Peat’s first season hunting, five years ago, began quite stressfully for me (and, consequently, Leslie and Angus). The first six chukar I killed that season Peat stole from the retrieving Angus and ran off into the brush and ate them. Any normal person would have been quite upset about this. I was literally livid and utterly distraught. There was, literally, no hope for the future. The only solution would be for me to kill the bastard and then myself. It was the end of the world.
Many people who love hunting talk about losing oneself in the activity as the real benefit from and attraction to the endeavor. I’ve written a lot about that in one way or another. The impulse to take with absolute seriousness a dog’s behavior in the field — when it doesn’t go right — as the beginning and ending, the totality, can be a drawback, a mitigation of the blissful removal of the world hunting sometimes offers. It goes with the territory. It’s also awful to be around someone (me) who surrenders himself or herself to these kinds of imagined tragedies. The price of intensity? Or is that just an excuse?
Well, I was dead wrong, and Peat told me so. The seventh chukar he watched fall to the ground (shot actually by my brother, on a different hunt than the one in the video, about a week later and not far from the same spot in Hells Canyon) he brought at a full sprint straight to my hand. Talk about bliss. Talk about the impossible.
Peat has not erred since. He’s made some impressive retrieves on birds that fell in places I physically could not get to. He’s tracked down wounded birds that ran a long way from where they fell. He’s found birds I didn’t realize I’d killed. He’s just been consistently great at finding and retrieving birds. Yes, ironic.
Yesterday, in the midst of one of the worst shooting slumps I’ve ever had, I managed to wing a chukar on a steep ridgetop. I watched it sail away a little wobbly, and headed in that general direction. Peat found and pointed it, and I missed my second shot at it, and watched it jet straight to the bottom of the canyon and land in a hawthorn patch. With no birds in the bag, and a lot of hope it would die down there, I descended the 1000 feet to its landing spot, which took about 15 minutes because of the rocky and icy steep slope. It wasn’t there. My heart sunk.
Not Peat’s. His tail modulated madly and he clearly had the scent of the bird that had run out of the hawthorn and farther down the canyon. Knowing I’d lost about 1000 feet more elevation than I’d planned and had to regain to return to the truck, I waited and hoped. I watched Peat on my Alpha screen, his GPS collar telling me how far he was every 2.5 seconds. With a normal range of about 150 yards, I watched him go out past 300, then back to 200, then pinball back to 300. A minute or so later, he returned to me, no bird in his mouth. He reconnected to the scent of that bird, and headed back out. He did the same thing, going past 300, bouncing around there, and returning sans oiseau. I gave him some water and gave up, starting back up the long climb.
Peat got on scent again, and retraced his steps as I watched on the Alpha. Again he ranged past 300, 310, 320, bounced around, and then came back to me, this time with a large adult chukar, dead and broken wing, in his soft mouth. I looked at my watch. It was 30 minutes past when we arrived at the hawthorn patch.
Angus blessed us with so much beauty and greatness and left huge shoes for Peat to fill. I’ve been rough on Peat, victim to the comparison game. But I’ve also sung his praises, while never fully eluding the shadow of Angus. It’s a complication most of you who’ve had more than one dog understand. But this irony — Peat-the-bird-eater > Peat-the-retrieving-phenom — now instructs me to let that shadow go and give Peat unequivocal acclaim.
Peat is every bit as good a hunting companion as Angus was.
18 Replies to “The Irony”
Great story! A retrieve like that will be a happy memory of your times with Peat! Good on you for taking the time and effort so that he could do his job.
Thanks, Larry. It’s definitely been worth it. I appreciate the patience of anyone who read all my bitching about Peat in those early days. He still does things I can’t believe a dog his age (almost 6!) would do, but if I had to save one possession from a fire it would be him.
great writing as usual Bob. Petes a keeper. By the way why did you switch to the Garmin TT mini?
Thanks, John. Yes, Peat’s the real deal as far as we’re concerned. On the Garmin, I just felt the large (regular) TT15 collar was too big for our Brittanys. The TT15 Mini has enough juice for our longest hunts (6 hours or so), and I didn’t notice any transmitting difference between the two (maybe hound hunters, whose dogs tend to range much farther than the 300 yards our dogs range, might need the bigger collar, but their dogs usually are stouter than Brittanys). Does that make sense?
I had the same “scare” when my young Wire wanted to bury every bird that he fetched. Fortunately, he got over that, no thanks to me, as I am no dog trainer.
I’m no dog trainer, either, Troy! I’d never heard of dogs burying birds. I hope I never have to witness it! I’m glad yours figured it out. It’s amazing the power these canines have over us, huh?
Great job Peat! The chart you posted would have mirrored my EKG followed by a flat horizontal line.
Ha ha, Ron! I laughed out loud when I read your comment. The other people in the doctor’s waiting room weren’t amused, though. Oh well. But seriously, you know better than I do that when a bird’s on the line, our birdbrains make our bigbodies do things they don’t want to.
Peat came along to be your challenge as a true chukar hunter. It was easy to love chasing chukars when you were behind Angus. Than came the challenges Peat provided and rather than throwing in the towel you grew some grey hair and pressed on with Peat knowing you always had the solid Angus to fall back on.
Then you proved your worth to Peat and he decided to be a great hunting dog. That’s when Angus decided to let go, knowing you were left in good paws. Each dog along the way will seem to challenge you to be a better dog person and because of each dog, you will.
Thank you and Leslie for the love of the sport and your dogs.
Larry, thank you for your wonderful interpretation of all this! You understand it better than I do. Your narrative is one I’ll hold onto. I’d never thought of it like you put it, and it’s very moving. I sincerely appreciate the gift, and what you’ve shared with us for these past years.
As usual Bob , your methods for sharing stories about bird dogs and why we hunt, are spot on
Thanks for what you do for our community !
Thanks for the kind words, Brett. Thank you for reading, too!
If we manage not to kill our bird dogs in their first two years of life, more frequently than not, they turn out to be bird-seeking missiles. It’s best if we suppress memories of puppyhood and celebrate the bird machines they become.
Thanks for your insight, Mark. I’m a masochist, so I have to fight the impulse to forget bad memories. At least sometimes I can laugh at them. And we’re getting ready for another puppy in the spring…
Shooting slumps — must be the water in Boise right now because I’m right there with you. Peat is an inspiration, though: if he can improve that much, so can we.
Sorry to hear about your slump, Patrick. I hope you’re out of it by now. I’m clawing my way back and (don’t tell anyone) have changed back to lead…
My buddy tossed a quail head to my Golden on his first upland hunt this past week as a token of his appreciation for a picture perfect flush. His gesture led to the next 2 birds being brutally mauled during the retrieve lol. After a stern talking to and swift kick in the ass, Super Cooper put on a retrieving and flushing clinic for the next 4 days. Dogs are weird, but not as weird as the fellas who hunt with them!
Ha ha! Great story! Thanks!