Duchess savored the crisp autumn air filling her lungs. The trees had shed their leaves for the winter. The cold ground chilled her toes through the calloused surface of her pads. The change of season signals her that opening day is getting closer. Bird-dogging is what she lives for.
John brought out a long gun a few weeks ago. Tight by his side on every move, Duchess wasn’t about to be forgotten. Something wasn’t quite right though. The long gun that John had brought out had the stink of stale fur from a bushy-tailed tree rat. She didn’t mind when John would occasionally take a rabbit that might pop up on a bird hunt. Once she caught on that John wanted the long-eared hoppers, she would even flush them for him when she picked up the scent. When he went squirrel hunting, however, he left her behind.
“It won’t be long, girl. Pheasant season is around the corner,” John had told his loyal companion as he scratched her head.
Bird dogs and squirrel hunting didn’t mix. Squirrels are wary of dogs and people. By himself, John would blend into the oak grove and wait quietly. Eventually, a squirrel, unaware of human presence, would come within range of the crosshairs of John’s small scope.
The weeks had passed and John was up early one Saturday morning. As soon as he came into the kitchen Duchess alerted with anticipation. Then she saw the shotgun. When he brought out the hunting vest that carried his spare shotgun rounds and the bird scented game bag, Duchess went crazy with excitement.
As Duchess ran to the door, back to John and then back to the door again her actions were clearly saying to John, “Come on! Let’s go!”
John gathered up his gear and kissed his wife, Nancy, as she held the door for him. Duchess was already waiting at the rear of the car. When John opened the trunk of the car she hopped in. He laid his gear beside her and closed the lid.
Duchess had heard people scold John for being cruel because he rode her in the trunk. She didn’t mind though. She was going on a hunt and that was all that mattered. John taught the dog to ride in the trunk so that after the hunt she wouldn’t soil the interior of the car on the ride home.
About to back out of the driveway, John stopped when he saw his wife hurrying toward him with his coffee thermos. Her robe fell away from her shapely legs as she ran. He set the thermos in the seat beside him and she leaned in to kiss him again. With this move her robe fell open at the top and her breasts elongated as they stretched away from her body. John cupped one of them.
“Are you trying to temp me?”
She smiled mischievously. “Not on purpose but it might be fun to make the morning a twofer.” She enjoyed his touch.
Both of them felt the swell of hormones urging them for the second time this morning. They kissed again but more deeply. Then John’s eyes caught sight of their toddler standing at the front door.
"Guess who is awake?"
Nancy turned and saw her three-year-old. “I’ll be right there baby girl.”
“Hug her for me,” John said as his wife went to their child.
“I’ll do that and more.” She smiled over shoulder. “I’m going to keep something else warm for you. Chloe is going to need a nap later.”
Duchess rode patiently and, eventually, the sounds of the car changed as John turned off of the main highway and onto a gravel road. A few minutes later John stopped and opened the trunk lid for Duchess. She leaped to the ground and, again, she quivered with excitement. John closed the lid, got back into the car and drove off down the farm lane. Duchess caught up to the car at the end of lane. This was a pre
e-hunt ritual that John had started when Duchess was a six-month-old pup. It helped her to vent off her excitement so that she handled better when the hunt started.
When they arrived, John’s brother, Steve, was waiting with his dog, Gunner. Most people don’t realize that dogs communicate clearly to each other without words. Duchess and Gunner were familiar and exchanged greetings. Off season, they played with each other when the two families would get together. Gunner went around on Duchess and sniffed her hinter end.
“Don’t get any ideas.” Duchess asserted politely.
“You’re never in the mood when we hunt.” Gunner was there to hunt but hormones are hormones.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Gunner. If I’m in season during season then John and I hunt alone.”
“That’s just wrong. Every dog has to have a little bootie once in awhile.”
“So take your bootie down that lane that I just ran, and then run it back. You need to work it off, fool. You studs have one thing on your mind all of the time. Add pedigree papers and you all think that you’re nature’s gift to bitches. Do you have any idea what pups will do to my teats?”
The conversation ended as the dogs’ ears lifted to the sound of chambering shotgun rounds. It was 8:00 AM. The men headed off for the field. Through the fence and into the field, the dogs started to quarter. Both men called their dogs to heel. Confused, the dogs obeyed.
Gunner looked over at Duchess. “What’s going on?”
