Tribute to a bird dog | Dingo 1974-1986
|Dingo. The day after her last hunting trip|
Dingo was our family's first bird dog. We got her around 1974 from my dad's cousin who lived in our neighborhood. He had an english pointer bitch that whelped a litter of illegitimate pups. Whatever breed Dingo’s father was she inherited most of her DNA from her mom and looked and acted the part of a Pointer. She was liver spotted with some faint ticking. More liver coverage than most pointers. Rumor was her father was a lab/beagle mix. I don’t believe it and believe it was most likely a german shorthair. She had the coat and size of a pointer. Whatever her breeding, she was all bird dog.
Originally she was my oldest brother Rick’s dog. The story I’ve been told is she was so crazy and disobedient that he became very frustrated with her. On the eve of the pheasant opener he told his future father-in-law "if Dingo didn’t show him something" that next day, he wasn’t bringing her home. If that meant he was going to abandon her or shoot her, I’m not sure.
|Shawn and Dingo 1976|
Family legend has it that he took her out for a run the night before and she was terrible, she ran off, busted birds, pointed a butterfly and was living up to her poor reputation. The next day he was expecting nothing and was assuming that it was curtains for Dingo. When he got her out of the truck he claims he grabbed her by the face and said “Dingo this is your last chance”. In Rick's words, "She hunted like a champ". She pointed and held her birds, she stuck around and hunted hard for Rick and his companions. His future father-in-law told him he would be crazy to get rid of that dog. So... lucky for us she stuck around.
A couple years later Rick got married and moved out and purchased another bird dog for himself and basically gave Dingo to my brother Shawn and I. We didn’t know a whole lot about how to care for or train a bird dog. We were just kids. Poor Dingo actually spent most of her time the first couple years of her life chained to a dog house away from the house, next to the gate of our pasture where we kept our horses. She was attention starved and lacked obedience. And we wondered why she was crazy. I remember letting her off her chain and watching her take off like a shot for the orchards that surrounding our home. We’d call and call and you would just watch a white and brown blur disappear into the apple trees. A couple hours later, she would return and would then hang out while we played, did chores or whatever. Eventually we built her a dog run that she promptly learned to climb out of.
She became something of a neighborhood menace. She would get into garbage cans, attack neighbors cats, she got into a few scrapes with other dogs. During deer season she would raid garages on bring home pelts and deer legs among other parts and we’d have to dispose of them before anyone saw. We were constantly apologizing for her behavior. But she was ours and we loved her. She was family, what could we do?
|Dingo and I 1981|
My brother and I had a couple BB guns and eventually graduated to pellet guns. We were the terrors of the orchards. Hours were spent murdering sparrows and starlings and other song birds that we could find. I know that sounds awful to some but we did have a code of ethics, a flawed one but we have them. Rules were you couldn’t shoot Robins, Sea Gulls, Killdeer, or Sparrowhawks. I’m sure there were many native song birds that fell victim to our daisy rifles but we didn’t know better and we had a blast. Dingo was always in the mix of all of it. Every once in a while she’d point a covey of quail or a pheasant and we’d be awestruck at the beauty of her point and of the game birds she put up. We were always fascinated with the pheasants, quail and ducks my older brother Rick would bring home and we were anxious to turn 12 so we could have our turn.
I remember Shawn’s first pheasant. It was behind our house at the edge of Mrs. Winter's orchard. I was sitting at the fence line of our pasture watching the whole scene unfold. Shawn and Rick were following Dingo into a line of tall poplars that served as a windbreak and bordered the orchard. There was always a bird or two in that little cover. A rooster flew up, Rick shot and then there was a second shot from Shawn and the bird fluttered to the ground. I remember being very happy for him.
I’d get mine the next season when I turned 12. It took Shawn a couple seasons before he bagged his first rooster so there was no way his runt of a brother was going to out do him and get a bird his first season. He bet me $10 that I wouldn’t get one my first season. I boldly took that bet. I was obsessed. I spent hours in the orchards with dingo dreaming of the moment. I spent my birthday money on a bird vest and a Jones-style hunting hat. I looked the part and was ready for the challenge.
