Friday, November 18, 2011

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Six, "Two Years Old: Part 3"

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

While her second year provided new experiences, Blitz was also coming into her own as a gun dog.  Starting with the waterfowl season, Blitz was becoming more a more valuable as a retriever.  Certainly, she was still a handful in the boat, and her canine ADD made for less than dull moments, but her marking of fallen birds, insatiable desire to retrieve, and overall passion for the sport were all increasing at a substantive rate.  That season there were a number of birds that my partners and I knocked down that would not have been harvested had Blitz not been conducting her work so expertly. 

She quickly learned the routine of our duck hunting, but her enthusiasm and my lack of patience, foresight, and care would put her at risk.  An early November morning found my partner Don and I up at 5:00 AM getting ready to head out, and Blitz, now attune to the routine, was bounding around like a kid on Christmas morning.  She knew we were going hunting, and she wanted to go right now!  With all of that youthful energy, she proved to be too elusive that morning to put on her hunting vest, and due to too many cocktails the night before, I was in no mood for one of our renown wrestling matches.  Judging by the temperature and her increasing coat, I felt she'd be fine, so we would forgo the vest. 

We piled into the truck and drove the short distance to the landing where we found that the misty weather we had was mixing with the warmer temperature of the lake and was generating a thick soup of fog.  We knew the lake well and had a short distance to go, so we weren't worried about the weather. 

We shoved off from shore and headed north to the cover we intended to hunt.  The ride was slower than usual due to the thickness of the fog, but we arrived at our destination with plenty of time to get our decoys set and to settle in prior to the legal shooting hour.  We created a nice spread with two landing areas: a "J" shape made out of our bluebill decoys and a "U" shape of mallards, and killed the motor to tuck into the cover to await the arrival of ducks.  During our decoy placement, with the noise of the motor and the thick fog, we were unable to know that another hunting partner appeared to be setting up fairly close to us, but now in the quiet of the morning, we could hear his boat working as he was laying out his decoys.  "He sounds really close," exclaimed Don, and I agreed.  However, we both recognized that sound carried really well in foggy conditions, and we were hoping that the actual proximity of the other hunter was just a sonic exaggeration. 

The short wait to legal shooting went by quickly, and while we could hear birds in our proximity, the fog prevented us from seeing them.  Soon enough a nice drake widgeon appeared from the soupy air, and Don folded it cleanly with a sporty crossing shot.  Blitz had bolted from the boat immediately on the report of Don's gun, but was able to discern the location of the fallen bird in the fog, and soon came back to the blind with our first bird of the morning.  Things were starting well, we exclaimed, as we prepared for more action. 

About this point the weather pattern had shifted dramatically.  Our calm, quiet, comfortable morning was suddenly and abruptly replaced by a strong northwest wind that brought a reduction in temperature and a chill to our bones.  The wind was also wreaking havoc with the fog which was being blown away little by little.  Soon, we were able to see to the outskirts of our decoy spread, and then slightly beyond, where we were enthused to see a flock of ducks sitting in the water.  As the fog continued to move off, our mood soured as the flock we were seeing were actually the decoys of the other hunter on the lake which were set in a location downwind of us that would effectively block any ducks from flying into our decoys. 

Don and I debated our predicament for a while, and finally came to the conclusion that this configuration was not going to work, and we needed to pick up our decoy spread and move to a new location.  We lowered the blind on the boat and prepared to make our move just as a cold rain started to fall.  Our fortunes had clearly changed quite drastically after starting out on such a good note.  We worked quickly in picking up the decoys, which was good as the rain had started coming down harder and harder.  Without the shelter of the blind we were taking the brunt of it, and while Don and I were staying dry due to our clothes, Blitz was getting soaked.  She was shaking her coat frequently to try and stay as dry as possible, but it was obviously a losing battle given the conditions. 

We quickly found a new location, put out a new spread, and got situated in fairly short order.  Pulling the blind up over us was welcomed, as the rain had turned into a sleet.  Passing a thermos of coffee back and forth, we tried to keep warm while waiting for our next chance at ducks.  Birds were flying, and we knew it was just a matter of time before they noticed our decoys and came into range for a look. 

About this time I noticed that Blitz had become lethargic.  My dog, in her short life, had been a lot of things, and lethargic was never, ever one of them.  She was also shaking uncontrollably, which clearly got my attention.  Although they were bred for being wet in cold weather, I was aware that hunting dogs do suffer from hypothermia in the right conditions.  In the wind, falling temperatures, and  soaked coat, it appeared Blitz might be headed there.  The best way to truly judge would be to get some kind of gauge on her body temperature.  Without a thermometer, this would have to be accomplished by feel of one of two locations on the dog, and there was no question which one I'd been choosing.  I removed my glove and moved my hand into the mouth of my shivering dog. 

What I felt there was cold and clammy. 

Blitz was in trouble, and I needed to get her warm, and to do so immediately.  "Don, we are out of here!" I exclaimed. 

Some guys might have had a problem with that.  We had come so far to hunt, we had worked so hard to get a good decoy set out, and birds were definitely in the area.  With all that invested, some might have pushed back.  Instead, Don responded with a quick "Yep!" as he flung the blind off of us in preparation for our departure. 

I stared the motor and immediately sped off for the landing, ignoring the decoys that we had previously set.  While motoring in, I was thinking of the best way possible to get Blitz warmed, and felt I had derived a good plan by the time we hit shore.  I kenneled Blitz in the back of the vehicle, cranked up the heat, and drove us back to the farm house.  Leaving the dog in the truck, I went into the house to fetch towels to dry the dog and to offer warm bedding in her plastic crate.  I rubbed her dry as best I could, and left her in the still-running vehicle, which by now was heating quite nicely.  Don and I went inside for some more coffee, and I would go out and check on Blitz every fifteen minutes or so to see how she was doing.  The truck was turning into a veritable sauna, and within an hour and a half or so I was eventually greeted by a dog that was back to her old self.   I let her out and headed back into the farm house, grateful for her condition and for having an understanding hunting partner.  Things certainly could have gone differently that morning, and I promised myself to never let situation like that happen again.         

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