Last weekend’s pheasant hunt ended abruptly when Snap ran up as I called and noticed a dark red paw with blood dripping from it! Looking closer I could see a serious slice in her right leg just above the ankle. She didn’t seem to be bothered or even notice but I announced to Bob that my day was “over!” He looked ‘n agreed shouldering both unloaded guns as I cradled my young Brit for a half mile walk back to the truck. She tips the scales at just over 30 pounds but about the half way mark I needed a break and thankfully Bob offered to switch. The bleeding had stopped as we got back to the truck but my first aid kit was woefully lacking items to bandage her which made the 2 hour drive home an eternity but that’s a story for another day. What the incident has done is remind me of past 4-legged partners in my life and the tattooed marks of memories left behind.
My first dog almost 4 decades ago was a Golden puppy recommended by a neighbor and friend Rick Olsby. He was already a Golden guy and noticed this litter because of the strong field trial blood lines of a dog named Ready All Ready. This tiny male would grow to be a big tough hard-chargin’ dog. He carried the shortened version Pirate from the registered AKC Pirates’ Gold VI. Training would become the first hurdle new dog owner ya know – what, how and the when of this faze boggled my mind. I settled on a book titled Training Your Retriever by James Lamb Free which was to become my bible. Why that sticks with me I have no idea but it’s there. Thankfully my obedience efforts were successful because most of what that dog would become had to arrive somewhat naturally or maybe magically would be more precise. Those days we had both ducks and lots of pheasants along with Ruffed Grouse about 30 miles north. Pirate broke plenty of late season ice, sat patiently next to me with ice freezing across his back as we waited on the shore of Big Sauk Lake for the black ‘n white rockets to wing through opening paths in the dekes. He was my best huntin’ buddy for 16 years until one morning his back legs couldn’t hold his weight. Without a wine or whimper he struggled toward me for “pets” but it was time to say goodbye. I carried him into the vets’ office stroking his head as he left me. Crying bitterly I carried him to the truck then out to the cabin where he had spent a lot of his life. Next I wrapped him in my hunting coat as a final good bye. The boys made a small wooden cross and together we placed it on his grave. It was hard but the next puppy, as puppies so quickly do filled the void within me but the memories live on.
Another pup came along just a few days after saying goodbye to her predecessor and really put me in the dog house. This little gold female had something very special but my timing was less than ideal. You see Deb was still grieving the one just lost, I think it was Jesse with me ready to move on. It was a delicate next few days to say the least but with apologies the new pup, Maggie again filled a hollow void created yet again. Some say a man gets one really good dog in his lifetime. I’m not sure how true that is but if so this would have been it. Just a few months old this dog was making 200 yard retrieves across a ball field with eagle-like eyes. Her unlimited potential was fun and exciting while it lasted. One weekend at the cabin she bounded ahead of
In her next heat cycle I would breed Kate, Maggie’s mom back to the same sire, Frisbee’s Pilsner
I’ve learned over time that our lives are impacted and shaped by so many things, people, events, background, loves and tragedies. If you are a hunter and own a gun dog I’ll just bet your life has taken on a specific shape because of those same dogs. My spouse recently commented “I wonder what our lives would look like without dogs?” My immediate answer without a moment’s hesitation was “that’s one we’ll never really know will we!” She smiled because you see she knows me well!
With the deep snow dropped on us my season may have been shortened but of course there will be next year and gun dogs, always gun dogs!!