Friday, February 17, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Seven "Third Year: Part 1"

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

By now it was very clear to me that Blitz was a special dog.  I had seen enough in my hunting with her to know that her drive and her nose were among the finest I had hunted behind.  Likewise, I had received enough compliments from others with whom we had hunted to know that these weren’t just niceties – these were true words of praise for some really great dog work.  I was a proud owner of an incredible dog, but a little kernel of something stuck in the back of my mind – just exactly how good was she? 

That little nugget of an idea was first put there by my buddy Don, who had hunted behind Blitz many times; both at my farm, and out at his game farm.  Don had done a lot of hunting in his time, and was quite complimentary of Blitz every time we went out.  As a member of a prestigious hunt club in the Twin Cities, Don had participated in a hunting dog competition as a designated shooter on a couple of occasions.  He commented that Blitz would do fantastic in such an event, and I should go out and give it a try. 

After a couple of months of thinking about it and wondering just how good Blitz was, I become stirred enough to get her enrolled.  I’d now see just how good she truly was in these competitive environs.  The competition itself was held at the ritzy gun club, and attracted dogs and handlers from all over the country.  The rules were fairly straightforward, or so I thought.  A large field was set with 4 birds for one dog and two hunters.  Each hunter had six shells with which to harvest the birds.  The hunt was timed, and had a 20 minute time limit.  The objective was to bag the four birds as quickly as possible and in as few shots as possible, as the time of the "run" was reduced for each unspent shell.  The concept seemed easy enough, and with Blitz’s nose and drive, I figured we had a OK chance.  At a bear minimum, we’d at least have a nice 20 minute hunt. 

I signed Blitz and I up for the “novice” flight, and waited for the appointed weekend.  While Don was unavailable to be my additional hunter, my buddy Fuzzy was a available, and I felt like he was a great choice to fill out our little team.  Not only had he had quite a bit of experience hunting with Blitz, but he was also an extremely good wing shot.  I was confident that if Blitz got us the point, Fuzzy would be able to drop the bird in one and would afford us a great chance to return back with unspent ammunition. 

On the day of the event we met at the club, and the day itself could not have been better.  The sun was coming up warm on the spring morning, and there was just a slight wind and plenty of moisture on the ground to aid in scenting.  It looked like a morning for greatness, and I was really excited to see what would happen.  I placed Blitz on a lead, grabbed my gun case, and walked with Fuzzy to our field with great anticipation.  As it turned out, we would be one of the first groups to run that day (they had flights running the previous day), so we wouldn’t have to wait too long to get out there and get after it. 

To keep things fair, the judges asked that competitors wait their turn behind a stack of hay bales so as not to see where judges were placing birds, and we were happy to wait with a group of other hunters and dogs.  Blitz was her usual self – straining hard against the lead to meet all the nice other people and dogs.  Ears back and tail wagging, she epitomized friendliness in a body language that every hunter and hunting dog understood.  While many of the dogs in our group were receptive to her welcoming overtures, the same could not be said by some of the stern-faced handlers, who seemed to be taking things far too seriously.  Especially for a group competing in the “novice” flight. 

Thankfully we didn’t need to tolerate the posing and scowling too long as our name was soon called for us to come up to the line for our hunt.  We’d be joined on our hunt by a judge whose job it was to ensure that the dog was flushing the birds and bringing them back to hand appropriately, and to keep an eye on Fuzzy and me to ensure we didn’t do anything illegal, although I’m not really sure what we could have done. 

We entered the starting area, were counted down, and were finally released for our hunt.  Game on! 

Almost immediately Blitz, quartering hard toward Fuzzy at my right, appeared to catch scent of a bird and had her nose down and tail flailing like crazy.  After about a 20 yard dash she came to a dead stop on point and was clearly on a bird. Fuzzy moved in behind her to make the shot, and just thirty seconds into the hunt it appeared that we were going to bag our first bird.  Fuzzy was poised and ready, and I gave Blitz the command to “GET HIM!”  She moved forward and immediately a rooster pheasant burst into the sky mere feet from her nose, on a straightaway shot for Fuzzy. 

