I have enjoyed great friendships with some wonderful people. It just so happens the best of those people have had some great dogs over the years. Specifically, bird dogs.
The second full weekend of October marks the opening of pheasant season in Oregon. For about 30 years, I have been enjoying that weekend in the sod waterways, ditches and draws between Fulton Grain Elevator and Juniper Canyon with an amazing group of people. Some have been in the group since our days as Buckaroos in the mid-’80s. The newcomers to the group joined after college, and now our kids have joined the fray.
Along the way, I have had the pleasure to hunt over some great bird dogs owned by myself and others in the group. The first was Jake. He was a black lab who had no quit in him. He was a do-it-all dog. He could flush a rooster in the morning and jump ducks in the afternoon. He’d steal your sandwich if you weren’t careful. Jake wasn’t around long enough. After he passed away, Spike joined the group. He busted through more brush than a coastal logger.
Spike was joined for a few years by sisters Rizzo and Bernice. They hailed from a kennel on Sauvie Island and were the first dogs anyone did any research on before they joined the family. Rizzo and Bernice were like Ferraris, while Spike was more like one of those big Army trucks that only go 45 mph down the freeway.
There weren’t many birds that could get through that trifecta. The two sisters would motor through the cover, while Spike lumbered behind, cleaning up the birds they missed. For a few glorious years, we enjoyed these three in front of us in the field. Unfortunately, Bernice inhaled a piece of cheat grass that became infected, and she passed away after only three years. Rizzo grew old with Spike and they lived long, full lives.
Next came Benny. They say you own one great dog in your life. Benny may not have been that dog, but he sure tried — when it was easy. He didn’t particularly like busting through the brush for birds. He liked to run where it was easy, catch their scent, then dive in the easiest way possible. Benny hunted this way and drooled on all of us for 11 years.
Up to this point we had been very committed to the Labrador retriever, specifically the black ones. As we’ve gotten older, some of us are not as fast as we used to be, sporting reconstructed knees and a few extra pounds. A couple of us moved on to the old man dogs, also known as pointers.
Our first pointer was Dot, a German shorthair. Dot just finished her eighth year with us and has always been a pleasure to watch. Guinness, a Drathaar, joined two years after Dot. He is currently in his prime. He pointed and retrieved over a dozen roosters in less than an hour in Juniper Canyon on Saturday.
Also, in our group we’ve had the pleasure to know and hunt over Libby, Kona, Ally, Chester, Drake and many more. Waiting in the wings to show us their stuff next year are puppies Bunny and Darwin.
Like any group of people who have been lifelong friends, we share major life milestones. We were all married around the same time. We all have kids within a few years of each other. And, it turns out, we’ve officially reached the age where conversations around the campfire turn to when we’ll schedule our first colonoscopy and which of us are suffering from sleep apnea.
Though we generally focus on the happy things in our lives on our annual weekend trip, as a group we’ve had our share of setbacks and heartache. There have been divorces, the loss of a child, and several in our group have lost a parent. Sunday afternoon as we finished hunting our last ditch, I turned to another member of our group and remarked how lucky we all are. Lucky to be able to drop everything and hunt together for a weekend every year, lucky to live in an area where the hunting is so spectacular and the land so plentiful, and lucky to be able to share the field with each other, our kids and our dogs.