Luke’s wild chase turned out to be the best memory
When we got to Kenneth, Jim and I were nearly out of breath.Kenneth, on the other hand, was breathless. His dog, Luke, was quivering.”God, you should have been here,” said Kenneth. “I’ve never seen so many pheasants.”Oh, we’d seen the pheasants. Dozens of them. From our vantage point some 150 yards from where we now stood, we’d seen them fly away. Wave after wave. They came out of the field of uncut grain and grass looking like bees swarming from a hive. Jim and I had, in fact, planned to be there. The trouble was … well, the trouble was Luke, who at that moment could harbor no doubt that we both were sure of his parentage, had sprinted off leaving Jim and me far behind.Luke was more pup than dog that fall. It was his second year in the field and exuberance continued to get the best of him. Great instincts. Great talent. Great expectations. He had a hell of nose. And he didn’t break point.
Trouble was, he had no idea what the word “whoa” meant. And Kenneth’s secondhand shock collar was useless being as it had a workable range of perhaps a dozen yards. There was a reason it was such a bargain at that pawnshop, gathering dust on the shelf between the not-too-stained field coats and the stack of old Field & Stream magazines.Tuttle had told us about the big uncut patch of cover. For whatever reason, his brother had let those half-a-dozen acres lie fallow that fall. We saw it and whistled out loud. Anyone could look at it and know that’s where the birds would be.Trouble is, so did Luke. Perhaps he got wind of something. Perhaps he just felt like running hell-bent up the hill. It hardly matters. As soon as Kenneth let Luke out of the truck, he was headed for that patch of grass.Boone, who had his gun out, sprinted up the hill after him. Jim and I, with guns still cased and shells still in the box, could only watch as Luke tore through the cover and bird after bird lifted toward the sky.The birds flew down the draw toward the wooded stream bank, which was a good quarter mile away. Between us and the stream was a fence and tacked on the fence was a black sign with large block orange letters that spelled: N-O H-U-N-T-I-NG.Jim and I trudged up the hill.
“It was amazing,” babbled Boone as we approached. “There were birds everywhere … Hey, I got one.”He reached down by his boots and held up a big rooster – one of those with inch-long spurs and a tail feathers that nearly reached to the ground.”Isn’t this a great bird?”Jim and I looked at each other, then at Boone, then at Luke and then down the hill toward the “no hunting” sign. We just shook our heads, turned and walked away.We got over it, but it made for an awfully quiet ride to the next field, which held, as I recall, three hens. None of us fired a gun the rest of the day.That was seven years ago. In dog years, nearly 50, which is the age I’m fast approaching. It’s funny how wisdom does, in fact, come with age. What I realize now that I didn’t realize then is, in life it’s easy to spoil something special because we’re always seeking perfection.Every dog owner I know wants their dog to perform like an expert. Few do, especially when, like Luke was then, they’re more pup than dog. In the great scheme of things, what Luke did that day was insignificant. A small sin. And small sins should always be forgiven in dogs and children.
Jim, Kenneth and I continue to hunt each fall. We’ve long since lost count of the number of pheasants Luke has pointed for us, but the number is well into the hundreds. Counting quail, the number of birds is probably in the thousands. It took a while to realize that you have to trust a dog to take you where you’d not otherwise go. If he flushes a few wild birds along the way, well, what the hell. Fact is, the story of Luke busting all those birds is a far better memory than if we’d gone up that hill and each shot a limit.We’ve shot limits many times and the truth is those memories have faded, but in my mind’s eye I can see with amazing clarity the day Luke sprinted up that hill. I can see all those birds rising out of that mix of weeds and grain and flying down the draw toward the creek.Luke’s getting old and only has a few seasons left. In a few weeks we’ll gather in Iowa for our annual pheasant hunt. It’s likely we’ll hunt that same hillside. That’s why I’m remembering the day he flushed all those birds. Good field dogs are partners who give us more than we can ever give them. And all memories from the field I now realize are good ones.Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column. He can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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