Chukar hunting four years ago, at 49, I jumped off a rock because for a moment I thought I was 18. It didn’t end up well. Sometimes it seems age is the only thing. Yesterday, age took center stage on a series of steep, rocky, muddy, bunch-grass-covered, sunlit desert hills. My aging butt trudged slowly up and down them trying to follow my puppy and my old-man Brittanys.
While climbing, I was able to keep the dogs on the north-facing, frozen slopes so that when we reached the top we could reverse direction into the prevailing wind and work down the open, sun-drenched south-facing terrain. On the way up, Peat, the puppy, found and pointed two small “bonus” coveys. Angus was elsewhere. Near the top, Peat ascended with considerable interest in a straight-ish line while Angus progressed in his typical quartering fashion, and on a more northerly vector than Peat. When Peat stopped, rigid, stretched motionless I boogied up to him, then crept ahead. After a few yards a super-covey of at least 50 chukar burst right in front of us.
On the way down, Peat found and pointed two more groups that Angus did not, one of which Angus ran across without busting. I winged one bird, which sailed nearly half a mile, landing in a bitterbrush. I hustled both dogs down there, and Peat tracked the running partridge (and brought it straight back to me, thank you very much!).
In people years, Angus is nearly 63, (the “new 53”?, my current actual age, which feels like the new 73). He’s had a rough go this year with the new, young, annoying blood, and he’s still kind of grumpy about it. In the middle of the season I realized he’d lost quite a bit of weight, so we increased his food. Finally, thanks to post-hunt Vienna Sausages and elevated kibble levels, he’s not quite so bony in the hips.
After today, I can’t help wondering how well the best nose I’ve had the pleasure of hunting with these past six seasons (I didn’t hunt with him until he was three) is working. Peat clearly outdid him on the olfactory score. While I’m thrilled with Peat’s progress, I can’t help resenting at least a little bit the “out with the old, in with the new” feeling it gives me. I’m sure that everyone who works with more than one dog at a time experiences this. It’s my first go-round with it, and makes me see from yet another angle my brother’s advice long ago to avoid having two bird dogs simultaneously. Not trying to start something here, mind you, just Vienna Sausages for thought. Aged ones.
And what might Angus be thinking? The reality of it is that he’s probably looking for birds, as always, and really excited about it. He still looks enlivened by the activity, and never looks happier than when doing this. Peat sometimes focuses too much on Angus and that has got to bug him, having to shuck and jive to escape Peat. But I wonder if he noticed Peat outperformed him today, and I wonder what he thought about it. I hope he’s just lying at my feet now resting up for the next hunt. I’m sure that’s it.
Peat’s got a long way to go, but I actually hunted with him today for the first time. Here’s a bit of footage from the past several weeks of the dogs working; the first section is on a trail during a walk, hunting prohibited, with lots of grateful quail. Enjoy.