THE 40-HOUR RETRIEVE

By
Warren Eastland


The wind had come up during the middle of the night, but we knew where there was a draw at right angles to the wind direction. I pushed the door of the truck open and managed to get out. Gary had parked crossways to the wind so I was able to prepare my shotgun, vest, and suchlike on the lee side. Tunie, as always, was enthused about getting her bell on.

We headed down into the main draw and out of the wind. The bottom of the draw was thick with bush and a few widely spaced trees; the side slopes had a few yuccas mixed in with the grass but there wasn't much prickly pear to see. Tunie had on her boots, anyway.

Rather than split up and each of us take one side of the draw, we hunted together on the downwind side. The dog would be able to smell any sharptails across the draw. And we hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards before she did. I pointed out Tunie's tail-waving, bell-clanging, search to Gary and moved closer to the dog. I heard the kuk-kuk-kuk of a flushing sharpie beyond the line of bush, but I couldn't see anything. The bird passed over the draw and Gary fired once. The sharpie crashed into the bush well in front of me and I blew the whistle. “Tunie, come. Dead bird. Find. Find, Tunie.”

At first Tunie started searching to the right. I called her name and pointed into the bush ahead of me. Tunie still doesn't completely understand pointing, but she does understand direction when I take a few steps, so I forced myself into the bush, calling “Find.”

Tunie raced ahead of me and I stopped. I could barely see her through the stems and branches, but her bell went silent. “Good Tunie. Fetch. Fetch, good girl.” Gary fired again as Tunie pushed her way toward me with the sharpie in her mouth. As she often does, she spit it out a couple of feet away. I didn't mind, I can work on retrieving to hand later. For now, I just praised her mightily and took the bird over to Gary. Tunie followed, nibbling at the dangling head when she had the chance.

I handed the bird to Gary as he spoke. “It hit there,” he said and pointed up the slight slope behind him, “and ran off over the top.”

“Dead bird, Tunie. Dead bird, let's find the bird,” I said as I walked over to where Gary had pointed. I looked back and Gary directed me more to the left. I pointed that direction and Tunie got the scent and followed it up the slope. When I got to the top of the slope a wind gust staggered me. In the short while that we'd been in the main draw the wind had increased intensity and the side draw was funnelling into a torrent. Any scent was whipped away and Tunie couldn't smell a bird.

I walked back and forth across the small side draw, Tunie at my side sniffing. Nothing. So I started zig-zagging up the draw with Tunie. A sharpie flushed 30 yards in front of us. I fired once and it hit the slope. My “Fetch” command was superfluous. Tunie fetched it back and I praised her even though the reward of getting the bird in her mouth was sufficient. I slid it into my shell vest as we worked back down to Gary.

I staggered a bit from a wind gust when I got to Gary. “Pardner, I know you are disappointed in losing the bird, but with this wind Tunie's nose doesn't stand a chance. And in this grass you'd step on it before you saw it. We don't even know if it kept on running and is out of the draw completely. I think today's hunt is over.”

Gary scooped some dust out of his eye that had blown in behind his glasses. “No shit. Some of these gusts must be doing 55 or 60 miles an hour.” We retreated to the truck and found a radio station that confirmed Gary's guess. Sustained winds of 40 with gusts to 60, and it wasn't going to quit for a couple of days.


That night I awoke several times to clear the dust from my nose and eyes. Although I had the windows and vents of my wee trailer tightly closed, the winds forced dust through the tiniest cracks and holes. The next morning wasn't any better. Except for periodic walks through and around the, other than us, empty campground to give Tunie some exercise, we just holed up and waited it out. The stillness late on the second night was almost strange. I'd grown used to the roaring of wind in the pines that formed the shelter belt and the shuddering of the trailer during gusts, and the relative quiet was odd.

The next morning was almost calm with just a breeze that emphasized the cool temperature. We discussed where to hunt and decided on the big draw. There had been sharpies in there and it was far enough away from any agricultural operations that there weren't any pheasants. South Dakota opens its pheasant season a week early for residents only and we still had a few days to wait for our turn.


We parked in the same place that we had earlier but it was pleasantly different. I opened the truck door without having to worry about the wind slamming it back into me. Tunie was happy to have her bell on and be hunting again. With nothing but the slightest of breezes Tunie would be able to use her nose effectively but I couldn't count on her being able to hunt the opposite side of the draw at a distance, so I took one side and Gary the other. Tunie wandered back and forth checking out the grass on the slopes to either side and the snowberry in the bottom.

Nothing. After a mile of hunting the low ground, we moved up on top. Maybe the birds were there. We circled widely and found nothing. “Wrong guess,” Gary said.

“Let's hunt back to the truck and try that big grassy flat over by the stock tank,” I suggested. Gary agreed and I led us off the hill and across the draw. We started up the little side draw that had been so windy a couple of days ago and Tunie hunted up one side then down the other.

She froze at a small patch of snowberry in the bottom. Before I could decide whether it was a point or just a pause, she dashed into the bushes and I saw a flash of white. “Damn, a cottontail,” I thought. It wasn't. It was the underside of a wing. Tunie backed out of the bushes and dropped her prize just long enough to spit out a twig and a leaf. “Good girl,” I said, “Fetch.” And she did. She fetched a very live, but broken winged sharptail to me. Gary's bird was lost no longer.