“I believe that a man’s life is never complete without the companionship of a dog, purebred or cur, large or small…”
— Ed Fletcher, Flower Mound, Texas
(friend and long-time hunter/hunting dog owner)
Certain canine breeds, such as setters, Labrador retrievers and pointers, have been bred for centuries to flush and retrieve hunters’ game birds. But I have had scant experience with, nor ever owned, such a breed — until Bubba.
I have visited exclusive wing shooting concessions where I have “hunted over” expensive bird dogs — the kind guests are warned, “If you shoot a dog, you own it.”
Sally and I rescued Bubba, an Australian cattle Dog (a.k.a., blue heeler), from an east Texas puppy mill more than years ago, and I have never been disappointed with his pedigree.
Blue heelers are considered working dogs, associated with ranch operations and the herding of livestock — cattle, horses and sheep. But few would classify the breed as a “bird” dog.
Mine is — and much, much more.
I tell people Bubba is the smartest dog I have ever had. Certainly, he is a lot smarter than his owner. Bubba has taught me more than I could ever hope to teach him. And over time, I have learned that he is a better, more enthusiastic hunter than me. He is, to borrow the title of a hunting magazine, a huntin’ fool.
On the farm, Bubba eagerly retrieved squirrels and rabbits for me. Sure, it took a little coaxing, but he inexorably relinquished the critters to me, a little slimy, but no less worse, for the wear. And I always rewarded him for his efforts and obedience. I soon learned he not only was a retriever of fur-bearing critters, he also loved to ‘chase’ circling birds (crows, hawks and vultures), as if he could actually catch them.
When it was dove season, Bubba accompanied me on our west Texas ranch forays, and he quickly developed the knack for locating and retrieving downed doves in thick cover. I usually put his special boots on his paws, for the grass burs and mesquite thorns, and he couldn’t have been a happier camper, hunting with dad.
Bubba also was thrilled to swim out and retrieve ducks I downed over the ranch stock tank. But he was no less eager a retriever of the towering, 3-foot-tall sandhill cranes I knocked down, too. However, with the 15-pound or heavier cranes, I was careful not to allow Bubba to approach wounded birds that might have injured him with their sharp, pointed beaks, wings and inch-and-a-half-long spurs.
On one occasion, toting my Remington 870 over my shoulder to open the gate, I spied a formation of sandhills lining up on approach to an adjacent wheat field, and quickly took a knee on the caleche road. When I stood for a shot, I selected a single bird and let fly with a load of No. 2s. The bird crumpled and plummeted to earth, but as I watched it descend, I noticed a second bird fold and succumb to gravity. Two cranes with one shot — my personal best, yet to be beaten.
As ever, Bubba was at my side, and when the ‘double’ fell to earth, he was quickly upon them. One bird, the first I had hit, was dead and was no concern to me insofar as Bubba’s life and limb. The second, however, was alive and kicking and posed a potential threat to my blue heeler, “retriever’s” health.
And if his hunting skills were not enough, Bubba has saved me from numerous rattlesnake encounters.
Bubba may only be a heeler, a working dog of farm and ranch animals, yet he is every bit the pedigree champion retriever, in my book, as an expensive German short hair. On a particular deer hunt in Pecos County, I shot a buck at dark and watched helplessly as it bolted for the cover of west Texas thick brush. Fearing that it might be lost to the night, I got Bubba out of the truck and let him sniff around the shot scene. Without hesitation or training, he picked up the buck’s blood trail and with me in tow, flashlight flickering, led me effortlessly to the downed 10-pointer. Yes, sir, that dog will hunt!
Bubba fancies himself a hog-dog, too — but I don’t let him mess with feral hogs, those tusked devils.
Each day, I learn how incredibly smart and resourceful my dog is, and with time I have learned how useful dogs can be, if we properly care for them, and don’t stunt their development with preconceived notions. I think like people, dogs can be put in boxes they should not be assigned to, and suffer for it.
Bubba has his eye on a female heeler owned by church friends, and I hope to extend his lineage soon.
Drop me a line if you have a hunting or fishing story you’d like to share: email@example.com.