Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Good shepherd

anka

I always thought I’d be a golden retriever person. And I still am. Indeed, I am still very much into the gun dog breeds. I will always have one around.

But I’ve added to my canine tastes an entirely different sort of dog. Well, they aren’t entirely different. I really like the working shepherd dogs from the European continent. They are into retrieving, too, but their natural tendency is to retrieve with a very hard mouth. Half-wild sheep or cattle living on the North European Plain need hard tending.

Anka is a working German shepherd, whose ancestry I’ll never know, but I know she is from working lines. Her dark sable color predominates in those strains, and she is only 64 pounds.

She has decided that I am her main human and with me is as demonstrative and fawning as a golden retriever. With strangers, she is merely aloof. Aggression towards people really isn’t her thing. She loves children and will even adjust her wild playing to meet their needs.

I suppose now I will always have a dog of this type too. The two types of dog are an interesting juxtaposition to each other. Both are about seeking the approval of mankind. Both are about marveling at our species. As flawed as we are, there is something oddly comforting to look into the brown eyes of a dog like these two types.

A German shepherd is a wolfy enough animal for me to think of them as something truly primitive. But their primeval appearance is illusory. They were made wolves out of herding stock, and though they may have a bit of Central European wolf blood coursing their veins, they are working herding breed.

I suppose that as I gain more experience meeting dogs, I will have new ideas about them, and I have the right to change my mind as new facts and faces come to the fore.

I never thought I’d feel this way about a dog of this type, but I really do like her. I love her soft sensitivity, which she avails only to a select few, but it is so different from what I’ve seen in other “macho” breeds.  The boxer and working bulldog types I’ve been around are not like this at all. They are many things, but sensitive souls they are not.

I feel so embarrassed that I was wrong about this breed. Dogs barking like maniacs in backyards or the ones that you pass at the park that growl at you as their owners hold their leads tightly are not truly representative of the breed.

In fact, those same dogs in the right hands might be the most stable working dogs. and with their owners, they might be biggest babies that cower before the Yorkshire terrier or cat that lives in the house.

Anka has this odd sense of humor. It is developed and refined. She greets me with a lick on the face, and then when I’m not looking at her, she will pop her jaws just an inch from my face. I will flinch, and she will look back at me with this goofy grin. Her eyes are so soft and gentle, yet you cannot readily see them through her black mask.

And the way those eyes look at me, I know that I am hers and she is mine, and all will go right with the universe so long as we can be together.

 

 

Advertisements

To the water

ian casting

Bluegill aren’t the prized fish of any big-time angler. They are pretty easy to catch, and in some not particularly pressured bodies of water they will happily nail unbaited hooks.

But they have a special place in my heart. I’m fairly certain that the first fish I ever landed was a bluegill, and if I’m feeling that I can’t catch anything, I’ll always try to for the bluegill. I’ve never gone bluegill fishing and failed to land at least one, and if you’re just looking to cast out and drown some worms, they provide a bit of relaxation and hint of Zen-like meditation.

And they are beautiful fish. The males in spawning color have the most spectacular turquoise marking around the heads and gill-plates. Were they not the banal fish of every little fishing hole, they would probably be prized as a sort of temperate cichlid and cost at least $25 a pair.

The current project around the house is setting up a native fish tank. It’s a birthday gift to my partner, and what’s more, my partner’s son is spending a few weeks with us.

And I get to share that childhood joy of landing that first bluegill, which he did this week. I wanted to make sure he got the fundamentals of fishing before we went out “for real,” when we were going out deep in the quest for our new tank specimens.

I taught to cast using a Zebco reel. The Zebco was the reel I first learned to use, and in a about a half hour’s worth of casting practice, he was doing the job well.

So we went to the lake at a little state park not far from here. We threw some night-crawlers and mealworms in the blackness of a summer lake. The bright orange bobbers floated like alien craft on the surface of the water, and every once in a while, the bobbers would tense up and shift, sure sign that a creature was nibbling at our bait. And then the bobber would go below the surface, and I’d say jerk and reel, and we’d miss.

