Auld Acquaintance

A good man went home on August 11. I’ve been thinking since then about how I might send some good bird and dog and outdoor thoughts after him. This seems like a perfect time.

I first crossed paths with George Macinko in the early 1970s, when I was a young prof in the Geography Department at the University of Colorado’s Denver Campus. George was being recruited by the main department in Boulder and I drove up the Front Range to hear him talk and meet him. His talk was well done – as expected from a geographer with his deep skills in research, and his passion for land use, natural resource conservation and world population issues. I thought he would be a great addition to the department and the university, but given a big push at the time for a different approach to our geographic enterprise he was not offered a position. “Too bad,” I remember thinking, “the guy’s a bird hunter.”

Twenty years later, I walked onto Central Washington University’s campus and there he was. He still hunted birds, he told me, with very special bird dogs – he’d been a fan of basset hounds for most of his life.

That love of bassets started early, when George was a kid, growing up in Pennsylvania coal country. His dad, however, was a coon hound man who wanted no truck with other dogs. A beagle, maybe, but no basset. So George picked blackberries until he had the money for a beagle, and started hunting with it.

The kid from Nesquehoning, PA, had a gift for football and education and a passion for hunting birds with short dogs. Some of that led him to Mary Ann Tuttle (the woman who would become his wife), research fellowships around the country and a sterling academic career centered on the Northwest and Central Washington University.

In the lean early 50s, Mary Ann was George’s “bird dog.” Together, they were pretty successful, although there were periodic conversations about the “dog” kicking bunches of birds out of brushy draws only to find that the hunter had decided to move to the head of a different draw.

With the birth of a son came the gift of a spaniel – Ginger – from the farm of Mary Ann’s folks outside the Tri-Cities. They were now a hunting-dog family. Ginger was a great bird dog. In and around time cooped up with research and writing and graduate school, George and Ginger wandered the Palouse country so successfully that one Christmas everyone on a fairly long Christmas list got a smoked pheasant.

Mary Ann’s dad knew that, in his heart, George wanted a basset hound. When a vet friend needed a home for a “talking” basset hound, Burbank Barnaby (for their hunting area near Tri-Cities, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers) became George’s first basset hunting buddy.

In the late ‘60s, George found “Training the Rabbit Hound – Bassets and Beagles.” The 1926 book by Carl E. Smith got him even more enthused about bassets. Turned out that Smith, of Ohio, also bred and trained bassets to hunt birds. Thus came Tasha, George’s dream bird dog. For many years he and Tasha hunted chukars, quail, pheasants and grouse all over the Paradise of Central Washington.

After Tasha came Humphrey, another basset descended from a Carl Smith dog. Humphrey would hunt hard – unless there were distractions. If there were cows nearby, he might just sit and watch them until sundown reenergized him. Then there was Buford, who hunted a bit, but…

Windy arrived in the early ‘90s. The daughter of Central’s new Russian language teacher wanted a pup – a basset pup which refused to be housebroken. George took the pup and straightened her out, but at home she fell back into old bad habits. Windy became George’s next bird dog.

Windy was at the middle of my greatest all time bird hunting memory. In the mid-90s, George and I and Bob Kuhlken hunted ruffed grouse (on now-Suncadia ground) outside Ronald, in Upper Kittitas County. I had never hunted or shot a ruffed grouse. Having grown up with outdoor mag stories about ruffed grouse thickets and shots taken as a bird flashed through a tiny opening in the brush, I had a long-held desire to hunt them. George picked an upcoming October Saturday. I’d hunted over a lot of bird dogs, but never one so close to the ground. Windy went right to work and we soon found birds. George connected with one, and we moved into another thicket as Windy found herself hot on the trail of a ruff. I remember a sudden “Whirrrr” as the bird boiled off the ground a few yards away, a blur rising behind a screen of tall brush, pulling the trigger as the bird hit a three-foot opening, and the grouse on the ground. Never before and never since: a classic shot over a very special bird dog.

A year after Windy passed came the rescue basset Bessie Maude – named with great love and respect in honor of Mary Ann’s mother. Bessie is at the end of a long line of deeply, endlessly, loved bassets.

I doubt that many truly understood George’s love of bassets. Mary Ann once asked him, after a close friend had lost his wife, what he would do if she passed. “Well,” he said, “I guess I would just get another basset hound…” It took a while to see, I think, that George could not conceive of replacing his beloved wife, but knew that a basset hound would bring love and companionship.

George was much honored, and rightly so, for his athletics, research and teaching. Still, I cannot think of him without thinking of his beloved hounds – and Windy and that magic ruffed grouse moment.

Thank you, George.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized