quail with dedication, and he often talked to me about what made good quail habitat. He told me wildlife depended on cover, food and water. He told me we'd find quail near a food source close to cover that was open enough along the ground to allow the birds to move. We didn't necessarily look for water sources, because he knew the birds could obtain water from dew droplets that developed on vegetation.
As we drove onto the McNabb farm, Bell's tail thumped loudly against the sides of the wooden dog box in the back of the truck. I believed she was listening to Dad and I talk about hunting and was getting more and more excited.
Dad always began a hunt with the same ritual. He would kneel down next to Bell and place her feet in a position that might remind you of an American Kennel Club confirmation stance. Then he placed one hand under her lower jaw and lifted her head so that her nose pointed slightly upward. With his other hand he would raise her tail until it pointed straight out. Remarkably, Bell would calm down. Only after she had remained in this position for a minute or so would Dad give the command, "find birds!"
Dad always hunted with a 20 gauge. His shotgun was an over-and-under, a beautiful gun brought home from Italy by one of his friends who was stationed there in the military. Dad had the stock customized to fit him perfectly and the barrel shortened. He could bring the lightweight gun up faster on flushing quail than anyone I have ever seen. Most quail he pointed at ended up on our dinner table.
A few years later, I would be armed with a pellet gun and, when I was 11, a single shot .410 gauge shotgun. Finally I would hunt with my grandfather's 20-gauge, but because I was only 7 years old, I was armed only with my eyes. However, they provided me with more satisfaction and memorable images than any successful hunt I have experienced since.
Watching Bell work a field was like watching an artist at a canvas. She followed the covey's path through the field, showing us everywhere they had traveled. Some hunting dogs work hard to please their masters, but I believed Bell enjoyed hunting so much that we came second.
When Bell crouched low to the