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Outdoors

Changes: Laments and celebrations

Changes: Laments and celebrations

Nothing is more graceful than a steady and well-performed point. Photo courtesy Tony Kinton

Lady was not field-trial material. Please don’t assume I am proclaiming her valueless; I am not. She was a treasured commodity, a companion of merit. The overriding essence of her caliber was that she belonged to me, both in the sense of possession and in her full dedication. Lady was mine. And that simple fact could have been the reason she was what she was—a country-yard bird dog in the purest form.

Common to that era referenced, practically every rural household had a bird dog, maybe two or more. But not ours; not yet anyway.

Some few of those dogs were well trained and sought after and bartered for and discussed around checkerboards of community stores.  

Most, however, were just bird dogs, lounging in the sunshine of dirt yards on winter days and curled in cool depressions under porch steps during summer. But all, in varying degrees of expertise, were employed as bird dogs. Even the poorest performers among those suspect collections were adequate for locating and putting to flight enough quail for supper.

Quail reigned during those long-past years of my youth. Old men of the day, younger then than I am now, would routinely escape from crusty personas and transform into gentlemen. Oh, their grammar was still lacking and they wore those same overalls of field work and they spat grandiose streams of brown juice from plug tobacco, but many toted Parker and L.C. Smith doubles and Browning A-5s. After all, a man needs some avenue of extravagance! And they watched with youthful glee minus hard-time struggles as their dogs worked birds. I often enough watched them as they watched to determine that I must have a dog of my own. That’s when Lady came on the scene.

She was of that majority designated as just bird dogs. No pedigree of import. No training other than that a ragged youth without proper pedagogy could provide. Lady was simply a shivering, skinny pup that I begged from a middle-school friend whose dad had a female pointer that had recently produced an unplanned litter. They didn’t know which dog was the proud sire. But I gave little thought to such indiscretions. I had my bird dog. Lady!

At first, she was just my pal around the yard and garden, clumsy and unruly. But one late August day, I experienced an epiphany of genius and tied a chicken feather to a fishing pole—after removing the hook, of course. I caught Lady unaware and flipped that feather in front of her. She locked on point, solid and quivering. My dream materialized; I had a trained dog ready to reach astounding heights in quail haunts. I could hardly wait for autumn.

Autumn came; quail season opened. Equipped with a Stevens double 20 and ragged canvas vest, I spent countless hours after school and on Saturdays and during holiday breaks with Lady and that 20 gauge. It was glorious. Quail were everywhere on our 80 acres. And adjacent landowners didn’t object to the presence of neighboring boys and their dogs. Those neighbors were welcome on our place as well. The next few years played a key role in shaping me, making me who and what I am.

Perhaps the premier moment with Lady and the 20 occurred one day after I exited the school bus. We needed four quail for supper. I collected the shotgun, vest and Lady for a short walk over past a patch of weathered corn stalks, a weedy fence row my destination. There Lady slowed and acted birdy, then settled statue-stiff. The covey rose; both barrels rumbled in close succession. That was, if memory serves me, my first double. Two singles came later, and four quail would be on the table directly. Not bad for a green youth and a dog that was never ready for the field-trial circuit.

Then things happened. Life mostly: college, graduate school, a new job. Before I could give it serious thought, schedules were full, the 20 was traded, Lady was laid to rest near that same fence line that produced that first double. Everything was different. Not necessarily better nor necessarily worse but definitely different. I gained enough composure at some point to mourn the passing of a great many pleasantries. And somewhat like that difference, the mourning was not necessarily good or necessarily bad. But it was essential.

Fifty years have passed. Changes are even more evident. Still, I choose celebration to accompany lamentation. I celebrate now the memories of then. I celebrate that grand bird that is more than scarce in the wild by actively pursuing quail on various preserves; most of them I’ve found to be thoroughly satisfying. I lament trading that Stevens side-by-side 20 but celebrate a Browning Citori over/under 20 and sleek Beretta over/under 28. They fit and work perfectly. 

And I celebrate fine-tuned English pointers and Britany Spaniels and German Shorthairs that I find on those well-run and welcoming preserves. Lady could never compare. But this celebration of the superior dogs brings a tear. They remind me of Lady, and oh how I still miss her, lament her passing. She was my dog.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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