The Old Dog Is On Fire
She must have heard me talking about a new puppy. Or maybe it was just her day. In any case, the old lady was in rare form, even by her high standards. Our hunt started conventionally enough, but by mid morning it was clear she meant business. Her nose led us from covey to covey. The gentle breeze and fresh snow provided perfect scenting conditions, or maybe she was just tapped into a reserve of super natural powers.
Head tipped slightly toward the sky, she would change course. Having learned the hard way over the past nine seasons, I diligently followed her lead. Minutes would go by as we covered ground. At first I doubted her, then slowly her nose would drop, followed shortly by the eruption of birds. She was scenting birds at an incredible distance and bringing us in like an air traffic controller.
The old dog was not about to ease up when lead met feathers. The first bird careened from the sky, then regained its wings. It skimmed a few feet off a cut wheat field, well below where I stood on a gentle hillside, with the lab in hot pursuit. Just when I began to fear that the bird wouldn’t lose steam after-all, but rather escape with a last burst of energy, the old dog snatched him out of the air. This was just the beginning.
Despite competition from her faster, younger, laser guided, counterpart, she owned the terrain. My buddy and I dropped six birds that day. She retrieved 5 of them. Some she simply got to first. With others, it was her marking and disciplined searching that yielded results. She was like a canine vacuum.
There are moments – retrieves or the tracking a tough running bird – that stand out each season, but on this day it was the body of work that was memorable. The old dog was a machine. It’s why I bird hunt. As my dogs get older it’s also why I’m grateful for each day I am in the field with them. But in the short term, I’d like to think she just wanted to remind me that she has plenty of good days left in her, even if we decide to get another pup before to long.