HUNTING DOGS -- A short pre-season bird-dog workout session turned into a marathon when my English setter ran out of sight and never came back this morning.
I was trying to take advantage of the after-dawn coolness before the predicted 80-degree high temps. But my dog Scout lost me in rugged Eastern Washington scablands. I looked and looked. Even though he had a beeper collar, I couldn't hear him or see him.
I left my phone number with a farmer plowing his field and with rural residents and two other hunters working their dogs.
Then my heart sank when I came upon three healthy-looking coyotes together. I approached to 20 yards and they didn't seem to want to leave. They walked away 5 yards and stopped. Repeat. I didn't have a gun, but finally threw rocks and chased them away.
I looked for blood.... hoping for the best but fearing for the worst.
My friends Dan and Zach came to help. We combed several square miles. It was getting hot and I knew Scout would be looking for water at all costs, but there was no open water in the area.
I was getting desperate after nearly four hours. Walking down a trail I saw quail tracks in the dust. If Scout had been in this area at all, he'd be on those quail, I thought.
I continued down the trail into thick brush and sure enough, I heard the faint beep of Scout's collar.
I called as I walked toward the sound. He seemed to be getting closer, but stalled in the brush. Maybe he's on point, I thought.
I went into the very thick cover. The collar beeper was getting very loud. I heard a whimper. I busted through the brush to the brink of steep muddy slopes leading down about 10 feet to a 6-foot-square board-sided well.
Scout, desperate for water, had slipped in while trying to drink and couldn't get out. He had churned up the muddy bottom trying to get out. He was exhausted.
I slipped in, too, making the rescue, but we both clawed our way out -- black with mud from toe to head.
I'd have never found my best hunting partner if I hadn't heard his beeper.
I walked a very tired Scout back a half mile to the vehicle, stopping twice as he pointed the tell-tale quail along the way.