Why I hunt. How did an animal lover like me became a hunter, a cold blooded killer? Has my heart gone rotten?

After over 13 years of hunting and photographing the sport I decided to post a dedicated gallery to hunting (Click here to see it).  It was always somewhat of a secret having clients who are very “green”.  Being the environmentalist and animal lover that I am I always felt the controversial nature of exposing these images.  I decided to do it and explain how I became and hunter.  Here is the story.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

My dog Tobi and I bow hunting for elk in Montana.

I grew up in Italy reading books by Jane Goodall, Konrad Lorenz, Gerald Durrell. By age 14 I had read Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” two times.  Animals and nature were my passions and love.  As a kid, I marched on protests to abolish hunting in Italy.  I marched against animal testing.  If there was such a thing as PETA, back in those days, I would have been one of their best allies.  I was raised by parents who didn’t tolerate a crying child but I remember vividly, when at age 4 or 5, my parents bought a live lobster from a fisherman and were about to boil it live in a pot.  I remember the uncontrollable sobbing, even though I knew crying was going to result in my father’s military style whipping.  They ate the lobster but somehow I escaped my father’s punishment for crying.  I still remember how I felt at the idea of this lobster being killed in such a horrible way.

All my allowance went to paying for food for my many animals I raised, in my small room, in our apartment in the heart of Turin.  Half of my room was filled with cages.  I had birds, squirrels, hamsters, fish, turtles, you name it.  I even had a chicken at one point.  Every injured animal I took home, like a mourning dove with a broken wing.  She never was able to fly but she lived with me for many years until my mother complained about her incessant calling while I was at school “cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo “.  She felt lonely while I was gone.  Apparently my mother gave her away to a farm where other animals would keep her company.  I wonder now if that was true.

After realizing that keeping animals in cages was inhumane I never acquired an another pet and started freeing caged animals.  One time I broke into a rabbit farmer pens and opened all the cages and ran.  I am not sure how they knew it was me, I got caught.  Fortunately rabbits were not that smart and just hangout by the cages or I would have had to pay the farmer for all the rabbits lost.

How did an animal lover become a “heartless” animal killer?  Has my heart gone rotten?  Have my feelings changed towards animals and nature?

During hunting season when I post images of me with dead animals, on facebook, I get bombarded by comments of my friends animal lovers.  Especially the ones in Italy, where the culture of hunting is not as prominent as it is in the US.  They will say things like “How could you possibly smile after killing this beautiful creature?”.  My brother in Indonesia who is opposed to hunting once wrote me “What happened to you Paolo?  You used to love animals…”.  I don’t even try to defend myself, in truth, nothing changed in my heart.  The reason I became a hunter is because of my love and respect for animals and nature.  Moving to Montana in 99 introduced me to hunting and I was educated and learned about such a misunderstood sport which has become an important part of lifestyle now.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Tobi and I Chuckar hunting in Idaho.

Let me start by saying that everything I write on this post is pertinent to hunting in the US.  I support hunting in this country, where regulations are strict, very well regulated and the resources are managed correctly (most of the time).  The other very important factor about the US is that people follow these regulations (most of the time).  An that is really the most important part of the equation.  If you make great regulations and people don’t follow them, then you are out of luck.

I am not supportive to hunting in general, like hunting in Italy.  You need the right regulations and the right people to follow them.  No one follows regulations in Italy and that’s the problems with hunting there.

All this said, let’s get to the nitty gritty about why I started hunting when I moved to Montana.

When people criticize me about hunting the first thing I ask is “Do you eat meat?”.  When they say yes I ask  them “Do you know anything about the way the majority of domestic animals are raised?”  Without even mentioning all the crap that is injected in their bodies to grow big and fat quickly, like growth hormones.  And more crap injected so that they don’t get diseases from living in their own feces.  So crammed up in tight spaces with many others that they can’t even move.  Look at feedlots and chicken factory farms.  Fortunately there has been more awareness of cruelty imposed to domestic animals for our consumptions and things are changing to improve conditions.  I love animals but I also love meat.  I am not going to stop eating meat but I can assure you that when I take down an elk with my bow and eat healthy lean meat for a year or two I feel a lot better then when I take a bite off that plastic wrapped piece of beef.  I know the elk I killed lived a good life and I am also very aware that the population of elk and deer and many other animals need to be controlled.  I watched videos of deer and elk dying of starvation from overpopulation in areas that couldn’t be hunted for various reasons.  We have messed up the ecosystem and with the lack of predators is making natural balance impossible.  We need hunters to control the population of many animals and fortunately Fish and Game does a very good job at figuring just out how many.

I then get the hard core animals lovers who tell me.  “I don’t eat meat, I would never do that and let an animal die for me”.  Then I ask them.  “Do you know why the ecosystem is so screwed up that there aren’t enough predators to keep the natural balance intact? The reason is simple.  To grow those sprouts and soy bean for your tofu we have turned wildlife habitat into barren land and killed and are killing many animals in the process.”  Let’s not talk about all the chemicals and pesticides that are dumped into the earth. To make that piece of Tofu, all animal lovers are eating, many animals have been killed. Even eating fish is bad as Oceans and Seas are being depleted and raped.  Now, am I starting to sound like the little activist kid that I used to be?  Yes, I am still the same person with the same love for nature and animals.  I am just wiser.  Hunting for me is the most humane, most environmentally friendly, most animal and nature lover way to eat.  I know for a fact that killing an elk has less impact in the natural world than eating anything else I can buy in a grocery store.

