Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.
Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.
The other day I was de-boning a thawed pheasant when the dog tiptoed into the kitchen - nose twitching. Ordinarily she does this when the chopping of raw vegetables occurs as an errant hunk of carrot might miraculously find its way to the floor.
Pheasants cast a similar spell over her. Even skinned and frozen birds. She can sniff them out from the other side of the house while snoozing and will come schmoozing around to see what's-up.
Here is my ever-faithful hunting partner and constant companion. Or as my lovely wife has described the relationship – my Girlfriend.
Let me explain.
We're not hunting at the present time. This is down time for both the dog and me. The day job is busy and I cook and and read books otherwise. Girlfriend's exercise is largely confined to long walks on the farm with Jill - or fetching the flinger or a tennis ball in the snow. This is followed by long dog snoozes. Which are sometimes accompanied by dog dreams.
Handsome Lab dude. She must be ancient. Look at all that gray she has around her muzzle.
I’m glad you brought that up. A little more than three years ago the breeder over at Shamrock Kennels promised us a black Lab. And that is what the new pup appeared to be. Since then we’ve come to learn that she turns a rusty color in the summer – which changes back to black in the winter. And she’s been getting grayer around the gills every year. In fact a guy in South Dakota this last November mentioned the same thing.
That’s a sprightly Lab you have there son. Durn feisty and fit for such an old dog.
Excuse me sir. But she hasn’t turned four yet.
Aside from the rust and the gray she’s really matured into a fine hunting dog. Upland birds mostly – grouse, woodcock and pheasant are her specialty. Not waterfowl. But who’s to say if someone didn’t come along with a duck boat one of these days and invite us to do some duck or goose hunting that Girlfriend and I wouldn’t jump all over that.
Her performing the jumping part.
Visualize eighty pounds of erratic coiled spring.
Nowadays you cannot bring a shotgun into the same room without the dog launching into a frenzied paroxysm of fits. Barking and leaping and running to the door with breathless anticipation. Same for handling a shooting jacket, a shell vest or the canvas Carhartt pants with the big red suspenders. It is really quite pathetic. An uninitiated bystander would think that we were torturing the animal.
This is a dog that was born to hunt.
Which is what hunting dogs live for.
It is their job.
This dog wears the scars of having run through numerous barbed wire fences in pursuit of her job and has hardly missed a beat.
Her paycheck includes the sound of gunfire, the scent of spent cordite and blood all followed by the simple command - Good job!
As a pup I had recently finished training her to adjust to the smell, sight and sound of a shotgun when I got a call from my deer camp buddy - Sid.
You wanna go pheasant hunting tomorrow?
Uh, I don’t think so Sid. Girlfriend isn’t ready. She’s only just gotten accustomed to the gun and we haven’t really worked hard enough on retrieves yet. She’s just a pup you know.
Oh, c’mon. Bring her along. She can tag along with Farley and the other dogs.
I hemmed and hawed and ultimately decided to go.
I figured – What have I got to lose?
It was interesting. Girlfriend was mostly preoccupied by playing with the other dogs and initially wasn’t quite sure what to make of another dog retrieving a dead bird and returning it to its handler.
Except that she wanted that bird.
This resulted in some unmannerly scuffles.
After a couple of lessons from the Emily Post handbook of gun dog etiquette this became less of an issue.
At the end of the afternoon – Lawyer took a poke at a flushed rooster that hesitated for a bit after being shot and then went into a long glide path over a corn field, across a line fence and onto a neighboring property.
My pup took-off after it promptly disappearing from sight.
And did not come back.
Anxiously I waited for the dog's return. Then I called. I waited some more. And called again. We all called. No dog materialized. And I just stood there with a stunned look on my face.
I’m thinking – There. You’ve done it, Tom. You cannot control the damn dog. How are you going to explain this? Well if you can explain this - you are never going to hear the end of it. You are really brilliant smart guy. What have you got to lose? I’ll tell you what you have to lose. You have lost a perfectly good purebred Labrador retriever. You are toast.
Resigned to my fate I turned to walk back to the truck thinking about how I was going to hunt-down my hunting dog when Girlfriend suddenly reappeared from the corn field with the rooster in her mouth.
A wounded bird that she had run-down and fetched.
That dang bird was still flapping its wings and she was somewhat confounded with what to do with it. In the end she brought it to me and delivered it to my hand. The bird was promptly dispatched.
From the moment of that first retrieve the partnership was forged.