COLEMAN — Of all the stupid things I have done in life, and there have been many, this may have been the worst. There were no police involved, but considering the circumstances that would have been a better ending.
It was the second day of dove season and weather conditions were ideal, around 70 in the morning, but brutally hot in the afternoon. Officially it was upper-90s hot, but sitting in a field with no shade it was probably closer to 100-plus.
When I first started dove hunting in the 1960s, we always went on afternoon hunts, if for no other reason than that was the law. Since Texas Parks and Wildlife Department legalized day-long hunting I have always hunted in the morning. This is Texas and even though it is getting close to the beginning of fall in other places it can still feel like a blast furnace here. The mornings are not cool, just less hot.
I have been hunting this part of the state for decades and always took one dog or another to the field. If the hunts were good they were over in less than an hour, and while warm and tired it did not necessarily stress the dogs that much. Rattlesnakes were always a bigger concern.
This year everything flip-flopped and for some reason fields operated by the Lodge at Rock House Ridge Outfitters were much more productive in the afternoons than mornings. Hunting with my black Lab Sadie I knew I had to be super cautious. At home we normally walk a mile or two each day before she retrieves a dozen or two dummies. However, that all happens at daybreak with just barely enough light to see. Even though mine is not, going into the season her weight was down and she was in good shape.
On the first afternoon I was hunting alone and gave her 10 retrieves. It was hot, but we were sitting right next to the truck and I had a water bowl out for her to drink after each run. After 10 retrieves, she was back in her kennel for the day and all was good.
Let me tell you a little about Sadie. To use a term a trainer once used, she is willful. That is the word you use in front of clients because you don’t want to call them hard-headed. But she is a Lab. As someone else said, the only reason you own a Lab is to cuss at it.
When it comes to retrieves, dummies or birds, she gets wound up like a nine-day clock. Forget about an electronic training collar. For this dog you would need 220 volts and a long extension cord.
But she has a great nose on her and loves to retrieve. I have had her work for hunter after hunter after hunter and she did not want to quit even though I could tell she was tired. That gets her a hall pass on all of the bad habits that would drive purists crazy.
So day two of the hunt comes along, and the temperature in the field is probably three to five degrees warmer than opening day. I had the same plan in mind, but I was sitting in a different spot around other hunters. Sadie did not mind. She gladly went and picked up their birds as well. Some were pretty long runs. With a good number of birds in the field I quickly lost count of how many she had picked up, but I was watching her as she came back each time.
It was not long and I pulled her kennel out of the truck and put it under the tailgate in the shade. She had whatever wind was blowing coming into the front of the kennel and water.
Everything seemed good until I knocked a dove down in some high grass in a pasture before me. I was well into my bag limit and did not want to lose that one so I took her out to go with me.
We got through a corral and into the field and the dog immediately went to work running back and forth trying to scent a downed bird. She knew exactly why she was out of the box. I walked to where I thought the bird was and she made a couple of passes 10 yards away where it actually was.
When we returned to the truck she started to wobble and went down. I knew exactly what was happening. I rushed her to a nearby water trough with cool water and my son, Tristan, held her in it for five minutes or so. Another hunter, Jimmy Jackson, and his son, Jared, quickly rigged up a portable generator with a fan they carried for their dog. Someone else brought a sports drink.
In about 10 minutes Sadie was starting to look more like normal, but I was still scared. I found an emergency vet clinic that was open on Labor Day and took her in. They checked her temperature and found it normal. Her heart rate was also back to normal, and a blood test ultimately showed no major problems.
Probably for the rest of this season she is on the injured reserve list, getting to go to the field early and run for a minute but no hunting.
I know better. I should have done better. Good hunting partners like a dog are just too hard to find.