But then we didn’t. The little bluegill fought his hardest against the line being spooled back towards the shore. He was so small that I was certain he’d gotten unhooked, and the boy reeled in his line, expecting to be left with a bare hook. Instead, he pulled in the little blue.

And his eyes beamed with pride at having landed that fish. It was prize every bit as a great as that record-breaking muskie or that giant flat-head reeled on a hot summer night’s fishing foray.

To the water we have gone.  And we have gone in search of beasts. We cast our lines into the murky universe that we can never fully enter. We hope that our baits are good, that our hooks are sharp, that our knots are steady, and that we reel just right.  Our big brains and dexterous thumbs have made us masters of the land, but when it comes to the life aquatic, we are mere amateurs. It matters little if we’re casting into little farm ponds or into the deep swelling sea. The fish have the answers. We can only hope that we ask the right questions and hope that luck swims in our way.

I hope I have passed on some of this mystery to Little Ian. I know that I have given him a chance to have some fun and think about the world that is not ensnared in steel and concrete. To consider the organic world from which we all descend is a gift I wish every child could receive.

So now we’re ready to collect our first specimens. I hope we get some bluegills or, even better, some of their related sunfish kin. These are the beauty fish of North America, but they are so common that we never consider their beauty fully. They are bycatch for bass and crappie anglers or bait for the flat-head hunters.

But they are still marvelous. And yes, they are tasty.

ian catches fish.jpg

 

New life

birth

The hours passed on nice summer day. All day the mother dog has panted and stared. Her maiden litter was on its way, and I was there to watch them come.

A sweet little golden retriever, she was too sensitive to push unless she knew her people where there to stroke her ears and tell her what a good girl she is.

As the night drew near, she climbed on the bed between us and then began her long night of pushing and pushing. A wave of contractions would rise from within her, and she would rise in discomfort and turn around. Then she would go prone again against the bed, but the next wave would have her rise, pushing and turning in her primal mammalian dance of parturition.

At one point, her vulva was just inches from my face, and in her pushing, I could see the coming amniotic sack, and then I saw the head of a golden retriever puppy emerge from her body cavity. It was perfection just wrapped in a sheet of biological plastic wrap.

Another push or two, and the bitch screamed as the puppy passed from the prenatal state into the breathing and screaming existence that we call life.

Then the membrane that held him so securely then split away from his face,  and as the oxygen filled his little lungs, he inched over to the milk-filled mammaries and helped himself to a good helping of colostrum.

But he was still connected to his placenta and for what seemed an eternity to me, he was both nursing off his mother and tapping into her blood supply. He was trapped between both states, but one was about to let him go and sink into the other.

He suckled ravenously, and the mother dog expelled the placenta. And thus the first of a litter of seven little puppies entered the world. Through the dark hours of the night, two little girl puppies and four more little boys lurched forward into the great bursting of existence.

And the mother dog shared it with me. She, a beast perfected over the eons to serve mankind, needed us to hold her as she began to force her progeny into the world.

I have never before been privy to such a spectacle. I have no interest in producing a child of my own, and all of my experiences with dogs whelping have been fleeting memories from childhood, where the bitch whelped black crossbreeds in the back of the garage and I hoped that the daddy was a Labrador and not the fierce boxer from up the road. And obvious flattened muzzles exhausted those hopes very quickly.

But to know a dog like this one, one that trusts me enough to share this intimate aspect of her life, is a moving experience. I am better for having been privy to the entire spectacle.

And I am happy. I am content. And I am free.

 

 

Rush Fontana

I am currently about 10-14 days out from the first golden retriever litter I have ever bred. The dam is Fontana (Windridge Love is All You Need!) and the sire is Rush (Joyful’s Fast-Trak Thrill of a Lifetime).

Fontana is a nice, calm dog. She has fairly strong retrieving desire and is quite biddable. She is a hair soft, but she is stable and nice. She can play fetch or she can sleep on the bed without much concern. She is good with children.  She is smaller, weighing 43 pounds in working weight.

Rush is from top obedience and agility lines  He is darker than Fontana, and he has full-blown ball drive. Like her, he is smaller and lighter boned, weighing about 50-55 pounds.

