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.