Friday, September 28, 2018

Snaps! The Luckiest Pup Ever!

I found myself back at the truck. It had been a long morning. My plans had fallen through, and I had spontaneously gone grouse hunting. I had forgotten my GPS collars, and though I’ve hunted most of my life without such contraptions, I now find myself a slave to the technology. Without a bell or jingle to his collar, I struggled to keep track of Tic while he struggled to get birds pointed. We saw plenty, but I didn’t get any shooting. Everything was just off.

Negative thoughts filled my mind while the truck bounced down the rough mountain road heading toward home. In spite of everything, I wanted to take a short walk with snaps before calling it quits. I live quite a ways from wild birds, and I wanted to expose him to the mountains for an hour by himself with no expectations. This is my preferred way to get a pup going on wild birds. Short walks in areas where pup has a good chance of seeing something. I knew of a deep cool canyon nearby that has been very kind to me in the early afternoons for many years. There is a small waterhole at the bottom, and the birds seem to use that canyon as a route to water after feeding.

I sighed as I parked, got out of the truck, put on my bird vest, dropped the tailgate and let “turbo” out. Snaps hit the ground like a clown working for the crowd. Jumping around and running everywhere. His enthusiasm Immediately knocked the negativity from my mind. I couldn’t keep the smile away as we worked up the small trail into the aspens. Snaps was romping and stomping about when a falling aspen leaf caught his eye. Without hesitation, he chased it down and pounced attacking that leaf without mercy. I was now laughing, and I am still laughing off and on as I write this.

Snaps' assault on the falling yellow leaves would continue for a short time. Not five minutes into our walk I saw what looked like a ruffed grouse standing out in the open. “Odd,” I thought as Snaps ran by within feet of it and pounced on a leaf. The bird just stayed frozen still. I took pause and looked it over suspiciously. “It cant be a grouse. Snaps just about ran it over, and it didn’t even blink. Maybe it's a stick or something.” I thought. I took a few steps toward it while Snaps threw his leaf up in the air and pounced on it again. It was a grouse. There was no doubt about it. Snaps ran by it again, and the foolish bird still did not move. Again Snaps did not notice it. I whistled, and snaps came back to me. “Find the bird I whispered.” I figured if nothing else he would at least scare it and get excited when it flew away. No matter what I did, the dang breeze kept changing he was always in the wrong spot. Snaps was now working back and forth, looking for a pen raised chukar or pigeon I assume because that is all he has really had his nose on previously. Then the breeze shifted and grabbed my young pup by the nose jerking him into a point. It was more comical than beautiful his head was into the breeze, his eyes intense, and his body sort of bent and twisted. His tail was crooked and up but also back and off the side. The grouse suddenly knew that he had been noticed and started to run but to my surprise Snaps stood. The bird ran several steps before flushing. My gun flew to my shoulder, and I pulled feathers with the first barrel, but it continued. I pulled the trigger again, and with a puff of feathers, it crashed to the ground. Snaps romped and stomped to the fallen bird and then pounced on top of it as if it were one of those evil aspen leaves. I was laughing so hard I could hardly get the word fetch out of my mouth.

“The camera! Dang, it. I wish I had a picture of that point.” I thought. Snaps was on top of the bird

plucking feathers and trying to pick it up. Finally, he moved enough that his body weight was no longer holding the bird to the ground. As he picked it up and started back toward me one of the suicidal bird's wings flipped over the young puppies eyes blinding him. Again I was surprised when he brought it straight to my hand.

I was more excited than I have been since Sunnie pointed her first wild bird. Chills ran through my core as I roughed the pup's ears up yelling, "Good boy! Good boy, Snaps! Good boy!" over and over.

I finally put the bird in my vest, and little Snaps raced around the forest searching for more of those birds that like to stand out in the open. He went on to flush two more. Of course, I did not shoot. He was the luckiest pup on the planet to have that opportunity. He could hunt the rest of his life and never see another wild bird that is that ridiculously stupid.

He is still hunting in spurts, returning periodically to walk at my side.  All of that will come with time and maturity. I am proud of how far he has come in such a short time. In fact, you couldn't get the smile off of my face today.  He is not a bird dog just yet, but he is well on his way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


I could barely distinguish the early morning outline of the Wasatch mountains as I drove toward them. True to myself, I had something unusual playing on the radio. It was an old Sinatra record that I had recently taken an interest in from the '50s. Frank was singing about being heartbroken and feeling lonely in a crowded room full of happy people enjoying themselves. The last line was sung sadly as only Frank can sing it, “Excuse me while I dis-a-ppear.” and the song ends abruptly. This seemed appropriate even if slightly out of context. I was about to disappear into the fall mountains where I am most at home with my favorite sidekick, Tic. I pondered the line over and over in my head, and I even tried to sing it a couple times, only to rediscover that I am still no Frank Sinatra.