My first shotgun was an old Steven's 20-gauge break-action single shot that took both thumbs and all my 12 year old strength to pull back the hammer. Dad’s solution….. cock the hammer and hunt with the action open. If a bird flew up, and only when a bird flew up, close the breech and take a shot. I guess it worked. Seems kind of crazy and unsafe now. I practiced and practiced closing the breech and shouldering the gun. When the opportunity came I’d be ready.
First weekend of the hunt we went down to my Uncle Glen’s home in Monroe UT. We had a great hunt, Dingo was awesome! She was slamming birds left and right. Both of my brothers, my Dad and family friend all limited out. I missed terribly on every bird I shot at. It was looking like Shawn’s predictions were coming true. Back then the Pheasant hunt lasted only about 10 days and the next weekend was most likely going to be my last opportunity for the year to bag myself a pheasant.
Dingo was a fun dog to watch and we didn’t realize at the time what a talent she was. She would stalk and move on running birds like no other dog I’ve ever seen. Her belly would nearly drag the ground as she carefully crawled, cat like, to pin the bird. In her later years she hunted pretty close to the gunner, she knew how to work a cover and hold her birds. I don’t think we gave her the credit she deserved. She was a fine hunter, careful and sneaky and was deadly on pheasants. I believe she would of made a great grouse dog as well.
The next weekend we hunted the same area and got into a few more birds. We hunted past lunch and were headed back towards my uncles house. Once there, the hunt was over and I was dreading making good on Shawn’s bet. In the last stretch of alfalfa almost on the way back to my uncles house Dingo got birdy. This was my last chance so I cheated…. I closed my gun and followed Dingo hoping for a chance. When we pushed up to a small berm, up came the bird. A rooster! Shawn shot first but the bird kept rising, he had missed. I don’t remember aiming I just remember reacting. I pulled the trigger. Feathers flew an the bird folded. I must of said something. Shawn responded.. “No way, I hit that”. Luckily my uncle was there and said “That's Brett’s bird…” I wasn’t sure I knew Shawn had missed and thought my uncle might of shot it with his .410 sxs. I asked him. “Really?” He laughed… “Yes, I watched you shoot it.” He then opened his gun to show me that he never shot. It was true. I did it. I shot my first rooster and a lifelong addiction followed. I'll never forget it.
There are many more such memories and firsts with Dingo. I owe Dingo as much as anyone or anything or any memory or moment for instilling this passion for bird hunting. Dingo was really fun to hunt over. We were lucky to come into hunting right when she was becoming a seasoned veteran hunting dog.. She taught me as much about upland hunting as anyone or anything else ever could have. We were proud of her and she hunted hard and gave us all many great opportunities and memories.What more can you ask for from a dog.
|The black blur is my GWP Gretchen with Grandma Dingo|
Her last hunt was a miserable rainy day back in Monroe.
I believe I shot a single bird over her point. I had a young Wirehaired pointer at the time and she was my focus and probably didn’t pay much notice that Dingo was slowing down or that the cold was effecting her more than usual. The next day, at home, she jumped into the back of the truck and snuggled up in her dog box. I snapped the photo above in this post. She just wanted someone to drive her to another cover where she could do what she loved to do. Unfortunately there wouldn’t be any more hunts. About 3 weeks later Dingo suffered a stroke and her story was over. I cried the entire way home from the vets office.
Later that night I was sitting in her kennel holding her empty collar with my new dog Gretchen across my lap. My brothers had all moved out. It was just me, my dog and my broken heart. As tears dripped off my nose I dwelled on that first pheasant and many other memories and regrets I had with Dingo. One memory came to mind, it was of a time when I was with my older brother Rick and her in the orchard during an after-school hunt. We found Dingo on point in the middle of a row. It was just before dusk when the autumn light is a golden amber. The grass was about a foot tall and still green. The leaves were still on the apple and pear trees. It was getting colder and as the sun dropped there was little mists forming in the dark places. Dingo was locked, low to the ground, her tail straight out and horizontal with her back, her eyes were like lasers searching the grass in front of her. Rick whispers, “Sick it girl!” and she flushes her own bird, a single male valley quail shoots straight away down the row. Rick’s 12 gauge cracks like thunder and the quail drops right in front of her. I run and pick up the bird for him and tell Dingo how amazing she was and off Dingo go’s to find the next one. I like to think she remains in that moment forever.