Friday, August 24, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz, Chapter 8 "4th Year, Part 6"

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

The fourth year of Blitz's life, I had got myself involved in a group that was created to lobby the State of Minnesota for a mourning dove hunting season.  At the time, Minnesota was one of just a couple of states that did not allow hunting of this migratory bird,  and from my perspective, the law preventing it was unfair.  The game bird's population was ample, tipping the scales at nearly 15 million birds.  The birds were hunted everywhere south of Minnesota to their final winter resting areas.  To me, there was no reason why Minnesotan's could not do the same thing as the rest of the country and offer a season on the game. 

As I got into the fight for new legislation, I found that other groups had attempted to push a dove hunting proposals many times before, and they always failed.  I also found out that the issue was one that anti-hunting and "animal rights" groups had earmarked as critical.  These well-funded and highly motivated national groups were quite successful at pushing their agenda in St. Paul, and the fight looked like a tough one.  Thus, when we formed a little group to address dove hunting legislation, we knew that we'd have to fight a different battle than had been fought before.  That meant we'd have to be more organized and more strategic in our approach, and that played well into some of the skill sets I was able to bring to the table. 

As one that did marketing for a profession, I helped to craft our message to the legislators like an advertising message; selling the benefits, and cajoling the legislators to "buy" by voting "yes."  We also incorporated new marketing techniques that had not been utilized by prior groups.  By leveraging things like email marketing, direct mail, and trade show work to build support and drive home the message we were fighting a whole new fight.  In essence, we were leveraging techniques that the anti-hunting groups had used expertly, and we were leveling the playing field.  Similarly, we were active in St. Paul, and testified in front of a number of committees.  Unlike others that tried pushing the legislation before us, when we testified, we wore suits, stuck dispassionately and professionally to our selling points, and put a whole different face on the hunting community than what had been seen at the capital previously. 

The net result of all of the activity was that dove hunting passed in Minnesota.  While it passed by one vote, pass it did, and we prepared that fall to hunt doves up at the duck camp for the first time ever.  However, with Blitz's condition, she'd not be able to hunt.  She was getting around incredibly well due to a prescription of Rimadyl which, judging by Blitz's reaction to it, looked to me like a miracle drug.  When on it, Blitz used her cancerous leg without a limp, and would still go at full speed when she wanted.  And she wanted to go at full speed a lot.  Hence, I knew in the hustle of a hunting situation I'd never be able to restrain her, thus she would have to be resigned to her crate while a group of us when out to try our hand at this new era of hunting. 

I asked a number of people that worked on the legislation to my duck camp, and also invited some good partners from the outdoor media that had been incredibly supportive.  Fast friends, all of us, we enjoyed each other's company the night before the inaugural opener, then made our way out to the field in the opening morning's darkness.  Sitting alongside a small grain field, our group of rookies managed to scratch out a couple of birds, and everyone had a really good time, even if the game strap was a little light.  Dove hunting had come to Minnesota, and I was very proud to have played a part in its arrival.

Our group disbanded after our opening day hunt, and I was later joined by my buddy Don who came up for the weekend to try his hand at the new game.  We tinkered with different techniques - offering perches, using decoys,  utilizing camouflage - in attempt to find something that would work effectively.  We settled in on a "run and gun" technique in which we would sit alongside the field, wait for a dove to enter, wait for it land, then sneak up to its location and shoot it upon flushing, just as one would on pheasants.  The technique proved to be quite effective, and we harvested a good amount of birds using it. 

In the meantime it broke my heart to leave Blitz in the cabin while we went out and shot.  She wasn't pleased either, and would whine and howl loudly at our departure every morning.  So before getting ready to go out for one evening shoot, I had Blitz out in the yard with me and was noticing her gait.  The Rimadyl must have really been kicking in, as she was burning off the energy of being cooped up in her crate by running all over the yard.  For as sick as she was, it was amazing to see.  She had no limp at all, and acted like nothing at all was wrong. 

Based on her movements, I suggested to Don that we take her out with us on the evening shoot.  "Are you sure?" he asked.  "Yeah, I am.  The action is a lot slower at night, and she can just sit by us.  If a bird comes into the field and it's not too far away, we can take her out there with us."  "OK," Don replied, "But if at any time you want to bring her in, just say the word." 

We got to our spot near the field without flushing any doves from it, and I firmly expected that the afternoon would be a total bust.  And for the first hour, that was exactly the case.  However, we did have one single that came right in at us, and Don took the shot while the bird was nearly overhead.  The dove folded and landed about 10 yards from us, much to the delight of Blitz.  It was her first dove retrieve,  and I'm not sure that they come any easier. 

A little while later we had a pair enter the field about 50 yards away from us.  "What do you want to do?" asked Don.  "Let's all go down and see if we can flush them.  It should be close enough for Blitz."  We got off our stools and  approached the last known position of the doves as quietly as we could.  Blitz hunted very close, but was hunting hard, and, judging by her wagging tail and heavy sniffing, was picking up scent of the same type of bird she had just previously retrieved.   

In a couple of more steps both doves burst from the cover about 20 yards ahead of us.  One bird was breaking hard to the left, and as Don was on that side of me I left the bird to him and focused my attention to the bird in front of me quartering away to my right.  I got a slight lead on the departing bird and slowly squeezed the trigger to a burst of feathers.  At the same time I heard Don shoot and utter a "whoo hoo!" so I knew he had his bird as well. 

While Blitz was a very sick dog, nobody told her, and she was in a dead sprint on the bird I shot.  "Blitz, no!" I commanded, hoping it would slow her up, but she would not relent.  She scooped the bird up on a dead sprint, and brought it immediately back to me.  "Idiot," I thought to myself, "she doesn't know to let up.  This is stupid to have her out here." 

About that time I turned my attention to Don who was craning his neck around a thick area of brush.  "My bird fell in here.  What do you think we should do?" he asked.  The cover was daunting, but was more open low to the ground.  Since Blitz was here, she'd have the best chance of any of us in recovering the bird.  I got her to the edge of the cover and commanded, "Blitz, fetch!" She immediately went into the cover, and Don and I could hear her sniffing and rummaging around.  Within seconds she emerged from the side of the cover, carrying Don's bird in her mouth, and with a body language that said, "See, boss?  I got it right here!"  It was a gorgeous blind retreive.

Throughout the entire dove legislation process, I asked myself why I cared so much about it.  Part of it had to do with the fairness of it all.  Part of it was that I wanted to really leave a legacy, and give something back to the sport of hunting which had given me so much.  Part of me wanted to stick a thumb in the eye of the anti-hunting community.  But in watching Blitz carry that previously lost bird back to me, I think I know one potential  While I didn't know it at the time, maybe, just maybe I did it to give me one last opportunity to hunt with my dying dog.  

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