By Tom Word
Buck and Kyle made Thomasville without incident just
as dark settled. They were dead tired. As soon as they got
their dogs kenneled and fed and their horses cared for, they went to
bed. Buck’s answering machine was filled with congratulation
messages, which he listened to next morning.
As he read the morning paper, Kyle Frith arrived. Buck poured him
a cup of coffee.
“Buck, with the price of diesel where it is, I don’t see how either of
us can go on the road next season. How about we go back to the
way we started, as partners, travel in one rig, scout for each other,
split what we earn down the middle?”
Buck smiled. “But I don’t ride hard enough when I scout,” he said.
“Oh, hell. None of us is perfect; you may not ride hard, but at
least you keep your eyes open and use your head. And by the way,
I didn’t send that boy who was scouting for me at Ames to try to run
off Naomi. He did it on his own, trying to protect his scout’s
share of the purse.”
“I sort of figured that, after you called point for her after time,”
“Suits me to partner next season. And if you want to move
in here now, you’re welcome. There’s plenty of room in the
kennels, and the pasture will carry your horses and mine. I made
enough hay to get us through. We can split the cooking and
cleaning,” Buck said.
Kyle advertised his doublewide for rent and moved
with his dogs and horses to Buck’s farm. Both men were currently
without a significant other, but before the bream were bedded, Buck had
a new girlfriend who stayed over on weekend nights, and Kyle had one
who stayed over some weeknights. She was an emergency-room nurse
and so worked most weekend nights for extra pay.
First of June they ran an ad in the Field announcing they would be
going to North Dakota together, to the ranch where Buck had trained
summers for thirty years. When they lit out for the prairie on
July 1 they had all the dogs they could carry, and a few more pups
would be hauled up by a teenage son of one of Buck’s owners, who would
stay and help out through the summer.
Naomi had come in season the first of June, and, with her owner’s
permission, they bred her to Headstrong. Her litter of seven,
four males and three females were whelped July 31 in North
Dakota. She proved to be a good mother despite her age, and the
litter thrived. They decided not to sell the pups as weanlings,
but to keep them all at least until they reached a year old or showed
they had no potential as trial dogs.
The youngster who came as helper proved a willing worker and a fast
learner. Soon they were riding three abreast across the prairie
at dawn, with two pups or derbies down, popping young pheasants and
chasing. Then they began to flash point and occasionally hold
their points long enough to allow a flush. Birds were plentiful,
lots of pheasants, and enough sharptails, a few Huns. The weather
was very hot 'til mid-July, but then it moderated, and they were able
to work most days from dawn 'til eleven o’clock, and again from
three-thirty 'til eight, with a nap in between.
As September 1 approached, the gun-dog prospects were about finished in
their training. The ones going to shooting plantations were
steady to wing and shot, through they would likely come loose when they
saw birds fall—it would be up to the plantation dog-men to deal with
that. A few of the gundogs were not steadied—their owners having
expressed a preference against steadiness so the retrieving instinct
would not be curbed. On September 4, their teenage helper left
for home in his pickup, its top-mounted dog box loaded with
gundogs. He would drop some off with owners in states along the
way and deliver the rest to plantations around Thomasville.
Buck and Kyle’s trial strings were rounding into shape. They’d
been roading the older dogs from four wheelers to condition them,
working the derbies from horseback. Each had two derbies he had
hopes for, though it would be Christmas before they knew if either
would make an all-age. As Buck often said, “Derbies were made to
break your heart. Many are called, few chosen.”
To be continued in Part Five….