It was a cold morning. I hadn’t had my hand on a gun in years, but the memory was there. I still knew enough to be safe with a firearm, so I walked on, feeling awkward and unsure and not knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. My fingers were numb, and I wasn’t convinced that I would be able to pull the trigger when I needed to. My feet were cold. My arms were getting tired from the iron clench I had on my gun. I was ready, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could carry on the strength to be ready. Suddenly the gym seemed like a good idea.
Jim, our guide, was patient with me, watching like a protective father. He walked over to me, took my gun out of my hands, and rested it in the pocket of my vest, showing me how to carry the gun without exhausting my arms. I was grateful, both for his watchfulness and for not having to go to the gym and start lifting just yet. I felt slightly more relaxed with my newfound lightness.
My friends Heide and Kat were far more eager than I was, yet they did not mind my awkwardness. They were patient and encouraging. They fixed their gaze on the dogs, as did I, yet their gaze was one of hunger, looking for a covey. My gaze was more of wonder at the dogs using their gifts of scent—nose to the ground, tail in the air, weaving in and out of heavy thorn cover as if it were nothing. To me, they were dancing. A pair in sync yet out of sync, communicating without words, just movement. It was intoxicating to watch. When they froze, I froze.
I watched as Jim released the dog to flush. The birds flew up, but in my wonder, my gun did not.
Heide and Kat were dismayed at my hesitation.
“That was your bird! Why didn’t you shoot?!”
I looked them square in the eye and said, “I was watching the dogs! Did you see how well they worked those birds together? That was incredible dog work!”
They shook their heads at me and laughed, understanding that I had my own motivations for being in the field with them. The birds and shooting them was secondary to seeing the dogs work on their own, doing what they were bred to do. The entire sequence of nose to the ground, tail in the air, slow, whoa, steady, flush, bang, retrieve, deliver was a dance I wanted to see again and again. I’d forgotten my cold fingers, cold feet, heavy arms, and awkward footing. I picked up my feet and followed the dogs, who were already off quartering to find the next bird.