Most of the puppies in this litter will be on the smaller side for the breed, though we cannot guarantee that all of them will be that small. We should get a mixture higher drive pups that are like the sire, and we should also get some that are calm like the mother. We should also get a wide range of golden shades in this litter, for the dam’s parent’s have also produced a few dogs that approach the cream color. The sire comes from lines that produce very dark colored dogs.

This litter will have a very low COI by pedigree. Over 10 generations, it has been calculated at 0.01 percent, which is well below the breed average.

Sire has all the GRCA required health clearances, and his hips are OFA “Good” and elbows “Normal.” Dam has OFA prelims of Good hips and Normal Elbows as well.

Dam has been DNA tested by Embark and was found to be clear of all eye diseases that the company tests for, including various forms of PRA.  She is also clear for the peculiar golden retriever form of Ichthyosis.

I used to write a lot about golden retrievers on this blog, and the pups that will be produced from this breeding will match a lot of what I think golden retrievers should be. These pups should be great for working homes and as wonderful family companions.

We still have some slots available for this litter, so if you’re interested please send an email to dogsofwindridge@gmail.com or use the contact form at the Retrieverlady blog/Windridge website. I can also field inquiries through this site.

Pups will be sold with full registration at $1,500.  Deals can be made for a breeding guardian home, but those inquiries should fielded through the aforementioned contact links.

I am really excited to be around golden retriever puppies again. It’s been so long since I had a chance to see some grow up, and I certainly will be keeping everyone posted on this site about their progress.

 

I’ve changed states. I now live in Ohio, and I have a new dog, an “Alsatian” named Anka.

anka retrieving

My partner and I have been doing some fostering of dogs over the past month, and a few weeks ago we managed to come across a German shepherd bitch that was for sale on Craig’s List. The original owner really didn’t connect with her, but she was firmly attached to him, escaping from the open windows of the house whenever he left for work.

Truth be known, I’ve never been much of a German shepherd person. I never much cared for the show dogs of the breed, and I always thought the working version could be too nasty to make a decent companion animal. But I thought it was a good idea to foster this dog for a while and then find her a good home. We have contacts in the German shepherd community, so I didn’t think she would be here long.

Her initial owners had called her “Precious,” a name that really doesn’t fit this breed at all. So I thought we should give her the German/Czech name of “Anka,” which is a fairly common name for working dogs of that breed.

I never wanted to touch her, and when she came in the house, she was nervous and shy. Her sable coloring made her look wild, even a bit vicious.  I just sat on the sofa and gave her no attention, which worked for about two hours. She then trotted over to me and started to nuzzle my lap. I stroked her ears, and I knew I didn’t have to be afraid of her.

My partner worked her for the first two weeks. She knows shepherds far better than I do, but it became apparent that her temperament was just so solid that she could not have been any random backyard bred German shepherd. She was obviously of some sort of working line dog. and as she became more fit, I was asked to work her out using the flirt pole and throw the ball for her.

For whatever reason, doing these activities with Anka made her much more attached me than to my partner. Dogs do things like that. They will chose people on the oddest of things. Her former owner was a man, and even though he wasn’t particularly well-versed in dog behavior, maybe she thought that she was to bond with men more than women. It wasn’t that we were doing fundamentally different things with the dog. She just preferred me.

As we started to bond with each other, I began doing things with her that I’ve never done with another dog. I’ve had her eat steak off my fork, and I make sure I hand her some fries when we go through the McDonald’s drive-thru.

She is a gentle soul, but she likes to tug and leap and fetch. She has big teeth, but she used them almost exclusively for play. She never growls at the other dogs, and she tries to avoid conflict with them at all costs.

