My daddy loved dogs and he especially appreciated a good bird dog. There is true beauty in watching dogs running over a field, sniffing out quail, standing point when they find their mark, and seeing other dogs in the pack honor the first point. Although I never went hunting with Daddy (because I didn’t like the shooting/killing part) I’ve watched him train young dogs and have walked fields with him and his dogs. It’s an amazing thing to witness.
Daddy had bird dogs for many years. There are many kinds of dogs used for hunting quail but Daddy preferred English Pointers. These noble working dogs are lean, muscular, and focused. They love to run and are tireless. Their short, slick coats are a definite plus in the South where the climate is hot and the terrain often filled with sheep burrs which could be of particular bother to dogs with longer coats. Pointer coats can be patterned or solid and come in several colors. All the ones Daddy owned were patterned and either black and white or liver and white. Their height is around two feet high with males weighing as much as 75 pounds while females are generally smaller and can be as light as 45 pounds. These loyal dogs carry themselves quite regally and Daddy was always proud of his pack.
Folks used to say that Wallace Pearce’s dogs lived the high life. It was certainly true that he took good care of them. Although he was affectionate toward them and they clearly loved him they were not house pets. Daddy built them a large wooden house – one tall enough for him to walk into and stand upright (and my daddy was 6’2”). It measured about 12 ft. x 20 ft., had a shingled roof and a cement floor with a loft area bed a few inches above the floor, which he kept covered with clean wheat straw. If it was hot the dogs could lie on the cool cement below. There was a large trough for their food and a water spigot to give easy access to fresh water. One side of the building opened onto a large fenced area that was shaded by Catawba trees. Even so the dogs dug large tunnels for themselves within their confine to offer an additional layer of shade. These tunnels were so large that my little brother would often crawl inside them to play. If he lay down inside one he would be completely hidden from sight, which gave my mama a couple of bad frights when she thought her little boy had gone missing. The friendly dogs didn’t seem to mind his company one bit and never gave away his hiding place. It was a relief to Mama when he’d finally poke his little head up after her searching high and low over the property. It got so if he went missing that’s where she’d look first.
My brother got to go hunting with Daddy when he got his first BB gun. He marched proudly out through the field on that first hunt. At length one of the dogs went on point and when Daddy commanded the flush a large covey of quail flew up into the sky. Now if you’ve never heard a covey of birds rise into flight at close range let me just tell you it is LOUD and can be particularly unnerving if you’re not expecting it. My little brother was expecting the quail but not the terrific sound that comes from the cacophony of so many wings beating at the same time moving underbrush and air. Daddy, of course, calmly raised his gun and downed two birds. He turned to his young son and asked, “Did you get one?” My poor little brother hadn’t even raised his trusty BB gun much less fired it. He was still stunned from the resounding noise of that covey lifting off. Nowadays my brother chuckles at the recollection and knowing my daddy’s generous nature says, “If I would’ve gotten off even one shot Dad would have declared one of those birds was mine.”
One time Daddy’s cousin, Walter, who lived way off in California decided to ship my Daddy what he claimed was the best hunting dog in the world. It was a Weimaraner. Daddy was deeply honored by such a generous gift. I was excited and couldn’t wait to see what this famous German dog might look like. I wasn’t disappointed. He was indeed a very different dog – bluish gray, sleek and quite handsome. His name was Butch and although he was large he was young and untrained. Sometimes Daddy allowed him into the house much to Mama’s dismay and he romped around creating havoc until Mama chased us all outside. Butch was very affectionate and I would have loved having him as a pet but I knew that he was a working dog and bred to hunt. After giving Butch some time to acclimate to his surroundings and “getting some of the puppy out of him”, Daddy set out training him. I had witnessed this before and it was grand fun. Daddy secured a couple of quail, which were moved from their cage on training day to a small wire basket. With the dog out of sight the basket would be hidden in a thicket of grass, weeds or bush. Then the dog was brought into the field, unleashed and given the command “hunt”. Daddy was pleased how quickly Butch caught on to what was required of him and declared that he was “a smart dog”. And so Daddy took him out for a hunt with his three other very seasoned dogs. Butch ran like the wind. Butch could cover some ground and Butch could find quail. And Butch could point. Yessir! BUT there was one problem: Butch could not seem to honor a point. That means that whenever another dog sniffs out the quail first the rest of the pack must immediately become perfectly still – thus “honoring” the point of the first dog. They might not be in close proximity and might not even be able to smell the prey nevertheless they must stand perfectly still – no matter what.
Poor Butch. No matter what Daddy did to punish him, which ranged from leaving him behind in the pen to shaming him unmercifully Butch simply could not honor another dog’s point. Daddy said that, in fact, another dog would go on point and Butch would boldly and defiantly flush the birds – a BIG no-no! among hunting dogs. After his rebellion Butch would immediately get on his belly and crawl towards Daddy to await his punishment. So it seemed it wasn’t a matter of not being able to do it or not understanding his duty. Butch simply refused to do it. Period. Daddy realized the truth was that Butch was flat out jealous of the other dogs receiving any kind of praise. He wanted to be the one to point, be allowed to flush on command and then receive his reward. And if he couldn’t be THE dog then damn the consequences! He simply wasn’t going to let that praise be given to any other dog. That sad realization caused Daddy to let Butch go to a friend, another quail hunter who often hunted alone. He said, “Butch is a smart dog and he’s a good hunter but he can’t hunt in a pack.” I was sorry to see Butch go and I think Daddy was, too, but I had come to understand that working dogs need to work to be happy. And Butch loved to hunt so it would have been a shame to deny him that life.
If you ever get the chance to watch bird dogs hunt quail and go on point you don’t want to miss it. It is truly fascinating. As for quail – if you’ve never eaten it I can guarantee you will never taste anything quite so delectable.