An Ode to Cash

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As a young traveling wingshooter, I spend a lot of time in the field by myself. Convincing friends to join me on excursions to virgin grounds is often difficult. Although I always enjoy my adventures, I understand that it can be a hard sale for some. The phrase “I can’t promise we will shoot or even find birds, but I can promise we will cover plenty of ground” is less than attractive to some.

These kinds of situations eventually drove me to get my first bird dog. I had spent several years hunting quail without a dog. It just never seemed like the “right time”. After being drawn deeper and deeper into the upland community, I finally broke down and bought my first bird dog. Cash was a 1.5 year old started French Brittany that came from a kennel in Alabama.

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When we arrived at my home in Alpine, Texas, I eagerly took him to the field to begin training. I assumed that we would have a lot of work to do because of the drastic change in landscape. For those who don’t know there are not a lot of commonalities between the longleaf pine savannahs in the southeast and the desert scrublands of the southwest. At the first sight of a scaled quail covey, Cash bolted. The temptation of those running cottontops was too much for that little dog to handle. As I sighed, all of the things I worried about seemed to come crashing around me. I had no idea how to train a bird dog. Sure, I had done some reading, but nothing could prepare me for the real deal.

After regaining control of Cash, we continued our walk back toward the truck. Not ¼ mile later, Cash pointed into a mesquite thicket. A small covey of five birds erupted into the air from the thicket as I approached it. I turned to congratulate my new pup and he came running to my arms. Just like that, we were the best of friends. It was at that very moment I realized that Cash would do anything he could to make me happy.

Dogs are a special creation put here to fill a hole in the heart of man. They are the companion you can always count on. As semper paratus as they come. No matter the circumstances, your dog will always be there for you. The compassion dogs show to us is one that is unfathomable and indescribable. Bird dogs, in particular, are a saving grace for so many in this world. Yes, they make our jobs as hunters easier. But they are much more. It’s not just about the point, the flush, or the retrieve. It’s not just about having a hunting companion or traveling partner.

For the first few months I owned Cash, I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment by myself. Our routine was simple. We would wake up, have our breakfast, and then I would head to the university where I was taking classes. I would come home around noon and then we would work on obedience for an hour or so. After that, I would work on the computer while Cash lay at my feet, looking up with his bright loving eyes. At the time, I was a graduate student, and I would spend hours on end reading and writing every day.

Getting to wake up and see his smiling face every morning always made sure I had a good day. The furry body that curled up next to me at the end of a strenuous day at work always made it worth doing again. Regardless of my mood, he was always content to just be in my presence. Not once did I ever have an inkling that my bird dog was irked by my company. Have you? Despite the out-of-tune singing that may be heard in many pick-ups on the way to the field, have you ever heard a bird dog complain? Maybe the occasional eye-roll or sigh but never a complaint. Have you ever seen a bird dog frown after a less than productive hunt? I have my doubts.

I remember the first time Cash and I traveled to hunt Montezuma quail in New Mexico. We pulled out of our driveway at 3:00 AM sharp. One of many times that it was just the two of us leaving the house at such an ungodly hour. We hunted for two full days without producing a bird. Weary and a little discouraged, I sat on the tailgate next to Cash. He was wearing the same big smile that he always sported. As I inspected his pads, I noticed they were smooth from all the miles we had put on.

I am amazed by the things these animals will do to please their owners. They strive, day-in and day-out, to please us. To make us understand just how special we are through their loving eyes. The miles they put on those pads FOR US are not done so lightly. Always keep that in mind. Always keep in mind that in every struggle you go through, in life or in the field, they will always be by your side. Ready to help out the best they know-how. They are there to lick the tears from your face and they are prepared to follow you to hell and back. At times they may drive you half-mad. They may gnaw on the furniture. They may dig holes in the yard. They may take a dive into the trash. They may even chase the occasional stray cat. But never once have they done so in an effort to disgruntle their owner. Just remember, above all, you are their idol.

Make sure that you can repay the favor. Provide them with the best life you know-how. When they leave this world, you’ll lose that opportunity. So, keep them close to your heart. And above all, hold them tight.

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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