Friday, April 6, 2012

The Senior Tour

The buggy rolled to a stop, and Steve and I surveyed the ground ahead of us.  It was a good looking draw, at least by Midland, Texas standards. More of a dry creekbed, it definitely looked birdy and manageable enough for us to put down our two older dogs for a brief run.  The sun was shining and things were warming up quickly, but this would only be a 45 minute walk or so.

Steve put down Em, his then-11-year-old black and white pointer, and I readied Dot, my 9-year old lemon and white counterpart.  I stopped to wonder how many birds these two old girls had between them -- the different species, scents, and locales that they've collectively hunted.  This walk would be dubbed the Senior Tour.

We loaded up with shells and water, and the brace began.  Neither dog was running the way they did back in their younger years, but they didn't need to.  Fanning out across the creekbed, they knew just what to do. Wisdom always trumps enthusiasm (at 43, I'm finally starting to learn that lesson).

Not five minutes into the hunt, Em locked up near a gnarly patch of prickly pear.  Dot was 30 yards behind, staunchly honoring (never a sure bet).  The covey of scalies rose, and two quickly fell.  I don't recall any remarkable retrieves -- there certainly weren't any from Dot, who only cares about living birds, a trait I've learned to accept in her older years.  Either way, we collected our birds and continued chasing singles for the next 30 minutes or so.  It was an impressive show, and all four of us were soaking in every minute of it.

I've killed more birds on a single walk before, and I've certainly seen dogs cover more ground than these two did.  But it's the memory of two veteran dogs that hunted with the prowess that only age and experience can bring.

I'm not sure, but I think that might've been one of the last times Em went to West Texas, having mostly retired from Steve's traveling team.

I got a text from Steve yesterday letting me know that Em had died in her sleep Wednesday night at age 14.  We spoke on the phone, and I extended my condolences, feeble as they were.  Nothing really helps when you lose a hunting buddy, save maybe the solace in knowing the guy on the other end of the phone has experienced that same pain, and is destined to again as long as he's got a bird dog.

That's the contract we all sign, willingly or not.  We'll miss ya, Em.

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