Am I just hunting to provide food for myself or do I actually like it?  Do I like to kill?

The first time I killed an animal was with my brother Giuseppe.  I also remember that incident very vividly, I must have been 7.  We were somewhere in a dry part of the country.  Maybe southern Italy.  We had seen a Gecco for the first time.  We were both a little repulsed and fascinated by it.  We watched as it sat immobile on a rock.  For some reason we decided to tap it with a stick on the head just to see what it would do.    We tapped it too hard.  The poor gecko put his paws over his head and started rolling in pain.  It looked like a human.  My brother and I horrified started beating it on the head trying to kill it to take it out of it’s misery.  Was traumatizing and I didn’t kill an other animal until I moved to Montana.

My friend Chuck took me duck hunting for the first time.  I really didn’t want to do it but I decided to tag along because I wanted to experience it.  After multiple failures at trying to jump some ducks sitting in some slews, I started feeling an urge to kill one.  Was a very strange feeling and realized that deep inside me there was still the hunter instinct that kept the human race alive.  I finally killed a duck.  I didn’t feel good at killing it but I felt the satisfaction of harvesting an animal I was going to eat, I felt the satisfaction of holding that duck in my hands.  That same year I killed my first deer and I had the same feeling.  My heart went with both animals but somehow I had fulfilled an ancient instinct that was hidden deep inside of me.  The difference between the gecko and the duck and deer is that the killing had very different purposes.  The first incident was to kill the later two were to provide.  I became a hunter.

Now, let’s be honest.  Is really not all about harvesting and providing or I could get a deer or an elk with a rifle and make the process as quick as I could.  Instead I choose to bow hunt for them. Killing an elk with a bow is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Took me 6 years of hard work to get my first elk with a bow.  Most bow hunters will never get an elk in their lifetime.  I spend the majority of September deep in the woods of Montana to get my elk and I spend a good part of November to get a deer.  Why?

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

Bow hunting for elk in Montana.

The reason is simple.  My love for nature and animals.  There is nothing as intimate and as close to nature and its animals than bow hunting.  You have to become part of nature to get close enough to a wild animal with a bow to be able to release an arrow.  I have ran into Grizzlies, I have been surrounded by wolf, I have been so close to elk that I put my hand over one.  I have been so close to a massive bull elk staring at me face to face that I could smell its breath.  I watched mama deer nurse her fawn.  I watched buck deer and bull elk fight for their ladies.  The things I have seen, while quietly moving through the woods, could fill the pages of books.  When I release that arrow and make the kill the fun has ended. I always feel sadness when I see the animal laying on the ground.  A piece of my heart always goes with my kill.  I am thankful for the gift the animal has given me and I feel the appreciation of having healthy meat in my freezer.  I bird hunt with my dogs and bird hunting is about the relationship with my dogs.  Is such an incredible bond with my little partners that only bird hunters and dog lovers can understand.  For me being a hunter is not about killing, is about experiencing nature at its best while trying to be conscious and respectful of the environment and its animals.


The River Surfing Story That Went Viral

Last year while on assignment in Missoula Montana I ran across Strongwater Surfshop.  I walked in curious about river surfing and the guys, somehow, convinced me to drive 2 hours (4 hours round trip) to the Lochsa River to watch them surf for the evening.  Their enthusiasm was so contagious and I was so impressed with their surfing, that I decided to go back the following week to do a story.  Initially I posted it on Facebook and the likes and shares started pouring in.  Shorty after that, Outside Magazine picked up the story to do a photo essay online “A Mountain Town With a Surfing Problem” and one of the images made the Exposure section on the Magazine.  It was history after that.  Calls started pouring in from all over the world for interviews about the story. The River Surfing Revolution was published worldwide.  England, Australia, Germany, Italy, Norway, New Zealand just to mention a few.  The story made the Editor Pick on Maptia (best place to read the story) and was shared all over the world through social media.  Shortly after that it was taken by a News Agency in London and just like the Trout Jumping Picture that went Viral I lost track of it.  The question everyone is always curious about… Did I get rich from it?  Of course not, but I always wanted to be a writer and this could be a beginning.

(Down below the story on New Zealand Magazine “Say Yes to Adventure”).

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SYTA_Volume One_Paolo Marchesi-1


TOBI. The story of a special dog and sweet companion.

“This is for you Tobi, my sweet old man”.

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Argo at 6 months learning from the old man how to hunt.

Tobi at 13 showing my new pup Argo how to hunt for grouse. Tobi is 90% deaf, takes him 40 minutes to walk 6 blocks to my studio but when I pull out my shotgun he comes back to life. I never hunted him with a shock collar and I rarely had to tell him what to do. He was a pro. Now that he is nearly deaf I can only watch him and let him do his thing. He never disappoints me in the field, not even in his old age. Seeing him make this perfect point and retrieve brings tears to my eyes. Watching your best pal get old is one of the hardest things I expected to experience.  I didn’t know you could love a dog so much.

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Tobi at 13 with his gray eye brows.

 

I met Tobi 12 years ago on the Deschutes River in Oregon.  He was one year old and his name was Toby. I was driving to the Bend area to meet with some friends to climb Smith Rock and decided to try my luck and see if I could catch a couple of steelhead before climbing. On the river I met Kory, to this day the best steelhead fly fishermen I have ever met.  He was there with Toby and we fished for the weekend together then I went one way, he went the other.

