There’s a Rodney Atkins song that epitomizes what it’s like to have a great bird dog. As Atkins croons in “A Man On a Tractor,” sometimes there’s no better way to deal with the stress and confusion of life than to be in the field with a good dog that knows its purpose and carries it out with exuberance.
Everything feels right when you’re a man with a shotgun and a dog in the field. The smell of burnt gunpowder? We call that aromatherapy. Watching a master bird dog in action is the closest we’ll ever come to yoga or a therapist’s couch.
One of the best ways to experience the joy of the fieldâ€”second only to being there yourselfâ€”is to peer through the lens of a skilled photographer, someone able to capture the passion of his own dog in action. It makes for quite the intimate portrait of the relationship between an otherwise tough-as-nails man and the loyal companion that melts his heart.
Meet The Photographer: Bret “T-Bone” Amundson
Bret “T-Bone” Amundson is the editor at Minnesota Sporting Journal and also hosts the Journal’s radio show. He is an avid hunter and fisherman, and takes amazing photos of the outdoor world. Amundson loves to photograph his trusty companion, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever named Mika, every chance he gets. Amundson recently gave us his take on bird hunting, gun dogs and photography:
You know the moment something is about to happen. The ears become rigid and the head snaps to one side, just as the whole body stops on a dime before performing a 180-degree pirouette. That’s the only warning youâ€™re given before the adrenaline building sound of a bird flushing from cover, just inches from your dogâ€™s nose.
For a split second you have one jobâ€”oneâ€”and thatâ€™s to shoulder your gun and pull the trigger. Miss and itâ€™s back to the daily grind. Connect and the second half of the game begins.
Getting a good mark on a bird is an art form in itself. If the cover is too tall to see the landing area, the dog’s nose is raised into the air as it tries to catch a whiff of your quarry. The back and forth sniff-search continues until, finally, the head disappears into the underbrush, only to reappear with a ball of feathers in itâ€™s mouth.
Or, better yet, I get to watch my dog chase roosters after they’ve lifted a few feet off the ground, then leap into flight while snatching the bird out of midair.
That’s why I like bird dogs.
Itâ€™s not about shooting a limit anymore. Itâ€™s about working as a team with a partner you spend nearly every waking minute with. Mika, my 3-year-old yellow lab, has become my constant companion during the year, not just during the hunting season. She gets to ride in the front seat and sleep on the bed. She goes fishing with me in the boat and on the ice. Some say I spoil her, but after watching her flush roosters, it might be the other way around.
Iâ€™ve become one of those â€śparentsâ€ť that takes too many pictures of their kids, only I substitute my dog of course. I do try to find unique ways to showcase her in the usual situations, like retrieving sticks or holding birds. Its all been done at this point, but if I can find something just a little different about it, thatâ€™s what I try to offer.
Everyone has seen a guy holding a dead bird with his trusty companion next to him, but I like to capture the moments leading up to that. It becomes a game of deciding, â€śWhich one do I hold: my gun or the camera?” Usually the gun wins, but the camera is nearby for the post-shot routine. Some of my favorites are the cold, wet days in the slough with colorful ducks. You can really capture the elements if you know what to look for.
I hunted without my own dog for a long time, but I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll ever do it again.