By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter
There’s nothing like walking into the house to see the place ransacked and the remnants of a loaf of bread next to your 100-pound Irish setter. If it had been one of the Labradors, there would be a grand display by the one who done it. My favorite ransacker is Cheyenne, a squatty chocolate Lab, who performs Latin dance moves whenever she is caught guilty of a crime. Red, the one who ate the loaf of bread, is the unrepentant sinner. His bread eating is a form of communication in itself: “You leave me at home, I eat your bread.”
Keeping six sporting dogs entertained is tough duty. They all want to go hunting, regardless of the season. Explaining the hunting regulations to dogs is like reading “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” to kindergarteners. At first, it’s sort of funny, and then it’s mutiny. Some want to eat the hunting regulations and some want you to throw them so they can retrieve them. Only Winchester, a refined English setter, is interested in furthering his study on the subject.
Winchester listens attentively to my rendition of the hunting regulations. He seems to have a good understanding of the game management units and the bag limits for ptarmigan. He is my favorite student. He has distain for his peer hunting dogs that do not aspire to his heights. His upland season is much longer than the waterfowl season, and his work as a pointing dog requires a higher degree of sophistication than the mere retrieval of ducks from swamps and sloughs.
He seems to say, “Read on, mother.” Cheyenne says, “Grrafelshelfinshup,” which means, “My butt is very itchy right now.” Red says, “Shut up and give me some bread.”
Going into the mountains to hunt ptarmigan with Winchester is one of my favorite things. He is graceful and methodical as he searches for birds, and he seems to know much about their habitat because I see him searching the willows for willow ptarmigan and the rocks for white tail. He has even taken to calculating wind direction and velocity, something I find very difficult.
It’s hard to leave the others at home, though. Especially Red and Cheyenne. Red suffers from separation bulimia and Cheyenne has an excessive impulsive disorder.
When Winchester goes hunting, the greatness of the day afield is usually in proportion to the chaos and destruction to be found upon our return. The best-case scenario is that the ones left behind just rearranged some furniture and barked at random objects in the yard. The worst-case scenario is always a surprise. If they would just put their energy into learning to read instead of turning into raccoons, I might be able to invest in cushioned furniture, goose-down blankets and bamboo sheets. I might even develop a collection of teapots.
Instead, I sleep on a plywood board with a wool blanket and find myself stapling and gluing things to surfaces. Some people would call my behavior “enabling.” These people might say, “You should train your dogs not to do that,” or, “You should kennel your dogs.”
Those are good ideas. But, over the years, it has turned out that all of the things they have destroyed were not really that important. It’s like the dogs were saying to me, “You humans have suppressed your primitive disorderliness for too long and need to get back in touch with what life is really about.” It’s an interesting thing to consider.
As the upland season comes to a close March 31, the offseason will provide plenty of opportunity to repair the damage around the house and take in all the lessons provided. The greatest thing about the waterfowl season is that Winchester is the one left home and in charge. For once, we look forward to coming home to a house that has been spruced up while we’re gone.
Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.