Story and photos by Mike Neuduski
There are four of us—humans anyway—and as of last night’s 9:25pm text message, “us” now includes nine dogs. A bond forged over shared experiences with the dogs and wild places and wild birds. It was a slow build at first, and at times an emotional one — a near decade of friendship doesn’t pass without the names in the kennels changing, but here we are.
I was the last into the picture, the fresh-in-town greenhorn who knew nothing but the potential of the furry beast spinning excited circles in the back seat. At the prompt of a “come on down” phone call I showed up on a hot and humid early August evening. Wide-eyed and knowing no one, I walked into a smattering of folks standing around a tailgate laying plans and spinning yarns. At some point someone said, “get your dog” and I was off.
I didn’t know the first thing about training dogs when I started. I was flat broke, with a young dog, fresh out of grad school, and knew almost no one. I didn’t have the money for a trainer, nor did I really want to employ one, but I also possessed no earthly idea what I was doing with my new high-drive wirehaired companion.
, the acronym for the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, where people helping people experience the thrill of a well-trained hunting dog is the name of the game. The sweet spot where the son of a general contractor could thrive on a do-it-yourself spirit but with the community and guard rails to ensure the floor wouldn’t collapse down the road. And, what a road it’s been.
Ten years ago I’d never seen a wild bobwhite or scaled quail, I’d never heard the flush of a ruffed grouse or watched a woodcock do its best wiffleball impression. Now, the bank of memories is so full it’s hard to think there is any room for more.
When I started Roy still had Rose and Bonnie, and Hobbes kept guard over Jerry’s truck while Ellie wagged for attention in the next kennel over. Tine was here, too; he was young then and could find wild birds and untended pizza with the best of them. A mish-mashed bunch; two shorthairs, three griffons, and my wirehair, Plexi, rounding out the troupe. Of that cohort only Ellie and Plexi remain, though the others' presence is surely felt; their collars on shift knobs and leashes wrapped around headrests a constant reminder.
Roy now runs pointers, Jack and Bohdi, and Jerry added one more fuzzy dog with Tess and a setter pup, Bailey, to the mix. I plussed up my own dog power with Mack, a white & liver ticked lick-your-face off shorthair puppy this past fall. And Taylor, the most recent of us to be left with an empty collar in hand, he’s responsible for the text message and the new one on the way - a squirming adventurous spirit filled with puppy breath and no name.
I wanted a well-trained dog, one that I had a hand in and could be proud of. In life there is what you want and what you get, and I assure you, this time I got more than I bargained for in the best way possible. Not only did I get the well-trained dog, I gained three go anywhere, do anything push-you-to-your-best friends and a pack of hounds to go with it.
My first bobwhite came in Texas over Jack, not even a year old when he locked up. Then there was the running covey in Oklahoma — points and backs and tracking down a sandhill ridge until the plum mot ran out. Dog work I couldn’t fathom with people I’d never known in places I only dreamed of, all because of NAVHDA.
To top it off, NAVHDA understands the importance of conservation. As an organization built on developing people and their dogs to their maximum potential, it understands the penultimate thrill involves wild birds in wild places. NAVHDA is a proud conservation partner of Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, and the Ruffed Grouse Society too.
With 30 recognized breeds, it’s an ongoing debate: Who will reign supreme year to year in the Bird Dogs for Habitat campaign? Who knows?
But I can tell you this much, the memory bank from our pack has experienced a lot of deposits over the years. It’s about time to pay some of it back.
When Mike Neiduski is not training, testing, or judging dogs with NAVHDA you can find him traveling the country with dear friends and their pack in search of wild birds, or at work for the Ruffed Grouse Society & American Woodcock Society.