Keep up with all things, outdoors, with Big Billy Kinder...
I lost one of the best and most loyal friends I’ll ever have on this earth a little over a month ago. I didn’t write about it then because it was too raw. I never thought that I could mourn the loss of a dog so much, but I cried. I wailed. Bear’s talent was above that of most bird dogs. I am qualified to make that call, because I have had many hunting partners throughout the years and know what I speak of. I’ve had some slow learners, and many average students. I’ve also been blessed to partner with some dogs that would produce a little better than others in the wild bird fields and win a field trial here and there. BUT...I’ve only had one Bear.
His nose was impeccable. I remember a hunt when he was about two. He locked down hard on some West Texas scrub, and a rabbit flushed from under his nose. The guy that I was hunting with that day broke open his gun and laughed out loud. His dog was backing ol' Bear...again, by the way. While he was bad mouthing my little Brittany, I noticed that Bear hadn’t moved a muscle. Still rock-hard rigid. Eyes and snoot focused on the tangles ahead of him, smoking the pipe, as my writer friend Ray Sasser would say...taking in bird scent through the nose...venting through the mouth. You’ve seen your dogs do that. The covey of bobs scared my cynical friend when they flushed right up our britches' legs. I killed two and said nothing. Bear had done my talking.
Bear came from good stock. Directly out of Nolan Huffman’s Buddy (Nolan’s Last Bullet), and tracing back to Rick Smith's fine line. I’d always had pointers and setters which I still dearly love, but these guys were breeding "Brits" that would destroy the “shoe polisher” image. I noticed that these dogs were running big, running hard and running tough! I watched Buddy at a championship trial in Indiana retrieve a bird that had fallen on the far side of a goat wire fence. I wondered why in the world Nolan would shoot that bird, knowing that it would fall on the far side where his dog couldn’t reach it, and he could lose his retrieve score. Turns out, he knew that Buddy would find a way, somehow, to bring that bird to hand. And he did. He found a hole in the fence, just big enough to squeeze through, gather the bird, and squeeze back into the playing field. I decided that morning that I would have some of that in my kennel, and one year later at 5 weeks of age, I did. On day one, my wife Robin said the pup looked like a "little Baylor Bear", her alma mater. That’s how he got his name.
One of Bear's litter mates, Bull, and Bulls’ partner Nolan came to Texas to hunt with me back in 2005. It was a great year for the birds; they were thick and the coveys were big. Nolan and I turned the pair loose on the south end of a pasture and had the time of our lives watching them tear up the ground in bird finding fury. One would point, the other would back and vice versa all the way up to the north fence where we picked em up. When we did, the two brothers had pointed 26 coveys of bob white quail. Nolan told me, “That’s the best quail hunt I’ve ever been a part of.” Bear had the smarts too. He had become a big country pleasure. The little dog could roll! He eagerly covered big West Texas and Montana country and in a hurry. I took him to South Dakota for pheasants. We were hunting strips and shelter belts. He figured it out in short order and never hunted beyond 25-30 yards ahead of me. He worked pheasants that day like he’d done it his whole life, and these were the first ones he’d ever seen.
When the economy ate my job up in 2009, Bear went to work with me entertaining and teaching at various events and sporting goods dealers in the Dallas-Ft Worth area. He easily converted from the wide open spaces, to arena floors and huge tents. Everyone that met him at these events fell in love. The folks especially loved it when I would ask a kiddo to go hide Bear's Dokken dummy someplace. I would tell Bear to "hunt dead", and he’d climb through boats and expo booths, crowds and funnel cake vendors to find it and bring it back to me. I needed him to help me at that time, and he did. He wasn’t trying to be a showman, simply trying to please me, and in the process was indeed something to see. He even made it into a national Ad for Forti Flora with all of the Smith boys. Surgery had me on a walker for over a year, and I couldn’t take him hunting, or so I thought. I wondered if he would adapt to retrieving doves...he did. Sat by my side like a lab.
If I walked out of a door, he was lying beside it when I came back through. You could bet money on that. I start work many times at 3 or 4 am. There was no way to sneak out of the bedroom without him. Off to work with me he’d go. Every day. When friends and family betrayed trust, he didn’t. Not once. You know, you’ve been there too. His talent was great, his nose was unreal, his heart was bigger, and that’s what set him apart. I borrowed a line from Winnie the Pooh when I thanked God for giving me something I loved so much, that it hurt this bad to lose it. I hope that I haven’t bored you with my story. I hope that I have brought back fond remembrance of your “Bear”. Bear died just 3 weeks before his fifteenth birthday. I still cry.
May 26, 2017
As we move from school days to pool days, and cool mornings to hot days, it’s not too early to start thinking about fall. For bow hunters, you could be in the stand and packing meat out of the field in just 19 weeks. Dove hunters will be trying to down those fast darting doves in less time than that. Field trailers will start campaigning again in September too. It’s easy to hit the AC and not depart from it ‘til summers in the rear view, but if you use your time wisely and take advantage of the cooler parts of the morning and evening, you can keep your edge.
My friend and pro dog trainer Ronnie Smith and his training partner/wife Susanna Love, will start their day about 3am during the dog days of summer, and finish roading (exercising) dogs by 9am or so. By 9am in Big Cabin, Oklahoma in July, it’s HOT! Tom Dokken’s Kennel is in Minnesota, and he does the same thing. That kind of effort is what sets trainers like Tom and Ronnie apart from many others without that kind of drive.
A round of sporting clays once a week is a great way to keep your dove shooting on par. Keep plenty of water handy and walk the course for your legs, heart and lungs. The same goes for outdoor 3-D archery courses. My friend Joe Mussachio at Cinnamon Creek Archery in Ft Worth, Texas has several outdoor courses to keep you on your toes and ensuring the best shot that you can be in September. Swimming is great hot weather aerobics too. Take your dog along. He can’t sweat and any outdoor activity in the summertime requires that you at least keep his head wet and cool as possible.
Here’s to a great summer, and like the old song says…See You in September!
May 18, 2017