September 23, 2010
A bobwhite-loving shorthair who epitomized his era
Southern bird hunters, dogs and wild bobwhite quail were once as integral and complete in their surroundings as anything in nature can be.
For us regulars, Golly's ancestry was a mystery. His owner (we'll call him Gary) didn't place much stock in pedigrees and never discussed Golly's. It was an era in which pointing dog pedigrees were not as prized by Southern bird hunters as they later became and since none of us planned to breed bird dogs for profit we didn't care much about registered extraction, either.
Golly (short for Goliath) did, however, look just like Moesgaard's Dandy, a locally well-thought-of German shorthair then owned by Dr. Lewis Kline, and we supposed Golly sprang from somewhere in the Dandy line. We weakly suspected that some long-tailed pointer blood found the way into Golly's lineage, too, but we couldn't prove it so the subject was broached only in a whisper.
Dandy's genes certainly would have explained Golly's prodigious quail-hunting prowess but all we knew of Dandy at that time was that he was doing pretty well in national field competition. We couldn't have known then that he would become the preeminent producer of world-class shorthairs he turned out to be. Wherever it came from, Golly's dark side was more than offset by his keen bird-hunting ability. But make no mistake, Golly's dark side did shine through.
For one thing, he was a sneak. Golly could glide past a knee-high wool sock draped over a boot top, lift and swallow it faster than you can say "Abracadabra." He was a cunning thief, too. To prove to us that he knew the difference between forbidden and permitted looting, Golly would conspicuously grab a worn out, permissible sock, shake it, toss it to himself a few times and then slowly savor it as if at a wine and cheese tasting.
Gary figured he could keep Golly in his kennel run by making it eight feet high, one of the few prison-height kennels we had ever seen. Golly would scale a corner, push up the corrugated metal top with his nose and beat Gary to the back door, with stub-tail wagging happily.
Cracker bird hunters have for generations launched guns and dogs on some exotic conveyances.
Gary finally resorted to a bolt snap and then a padlock on Golly's gate latch after the pup quickly learned to pick every other device Gary tried. It wasn't that Golly had any place more important to be. He simply had fun proving himself as an escape artist and, when the mood was right, we would often joke that Golly's learning curve had a slightly sharper upturn than Gary's. It would still be quite some time off in the future, but someone with a cheap shock-collar could have made a small fortune by renting it to Gary, if he could have found a way to keep Golly from removing the thing.
We all lost some of our lunches to Golly. It got pretty hungry during our dawn-to-dark forays and since we three regulars, Doc, Gary and me, along with an occasional irregular or two, hit the fields every weekend of the season, we knew to come prepared with ample, if not ambrosial, provisions. Some of these became dog food for Golly--if you didn't watch him like a hawk, Golly could grab and devour a sandwich in an eyeblink, leaving the victim to wonder if he had obliviously eaten it himself. Leave a window rolled part way down, and Golly would raid the lunch sacks like a wolverine in a logging camp. He could put away more food than a team of sled dogs and, though not what you'd call lean, he never appeared overweight.
Golly didn't have a vicious bone in his body but he was far from affectionate. About as cuddly as a Cape buffalo, Golly required no petting or ear scratching. Just as well because no one wanted the 70-pound lummox in their lap anyway. His idea of playing with people was to mow them down like a runaway bus and then go back and drool on them. Golly wouldn't go near anyone just to be petted but he loved water and would hunt you down like a process server to shake a couple gallons of it on you. He was the friendliest wet dog I've ever known.
Since Golly's time, the shorthairs I followed have all reminded me of him--intelligent, predatory and cunning.
Golly did not run like a cheetah. He had the typical gait of a continental bird dog and, though seldom out of sight, he kept busy searching for quail. He was truly a predatory gun dog and a very smart searcher, able to track down running quail (some old Florida "crackers" derisively called them "Mexican" quail but I'm pretty sure they hadn't run that far) like a beagle. Single birds were his specialty and even the most imaginative of them were unable to hide from him in gopher holes or briar patches. Golly pointed the occasional quail that flew like grouse into trees and he was relentless at hunting down crippled birds but I'm almost sure he ate some that went down out of our sight.
Doc was a snapshot artist whose gun was often empty before the rest of us started shooting. He claimed just about every bird that fell including some that dropped while he was reloading. Golly, on the other hand, fetched every bird he found to Gary, leaving the matter of sorting out who shot what to his boss. This gave rise to a series of amusing footraces among Doc, his English setter Dick, pointer Harry, and Golly.
The question of who ended up in possession of a given bird was often settled under protest by Dick and Harry, who delivered their retrieves to whomever yelled loudest. But it was only Golly with his infallible dead-bird ability and his unwavering loyalty to Gary that kept Doc from deep-frying just about every bird our party brought down.
About this time, an interstate highway came under construction through part of our favorite hunting grounds, wreaking havoc among several of our home coveys. We were combing a jack oak ridge that ran along the new right-of-way one morning when Golly came in behind us with a live quail in his huge jaws. We had not shot at any birds in the area and any rumors of this one's demise would have been quite premature. It nearly flew off when Golly handed it over and he had to grab the agitated bird again.
We continued along the ridge after adding Golly's bird to our bag and, in a few minutes, here came the dog with another healthy quail in his mouth. This time Gary and I followed
Golly back to the right-of-way, over the rough-graded eastbound lanes and into the median ditch wherein the dog squirmed out of sight into a culvert. We could not see what was going on in the pitch-black pipe but the shorthair soon backed out of it with yet another bobwhite. Gary collared Golly and when I went to inspect the other end of the culvert I saw quail trying desperately to squeeze through a tiny slit that remained uncovered after dozers pushed dirt over the opening.
Quail were Golly's only game and that's a good thing. Grouse or pheasants would have made him a nutcase. Once he locked on point there was no self-relocation. We speculated that, at some time during Golly's formative years, Gary had had some harsh words with the dog concerning staunchness--perhaps over some of those "Mexican" quail. In any event, if Gary wanted Golly to move on from a rabbit or a skunk the dog had pointed, he'd have a fight on his hands. I've seen Gary lead the big screwball half a mile at heel to keep the dog from going back to the scene of some unfortunate find.
Doc was a snapshooter who liked to dust his birds right off the top of palmettos.
Golly was a product of his place and time, an era in which Dixie bird hunters had access to dozens of wild coveys every weekend of a long season. Backyard breeders gained regional reputations for their "meat dogs," most of which slept under the porch all summer while blue-blooded trial competitors went to Canada to be trained on sharptails.
After stoking up on grits and gravy, cracker bird hunters and their dogs launched leisurely excursions into pine flatwoods and wire-grassed, red oak ridges riding some of the damnedest jeep contraptions imaginable. Forgetful gunners spent their midday break treating chigger bites (how anyone could forget those cussed critters, I'll never know) while repellent-doused hunters snoozed in the soothing shade. The bird dogs, staked or chained to slash pines, napped on pine straw next to their overturned water dishes.
Gunners, gun dogs and wild bobwhites were as integral and complete as anything in nature can be, and Golly staunch on a single was a perfect picture of the day, frozen in time. Such times are gone from the Old South forever, replaced by urban sprawl and pen-raised bird-shooting operations.
I liked it better the way it was but those of us who fancy wild bird hunting must either take to the Texas, Kansas or Oklahoma hills or adapt to commercial shooting preserve hunts. Golly and his boss, along with Doc and his dogs, were the perfect wingshooting associates for my pointers and me. The shorthairs I have followed since Golly have never failed to remind me of him and his times and, though I'd rather not have gotten so darned old, I am awfully glad I didn't miss out on those days.