I could see the muscles straining throughout his corded torso. They threaten to deceive his training and ruin all that he has worked for. The devil on his shoulder encouraging him to explode forward, ignore the bond he has with this human playing God and let loose the instinctual demon within.
“Sit.” Comes my calm voice.
My eyes work off in the distance to the rigid dark brown pudelpointer, Braker, who has gone rigor mortis.
A whimper of disappointment leaves my lab’s throat but he holds up his end of the bargain and concedes while his brother from another mother leads the show.
A pang of guilt hits home as I start to walk off towards Braker.
I look back to reassure myself, but knowing it is unnecessary to do so. Sage my ever loyal lab would be exactly where I asked him to be. Unfailing and unwavering in his commitment to please me.
“Damn it,” I say to myself. I hate when I feel inferior to my dog. That type of loyalty has brought a tear to my eye in the past and threatens to do the same now.
But I have a job to do. Braker has earned the right to be the center of attention and I can’t let guilt get in the way of that.
I slowly approach from behind and downwind of him. These quail have been cutting into the heavy winds all day and I’m hedging my bet as to what direction they think the safest evacuation route is.
“Whoa Braker, whoa.” I soothe him as I near. Unlike Sage, I’m a bit more nervous about my pointer’s intentions. I know from past experience he is closer to human than dog. Often he gives into his wants, with my involvement in the hunt being an afterthought.
I inch nervously ahead giving it about a fifty-fifty chance as to whether I am going to put the birds up or his impatience is. I know in the back of his mind he suspects Sage will come careening into the center of the covey to steal his hard-earned find.
He holds true.
The quail scream into the wind and in a rare showing of marksmanship by twin barrels take the same in lives.
Before I finish “Bra…” he’s off in the direction of the first puff of feathers being taken into the wind as easily as dandelion seeds.
I look back over my shoulder knowing that I would be receiving a scowl from my tried and true retriever. Sage a student of the finer things in life is steady to wing and shot. Braker, well Braker is his namesake to the T and rarely lets a thing like discipline slow him down.
“Amateur hour. I know.” I say in an apology to Sage.
Braker has the first bobwhite. Half the feathers in his mouth, half stuck to his peculiar dog beard. He comes racing towards me and I know he has no intention of stopping. Like an Olympic relay racer there is no slowing down for the hand-off.
He spits the bird out in my general vicinity and heads out for round two.
However this time it doesn’t go so smoothly. He tries to get downwind of where he thinks the second bird fell, but the scent is lost in the covey’s former grocery store and he doesn’t have the advantage of a freshly wounded and flopping bird as a visual aid.
Sage lets go a grunt that is the tell tale sign of his annoyance with such incompetence. I know that he could make short work of this situation, but that would be breaking the rules.
The rule of finding the birds first? They’re yours to retrieve. Well that’s as long as I do my part, which is not always the case.
I let Braker take his time and lean against my smoking Citori, knowing this could take a while.
He eventually picks up the scent and with it the dead quail, then prances back with the obvious intent of pissing off Sage.
Now don’t be fooled, it wasn’t always like this. I have yet to find anything more frustrating in hunting than the initial phases of teaming up a pointer and flusher. I about exhausted the urban dictionary and it’s array of four letter words trying to get these two to work together, but in the end it was time and vocabulary well spent.
The conflict of such a setup may or may not seem obvious to some. Their rudimentary philosophies of how a bird should be properly handled is on opposite ends of the spectrum. In football, placekickers and nose tackles don’t have the same job and for good reason.
The Pointer’s Argument
From the pointers perspective he could feel rushed and territorial on his point. It can be difficult enough to have them hold steady with a hunter walking up behind him. They are just as tempted by the adrenaline rush from sending tightly held birds skywords as we are. Now throw a flusher in the mix that has no restraint or respect for the birds personal space and you have a pointer waiting to develop bad habits.
If they feel they have the chance of losing the birds to some boot-sniffing brush buster, you can place a bet with house odds that they are going in for what is rightfully theirs.
How did I resolve this? Have my lab sit as soon as the pudelpointer goes on point. This requires you to pay attention, but you’re hunting over a flusher so you should always be on edge. If your flusher is trained well he’ll sit tight and let the pointer do his job.
The Flusher’s Testimony
The major problem to overcome was keeping my flusher within shooting range. When hunted alone he knows that if he outranges my 20 gauge, his mouth will go featherless. This gives him the incentive to hunt close. But when I threw my pointer in the mix the competition between them was too fierce. He wanted to roam out as far as the pointer, which is not practical for a flusher for obvious reasons.
I had to call him back in range time after time. Only after he learned that if he worked different areas than what Braker had already navigated, he could stay within range and still outwit him. Being that he finds seven out of the ten birds sent into the air, I would say he’s doing a fine job.
I will start off by admitting this was not a combination for everyone. It was certainly unintentional from my end; Sage came from pointing lab lines and I never thought for a minute as a pup that he wouldn’t eventually point. Just like you can’t force your kids into a particular career no matter how hard you plead, the same applies to a dog. Eventually you come to respect and then love that they chose the path that they did.
I benefited above and beyond getting a dynamic hunting team. The training process retrained me in what I thought was possible from our hunting buddies. It also taught me the patience and understanding sure to have rivaled Mother Teresa and in doing so dramatically expanded my sailor-like vocabulary of words I’m less than proud to know.
If you’re up for the challenge, this can be one of the most exciting ways to hunt birds. You get the best of both worlds; the enjoyment of watching the precision that only a pointer can provide and the white knuckle excitement that is inherent in flushers. And as a added bonus, you’ll expand your vocabulary beyond what you ever dreamed was possible.
// Fred Bohm