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Just DAWGS: A cracker jack performance isn't always due to a blue-ribbon pedigree.

Today we hunt with retrievers, setters or pointers who come from better families than we do. And we pay more for them than we did for our wife's wedding ring. We feed them the best dog food and we cater to their every medical need. But it wasn't always like that, at least not for me.

* SOAPY My first gun dog, if you could call him that, was a skinny little white mutt named Soapy. Anytime my brother Paul and I left the house with a gun, Soapy would follow.

It was 1942, Paul was 18 and--unknown to us at the time--would soon be flying P-51s in Europe. I was six, and with our 12-year age difference he seemed more like an uncle than a brother. Paul hunted squirrels with a slide-action .22 and he allowed me to tag along if I promised to stay out of the way. With his supervision I was even allowed to take a shot every once in a while. Soapy helped by circling the trees and barking.

As the holidays approached we would march into the woods on a serious mission with Soapy trotting along behind us. Our job was to shoot down mistletoe for the church Christmas party. Since you had to hit the stem to sever the parasitic misdetoe from its host branch--and with our lack of marksmanship--the .22 was useless. So we went for the heavy artillery: Dad's double-barreled 16-gauge shotgun.

Dad had been a quail hunter until making a living began to eat up too much of his time. Wanting his gun to throw ever-wider patterns to compensate for his lack of wing shooting prowess, he took a hacksaw to the shot-gun's barrels and cut several inches off the ends. You might say it was bored extreme skeet and skeet.

I don't know if it helped his quail hunting but it turned the little 16 gauge into one hell of a mistletoe gun. A shotgun that put 100 percent of its pellets into a 10-foot circle was perfect for this job. Even I, inexperienced as I was, became a reasonably competent mistletoe shot.

With Soapy circling and barking we'd aim at one cluster, pull the triggers, and watch several green clumps, some nowhere near our intended target, fall to the ground accompanied by acorns, limbs and the occasional bird nest.

Whatever Soapy's faults as a squirrel dog, he made up for with his mistletoe prowess. When a clump hit the ground he'd snatch it up and run off with it. You could call this retrieving if he brought it back, but he didn't. We had to catch him and take it away from him.

By then some of the leaves and berries were gone and the rest were all slimy, rendering it less than desirable as a party decoration. Who would want to kiss a girl standing under mistletoe with dog slobber dripping on her head?

Was Soapy a gun dog? When Paul and I went anywhere with a gun, Soapy tagged along. I'd call that a gun dog. Wouldn't you?

* PRISSY We never knew where Prissy (not her real name) came from. She just wandered up to my in-laws' rural home in northwest Oklahoma, stayed a while, then moved on. When anyone approached her she wagged her tail, rolled over on her back, and peed straight up in the air. So they named her Prissy, without the R. But for the purposes of this article let's stick with "Prissy."

She was a scrawny little tan shorthaired dog, maybe 25 pounds on a good day. The first time my father-in-law and I walked away from the house to see if we could scare up the covey of quail we'd been hearing, Prissy followed. After the third attempt Doc gave up trying to shoo her back to the house and reluctantly allowed her to trot along with us.

After walking several hundred yards we realized we couldn't see Prissy any more. We assumed she'd gone back to the house, but after crashing through several more yards of underbrush we spotted the little brown dog--holding a perfect point. As we approached her three quail exploded from the grass in front of her.

How had this little mutt of indeter-minate heritage learned to point? Some-where in her jumbled ancestry was there a vizsla or maybe a Brittany?

Being almost invisible in the field was definitely a problem for Prissy's hunting career. Doc eventually resorted to putting a collar and bell on her. When we stopped hearing the bell we knew she was on point somewhere. But where? We often spent 10 or 15 minutes looking for her. And of course if we knocked down a bird we'd have to find her again.

When we found her she'd be standing patiently on a dead bobwhite, but she never picked one up. It was as though she thought, "Hey, I'm a pointer. You want a retriever, go buy one."

Like Soapy, Prissy was just a dawg who liked to hang around guys with guns. She departed as mysteriously as she had appeared. One morning she just wasn't around anymore.

We kept hoping someday we'd hear the tinkling of the little bell but it never happened.


Bruce Cochran recently received the 2017 Excellence in Craft Award from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. This lifetime achievement award represents one of the OWAA's highest honors...congratulations, Bruce!
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Author:Cochran, Bruce
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Dec 1, 2017
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