It was still before sunrise when I pulled my dusty Tacoma into an old familiar spot, strapped a Tek 2.0 GPS collar on Tic and sang that Sinatra line one more time as we began to disappear into the forest. I enjoy hunting alone even though I know I shouldn’t. Being alone in the wilderness with a good dog is my favorite way to be alone. As my old friend cast out in front of me like he has for so many seasons, I couldn’t help but laugh at him. He was crashing through the cover in a most reckless fashion like he did when he was a pup. I was really enjoying his unbridled enthusiasm when he ran right through a small brood of ruffed grouse. I was no longer amused. He did stop to flush. He had just gotten taken by the moment and who could blame him? It was the first hunt of the year. It's funny how even old men and dogs still get excited about the first hunt of the year.

I released him, and we were on our way. One of the birds he had flushed was perched on a tree limb about fifteen yards in front of me. I stopped and listened as it made that funny little cluck they make. It is somewhere between water dripping in a nearly empty metal tank and a clucking chicken. I started to explain to this bird just how lucky he was but he wouldn't hear of it as he flushed away through the quaking aspens.

My old pal did eventually get it together and start pointing birds, but again and again, the bird would
escape through the trees, but I couldn't see them. I had forgotten just how hard it is to see a flushing grouse before the leaves fall. “This is why I prefer to hunt them later,” I confirmed once again that I totally agree with myself.

Tic and I eventually came to a clearing out on a ridgeline. For some reason, I stopped and turned around to look behind me. What I saw brought a calmness to my heart. “There it is! The magic.” I said out loud as if Tic somehow knew what I was thinking. My eyes found it as I discovered a view behind me that I had almost missed. I could see forever. There were mountains and valleys, all covered with trees, brush, and rock. I could see forever.  A few of the trees had just a hint of orange and red contrasting against the dominant green canopy as a reminder that the seasons are about to change. That magic exists in almost every hunt if you look for it. It is rarely about what is done with the gun. It's more about what happens before after and between what happens with the gun.  It is romantic and beautiful and exists in the breath of the wind as it tickles the treetops. It sparkles in the sunlight as it glances off those fluttering leaves casting shivering shadows on the forest floor. It's in the songs of the birds and the gait of a good dog as he searches for his reason over through on among it all.  It is where you find it, but it can only be seen when the mind slows down enough to feel it, and it's magical. It's the reason I like to disappear and hunt alone with a dog.

I turned away reminding myself that this was only the first day and that it would be hot soon. I felt a smile come to my face as I thought about the possibilities of the season in front of me.

“Did Tic just stop?” I thought just before the point alarm on my GPS went off. Sure enough, he was on birds. I
hustled to get to him as I could hear a bird flush out through the trees. Then it happened. A young ruffed grouse flew straight at me. It was not to be his day. I let a light load of 7 1/2s loose from the A5 Sweet Sixteen I was packing. Feathers flew as the young bird tumbled hitting tree branches on its way to the forest floor. There was another flush at my shot and then another. I lost count. I snapped a shot through the trees at one and missed. Another caught my eye, and I snapped one at him. I wasn’t sure if I hit it or not, but Tic knew and retrieved it to hand. All of this in just a few seconds.

After the moment of excitement, I would have been content to call it a day, but Tic wanted to hunt. He was casting like a young dog just happy to be about his business. I gave him his head and followed in admiration. It didn’t take him long to find the subject of his search. It was a single dusky on the upper edge of some pines. I stood admiring what little I could see of the old dog through the belt of thick Mountain Ash that bordered the pines. Without warning the bird flushed and thundered down the edge of the evergreens. Swinging left, I tracked it with my little sixteen and pulled the trigger just as the barrel caught up to and passed the birds head. The big bird fluttered to the ground before rolling down the steep embankment while its wings thumped against the last breath of life. Tic couldn’t see the bird fall, but old Mr. Reliable raced to toward that familiar sound that meant there was a bird to fetch. It was at least 80 degrees by the time he brought that bird to hand.

