By Andy Fondrick
As the truck comes to a stop, anticipation radiates from the truck bed as the tailgate drops down and the kennel door swings open. A furry ball of energy shoots out from the shadows, eagerly bouncing every direction while the rest of the group prepares the remaining gear.
The nose hits the dirt like a magnet, scouring the ground for that first scent trail. Legs churn, relentlessly grinding through thick cover and swampy terrain, knowing that each step could trigger an eruption of wings in the brush that brings the crack of the gun, followed by a split-second of deafening silence as the world seems to stand still.
A mouthful of feathers tastes like sweet victory to a bird dog, evident by an uncontrollable wagging tail. Each bird provides as much excitement as the last. Hunter and four-legged partner celebrate their prize and all other worries seem to float away. But the party doesn’t last long before the senses re-engage and focus moves on to the next bird, the next retrieve, the next triumph.
These are the memories that stay with us for a lifetime, like vivid portraits providing picture-perfect detail years down the road as we reflect on the journeys with our favorite bird dogs.
Photo by Jared Wiklund
Chasing birds across golden landscapes and frozen sloughs may be the fuel that powers the unique connection between a hunter and their dog, but these snapshots from the field are just one small part of what makes up such a remarkable relationship. It’s what happens between these moments that make bird dogs so much more than just flushers, pointers, and retrievers.
A bird dog can act as a gateway drug that hooks a new hunter into taking up the outdoor lifestyle. There is something addicting about blindly following a dog across an open prairie to witness the frenzy of a flushing covey. Many times, a gateway drug opens the door to a more serious addiction, and the love of a dog leads to the creation of a conservationist with an affection for bird dog habitat.
Maybe it’s a longing to be a part of something more that converts a person from a lone-wolf big game hunter into a member of a dedicated bird-chasing unit. The camaraderie felt with a dog that is driven enough to brave frigid waters and bust through walls of standing wild rice in pursuit of a downed duck is an enticing incentive to trade in a high-powered rifle for a perfectly balanced over-under.
They can act as a shadow, following their person’s every move with a desire to be part of even the most common tasks. They track our movement across the house in fear of missing out on a chance for belly rubs or an opportunity to act as a foot warmer at the base of our favorite chair. They never want to miss out on the thrill of riding shotgun, whether it be a cross-country trip or running errands around town. Our canine shadows supervise us while we work in the yard and clean up messy spills off kitchen floors. None of these daily tasks involve retrieving a single bird, but there they are, Velcroed to our side, excited to help us with the mundane.
A bird dog is the perfect therapist, greeting us with a wagging tail the instant we walk through the door after a long day at work. You can always count on them to lend an ear when it seems like there is no one else to listen. They know exactly when to share their favorite toy for a game of fetch and turn your mood around, or when to simply wait patiently with their head rested on your lap with gazing eyes that seem to heal even the deepest wounds. Nothing pulls you out of a rut like scratching the ears of a dog.
They teach us valuable life lessons like how to enjoy the little things, like a ratty old tennis ball that can provide endless hours of fun. Patience is a virtue with dogs; at times they will push you to your final nerve, only to win you over time and time again. They will teach loyalty, sticking by your side during your finest hours and on your darkest days. Most of all, they will teach you to love unconditionally. There is no amount of frustration or anger that can break a bird dog’s love for their human.
This is a relationship cherished by those who are fortunate enough to understand its extraordinary capabilities, and impossible to comprehend by those who have never experienced the love of these four-legged beings. They dedicate themselves to our happiness from their first car ride home, to their final days on this earth.
A bird dog is family.
So yes, our four-legged companions may join us for a few days a year in pursuit of a common goal, chasing upland game across an open prairie or waterfowl through a soggy marsh. But it’s what takes place in all those moments between the memories from the field that creates the foundation for this incredible friendship. It’s in our everyday lives that our flushers, pointers, and retrievers prove to be so much more than just a bird dog.
Andy Fondrick is the digital marketing specialist for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. When he's not at the office, Andy is likely chasing waterfowl and upland birds behind his two labs Kirby and Kona or enjoying whatever sport is currently in season.
VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE BREED(S) NOW IN THIS YEAR’S BIRD DOGS FOR HABITAT CAMPAIGN AND CREATE SOME HABITAT FOR UPLAND BIRDS AND BIRD DOGS.