I climbed for two weeks and as I was heading back to Montana I saw the sign for the Deschutes. I picked up the phone.

“Kory, are you fishing? I am nearby…”

“I am, come on over, I got my jet boat, let’s catch some fish!”

We fished and I couldn’t stop noticing Toby.  I had never been a dog person or ever had a dog.  Dogs to me were good for smelling bad, throwing dirt on camera equipment, and being annoying.  But Toby was different.  “What kind of dog is he anyway?”  “He is a hunting dog.” “A hunting dog?” I was a climber and a fisherman at the time. We fished and then it came time to split away.  I packed my van. Kory packed his truck. We were saying our goodbyes and I looked down at Toby.  He was sitting next to me just watching the interactions between us.  I looked at Toby, and said to Kory, “I love your doggie, I am going to take him to Montana!” Kory looked at me and said, “Shake my hand.” A little confused and hesitant I shook his hand. Kory threw Toby’s kennel in my van, his food, his leash, his flea medicine and drove away. I stood there with Toby sitting by my side watching Kory drive off down the dirt road, and before the dust had settled I thought to myself, “But I was just kidding!”

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Kory and Tobi at 4 months

 

As I drove away with Toby sitting on my passenger seat I looked at him and thought to myself “What in the hell just happened?” I am a gypsy; my lifestyle is not conducive to having a dog…  Toby was sitting there and I couldn’t help noticing how cute he was.  He just sat up straight, calmly looking at the road ahead. Now that I know Tobi better I am sure what he was thinking.  “Who in the hell is this guy? Why are we going the opposite direction of where I should be going?   I can’t even smell treats in this car. This guy is no good, why did Kory leave me?”.

Toby’s owner had just dumped him and what neither of us knew is that our lives were about to drastically change.  I picked up the phone and dialed Kory’s number.

“Kory, does Toby chew things up?”

“I don’t know, I always kept him in his kennel.”

A few minutes go by and I call again, “Kory, does he bark at night?” “Not that I know…” Within an hour I called Kory 20 times trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with this dog. I finally gave up trying to understand and decided to just hang out with the little guy for several days and hit every steelhead river I could on the way back to Bozeman. Toby just followed and watched me fish. One of the last stops was the Clearwater in Idaho.  I wanted to catch one of those 20 pound + B-run steelhead.

On the river I met this guy from Montana and he said, “Dude, this is a German Shorthaired Pointer. I love these dogs! You bird hunt?”

“Not really, you want him?” I replied.

“Heck yeah!” he said, “I can’t take him now but here is my card, give me a call when you are back in Bozeman and I’ll come and pick him up.” The guy gave me his card and left excited. I was relieved I had found someone to take this thing. I am a gypsy, dogs are not for me. I went back to fishing as Toby watched unaware of what had just happened.  He was about to be dumped again.

Toby and I ended up spending over a week making our way back to Montana. At home I had a wife waiting for me. Something was very special about this dog.  He was his own little guy; there was something human about him.  He was independent, smart and sweet.  I am not sure what he did to me but I took the business card and ripped it into tiny little pieces and threw it out the window.  Sorry for polluting but it just had to happen. Toby was there to stay and I was not going to let him go.

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Tobi and I learning how to bird hunt.

 

When I got home I hid Toby in a spare room and when my wife arrived I told her I had a surprise and to sit down.  I opened the spare room door and Toby came prancing out, my wife looked at him horrified and said, “A DOG?!!!”  “Yes! A dog…his name is Toby.” That didn’t go over very well.  I gave her a hug to try to fix the damage and Toby put himself between us and pushed her away with his front paws.  I knew this was going to be trouble and it was.  Toby and my wife never got along until our divorce and he and I have been inseparable since.

I changed his name from Toby to Tobi and he officially became Italian.  He is like an extension of me. Where I go he goes, no question asked. We have become gypsies together.  He has seen me go through a divorce and has been there during the good and the bad.

He and I started hunting together and we made all the errors both dogs and humans can make, times four.  But we finally got it dialed.  I still look back at the things we have done together and find it hard to believe you can do such things with a dog.  I can’t imaging these past 12 years without him and what is bitter about this sweet story is that I can imagine my future without him.  He is part of who I am and now that I see him barely holding on at 13 I feel the pain of the inevitable future. You might think this story has ended but in reality it just started.  It took me 6 years to find out the truth of why Kory gave Tobi away and more truth about Tobi that makes for a heartbreaking story. Hold on.

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Tobi opening the back gate

 

You can tell Tobi to “STAY” in the middle of the wilderness or on a busy street in San Francisco and he will wait for you, unleashed, until you come back.  But you can’t force him to stay in a confined area he doesn’t want to stay in.  My fenced back yard was one of those places and I learned that on my first month with him.  He wanted to be at the front of the house, either underneath the birch tree or on the front steps.  He liked to watch people walk by. I’d put him in the back yard and within minutes he would be in the front.