I looked down at my partner standing there staring me in the eye. His mouth was full of feathers, but he seemed proud and accomplished. I too was proud, but enough is enough. After all, we have a whole season ahead of us that will be full of days that I set aside for disappearing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Excitement, The Anticipation, And The Puppy

The wait was finally over! I was in a pickup driving north to meet my new puppy. Yes, mine. I felt a little like the little boy in The Biscuit Eater when Mr. Ames gave him the runt of the litter for his very own. If you haven’t seen this 1939 movie show, you should. I was more excited than a middle-aged man should be. It had been a long road. There was a planned litter that was absorbed, a flood, and an exhausting search that occupied my mind for weeks, but finally, of all the available English setter puppies in the world, I had made my choice. After making my decision, I had to wait through three of the longest weeks imaginable for him to get old enough to come home. Finally, he was of age.

The three-hour drive seemingly lasted for days as the truck crept up the freeway like it was in a school zone. The speedometer said 80 MPH, but it felt like 15. Eventually, we ended up in the town of Pocatello, Idaho where we were to intercept a truck that had come from Montana on its way to Boise carrying the cargo that I was waiting for. It took forever to get there, but somehow we were two hours early. UGH!

We had to eat, so we killed a week or two at this Mexican place as a little over an hour passed. Then we walked through the Chubbuck mall for a few minutes. I hate malls. I bought pants. Finally, my phone rang. It was the guy in the truck. He said we were to meet him at Walmart. I just realized my pup came from Walmart, but I digress. It was exciting, and it felt a little like we were meeting the secret underground puppy cartel in a shady parking lot on the bad side of Pocatello. If there is such a thing as the bad side of Pocatello.

The guy in the truck opened the crate to show us the goods. I looked in there carefully. Always inspect the goods. What I saw was four of the tiniest little setter eyes staring back at me. We were to pick up a pup for a friend also. The puppies were so small. I didn't remember them being so little.

Angie was instantly in love. So we piled back in the truck, her with not one but two bundles of energy on her lap. The crate was in the back seat, empty. The drive home went by quickly, and our friend Todd was waiting at the house to pick up his wife's pup. In a few minutes, we were in the house at home with our new puppy that I had named Snaps on the way home.

 I was tired. After all, that day had lasted several weeks. We elected to stay up for a little while and play with the pup. After a time he appeared tired, so we let him outside, put him in his crate for the night and went to bed.

My heavy head hit the pillow, and my bed was more comfortable than ever. I
only had a few hours before I had to get up for work, but they would be good hours. Wrong! Just as my eyes closed, they were opened again by a screaming demon from hell that had apparently broken into the room where we had left our puppy. I rushed in to combat the evil beast before he did something to junior, but there was nothing there but cute little Snaps looking at me quietly with a very sad “let me out?” look in his eyes.

“I am not going to let you out,” I said knowing that I had to stand my ground and I returned to my bed. The silence was so sweet, but no sooner did my head hit the pillow and the demon spawn had risen again in the other room. It was screeching and screaming noises from another dimension that I couldn't remember hearing before. I looked at Angie,” It will only be a few nights. If I remember correctly, Sunnie was only like this for a week or so, and she was way worse than Tic.” I said. She agreed.

By day seven I was convinced I had invited some sort of sleep preventing daemon into our home. Somehow his level of screams and tones had increased in volume and variety. He was actually getting better at preventing us from sleeping. My eyes were bloodshot, and I had dark circles under them. Angie looked beautiful as usual. (I know to avoid digging holes, and she is in the other room cooking our dinner as I write this.)

I did catch 15 minutes of sleep right after work one day only to wake up to Snaps chewing on my slipper. I loved those slippers. In my red-eyed sleep-deprived state, all I could think about was how badly I had wanted this puppy and how excited I was to bring him home. This cute evil being that had taken over the house. Tic was eyeballing me constantly, Sunnie was looking at me as if I had destroyed her home, and Angie was patient after all Snaps was cute.

I was at my wit's end. How could I have wanted to go through this again? Why would anyone go through this, ever?

Then I was sitting on the couch, and I had lost track of where he was. I yelled, "Snaps. here!" He rounded the corner going full speed and tumbled three times. The enthusiasm in his eyes made me laugh as he came to his feet running straight for me. He hit the couch and somehow made it up onto my lap. He dug his puppy soft face into my neck and held still while I could hear him breathe and smell his slightly skunky breath.

I love Snaps.