Her whole body trembles as she stands, staring into the weeds. Sinew and muscle are squeezed rock hard, tremors rippling through her body. She's been there for a while now, flexed and still, nose pointed intently into what seems to be a single, tiny clump of grass.
Her beeper collar has beckoned me since I crossed the fence, but unlike her, I slow down for the barbed wire. "Easy, Miss! Easy!" I whisper under my breath, hoping that I can get there in time. My heart pounds in my ears as I get closer, out of breath and hoping that I can just make it.
50 yards ... 40 ... 30 yards ... "Close enough," I tell myself. "I'm in range now." I repeat my self-affirmation, knowing full well that there's no such thing as a gimme. My hands grip the stock tighter and the barrel gleams in the sunlight as I walk up from her rear quarter. She's pointed away from me at a 45-degree angle, absolutely rock solid. "She has this rooster frozen!" I think to myself. "Good girl, Missy, good GIRL!" I tell her in my best little girl voice. "She's such a GOOD GIRL!"
I pass in front of her, kicking in the weeds, listening to the hypnotic beep of her collar. Then, as quickly as she froze, she's off again. She completely leaves me behind, bounding down the tree line, telling me plainly that there was a pheasant here once, but he ain't here no more. "Stupid dog!" I think to myself, knowing full well that without her, I'd probably go home empty-handed.
And that's how it goes, Saturday after Saturday here in central Nebraska. Missy, my German Shorthaired Pointer, and I load up and head for the farm, searching for the unbelievably elusive Ringneck Pheasant. Missy finds and "points" these roosters, freezing the bird where it sits, (hopefully) long enough for me to get in range and put it in the game bag. Trouble is, Missy ain't that smart. She doesn't care if it's a male rooster, or a hen. Heck, she doesn't care if it's a pheasant or a meadowlark. If she finds a bird, she points it. In fact, more often than not, she points where a bird USED to be.
Like I said, she ain't that smart. Or is she?
For hundreds of years, her ancestors (and other breeds, to be sure--I'm not here to debate the merits of Man's Best Friend.) have been hunting both feather and fur. There are bad hunting dogs out there, but Missy, well, she's flat-out amazing. She has the qualities that make her an excellent bird dog. Six of those qualities are ones that all construction supply company workers ought to learn.
- Don't sit idle. Missy knows that the birds aren't in the truck, or at the house, or by the barn. They're out THERE. Over yonder. Past that. So, let's go! Sure, you two-leggeds can talk a little about how you're going to block the ends and such, but the bottom line is, quit talkin' and get walkin'. After a little planning, get going. And, if you want to get there like Missy, you need to go 100% the whole way. UNDER the barbed wire. OVER the tree deadfall. THROUGH the plum thicket. There's nothing fun about it- but that's where the birds--and the success--are. The "easy" ones are already in someone's freezer (and the sold pile).
- Listen, and do what you're told. Bagging a pheasant isn't a lot different than winning a bid. Find it, go after it, execute your plan, and get it. Make a mistake, though, and watch it fly away. If Missy disappears over the hill and I see roosters flushing wild, she is going to regret the day that Ben Franklin flew his kite. But she learns, too, in particular that she can't get the birds by herself. I know how far she can be out, and I tell her with my voice and a whistle. If she listens, we get a bird. If she doesn't, well, we don't. If we're near a road, she's told to heel--and she does, because she knows to listen, or else. Be aware of what's going on, and perform accordingly.
- Sometimes you have to swallow your pride. Imagine a wide, far-ranging pasture with a creek winding through it. Often, the grass and brush grows up pretty tall along that creek, and the pheasants LOVE the cover while they are lounging. We hunt those spots, and Missy will jump in, run 20 or 30 feet, and then jump back out to walk in the easy stuff. Her nose tells her almost immediately if there's no bird in there, but I am not so blessed, so I make her stay in the rough stuff anyway (I'm the smart one, right?!). She does, and I always feel a pang of guilt when we reach the other side empty-handed. She goes in over and over, knowing that it's for no benefit, because I want her to, and it makes me more content.
- Patience really is a virtue. Roosters don't run in straight lines. They go to and fro, back and forth, here and there. She thinks she's on their path, but then it veers over here, and doubles back. Rush forward too much, and they'll get behind you. Be patient and trust your (her?) instincts. Do things methodically and carefully.
- Be appreciative, and show it. At the end of the day, there are usually a lot of hunters glad that Missy was around, and they're happy to show her their appreciation with some ear scratching (or, if she's really lucky, she might score a bite of beef jerky or a potato chip from one of them). But I think she's thankful, too, and enjoys the end-of-day gathering just as much as we do. She'll hang around the group, going from hunter to hunter, offering a nudge to anyone that will accept.
- Get up early tomorrow. Is hunting repetitive? Maybe. Hard work? Yepper depper. Be committed, and get there first. "Doubles" (one hunter getting two birds in one flurry) come from beating the other guys there. At the end of the day, Missy likes a little help getting into the back of the truck. But the next morning, she explodes out of the crate like a linebacker, ready for another day. We might hunt the same fields we did yesterday, but there's no reason to slow down.