column By: Staff | March, 20
My cousin Brian has a knack for asking poignant questions. My English pointer, Miller, had run over the ridge several minutes prior and was now out of sight.
“He usually ranges a little at the beginning of a hunt until he burns off a bit of energy. I’m sure he will check in any minute. Hey, Dad, have you seen the dog?”
Dad shook his head and continued through the buckbrush toward the creek. Our New Year’s Day mountain quail hunt was off to a slow start. Not only was it the first day of the year, but it was also my birthday. I’d stayed up late the night before; we were in southern Oregon wine country after all. I lacked energy for a dog search.
Pointing breeds in general, and English pointers in particular, are runners. They were bred to range, covering a maximum amount of area to find scattered coveys. They have long legs and a high lung capacity. Over the years I have noticed that among certain circles of bird hunters it is a badge of honor of sorts to say to friends that your dog is a “big damn runner, by God.” I have also noticed that these words are usually uttered by the subset of Texas bobwhite hunters who ride ATVs or pickups down senderos — two-tracks — while the dogs run across the ranch in search of coveys. A lot of these guys also tend to lie about most aspects of their dogs.
I don’t usually consider Miller to be more than an average running dog. He grew up hunting quail in the Texas Panhandle-western Oklahoma region near the Canadian River. There is some big country there, and he could cover ground, but he wasn’t a big runner. Before the mountain quail incident, he had gotten lost a few times though he was never that far away. We live in Oregon now, and once he had ended up at the top of a clearcut alone. Upon realizing no one else was around, he came tearing down the hill only to Wile E. Coyote himself off a cut bank and onto a logging road. He was in the air long enough for me to estimate a vet bill. Upon impact, however, he peeled himself off the gravel, looked around to see if anyone was watching and continued across the road. The other two times he got lost he was stuck on the other side of creeks, both of which he considered impassable unless carried. The fact that he had just crossed each stream was irrelevant.
But now, on my birthday, Miller was really lost. It had been over an hour with no sign of him as we pushed farther up the drainage, calling, whistling and scanning the brush for a glimpse of white. We searched for another hour. No sign of my dog.
There is a feeling of dread that overtakes you when a dog goes missing. I’ve seen it in the eyes of a couple of friends. Late one evening, a friend and I searched for his German shorthair near the Texas-Oklahoma border. After half an hour, we found her on point with a covey of bobwhites hunkered 10 yards away. Another friend found his Brittany spaniel three hours after she escaped through a gate and disappeared into a suburban maze of backyards and cul-de-sacs. The relief in their faces was evident when the dogs turned up.
Eventually, we gave up looking for Miller on foot and decided to return to the truck to cover a broader area. Sometimes an ad hoc plan is best.
I saw him first. I crossed a short rise, and the truck came into view. The dog was under the truck asleep. As we approached the truck, he woke up and walked over to say hello. He was nonchalant about it, as if to ask, “How did the hunt go, fellas?”
After this, I decided to try and avoid these types of stressful situations. I purchased a GPS tracking collar that tells me his location, and I bought an improved electronic collar that keeps him in check when necessary. As he has gotten older, I rarely have to use it. We hunted Mearns’ quail in 2017, and I never had to touch the e-collar. His average distance was about 80 yards away.
From then until he died, he hunted pretty close. Usually. Last winter the GPS indicated that he was one and a half miles away running across eastern Oregon, and the electronic collar was out of range. It took an hour and a half to find him.
Miller was a big damn runner, by God.
- Joseph Sands