I make no secret about it, Belle is my favorite dog. I don’t love the other two any less, and Belle is in no way perfect…but at the end of the day she’s my favorite.
Shortly after we got her, Maggie was diagnosed with a very aggressive Mast Cell Tumor, and after that crisis was averted Emma went through her ordeal with degenerative myelopathy. Even with the distractions, the little dog immediately won over my heart and very early I knew I had a super star on my hands. As luck (bad in this case) would have it, she was pressed into service prior to her first birthday. She always has put a smile on my face and shouldered the load like a trooper.
This year Maggie is once again on the sidelines, and Lily…well you’ve seen the pictures of Lily…is in no position to be asked to be a bird dog. So, Belle is being asked to shoulder the load for her second season out of three total. Her physical ability in the field never ceases to amaze me and I thoroughly enjoy just watching her work.
My first-two-seasons phenom has certainly had her share of issues this year. Her ability to handle grouse, especially these last season birds, has evaporated, and thankfully she is sticking her pheasants like a dream, otherwise I’d have me a pretty flusher. She was such an initial success in the field that I really lapsed on the training front and failed to mold her into the bird dog she should be. At just two years of age I have no doubt that I can get that natural ability to shine through again, but now its going to take some training on my part and learning on hers.
That has nothing to do with the title of the post though. Yesterday I made a trip West to chase the prairie birds. I really need to get a nice prairie chicken specimen to send to a carver who is doing an urn for Emma. At the beginning of the year, with grass conditions spectacular and bird numbers up, I didn’t think it would be an issue to secure such a bird. Now we sit here in December with the season nearly over and essentially ruined by unfavorable weather and precipitation. Yesterday’s trip turned into a one-day adventure; the initial plan was a three-day excursion…but the weather once again had other plans.
I hooked up with my good friend Brad and his highly-animated, and all-around good French Brits. With the road conditions less than adequate, we ended up doing longer swings into fields than we would have liked. We didn’t see many birds, but this was expected of the late-season grouse in snowy fields. As we reached the truck I glanced down at the Garmin Astro and flipped to the totals screen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Belle had traveled more than 20 miles in the less than three hours we were in the field. It was the first spot of the day, and this little dog was doing her best to get us that chicken.
We let Belle and Mick take a break and hunted Gus in a field that we had a chance to find grouse and pheasants. I hadn’t hunted with Brad much last year, and this was my first time with Gus one-on-one in the field. To say the least, I was totally impressed. The little dog put on a clinic in handling late-season South Dakota pheasants, trailing four birds an incredible distance (including crossing a fence on one) before pinning them down. On the fence bird, I managed to empty my gun on a crossing-shot and haven’t felt like I let a dog down in such a long time. The little pup didn’t miss a beat and merrily continued to find us birds.
Brad and I parted company, and with the weather moving in, and no work scheduled for Monday, I elected to hunt right up until sundown. Belle was raring to go again, and with our lack of grouse contacts earlier, I decided to end the day at a guaranteed pheasant spot. The spot didn’t disappoint, nor did the little dog. Back at the truck I once again checked the GPS unit…it read 25 miles. Belle had covered 25 miles in essentially two hunting spots.
I have been running the Astro for two years and had never really checked this little stat screen, mainly because I didn’t know it existed, and I hadn’t been resetting the information until this year’s hunts. Maybe this total is actually low for Belle, but it still amazed me. Having run a marathon, I know what it’s like to cover that distance in the best of conditions with the best of support and months of training for that one event. My amazing Belle had just done it running through cover, full-tilt (averaging between 10-15 mph) in unforgiving terrain. The feat unto itself was amazing, but the fact that she could have turned around and done it multiple days on end blows my mind.
I know I say it a lot…these dogs are athletes in the truest sense of the word.