A dog's life

By Babe Winkelman

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[January 11, 2014]  I recently returned from South Dakota, where I was hunting pheasants with my whole family: my wife, Kris; all my daughters; and Scamp. I think of Scamp as my son, and he is in a way. He's maybe the best son a guy could hope for.

But no, Scamp is my springer spaniel, and he is every bit a member of the Winkelman family. Although he's the youngest, he's also sort of the oldest. His deep patches of chestnut color have given way to a faded, dusty gray-brown. As his breed name implies, Scamp doesn't do much springing anymore. When he gets up from a nap, he gives it some thought first. He's certainly not in a hurry about a lot of things.

Where Scamp's eyes once shone with a fierce fire to tackle every challenge a day could throw at him, they now smolder with tranquil remembrances of days past, of crisp mornings and wings breaking corn leaves.

He hunted with us in South Dakota, despite the brutal weather we experienced while there. He took it easy. I worked him mainly on downwind field edges where the walking was simpler. When he got a noseful of pheasant essence, he'd plunge in patiently and flush with a smile.

When the guns went into their cases after the limit was had, old Scamp still protested. He wanted one more good flush before bedtime, regardless of his vintage. In that proud chest, the heart of a hunter was still beating. It will pound like that till it can't pound anymore.

Watching Scamp work and play made me both happy and sad. Happy for all the joy he has brought me throughout the years. Sad for the day when he will look up at me and say, "You go shoot some pheasants, boss... I'm just gonna lie here for a little while longer."

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It's funny, but when I see him in action in his golden years, my mind overlays memories of him at different stages of his life. It's hard to explain, but I can still see the pup in him. I can envision the toned athlete he once was in his prime. I can see him bounding fences that now require him to be carried over. I see his whole life in every movement.

In South Dakota I made a shot that stoned a rooster about 60 yards out in a stubble field. Scamp marked the bird and went for it at half-trot. He picked it up, as proud as could be, and walked back at the most leisurely pace. At one point he even stopped, just to look around, with the limp ringneck hanging from his lips.

I don't think he was moving slowly because he had to. I don't think it was the arthritis, nor the cold, nor stiff muscles. No, I think old Scamp was savoring the moment. He was stretching it out, so he could enjoy the thrill of it longer. Maybe so he could summon the memory of it later, on one of those days when he'd opt to take a field day off and nap instead.

When he finally returned to me with the pheasant and placed the warm bird in my waiting hand, I noticed something. Even though Scamp has slowed down in every other way, there was still something unchanged about him. His tail still wagged at the same blurry speed. I love you, Scamp, my boy.

Good hunting.


Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. Follow Babe Winkelman on Facebook and Twitter.

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