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The Sporting Dog

All our canine companions evolved from the hunter

With one look my German shorthair pointer, Sophie, says: I’ve got this covered; pay attention and stay ready.

Watching my German shorthair pointer, Sophie, enter an autumn game field never fails to send a quiver of anticipation through my being. She operates with certainty in an arena where I can only guess at what is about to transpire. A hunting dog is grace, speed, focus and intensity. Humans are acolytes when we accompany a dog into the wild.

Pausing as we enter a cover, she will lift her head and taste the air. Instantly she knows the history that has recently transpired unseen before us. The game we are seeking may have exuded only a minute portion of what is borne on the breeze that reaches her nose, but she can immediately identify it and where it was. More importantly, she will know where it most likely will be going.

Racing downfield as she works, my pup will all at once pause and glance back at me, establishing eye contact that never fails to reassure me that I am in good hands. With that one look she says: I’ve got this covered; pay attention and stay ready. I will do my best to hold up my end of the game.

This is an ancient dance, to be sure. Though it no longer has the real survival tensions where the sustenance of a tribe, pack or a people is at stake, the primal vibrations and trust are still there, and they resonate through both of our species, dog and human alike. There is a very special relationship between us.

 

Fish Are Biting

Spanish mackerel are dominating the Bay fishing scene, with schools of the toothy critters cutting wide swaths through the main stem of the Chesapeake and into the Eastern Bay. Small, flashing gold and silver spoons trolled at six to seven knots will draw plenty of attention when you locate a bunch of Macs. Top-water rockfish action is picking up at first light and last light near the mouths of the estuaries and other shallow water structures harboring schools of baitfish. Otherwise, live-lining continues to produce limits for determined anglers at the Bay Bridge, Hacketts, Love Point and south. White perch, spot and croaker are still filling coolers with good-tasting fillets. Crabbing has fallen off a bit, but skilled crab anglers are finding limits regardless. Take lots of bait; the little fellas are still swarming the shallows.

 

In Season

Mourning dove, clapper rail and resident Canada goose seasons open September 1. Archery season for whitetails opens September 15, with early teal season opening the next day. Check the DNR website, or get a copy of the DNR 2010 Hunting Handbook for details.

Our Enduring Partnership

Sporting dog is a technical term that has come to define particular breeds of dog whose function is associated with hunters in the field with gun, bow or falcon. In reality, the sporting breed is the closest direct descendant of the original canine that first made a pact with humans, at arguably the most important point in our evolution.
Many years ago, 30,000 by recent estimates, the dog, Canis familiaris, separated as a distinct species from Canis lupus, the gray wolf. From there the dog evolved as a successful predator, enjoying a complex and rich social structure and lifestyle.

By some accounts, it wasn’t until some 15,000 years later in its evolutionary trajectory that Canis familiaris first formed that singularly unique and symbiotic relationship with a completely dissimilar species of mammal, Homo sapiens: humankind.

Prior to this important event, humans had been hunter-gatherers for over 200,000 years with mixed success. We survived as a species, certainly, but had hardly flourished. Slow and remarkably vulnerable, we possessed few advantageous traits beyond tool-making skills and the unique ability to build a fire.

The campfire may well have first attracted dogs to humans, and eventually persuaded them to join us. Warmth and something to watch on a cold winter’s night was, after all, the only thing lacking in the dog’s own particularly successful evolution.

It is a matter of debate whether humans then domesticated the dog. Or, quite possibly, the dog, with its innate qualities of unwavering loyalty, unconditional love and endless affection, was finally successful in domesticating and civilizing humans.

Whatever the case, hunting and living together, the two species became far more efficient and effective. Eventually, when the relationship of the hunt evolved into agriculture and the domestication of other animal species, dogs became expert shepherds and guardians of the flocks, herds and grainfields.

A dominant partnership was thus cemented that allowed both species to flourish together across the planet and the unique human-dog relationship to evolve and prosper.

Today the dog is the most revered of all our animal associates. Their numbers are vast and remain closely associated with our presence. But there is no denying the uniqueness or success of that original relationship, forged in the hunt with the what is now known as the sporting breed. Both species’ destinies have become inextricably linked and humans, especially, are much the better for it.