She could barely hop the thorns between the boulders when I first brought her in the field a few months ago on the opener. We went for a short stroll in a low rocky bowl that held snake skins, antler sheds, and a defined line of sage and cheat grass where a fire tore through the range a few years back. I took her out about a 1/4 mile and turned back toward the truck. She would disappear in the cheat and bunch and boulder shoots, perhaps let out a quick squeal if she lost sight of me but mostly she clawed through it all. I stopped and blasted off a few rounds every couple of minutes, her first time hearing the siren of the scattergun. She didn’t even flinch.
I put her back in the truck despite her protests and went out on the steeps and glades. I couldn’t contain my thoughts of her a year from that day – full grown and half-trained leaping from the kennel in the furious ball of furry excitement only a puppy can purvey. I brought back her first taste of the good life or at least my selfish idea of one we would share.
|Love at first sniff.|
She’s now 4 months old and has accompanied me almost every weekend since then. She’s usually running up the hill and spending the rest of the day sleeping in my game bag grunting softly with each loose scree footfall that pitches her into my back. Most people think it’s foolish to bring a pup out that young but I never admitted to not being one. Until today there was no prodding her to “Get the birds” or “Hunt!” I just let her hike around and explore the seemingly aimless rambling among the forsaken desert arena that is chukar hunting.
Today was different. Today things started to click. I might remember this day more than most, which is saying something because I don’t remember most days.
We were hunting a high ridge with a lot of knuckles on top, and steep as hell on either side. I felt birdy at a certain rock pile and she kept pushing past. She stopped and waited for me to satisfy my bird brain before she ran headlong into a covey. They flushed low and tight and I didn’t get a shot off initially because both dogs got in the way. The other dog was my good buddy Coach’s lab Hobi. Hobi is an awesome dude. He skis and mountain bikes all the time and is the sweetest lab I’ve met out of hundreds of sweet labs. He’s ten and this was his first time hunting so needless to say he was more stoked to find a large sagebrush limb than a covey of birds.
I saw a straggler yearling bird land fairly close and before I could make a hunt on it, pup was charging to it. She goes into her set and the bird gets lofty immediately. I lose sight of it and the pup comes running past me and the big old lab with his stick. We sidehill in a hurry to keep up with her and drop lower through some gullies and as she broke again to an arbitrary spot. The bird flew well before she was close and I dropped it.
I shouted my first real instructions to the pup. “Dead bird! Fetch!” We’ve practiced this in the yard for a while now, just never with a dead bird. She ran down and found it at the same time I did. Hobi didn’t seem to care about the bird but he definitely fed off the excitement of the moment.
|Atta boy Hobes!|
We kept hunting the covey and a little while later we stumbled into them and I dropped a bird with my longest shot of the season. It was one I usually wouldn’t take but I had the wind and the birds trajectory in my favor. It was winged and dropped into a scree slot and was hopping and flopping down the hill. I once again yelled “Dead bird, fetch!” and Ava was on it. She chased it down for near a hundred yards, tangled with it for a bit, and finally grappled it to a headlock. Hobi the lab now thought this was a real game of fetch and charged down to steal the bird. Ava pulled out her finest evasive maneuvers and circled her way up the hill.
She managed to shake the old pro and give me the biggest smile I’ve had since Rosie brought me her first chukar, which coincidentally was in a very similar fashion.
|Rick Flair The Dog|
Still beside myself she then led me to the rest of the covey and forced me to trust her young nose for the first time. I blew the shot but I didn’t care.
This was what it’s all about. Things clicking in her brain and mine. I hope I never grow tired of living with bird dogs.