Back in the days when Bobwhite quail were plentiful in Tattnall County, my father gradually changed from a quail hunter to a dog watcher. Specifically, he enjoyed watching good birddogs work. When I first came back to Tattnall County to teach and coach, I always took off the 20th of November to spend the first day of quail season with him and our birddogs. In those days, I had a real Jeep (one generation removed from the WW II versions) that had a “green” style air-conditioner for the Dog Days of August that involved laying the windshield over on the hood and driving 25 miles an hour down shady country roads. Travis and Casey rode in the back, and Barbara occupied the right seat with our birddog, Bo, between us.
Dad and Mother had picked up seven-week-old Bo in Albany, Georgia, on Sunday, July 19, 1966, one day before I flew out of San Francisco for a military tour in Southeast Asia. Bo loved the Jeep and practically adopted it, and he casually mentioned that fact to Louie “Coon” Brazel when he came to borrow it. Louie said Bo explained the Jeep was his, using very precise dog language.
At any rate, when my father’s legs began to fail, I’d drive the jeep around fields to follow the dogs. When they pointed, we’d get out and shoot. Once, late in his life, I un-breached his old double-barrel shotgun to put it in the gun rack after we shot a covey rise and discovered it wasn’t loaded. He was going through the motions, but all he really wanted to do was watch the dogs.
He had a remarkable touch with dogs (and horses). A cousin gave us a big beautiful English pointer named Don in 1975. Don was fast, steady, and gun-shy. When a shotgun fired, he could be found under the Jeep.
For quail hunters, a gun-shy birddog is worthless. We discovered Don’s problem the first morning in the woods, and Dad put him back in the dog box immediately. “We’ll fix that this weekend,” he said.
On Saturday morning we hunted him with Bo, and when they pointed, Dad walked up behind Don and snapped a leash to his collar. With one hand wrapped in the leash, he softly stroked the dog on the neck and shoulders with the other hand.” “Flush ‘um,” he said softly.
I did, and Don nearly snatched him off his feet when the gun fired, but he continued to stroke the dog gently and encourage him. That scene was repeated several times, and, each time, Don grew less apprehensive. Soon, he was standing quietly when quail were flushed and shot, and by lunchtime he had retrieved some downed birds. He went on to become a really good dog.
Dad loved birddogs, and when they weren’t in the jeep, they were often riding shotgun in his old pickup truck. Bo died of old age, but Doc, a young Britt, was killed by a vehicle while crossing the street at my house. That was tough; he was a really good dog at five years old. Dad came to football practice to tell me, and his eyes were misty.
So, my love for birddogs is genetic. Since my father died in 1989, I’ve lost four Brittanys on Hwy. 280. Three were relatively young and showing promise, and the one of the best dogs I’ve ever hunted behind. Danny Boy was five years old, and I never saw a dog outhunt him. In 2001, I went to Montana to hunt Sharp-tail Grouse, Pheasant, and Hungarian Partridge. It was a great trip, and when I started home, the guide made an eye-popping cash offer for Dan, which I refused. Ten days after we returned, he got out of the pen and chased a deer across Hwy. 280 and was killed by a vehicle. The pain was comparable to hitting one’s finger with a blacksmith’s hammer.
It’s hard to say goodbye to dogs like Bo, Doc, or Danny Boy. After losing a companion like that, some people don’t want another dog. It’s understandable.
But there’s a positive side. Right now, I have a ten-week-old chocolate colored Brittany pup named Amos that looks like he was shot in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with freckles. At seven weeks old, he was pointing. He has typical puppy shortcomings; he likes to chew my socks, and last week, he chomped down on one and found my big toe. But he has potential, and a trip back to Montana might re-create some really good Rocky Mountain highs.