Years ago I told you the story of Duke, a young shorthair that arrived at Eagle Nest Lodge just a day or two before we did. His stoic, patient demeanor in the kennel intrigued me. I asked manager John Shirley if we could take him the next morning on a Hungarian partridge hunt.
The show we made was one of my favorites: inspiring, moving, and encouraging. If only every young dog could watch it when he arrives at his “forever home!” Duke started tentatively, whether it was new surroundings, the crowd associated with making a TV show, or simply trying to figure out who the boss was, I don’t know. But by the end of the day, he was pointing, retrieving, and showing signs of the confident dog he ultimately became. John assures me he’s a one man dog, working well, but only for him.
Impressed and touched by Duke’s growth in that one day, I promised myself I’d visit Pheasant Bonanza, the Nebraska kennel and hunting operation where Duke had been bred and trained. And this fall, I finally got there.
My first stop at a new place is usually the kennel. It was populated by a half-dozen Duke lookalikes … an elegant, elongated, solid-colored head being the giveaway they were cousins of my former Montana hunting partner. Like their distant relative, they rested calmly in their runs, exhibiting a worldly demeanor.
The next day, we brought two along. They did not disappoint. Thick cover was no obstacle to these smallish, graceful dogs. Rather than bull their way through head-high grass, they glided between the clumps, pointing and backing each other like pro’s. They danced among the small trees, footfalls delicate. If only their guest was a better shooter, they could have demonstrated more often their skillful retrieving abilities.