Written by: Simon Perkins
Editor’s note: In the fall of 2020, Orvis President Simon Perkins recognized that his beloved companion, Copa, was coming to the end of her days as a hunting dog. He wanted to give her a chance to return to the Montana prairies of her youth one last time, to run through the grasslands in search of sharp-tailed grouse, and the result was the beautiful film above. It was a moving tribute to an important family member and hunting partner, as she rode off into the sunset. But Copa had other plans, as Simon explains in this remarkable photo essay, written as a series of texts as it happened . . . .
A year later, Copa made it clear she still wants some playing time, at 15 years old. Well, that means only one thing: Pack up the van and get in a quick trip to Montana. We leave tonight!
Making good time in the van, as Copa curls up in the back.
A pit stop with my brother, Charley, includes Copa’s daughter, Maeby, on the left and her granddaughter, Phia, in Charley’s arms. My lab, Cece, is along for the journey, as well.
Van life is communal, and sometimes you gotta make exceptions for the old girl.
All the dogs somehow knew as soon as we crossed into Montana. We arrived at 7 a.m. and quickly transitioned from road-trip mode to hunting mode. Copa had a huge smile the whole time.
Getting the van oriented for a couple days of hunting. The dogs knew exactly where they were and were shaking because they were so excited to get after it. Photo by Andrew Pierce
These three videos were the first day of hunting.
Copa looked like she had gotten several years younger overnight. She went Benjamin Button on us as soon as she got out into the Montana prairie.
Copa’s nostrils were full of scent. Several moments like this where she was sure she had birds, but it was just old scent. Her optimism was youthful and energizing. Videos by Charley Perkins.
We hunted all day. Her stamina was impressive, and she did great, although the old girl desperately wanted a point that was just hard to come by. Photo by Charley Perkins
In Montana, it is all about covering a lot of ground to find wild birds. We felt it in our legs, and I could not imagine being a dog that was 105 in dog years. Video by Charley Perkins
The van was taken over by dogs the whole time. We were lucky enough to be along for the ride. In total, we had five dogs whose average age was 10.4 years. An old crew, but full of youthful energy and loving the chance to hunt a few days in Montana. Photo by Andrew Pierce
Getting one last hunt in with Copa before sundown. Tomorrow is the last day before we come home. So special spending this time with her.
So on the last afternoon of the last day, we got 15-year-old Copa one final romp in the Montana, grasses looking for birds. She hadn’t had a point yet, but I was amazed, in awe, and so happy for the energy and happiness she had shown running the grasslands for the last three days. It was going to be a successful and emotional trip no matter what, but what the hell: let’s go for one more walk before hitting the road for Vermont.
In one of the final patches of hawthorn, she wandered in and stopped suddenly on point. I got around as quickly and safely as I could to try to give myself an opportunity if a bird got up and tried to sneak out the other end.
I got my one shot at the bird and luckily did her proud. She had a huge smile on her face.
Her smile lasted all the way back to the van. . .
. . . and stayed on her face as she lapped up water . . .
. . . and remained as she slept, from the time we ended that final hunt all the way back to Vermont.
We got back to the van, sat there and took it all in. It was the perfect end. We took one last breath of Montana air, the dogs fell asleep happy, and we headed for Vermont.
In the end, we drove straight through the night–34 hours each way–in order to hunt for 3½ days. As I said in last year’s film, dogs will make you do crazy things.
Here is one final shot of our adventurous hunting pack getting it done on the last day. Left to right: is Walt, Maeby, Cece, Phia, and Copa. Photo by Bryce Davies
Simon Perkins is the president of Orvis and a member of the third generation of family ownership.