Friday, January 11, 2008

Bird Dogs

The dogs can’t wait to hit the ground. They spend the night in the kennel, sleeping in their own, relatively comfortable quarters. In the night, from time to time, you can hear them respond to something outside their fences – a coyote, a rabbit or a raccoon. They get stirred up - they bark - they howl. Their excitement rocks you in the otherwise quiet country nighttime. Somehow though, it’s easy to go back to sleep knowing they’re out there.

In the morning, they’re ready to load up and get to the field. It’s quail season. They spend most of the year waiting for these days.

The first morning was cold and dry. The temperature stretched from 25 degrees in the morning to a high of 70 in the south Texas afternoon. Welcome to January near the Texas / Mexico border.

As I drove south to the hunting camp, I saw lots of trucks pulling nice trailers with license plates from New Jersey and Minnesota. They look forward to the season, too.

We drive along the ranch road until we get to the first spot. Getting the dogs ready takes a minute or two but they can hardly wait. They shake with excitement. My friend, whose place I’m hunting on, acts as host, chef, dog handler and everything else.

He puts the electronic receivers on each of the first two dogs that will start the day in the field. The receivers respond to a transmitter that is kept on the handler’s belt. If the dogs get too far away, the short, harmless, but probably uncomfortable shock gets their attention. Harmless shocks are what happen to somebody or something other than you! Kind of like “minor surgery”. You know, the kind of surgery performed on somebody else.

As the dogs begin to work the field, we follow along driving at a pace of two or three miles per hour. Sometimes, I get out and walk through the thigh-high grass and brambles. The dogs don’t seem to pay any attention to the thorns and the saw grass.

They run back and forth with their noses in the air and on the ground. They jump over any obstacle with ease. It looks like they are smiling.

Every once and a while, my friend will call out “Lil” or “Ben”. The other two dogs in the back of the truck waiting their turn are named “Dot” (a beauty of a pointer with one big brown spot on her left side) and “Girl”. I guess they ran out of names.

When the dogs hear their names called they come back to the path of the truck and resume the focused hunt.

When they find a covey of quail, they freeze. It’s an incredible sight. If they are on birds, they cannot be called off – they will not release at the call of their names. They won’t come off point even if they are shocked by the receiver on their necks.

It’s what they are there to do.

A few years ago, the Vice President was in the news for shooting a friend with a shotgun while quail hunting. The ranch they were on is just across the fence from where we are. And for anybody that’s ever done any bird hunting, you know how easy it is for this to happen.

You walk up behind your dog on point, not knowing if the birds are two feet in front or five. When they flush, it’s an explosion. There might be five birds or twenty but it’s chaos and when it happens, you act fast. You swing the gun into position and fire.

That’s why we’re wearing bright orange hats and vests - to keep from being shot!

I’m pretty sure there are some of you reading this who have a hard time with the whole hunting thing, but if you’ve read this far, stay with me a little longer.

And by the way, we clean and eat everything we shoot. You can’t find any meat in the supermarket to compare with the meal we’ll have tonight.

The more I do this kind of thing, the more I enjoy watching the dogs work. It’s really the highlight for me above anything else – ok maybe the meal is the highlight but I digress.

They’re amazing animals. They don’t point and flush cardinals or sparrows. They hunt quail. Their noses don’t peg on the scent of rabbits or groundhogs. They don’t chase deer. In the course of our time in south Texas, we saw a couple of dozen nice bucks and the dogs gave them the casual glance and the general disregard of a shopper not interested.

They are bird dogs.

I am here to bring pleasure to my Father. To listen to his voice. To respond when He calls my name. To allow for His correction and try to obey His command. I’ve not always done it and I’m sure, like “Dot” and “Ben” and “Lil” and “Girl”, there will be times He might hit the shock collar to get my attention.

My prayer for this year is to do what I’m here to do. To ignore the “sparrows” and anything else that has nothing to do with my purpose. That might seem cold and unfeeling, but honestly, we are a people too easily distracted by the junk. I want to close my eyes to the trivial and pour my heart into the eternal.

Great athletes, great musicians and great bird dogs get to be great by focusing on their gifts and their purpose. They pay little attention what others are doing. They stay on task.

The reward is in the process as well as the accomplishment.

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