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It has snowed and we are headed for an area that has probably not seen a hunter since we were last there, two years ago. A few fingers of cover around a wheat field and lots of sage. Gus goes on point fifty feet into the first finger. I come in from his side, nothing. I look into the thicket and see lots of fresh tracks. As we move down, a few more points, still nothing. The birds are moving ahead of us and flushing about a hundred yards out. We give the dogs time to work things out. Ellie is now watching Gus closely, every time he goes on point she rushes over and I can tell he’s getting frustrated by this and starting to break point. Once again, my brother and I have a discussion and we agree to head in separate directions to give Gus some room. He hunts hard but neither dog can find a trace of all those flushed birds, it’s as if the sage swallowed them up.

At this point, I’m thrilled with his progress... he points! I am not quite sure on how to proceed and I’m trying to remember all the bits I’d read in the book I had bought. All that is clear to me was the author made a convincing case the dog instinctively knew what to do; I just had to stay out of the way.

His next few trips were good; he pointed a lot, but was still working out the finer points of how far and how fresh the scent was. I made up my mind that my job was to honor his points, keep Ellie away, and let him figure it all out.

Another trip was to a lake for some pass shooting for ducks; it was cold and snowy so Ellie had to sit this one out. The ducks cooperated and we got about a dozen with Gus making retrieves. I did notice he still didn’t like the gunfire and he set up about ten yards from me. On his last retrieve, he jumped into the creek for a bird and got wet, so we headed back to the vehicle for a bite to eat. The plan was to leave Gus behind and the two of us go push some cattails for pheasant. Good plan, except Gus wasn’t staying behind – he makes that plain when we try to leave him. I told my partner I’d run him back when he got cold. He never did get cold; this was somewhat of a coming out party for him. He took to the cattails as if he’d lived there his whole life. He pointed a lot but all we found was tracks that he couldn’t keep up to. On a couple of occasions after searching with him and not finding a bird, I’d have to literally pull him away – I found out later that was a mistake. On one hen, he went on point and I looked with him... nothing. But he would not leave so I pulled him off and he went right back. I stomped an area as big as a car but he still wouldn’t leave so by now I’m thinking there must be a bird. I have a talk with him and tell him I can’t find the bird and that he’ll have to. He doesn’t even look at me so I get down and encourage him to get it. Finally, he breaks but only moves a couple of feet. All I can see is his hips, and his tail, which is vibrating, the rest is buried in cattails. I figure my best course of action is to start digging towards his nose so I get on my knees and start digging with one hand. CRIPES! Right there, right under my hand a hen explodes out! Gus is so intent on his point that he doesn’t even look up. I’m covered in snow and laughing and as he realizes the bird is gone, he jumps me and starts to lick my face; his whole body language says this is fun, huh!

Denis Tessman (left) with his hunting partner, Gus and Ellie.
A little further on a rooster that he has been tracking gets up and I knock him down. We both go to the spot where he went down but he’s not there. Gus picks up the scent and after a short track, presents the bird to me. By his wagging, I know he’s quite pleased with himself and having a time.

By now, I have cramps from busting cattails and I’m having trouble walking so we make our way out with Gus hunting the whole way. When we break out of the cattails and he realizes we are headed home, he desperately tries to convince me to continue but I am too sore. As we cross the last three hundred yards of stubble, he stops a few times to look back, and then starts bucking in the direction of the cattails while whining very loudly – he really doesn’t want to go home. I laugh at him and call him back, it’s one of those moments you get as you age, and all I could think was Gus, if only I was twenty years younger.

That afternoon, he and I cleaned all the birds in the back, he was very attentive as to the goings on, and then I put him down for a nap. After his nap, he woke up to a new sensation... a lot of pain. He moaned and pushed his back end at me, looking to me for relief. I was struck helpless, I had never seen or heard of anything like it but a quick Google search and a few questions of my friends on the Alberta Outdoorsmen messageboard, and I felt better. He, on the other hand, continued to suffer throughout the night. He did seem to enjoy getting his sprained tail rubbed though. To my surprise, in the morning he was much better and by noon, began tentatively wagging his tail.

From this point on Gus is a hunter. I still don’t trust his points completely but I know if he points, there has been a bird there. In the mid-season, we had one trip that really stands out. It was a second consecutive day and a wet one, so we left Ellie at home. By evening, I had one bird that Gus pointed and partner had one that he got on his own. As we worked our way back, we watched a few pheasants land in heavy cover and went over to investigate. My partner went in the thickets and Gus and I worked the edge to catch the birds running out. He quickly picked up a scent and after pointing and not finding a bird, he began to track. We chased that bird across a sage flat that was three hundred yards wide and Gus was in full flight with me panting behind. All of a sudden, he hit the brakes so hard that I thought his butt was going to go over his head! He was intently pointing at a sage bush and I remember thinking no way, as I ran up. He stared, I stared, I saw nothing, I got closer, closer, bending over, and then out he came crowing like a fool. Again, I surprised myself with a good shot. Gus went over, picked up the bird and brought it to me. I started to laugh and he got excited wanting to hunt again, but with my limit, I went to find my partner. We continued to hunt our way out and then Gus got birdy again but he never stopped to point this time, he just kept on the trail. I called my partner over and said get ready. Gus came to a stop and was leaning into a point. My partner had never seen him point so intently before but he was a little dubious when I told him there was a bird right under his nose. Still he got closer and I went in and kicked the bird out. At the retort, the bird folded and Gus soon returned with the bird... for me. I tried to get him to deliver the bird to my partner but there was none of that. My partner eyed the dog a second and then remarked, I can see why you’re shooting so much better this year, they get up at your feet now. Gus was quite pleased with himself and continued to hunt the last couple of hundred yards to the vehicle.

The rest of the season seems like a blur with good numbers of birds and no setbacks for Gus... well, maybe one. He ate a good part of a bird on the way home one day. I usually wrap the birds under my coat but this trip, because we were all exhausted, I didn’t. I got the distinct odour of bird offal when we were almost home but didn’t believe my nose; turns out, my nose was correct. I was worried that he would turn into a bird eater or bird hoarder but the next trip proved me wrong, as he delivered birds to my hand without a hiccup.

Gus has turned into an honest hunter, not a lot of flash like the springer Ellie, but he gets the job done. He is unas-suming and definitely not an attention whore, just a joy to be around. If I had to describe my friend in one word, it would be gentle, he is a gentle soul, a true gentleman, and I am grateful for the chain of events that brought him into our lives.

Winter and spring have brought out more puppy in him. It’s weird looking at the two dogs. Ellie, a pup when we got Gus has matured into a dog. Gus, the five-month-old dog has reverted into a pup at two-years-old. It brings joy to my heart to see the joy come out in him. Again, my wife and I are grateful for the turn of events that brought him into our lives and feel blessed to have him join our family. We are all looking forward to the upcoming season. ■

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