Bunkie Goes Hunting
“It’s after dark, and the day is done. The lamps that line the highway as the truck makes its way home illuminate the cab of the pick-up periodically. It’s been a long day of pheasant hunting. I glance over at the yellow Lab lying on the seat besides me. His head is lying on my thigh; he’s asleep and breathing deeply. All is good.”
It was the fall of 1987 and I was still wed to the future ex-wife. We had added a boy to the family in 1985 and between working and raising kids; I just didn’t have a whole lot of time to hunt and fish. Bunkie and I had pretty much stolen time here and there to do some blue gill fishing at Lake Perris, close to our home in Sunnymead California, and that was about it.
Things were plodding along at work and for once weekends were free. But I knew that would only last for a short time. When the air gets crisp my thought always turn to bird hunting. I told the wife that I wanted to go hunting the following Sunday. We were actually getting along fairly well at that point and she said she didn’t mind but I’d be missing church. Hmmm. Tough decision to make there. Bunkie and I were going hunting.
Over the previous years, when I had Bunkie in Washington State, we would go on long walks through the forests and fields. Every now and then Bunkie would lock up on point. The first time he did it, I was floored. I didn’t think Lab’s would point. Bunkie’s point consisted of freezing stock-still; tail up and leaning forward, eyes locked on his prey. I was skeptical. I walked over to where he was locked up and looked around. Nothing. I said, “Come on, let’s go, nice try.” He wouldn’t budge. Impatiently, I walked over in front of him again and turned to look down at the dog. I started to scold him to get going, when a hellacious racket went up behind me. Scared the crap right out of me, it did. I jumped and turned around and a **** Pheasant was rising out of the grass, right where Bunkie had been pointing. After I checked my shorts, I praised him.
Boy did I feel stupid. I never doubted that bonehead again. He was always right when he went on point. Always.
Bunkie was born to hunt. I never trained him; he just came by it naturally. When we would be out on our walks he would course back and forth ahead of me, nose to the ground, constantly hunting. He never got so far ahead of me that if I was hunting that I couldn’t make the shot if he flushed game.
Anyway, we were going hunting next Sunday and I was pumped. Bunkie knew something was up too. I pulled out my uncles old Winchester Model 1897 pump shotgun. My aunt had given me the gun after my uncle passed away as I was the only boy in the family that actively hunted. I gave the gun a good cleaning and the aroma of Hoppe’s Number Nine solvent filled the air. I always loved that smell and Bunkie came to love it also. I pumped the slide back on the shotgun and worked some machine oil into the slide mechanism. The gun was an antique but worked flawlessly, it was my favorite hunting gun. I still have that gun and use it occasionally.
From that point forward, every time Bunkie would hear me pump that shotgun, he would get excited; it meant that we were going hunting. He would get fired up if he smelled Hoppes Number Nine solvent too.
The following Sunday we were up at 4am and ready to go a short time later. Bunkie didn’t know what was going on but he must have sensed it was something big going on. I had been looking forward to this for years; I was still not sure how Bunkie would react to the blast of the shotgun. I had fired 22’s around him before and he was fine with that, I thought he’d be ok with a shotgun. I was right.
We got to the fields outside Norco and it was still dark. I had secured permission from the rancher the week before; the rancher said that there is lots of birds this year and to have at it, just don’t shoot the cows. I assured the farmer that I’d be careful of his property and presented him with a fifth of Jack Daniels; I hunted that ranch for years after that.
That November day was cold and overcast, maybe we’d pick up some ducks as well. Bunkie and I sat in the cab of the truck, waiting for the dawn. I drank my coffee; Bunkie sat upright on the seat beside me watching every move I’d make. I reached over and rubbed him on the head and cupped the side of his head with my hand. He leaned his head into my hand and we kept that pose for a few moments. The eastern sky started to lighten and soon the night faded and the day began.
We got out of the truck and Bunkie started scouting around. I had not even got the gun out of the case when I heard a cackle of a pheasant rooster. I turned around and saw the rooster rise out of the grass right where Bunkie was. Bunkie was about 10 feet from the truck. Bunkie was fired up; he was watching where the pheasant was landing. Things were looking good.
