlimited National Championship! Bo came back with the bird, unhurt, in his mouth and handed him to me. "We're not quitting yet, are we? There's still daylight left!" he looked at me.
Every dog has his day, they say. Bo had his in Bronwood, Georgia.
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.
Dances with Wolves
As many of you figured out, I've had enough adventures with Bocephus to write a book. At the urging of my wife and my fans (both of them), I faithfully chronicled the knucklehead's most memorable adventures. Of course, they are true and unblemished (and that's why you find them in the "fiction" isle). As any good storyteller knows, while not departing from the truth, adding "color" and "fleshing out" a story is perfectly acceptable. Not only acceptable, but it is absolutely mandatory in my favorite sport of bird hunting, where the sign over the door to my barn reads "Bird hunters, Fishermen and other Liars welcome".
Bo was already ten years old when I turned him out in Wisconsin one fine September morning.......
Bo was already ten years old when I turned him out in Wisconsin one fine September morning.......
Dances with Wolves
Of the many species of grouse, the Ruffed Grouse is king. They are, arguably, the most difficult to even get in a position to shoot. Then, based on my amateur calculations, you have about a half second after the flush to get a load of shot on the way! With their range throughout the country, the best hunting, to my mind, is in Wisconsin. The populations are large, the terrain is flat and the available hunting land is plentiful and managed for grouse. I've been a guest of the Northwoods for close to 15 years, now. Every October, definitely, and every September, if I can, I load up the dogs for the annual trek to match wits with the finest game bird on the planet. A good, experienced grouse dog is a rare thing indeed. When I first began hunting in north central Wisconsin, I had Rocket, a Brittany male, and Ruby, a setter female. Both were dead broke dogs and took to the thick cover and trails of the Chequamegon National Forest with ease. They always checked in, never disappeared, rarely busted up the birds and were a real pleasure to hunt behind. Over the years, those dogs passed on and my follow on dogs were led by Julia’s Bocephus (Bo). Bo was a Southern Quail Dog, bred and trained to "get on out there", locate coveys of quail and hold on them until I got there to flush and shoot. That kind of hunting is diametrically opposed to what a dog needed to do in Wisconsin. If a dog gets 50 yards from the hunter in the Wisconsin grouse woods (considered way too close for a quail dog), he was lost and of no use to a grouse hunter- the cover was simply too thick and the birds too skittish and too quick to flush. Bo managed to do the job, but I was never at ease with him, even though I used a beeper collar to keep track of him and alert me to when he was on point. I used to dread watching him head down into an alder swamp- and sure enough, his beeper would go off and I'd bust through the brush and muck to get to him in time before the bird flushed. Many was the time, I would push my way through alders and briers and hemlock and fir trees for 50-60 yards and finally see Bo standing rock solid on point; only to hear the roar of the grouse wings just yards away and maybe get a glimpse of the gray ghost through the trees. I tried for years to get Bo back into a comfortable grouse range, but I had trouble with the idea of really bearing down on him to get him to alter his basic range. I know some dogs that will adjust automatically- I owned one, my setter, Ruby for one- and they are such a pleasure. But, I have what I have and Bo and I came to a mutual understanding. He would work as close as he could, but I'd have to accept a little more effort on my part in the woods.
The limit to how many grouse can be harvested in one day is very liberal in Wisconsin. On a good year, a sojourn through the woods could get you numerous flushes in front, either side, or sometimes behind you; I counted those flushes but would not shoot. I made it a policy to not shoot at a bird unless it was over my pointed dog. (I know, I'm an idiot, my friends tell me.) Getting a limit was never the goal. Working with my dogs to get that perfect series of point, flush, shot and retrieve was the goal, and when I got several of those events in one day, I was completely satisfied. However, Bo and I did happen to bump into the limit one time.
Not many years ago, when Bo had some age on him and his legs started getting a little heavier, he stayed a lot closer. We were hitting trails we'd never seen before and exploring a little. One trail I remember in particular. A little northeast of Phillips, WI, we discovered a little dashed line on the map and put out to take a look. Bo worked out about thirty yards on either side of the trail that morning. I remember watching him and recalling other times and other trails and CRP fields- daydreaming on the pleasant walk through the forest. (Some days, when the sun is beating down on a warm September day, grouse hunting consists of a pleasant, thoughtful saunter in the forest interrupted, occasionally, by a roaring freight train as a grouse flushes three feet from your ear!) My thoughts were broken by his beeper of to my left. This time I could actually see him when I looked through the alders and pines! He rarely false pointed, so I got excited when I moved quickly off the trail to a spot 10 yards in front of him. Two grouse blew out of the leafy, green grass and headed to Mexico. My old Fox 20 ga. hit my shoulder and I dropped the one to the left and Bo took off after it. Right at that instant, 4 more birds flushed in a roar of wings to my right! I swung, saw the closest gray blur and let loose my second, and last, load of 7 1/2's. The bird flew behind a fir tree just as I shot, but I cocked an ear and was rewarded with a dull thud as I heard the dead bird hit the forest floor. Amazing! Six grouse on one point! Bo brought the first bird back and I sent him for the second one. He located it with no help from me and put it in my hand. What a great start to the day! We managed to bag another single a little further up the old railroad bed. Further on, I heard the noise from heavy machinery as we approached the old logging road where I was parked. I discovered that my little "two track" was being widened by the Forest Service. We popped out of the woods right in front of the biggest bulldozer I've ever seen! Bo and I were both impressed. The driver must have been impressed with us, too, because he cut the engine and climbed down to chat. Wonderful, friendly people are up there in Wisconsin and he was no exception. While we talked, I was in the middle of describing the six bird find Bo had earlier, when I noticed a curious look on his face as he glanced over my shoulder. "You might want to take a look at your dog!" he said and pointed behind me. There was Bo, standing on the dirt berm thrown in to the woods by that monster machine. He was on point! I whispered, "Gotta go" and jogged over to Bo, up the berm and down the other side- right into a flushing bird! Four birds in the bag on one trail. That is a good day! On the way to the truck, perhaps a mile down the newly widened road, I found one more and we had our limit. I hunt alone a lot, but this is one time I really wanted to have a hunting partner so I could gloat a little bit. So, in lieu of that, the Old Knucklehead and I sat in the ferns by the truck and had a little love fest. I told him how good he was and he allowed as to how I was trainable.
