Catching Their Stride

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A quick internet search or a trip to your local bookstore will unearth hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and books that offer step-by-step instructions on what to do when you bring home your puppy. You will find instructions that break down every step of training a gun dog. Sadly, you will also find even more articles that you may want to avoid reading about those final hunts and the last moments hunters have spent with their faithful hunting companions before they cross over to the big hunting land in the sky.

The following words are neither of those types of stories. Instead, this is an article about when a hunter and their hunting dog have a few years together under their belt. This article is about when the dog and human hunting duo catch their stride together, when the hunter knows their dog's habits while afield just as much as the dog knows their owner's habits. This is about when all the training and experiences come together.

Betty, my gundog, wasn't aware of what it meant as a puppy when I started laying out camouflage clothing and gathering the rest of my hunting equipment. She didn't realize that when I collected my waders or ensured my bird vest was close by, I was getting ready to go hunting the following day. She didn't know that she would be chasing birds alongside me in just a few hours and having the time of her life. It took her roughly a whole hunting season before she figured that out.

Fast forward to the present day. Betty has earned some hunting titles, and we have hunted down hundreds of birds together. Her interest is piqued when I open the closet containing my hunting clothes. By the time I walk downstairs wearing my hunting attire, I will find a dog at the bottom of my stairwell spinning in circles and wagging her tail with excitement. She now knows that me wearing these clothes means that she is about to go hunting. I have often found her curled up, sleeping next to my boots. I believe she does this, so I do not forget her in the morning.

I know that when my dog jumps out of the truck and onto our hunting grounds, she will run around my truck twice to get some extra energy out of her system. But after she is done running around, she will then patiently sit as I gather up my gear before we set out to hunt. This is a very different scene from our first few hunts. Early on when she jumped out and started running around, I was certain she would never be seen again. I was a nervous dog owner screaming for her to sit and stay thinking she was headed into the great unknown. It took me numerous trips to know that Betty wasn’t going anywhere. She already was right where she wanted to be.

Even though some may say, dogs don't know the difference between hunting and training, I am positive that Betty does indeed know the difference. She has also learned the clicking sound that my shotguns’ safety makes as I switch it off before I shoot. I have come to learn that when I click the safety off of my shotgun her back legs will tense with readiness as she waits for me to shoot.

After every hunt or training session, I always run my hands over Betty's coat and inspect her paws and ears. I have been doing this since she was a puppy. I'm looking for any cuts or scrapes that may have happened during the hunt or any thorns she might have picked up while busting through the underbrush. Recently, I have noticed that her coat is as shiny as when she was just a six-month-old puppy, but her once all-black coat has given way to having spots of white hair poking through, showing her age but more importantly, those white hairs are conveying a sense of experience. Experience that only gun dogs can gain by having a few hunting seasons behind them.

I recently was inspecting my dog's paws after a hunt. She was patiently waiting on the tailgate of my truck while I picked up each foot. Mud was caked underneath her nails. They needed to be trimmed. The pads on the underside of her paws showed some wear and tear. Her pads could use some moisturizer and some tender loving care. Her paws tell the story of a dog that has run countless miles and has had to swim after many downed birds. They tell the story of a dog who has earned a nap on the couch and an extra cup of food for supper. They tell the story of a hunting dog and her owner, who finally caught their stride together.


About the Author

Gunner Hall
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Gunner is a writer based in Savannah, GA. He is an outdoor enthusiast and an avid bird hunter. He is a member of numerous conservation organizations. He currently sits on the boards The Georgia Outdoor Writers Association and The Georgia Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He also holds multiple certifications in wine and spirits. Follow his adventures in the swamps and woods of South Georgia on Instagram @gunnerhall