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Open country: corning to grips with a dog's style and range requires a look inward.

THE MAN WAS intent on the English setter running well to his front when he glanced down and saw the arrowhead angled into the earth as if it had just fallen from its maker's hand. He picked it up, cleaned it with a moistened fingertip, and examined its detail. The flint head was flawless and beauti-ful--darkish and streaked with hues of red, it was more art than weapon.

He let his mind wander, pondering the arrowhead, the man who made it and how it came to be on the earth at his feet. Then he caught himself and stopped woolgathering about a past he could not know. "Pay attention to your dog," he said aloud, irritated at his loss of focus on the young setter working in the distance. He wrapped the arrowhead in a handkerchief and placed it in a shirt pocket.

The man was nervous in this rolling sprawl of prairie, not for himself--he felt at home in open country--but for the leggy setter that tended to run bigger than he liked. His dog was a touch over a year old, well started on birds but not reliable with some commands, particularly the recall when he was running hard.

The man couldn't fully grasp it yet, but the dog's range fit the terrain; if anything the setter ran tighter than some hunters preferred. But not this man. Although he was on the edge of relaxing his need for a close worker, he still felt most at ease with his setter within 100 yards, preferably less.

The heavily ticked setter had hunted well the day before and given the man a limit of pheasants. The dog worked be birds cleanly, pinned them without crowding, easing forward only when they began to move in front of him. And in his amateurish fashion he retrieved the dead birds.

No, the man admitted, he could not complain about his dog's per-formance--only the range issue worried him. But he was coming to realize that was more his mindset, his concern that the dog would get away from him, than a problem with the dog itself. He was beginning to understand that what he saw as his setter's drive to range too far and wide was simply the dog's style in open country and was, in fact, exactly how he should be running.

The setter was covering ground nicely and had worked back inside the man's comfortable range when he made an abrupt turn into the wind and locked up. The man quickly walked to the point and flushed two hens, then a rooster. For the most part, the setter was steady to wing and shot and made the short retrieve look easy. The man let the revved up dog work around the area where the birds had flushed, then called him in and, because the day was ending, clipped a lead onto hi; collar and told him he had done a fine job. He felt very good about this day, about finding the arrowhead, and especially about his setter's work.

The open space, wide and spreading out to the horizons, seemed to the man to be full of the very essence of exuberance, like a kid about to toss his hat into air out of joy at being what he was. The prairie filled him with that same sweeping exuberance, that sense of wonder of itself and all things that it held and that were part of it, including, he realized in a flash of insight, his young, high-rolling setter.

Sunset arrived suddenly, in full splendor. The western sky was ablaze with crimson and its thinly layered clouds were shot with hues of rich violet ranging to deep purple. Through it all, a thick golden light stained with shifting colors streamed down to wash the prairie and its foreground of scattered shelterbelts. The sky appeared on such a scale, even at its farthest reaches, that the very heavens seemed to be in flames. Then, as if an overhead light was being dimmed, the incredible spectrum of colors' became dusk.

They stood motionless for a moment: the dog staring into the distance and fading light through which he had just run; the man apparently lost in thought. He patted his shirt pocket, then took out the handkerchief and removed the arrowhead. It rested in his palm where a facet of its surface caught the quick flare of a last sharply-angled beam of sun.

"Beautiful," the man thought once again in the instant before the glint of color disappeared. He held it briefly before he kneeled, scrapped out a shallow depression, and buried the perfect point. "It belongs in this country," he said softly to the setter, "and so do you."
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Title Annotation:Parting Shots
Author:Arnette, Joe
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Aug 13, 2014
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