There are numerous dogs’ performances that stand out in my memory. I saw a dog at Mortlach in 1998 run what had to be the epitome of a prairie all-age race where at times the dog was only a speck on the distant horizon — but always broke to the front and had four chicken finds in his hour. My own dogs have also given me some memories both bad and good. Diamond Solitaire ran a perfect 59 minutes in the New York Grouse Championship with three finds in the book when with a minute to go she busted a brood of grouse and chased them like a puppy. Wild Apple Jack’s winning hour at the 2007 Grand National Grouse Championship is a thrill I will never forget.
But some of the greatest performances don’t necessarily come during a trial. My setter, Prime Rate, who wandered off this winter at the age of 15 and never came back, got into a flight of woodcock when he was still a puppy and must have had 15 finds in 45 minutes. On every flush, Tony Bly and I put up multiple birds and walked some up getting to him. To this day we call the spot the 100 Bird Cover, although we have not caught a similar flight in the ensuing years. I finally had to snap the lead on the dog while he was pointing so we could get back to the truck before it got dark.
In Texas for the last three seasons, some of the most memorable runs have been when Wild Apple Jack has been put down with his sire, Wynot Ace. Jack Harang, who owns Ace, and I are happy to work dogs together and help each other out. But when father and son are on the ground it gets a little competitive. In one run near the end of this past season, our Garmins both beeped: Ace was on point 200 yards away to the right, while his son Jack was close to 800 yards away in the opposite direction. We both came back with birds in hand.
Late in the afternoon, on Valentine’s Day (2-14-09), Ace and Jack were put down in one of our favorite pastures on the Vest ranch. Stacy Perkins and Matt Bell were riding with us. Stacy had become intimately familiar with the coveys in this pasture during the season, but even he was amazed by what unfolded in the next hour and a half.
|Wild Apple Jack
Wild Apple Jack was first to score on a covey that was out feeding within a couple hundred yards of the trailer. As we went on, Ace scored next with Jack coming in and backing from a distance. With their competitive juices flowing, both dogs flew over the prairie until Jack came in and pointed a single with the old man backing. When they went on Jack nailed another single and we lost track of Ace. Jack had a third single and then we checked the Garmin to get a line on Ace. He was only 50 yards away over a small hill pointing another single and had been there through two flushes and shots for his son.
Back and forth it went with one pointing and other backing as we rode on through the pasture. We took them to water about halfway through the run. As we left the tank, five mule deer flushed and ran right across in front of the dogs. Both dogs saw them, but on this afternoon they only had one thing on their minds and we were soon rewarded with another covey find. This time Ace had gone over a ridge and stopped. Jack came in shortly and stopped right at the top of the ridge as he spotted Ace below.
We turned and headed back toward the truck and trailer but the dogs hadn’t finished. They handled a couple more finds before we got to the final act. Ace pointed and Jack came in and backed from about 75 yards. I went to Jack and Stacy and Jack Harang went to Ace. The birds were running and both dogs were released to work the area as we headed downhill towards the edge of a small canyon a few hundred yards away. Ace cast to the left and Jack to the right. Both stopped and self-corrected a couple of times as they tried to pin the running birds.
Finally, right at the edge of the canyon, both dogs locked up solidly. As we approached, the covey flushed out of the canyon bottom and rocketed up the other side out of gun range. The sun was just about to dip below the western horizon as we got back to the truck. The tally was 10 coveys pointed plus the singles as well as an eleventh covey that we rode up. It was the best run of the season by any measurement. Later that evening, as we rehashed the day, Jack Harang turned to me and said that when he is in a wheelchair in a nursing home and I want to know if his mind is still working clearly, all I’d have to do was mention 2/14/09 and the light in his eyes would tell me that he was still lucid. It was definitely a performance the memory of which will not fade until the end.