What a word. It’s a verb. It’s a noun. It’s an adjective. It’s an adverb. It’s a body part. It dominated my fall and winter last year. It’s the first word in the title of a great movie. It can signal a return to something horrific or sublime.

In upland bird hunting, it’s also a thing that, in its absence, can wreak havoc on a hunt, a season, hunters, dogs, friendships, marriages… “My dog backs,” one wants to say. Or, as Richard Wolters, the author of the bible (bird dog training bible), says, “You can criticize a man’s wife, but don’t you say one word about his dog,” and if that dog doesn’t back, it can be awkward.

During the quasi-nightmare of Peat’s childhood, in which he absolutely terrorized Angus, my second most abiding fear was that Peat would bust every future point Angus would ever make (my biggest fear was that he’d eat every single bird I shot, which — for the first half-dozen — he did). Despite how easy Richard Wolters makes it sound to train a dog to back another dog’s point, I thought it’d be impossible to train Peat to do that. Memories of my first Brittany, Glenna, who’d clear the county of all game birds and spend the day hunting for herself, returning to the truck when she was damned good and ready, flooded back to me during those first few months with Peat, and I fretted over what our first season together would look like. But the first time Angus pointed in the field, Peat froze harder than a pillar of Arctic salt. I nearly cried: massive relief, sudden shock, sheer beauty.

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy most about chukar hunting is watching Peat back, or “honor,” Angus. When Peat backs Angus, he appears possessed, crouching in electric contortion, an otherworldly concatenation of nerves and muscles. If Peat’s hunting another area and suddenly spies Angus on point 200 yards away, he’ll freeze, conduct a detailed but rapid visual analysis of the scene, noting Angus’s posture, rate of movement, the intervening vegetation and terrain, and determine the optimal course of action to allow him to get — as quickly as possible — closer to the birds without risking anything remotely dishonorable. When Peat does move, it’s with a mechanized precision but in machine-gun-like bursts. It is a marvel to watch.

Recently, Peat was in rare form, and Leslie got it on video. A couple of times he even bottomed out and actually lay down for a moment, his wee feet out in front of him. Enjoy the video.

9 Replies to “Back”

  1. Just like a good actor in a war drama closing in on the target. Fine spaniel like belly crawls from his French lineage.

  2. There are so many “Backs” in bird dog training 🙂 on the retriever side of the spectrum it is to line out in search of a bird that was not marked by the dog … I didn’t know pointers “backed” but it is essentially honoring a point correct?. Of course I trained my Golden Retriever the back command for birds that fell while he was retrieving another and missed a mark but my former mother in law thoroughly confused the dog by using “back” as a command to leave her alone, no matter how many times I told her to tell him “go” instead of “back” if she wanted that result 😂. As it turns out memory retention was not a strong suit with any of the women in her family lol.

  3. Enjoyed watching. I’ve always had good backer’s and as Sam said they were natural’s. This year, Jake the older of my two dogs has decided to honor until I get into the picture and than he works his way around me as to trap the birds as I approach the point. Grady doesn’t break his point when he see’s this so I’ll let it be. An interesting thing about honoring with both my dog’s and my dog’s in the past is that they also honor me. If they see me in the ready position and moving slow they freeze even when they don’t see the other pointing dog. Over our many hunts they have learned when action time is upon us.

Chirp away

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