I know any and all dog trainers, especially those training and working towards hunting dog tests and trials, would cringe at Eider’s antics as the 2021 pheasant season drew down.
But I don’t care. Eider was having the time of her life and she radiated with joy.
You see, this beloved Hunting Maniac of a 12 ½-year-old deaf Brittany with a degenerative heart condition really hasn’t had much of an opportunity to retrieve birds.
It’s not for lack of trying, we’ve been afield as much as possible this year and she’s doing well. To see her, one wouldn’t realize her age and heart issue.
She’s had lots of opportunities to scent and even point pheasants – a surprising number of birds, actually, because the summer’s drought wasn’t presenting a positive outlook for this fall’s hunting potential.
It’s just that the birds really haven’t cooperated all that much. For some reason it seems they were flighty even early in the season. That’s a tactic they often reserve for later in the year when juveniles wise up a bit and weather makes them on edge.
Admittedly, her hunter wasn’t the sharpest this year for some reason and a hunting vest with a multitude of empty shells didn’t equate to a hunting vest with birds in the pouch.
But this time things were different. Eider and I decided to hunt an area where success has eluded not only us, but everyone else in the family. It’s an area where crafty roosters usually flush through the trees and never present a decent shoot even though the dogs are locked on point. The birds always seem to know which side of the trees and shrubs we’re on and they safely fly into heavy creek bottom cover.
Eider and I decided to walk the creek for a short morning hunt before the wind did its usual North Dakota thing. Pheasant tracks slithered through the heavy cover and Eider was oh-so-birdy, so intent on the wonderful smells.
She locked on point. It was evident the bird wasn’t about to move so I cautiously kicked around, anticipating something flushing directly in front of my face. I released Eider because I wasn’t having any luck. It flushed.
Twice. The bird fell, did what many pheasants will do, and ran. Eider followed in fast pursuit.
Unsure if the rooster decided to detour into the slough grass and cattails, I stood back as Eider disappeared along the hillside. “Find the bird, get the bird,” I called, simply out of years of habit.
So I waited until my liver-and-white Brittany came flying back along the creek, bird in her mouth. I swear I saw her proudly smiling even though this is exactly what hunting dogs do – find and retrieve birds.
It’s just that we waited almost all season for the opportunity.
But this is why I know dog trainers will be disappointed in me:
I let my proud, deaf, old hunting dog take her bird all of the way back to my vehicle.
She held her head high as she headed back to her destination, first along the creek; then along the hillside, back past a large chokecherry thicket, up to the trail, up the hill, and stood.
Over the rooster.
Next to my vehicle.
I was somewhere back in the distance walking in her running footprints, watching and smiling to no one but myself. Good girl, I thought.
I don’t know how far she ran to retrieve the bird, which definitely was on the move as it came to earth, but it’s more than one-half a mile from where I shot to the trail, let alone however far she went to find and retrieve the bird, back through the creek, up the hill and to the vehicle.
I could have toned her back with her training collar – at least that’s an audio sound she still hears – and had her release the bird to hand to put in my hunting vest pouch. And any trainer will me that’s exactly what I should have done.
But, no, I wasn’t going to deny this aging hunting dog her joyful moment: A point, a flush, retrieve, and the sheer joy of her bird.
Eider and I had a great pheasant season. It’s not the number of the birds.
As a hunting dog, Eider lives to hunt.
Yet I know given her age and heart condition hunting is something we have to regulate so she gets exercise but not overexertion.
This was Eider’s sheer joy. And she shared with me.
It was our joy, together.