A Sporting Dog
There’s no better partner
“My life has been one long series of trying to live up to my dog’s opinion of me.”
Any activity that includes a dog takes on a depth and a meaning that is unattainable without such company. One of the joys of an outdoor sporting life is that almost everything you can do can be done better with the accompaniment of at least one canine.
Bird hunting in particular assumes nobility in the presence of a dog. Without one, the hunter is merely securing an outstanding meal at the risk of some embarrassing marksmanship.
The addition of a bird dog, however, transforms the endeavor into the realm of art. The hunter becomes not the central figure but a supporting player, a witness and an assistant, in a dance of nature.
Fish Are Biting
The shallow-water surface bite in the tributaries has started to the south of us, but it’s inconsistent as yet. North of the Bridge, fish are sticking to deeper waters. However, breaking schoolies are showing up all over, and some bigger fish are often underneath the smaller ones. There are still no sizeable bluefish, but nice rockfish are numerous and taking any number of baits. Live lining is still producing well, trolling is getting even bigger fish and chumming has been on the increase as cow nose rays become less of a nuisance. The perch are fat, the spot still here and the crabs are running as hot and heavy as their numbers allow. There have been trout caught off the Choptank Bridge in Cambridge, and I would suppose they are at Hoopers as well. We appear to be surrounded by opportunities. Take advantage before it’s over.
Years ago I had a particularly gifted German shorthair pointer with whom I had been hunting for about seven seasons. Maggie was my constant and loyal companion. In Pendleton, Oregon, we were the guests of a retired farmer who, in his later years, had turned his ranch over to the propagation of wild pheasants, partridge and quail.
The shooting there was rich and varied, but in the final days of our vacation, for a change of pace, I decided to hunt with my dog, alone, on public land. The area I chose had apparently been popular with local hunters as well; after searching for the first hour, I thought it might have been emptied of birds.
Then Maggie picked up a scent. It started at the edge of a vast, just-harvested, wheat-stubble field and, before it was over, covered some two miles of various and rugged terrain.
A crafty and experienced ring-necked pheasant ran, zigzagged, doubled back, sailed silently across roads, legged it through heavy weed cover and marshland and in general pulled every trick in a considerable book of deception. It was an epic 30-minute pursuit.
Never for a moment did that amazing dog falter. At a trot and sometimes a lope, she displayed incredible intelligence as she untied the thorniest and most complicated trail I had ever witnessed. It was all I could do to keep up.
When she finally came to point, her whole body trembled, not from exhaustion, as was mine, but with a fierce intensity and focus. When the bird flushed, I just managed to scratch it down with the second shot though I knew it was coming up and pretty much from where it was coming.
As I placed the handsome old bird in my game pouch, my lungs still heaving and tremendously relieved that I had not failed my dog, I looked about for her approval. But she had already picked up the scent of another pheasant, and I had to rush to catch up. That ring-necked was almost as difficult as the first.
A quarter-century has passed, yet those remain among my finest sporting moments. Maggie passed away peacefully in my arms over 20 years ago, but I still have occasional dreams of being in her company.
Mark Twain said that if there were no dogs in our heaven, he’d rather go to the one with dogs. So would I. I hope that when the time comes, I deserve to be admitted.
P.S. I’ll also never forget the small airport bar in Pendleton where we stopped for a sandwich that evening while Maggie waited in the truck. Upon hearing my story, the owner, also a bird-hunter, not only insisted on her presence in his establishment but also provided my dog with a chair, a sandwich and a small beer of her own. She was the best-behaved patron in the tavern on a night that lasted into the wee hours.