“I’m just going to put it to sleep,” Maurice Lindley says as he swirls the homing pigeon’s head around, tucking it into the downy feathers in the wing. The bird doesn’t resist. Lindley moves a few steps to place it in brush in the clearing, which is scraggy and brown in January’s unrepentant chill, and strides a few paces over to Tinker, a mostly white English pointer. Then, through unspoken commands—a firm hold on leash, a few strokes of the tail upward—and as the bracing west wind sends the scent of the bird into her atmosphere, the dog is suddenly as still as a statue. Setting her gaze, and with practically only her nostrils quavering as she breathes, the pointer hones in on the bird and waits in this determined position until Lindley comes to retrieve her. Next, he hurls a plastic Mountain Dew bottle, and as he’s doing so explains his motivation. “People say pointers don’t retrieve.” Tinker comes bounding directly back, the plastic vessel clenched in her teeth.
Lindley, tall and white-bearded, has been in the dog- training business pretty much since he was old enough to drive. The spark of love for bird dogs started before that. “I went bird hunting one time with my brother and a neighbor when we were 10 or 11 years old, and the first time I saw a dog point to a wild covey of birds, I knew right then what I was going to do.” By the time he was 16 years old, he already had paying clients. “My first client was from West Virginia, and I sold him a puppy and he brought me a German short hair that I trained for him. It was something that was in me from the beginning.”