Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hunting Dogs

As I wrote recently about my hunting partner Jet going into to semi retirement, I am reminded of how we function as a team. I have bird hunted since I was barely double digits and it was soon there after that my dad gave me my first hunting dog, Mugs.

I didn't fully understand why my dad and I went to visit this gentleman at the outskirts of Medford, Or. and all his dogs. It was a chilly gray day and I recall the pungent smell of wet decaying leaves, as we waked the long gravel driveway towards the back of the house where the kennels were. As we approached the back door the owner greeted us stepping down from his back porch. The gentleman was big in stature with a comfortable round belly and a soft deep voice. He had a 2 day beard and a sparkle in his eye with heavy brows. His skin was dark and his hair was a touch gray with bushy sideburns. He wore cacky pants and a plaid Pendleton wool shirt much the same as my dad. His smile came easy as my dad introduced me to him. His name was Mr. Art Smith and we seemed to hit it off. He extended his hand to shake mine and I was a touch shy and honored as I reached to meet his hand with mine. He and my dad conversed as we headed towards the kennels. Art brought out a few of his Black Labrador Retrievers and continued talking with my dad, while I played with the dogs. Whatever was said between Art and my dad I have no recollection of. I was caught in the moment and having a great time on my own. After awhile we said our good-byes and left for home. Art waving to us with a big smile on his face as we backed out his driveway and made our way home.

I asked dad what we were doing there and I recall him being somewhat vague in his reply. Not thinking much of it we went about our way. It was several months later when my dad surprised me with my first dog, a Black Labrador puppy only 9 weeks old. Considering the fact that my brother already had a dog of his own. Oh yes, the competitive sibling rivalry was in overdrive at our home. Being the youngest of 3 and the only girl I had my work cut out for me from the start.

Later that day my dad explained that there were a few conditions I needed to meet to be a responsible dog owner. First, being I had to clean up any messes, second go through obedience training with my pup. Seemed easy enough and I asked dad what to name him? He said I'd have to think of something. So I asked dad what his first dogs name was and he said "Mugs" ----- So if it was good enough for my dad then it was good enough for me, so Mugs he was. He was a stout little guy about 9 weeks old and full of piss and vinegar. A beautiful Black Labrador retriever with strong English bloodlines with a dose of American Field Trial in him. He was a short fellow with a long wavy coat and a short otter tail. I had no idea how much work I was in for, nor the incredible rewards that come from such efforts and close relationships. I soon learned that it was Mr. Smith who was teaching the obedience classes and now the pieces were falling into place. It was indeed Mr. Smith whose kennels Mugs came from.

I was so excited and determined to follow through and be a responsible dog owner. I worked with Mugs every day after school and throughout the summer months on obedience. He and I did well for our first go around. We managed to graduate obedience with flying colors and with guidance from Mr. Smith I began teaching Mugs the basics of retrieving and coming to sit and heel. I was beaming with pride as Mugs was a quick learner and made me look good as a dog trainer. He and I spent 13 years together hunting all types of birds. From Mt.Quail, Doves, Grouse, Pheasant, Snipe, ducks and geese we did it all. He was a Pheasant dog extraordinaire as he wore the hair right off his brows from working the tules. He didn't have far to reach to sniff the trail of an elusive Pheasant. He was a gentleman amongst male dogs and not a fighter. Yet he certainly had his share of other males picking fights with him.

Mugs and I had travelled many a mile together, some easy and some not so. We grew up together quite literally. Through the tough teen years and also when my parents passed. He helped me get through those difficult times, as I still needed to take care of him. It has been said about dogs, that they give us far more than we give in return and I must agree with that. I can not imagine my life without having had Mugs, Teak and now Jet by my side. Even though my heart breaks with each one I've had to put down I find the companionship and rewards well worth the pain. Their loyalty is admirable, their willingness to please is second to none and the love they give unconditional. What fine teachers they have been and continue to be. I am certainly the one whose life has been enriched by their presence. A quote I saw once, "If only I can become the person my dog thinks I am". Have you hugged your dog today?

Top photo: Mugs and I when he was just a year old
Bottom photo: Mugs is almost 9 after a mornings hunt on the Klamath River, OR.

Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt


gary said...

Thats baring the ol heart. Memories will do that. It is interesting how responsibilities will get us through the tough times in life.

Sounds like Mugs had a good enjoyable life. And a long life for a Lab!

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Spoken like a true dog lover! Can't wait to see who the next "lucky dog" will be and what you do with him (or her).

EcoRover said...

Nice blog and great story about Mugs and your other hunting pals. I have a dog mostly for companionship these days (though she is birdy and got right onto blues this year), but grew up in hunting dog culture. Maybe when my legs give out and I can't track elk over the mountain ridges I'll get back to bird hunting more.

Terry Scoville said...

Gary, I owe a lot to my dogs for keeping me on track.

Karen, me too.

Eco, thanks for the kind words. Don't know what I'd do without my four legged friends! Sounds like you'll return to bird hunting. Enjoy the steep climbs while you can!

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