The following is reprinted from Feb. 13, 2013.
One of the oldest of old wise sayings is, “The dog is man’s best friend,” and to my way of thinking, no truer words were ever spoken. In every dog lover’s life, there is the fond memory of that one special dog, loved more than any other dog, cat or other pet and most humans.
I can especially relate to dogs beloved by hunters, to include fox hunters, deer hunters, squirrel hunters, rabbit hunters and bird hunters, all of whom had that one special leader of the pack which they loved and still love the memory of, a dog which seemed to be more human than animal, a dog that money could not buy, a dog that was a legend around the campfire or hunting lodge.
Over the years, I had several top hunting dogs that stood head and shoulders above the others. I was a quail hunter, and my dogs were English Setters, Llewellin Setters and liver pointers, but my one eternally special dog was a lemon and white pointer named “Bill.”
Bill was a toll puppy off of Wheeler Steverson’s lemon and white female pointer, and there was something special about him from the time he was weaned at 6 weeks old. I was in my late teens at the time, and Bill and I matured together on the hunting trail.
He was what you called “born broke,” a very rare quality in which no training was necessary. As soon as he was pulled off of his mother, Bill began to point butterflies, grasshoppers and any other living thing in the grass or leaves. He quickly graduated to trailing and pointing quail, both coveys and singles. This was even before he was half grown.
A special bond grows between a man and his dog as they travel together over the fields, through woods and cutovers and in the swamps as they search for quail. Bill would strike a scent and follow it, and as he got closer to the birds, he would get closer to the ground, until he was almost at a crawl when he locked on point at the covey of quail. I would walk up, flush the quail, and as they thundered into the air, I would most of the time drop one, sometimes two, and on rare occasions, three birds. Somehow, Bill knew how many birds I had killed. He would find and bring me a bird, go back and get another one if I had killed two, and even the third one when I got three. If I had gotten only one, he would know it and continue on as we looked for singles or another covey.
In those days, when people went hunting, they hunted for food, not just one game animal or bird, and Mama cooked many a meal from what Bill and I brought back from a day’s hunting. There is a lot more meat on a rabbit than a quail; therefore, Bill would point a sitting rabbit or run a squirrel up a tree just as quickly as he would point a covey of quail, so when I emptied my hunting coat on the back porch, there would be quail, rabbits and squirrels in a pile.
In their own unique way, animals can count up to a certain degree. For instance, if a chicken, turkey or goose is laying eggs in a nest, they lay one egg a day for several days and then sit on the nest until the eggs hatch. However, if someone finds the nest before the bird is through laying and that someone takes the eggs, the bird will stop laying in that nest and will start another nest somewhere else. If you leave what the old folks called a “nest egg” in the nest, the chicken or other bird will not know that someone took the eggs. A chicken can only count to one, so you have to leave one nest egg. A turkey or goose can count to two, so you have to leave two nest eggs in their nests.
I don’t know how high Bill could count, but several times he demonstrated that he had that ability. One day, a friend of mine who was an Army warrant officer accompanied Bill and me on a quail hunt in the Marmaduke community in Warren County. Bill had pointed three or four coveys of quail, and each of us had killed several.
Suddenly, up ahead, we heard Bill barking. We found him at the bottom of a large tree with vines growing around it. We saw a squirrel nest among those vines, and I knew that a squirrel was in that nest. With my shotgun in one hand, I grasped a vine, shook it, and a squirrel ran out and stopped in the treetop. I shot the squirrel, it fell to the ground, and Bill brought it back to me. Then Bill went back to the tree and barked. Could there be another squirrel in that nest? I shook the vine, and another squirrel ran out. I shot that one, and Bill brought it to me. Again, Bill went back to the tree and barked. Surely there would not be a third squirrel. Sure enough, another squirrel ran out of the nest. I shot that one, Bill brought it to me and continued on his way to find another covey of quail.
Bill had seen three squirrels run in that nest and had sense enough to know when all of them had been bagged. He was the kind of dog that old folks used to say had more sense than most people.