Emotional passing of the baton when young bird dog outpaces veteran

I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself for this moment, but here I am, watery-eyed in a darkened Rooster Road Trip motel room in the glow of my laptop. Don’t worry, there were no tragedies afield today. The tears this evening are of pride and perspective.

First, pride

This morning, my 2-year-old “Esky,” a German short-haired pointer, became a card-carrying bird dog. I had warned my hunting partners, “Esky hunted quail as a 6-month-old puppy in Nebraska, but it may take her a few busted coveys before she figures out quail scent and sticks a solid point.” Of course it only took a few minutes from the truck before my collar remote started vibrating from its holster on my left chest.

“Esky’s on point, straight ahead 30 yards,” I signaled the group and proceeded ahead. Turns out I was the one who was rusty on quail with a pair of “flock shots” at the covey rise. No matter, Esky darted forward and locked up again. This time, I took a deep breath and approached more relaxed. A straightaway double jetted toward the horizon but my swing was true in my third at bat, and Esky delivered my first Oklahoma bobwhite to hand after a single shot.

James Dietsch, one of our hunting partners for the day and a Quail Forever chapter volunteer from Oklahoma City, looked at me and smiled. “Told you so. Pheasants, grouse, or quail; it don’t matter. Bird dogs figure them all out pretty quick.”

The morning proceeded with Esky running big, hunting hard, and working birds. She was certainly not perfect. There were coveys busted and birds passed over. However, anyone who has owned bird dogs knows there is a moment in a dog’s hunting career when all the lights are on and you can see they finally “get it” coming out of their eyes as bright as a house on Christmas Eve. Today, Esky’s eyes glowed. She had arrived. The years ahead are going to be exciting with my young firecracker.

Then, perspective

Back at the truck, Esky gulped a bowl of water and kenneled up on command. It was time for my veteran 9-year-old shorthair, Trammell, to get some action. As you might expect, Tram has worn a lot of tread off her tires. She’s taught me more about hunting birds than any living soul. Together, we’ve seen some of the best public lands America has to offer as I’ve followed her through the alder woods of my U.P. roots, across the Dakota prairies, even hopped islands from a canoe with her in Montana in search of roosters. On the road, I’ve snuck her into hotels rooms and smuggled fatty leftovers from fancy restaurants. She is my Lassie and my Marley, but the miles of switchgrass, cattails, and thickets are starting to show in the gray on her muzzle and the soreness in her gait.

There is a saying in Oklahoma and Texas that “everything wants to poke you in quail country.” Sage, prickly pear, mesquite, sticks, spikes, and sand burs. Esky had maneuvered through this cover with the wild abandon of a youngster. Tram was cutting through quick sand, slowing her pace to avoid the pokes and prods, but not succeeding.  Today, Trammell added Oklahoma to her list of adventures, but the sage, dry air, and heat made her hunt a short one. No coveys, no points, no retrieves. And I cherished every darn moment. She is my once-in-a-lifetime pup.

As my old dog and my young dog sleep peacefully cuddled around me on the motel bed, I realize that this morning in Oklahoma I saw the baton passed from an old dog to a young dog. There is great pride and perspective in that realization. Tears.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve been blessed with two once-in-a-lifetime pups. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings behind both of them.

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