I couldn’t figure out how he got out.  I would watch him and he just walked around smelling things.  As soon as I turned my back he would be in the front.  One day I had had enough and I hid in the house and watched him from the windows.  He went on doing the usual, sniffing around.  Then suddenly he stopped, looked behind his back to make sure no one was around and ran to the gate.  Once he arrived at the gate he stopped, looked behind his back again.  Stood on his hind legs, with his left paw pulled the string that releases the gate while pushing the door with the right paw and he was out of there.  I know exactly why he didn’t want anyone to see him.  Because of what happened next.  I raised the string to where he couldn’t reach it.  He then figured out that if he tapped the gate really fast with his front paws at the right frequency it would cause the release to open.  I put a rubber band to keep the release from opening. That trick didn’t keep him in too long.  He figured that with enough speed if he pounded the gate it would open. I put a rope around the gate just in time to watch him climb over the archery target and hop over the fence.  I moved the target away from the fence so he pushed a box to the fence and hopped over.  That’s when I gave up.  For the past 12 years, on any sunny day, you will find Tobi sitting in the front of the house, watching people go by.  That’s all he wanted and not once has he ran away or got himself in trouble.

The best present I have ever had.

The best present I was ever given.

The more time I spent with Tobi, the more I realized what an amazing dog he was and how damn fortunate I was to have him.  I am a type A perfectionist for whom everything can be better.  There was nothing about Tobi that I wanted different or better. Kory had given me the best gift I could have hoped for.  Tobi is part canine but mostly human.  His wicked smartness is what I truly loved about him.  One time during a cold snap, a bunch of show dumped over Bozeman.  I took my skies to take advantage of some fresh powder at the local ski hill and left Tobi home.  One thing about German Shorthair Pointers is that they have short hair.  That’s right. They can’t take the cold.  It was 0 degrees out and after skiing all day I checked my phone messages. There was a message from my friend Wayne who lives on the opposite side of town. “Paolo, swing by my house to pick up Tobi, he just showed up on my front steps.” While I was skiing Tobi went out, to probably pee and locked himself out.  I found his footprints all around the house; he tried to get in but couldn’t. Next reasonable thing to do was finding another warm place to go before he froze to death.  Somehow Tobi found his way to Wayne’s house walking all the way across town.  I am sure he stopped at every friend’s house until he found one of them at the door.  I could write a book with similar stories about Tobi that would make you scratch your head.  “Can a dog really think like this?” There is one thing about Tobi that goes with his intelligence, Tobi does not forget.

Tobi at 13 still looking for the dog at the window.

Tobi at 13 still looking for the dog at the window.

In the first two years living at my house on my walk to work there was an obnoxious dog that barked at the window while wildly pouncing on it as we walked by. The window shook violently. I can’t imagine the damage such dog caused. Tobi normally ignores canines, even the ones that bark in his face.  I don’t think he realizes he is a canine himself. He probably sensed my annoyance with this dog and loved to tease him.  I wouldn’t normally allow this behavior but I closed one eye and let him do his thing hoping no one witnessed our poor behavior.  Tobi would bounce around in front of the window until the dog in a complete rage would fall off the bench he was on. Tobi just loved doing it and I just pretended not to notice.  After years of teasing, one day on my way home, the dog was outside unleashed.  Tobi saw him from the distance and stopped.  It was like, “Oh, shit…” I kept walking curious to see what was about to happen.  Tobi did an immediate 180, ran around the block and all the houses and waited for me at the next intersection. I don’t think the other dog ever noticed.

Tobi has never been a fighter.  We never saw this dog again but every time we go by the window Tobi looks for him and even now in his gimpy state he tries to hop around. In these 12 years with Tobi  I had a few significant relationships and everyone of my girlfriends fell in love with the little guy, including, in the end, my ex wife. Tobi is a lover, and there is nothing that he wants more than to be loved and to love, even way before treats.  Some of my girlfriends covered him with affection and he has never forgotten the ones who did.  The same holds true with my friends. The ones who give him love he shows pure excitement when he sees them.

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If Tobi looks away he doesn’t think I can see him.

 

After a year of having Tobi I was about to meet with Kory again on the Deschutes and do some fishing. This was going to be interesting, Tobi NEVER forgets.

Tobi loves to fish. He is not allowed in the water so he doesn’t scare fish but will find any sneaky way to get as close as possible to the action without being in the water.  If he looks away while perching on that rock, he doesn’t think I can see him and know that he is there.  But I am no dummy. Tobi loves to fish and fishing is what Toby and Kory did. I wondered how Tobi would react at seeing his old master, the jet boat, and his past life on the Deschutes.

Kory and I have become good friends since.  Fishing with him on the Deschutes has become a tradition.  He is a good man, one of those friends you are excited to see. We are so different, yet so alike. Our differences never clash. He is religious—I am not. He is republican—I am not. I am Italian—he is not. We have built a friendship I treasure. He always brings me something special to eat, “some good American food”, and of course treats for Tobi.  He doesn’t want me to eat those “caterpillars” as he calls the anchovies I like to eat in sandwiches (with roasted peppers).  He always spoils us on these fishing trips. Kory is generous, kind, always willing to help anyone. On that trip I brought him an old Hardy reel I had had since I was 14, it was the second fly reel I have ever owned and spent over year saving money for it.  He collects Hardy reels and it was my way to say thank you for Tobi.  I don’t think he really understood what that reel and gesture meant to me and grabbed the reel, said thank you and went back to doing his thing.

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Tobi at 13 proudly posing with his covers.

Tobi and I drove up to the Deschutes and we pulled up to Kory’s camp, his jet boat, his truck. Tobi was watching from the seat. Kory saw us, didn’t even say hi to me, ran up to Tobi and opened the door. Tobi jumped out and walked right past Kory and ignored him.  Kory looked at me and said with some disappointment, “You see, he doesn’t even remember me.” But I know better. Tobi never forgets.  Two years later I will find out the first truth about Tobi.

