One Last Bird
By Don Jordan
Nov. 1. 2001
By this time next week, I plan on having eaten my first quail of the year. It will be my first taste of quail in more than two years, owing to lack of a bird dog.
It should not have turned out that way. Tonyís old dog, Ozzie, was failing, but the young one was coming on strong and would have been there to chase those Greene County Bob Whites but for one thing. Some low, mean, murderer poisoned sweet little Allie in her pen.
It breaks my heart to think of it. Poor little doggie. She was nothing but a bundle of happy, wiggling sweetness, and she could find a covey of quail and retrieve a downed bird as good as any dog Iíve known. Maybe thatís why the coward fed her rat poison.
Maybe someone didnít like hearing about what a good bird dog she was, or maybe the skunk did this terrible deed because he didnít like Tony, or me. Tony said she hung on suffering for two days, but the vet just couldnít save her.
It took the edge off of our desire to hunt for a couple of years.
But there is a new dog now, and come next Friday, weíll be out there with the ghosts of Ozzie and Allie and my old Irish, Brandy. There will be stories about Old Dumb, the would-not-stop rabbit-hunting beagle. Heíll be out there with us too. I know Iíll talk about the time Brandy rooted under downed horse weeds for a mile, hot on the trail of a covey that flew across White River when he finally got the drop on them.
There were a couple of memorable hunts behind Ozzie when he was a youngster at a place we call the Track Stadium. We called it that because this one particular covey of birds habitually ran just ahead of us, moving just a little at a time, for over a half a mile before dispersing and disappearing into a corn field. They were track stars, and with Ozzie pointing, moving, pointingÖ it was heart-pounding stuff.
I canít put a year on any of the stories these days. They are all jumbled together, datable only by bird dog. If it is a story with Brandy, it had to be before 1987. If it was young Ozzie, it had to be in the early 1990s. Thatís what archaeologists would call relative dating by bird dog.
We enter the millennium behind new blood, but we will hunt the same fields, chase the same coveys out of the same ditches, and brush piles and fence rows that weíve been hunting for nearly 20 years. Over in my home country in south central Illinois, I know my relatives will be doing the same thing over grounds where I carried by first shotgun back in the 1950s.
My point here is that the hunt never changes, just the players. You can skip generations, skip families, states, countries and time itself, because there is timelessness to the hunt that connects us all. Hunting creates a cross-cutting social tie among hunters, a kind of brotherhood or even sisterhood of the hunt.
This isnít any kind of official, oath-taking, secret handshaking type of brotherhood. Heck, I think most hunters donít even want to know other hunters, let alone be their brothers. But there is that common background of rare, shared experience that ties all nimrods and gives us common memories. We know how a beagle sounds when itís after a rabbit, or how a bird dog acts when it gets a scent of quail. We know the real secrets of hunting are in everything about the hunt, everything, including the sad and the sweet.
However, all the memories go out the window if you blow your own head off by accident while crossing a fence with a loaded shotgun. And if you blast your bird hunting pal, chances are he isnít going to enjoy hunting with you again. If you accidentally shoot your dog, youíll be brought low by that experience for the rest of your life. Rule One: donít shoot yourself, your buddy or your dog.
Aside from that, tell your mom and dad how much you love them, kiss your dog and give it a hug, and wipe down that shotgun every night with a silicon rag. Itís bound to be a good season, especially if youíve got a good buddy and a good dog to share it.
BLUE MOON: When I wrote about the full moon of November falling on the 30th, a little something slipped past me. November 30th is the second full moon of the month, meaning itís a Blue Moon! I donít have any hunting lore about Blue Moons, but it is sure that I only overlook a Blue Moon once in a Blue Moon.