It is said that you should never insult a man's gun or his dog. I think further emphasis ought to be on the dog. Insult a gun in the presence of its owner and he will be mildly offended. Insult his dog and you better be prepared for a roll in the dirt.
Such loyalty, I believe, is merely a reciprocation of allegiance. Dogs will do anything to please us (though it helps if there's a bird in it for them), and as they quest for game we derive the same great enjoyment that's been experienced since man first partnered with wolf. It makes no difference whether your affinity is for pointers, setters, spaniels or hounds, the thrill of a dog on game is universal. Rivalries persist between fans of flushers and pointers, but rare is it when gundog owners can find no common ground. Hunting dogs are part of our essence—our mental health depends upon them. We probably wouldn't even hunt without them.
As I write this, a springer spaniel is curled at my feet who provides me more joy than he'll ever truly understand. It is a pleasure to watch him hunt, but in this era, especially, our dogs are also our companions—part of the family.
I love having a dog in the house. There's nothing so satisfying as waking up eye-to-eye with a tail-wagging bundle of bliss who believes your return to consciousness is cause for great celebration. Not to mention the delightfully sincere greeting a dog provides every day upon your return from work.
I have owned many dogs over the years, some good, some not so good; however, I have found strong points in all of them. And even when they have disappointed me (a phenomenon precipitously linked to the number of witnesses involved), by the time the ride home was over we were buddies again. When has a quarrel between humans ever found such swift resolution?
If dogs have a flaw to be found, it is in their tragically short lives. I remember the first one I lost, a Gordon setter named Luke who was partaking in his evening meal and simply fell over, abruptly dead of natural causes. It was the first time I ever saw my old man cry. Dad wrapped Luke in a blanket, and we buried him with two 12-gauge hulls and a handful of pheasant tails.
Whether owning dogs is worth the pain of losing them is not worthy of discussion. Of course it is. Just consider the companionship we get from our animals; the realization they are improving afield and our training methods played a small role; and the pride that overwhelms as they trail a running pheasant, bust through ice to retrieve a wounded mallard, hold point while pinning a grouse or howl hauntingly at a treed coon—these are pleasures to be cherished!
It is June now, the month "when champions are made," according to a friend who trains bird dogs for a living. He was referring to field trial dogs, but now is also the perfect time to prepare a pup for its first season. Summer's oppressive heat has yet to arrive, the cover is just the right height and, if you start now, that young dog who has inspired your irrational optimism will be ready to roll on opening day. It's a great time to own a dog. Isn't it always?
Do This at the Range
Start range sessions with an understudy rifle
that mimics your deer rifle. You likely haven't fired a round in earnest in months, and no doubt your skills are rusty after the winter/spring layoff. So don't beat yourself up, waste expensive ammo or grow frustrated. Use a rimfire to concentrate on breathing, relaxing, squeezing the trigger and following-through on meaningful shots. Then move to your centerfire rifle of choice.
Bore-sight a new scope at close range.
Weighing 55-70 pounds, shorthairs push size limits, but they can make charming house pets if not overly hyperactive. They may not require as much exercise as setters or pointers, but probably need more than any dog on this list.
Move off the bench.
In preparation for hunting, a bench rest is good for one thing only—assuring your rifle is zeroed. There are no shooting benches in the woods, so why use one for practice? Instead, fire from the prone, sitting, kneeling and offhand positions most likely used while hunting.
Become proficient with artificial shooting rests.
The best field-shooting position can always be enhanced with a backpack, a pair of shooting sticks or a proper sling. Practice shooting with all three, make them part of your "kit" and never leave home without them.
Identify problems with rifles and ammo now.
Extractors break. Scope erectors grow weak and stop taking adjustments. Ammo misfires. Now, not November, is the time to wring out problems with equipment.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.