by William Stan Allen
I love circles. We’ve all driven in circles at one time or another, some more times than others. Even if you don’t believe in them I’m sure you’ve all heard of crop circles. As a sophomore in high school after many hours trying to figure out what PI meant I learned how to find the circumference of a circle and who hasn’t heard of circle the wagons, circle back, form a circle, perfect circle, circle time, circle of friends, magic circle, and least we forget Arctic Circle? After everything is said and done Ferdinand Magellan was pretty fond of a circle.
The inspiration for this diatribe is a red circle that surrounds the number 1 of the month of September. This is an all but sacred date across America and especially here in Texas. It’s the date that wing shooters yearn for; nay covet starting at sundown on the last day of any wing shooting season. It’s the opening of dove and early goose season. It’s the time when wing shooters stop eating, drinking, and a whole host of other activities just to be able to sit in the Texas heat and scrutinize the September sky for a faint whisper of beating wings.
I being a kindred spirit of all wing shooters everywhere feel the pang of anticipation of the upcoming season and started preparing far in advance of the hallowed September date. My anxiety this year was multiplied due to the day of the week the 1st landed. I choose to hunt Shiny Top Ranch, which I’ve had a lot of success over the years, didn’t open until the Saturday the 3rd of September.
As Friday slid into evening I’d bought shells, some new decoys, and a new hat with the face mesh already inside the hat, kind of cool. With more than a passing interest and four hazel eyes watching me I checked my gear for the fifteenth time. Daisy has retired from hunting Bailey is in boot camp so she’s out of the picture for this hunt. That leaves the gentle giant Jack to partner with me. Never had the pleasure of hunting with Jack until now, as you know Jack only became a member of the family in March.
As I prepared for the morning hunt Jack watched every movement and checked out every item I put in a shooting bag. After checking everything one more time and then for safety sake checking again we were ready and the excitement intensified. Sleep didn’t seem to be in the cards for either Jack or myself, I lay there tossing and turning and every time I moved I could feel Jack moving as if to ask.
“Is it time to go yet?”
At 5:00 AM the alarm sounded, my eyes popped open and I sat up so fast I caught Jack off guard. I’d been asleep for most of two hours.
As I dawned my camo it was apparent Jack was ready for the hunt. He’d watch as I put on a sock or a shirt then he’d head for the door when I didn’t move in that direction he’d come back to supervise me putting on another piece of clothing. Then the process would repeat. Once I was dressed he sat down as if saying.
“Are you sure you’re ready now?”
Jack has never been overly excited about jumping into the crate in the back of my SUV however this time I think his head bounced off the top. He gave me a look that said.
“I’ve lost all dignity since I’ve met you.”
He didn’t lie down and sleep as is his usual when in the crate. He paced back and forth, good thing Shiny Top is just a short trip from home.
If the truth be known I was as just as excited as Jack. I wanted to see this dog work his magic in a dove field. We made it to the ranch, checked in, and told where we might have the best luck by 6:45. I picked a good spot between two large cedar trees in a fly way to a grain field. I unloaded our gear and moved the Navigator several hundred yards away.
The walk back to our spot was filled with all the exhilaration of a first time. First time to go hunting with Dad, first time to hunt doves, first time to kill a big buck, first time to take a cinnamon teal, and all the other fantastic first times. This hunt was filled with all the excitement and anticipation that always comes with first times.
It wasn’t quite shooting light by the time we’d settled down between the cedars. I sat there stroking Jacks head and he leaned into my leg; all was right with the world.
The anticipation of shooting light for me is akin to that last seven minutes before you can open your Christmas gifts. However like most things shooting light did finally arrive. Even Jack seemed relieved when it was light enough to shoot.
Doc Jones, owner of Shiny Top, didn’t steer me wrong. I had no more than put a couple of shells in my gun and a small dark figure just above the tree tops came speeding in. As the Browning came to my shoulder I told Jack to “stay” then “mark” as the report of the shotgun rang in both our ears. Jack’s body trembled with anticipation. The dove was hit hard and as it began to fall Jack’s gaze followed it to the ground.
I was satisfied with his demeanor so I softly said Jack and he was off for his first retrieve for me. He wasted no time in picking the dove up gently but firm enough not to be able to escape the yellow dog’s grip. If dogs show facial expressions he was smiling, tail wagging furiously and a John Wayne swagger back to me with his prize. I asked him to sit then I asked for the bird which he enthusiastically released to my hand, a picture perfect retrieve.
For the next few minutes this scene repeated over and over like a video on a loop. The shooting was great and the dog work was even better. I loved watching that nose find even the most difficult or well hidden quarry and then effortlessly picking up each and every bird. It mattered not if the dove fell in trees, bushes, or cactus Jack sole purpose was to bring every bird back and place it in my hand. Jack’s work was superb if only my shooting was as good.
A well trained dog works effortlessly and flawlessly unless a human decides to try and help with a retrieve which of course I did. I shot a dove which fell out of Jack’s line of sight so I heeled him up and we walked to where the bird fell.
I released him and I started looking hither and dale for the dove. Jack must’ve decided to help me find whatever it was I was looking for so he stayed close. He did find time to use a bush and then took up the search once again. I couldn’t figure out why a clean shot was so hard to find, I looked at Jack and out of his mouth protruded two small bird feet. He retrieved the dove he was suppose to and being a good friend was help me find whatever it was I was looking for.
Jack and I make a pretty good team and this is just the beginning of dove season and duck season hasn’t even started yet. I can feel from his mood and see from his body language he’s happy to start working again. I know I like this team and I’m pretty sure he does too.
Jack has come a long way since I picked him up. From the dog that was so insecure after losing his owner that he wouldn’t let me out of his sight and had to sit on my lap while I drove to a strong, confident, and loving companion and hunter. We still have a ways to go but I’d say Jack has just about come full circle.