For me, there isn't much in life that can match the pleasure of hunting behind a really good dog in pheasant country. Put that together with a fine double, good company, and dogs that work well together and you have described my vision of an earthly nirvana.
Most of the time on this last trip there were three of us hunting with five dogs, but for one day there were four of us with seven dogs, five Labs, a vizsla, and my German Shorthair. Every bird hunter will tell you that his dog is the finest of them all, a nonpareil. In my case it happens to be true. Ahem. (Well, this is, after all, my blog.)
It wasn't always true. For the first four years of her life, Emma was the Dog from Hell and a mediocre field worker. But then something happened. One day she just decided to shine, and has ever since.
One aspect of a good Shorthair that I really appreciate is its ability to glide across a field in a beautiful, long-legged, level-backed, "Lippizaner lope." (top picture) Emma works back and forth in front of me, about thirty yards out, casting the field from one side to the other, her head down but not nose-to-ground. She checks for my position every few seconds and will change course on a silent hand signal. A short whistle and she flips around and starts back to me unless I point to where I want her to go. Her points are steady and rock-solid. She will hold a bird as long as it takes for me to get there. What a pleasure she is. Her only flaw is that she is only a so-so retriever. She prefers to take me to the bird and let me do that, unless the bird has gone into heavy cover. Perhaps she is union.
The other dogs worked well, but in the characteristic style of their breeds. The Labs were happy galumphers, charging around in their rocking-horse gait with their heads up, tongues lolling, smiles abounding. The vizsla moved at top speed, head up like a show dog, her thin legs flashing like tawny rods through the weeds. One thing I can say for the Labs: they were excellent retrievers, even trying to take birds out of my hands and take them to their hunter!
Emma had the benefit of growing up with Róisín Dubh (roe-SHEEN doov, "dark Rosaleen") as her mentor. (lower picture) Róisín was my first Shorthair and she was my "Baby Girl" until the day she died at a blessedly advanced age. I thought Róisín was the best of them all: a great heart, a sweet disposition, a tireless and passionate hunter, and a beautiful mover. To the best of my knowledge she never missed a pheasant in a field that we worked together, and she often found birds that earlier dogs had overlooked. She would also bring me other hunters' cripples, which was not her most endearing trait as far as I was concerned.
Watching a good dog at work is sheer joy for someone who appreciates that sort of thing. I don't need a gun to enjoy a day afield with Emma, but she insists on it. She also insists that I don't miss more than a bird or two in a day of hunting. If I come into a bad patch of shooting she will cast a withering eye of disdain on me and go about her business, muttering about the "help." Her life is made complete by a good run of casting, a solid point, a noisy flush, and a stone-dead bird or birds falling in front of her. She is, like so many Shorthairs, a connoisseur. Lucky for me on this trip I was into a spell of good shooting and failed to earn any demerits from her on that score. Such has not always been the case.
We're back now, after gathering four days of excellent memories and putting some lovely birds in the freezers. She wanted to go again this morning and I had to explain to her that she would have to wait a few days for Dad to recover a bit. Later, we can go into the wilderness area for sharptails, or over to a neighbor's wetland for pheasant, but right now I need some rest. She was kind enough to pretend to understand, and decided to catch up on her own sleep and refamiliarize herself with a deer leg from last week.
But how do I explain to her that according to PETA I am abusing her, making her hunt her fellow creatures and do all those nasty things that are foreign to her real nature? O, how?