Goodbye Maggie

Posted by on Dec 14, 2016 in Hunting | No Comments

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A bird dog’s life is a window of maybe a dozen years of selfless companionship. Once you are adopted as pack leader, no purer form of devotion to you and the hunt can be found. Mags gave me thirteen glorious Octobers. It should have been more. Legs weak and hearing about gone, her bracemate Levi carried the load this October. This year she came out of retirement a few times for short hunts, and she enjoyed the smell of fresh bird feathers again.

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Changing Seasons

The first week of November I brought her into the vet because she wasn’t eating regularly. Unfortunately, the vet didn’t order tests and missed the diagnosis, and she lost the fighting chance for treatment before it was too late. Two weeks later we were in urgent care, and it all went downhill pretty fast after that. I’m haunted by those final days, sitting on the kitchen floor with her, trying to spoon feed her food and medicine. That’s what we do, we promise to care for them to the end when we accept their devotion.

We said goodbye on a Saturday, and I brought her home that day. The house was full of two of everything for the dogs- two dishes, two kennels, two leashes by the front door. I put all Maggie’s stuff in storage, awaiting a long time from now when a second dog enters our home. I still find things here and there I missed, like her vest and her canned food, and the emptiness returns for a moment.

Final Trip Up North

My friend Tom volunteered to go with us up North to my land the next day. We buried her next to Cody, my old dog passed six years ago. It’s on a little hill overlooking the alder run, and there’s a light covering of fresh snow on the tamaracks beyond. It’s a place of woodcock dancing and ruffed grouse drumming and old bucks slinking silently along the swamp edge. I found a big block of sandstone for a marker, like I have for Cody. Tom cut some pine branches for wreaths for both of them, that was a nice touch. And we raised a flask of whiskey in toast to her life, as fitting a red-haired girl named Maggie.

Back at the cabin we pulled a couple chairs in front of the wood stove, and lit a lively fire with the door open. We sat there soaking in the heat, where Maggie did so many times before. We talked about the usual stuff old hunters do, the bucks we harvested this year and how duck season went. Levi would interrupt his chewing on a piece of firewood and come by for a nuzzle, and he’d fan the flames with his tail wagging. Then we left, and the woods grew still and cold, and there was a big hole in my heart.

I wrote about Maggie two years ago, and here is a reprint of that article. If anyone has anything to say, you may post it on the facebook page or send me a message.

By Joel Schnell

Posted December 14, 2016.

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Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
He can be reached at info[at]ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

Mischievous Maggie
by Joel Schnell
Released February 20, 2014

I’ve had two Brittanies in my life, one mild mannered; and the other… is Maggie. A ball of fire in fur from the day I brought her home. My brother once said “Maggie is powered by nuclear energy”. Never a dull moment with Mags, but a bird finding machine she is.

Maggie and Cody were like Oscar and Felix from the Odd Couple. Maggie is Oscar, the sweatshirt wearing jock, always up for a card game and a few brewski’s. Cody was the Felix, mild-mannered, polite and intelligent. When I put the two together, one couldn’t stand it if I petted the other. I had to stand between them, holding them apart with each hand.

As Mags grew older, she took over as lead bird dog when Cody retired. I had my doubts at first, as she just didn’t seem disciplined enough to figure out this whole bird hunting game. She needed to slow it down and point the birds, instead of busting them like a brawler. It took a trip to North Dakota pheasant hunting to turn on the light bulb. The sheer number of bird contacts possible, in the days before ethanol production ruined the conservation set-aside programs, taught her what to do.

I once questioned her smarts to a buddy of mine in a pheasant field. Not one to figure the birds out, I’d say. Not too bright like old Cody was. He begged to differ. He said during our hunt in the tall grass, Mags ran up to him expecting to find me. So she stood up on hind legs, looked around over the tops of the grass, spotted me, and headed off in my direction.

Always a possessive dog, she doesn’t like to leave me or her birds out of sight. Once I bagged a ruffed grouse on my land and hung it in a tree until I cleaned it. When my buddy and his dog arrived, Mags camped out beneath the tree and wouldn’t let the other dog near it. Even took a little snooze while on guard.

Old Cody has been gone a few years now, and now Mags is getting pretty gray around the muzzle. She doesn’t know it yet, but her world will be rocked in late May, when I bring the new pup home. She’s not going to like sharing my attention, but dogs are pack animals and she will come to appreciate some company when I’m not around. My vet said an old dog lives longer with a pack-mate in the house, and it proved true with Cody.

I’ll have lots more adventures with Mischievous Maggie in the next few years. As long as we can find birds together, we will both be happy.

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

Donate to this website

Joel Schnell is publisher of www.ruffedgrouseminnesota.com
He can be reached at info[at]ruffedgrouseminnesota.com

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