Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Old Girl

Chara sleeps at my feet, the old dog’s body twitching in a dream. The Lord knows she has plenty to dream. Her life has been a full one.
We learned to hunt grouse together, each of us in our own way. I supplied quail and pigeons and made certain to spend plenty of time in the field, but it was hours in the grouse woods that made her a great grouse dog. There is no way I could have taught her to track and point, then relocate as the grouse tried to sneak off.
She learned where the birds were, then searched the cover they preferred and the places they hid. Weather never fazed her, except when it turned hot, but I never liked hot weather either. Often I’d call it quits on a cold rainy day long before she wanted to go home.
Those snotty setter snobs might cringe watching the way Chara followed foot scent, but I learned a long time ago to be patient. Just as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to always get their man, she always found her bird. Bumped birds were rare because somehow she sensed the bird’s temperament and skittish birds she would sometimes point from sixty or even a hundred feet away.
A friend and I were following Chara through some softwoods in a valley that shall remain anonymous. Climbing up on an almost shoulder-high boulder, she pointed upward. The conversation went something like, “Do you suppose there is a bird up there?” with both my friend and I craning our necks to see up into the limbs of a fir tree. We kicked the tree’s trunk, yelled and hollered, and sure enough a grouse flew away, unscathed of course. Chara went right back to hunting with a very smug look on her face.
Chara learned to love duck hunting.
She’s retrieved geese and more than a few ducks. Her love of water seems unfazed by temperature. Often she’s broken ice to lay in the water for no reason other than to get wet. Hunting the alder bottoms for grouse and woodcock during duck season I often loaded with steel shot, knowing Chara would readily retrieve any ducks I lucked into.
Her first real duck hunting excursion confused her. Why were we sitting and waiting with those carved wooden ducks out on the water? She fidgeted and fused, not at all happy. Shortly after first light a pair of mallards flew in like rockets and one fell to the gun. I looked down to say “Fetch”, but my girl was already in the water to retrieve that dead duck. After that one retrieve she sat still as a statue and waited patiently, her eyes ever searching the morning sky.
Dapper at five months.
My mind’s eye can still see her as a puppy pointing what turned out to be a pair of quail in a wildlife management area. It was her first hunt and at only five months of age. One of the quail fell to the gun and Chara instantly pounced on it. What a way to start. Steady to wing and shot would come later and then fade as she got older stubborn.

Last fall she hunted her fourteenth season. A week of gunning had been planned with multiple dogs, but when her turn came up it was just the two of us on a short hunt. Her hind legs are not strong anymore, but those easy hunts gave her the opportunity to point a couple of grouse.
Chara trailing a grouse.
Her last was a wanderer, which she trailed through a raspberry patch, across an alder flat, and up a slope through young maples. She locked up solid at the base of a knoll and I scurried ahead with leaves scrunching under my feet, only to have the bird thunder off as I crested the rise. I’ve replayed that hunt over and over in my head, and I think she has too.

Pointing a grouse in her 14th fall.
We are getting close to bird season again and physically she is exactly the same as last fall, so I’ll plan a few more of those short easy hunts in some of the best cover. I owe her a fifteenth season.

Chara at her finest.