I’d like to think I did an excellent job of training Ginny but the truth is she pretty much trained herself. Oh, we did the fundamental backyard training on Come, Whoa, and Sit. I also was fortunate to have time in my schedule to work her on planted quail behind the house and at a friend’s farm. But when it came to handling birds her genetics kicked in and she just figured it out.
Every dog has their own hunting style which is typically difficult to describe. I guess Ginny covered ground in what you would consider a typical English Setter style with a graceful, flowing gait; not hurried or slow just cutting through the woods within sight and whistle range. She never got in a hurry, never got too far out, and in all the years we hunted together she never got lost.
There are two event I remember most about her time in the field. First, when she was about four years old my son, home after a tour in Iraq, and I went to a shooting preserve in Alabama with Ginny. The owners had put the birds out for us and showed us in which direction to hunt. The birds were in groups of 3-4 and Ginny was handling them like a pro. After we downed a bird from one group she went out to retrieve the bird. That’s when she did something I’ve heard from other bird hunters but never had a dog do for me before. While returning with a bird in her mouth she locked up on point on another quail! My son shot it, she brought us the first bird and went to retrieve the other. For her, just business as usual.
The second event occurred when I was working for RGS. I was guiding a couple of RGS Board Members on a grouse and woodcock hunt. These are guys who have more in their bank account than I’ll probably make in my lifetime. You’ve heard of ball players being “in the zone”? Well, that day Ginny was there. She coursed through the thickets staying to the front within sight. Each bird contact was exquisitely handled. Both of the gentlemen starting praising the way she covered ground, her high stylish stand on birds, and how gently she brought the bird to hand. I was beginning to fear one of them was going to make an offer that would be difficult to refuse. Fortunately, as grouse hunters I think they felt and saw the bond between the two of us and knew not to do it.
All people with dogs hurt and grieve when they lose their partner. I contend that grief is greater for the bird hunter. When you train a dog to live for which it was born, and then spend years with a shared passion for birds, a special bond develops. I do believe sometimes when we were hunting Ginny would loop back in toward me and smile as if to say “Aren’t we having fun buddy?” I do not know how many birds I killed over Ginny. That’s not important. It is the memories I’ll carry in my heart for the rest of my life.
The day she collapsed outside the kennel I called the vet and gently lifted and carried her to the truck. I knew this day was coming for some time. I had saved a woodcock wing from my recent trip to New Hampshire and I placed it in front of her nose on the short ride to the Vet. A fitting way for a graceful lady to start her heavenly journey. We’ll hunt together in the future I’m sure.