"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in." — Mark Twain
Hunting season is here, and if you have followed my hazy meandering on these pages very much, you know I often associate with dogs.
Some of the dogs I am seen with are canine in stature, and most of them are splendid individuals. Some of the people I may have associated with have been called dogs occasionally, but that would be an insult to real dogs in general.
While it's true I'm fond of many forms of hunting, for the most part hunting to me needs to include a dog. Now I know some of you will not agree, and that is OK. I've told you many times we don't have to agree on everything. I mean, for all I know some of you have taken to wearing a "man bun" of late, and I haven't said a thing about it.
Homo sapiens has been hunting with dogs since the first wolf-like critter started hanging around that big fire we always talk about. You know, the big fire the humans would sit by at night and charbroil a hunk of meat from some herbivore they had knocked over.
Being no dummy, the dog ancestor figured if he could put up with these smelly human-types, he was about to get on the gravy train. Hunting with these guys was going to make life a lot easier. The dog would help these much slower humans catch things and share in the bounty. This was going to be a lot easier than making a living out there on his own.
After the mutually beneficial pact happened — for now dog and man could hunt much more successfully together — something happened neither party likely anticipated. They somehow formed a special bond, one no other animal on earth would share with man. The man would look at the dog and the dog would look back at him, look into his eyes — sometimes, the man thought, into his soul. No other animal on earth does this.
So this whole man-dog kinship we hunters we hunters enjoy has been going on for thousands of years. Man has bred dogs with different characteristics and come up with an amazing array of canines, many of them hunting dogs.
Most bird hunters would not think of going afield without a dog. You hear a lot of explanations, and much has been written about how you will bring home more birds and be more successful with a good bird dog. Much of that is true, but I think in reality many of us would just rather hunt with a dog.
A canine partner adds a whole new dimension to the hunt. You are watching the dog and living part of the hunt through him. When the dog gets excited, you get excited; you are there to share all of the dog's triumphs and tragedies.
Your canine buddy is there to share all of your highs and lows as well. In the world of upland bird dogs, this is usually related to how well you are shooting any given day. Tales of bird hunting are rife with stories about disgruntled bird dogs reacting to days when their masters could not seem to hit a grouse or a pheasant if they were as big as a low-flying elephant.
A very experienced dog trainer I know once told me about an old war horse of a pointer who worked every day on a shooting preserve in North Carolina. This dog had probably seen it all, and one day with a particularly accuracy challenged group of nimrods, he finally had enough.
After the fourth time this old dog found and pointed a covey of quail for the group, the three hunters walked in on his point, the birds rocketed skyward and they commenced to blaze away. Four times this scene was played out; four times the hunters emptied three semi-auto 12-gauges at the hapless birds. Four times the smoke cleared and not one feather had been cut.
When the roar of the cannon ceased the fourth time and it was obvious no quail had fallen, the old dog just seemed to snap, the trainer said.
The old warrior took off, circled behind the clueless hunters and started barking furiously at them! The trainer said he had never seen this dog (or any other for that manner) behave so. During the ensuing brawl of baying bird dog and the trainer trying to get him to stop, the furious pointer then advanced and grabbed one of the hunters by the pants leg and started shaking him with vigor!
This old boy was mad and he wanted them to know it!
The trainer told me after a lot of laughing, crying, shouting and maybe a few bad words, the old southern gentleman walked away in a huff. The party of hunters wanted to continue with the disgruntled pointer, but the trainer said they would give him a rest and turn to a younger dog that had not seen them shoot that day.
I believe the party finally took a few birds, but the trainer said the ones they collected may have hit a tree limb by accident or maybe died of fright during all the gunfire. He couldn't be sure.
If you have a good hunting partner you enjoy being afield with, you are very lucky.
If you have good dog, a canine hunting buddy you love going to the woods with, you are much blest.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.