Ominous gun metal dark skies loom across the distant horizon as we settle into our positions along a thickly wooded tree line facing an open field. It's the opening weekend of whitewing season, and thunderstorms are the norm. Before the rainfalls arrival and the roads become impassable, we hope to bag a limit of doves or at least have some fun afield with family, friends and faithful canine companions.
Paul Cordova and his black lab Katie never miss an opening day. He is a professional dog trainer and runs La Paloma Retrievers in Harlingen. "I like the excitement of getting ready and the anticipation of getting ready and working with the dogs throughout the off season just for this moment right here," Cordova says as he settles into his folding camouflage chair with Katie at his side.
We are hunting south of McAllen near the floodway with Francisco Bracamontes of Mission and his sons Diego, Gaston and their dog Thor. Several other friends join us for the traditional opening day and are taking positions. The woods provide excellent cover, and doves are already starting to dart across the field.
A shotgun blast bursts the humid air, and the first dove plummets to the ground. Thor tenses for the initial retrieve. Cordova has just delivered the dog after training him for several weeks, and it is Thor's first dove hunt. On his owners command, the year and a half old dog bounds after the downed bird and in a moment returns to his master's side with a plump whitewing. If dogs can smile, and I think they can, Thor has a grin from ear to ear. Francisco accepts the bird leaving the happy canine with a mouth full of feathers.
Thor is a Drahthaar. The first syllable is pronounced as "drot" (as in trot). The haar portion is pronounced like "car", but with an "h" instead of a "c". These extremely versatile dogs originated in Germany more than a century ago, and in addition to being expert retrievers they also excel at pointing and tracking.
Drahthaars are a cross between a German shorthair pointer, a griffon, the stichelharr and the pudelpointer. They are medium to large dogs with a female on the small size weighing just over 50 pounds while a large male might go 85. They have a double coat consisting of dense under fur and a harsh outer coat. Most Drahthaars also have a distinctive beard of varying length.
"This dog is exceptionally gentle, and exceptionally good, and it's a great house dog and a great hunter," Bracamontes says as he reaches down to pat Thor's noggin. "Paul has done a really amazing job training him. Thor has already passed his first test as a hunter."
Cordova began training dogs six years ago. He started with a dog he selected from the Harlingen Humane Society which he trained to retrieve for dove hunting. He went to the library and learned on his own how to train. "I would take the dog out hunting doves and my friends would say, Can you teach my dog to do what your dog is doing?"
"It just took off from there, I started getting dog after dog after dog and started getting better and better," Cordova says. He has honed his self taught techniques by traveling throughout the United States and attending seminars held by top professionals. "I have learned a lot of things from those pros that might have taken me years to realize if ever. It has certainly been rewarding to learn from the best."
Cordova has trained more than 100 dogs and developed a loyal clientele. "The whole idea of the business started from dove hunting, so we called the name of the business La Paloma Retrievers."
The next bird fluttering to the ground is Katie's responsibility, and she quickly returns with a mourning dove. The sleek black lab is a champion retriever and has won numerous awards throughout the country.
"We are just out here having fun today, letting the dogs do what they have been bred to do generation after generation," Cordova says.
The threatening clouds are edging closer and the wind gusting, as Francisco smoothly swings on another bird and drops it with a single shot. Thor can't find the bird initially, and begins working in a circle until he picks up the scent and locates the dove. Thor trots back proudly, and Francisco's thirteen year old son Diego gently takes the bird.
"It's really fun, and with Thor it's just a new experience of hunting," Diego says. "He's really intelligent and really cool, and I like hunting with him."
Diego's younger brother, Gaston, is also enjoying the hunt and sums up the experience is one word, "Awesome!"
A couple of more shots, some superb retrieves and suddenly the thunderstorm is upon us. We begin grabbing up our gear while Francisco brings his four wheel drive in close. After tossing everything in the truck, Paul turns and says, "Where's my dog?"
This is unusual as Katie rarely wanders out of sight. The rain is pelting us with increased force, and if we don't depart soon we are probably going to get stuck.
Paul whistles for her and in a few moments she emerges from the thick brush with a dove between her jaws. We had lost the bird earlier in the cactus and mesquite, but Katie had apparently not given up.
Paul praises her, and we begin our trek to the top of the levee where his truck is parked. Before we get there, we encounter two of our party who are searching for a bird near a rapidly filling ditch. As we start to pass them, Katie veers off toward the hunters and soon buries her muzzle in the grass and water for her last retrieve of the day. The men stare in amazement as Katie brings the lost bird to Paul. He gives her an affectionate rub on the neck, and we trudge up the slippery slope.
We didn't get our limit, before the rain drove us out, but it was a very rewarding hunt, thanks to Thor and Katie who were the highlight of opening day. However, Paul and his wife did spend a few hours that night pulling cactus thorns out of Katie from that next to last retrieve.
If you are interested in learning more about La Paloma Retrievers, you can reach Paul Cordova at 425-6190 or 622-0443. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore