Two Dog Years

By ROB BREEDING for the Flathead Beacon

I had to go to the doctor the other day. For a few weeks I’d been feeling a little stiffness and pain in the lower back. I responded with my standard approach to maladies such as this: I ignored it until the pain became so intense I couldn’t stand up straight and had to take a sick day.

Ignoring the problem didn’t make it go away, especially as in this case ignoring the problem meant spending most of Saturday climbing up and down steep hillsides chasing chukar. The result was a Sunday spent prone on the couch. Not even mega doses of ibuprofen helped. Monday, instead of working, I was at the doctor.

I’ve reached the point in life where little aches and pains carry with them the added fear that any new ache and pain may be permanent. I’ve watched chronic injuries slow, or even end, the active outdoor lives of friends. While I don’t consider myself old just yet, I realize it’s a condition that lies out there not too far beyond the horizon. The worry is that my stupid man approach to avoiding dealing with physical problems only makes things worse, increasing the possibility that a bad back or knee or casting elbow will forever change the way I play outdoors.

I’m learning to cast with my left hand just in case.

The good news on the back was that a brief regimen of steroids took care of things. There was probably inflammation, and since I have a history of minor back problems, the doc suggested there might be some wear and tear on one of the discs. The meds were a short-term fix, but he suggested this might not be the last time we’d be in his examination room talking about my back.


This wasn’t the first time bird hunting resulted in the need for medical care. A friend down in Arizona, The Pilot, is a hardcore quail hunter. For The Pilot, a fun day in the field involves setting out after breakfast, walking up and down hillsides all day, then returning to camp to cook up a mess of birds in the dark.

My first hunt with The Pilot aggravated an old knee injury from when I was younger and stupider and raced motocross on the weekends. After limping around for a couple weeks I gave up and sought medical attention. A meniscus tear was the diagnosis and a bit of orthoscopic surgery cleaned things up just fine. Apparently, that knee is a little more prone to developing arthritis as a result of the damaged tissue that had to be cut away, but not yet thankfully.


I’m in my early 50s and I’ve begun to measure my time in bird dog years. My current hunting partner, Doll, is 5 and I can reasonably expect another 5 to 7 years with her in the field. I’ve figured I’ve got at least one more bird dog in me so I’m starting to look around. A new pup should take me pretty close to 65 and retirement, though I have no illusions that I’ll actually retire that young.

One more dog might be it, or at least that’s what I’ve been thinking. But now I’m not so sure. Papa Bill, a friend in his early 70s, recently got himself a pup, a nice looking Vizsla. That’s a bird dog that won’t be hitting its prime until Bill is closing in on 80. And the dude still hunts just fine. So going by Papa Bill years, I’ve got at least two more dogs in me after Doll. Maybe three.

All of which means that if I plan to bird hunt for another 30 years I probably need to do a little better job with routine body maintenance. I recently allowed most of that 10 pounds I’ve been losing for the last 20 years to returned to its preferred place on my waistline. I’ll need to take care of that with a little more frequent exercise. And those moments when the body cries out for attention? I’m going to have to do better than assuming ibuprofen and willful ignorance takes care of all medical problems.


thumbRob Breeding writes an outdoors column for the Flathead Beacon newspaper in Kalispell.  He teaches journalism at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.