Keep dogs long enough, and sooner or later you'll find yourself reflecting, and remembering dogs you've had in the past. As I find myself dealing with my Setter, Austin, being in his twilight, I find my thoughts are more and more filled with memories created because of my relationship with these incredible animals. But I must confess; I feel an enormous guilt when I think of the events from the fantastic years Austin and I been a team, while he's still here. Even as I write this he's curled up, sleeping next to my chair in the living room. And as long as he's unaware that the sun is setting on the awesome time we've shared together I can't bring myself to think of him in the past tense.
I took my first step into the dog world 18 years ago with a pup named Paulo. I rescued Paulo from a shelter, being convinced by the staff that he was a Wirehaired Pointer. As Paulo grew, or in this case, got older, it became apparent that something else had gotten over the kennel fence. Paulo was no pointer, but he was a loving dog, with a nose for woodcock, a soft retrieve, and a gift for making people love him.
A year after Paulo came Maggie. Maggie was an English Springer Spaniel of questionable pedigree. She loved to eat, pushed the other dogs around in camp, had a stubborn streak, and loved to hunt. Though the early years with Maggie were trying at times, I progressed in my dog training skills and soon convinced her that what I wanted her to do was enjoyable. She became a pretty incredible little bird dog.
As I'm not letting myself reflect upon my time with Austin, I am constantly redirecting my thought to the many great day afield I'd had with Maggie. One of my fondest memories is of a day I brought a good friend, Bobby, to observe a day of grouse hunting. Bobby had spent a lot of time around the dogs, both in the house, and at training sessions but had never seen the whole thing put together. So off we went to trudge through some of my most productive Western Mass coverts.
Early in the day we'd moved and shot some Woodcock, but being new to the sport Bobby was missing the action. Sure, he'd seen Maggie working the cover, heard the report of the gun, and seen the results of the shot, but he hadn't seen a bird in the air. As grouse hunters, we've trained ourselves, and can easily spot a woodcock flush even on a foggy day, but for the uninitiated, it ain't easy.
As the day progressed, time running out, I took Bobby to my most productive covert. I ran Maggie along our usual route along the stone wall that edged the field and the cover, down the edge that bordered the farm pond, and then back into the thicker and wetter area below. As we pushed through towards the beaver pond at the far end of the covert Maggie flushed yet again another Woodcock. This time everything came together perfectly. The bird flew through an open, clearly in Bobby's line of sight, trying to make for the other side of the beaver pond. I swung the Gamba 28 gauge smoothly, and the little bird dropped with a small splash into the pond. Maggie, upon seeing the splash broke at full bore to the waters edge where she stopped for but a second to get a visual on the bird before plunging in, and returning to me with our prize. While I'd shot and had many birds retrieved by Maggie before this, the speed, and efficiency she displayed on this bird would have made me happy on any day, but for her to do it with a friend in tow made it all the more better. After a day in the woods, Bobby had finally gotten to see what it was all about, from start to finish.
Maggie could be forgiving too. On another occasion Steve, a Pennsylvanian friend, and I hunted one of my most challenging coverts. Maggie flushed a Woodcock which got up to tree top height and began flying in circles. Steve and I both sent lots of lead at the little bird to no effect, reloaded, and tried again with the same result. When the smoke cleared, we looked at each other speechless for a second before realizing that Maggie was still hupped (sitting, for those who don't speak spaniel) in the place she flushed the bird from, looking at the two of us with a clear look of disdain. I don't know if we laughed because of our shooting, or because of the dogs obvious disappointment, but boy did we laugh. And every year at camp we tell the story again, and laugh some more.