Last year, I was introducing some friends to the Northwoods. I would point to a trail head for them to hunt in the morning, tell them where I was going to be, wish them luck and agree to meet for lunch, or, failing that, dinner back at the motel. As luck would have it, the warm fall day started turning dark a little early, and it was almost black by noon. The rain started as a sprinkle and then gradually got worse. We put out on a trail that produced a lot of birds over the years. I was the only one on it and I determined that a little rain wasn't going to interfere with a grouse hunt. I did swap my guns out, though, and the little Fox went back into the case, replaced by a 20-ga. SKB Model 100, I used for weather like this. Bo and I started down the trail with him running ahead to veer off to one side. And that was that. He was gone. I walked and whistled and listened for his beeper for about an hour. The rain was heavy at times but merely a downpour at others. He could have been 20 yards out in the thick growth, on point, and I would not have heard or seen him. Finally, I returned to the truck, dried off, cleaned, dried and oiled and cased the gun, put on some dry clothes and headed out to find my dog. The trail was about 3 miles long-6 miles out and back. It was getting darker now and I was getting a little more concerned about the old boy. The good thing was the temperature was quite warm-in the 60's. If he did have to spend the night in the woods, I was sure he would be able find a dry spot and stay warm.
Walking, whistling, listening and bouncing between anger and concern as I walked down the trail, I rounded a bend as the trail dropped off sharply. I stood for a minute listening and staring down the trail. Suddenly, a big, gray shape stepped out on the trail about 50 yards away. He was looking down the trail, away from me. After a second or two, I recognized him as a Gray Wolf. Instantly, I realized he and I were looking for the same thing. I was looking for my old bird hunting companion. This big, gray boy was looking for dinner, and it downright pissed me off! "Hey" I yelled, "Get out of here!" (Or words to that effect and edited for content.) I expected him to jump and run like the coyotes I'd encountered numerous times out West. His reaction was quite a bit different than I anticipated. That huge, majestic canine slowly turned his head to the right and looked me right in the eye. Then, he slowly turned back to the left and trotted down the center of the trail without so much as backward glance. Even now, I'm impressed with him. He was huge-easily three times the size of my bird dogs, which would make him over 100 pounds! And as he trotted off, in the direction of my lost dog, he more glided that ran. Just then, I came to the realization that I was completely unarmed! It was one of the few times in my life I really did want a gun in my hands-and it was resting, dry and well oiled, in my truck over a mile away. Not thinking all that clearly and remembering the literature I'd read about wolves not bothering humans (yeah, except for the thousands of years of history and stories about wolves devouring little kids and old men ... the big, bad, wolf, and on and on ....) I pressed on down the trail calling and keeping a careful eye behind me. An hour or more later, at the end of the trail, I turned and headed back to the truck. Concern now was for my ability to make it back before dark. I picked up the pace. Head down in the rain and moving along pretty quick, I rounded a bend and there he was. A 35 pound bundle of shaking, wet Setter! I'm not sure who was happier to see the other, but I got down on my knees and hugged that mutt and thanked Jesus for the one more time he answered my prayers. We didn't stay long on that trail in the rain, and I put him on a lead and headed out. He was so tired he, tried to lay down a few times and, finally, I had to pick him up and throw him over my shoulders. We needed to get out of those woods-now! The sun was long gone behind thick clouds and darkness was settling in. The GPS said we had more than a mile of up and down to go. I remembered that song from the '60's-"He ain't heavy, he's my brother...." as I carried him up and down hills, slipping on the up slope with rain dripping down my neck and wet dog scent in my nose. Song or not, don’t believe it, he got heavy as this old man got close to the road. I put him down and we finished side by side-both of us limping and panting hard. Back at the motel, I checked the old campaigner over for cuts, bruises and ticks. It was then I noticed blood on my hands when I ran them over his haunches. I turned him around and gave him a closer inspection. On his right rear leg, just below the tail, was the perfectly round hole of a canine tooth! Bo wasn’t talking, but to this day I think he encountered my big, gray friend, too. I think we were being watched during our little reunion on the trail, in the rain, in the Wisconsin grouse woods.
(The final chapter in this saga will be titled “Coyote Love”. For some reason, although it is the most recent Bo adventure, I’m having the most difficult time finishing it! It will be out soon!)