As stated earlier, Fuzzy is an excellent wing shot.  He’s hunted his entire life and honed his craft well.  But like all shooters, he has some shots that are easier than others.  And for Fuzzy, there was no easier shot than the “ass shot” on a straightaway bird.  It’s his dead-red fastball right down the middle of the plate, and woe to the pheasant that presents it to him.  In fact, given the alignment of the bird and my buddy, I was actually grinning when the bird got up.   


Nothing. The bird was still flying.  What happened? 

BANG! Nothing again. 

I raised my gun for a backup shot that I could not believe would be needed. 

BANG! Fuzzy encountered his third miss and now held an empty gun. 

Here we were, three shells spent and nothing to show for it.  I gauged a lead on the quickly departing quarry, squeezed the trigger, and folded the bird.  Blitz was in pursuit for the retrieve when I shot a nasty look to Fuzzy.  “What the hell was that?”  “Hey, I choked,” was all he could truthfully reply. 

We now had three more birds in the field but very limited ammunition.  Our next shots needed to be true, and we really needed Blitz to point and hold that point to allow us to get in the best positions for bagging the bird.  We moved up another forty yards and Blitz quickly caught another scent.  After working the air with her nose and dashing in front of me she quickly locked up again.  A quick flush and one shell spent got us back in better graces. 

We worked our 5 acre field quickly and purposefully, with Blitz covering huge chunks of territory, and Fuzzy and I shooting well.  While it felt like we had been hunting a long time, when Blitz finally brought our fourth and final bird back to my had, our judge yelled out, “TIME!  8:32!”  I was thrilled!  What a great performance, especially when one considered that many of the dogs running the trial had not found all five of their birds in the 20 minute time limit. 

I was grinning as I put Blitz back on lead and walked with Fuzzy and our judge back to the start.  “How did we do?” Fuzzy inquired of our field judge.  “Not bad,” the field judge replied, “But you guys wasted time at the start when she pinned the gate bird.  One of you should have been moving out and getting ready for the flank bird.”  “What?” I asked.  “What’s a gate bird?” 

“Haven’t you guys done this before?”  he replied.  I answered that this was our first time. 
“You have to be kidding,” he said.  “You see, there are set bird areas, and I figured you guys just knew but were jacking around.  You’ve really never run this before?” 
“No.  I mean it is the ‘novice’ flight, right?” 
“Bah.  Nearly every one of these dogs out here has run this kind of competition multiple times.” 
“So, is 8:32 good?” 
“Hell yes, especially if this is your first time out.” 
“Think we’ll be in the running?” 
“Nope.  Not at all.  Winner will come in with something well under five minutes.” 

I must have look dejected, because he immediately followed that with “Hey, you have an incredible dog there.  I’ve not seen her equal when it comes to nose.  Seriously.  You should be very proud.  If you choose to really get into this, she could be awesome.”  I replied that we were hunters, not competitors, and that I was satisfied with our first time out and getting an indication of where she stood. 

We all shook hands and Fuzzy and I headed back to the truck.  Once there, I got out a bowl of water for Blitz as we discussed the whole new experience.  We both agreed that it was a fun, but given the rules and attitudes we encountered, we’d probably stick with the straight hunting. 

We hit a lull in the conversation and stood there in silence, watching Blitz finish her water.  We were both feeling the pressure of the elephant in the room.  It was uncomfortable - even oppressive - and I finally needed to address it.  I blurted out, “Dude, seriously, what the hell was that back there on the first bird?” “I told you, I choked," Fuzzy honestly and sheepishly replied 

What can a guy say to that?  Not much, although every once and a while when I have been in the field with him since where he’s made his favorite shot, I remind Fuzzy of a pretty spring morning, a beautiful rooster pheasant, a pressure-filled moment, and three full charges of Federal’s finest upland ammunition touching nothing but the gorgeous blue sky.

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