Monday, July 19, 2010

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Four, "Dog Training, Sir!" Part 3

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section

The time had finally drawn for my annual Iowa pheasant hunting opener trip with my three buddies. This crew and I go back a long way; all the way back to my days in junior high. In those days my dad would take me along with him to the Minnesota fishing opener with guys with whom he worked. It just so happened that they were also the core of the company softball team, so there was already established a strong bond of camaraderie that can only be forged by those that shared battle on Hopkins, Minnesota's famed Central Park, and later in Archie's Bar. One of these guys also happened to be my uncle, so I had an in with this crew on two fronts.

As time progressed, I got old enough to join the softball team, and with families, work, and other commitments, the fishing crew got progressively smaller. In fact, by the time that I got into college, we were left with a solid four of us - my uncle, two other buddies, and I. Our exploits over the years were renown, and we spent our times together regaling our old tales while always seeming to create new ones. If I take time to write a next book, it could easily be filled with just fishing opener stories of this gang of four.

When we first started out fishing together, we shared Spartan accommodations, but as the years and careers progressed we had upgraded along the way, with one of our group building a beautiful cabin (and subsequently his home) on Minnesota's Ten Mile Lake. It was there one day, as we were standing around the kitchen table turned bar, that talk went to the annual Iowa pheasant opening trip. Now I had never gone on this trip, as the property was owned by a friend of one of our group, and the invitation had never been extended. I had heard enough stories, though, that I knew it would be a fun trip, and one in which we could further bond our little gang. In our conversation, it just so happened that the owner of the property was there with us, enjoying cocktails and swapping stories. He ultimately asked, "Mikey, how come you never come down with these guys pheasant hunting?" "Because I've never been asked," I pointedly replied. "Hell," our Iowan friend replied, "you're welcome any damn time." Thus began a new chapter with the gang of four.

When I first started out pheasant hunting with this crew, I was newly married and dirt poor, so my hunting gear constituted a hand-me-down blaze orange vest and tennis shoes. While the outfit looked terrible, and was painful for keeping burrs and twigs out of my shoes, it proved to be an effective attire for keeping up with one of the rangier dogs when on a running rooster. Shouts of "Go, Mikey, go!" as I sprinted hither and yon proved to be good motivation, and evidently, high entertainment.

The years past, money was no longer as tight, and the seriousness of which I took pheasant hunting had deepened greatly. My gear was upgraded, my aptitude increased, but my speed for tracking down a dog following a running rooster had taken a huge hit. Regardless, I was a fully established member of this team. And note that the membership was not limited to the four of us - it was also extended to the dogs with whom we hunted.

And what dogs they were. JP's Max was a black bruiser, and while I only hunted with him at his end, there were clear visions of what he was in his prime. He was a hard dog that hunted as hard as his personality. Pauly's Sam spent most of his time chasing Kansas quail, and while he was reluctant to fetch, his nose and flushing capabilities were simply outstanding. Finally, JT's Sam, the very dog that had endeared herself to my wife and had ultimately let open the door for allowing me to have a dog in the first place, was one of the finest dogs I have ever hunted behind. She was methodical, smart, and always, always right. If she got birdy, I always stayed with her, as her nose never lied, and her intelligence would find a way to get a running rooster into the air sooner or later.

While I was always a part of this crew, I never felt a full part, simply because I didn't have a dog. There's a level of camaraderie that's shared by letting dogs out in thirty degree weather, feeding them, watering them, and caring for them. There is a level of stories that can only be shared and appreciated by those who own dogs. So when the time finally came for me to take Blitz on her first-ever hunt to Iowa, I knew that I was more excited than she was. I, and her, had arrived.

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