Bird Dog Odyssey I
Red clay crenelated with upthrust ice scrunched underfoot.
Thistles bobbed and broom sedge waved gallantly in the chill northwest wind from the pond.
The punkin-eyed setter and the jug-headed old pointer emptied out and trembled in the early rosy light of a clear January denim sky as the two boys began their first unchaperoned quail hunt together.
The setter, “Jack” was Bill’s. The pointer, “Monk” was a joint project, with fellow feather-fin-and-fur chaser James.
These two throwbacks to 1880 were pledged to a pre-World War II regimen of restricted shooting…at quail, mostly. They were shooters from their earliest days in the woods, beginning with Daisy BB guns and guilty of stubborn destruction of songbirds for too long.
Then, Bill’s Uncle Pat and James’ Dad, Jack opened the secret door of upland bird hunting and that most seductive of all esoterics, the pointing dogs.
Youngsters, whatever else they do, are vulnerable in the area of “secrets”. So, despite the fact James had winged a barn pigeon in flight with a 22 rifle and finished it with a second shot, both young men succumbed to the mystery of the amazing dogs that located bunched up “coveys” of plump Bob Whites with the majesty of an untaken step.
Years later, James, who became an Admiral, confessed his .22 was loaded with rat-shot that scattered like a shotshell when he downed the pigeon. Even so, he was the better shot, always.
These two were never allowed to take the dog for granted. They were guided by their mentors to check the wind and the “glass” as their guides called the barometers on their porches, for threatening “lows”.
Without effort, they just drifted into wood wisdom without realizing it, but about directing and correcting the pointing dogs, they were instructed more by the dogs than by any heavy-handed adult.
So, by the time they set out on that January morning when Jack pointed in the edge of a sedge field, Monk honored with a back, and they each took a cock bird, the two were “boys” in the field no longer. They took two more singles located by Monk and went on toward the Little Mill looking for another bevy.
What morphed these two typically bloodthirsty children into restrained “sportsmen” who chose not to wipe out a covey of quail? It was a sentence Uncle Pat Greer picked up from reading the American Field, words from the great William F. Brown:
“You can have a lot more fun with a live quail than with a dead one…”
So the world took a couple of turns or so, and Bill, who did NOT become an admiral—or much of anything else important —went to work for Bill Brown as a “reporter” for the FIELD.
The pressing theme here is that when a youngster sees and feels the mystery of the pointing dog, and marches to all the myriad nuances of training and presenting a field trial performance, he is never a bloodthirsty killer again.
Field Trialers in the 21st century need to take ownership of this truth and sketch recruitment strategies accordingly.