5:00am 7:00am 8:00am
1 Hour Texas Show
5:00am 6:00am 1:00pm 2:00pm 6:00pm
2 Hour National Show
I would really love to know how many miles I’ve traveled, walking behind my bird dogs over the years. These days you can do that. Garmin, and other companies, have products that count your steps, heartbeats, blood pressure and probably even the hairs on your head. Back when I started, beeper collars were the latest and greatest technology. You would charge it up, or in most cases, install fresh batteries, strap it around your pointing dog’s neck along with his training collar and off they would go. A shrill beeping sound would echo thru the West Texas mesquite flats and Montana coulees, giving you an approximate location of your hunting dog. It was pretty neat tech really. It would beep maybe every five seconds or so while the dog was running, and every one second when the dog stopped to point or pass along the leftovers from last night’s dinner. Someone got real tricky and designed a collar that would beep while the dog was running, and screech like a hawk when the dog was pointing. Game birds don’t like to get airborne when a predator with sharp claws and eyes, and Air Force jet speed is nearby. So, the hawk screech was meant to fool the birds into holding tight on the ground until you could catch up with your pointing dog to make the flush.
The desire of a bird dog to hunt and point upland birds is so strong, that after a few short minutes of obtrusive noise, just inches behind their ears, they seemed to totally ignore it all together. After the first beeper collar hunt, it was always welcomed by the dogs. The collar was a sign to them that once they were fitted with their jewelry, it was time to hunt. My friend, Ted Gartner with the Garmin company is an avid bird dog man. He and a few techie types made the old beeper obsolete. Once on a hunt, Ted wondered around the camp-fire one night if he could duct take a GPS unit to one of his dog's training collars and take the first step towards a quiet dog locating collar. The Astro was born from that evening of pondering and red-necking around with GPS technology and duct tape. Astro, now several generations older, shows you where your dog is and what he is doing at all times.
Waaaay back...before the battery powered beeper collar was the simple little brass bell. Obviously making noise while the dog runs, and falling silent when the dog locates birds and points. Purely from nostalgia, I held on to that old bell method. Yes, I always had and primarily used the latest and greatest technology, but could easily step back in time by removing the tech collar and replacing it with a simple bell. I especially enjoyed this practice when hunting alone, working a smaller patch, and partnering with only one dog on the ground as opposed to two, three or even four. If I saw little Button, or ol’ Jill disappear into a plum thicket and the bell jingled no more, it brought an instant smile. Birds!
I still have those old bells that carried the jingle of fall, and the collars from many of my dogs. I can look at a particular collar and tell you about the dog that wore it. I can tell you in detail about how they liked to hunt, how hard they ran, how far or close they felt necessary to hold birds, and how I loved each one. When you step into the fields of fall, behind a well trained bird dog, it's magical. Matters not the technology or lack of. Enjoy your bird season and throw ol' Nose an extra treat tonight. They will give you every ounce of heart that they can muster tomorrow as they jingle off into the plum thicket.
October 12, 2017
I lost one of the best and most loyal friends I’ll ever have on this earth a little over a month ago. I didn’t write about it then because it was too raw. I never thought that I could mourn the loss of a dog so much, but I cried. I wailed. Bear’s talent was above that of most bird dogs. I am qualified to make that call, because I have had many hunting partners throughout the years and know what I speak of. I’ve had some slow learners, and many average students. I’ve also been blessed to partner with some dogs that would produce a little better than others in the wild bird fields and win a field trial here and there. BUT...I’ve only had one Bear.
His nose was impeccable. I remember a hunt when he was about two. He locked down hard on some West Texas scrub, and a rabbit flushed from under his nose. The guy that I was hunting with that day broke open his gun and laughed out loud. His dog was backing ol' Bear...again, by the way. While he was bad mouthing my little Brittany, I noticed that Bear hadn’t moved a muscle. Still rock-hard rigid. Eyes and snoot focused on the tangles ahead of him, smoking the pipe, as my writer friend Ray Sasser would say...taking in bird scent through the nose...venting through the mouth. You’ve seen your dogs do that. The covey of bobs scared my cynical friend when they flushed right up our britches' legs. I killed two and said nothing. Bear had done my talking.
Bear came from good stock. Directly out of Nolan Huffman’s Buddy (Nolan’s Last Bullet), and tracing back to Rick Smith's fine line. I’d always had pointers and setters which I still dearly love, but these guys were breeding "Brits" that would destroy the “shoe polisher” image. I noticed that these dogs were running big, running hard and running tough! I watched Buddy at a championship trial in Indiana retrieve a bird that had fallen on the far side of a goat wire fence. I wondered why in the world Nolan would shoot that bird, knowing that it would fall on the far side where his dog couldn’t reach it, and he could lose his retrieve score. Turns out, he knew that Buddy would find a way, somehow, to bring that bird to hand. And he did. He found a hole in the fence, just big enough to squeeze through, gather the bird, and squeeze back into the playing field. I decided that morning that I would have some of that in my kennel, and one year later at 5 weeks of age, I did. On day one, my wife Robin said the pup looked like a "little Baylor Bear", her alma mater. That’s how he got his name.
One of Bear's litter mates, Bull, and Bulls’ partner Nolan came to Texas to hunt with me back in 2005. It was a great year for the birds; they were thick and the coveys were big. Nolan and I turned the pair loose on the south end of a pasture and had the time of our lives watching them tear up the ground in bird finding fury. One would point, the other would back and vice versa all the way up to the north fence where we picked em up. When we did, the two brothers had pointed 26 coveys of bob white quail. Nolan told me, “That’s the best quail hunt I’ve ever been a part of.” Bear had the smarts too. He had become a big country pleasure. The little dog could roll! He eagerly covered big West Texas and Montana country and in a hurry. I took him to South Dakota for pheasants. We were hunting strips and shelter belts. He figured it out in short order and never hunted beyond 25-30 yards ahead of me. He worked pheasants that day like he’d done it his whole life, and these were the first ones he’d ever seen.
When the economy ate my job up in 2009, Bear went to work with me entertaining and teaching at various events and sporting goods dealers in the Dallas-Ft Worth area. He easily converted from the wide open spaces, to arena floors and huge tents. Everyone that met him at these events fell in love. The folks especially loved it when I would ask a kiddo to go hide Bear's Dokken dummy someplace. I would tell Bear to "hunt dead", and he’d climb through boats and expo booths, crowds and funnel cake vendors to find it and bring it back to me. I needed him to help me at that time, and he did. He wasn’t trying to be a showman, simply trying to please me, and in the process was indeed something to see. He even made it into a national Ad for Forti Flora with all of the Smith boys. Surgery had me on a walker for over a year, and I couldn’t take him hunting, or so I thought. I wondered if he would adapt to retrieving doves...he did. Sat by my side like a lab.
If I walked out of a door, he was lying beside it when I came back through. You could bet money on that. I start work many times at 3 or 4 am. There was no way to sneak out of the bedroom without him. Off to work with me he’d go. Every day. When friends and family betrayed trust, he didn’t. Not once. You know, you’ve been there too. His talent was great, his nose was unreal, his heart was bigger, and that’s what set him apart. I borrowed a line from Winnie the Pooh when I thanked God for giving me something I loved so much, that it hurt this bad to lose it. I hope that I haven’t bored you with my story. I hope that I have brought back fond remembrance of your “Bear”. Bear died just 3 weeks before his fifteenth birthday. I still cry.
May 26, 2017