For three years I had asked Kory the name of the breeder because I knew I wanted another Tobi down the road. A purebred German Shorthaired Pointer.  I asked him if he had any papers for Tobi.  I’m not sure why I cared.  He was always vague on his answer, just saying it was someone from Oregon.  I am not a person to give up easily and I kept pressing.

Three years later he told me the first truth about Tobi.  Kory was in a parking lot with his daughter Tristan and there was a guy with a cute puppy.  They went to check out the puppy and you know what a four-year-old will do.  “Daddy, I want one!” Kory asked the guy about the puppy and the guy said there were more puppies from the litter at some guy’s place down the road. “Daddy let’s go see them!  Please!”

Kory drove to the place and found the guy.  He was no breeder, just some shady guy from backwoods Oregon who had some puppies from a Springer Spaniel and a German Shorthair Pointer and was trying to make a few bucks.  Kory and Tristan checked out the puppies. They were filthy, and they all came to the front of the fence and jumped for attention.  Except Tobi, who sat in the back, just looking. He was covered in shit and had no interest in Kory or Tristan. Tobi is no purebred, but has always been a snob. He is a mutt and a cheap one.  Kory paid $50 bucks for Tobi, wrapped him in a towel to keep him from getting the truck filthy and took him home. Tobi grew to look like a shorthair and a very handsome one.  Thanks to my photographer friend Dusan Smetana, he was on the cover of “JUST German Shorthair Pointers” calendars and pages many times and would have made any mutt proud.  He looked like a shorthair on steroids. Deep chest and built like a bodybuilder.

One day a rich hunter on a job, after spending a week with Tobi told me, “I give you 10k for this dog.”

“No.” I replied

“I give you 20k.”

“No.” I replied again

“I give you 30k!”

I then said, “You don’t understand guy, he is not for sale.” It sure would have been a great return to the 50 bucks investment.  Now I would be willing to negotiate.

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Hunting with Tobi is like hunting with a human. Here he telling me “nice shot dad” after retrieving the bird.

At first I was disappointed to find out Tobi was a mutt and not a purebred. In Italy we call mutts, bastardi (bastards).  Initially I kept it my secret and told people he was a German Shorthaired Pointer, but the more time I spent with Tobi the more I realized that a lot of his great characteristics are because he is a “bastard.” I now call him, “my sweet mutt” and I am proud of it.  What is remarkable about Tobi is his versatility.  Not only does he rides with me on my dirt bike, goes on ocean kayaking trips, comes climbing and surfing, travels better than any person I know, knows the difference between dry fly fishing and nymphing, but he is a spectacular hunter.  Being a cross between a pointer and a flusher he will hunt as a flusher or a pointer.  I don’t have to tell him anything.  If we are in thick country, he will hunt close and point or flush if the birds are at gun range.  If we are in open country he will hold the point and let me flush them.

What is remarkable about Tobi is that if he goes on point and I don’t see him, he will break the point, come and find me, bring me back to the birds to go back on point.  He knows how far I can shoot and he knows when I miss an easy shot and trust me, he will let me know. It’s a short quick bark and a frantic trot around where the birds flushed.  The greater number of birds or the closer the birds, the longer my treatment of shame.  I don’t hunt to take birds down, I hunt for my interaction with Tobi. I don’t really care if I miss a bird but he does. I say “I am sorry Tobi” when I miss but it doesn’t help.  Tobi has an excellent nose but what makes him such a great bird dog is that he hunts with his brain and not just instinct. It is like hunting with a human with four legs, a good nose and a bad sense of humor when I miss a bird. As much as I love bird hunting the greatest hunting memories I have with Tobi is bow hunting with him for elk.  Anyone who bow hunts knows how hard it is to shoot an elk with a bow and doing it with a dog at your feet would seem impossible. The way we started hunting together is the next Tobi story.

Tobi and I bow hunting for elk.

Tobi and I bow hunting for elk.

My friend Chuck and I started bow hunting for elk together.  I could write a book about the crazy things that happened during those first few years. We would pack a wall tent in the middle of nowhere and from the middle of nowhere we would hike miles and miles. One time I calculated that in one day we had hiked up and down mountains for 30 miles and this was not on trails.  Through thick woods, ridges, meadows, valleys.  I can only imagine if we had shot an elk at mile 15 when only packing an elk out 4 miles will kill you.

I’d take Tobi on these prolonged trips in the woods and I would tell him to “STAY” at camp.  As you know you can’t force Tobi to stay, you have to ask him.  I also didn’t want to tie him as we were in grizzly and wolf country.  It felt like leaving bait tied up.  It has always been difficult to leave Tobi behind in places inhabited by predators.  I climbed in areas that had mountain lions. Tobi would follow us until he couldn’t and when we would start climbing he would just wait for us at the bottom.  Sometimes we climbed long routes and we would come back to the spot I had left Tobi in the dark.  I’d whistle and he’d come out of the darkness so excited to see us but I was even more excited to see him.