I got the gun out of the case and we started walking. Bunkie was coursing ahead of me, as he always did. He stopped coursing; he was on point. I watched Bunkie for few seconds. The bird was moving; Bunkie would advance a few feet, lock up and point. He was so intent. I walked up slowly behind the dog. Bunkie could sense me behind him. He moved forward and flushed the rooster. The bird rose into the air, long tail behind it, cackling into the morning sky. I fired and the bird dropped into the grass; it was a clean kill. Now something happened that I was not expecting. Bunkie rushed to the pheasant picked it up and brought it back to me. Wow. I had a real retriever. I was so proud of him.
I leaned over and took the bird from between his jaws, he released the bird and I patted him, I rubbed him, I praised him. I let him sniff the bird and then I put the bird in my game pouch. The weight of the bird in the pouch was a comfortable pressure. We added another rooster to the bag soon after, brought back with another good retrieve; we had our daily limit.
We went to find some ducks. The ranch had a portion of the Green River running through it. I decided to try and jump shoot some ducks. Jump shooting entails walking along a lake or riverbank and flushing out ducks that are feeding or resting in the rushes and cattails along the bank.
The Green River is fairly shallow; it’s ankle to knee deep in most places that I hunt. The current is not strong; it meanders more than rushes. We were walking along the bank keeping an eye out for ducks. We ran across many more pheasants and Bunkie was having a hard time figuring out why I was not shooting the ****s and hens. After the bird flushed he’d look back over his shoulder and give me a “Hey, what gives?!” look. I guess he didn’t comprehend limits that applied to roosters (****s) and that you can’t shoot the hens. But it was good practice for the boy, so I let him point away.
We were a mile into the hunt and a mallard greenhead flushed from the reeds. I shot the duck and it fell onto a small sandbar in the middle of the river. I thought, this should be easy for Bunkie. Bunkie bounded down the bank and into the water and then right back out again onto the bank and sat down. I was wondering what the heck was going on. Then I figured it out; the water was ice cold and he didn’t like the family jewels immersed in cold anything. I couldn’t be having that, so down the bank I went. I looked down at Bunkie and said to him “Go get that bird!” He looked at me. He looked over to where the duck was lying on the sandbar. He stood up. He sat down again. I could almost read his mind. It was like he was saying, “You want that bird so much, you go get it and freeze your family jewels off!”
So I did the only thing I could do. I reached down, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and the base of his tail and pitched him into the river. He didn’t like that much. He made a beeline back to the bank but I wouldn’t let him get back up. He was mad and sat down in the river. He thought better of that when his family jewels hit the water. He stood up and stared at me. It was a stand off.
I went into the river and grabbed him by the collar and walked him out to the duck. I pointed at the duck. He looked at the duck. I picked the duck up and placed it into his mouth and then turned him around and walked back to the bank, his family jewels sloshing through the ice-cold water.
He dropped the duck at my feet when we got back to the bank. He shook the water off of his coat and drenched me in the process. Don’t think that he wasn’t aware that he was soaking me. Payback time. We continued the hunt.
Half an hour later we jump another greenhead. I shoot the duck and it lands in an eddy of the river starts to float away. Bunkie bounds down the bank and stops. He looks over at me and I start to head down the bank again. He knows what’s coming, so off he goes after the duck. Family jewels sloshing in the river and all, he grabs the duck and beats feet back to me. He drops the bird at my feet and sits down. Good boy, I say and feed him a treat, some beef jerky I have stashed in my jacket. Yum.
We have enough game for the day and we head for the truck. It’s a very pleasant drive back to the house. Bunkie is beat and is sleeping in the cab on the way home. The interior smells like wet dog for days afterwards, but I don’t mind.
I feed Bunkie some tidbits while cleaning and dressing the birds. This becomes a ritual that we repeat many times over the years. I remember each and every hunt we went on and these are the dog memories that I cherish most of all.
A Man and His Maniac: The Bunkie Story