Posts Tagged ‘Owyhee river’

(There’s a golden eagle soaring above the rimrock, the river harboring quail near it’s edge. The ice looks benign from up here and Buddy’s about to find a single quail. time to put down the camera and pick up the shotgun.)

Day One in the Mountain Time zone was warm, dry, and sunny and harbored the largest covey of valley quail I’ve seen in five years. Not sky darkening, but big enough to create the deep whirring only four or five dozen birds’ wings can make. Buddy was in the zone, finding and pointing like a field trialer (but much prettier). Lightly coursing among the boulders, through the head-high ryegrass, and up and down the forbidding slopes above the Owyhee River.

Then it happened, one of those mistakes you can blame on nobody but yourself and rife with dire consequences you may live to regret for the rest of your miserable life. I dropped a bird over the river. It bounced and slid over the ice rimming the bank, and Buddy was on it. He slid off the edge into swimming depth water, eyes locked on the dead bird bobbing another 20 feet out. What happened next I hope never to witness again, and I hope you don’t either.

Bird in mouth, my hunting partner bumped his chest into the ice, perplexed at the resistance of what to him must have looked like simply more water. A few more tries, and he was beginning to struggle, doubling back and swimming in a tight circle. Frantically, I waved him toward a bare patch of bank 40 yards upstream. His rear was riding lower in the water now, and he was reaching with front legs onto the ice, scratching for purchase then slipping back.

I stood near the ice-free shore, calling hoarsely as he did what he thought I wanted him to do – deliver the bird – once more leveraging himself onto the slick surface, bird still held firmly, only to slip back a little deeper into the dark water. As I dropped gun and vest and headed for the ice myself, he vectored toward me and was soon in shallow water, walking slowly to the bank and dropping the bird gently into my trembling hand.

If you’ve had an experience like this, you know the feeling that washes over you at that moment: lightness, giddiness, and a gratefulness that knows no bounds. A get-on-your-knees moment. As a result, the rest of the trip was even more of a blessing than usual, I marveling at his every point and incredible resilience, he hunting as if near-drowning was an everyday occurrence in a bird dog’s life. I guess that’s what I’m most grateful for.

Buddy, I promise never to draw a bead on an ice-bound bird again. Ever.

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