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Bill Allen, Memoirs


Bird Dog Odyssey II

Before they parted company, not to hunt together again, Bill and James picked up some hunting habits that were not all bad.

They carried extra socks and fatback in cat head biscuits that would keep well and stick to the ribs, thighs and calves. They carried a slip collar and a short lead in case they needed to “correct” a dog.

On one hunt, Bill took a swipe at the skull of a third party’s pointer bitch running in front of Monk on point. It was in THIS exercise that he learned that a pointer’s occiput is tougher than Circassian walnut gunstocks. His weapon was splintered at the tang by the blow; the bitch did not blink; her owner was excluded from the hunt, and James did some shooting on the way home, allowing Bill two singles.

Consulting with their elders, they learned that a flaring temper has no home in a hunting party. Monk was withdrawn and Bill, disarmed and dogless, spent hours soaking rawhide, punching it with an awl and lacing it around the splintered, separated stock. There was some trimming to do—of rawhide and splinters, but when it dried, the gun was shootable. Barely.

But Bill had to sell a lot of Saturday Evening Post magazines to pay for a new stock. It was NOT Circassian walnut, and had no cheekpiece either.

One of the first things they learned was to never strike a dog with any limbs of one’s own body, bare. Too “personal”. They were reduced to using hunting caps when they were beltless. Both the youths wore overalls with many pockets. Before they went away to college, they both learned that Carhartts turned briars best.

And they were instructed to never assume that because they got all their own correction in the general area of their backsides, they were NOT to direct DOWN on a dog, or strike him on his back. Better correction was achieved by holding the dog up by the collar and..even with a hunting cap or leash…fan UP at the chest.

They never had a dog or a puppy cringe or melt or “go down” on point. The dogs these young men were raised with only crouched when they hit rich scent suddenly or birds flushed in their faces and they crouched and rose. That was where Uncle Pat and Jack were somewhat different…even estranged…from other meat hunters in the area.

They ingrained in the boys, the attitude that quail just tasted better when the dog had something called “class”.

Class was more than standing tall, though. The gait of the dog had to show genuine happiness. Monk got demerits for nosing around on the ground while the setter bitch, Kate was praised for her high-headed, sifting of even the deadest air. It was a sign, the tutors said, that her scenting acuity was “higher on the scale.”

What scale?

Uncle Pat had his own theory about that. He used what he called the “sound cycle” scale to explain it. Today, he might be enthused to use the entire electromagnetic scale.

The human voice, he said, was limited, unless you were dealing with opera singers like Caruso and Madame Galli Curci, or with Al Jolson and Ethel Merman. They had a different, richer scale. More cycles that 6,000 I think he said.

But we can HEAR them.

Then, comes radio, which is in the double digit thousands of cycles, and we need radio sets to decipher the waves. Even higher in cycles, were the short wave broadcasts that Wendell Power got of Hitler and the British Broadcasting Company. Very special, different decoders, called short wave receivers were used to unravel THOSE waves.

He said scent was the same and that man just cannot “smell” the scent of a rabbit or a coon or a possum or a quail…all of which left what he called “beads” and what we know is a sort of effluvium, peculiar to each specie.

Some dogs decipher scent at a lower threshold than other dogs, and do so under different weather conditions and in different cover.

Sensitivity to meager traces of a specific game bird scent also was a mark of elevated “class” the boys learned.

Kate used her olfactory acuity by thrusting her nose into the upwind like a magic wand and locating coveys from as far away as the width of a football field on some days. Monk plodded, his nose close to the cover. He never missed a running single. He could, at times, cut them off, his claim to fame: never flushing a bird.

And, as James went to Annapolis and to the Pacific, and their partnership was sundered, Bill was led to other partners and tutors to delve deeper into these mysteries of “class”.

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ABOUT STRIDEAWAY

Strideaway is an online publication founded in 2008. We are dedicated to promoting the great sport of American pointing dog field trials, in particular American Field sanctioned trials for pointers and setters. Our objective is to present the voices and ideas of experienced trainers, handlers, breeders and other knowledgeable participants and enthusiasts from the past to the present — amateurs and professionals alike. Whether All-Age or Shooting Dog, Horseback or Walking Trials, we place particular emphasis on wild bird field trials and the dogs that compete in them. We present richly illustrated articles and stories, podcast interviews and other types of media on a regular basis with the hope of providing an ever expanding, searchable archive of information relevant to pointing dog field trials.Read article

This website is dedicated to our ever faithful friend and Strideaway contributor, Bill Allen, whose book The Unforgettables and Other True Fables we published in 2010.

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