She just does lots of impressive leaping and tugging on the flirt pole.  I am sure that people might think she is some sort of super attack -trained dog, but the truth of the matter is she’s about as dangerous as a spaniel, and she loves to retrieve and swim.

anka swimming

anka dock dog

I wish I had her papers. This is a dream dog. Driven and sweet, and so loyal and affectionate. If I had known there were German shepherds like this one, I would have paid more attention to them. She has certainly changed my mind about what one of these dogs can be.

leapng anka

anka leaping.jpg

So she won’t be going anywhere. She is mine. I have a real working dog now.

anka splash

anka jolly ball

jolly ball anka

anka charge

anka on the trail

anka the dog.jpg

German shepherd mating Carpathian wolf

Original crossbreeding between a German shepherd and Carpathian wolf to found the Czechoslovakian Vlcak.

If you have been reading this blog for a long time, I used to post historical and indigenous accounts of wolves, coyotes, and dingoes being used as working animals. I also would post accounts different breeders of domestic dogs crossing their stock with wolves to improve their strains.

I have long been critical of the Raymond Coppinger model of dog domestication, which posits that wolves scavenging from Neolithic dumps created the dog as an obligate scavenger that then became selectively bred for human uses. In this model, the tropical village dog is the ancestral form of all canines, a position that has emboldened the “Dogs are not wolves” theorists to suggest some tropical Asian Canis x is the actual ancestor of the domestic dog.

This model also posits that all dogs are just obligate scavengers, and unfortunately, this obligate scavenger designation means that what could be otherwise good books and research on dogs essentially denies their predatory behavior.

Last year, I kept hearing about a book that took on Coppinger’s model head-on. This book took Coppinger’s task for having distinct Eurocentric biases and that Coppinger essentially ignored vast amounts anthropological data on how different human societies relate to wild and semi-domestic canids.

So I finally ordered a copy of this book, which is called The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved by Raymond Pierotti and Brandy Fogg. I do recommend this book, but I readily admit that I don’t agree with quite a bit of it. I agree with it more than Coppinger, though, because they rather clearly show massive holes in Coppinger’s model.

Pierotti and Fogg have produced a model that relies heavily upon humans and wolves encountering and then benefiting from a hunting mutualism. Humans have a long history as scavengers, and even today, there are people who follow large predators, including lions, to rob them of their kills. Dholes are targeted by certain people as well, and it is very likely that humans entering Eurasia would have done the same with wolves.

The difference between the lions and the dholes and ancient wolves is that the lions and dholes resent having humans come near their kills.  The ancient wolves, however, came to work with people to bring down more prey. These wolves and humans came to be the dominant predators in Eurasia.

Pierotti and Fogg’s model posits the domestication process as beginning with ancient hunter-gather societies. It relies upon the wolf’s predatory nature as an important catalyst in allowing this partnership to thrive.

Further, the authors are rather clear in that our Eurocentric understanding of a clear delineation between wolves and dogs is a rather recent creation. Most cultures who have existed where there are wolves and dogs have a much more plastic understanding of the differences that separate the two or they have no separation of all.

The most compelling analogies in the work are the discussions about the relationships among hunters in Siberia, their laikas, and wild wolves and the relationships between indigenous Australians and dingoes.

In the Siberian laika culture, the dogs have extensively exchanged genes with wild wolves, enough that laikas and wolves do share mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. The laikas (or laiki, as they are known in Russia) do hunt the sable and other small game. They also protect the camps from bears, and in some areas, the laikas are used as not particularly specialized livestock guardian dogs. The authors see these dogs a very good analogy to describe how the earliest people and dogs would have lived. These dogs would have been cultured to humans, but they would still be getting an influx of wild genes as they lived in the wild.

In the dingo example, the authors discuss how these hunter-gather cultures would keep dingo pups and treat them almost exactly as we would our own domestic dogs. They also would use the dingoes to hunt kangaroos, but during mating season, they would allow their companions to leave the camps or stay.  They often would leave, but some would go off for a time in the bush and return. This suggests that early humans might not have forced their socialized wolves to stay in camp and that relationship could have been a lot more libertarian than we might have assumed.

These relationships are very different from the scavenging village dogs that Coppinger contends were like the original dogs. These animals are not obligate scavengers. They are hunters, and what’s more, it is their hunting prowess that makes the relationship work.