This lifestyle is who I am and I decided way back that I wanted Tobi to be part of it.  Leaving him home was not an option, even with the possibility of losing him to a predator. One time he was chased by wolf, I found wolf tracks following his. He had run from them and found me a mile from my tent.  It still gives me the chills thinking about it.  I didn’t leave him alone after that and next day the pack of wolves surrounded us in middle of a large meadow. They were hiding in tall grass and when Tobi and I walked by, the first wolf popped its head up.  Then another on the opposite side. And another behind us. Within a minute we had wolves all around us staring at us. This is very unusual behavior and maybe they wanted their revenge on Tobi, for getting away from them. We stood there for a minute and then one of the wolves started walking at a good pace towards us.

I used to carry a 44 magnum for grizzlies on hunts but I don’t anymore after I saw a few at close range. On such a large animal you better shoot straight or you will just wound it and that would be the last time you ever shoot a gun. I don’t trust myself shooting straight while been charged by a grizzly. I decided bear spray was a safer option.  I only had my bow and bear spray and decided it was time to go into action.  I ran full speed towards the wolf that was walking at us.  When I got to 50 yards he stopped. I kept running at him. He started barking, I started running faster.  I had to show him who was the alpha and that I was not afraid. When I got to 30 yards he turned around and ran back to 100 yards to where he started walking. I went back to Tobi who stood still where I started running. I could tell he was proud of me for being the alpha. They followed us for two hours hauling and finally left us.

One day Chuck and I had been hunting for hours, we were miles from camp, in the middle of the woods and heard an animal running.  It was coming our way fast. “What the hell is that?” we asked each other.  I cocked an arrow and got ready to shoot.

Tobi barking in excitement after tracking the elk.

Tobi barking in excitement after tracking the elk.

Chuck and I were frozen in place waiting to see what was coming our way. An elk? A bear? A wolf?  Noises in the woods are so deceptive and it is always hard to judge what animals are making the noise.  One time we had been stalking what we thought was elk and I found myself in front of a grizzly at 15 yards thinking that’s how my life ends.  Going back to the noise we heard.  The animal got closer and closer and finally I see Tobi jumping up a log. I couldn’t believe a little dog could make so much noise but mostly I couldn’t believe he had found us so far from camp. I could have told Tobi “BACK!” and he would have walked back to camp. I had done it in the past rifle hunting and he had walked two miles back to camp and the whole time I was sick in my stomach afraid something would take him. I was tired of worrying for Tobi and this time he was to stay and he has been bow hunting with me since.  Initially he stayed with the caller in the back but for the past few years I have been hunting solo with Tobi and I have shot four elk with him at my feet.  Most bow hunters will never shoot an elk with a bow in their lifetime, to be able to do it with dog is extraordinary and probably one of the greatest things I have experienced in my life.

I trained him to follow my movements.  I freeze, he freezes, I walk, he walks.  I move quietly, he moves quietly. Now he is so dialed in that I forget he is there. One time he was 15 yards from me when a herd of elk showed up from nowhere and was moving our way.  If you don’t move elk will not detect you. I froze. Tobi froze. I could see him watching the elk coming our way and he was shivering in excitement but perfectly still.  A cow elk walked up to him, lowered her head and sniffed him.  They were nose to nose but he didn’t budge.  The elk walked away and Tobi turned around and looked at me.  I could see in his eyes what he was thinking, “Why in the hell didn’t you shoot?” I didn’t want a cow. After I shoot an elk, Tobi will track it and if the shot is lethal, he will find it. Even if it was a poor shot and we have to track for miles or  the next day.   Two years ago I shot this elk. I knew Tobi was not going to be around for much longer and I wanted to try to track it and learn how to do it. I made Tobi stay. Not a lot of blood. After 45 minutes, it was getting dark. I gave up and whistled; Tobi came charging down from where I made him stay.  It took him 1.5 minutes to find the elk.

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Kory climbing to the top of PMS on his first hunt for Chuckars.

 

Year after year I came back to the Deshutes to meet up with Kory and fish for steelhead. Every time Tobi has been excited to see him. I know very well why the first time he ignored him. Tobi never forgets.

On one of these trips I learned about a new bird, chukar partridge. Chukars have since become my favorite birds to hunt and I have chased them all over the west. They live in the most rugged and scenic terrains and if you can hit a chukar you know you can shoot. When you are lucky, they give you a second to press the trigger—usually you just see a flash. As backwards as it may sound, I don’t mind coming back with empty hands or just a few birds as long as we saw plenty of them and had some good points.  I really don’t need to kill a bird. It’s like catch and release in fly fishing with the excitement of the hunt and the interaction with your dog while experiencing the beauty of the place.

Kory would take me with the jet boat and drop me off in different parts of the canyon and Tobi and I would climb up to the top and hunt. One of the spots we called PMS.  Not as you may think, this is the Paolo Marchesi Slope. This is not really a slope, we are talking a serious climb to get to where the chukars are and you have to be in top shape to get up.

After a few years of doing this, one day Kory asked me, “Can I come and hunt with you guys?” I looked at Kory somewhat incredulous. He had gone through a very difficult divorce that hit him hard. He was 35 pounds overweight, out of shape, and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I would like to come.” he replied.

We decided to go and hunt PMS that is the easiest way up. I had no doubt Kory would give out on the first third of the climb but I would never tell someone not to do something they want to do.  I started climbing with Tobi in front and kept an eye on Kory. Slow and steady he went. I waited for him to drop anytime. He kept coming and I kept going. We climbed and climbed and I knew Kory was about to drop dead. I kept going and he kept coming.

Tobi and Kory on their first hunt together at the top of the Deschutes.

Tobi and Kory on their first hunt together at the top of the Deschutes.

