Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Seven, "Third Year: Part 7"

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section
We got back from south Dakota in good shape, and it only took one weekend on the shelf for Blitz to regain her health.  Our early return was welcomed by my wife, until she understood what caused it.  While she and the dog were still rarely ever on the same page, my wife had a soft sport in her heart for Blitz and woe be to me if I did not take good care of her dog. 

I'd like to say that I did take good care of her from then on out, but the truth is that there were two more times that fall in which Blitz would be put in harm's way, and both were the result of my actions. 

The first time came on a cold November day hunting pheasants up at the farm.  We had hunted ducks in the morning, but skim ice had formed the night before and had moved most of the birds south.  While we broke the ice to create open water for our decoys, they went unseen as anything with any feathers and sense had headed for the Iowa border the night before.  Despite the poor waterfowling, we had pheasants to fall back on, thus our empty skies combined with the crowing roosters we heard around us conspired to make us trade our drab camo for blaze orange in very short order. 

We started our hunt in our usual pattern, with our crew pushing through some standing corn to small point that jutted out into the lake.  In previous efforts we found that we were able to push birds out of the food and onto the point where the lake kept them from running ahead of us.  They'd be forced to hunker down in the cattails at the edge of the water where our dogs had the ability flush them within gun range.  It was a perfect set up, and it paid off time and again.  Unfortunately, it was a tactic we always used, and the birds started to get wise to it.  That meant that they tended to flush at the first sign of hunter or dogs well ahead of the cattail covering we had planned. 

As we spread ourselves in the corn rows, Blitz and I found ourselves on the far left side of the line, with three other hunters and two other dogs to our right.  When we were all in our alignment we began our push forward, and nearly immediately Blitz began acting like she was on a bird. 

Corn rows a like racetracks for rooster pheasants and Labrador dogs, and I had a though time keeping blitz in range.  When she finally ranged too far and was too engaged with the bird to listen to my commands, I was forced to go to my electronic dog collar.  While I rarely ever used it on Blitz, I did need to have a means to stop her if necessary.  Blitz was unstoppable, especially when chasing a falling bird, and in my minds eye I could see her on the path of a bird falling across a gravel road with a truck simultaneously barreling down it.  That chilling mental image was enough to keep her wearing electronics every time out. 

The collars themselves are a very humane tools when used correctly, and I never corrected Blitz on a level that I had not already used on my own bare hand. Hence, I never felt bad about issuing a correction.  I thumbed the switch to remind my dog what the command "HERE" meant, and was surprised she did not react.  While Blitz had a massive pain threshold, she truly disliked the tickle provided by the collar, and was quick to shape up whenever it was employed. 

I tried the button again, and once again received no actions from the dog.  Recognizing that the collar was likely running out of charge, I increased my pace.  I knew that at Blitz's current rate, she'd likely have the bird in the air well before we reached the end of the point. 

I had just stepped out of the corn and onto the point when a large rooster flushed up in the direction that Blitz was heading.  The bird flew to my left, across the point and over the frozen lake.  While the bird was farther than I would have liked, he was silhouetted against a gorgeous blue sky in a slow crossing pattern that made for a fairly easy target.  I raised my gun, sought the appropriate lead on the accelerating bird, and squeezed the trigger.  The bird was hit squarely, and landed atop the ice where it's momentum slid it a good twenty yards. 

Blitz had the bird marked well and moved on top of the ice to fetch the rooster up.  About a third of the way there the ice gave out, and blitz suddenly found herself in the water trying to pull herself back up on top of the ice and to the bird.  She was flailing radically, and would be able to fight and pull her chest up on the ice, only to have it break way on her and have her restart the process all over again. 

She was exerting a massive amount of energy staying afloat, and I was screaming at her to come back.  I recognized at her current lever of exertion that she would soon be in great danger.  But despite my commands and repeated attempts at triggering her dead training collar, the dog just pressed ahead. 

After about five minutes I was really starting to get scared.  Blitz had only progressed a couple of feet and was not going to be reaching the bird anytime soon.  I prepared to ditch my clothes and head into the water after her, when my partner's black lab, Britt, who had been watching the whole episode transpire, must have had enough. 

Britt was a middle aged black lab, and while she was an fantastic hunter, she also carried far too much weight.  She was a medium framed dog that was well into the ninety pound range, a full fifty percent bigger than Blitz, and unfortunately for Britt, she didn't wear it very well.  In fact her girth earned her the nickname of Denny Green due to her resemblance to the former Vikings' coach. 

While Britt's excess baggage did nothing for aesthetics, it was absolute hell on braking ice.  Britt swam down the channel that Blitz had created in the ice, shoved herself past the ineffective smaller dog, and proceeded to crush the ice between her and the bird with very little effort. 

As she had done with Gus previously, Blitz quickly realized that she'd been bested, and turned around to come back to me with that look of "What the hell was that?" on her face.  While we ultimately all had a really good laugh at the episode, the situation definitely could have ended much, much differently.  I was lucky. 

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