Further, the authors make a convincing argument that we can no longer use the scientific name Canis familiaris, because many cultures have relied upon wolf-like dogs and dog-like wolves for survival.  These animals are virtually impossible to distinguish from each other, and therefore, it would make sense that we would have to allow dogs to be part of Canis lupus.

The authors contend, though I think rather weakly, that dogs derive from multiple domestication events from different wolves. I remain fully agnostic to this question, but I will say that full-genome comparisons of wolves and three dogs that represent three distinct dog lineages suggest that dogs represent a clade. They are still very closely related to extant Canis lupus, especially Eurasian ones, and still must be regarded as  part of Canis lupus.  Therefore, one does not need multiple origins for domestic dogs from wolves to make the case that they are a subspecies of Canis lupus.

I am, however, quite glad to see that the authors reject this Canis familiaris classification, even if I think the reasoning is better explained through an analysis that shows how dogs fit within a clade called Canis lupus than one that relies upon multiple origins.

Also, one should be aware that every argument that one can make that says dogs are wolves can be applied to coyotes to suggest that they are wolves. Wolves and dogs do have a significant gene flow across Eurasia, but coyotes and wolves have a similar gene flow across North America. The most recent ancestor between wolves and coyotes lived 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, which is far more recent than the proposed divergence between Old World and North America red foxes and the divergence between Qinling and other giant pandas.

I really have no problem thinking of coyotes as being a form of Canis lupus in that a pug is a form of Canis lupus. All the acceptance of this classification does is allow for a positing that this species Canis lupus has thrived because it possesses both phenotypical and behavioral plasticity.

The authors, however, would have a problem with my classification. They make regular reference to red wolves, which have clearly been shown to be hybrids between coyotes and wolves, which themselves are probably better regarded as divergent forms of a phenotypically plastic species. They also contend that coyotes and people have never formed relationships like people have formed with wolves, because coyotes are too aggressive.

However, I have shown on this space that coyotes have been trained to do many of the things dogs have, including pointing behavior. They also have ignored the enigmatic Hare Indian dog, which may have been a domesticated coyote or coydog.

But that said, I think the authors have clearly shown in their text that dogs and wolves are part of the same species.

The authors also make some controversial arguments about dog paleontology and archaeology.  One argument they rely upon heavily is that wolves could have become behaviorally very much like dogs without developing all the morphological changes that are associated with most domestic dogs. Some merit certainly does exist with these arguments, but it also puts paleontology and archaeology in a position that makes it impossible to tell if a wolf-like canid found near human camps is a truly wild animal or creature on its way to domestication.

This argument does have some merit, but it still will have problems in those fields of study, because it becomes impossible to tell semi-domesticated wolves from wild ones in the fossil and subfossil record.

However, the authors do make a good case, which I have also made, that argues that the original wolf population had no reason to show fear or aggression towards people. The best analogous population of wolves to these original ones are those found on the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Northern Canada. These large arctic wolves have never experienced persecution, so they are quite curious and tolerant of the humans they encounter. Wolves like these could have easily been the basis for a mutualism that would eventually lead to domestication.

The authors also contend that the reason wolves in Europe are reviled is the result of the Western church’s propaganda that was working against traditional totemic animals of the pagans. Wolves were among those totems, and the church taught that wolves were of the devil.

However, I think this argument is a bit faulty, because Europeans are not the only people who hate wolves. Many pastoralist people in Asia are not big fans of wolves, and their hatred of wolves has nothing to do with the church. The traditional religions of the Navajo and Hopi also do not hold the wolf in very high regard, and these two cultures have been in the sheep business for centuries.

Further, we have very well-documented cases of wolves hunting and killing people in Europe. These wolf attacks were a major problem in France, where notorious man-eating wolves were often named, and they were not unknown in other parts of Europe as well.

The authors focus heavily on the benign relationship between wolves and people, including the wolf that hunted bison calves and deer to feed survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre, but they ignore the stories that do not posit the wolf in a good light.