Kory kept going until he made it to the top. My jaw kind of dropped. How did this guy, who smokes a pack a day, is 35 pounds overweight make it to the top? It didn’t make any sense and I knew there was something about Kory that I didn’t know.  I was about to find out something incredible about him.

The Deschutes canyon is one of those places that remind you how lucky you are to be alive.  When you are at the top, that’s what I imagine heaven would be like if there was such a place.  I let Tobi do his thing and Kory followed. After a few hours of serious walking and finding a few birds I asked Kory, “Are you ready to head down?” He replied “No, let’s keep going.”

We hunted and hunted and I knew this out of shape, overweight smoker had a past I didn’t know about.  Kory is a humble reserved man and never brags. I spend a lot of time on rivers fly fishing. I dedicated my life to fly fishing; one of my license plates read “FISH BUM”. I moved to Montana to fly fish. I have a tattoo of a stone fly the length of my forearm. When I was in college, I broke up with a girlfriend because she didn’t fish. I told her, “Fly fishing is my religion.”

I think I can fish but when I see Kory fish, I know I have a lot to learn.  I have never seen anyone fish for steelhead and cast a spey rod like he does but every time you say something about how good he is he will reply, “Oh come on, if you want to see someone who can fish you should see my friend Ralph.” I still haven’t met Ralph but at this point I picture him with wings. He must be an angel. At the end of the day I asked Kory. “How in the hell did you get up?” He finally told me about the 100-mile bike race he had done.  He was first and a few miles from the finish line his tire blew up. He changed the tire while other racers passed him. He got back on the bike and by the end of the race he took second place. That’s the kind of athlete Kory used to be. After the divorce he started smoking and never exercised again because that’s what he did with his ex wife, obsessively.  It had been 10 years. We had an incredible day on the Deschutes and at the end of the day Kory looked down at Tobi and said, “I want custody back,”, I smiled.  Unknown to anyone Tobi had just changed Kory’s life and I was about to find out the truth of why Kory gave Tobi away.

Tristan and Tobi reunited after many years of thinking he was dead.

Tristan and Tobi reunited after many years of thinking he was dead.

I had planned a trip to Indonesia to surf. I was going to spend three weeks and found a cheap flight leaving from Seattle. Kory lives a few hours from the airport. I called Kory and asked, “Would you like to hunt the Deschutes and watch Tobi for three weeks?”  “Yes, but I am going to have to tell Tristan about Tobi,” he said.  Before my trip I met with Kory on the Deschutes and he told me the story about Tobi.  The first year we had met on the Deschutes he was going through a vicious legal battle with his ex wife.  She wanted to take his daughter away from him.  I have never known a father as devoted to his daughter as Kory is.  She is everything to him.  One of the things his ex wife told in this legal battle is that Kory had a vicious dog that bit his daughter.  Kory loved Tobi but wasn’t about to take any chances.  The day he gave me Tobi, he went back home and told his daughter Tobi had died.  He felt she was too young to understand and didn’t want to explain the truth.  She was devastated and six years later was about to find out Tobi was alive and she was going to reunite with him.  While I was in Indonesia Kory sent me this picture of Tristan and Tobi.  [insert photo] When I came back from Indonesia I went to pick up Tobi and I expected Tristan to hate me.  But she is just like her father, a kind soul.  She was around 11 at the time. We talked and talked and she never once made me feel like I should give Tobi back.  She just said, “I can’t believe dad told me he was dead.” I told Tristan what a good life Tobi had and how much I treasured him and how fortunate I felt and she was genuinely happy for both of us.  I will never forget the graciousness of such a young soul. I left their house with even a deeper appreciation for Kory and his daughter. You might think the story is over but it only gets better.

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Kory and Decker Chuckar hunting somewhere in Oregon.

 

After I left, Kory went to a breeder and got Decker.  Decker is a purebred German Shorthaired Pointer. Kory stopped smoking, started running, pretty much retired his jet boat and fly rod (damn it!), lost 35 pounds and has been chasing chukars up and down Oregon and Idaho ridges ever since.  Now he is running marathons and is back to being the athlete he was and is so ready to kick my ass on PMS. That’s why I haven’t been back since.  He used to call me the mountain goat and I don’t want to lose that status. Tobi had changed his old master’s life and put him back on his feet. One time I asked Kory.  “How is Decker?  Is he a good dog?” I have several friends who have gotten or wanted to get a shorthaired because of Tobi and I always wondered how these dogs would compare to him.  Kory replied, “Decker is amazing, he is a great, great dog.  I love him.” And then I asked him the question I really wanted to know.  “Is he like Tobi?” Kory paused for a while and then said,  “Paolo, Decker is a dog and is like having a dog. Tobi is a human and is like having a family member,” and that’s the answer I was afraid to hear.

My friend Piero, who is in his 60s and has been around hunting dogs his whole life, comes from a family of hunters with his cousin being the top breeder of Italian hounds.  He has been around hundreds of hunting dogs, including champions. After having known Tobi for many years, over and over and over he has told me.  “Paolo, you will never find a dog like Tobi, he is a dog of a lifetime.”  One day Piero got lost in the woods while we were fishing in Washington.  Somehow Tobi knew, left my side, went looking for Piero and brought him back to me.  I don’t know how Tobi knows these things.

