Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Vintage Dogs, Older Men and The Slippery Slope

by Randy Lawrence

He is my hero, Clyde.  He has been a bird hunter for a very long time, and the years of hard going have taken their toll on his legs.  But his great hunter's heart is untouched.   Find Bryan Burdick in the woods, and you'll find his buddy Clyde, pushing cover, pointing birds for his Gun.  At age 15, he refuses to wait in the truck. 

Like all athletes, staying in the game sometimes means accommodations.  Last year, when an Achilles injury threatened to sideline Clyde, his partner Bryan rigged a nifty brace so the dog could keep hunting.  Achilles issues are small beer.  A broken heart is something else entirely.  Clyde wore the brace.

In his day, Clyde was a goer,  a veritable Grouse Hammer.  To THIS day, he and Bryan have the fire, and, for the record, that fire's not fixin' to be banked anytime soon.

But in these days, Clyde and Bryan have backup.  Like Clyde, Earl (The Pearl) is of the Llewellin strain of English setter.  He is heir to Clyde's title of "The Hammer."  At age 4, he's been through the Ruffed Grouse School of Hard Knocks and is working on an advanced degree.  He is fast, that Earl, his range suited to whatever cover he's in, and when he locks down, better give the bill of your cap a quick tug, soak up Earl on point with Clyde and the puppy backing, then close the gun and walk in with purpose.  A grouse is going to fly.

I mentioned "the puppy."  That's right.  Clyde's training a puppy, too.  Firelight Kyah is six months old and blowing every modest first season puppy marker out of the water.  She is sturdy, whip-smart, and given to absolutely flying through the woods, her confidence buoyed by her dialed-in mates.  October was taking her final bow when Bryan was finally in the right place at the right time to kill a grouse for her, part of a capstone five bird limit for Clyde, Earl, and little Kyah, just six weeks into her bird hunting career.

Kyah, backing Earl (top); Kyah making a grouse delivery

We had taken a long turn in the woods one afternoon.   I was draggin' tail, and I could tell Bryan had slowed down for me, a welcome courtesy, but a hard swallow nonetheless.  That's when Bryan treated me to Clyde stories as we walked a two-track back to the vehicle, the dogs swinging back and forth to check cover on both sides of the sandy trail.  


My favorite was the one in which Bryan didn't find Clyde on point a few years back;  Clyde came and got Bryan, actually took him by the jacket sleeve.  You know - the ol' Lassie -Timmy's - in -the-well-move.  The dog loped off, Bryan followed in the direction Clyde had come and found him locked back down on a woodcock.


Understand that Bryan and Clyde don't hunt woodcock.  Woodcock just sort of happen en route to the next grouse.  In fact, Bryan has been known to talk to his dogs about the Slippery Slope of Woodcock Temptation.  

A day later, we walked a long way to get to where the GPS marked Earl on point.  Kyah was backing, and Clyde slid in to make it a three-way stand.   We beat the cover for some time before a single woodcock gyro-ed up and out.

"Earl," Bryan says, opening the action on the little Belgian 24 gauge.  "What was that about?  What were you thinking?"

Earl and Kyah hustled on;  Clyde ambled down to get another hit of scent where the bird actually launched.  He's heard woodcock chidings his entire life...but he's not too proud to get himself an extra taste now and then.  Forbidden fruit is not without a certain sweetness after all.

Clyde's longevity is credit to good genes, good diet, and great care.  Bryan helps him in and out of the black pickup that's tricked out like a grouse gunner's batmobile; in fact, Bryan lets none of his dogs just jump down from the truck, easing them out himself.   Clyde, Kyah, and Earl have a deluxe dog box insert in the truck bed that Bryan designed and welded himself, but during a day of covert-hopping, the dogs ride behind the front seat in a heavily padded mobile doggy divan. In the field, Bryan carries a utility belt jammed with water bottles, and he keeps his crew hydrated, found and encouraged. 

Earl (The Pearl), Kyah, Clyde

Bryan and his team know their business.  They move through the woods quietly - no hollering, no whistling - the dogs checking in without coming in, Bryan waving them into the occasional spot he feels they've missed.  Only when the dogs point does Bryan slip a pair of shells into his double gun.  Like all of us, Bryan will miss a bird;  like very few of us, Bryan will not miss often.

"Businesslike" makes Bryan and his dogs efficient;  the passion these four have for grouse hunting and for each other makes them special.  

So there it is - an old dog who keeps turning new tricks is my inspiration.  I can only hope that when I am his age, there will be a grouse hunter willing to let me tag along.  I won't mind being helped down out of the truck, and who knows?  Maybe my friend will even look the other way just in case I backslide on that Slippery Slope.

Clyde guarding a grouse he pointed for Bryan, Earl the Pearl (left) being nosey.