The reason wolves in Eurasia have sometimes taking to hunting people is really quite simple:  Eurasia is a land where people focused much more on domesticating species to create animal agriculture. Agriculture has a tendency to reduce biodiversity in a region, and when people kill off all the deer in an area to make room for sheep, the wolves turn to hunting sheep. If you live in a society in which people do not have ready access to weapons, then the wolves start targeting people. Feudal societies in Europe would have been open target for wolves living in such ecosystems. By contrast, the indigenous people of North America, did not domesticate hoofed animals for agriculture. Instead, they managed the land, often with the use of fire, to create biodiversity of which they could hunt.

The authors do show that dogs and wolves are intricately linked animals. They show that dogs and wolves are the same species. They use many wonderful anecdotes of captive wolves and wolfdogs to make their case, and in making this case, they have made the case clear that dogs are the produce of hunter-gatherer societies and still are conspecific with the wolf.

I do, however, have some quibbles with some of the sources they use in the text. For example, when they discuss Queen Elizabeth Islands wolves, they focus on an account of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas on Baffin Island. She was on Baffin Island for one summer and observed one wolf pack. She is a fine observer of animals, but much of her analysis about dog and wolf behavior is still controversial. The authors also regularly make reference to Cesar Millan as a dog expert, when virtually no credentialed dog behavior expert thinks he is, and to the notorious dogsbite.org website, which is of even more contentious. These authors are making serious and well-reasoned arguments about dog and wolf behavior and relying upon these sources detracted from the work. I would have liked if they had referred to L. David Mech’s wolf observations on Ellesmere or to John Bradshaw as an expert on dog behavior.

I also had some issues with their contention that the Ainu people of Japan are Turkic or Altaic. No one knows exactly who these people are, but they are interesting in their relationship with wolves. Traditional Japanese society, distinct from the Ainu, was actually quite similar to the Siberian cultures that have produced laika dogs that still interbreed with wolves. However, I don’t think anyone still thinks that the Ainu are Turkic or Altaic.

Finally, the authors do make a good case against Coppinger’s model, but they go on to accept Coppinger’s fixed motor pattern dependence model to describe breed specialization. It is certainly true that Coppinger was Eurocentric in his understanding of dog domestication, but both Coppinger and the authors are Anglocentric in their understanding of dog hunting and herding behavior. The authors think this is Coppinger’s strongest argument. I think this is among his weakest.  This model states that pointing, herding, and retrieving are all just arrested development of a full predatory sequence. A dog that can point just stalks. It never learns to use its jaws to kill. A border collie stalks but also engages is a type of chasing behavior. It will also never learn to kill. A retriever will run out and grab, but it lacks the killing bite.

The biggest problem with this model is that everyone knows of border collies that have learned to hunt, kill, and eat sheep. I had a hard-driven golden retriever that would retrieve all day, but she would kill rabbits and even fawns.

The Anglo-American concept of specialized gun dogs affected Coppinger’s understanding of their behavior. He never really looked into continental HPRs. For example, Deutsch-Drathaars, the original German variant of the German wirehair, are bred to retrieve, point, track, and dispatch game. Such an animal makes no sense in this model, for it would suggests that an animal that would point would only ever be stuck in that stalking behavior. It would never be able to retrieve, and it certainly would never use its jaws to kill.

A better model says that dogs are born with a tendency to show behaviors, such as exaggerated stalking behavior that can be turned into pointing through training. There are countless stories of pointing dogs that suddenly lost their pointing behavior after running with hard-driving flushing dog. The dog may have been born with that exaggerated stalking behavior, but the behavior was lost when it entered into social interaction. Indeed, much of these specialized hunting behaviors are developed through training, so that what actually happens is the dog’s motor patterns are refined through training rather than being solely the result of being arrested in full.  This is why all the old retriever books from England tell the sportsman never to allow his dog to go ratting. As soon as that dog learns to use its jaws to kill, it is very likely that this dog will start using its jaws on the game it is sent to retrieve.

Despite my quibbles and reservations, Pierotti and Fogg have made a convincing case for the hunting mutualism between wolves and humans as the basis for the domestication of dogs. I was particularly impressed with their use of ethnography and non-Western histories to make their case. I do recommend this book for a good case that we do need a new model for dog domestication, and the questions they raise about taxonomy should be within our field of discussion.