Tristan, Diesel and Decker

Tristan, Diesel and Decker

Kory won the legal battle against his ex wife and kept custody of Tristan.  Tristan is now 17 and studying law enforcement to be a cop.  She takes classes in Krav Maga (martial arts for policemen) and has her own dog Diesel.  I sure will not try to take her dog this time or I could be in trouble.  Now that we have discovered the whole truth about Tobi and Kory, is time to tell you why I have been writing this.  The last few posts have been the hardest ones to write.

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The little sweet booklet.

 

My ex girlfriend Jordan, knew how much I missed Tobi when I was gone and had to leave him behind. One day while I was on a job and she was watching him she made this little booklet.  “To my Daddy— so I am always with you when you are gone.” It has all these sweet pictures of Tobi with little funny quotes.  One is a picture of Tobi in her bed, with his head on her pillow: “I sleep a lot when you are gone, in beds!” He is not allowed in my bedroom or on the furniture.  I know it is easy to forget that Tobi is a dog but I have my boundaries.  Then there is a picture of Tobi with a rose balanced on his nose.  You could balance anything on Tobi’s nose and tell him to stay. There’s a bunch of pictures of Tobi in funny outfits, and my favorite—the one of him with bunny ears and bunny feet.  There are also many pictures of Tobi doing things he can’t do anymore.  Like running, jumping off rocks into the water and being the dog that he was.  Now, I have to pick him up and help him into my car.  I have to help him go down steep steps.  I have to wait for Tobi on walks.  I can’t call him any more as he can’t hear me.  He gets cold easily, he is jumpy, whiny, and grumpy. He has had a few accidents that are not physiological but behavioral.  In his old age I gave him a break and I am not as strict as I used to be and he knows he can get away with things like breaking into the food.  But he is still smart enough to get into Argos’s food that is presumably a dog-proof container with lock.

The last time Jordan watched Tobi she returned him to me and told me she cried too much seeing him like this.  She has never watched him again.  He has become difficult to care for and even the people who loved him find reasons not to be with him and that hurts as much as watching him come to an end.  Only my love for him and the memory of the Tobi I knew keeps me going.  Incredibly, Tobi can still find energy to hunt and only then I see a glimpse of the dog he was.  I know this will not last.  As I hold this booklet in my hand and look at the picture on the cover I read, “To my Daddy— so I am always with you when I am gone.” Tobi will always be in my heart.

Bear jumping to fetch a ball.

Bear jumping to fetch a ball.

Bear and Tobi spent a lot of time together when they were young.  My friend Wayne was one of my climbing partners for many years and Bear was his dog.  Bear was the one who liked to dig by my camera equipment and throw dirt all over it.  I was annoyed by it and intolerant.  A year later I got Tobi and he taught me how wonderful dogs can be.  I started looking at Bear in a different light.  Bear was a sweet dog and I just couldn’t see beyond the dirt on my camera gear.  I was uptight and ridiculous.  Wayne, Bear, Tobi and I spent a lot of time together.  We did some of my first bird hunts together.  We climbed all over and Bear and Tobi just waited for us at the bottom of the climb.

Wayne had the same close relationship with Bear I have with Tobi.  He loved him.  Recently I saw a post from Wayne.  “I am sorry Bear, I wish I didn’t throw that ball so far.” Bear loved to fetch in the water and Wayne threw a ball in the river.  Bear never came back and Wayne never saw him again.  Bear was 12.  I cried.  As I watch Tobi deteriorate I think about this incident a lot.  Bear lived a happy dog until the last second of his life.  This summer on a fishing trip into a deep canyon while hiking out, Tobi’s legs gave out from underneath him.  He fell to the side, closed his eyes and I thought he was dying.  I petted him, convinced he was leaving me.  I felt strangely peaceful and relieved. I thought of Bear.  I sat there for an hour petting him, Tobi breathing quietly.  I was trying to give him some water but he wouldn’t drink. I pulled out some nuts and when Tobi smelled the nuts he was up like a spring.  Of course, he is a little piglet.  I ended up carrying him up on my back with Argo who was three months old under my arm.  When I got to my car I was exhausted and relieved Tobi was alive but part of me was sad. I hope Tobi will leave me being a happy dog, doing something he loves like Bear did.

Tobi giving me a little kiss during the photo session.

Tobi giving me a little kiss during the photo session.

My mother has been following my posts on Facebook from Italy and at one point she commented.  “Normally I don’t like love stories but I am intrigued.” I didn’t think about it that way but it is.  It is a love story.  This is the story of a special dog and a man who has fallen in love with him.  A man who is struggling with the reality that his dog’s life is coming to an end and doesn’t know how to cope with it.  As you have probably figured I am writing this for myself. I am writing this for Tobi, too bad he can’t read.  This is my tribute to him, my way to process and to try to mend my broken heart. “This for you Tobi, my sweet old man, and all the love and joy you have given me in these 12 years.  I hope that when you leave I will be left standing.”

This story has come to an end but it is the beginning of a new life. Tobi, once again, has changed my life. I started writing a book.  “The Story Of An Italian Outdoorsman And The Dog Who Changed His Life”.  I decided that writing is something I want to pursue and is never too late to start. Writing this tribute has been a painful process. I am not sure whether it was therapeutic or not.  As I was watching Tobi getting lost in his old man’s world, being a different dog, I was distancing myself from him. Maybe it is his way to leave me and let me know is time.

Writing this tribute made me remember all the sweet moments and all I can say is “Tobi I love you.”

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