My wirehair Flick is just three years old, so I’m trying to cut him some slack, but truth be told, he is the cause of all my misses. If it weren’t for his distracting me on our hunts together, I’d shoot a much greater percentage of the birds I’m told by so-called “experts” are out there.
It starts with his looks. Wirehairs are among the continental dog breeds affectionately called “ugly dogs,” for their bushy beards, eyebrows, and generally frazzled appearance. Usually, by “ugly” we mean “cute,” which is all well and good, except when one is trying to focus on a rising covey of Hungarian partridge. A shooter like me can’t handle the distraction of a dog’s upraised eyebrows – so judgmental – it often causes a miss with both barrels. If I want to improve my shooting, I should probably get a Lab pup from the cardboard box in front of the supermarket.
But looks are only the first of many shooting goofs that are surely, certainly, unequivocally, the fault of my dog. He tends to run away, often getting far enough away from me that I have to actually walk some distance to catch him. Then, he stops, holding stock-still. This is usually when the aforementioned looks distract me from the whirring noise I often hear in the background. At least I’ve caught up by then, and he lets me catch my breath. Then, he’s off again to the far horizon without so much as a backward glance.
This holding-still thing is also distracting in its own right. Why he stands there, panting, with his tail up and front foot raised is a mystery I go to great pains to solve. For safety’s sake, I break open my shotgun, and then get close enough to see if he’s got a thorn in his paw, or there’s some other reason he slammed on the brakes. There’s that whirring sound again, and within moments he’s good to go and I’m stuck scratching my head in wonder at his on-again, off-again problem.
Sometimes, my dog forces me to climb steep hills to check on him. Again, he’ll stop and pose as noted above, and out of concern for his safety I open my gun and scrabble uphill. I’ll be huffing and puffing by the time I reach him, and need a few minutes to catch my breath before I can conduct a thorough examination. I’ll set down my unloaded shotgun and start on his upraised foot, which is usually when that annoying whirring sound returns. I’m beginning to think he is toying with me when he plays this little game, because there is never a thorn or torn pad, and after the whirring stops he seems to be just fine, racing off – usually farther uphill.
Periodically, I am in the right position and a chukar will fly past me within range. But by then, my dog has been up so many hills and stopped so many times begging for foot inspections that I avoid pulling the trigger. I don’t want him over-exerting himself with a retrieve. Again, not my fault, just being considerate of my hard-working dog.
Sometimes, game birds are Flick’s partners-in-crime. Valley quail fly at sagebrush-top level, and my dog’s fuzzy tail (while he awaits his customary foot inspection) is often taller than the birds’ trajectory. I dare not make an unsafe shot (he only has half a tail to begin with), so click the safety back on.
Pheasants often scamper away from Flick – I know, because I see their tails as they escape, middle feather sticking straight up while the others simulate a closed fist. I have to believe it’s a signal of some sort, possibly to nearby roosters. Flick often takes it personally, forsaking my expert training for a lusty chase.
Other times, it’s not the dog, nor birds, but my human companion. I preface each hunt with a safety talk, detailing how to carefully cross fences, delineating safe fields of fire, explaining my cross-dominance, curved spine, colorblindness, bad knees, sore back and deliberate hunting pace. An illuminating treatise on ballistics is my grand finale. The dog will stand, rapt, hanging on every word. But because I have to speak slowly and use small words (not judging, but he’s a new hunter), after 40 or 50 minutes, my dog will skulk away as I’m shaking my partner awake. Soon that annoying whirring sound is coming from the general direction of the dog.
Maybe I should condense the safety chat.
Written by Scott Linden