Bird Dog Odyssey III
(Author’s Note: Our two prior installments were presented in “third person” because much of the material was objective and common to at least the two youths, if not, indeed’ general knowledge collected by many in similar circumstances. The remainder of the Odyssey is much more subjective, personal and grist for debate. Therefore, I have chosen to retreat into a comfortable mythic “first person” style. I can DO that since I am doing the composing. And my comfort is extremely important.)
World War II was over, and strange changes had occurred by 1949 in Georgia and in quail hunting.
In the first place, it was widely and wildly rumored that some fools in south Hall County, angry at nocturnal fox hunters releasing more foxes in the area, had trapped several grey fox, infected them with distemper, (omnipresent in those days) and released them, willy-nilly.
Whether or not this was true, there was a steep diminution of foxes in the Piedmont area I knew.
But…and here I had my first intimation of the “Bounties are Bunk” standard of which I have since been a stalwart bearer…the quail were gone, too.
Most of the fox’s prey were enemies of the upland game bird also. It was all out of kilter. Then, there came the fields of crimson clover and the planting of myriad pine trees. Pastures went all the way into the woods, eliminating “edge”. There was no cotton, and very little corn.
Most of the quail we found were close to the barns, outbuildings and houses. And their “crops” held less seed and more insects.
Now, we put the dogs in the trunk and went from site to site, “spot-hunting”. In cold weather, they had time to gnaw the wires and we got warned for not having brake lights.
We moved out of the Hills, toward the coastal plain, and we heard about an organized hunting competition called “field trials”. My mixed group of hunting partners were not interested, but I was.
An early influence was a former big track race car enthusiast and Studebaker dealer named Guy Stancil. He had some young pointers he ran in trials. He introduced me to a bachelor gravel-and-rock hustler named R.J. “Buddy Williamson, who lived on what I called “Plum Nelly Creek” because it was plumb out of my county (Gwinett) and nearly out of Fulton (Atlanta). He had some good hunting area within his reach on Sopalding Drive.
Guy and Buddy began instructions in field trial dogs, and that magical phrase of Bill Brown’s, “You can have more fun with a live quail than you can with a dead one…”
Next, I subscribed to the American Field magazine.
My first field trial was a one course affair, the extensive course followed Snapfinger Creek, in rural area of Dekalb County with at least three identified bevies of wild quail available, and a fair distribution of birds liberated mornings and every half hour.
There was no such thing as “flight conditioning” or habitat acculturation. A heavy fog would have…and occasionally DID…drown the birds. Bugs were foreign to them. But they served the weekend purpose.
Buddy taught me first that the gait of the dog, in addition to being happy and flashy, must at all times be directed to the fore..the front of the
gallery, that is.
“How do you do that?” I asked. I usually followed the dogs because I couldn’t scent game.
“Well…if your dog is bred right and raised right as a puppy…he will just want to stay in front of the horse…He never gets his mouth on a bird otherwise..”
“Naturally,” Buddy said. “you can see much farther from a horse. Not to get too geometric about it, but the line of sight just reaches farther the higher you are…cover more territory…Important with a class pup.”
And then I rode and watched them, and realized I had never owned or hunted a dog that would go so far, so fast, and stay in front of a bunch of horses around a snaky, circuitous route, and then shorten up at command, to vacuum out ten or fifteen acres of “birdfield”.
Buddy’s bitch, Bessie, and Guy’s dog, Ben, reached out of sight, following far edges, then, came when called and cautioned in an entirely different tone of voice, and even a changed tone of whistle, a chortling chirp, as we came to the birdfield.
How many “corrections”, dismountings, tugs on a lead, and firm redirections brought this about? I was to learn. And it took years, not just one field trial moment.
And here, an absolutely new thing in my experience was thrust at me. Even with these tame birds, fluttering teasingly from the briar and matted grass, the dogs stood, with tails higher than I had ever seen before, and allowed the birds to fly away (alighting within sight often) and not moving even when a blank pistol was fired. All my dogs broke at flush and shot, and vied for first retrieve.
I was, all at the same time, shocked, thrilled, amazed and chill-bumped.
There was, of course, the incident of Bill Satterthwaite’s handsome son of Tarhellia’s Lucky Strike casually leaning in to delicately devour a
limp wet specimen from the day before.
“Will that count against Bill’s dog?” I asked.
“It won’t help him any” Guy Stancil sad, grimly.
My brain was fried. I asked: “How do you get a pointer to behave with all this class?”
“I believe the dog has to be bred to WANT to do all this….” Stancil murmered.
“Well,” Buddy cautiously averred, “…Kinda…I guess…”