“Look,” my vet said, turning toward me to look into my leaking eyeballs.
“These guys have pride, they have dignity and when that dignity slips away, they know it and feel it. You owed Jake his dignity. He fell asleep with his head in your lap and your voice in his ear.”
My brain agreed, but it’ll take a little time for my heart to catch up—maybe in a few days or months or after another few fall turkey seasons…
“Every bird hunter deserves to have one great bird dog in their lives,” friend and outdoor writer Tom Huggler once told me. “That’s it, you only really get one. So when you get him, cherish him and remember that you must hunt him every chance you get. It’s his mission in life so do not withhold him his mission.”
Was Jake my one great dog? I’m not sure, but as the clock ticked toward my 6:45 vet appointment tonight, my brain got stuck on rewind and the so very many memorable fall turkey hunts during the past 13 years re-played themselves in my head.
Of course, I will always remember the first bird, the hard birds, the courageous efforts, the hunts to exhaustion etc. But perhaps Jake’s finest hour came in just his first or second season when curiosity fall turkey dogging got the best of so many members of my New York club that I found myself playing guide to a half-dozen hunters.
Well, Jake broke a good flock of birds and after sitting on the re-call for ½-hour or so, some shots rang out. I continued to call for another ½ hour trying to drag in other flock members, but to no avail. When we re-grouped, I discovered that one of the members had hit a bird, but it had run off. With afternoon temperatures on the rise and the trail 45 minutes old, I felt that there was little chance of finding that turkey. I no sooner got the words out of my mouth when out of the corner my eye I spied Jake make a beeline run in the direction the bird fled.
If I live to be 100, the vision of Jake—tail in full wag—rushing back toward us with a mouthful of a very-much-still-alive turkey will be one of my all-time, most-cherished hunting memories.
Thanks, Jake.You were the best. —Gerry Bethge
(Special thanks to my buddy, Steve Hickoff, for the accompanying photo—and a shoulder.)