This is the day I’ve been waiting for. The temperature hovers in the low 40’s with a light wind gently rattling the golden aspen leaves. It’s the first real day of autumn, though the calendar claims that was 3 weeks ago. I didn’t want to waste this hunt on a September day with the woods still green and alive with bugs. The setting has to be just right. I know a place.
Walking into the dappled light of the hardwoods, the sunlight reveals orange sugar maples and crimson red maples. A lament of mine has always been why this beauty has to be so short lived. It’s the brief life of autumn that makes us treasure every moment.
My gaze comes to rest on a big red oak spreading its branches skyward. This is a great spot for a wanderer to rest their legs and let the eyes do the wandering.
With the colors no longer blinding me, I feel the suns warmth and the breeze on my face as it makes the oak leaves sing. I hear a sound that cocks my ear.
At first it’s wispy, as if distant. It’s the tinkling of a bell. In my mind’s eye I see a chiseled Springer Spaniel, rear end wiggling wildly as he decodes a litany of scents. Near a blow down his wiggling intensifies and on cue two birds flush. The first bird falls into a casket of ferns. The second veers sharply and the shot does not feel true.
After retrieving the first bird my guide looks for the other but to no avail. I trust his ability so I’ve no doubt I missed. If he holds a grudge against me for that he doesn’t show it.
A bird flushing wildly is brought down with a shot the dog would call lucky, though I’d argue requires some level of skill. I know he’s perplexed how I pull off such shots but miss easy flushes. Little does he know the reason behind this inconsistency in my shooting. I’m happy to leave with one or two birds in the game bag. His excellence requires me to miss many that I‘ve no intention of killing, but know the shot will make his heart race. The shame I bring upon myself as a poor wing shot I do for the noblest of reasons – love and friendship.
Nearing a thicket the dog becomes birdy. He rushes into the tangles as the bell fades. “Buddy!” I yell. “Buddy!”
My eyes open. The hunt is over. I note the spot where Buddy chased a butterfly one soft June eve in his puppy summer. That long ago summer’s life was just beginning as was his.
I hate to leave as this is a special place, a restful place. I left Buddy here under the big oak to keep watch over the thickets below. I’m sure it’s a lament of all who share hunts with a dog why the time has to be so short. It’s the brief life of a dog that makes us treasure every moment.
Nearing the field, I hear that distant tinkling. Above the grass I see a Springer bouncing. I want to believe its Buddy, but instead I’m greeted by his brother Buck. It’s not fair to Buck that I feel a tinge of disappointment, but at this moment I do.
Still, the cloudless horizon hints that tomorrow will be perfect for hunting. Buck and I can make our own memories. And like Buddy, he seems to accept that he is doomed to do the dirty work for a lousy wing shot.