Tom bird

tom bird

The early weeks of May begin the age of green pastels. The soft greenery of foliage pokes its way out of the gray smudge of the canopy, and the pastures are thickly verdant in the revived grass.

This age of green pastels is the harbinger to the age of photosynthesis, high summer, when the days steam long and hot and all living things in this temperate zone play out the business of growing, reproducing, and laying store for that long winter darkness that will return someday– but not soon.

This is the time of the cottontail doe kindling her kits in a bowl nest made from weaving the fur plucked from her belly with the furrows at the bases of the rising orchard grass. This is the time of the resplendent red cardinal cockbirds and their wild singing to ward off their rivals from the best nesting grounds. Testosterone rushes in them hard, as it does with all those of the avian kingdom, who are now at that season when procreation is the main consideration.

Just as the spring turns the “redbirds” into their state of lustful madness,  the wild turkeys turn their attention to these same carnal pursuits. Not pair-bonded in the way that most birds are, the big toms woo the hens with their gobbling and fanning and turning their light blue heads deep warrior red.  The spurs get thrown on occasion, especially for those foolish jakes who try to sneak a tryst with a hen in the undergrowth.

This time of green pastels is also a time when the shotguns go blasting.  Most other game beasts are left to alone in the spring time, but the wild turkey is one species where the hunt comes now. The camouflaged hunters, armed with their turkey calls and 12 and 20 gauges, braved the early spring snow squalls and bagged a few jakes and naive lustful toms.

But this big tom has survived the slinging of lead wads. Most of his rivals now reside in freezers or have already been fried as a fine repast.

The big bird has the hens mostly to himself, and when he hears the kelp-kelping of a hens on a distant ridge on a May morning, he lets loose a few loud gobbles.

“Come, my beauties! Behold me as your lover and protector!”

And the gormless hens kelp-kelp and wander in all directions, searching with their exquisite eyes for the big tom’s fanning form among the undergrowth.

The naive toms and young jakes will often go charging towards their calling, but the turkey hunter uses these exact same sounds to toll in the quarry.  The naive ones come in, and the shotguns have their number.

The big tom has seen his comrades dropped so many times that he hangs back and listens. He gobbles back every ten minutes or so. He walks in the opposite direction for about 20 yards then gobbles at the hens.

They kelp-kelp and meander around, but eventually, they line themselves on the right trail and wander over to meet the big tom. He fans for his girls, but none crouches before him for a bit of mating. They are just here to check the old boy out.

But sooner or later, they mate in the spring sun, and the hens will wandered to their nests in the undergrowth and tall grass. They will lay speckled eggs, which will hatch into speckled poults, which will carry the big tom’s genes into the next age of green pastels.

Someday, a skilled turkey hunter will work the old boy over with the hen calls in just the right way, and he will stand before the hunter’s shotgun blast. He will be taken to town and shown off to all the local guys, the ones who shoot jakes in the early days of the hunting season.

He will be a testament to the hunter’s skills, for real hunting is always an intellectual pursuit.  It is partly an understanding of biology and animal behavior, but it is also about the skillfulness at concealment and mimicry.

21 pounds of tom bird will be a trophy for the hunter, but they will also be the story of a bird who outwitted the guns for four good years and whose genes course through the ancestry of the young jakes gobbling and fanning in his absence.

A century ago, there were no wild turkeys in the Allegheny Plateau, but conservation organizations funded by hunters brought them back.

In the heat of July, the hens will move in trios and quartets into the tall summer grass of the pastures. They will be followed with great parades of poults, who will be charging and diving along at the rising swarms of grasshoppers and locusts. They will grow big an strong in the summer.

And someday, a few may become big old toms that will gobble on the high ridges, calling out to the hens to come and see them in their fine fanning.

And so the sun casts upon the land in the spring and summer, bringing forth the lustful pursuits among the greenery, even as mankind turns his back on the natural world more and more each year.

And fewer and fewer will feel sweet joy that one hears when a big tom gobbles in the early May rain that falls among the land dotted in green pastels.

%d bloggers like this: