I’ve spent innumerable hours hunting and fishing over the years, probably a good many more than any well-balanced man should have. My love of outdoor sport has always been more of a passion than a pastime, and I’ve had some great company with which to share it.
Many of the friendships formed along the way with sportsmen and sportswomen have stood the test of multiple decades. But my strongest and fondest memories are of the dogs who were there with me.
Lance the Indefatigable
The first and a most unforgettable pup was our family dog Lance (my favorite TV show at that time was Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers), a mixed-breed collie. Despite, or perhaps because of, his herding lineage, he helped me bring home my first pheasants, squirrels and rabbits as I began to tramp the nearby woods and fields of Pennsylvania during hunting season, toting my mother’s .410 double shotgun.
Lots of spot and white perch are available throughout the mid-Bay, though many of the perch are small. Croaker fishing, in the meantime, has been so-so. Rockfish are becoming more difficult to find, largely because of dead zones and the fact that anglers have already harvested quite a few this summer from their usual haunts. The big question now is whether or not the fall patterns have started up yet.
He also accompanied me on many fishing expeditions to close-by streams and ponds. Our constant sporting companionship lasted from high school into my college years. Of my many memories from that distant period, those that bring back the warmest glow happened in the company of Lance.
Not only did Lance have an incredible nose and rarely lost a track once he winded game, he also made me a blazing-fast shooter. When an animal flushed, I had but a fraction of a second to get my shot in before my dog would be sprinting closely after it.
Lance was also responsible for giving me great endurance. To the intense workouts I got from keeping up with his rapid and endless pace in the rolling hills and fields those many days of my youth, I attribute my resilience today in the field, and even in everyday life. That’s despite my lifelong abhorrence of gyms and exercise.
I learned from Lance never to give up and always to strive until the end of daylight. He was indefatigable and unrelenting, and I loved him for it. I also loved the fact that we never lost any game I hit, no matter how lightly. He always tracked it down, always.
Josh the Savvy
It was some years before another hound made his mark on me. Josh was a big yellow Labrador who belonged to a certain young lady with whom, upon arriving in this area, I shared a lengthy and rather stormy relationship.
When I first made Josh’s acquaintance, he had never seen the hunting field. Instead, he was accustomed to roaming solo his city neighborhood, Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.
Josh was the only dog I’ve ever known who would invariably cross a streetcorner and always consult the traffic light before he stepped out. Though dogs are red-green colorblind, he had apparently figured out that the top light always stopped the moving vehicles.
At four years old, he was intelligent and so mannerly that there were many stores and people throughout his neighborhood that welcomed him with treats during his travels.
Introducing him to the heritage of his breed, I took Josh to overgrown suburban fields and tossed retrieving dummies for him to chase. His first attempts were hesitant as he searched for the sidewalk that would lead him back into the brush. But he soon overcame that handicap. Within just a few weeks, Josh was ready for his first experience in the hunting field.
On the opening day of duck season in Maryland, a buddy and I had managed to secure a blind site overlooking a lovely marsh lagoon in Dorchester County off the Honga River. As we crept into our hide in the dark pre-morning hours, the mutterings of a large flock of mallards became audible nearby.
At sunup (and legal shooting time), the ducks, perhaps alerted by other hunters entering the area, launched into the air and flew directly over the top of us. With some lucky shooting, I got two with my double gun. They splashed nearby.
With never a second’s hesitation, Josh launched into the water for the first, brought it to my hand — then charged back, tracked down the other duck on the far side of the inlet and delivered that one as well.
Josh had always been a handsome and pleasant dog, but in that instant he seemed to grow taller. His posture straightened, his chest filled out and his attitude — which had been at times tentative — became more assured and dignified. That magical transformation never left him, and in our subsequent days hunting together he blossomed and I basked in his reflection.
When his mistress finally left me for another (and opportunity on the West Coast: She was a film editor), I was heartsick at the loss of them both. Today, I don’t recall with any great detail the broken relationship. I still remember Josh and our days in the field.