Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Day Our Rabbit Dog Became a Bird Dog

         We have a little viszla with an uncanny nose.  She sifts olfactory information and interprets it much the same way criminologists sift crime scene data to determine an answer.  While the criminologist writes up a lengthy report, Reebok freezes on the spot, leaning her taut red body a bit into the whiffs coming her way, and goes on a hard, bird dog point. 

Her traveling companion is a greyhound/golden retriever mix with an insensitive nose.  Tucker depends entirely on eyesight to zero in on his favorite game, rabbits.  Unfortunately, he’s taught that little red viszla a bad trick over the years, and now she points rabbits if we don’t keep her honest.
While I am not a bird hunter, I’ve cussed Tucker when the little red dog goes on point over a silly rabbit. However, Tucker recently redeemed himself in a most unexpected way. 

About a week after pheasant season opened, I drove home to hear hunters working the walk-in hunting area near our house.  I thought I recognized our neighbor’s voice, and I smiled to think of him teaching his young sons the intricacies of pheasant hunting.  I heard several shotgun blasts in a row and hoped they had success enough to make those boys want to hunt again.

After the hunters quieted down, Tucker and I headed on our afternoon ramble.  We didn’t see any evidence of hunting success as we wandered down our familiar path.  Too bad, I thought.  Early success makes a difference to a young hunter just as it does to a youngster in a classroom.

On journey’s homeward leg, my big, yellow dog followed his usual habit of ducking into the cedar shelterbelt.  He likes success too and knows the tree row is always good for scaring up a rabbit.  Instead of dashing out after a cottontail, I saw my big, yellow dog emerge, almost sheepishly, retrieving something big and dark. 

What did he get into?  I wondered.  My first thought was that he found a crow carcass from a flock roosting in the cedars.  I commanded him to drop it, which he promptly did.  He acted uncertain about what to do in his new role.

As I walked right up on the dog and object, I recognized a freshly killed pheasant.  Our neighbor or his son had made a good shot and lost the bird when it flew into our windbreak.  My rabbit dog had turned bird dog and knew exactly what to do when he had a bird to deliver.

We finished the trek home, where I called my neighbor to tell him of Tucker’s find. Seeing my neighbor’s son show the pheasant he shot to his grandpa and listening to them tease about who got the tail feathers reminded me of why it is important for hunters to pass on their love of the outdoors.

 It also reminded me that old dogs do learn new tricks.  Tucker keeps nosing back to where he found that bird, hoping that he’ll discover another treasure.  

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