Finding my way with the help of an English setter
Becky came into my life in a rather unusual way. My friend Tom McGuane had just bought a home on Mobile Bay as a place to retreat from the cold winters of his Montana ranch. The avid sportsman he is, as soon as he moved down to Alabama he began asking me about the local fishing, hunting, and sailing, and, specifically, the hunting of the bobwhite quail. Without realizing it, I told him about places I used to fish here, or I used to hunt there, until Tom pointed out my use of the past tense. “Man,” he said, “this drinking business sure has gotten to be time-consuming for you.” We decided at that moment that I had used up my quota of drinking days and that it was time for me to get on with the more serious matters of life — one of which was quail hunting.
We started hunting quail on some of my old hunting grounds, with Tom’s dog. One day he told me that his friend Guy de la Valdéne had offered him a setter. “I was wondering if you would like to have her,” he said. Guy drove over from his place in Florida and delivered this beautiful black and white English setter. She had calm brown eyes and a domed head that honored her pedigree. She had the class and style of a true lady — a lady you knew you could easily fall in love with. Guy said she was a wide-ranging hunting dog and a little more than what he needed. It was love at first sight. It was near the end of quail season, and I could not wait to hunt her.
The first day I hunted her gave new meaning to the term wide-ranging dog. When I put her down on the ground, she was in the next zip code before I could get my gun. I hunted Becky more than I hunted quail. She was defiantly hunting for herself. By the time the season was over, my hunting clothes were in shreds and she had just about done me in.
Becky and I spent the summer together and I took her wherever I went, by boat or car. She loved to ride on the bow of my fishing skiff with her front paws as far forward as she could get them. One day she fell off and I almost ran her over, so I ordered her some rubber booties designed to protect hunting dogs from sand spurs. I had the most singular figurehead of any boat on the bay — an English setter with deck shoes.
By the following quail season we had become great friends, and I couldn’t wait for opening day. When it came, I put Becky on the ground and she was gone like greased lightning. I thought, here we go again, and I took off up the hill in despair, but before I reached the top there she was, checking back with me. We hunted on, and she covered the ground as pretty as you please. At one point she locked up solid as stone in one of her beautiful classic points, tail held high. She was pointing birds — and they were not in the next county.