In this case the “they” were our two male vizslas—Reggie, a yearling, and Chopi, a senior of 10 years, who had little tolerance for the little dog. When we got the pup last December, the situation made for a long, claustrophobic winter with the constant grousing between the two—and I don’t mean pointing a partridge.
The plan to drive Montana to pick up the trailer and then drive back east to Minnesota to upland bird hunt, I soon realized was as demented as the dogs were crazed. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we thought about duct taping a cardboard wall between the two of them until we stumbled on the soccer field strategy. Reggie will sprint circles around big fields to the point of exhaustion, so two to three times a day for at least thirty minutes we would find a soccer or football field in some town for him to race around. If he slowed for even a second, we would call him back triggering him to continue running like a grayhound. This seemed to settle him and by the time we reached the Montana border, they had their back seat squabbles worked out, mostly.
After six days of driving for 2,900 miles we finally reached our hunting destination of Appleton, Minnesota. The final day of driving included white knuckling the trailer through South Dakota in a snowstorm and howling winds. Just glad to be alive, I set a very low bar for hunting—don’t shoot anyone and don’t loose Reggie; anything more would be gravy.
The first several days of hunting I was glad for my low expectations. The wind never stopped blowing hard, it was cloudy and in the low 40s, and the dogs had to range far to cover the humongous fields and wetlands, scarce of birds. Still, Chopi and Reggie never gave up. With heads held high in the air trying to find scent, they checked out brutal covers of thick sedges up to our waists, reedy swamps, and prairie grasses over our heads. And they did find, point, and flush pheasants—they were learning the covers faster than we ever would. The old hunting adage, trust your dog, rang true. In terms of bringing home dinner, I’ll say that it was a good thing we didn’t depend on our kill for dinner.
Yesterday, the indigenous, Lutheran Viking, hunting goddesses colluded in our favor. In the late afternoon, the winds died down to around 10 m.p.h. with brilliant sunshine. The first wildlife management area (WMA) we visited proved a poor choice because there was a combine harvesting corn, which might have driven birds toward us, but the WMA was small and there was an unusual amount of high-speed trucks on the gravel road. The second cover was tough covers, but the dogs were hunting well and for us. Still, we only flew a couple of hens that we had to pass up.
Just as the sun was throwing long shadows and we were making our way back to the truck, both dogs became birdy. They worked the brushy cover together, interleaving their paths until they both simultaneously slammed on beautiful, picture-perfect points. I walked to their frozen bodies, flipped off my safety and glanced over my shoulder to make sure Mike saw the point and was ready. I stared at the two of them and reminded myself that hunting, maybe life, doesn’t get any better. The veteran dog and the adolescent pup were cooperating together as a team. I could have watched them forever, but I wasn’t sure how much longer Reggie, or even Chopi, would hold the point, or if the still unseen bird would run rather than fly. I tried to etch the image of the dogs in memory before kicking the brush. A fine rooster cackled and flew straight toward Mike and a moment later two shots rang out.
On the way back to camp, we stopped at a local bar to watch my hometown team the Milwaukee Brewers play the last game of the series against the Dodgers. The Brewers played the series well but lost the last game ending their hope of going to the World Series. Unlike the Brewers, we can play the game again tomorrow and for another three days after that we until we have to end the season out here and head home. But there is still grouse hunting in New England and next fall, where our rookie Reggie will be a little more seasoned and our shooting will not disappoint.