A Bird In The Hand

My older brother, Ted, is quite the outdoorsman.  You’ll often find him hiking through the forests and fields, where he is on a first name basis with every species of tree, bush and weed.  A few years ago, he decided he’d like to get a dog that loves the outdoors as much as he does.  His choice was a French Brittany Spaniel.  At the time, he just liked the looks and size of that breed.  It didn’t matter to him that it was a popular breed for hunting quail.

As it turned out, my brother’s wife had been raised around hunting dogs, and she figured that if you were going to buy one, you might as well buy one that is well-bred.  She found one that came from a long line of good hunters. Thus, Ted bought his trusty canine companion, Scout (not his real name).  I changed his name (the dog’s, not my brother’s) because I didn’t want this article to adversely affect his stud fees if my brother decides to breed him.  I’m not worried about my brother’s reputation.  He’s well beyond his prime breeding years.

As Scout matured, Ted met some other French Brittany Spaniel owners who had decided to form a hunting club to show off their dogs’ talents. From the start, Scout turned out to be a champion hunter.  My brother, not so much. He had always been a big, strong and athletic kid.  Unlike his scrawny younger brother, Ted never felt the need to affirm his masculinity by owning guns. It was only after he joined the hunting club that he asked to borrow one of my shotguns. That’s right, I had more than one. Let’s just say I was less secure in my masculinity than my brother. You’ll be happy to know, I’ve gotten over it. Let’s face it. I, too, am well beyond my prime breeding years. 

The problem is, Ted never committed the time and effort to become proficient at shooting a shotgun. And he certainly wasn’t going to ask his younger brother for advice. Mostly, he just carried it as an excuse to go roaming the fields with his fellow club members and enjoy watching the dogs do their thing.

With French Brittany Spaniels, hunting quail is instinctive. They don’t need years of special training. That’s why breeding is so important. If there is a covey of quail in a field, the dog will find them and signal his find by assuming a classic pointing posture.  The rest is up to the hunter.  He is supposed to flush the birds and finish the job.

Scout was an immediate success.  His first time out, he found more quail more quickly than many of the more experienced dogs. Ted’s only problem was that he was a lousy shot. Fortunately, as long as he was hunting with the other club members, there were enough good shots around to take over when Scout pointed a covey of quail. But when Ted took Scout hunting by himself, there wasn’t much positive reinforcement when the dog found birds.

One day, after a particularly unfruitful afternoon of flushing and missing birds, Ted and Scout were heading back to the car to go home. Suddenly, Scout froze into a picture-perfect point. Clearly there were birds up ahead. Unfortunately, my brother had already unloaded and packed his shotgun into its carrying case.  Scout apparently realized he was on his own. He inched forward until the covey burst into flight. In a split second, Scout leapt up and snatched one of the birds out of thin air. He then dutifully brought the bird back to my brother and proudly sat with the quail in his mouth.

Ted reached down to take the bird from Scout.  At that moment, the bird began fluttering. It escaped Ted’s grip and flew off into the safety of the tall brush.  To this day, my brother says he will never forget the look on his dog’s face.

All things considered, I don’t suppose my brother will be winning any hunter-of-the-year awards. But it seems to me, he and Scout should receive some kind of recognition, maybe from the Audubon Society. After all, he and his dog invented the totally humane and eco-friendly sport of “catch and release” quail hunting.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com


Larry Kolczak
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