Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Parker Heinlein
Outdoors columnist 

Yipping all the way

 

September 12, 2018



Bird season opened last weekend and I was hesitant to take Jem hunting. Now 12 years old and limping like Chester on Gunsmoke, the old springer looked like a dog that should be retired from the field. I doubted he’d be able to keep up with me, let alone the other dogs, but it was his birthday and there was no leaving him at home.

I should have known better.

He’s always had a big motor, and a hitch in his git-along was little hindrance. I still couldn’t keep up.

While Ace and Ruth worked back and forth through the short grass, Jem took a straight-line approach, quickly getting out of range. I blew the whistle, but it had no effect. He’s been deaf for years, and never paid much attention to the whistle anyway.

So I let him go his way and we went ours.

It’s the approach I usually take when hunting with Jem. It works for us. His path and mine intersect often enough that over the years I’ve shot more birds over him than any of my other dogs.

However, he used to quarter a bit in front of me. Granted, it was a quarter mile one direction and then a quarter mile in the other, but he’d regularly pass close enough that I could cuss him when he was within earshot.

This was something new. Jem was through with that back and forth nonsense, instead hunting like he was on a string. I tried, but couldn’t match his pace, so I kept the other dogs in check and just ignored him.

Then I heard him yip.

Jem’s become much more vocal as he’s aged. When he gets a snoot-full of bird, he lets me know, and sure enough, there on the horizon, were half a dozen sharptail grouse taking wing, Jem in the middle of them.

I told the other dogs not to look, but it was too late. They’d seen the old dog in action, and raced to join him. I got there as quickly as I could, and dropped a late riser. The dogs converged on the fallen bird. Jem picked it up and brought it to me with a “I thought you’d never get here” look on his innocent face.

It was my first bird of the season, and I took a minute to enjoy the wonder of it all and catch my breath. Putting the sharptail in my vest, I turned to praise the dogs, but Jem was already gone, a black and white speck hobbling over the horizon.

Then I heard a yip.

Parker Heinlein is at pman@mtintouch.net

 

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