Two years ago this November I walked that last longest mile with my bird dog Kota. I have not found it in me to get another yet, so my autumns are now filled with walking the grouse trails alone. Each time I go I find memories and sometimes birds.
Kota was one of 'those' dogs, willful, dedicated, rambunctious and so full of energy it was sometimes impossible to end a day in the field. He was a constant woods companion, a companion in all things and all ways with the greatest heart of any dog I've ever met.
I miss that old dog.
These days I cruise the edges of the pines, aspen and birch stands along the old logging trails. I find grouse where we always did, but now they don't hold because of the dog. If they see me coming they either run off or flush before I am in range. I have to hug the cover, move slower, I have to be within their danger zone before they realize I'm there. Then with thunderous noise they flush, pounding the air to gain altitude, as they climb I bring the gun up and as grouse do they'll break right or left, they don't fly straightaway very often. After the break I've usually got a bead and the old bird hammer detonates, if luck holds there is a wondrous thump and a flapping madness descends to earth. I savor the moment and remember how Kota would work the bird. Now I just walk to it and collect it as the silence returns to the woods.
Sometimes in the silence between the breezes and the falling leaves I hear things just beyond the edges of hearing. I'll stop and hold, listening for what I thought I heard. Sometimes I think I see a flash in the brush, turning here or there but always it seems my eyes are late to the place. My heart will skip a second and then a jay will call or the wind comes again. I walk on, waiting for a bird to rise.
I'm sure my old bird dog is running timber edges too, and flushing birds of his own, a toothy grin after the fact as he waits patiently for me.