Buck Smith’s Option
Part Four

                     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,” Buck said.
“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….