“Look.” Duchess turned her snout to the rows of corn that were not yet harvested. “There is still some corn standing.”
“So?” Gunner had never hunted this way.
“Watch and do what you’re told.” Her patience with Gunner was fading fast.
If he couldn’t get all of the harvest done before the season started, the farmer who owned this ground, would always leave some corn standing in anticipation of pheasant season.. He would leave about ten rows standing and harvest ten rows in between. If pheasants were in the field in the early morning and they saw the hunters approaching they would run to the standing corn for cover.
The two hunters stopped, discussed their plan and Steve snapped a short leash onto Gunner’s collar. He handed the loop to his brother and walked off to the right by himself. John headed to the left and commanded Duchess to heel. Gunner followed on the leash.
Looking back, John saw that Steve had reached his destination at one end of the standing corn rows. About fifty feet from the other end of the corn rows, the dogs started acting birdy. Duchess wanted to break heel but obeyed as John reiterated his command. Gunner was about to tug at the leash but relaxed as he heard the heel command.
John gave three short tweets on his dog whistle to indicate that the dogs were on scent. Steve acknowledged with one tweet.
John unsnapped Gunner’s leash and commanded, “Hunt ‘em up!”
The dogs charged into the corn led by noses searching for hotter scent. Out of sight, their yelping confirmed the hot scent of running birds.
At the other end of the standing corn the birds’ panicked flapping of wings swooshed them into the air. The dogs reared on hind legs as if to chase the birds into the sky. There was one rooster and two hens. Steve leveled his shotgun at the brightly feathered rooster. The sound of two successive reports drowned the noise of escaping wings.
Duchess and Gunner looked at each other in total disbelief.
“What’s the matter with your fool?”
Gunner stared back in equal confusion, not knowing what to say.
“Bury my heart under wounded sky! We come out here and work our tails off to flush a prime first season rooster and the best that your fool can do is put two holes in the sky behind that one rooster? I don’t get it.”
The men called out to each other. They exchanged a question, some lame excuses and some well embellished kidding. On a small farm the ruckus that they just made could have frightened all of the birds into the surrounding quarter sections. They moved on to the next rows of standing corn and Steve sent the dogs to John.
The next five sets of standing corn didn’t net up any birds. On the sixth and final pass, however, the dogs were coming John’s way when they went birdy again. At the sound of the dogs’ yelps John released his shotgun safety.
This time it seemed as if the dogs came out of the corn already on hind legs in attempt to keep up with the fleeing birds. Two hens stayed low and went in opposite directions. One rooster came straight at John and over his head. Boom!
Two flashes of green-headed gold and bronze flew left of John. As he birds leveled in flight, John leveled the shotgun and led, first one bird, then the other. Boom! Boom!
Duchess looked at Gunner again but, this time, with a face full of her delight. Three rooster pheasants lay waiting to be retrieved and the sky had suffered no trauma.
Each dog dashed out and brought back a fallen bird. Duchess ran back out and foraged around until she found the third. The bird had worked itself under some thick dead matted grass along a fence row. The men would never have found it without the dogs.
Usually Duchess would sit and patiently wait for her reward after a kill. This time, however, for benefit of Gunner, she strutted back and forth in front of her hunter as he field-dressed the three birds. He gave both dogs a heart from the birds. John gave the third heart to Duchess and tossed a liver to Gunner.
The group went on to work the natural cover of the draws and creeks, and the fence rows on the farm. Steve bagged two birds. John dropped a fourth and gave it to his brother. Six birds were the limit between two hunters and they headed back to the cars.
The brothers cajoled each other on the walk back. For love of the hunt the dogs continued to quarter. For knowing his dog, John was ready when Duchess flushed a cottontail. He saw her heating up on rabbit scent and added fur to his bag for the day.
Before they got into the cars Gunner nuzzled Duchess. “Maybe next time?” He sniffed her butt.
“You’re funny! Consider our relationship Platonic. Next time, you come wearing a shock collar. John will carry the control and anytime that I whimper you’re going to your knees. You’re just lucky that nature didn’t gift me with an opposing thumb. I’d bring you to your knees myself, right now. You deserve it just for your acting so adolescent.” She pulled away and hopped into the trunk that John had just opened.
John and Steve exchanged farewells and pointed the cars back down the lane toward home. John had something delicious on his mind but it had nothing to do with cooked wild game.