September 23, 2010
If It Sticks Or Pricks, Chances Are It'll Find Its Way On To Your Gun Dog
A guy I know was hunting quail in West Texas when his Brittany started acting as if one of its paws had caught fire. Correctly surmising that the dog had picked up a sand burr, he called him in, pulled it out, and, as often happens, got it stuck in his own finger. He then did something ill-advised: he used his teeth to remove it.
(left) This setter doesn't look too happy about the ear ornaments he picked up hunting pheasants in central Montana. There's no question he was busting cover and looking in the birdy places, though. (right) Pointers shed burrs like Labs shed water but cactus plays no favorites. This encounter happened on a Mearns quail hunt a wide cast from Mexico near Sonoita, Arizona, proving once again that the border is a wild and woolly place.
The next thing he knew, the burr was lodged in his windpipe, and he was in real danger of choking to death. Fortunately, he was able to stick a couple fingers down his throat and knock it loose. The blood and saliva kept it from re-attaching on the way out.
The great Nash Buckingham once described a favorite setter as having a "burr-curdled hide." He must have had something like this in mind. (inset) Cactus spines aren't usually so obvious. It's more typical of them to break off flush with the pad, making them devilishly hard to locate and extract. Speaking of extraction, no gun dog person should ever venture afield without some sort of pliers or multi-tool.
For as long as there have been gun dogs, there have been gun dogs with things stuck on (and in) them. Smeared, spattered, and sprayed on them, too. Burrs, thorns, spines, quills; blood, mud, and gooey dreck of every description: It simply goes with the territory. You can't do the things gun dogs do, in the places they do them, and emerge unscathed. The fact that it hardly fazes them only enhances their heroic aura and our abiding admiration for their courage, desire, and tenacity.
(left) Sand burrs, buffalo burrs, cactus: If there's a meaner place to run dogs than the Nebraska Sandhills, I don't want to know about it. Jim Reeves and his string of Kentucky quail dogs were new to the Sandhills when this photo was taken, but they got schooled in a hurry. (right) Some dogs literally attack the cover, no matter how nasty it is, and suffer so many slashes, scrapes, and punctures that they come out looking like they've gone 15 rounds with a bobcat. Desire that burns that hot is almost frightening and always deeply impressive.
Seaweed salad, anyone? This was at Mike Lardy's training grounds in central Wisconsin, where Lardy and his assistants turn out National Retriever Champions the way Remington turns out 870s.
Many hunters in the Southwest boot their dogs as a matter of course. This pointer (who's clearly no stranger to the process) is also getting his tail wrapped, protecting it from the beating it'll take from the mesquite and shinnery oak where Texas bobs and blues hide out from the law. (inset) Burdocks stick to setters like stink sticks to limburger. Combing out a tangle like this takes the patience of a saint, but that's the thing about setter people: Many are called, few are chosen.