All About the Dogs

Bird hunting dogs prairie

Reminiscing on a good bird dog.

I’ll never forget Maggie’s first point. Barely six months old, she was still just a floppy-eared puppy, a German wirehair pointer that for some reason looked like a German shorthair. All I knew by then was that she was smart, possessed a good nose, and had bonded to me like a baby duck following its mother.

I’ve always believed in getting my dogs into the field early, but since it was opening day and I wanted to shoot a few birds before becoming distracted by an untested dog, I left her behind in the truck while I made my first swing through the cover with one of my veteran Labs. With three sharptails in my game vest by the time I returned, I decided it was time to stop being selfish and give Maggie a chance to hunt.

We hadn’t flushed a bird by the time I returned to the truck for a second time, and I lost track of Maggie while I was unloading and apologizing to my Lab for leaving him behind. When I began to look around for Maggie, I saw her frozen in the grass 200 yards above me on the sidehill, looking very much like a dog on point. Reaching her would require a steep climb, and I was already a tired hunter.

Fortunately, I chose to trust the dog. She held the point while I climbed the hill, and when I walked into the grass ahead of her, a covey of Huns erupted. One does not want to miss the first wild birds a young dog points, and I didn’t. She even handled the two retrieves like a veteran.

Bird dog hunting

I’ve been hunting upland birds and waterfowl with my own dogs for over 60 years now, and I doubt I’d still be doing it as avidly as I do without them. Of course, they serve practical purposes—the pointing dogs find more birds than I ever would on my own and the retrievers reliably prevent the ethical failure of unrecovered game. The dogs are so much more, however: companions, family members, sources of pride. Enjoying a day afield with a dog that was once a clueless puppy feels like watching one of my kids receive a college diploma after morphing from a back-talking brat into an adult member of society.

Owning just one hunting dog (I currently have four) is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly. I’ve heard lots of hunting friends list the reasons they can’t have a dog of their own. But one of the highlights of my season is taking one of them hunting and watching the light go on as they realize how much a dog can add to the experience. I never try to talk anyone into getting a dog if they feel reluctant, but I’m happy to let the dogs do the talking for me.

For at the end of my day afield in Montana, it’s always all about the dogs.