Monday, November 24, 2014

Quirky Dogs

I have owned bird dogs for most all of my life. I have had several breeds. Some were back yard bred and some were of really strong trial blood. I am not a professional trainer, but I do get a little bit better with each dog. In spite of my imperfections I have been the proud owner of some really nice dogs. All of my dogs have become serviceable bird dogs, but some have taken a lot more work than others. This is often because of my mistakes but not always. One thing I don’t think I will ever understand is how inconsistent some of them can be. Just when you think you really have them sharp.... you don't.
I left the house one morning with the thought of getting Sunnie our two year old setter some experience on chukar. She has had lots of bird experience for a two year old, and some chukar experience, but it had been a year or more since she saw consistent wild chukar. I have always felt like she had the run and style of a big country chukar dog. I wanted to see her start to realize that potential, and I was dreaming of her standing birds as I drove to the desert. When we arrived, I put her on the ground, and she went to work. She was doing what she does eating up big hills and rock fields with that silky smooth gate that she was born with and then boom, she slammed into a point

150 yards below me. As I stumbled to closed the distance in the difficult terrain I could not take my eyes off of her. She was standing beautifully just like I had imagined on the drive up. She held point like she has all of her life even though the wind was blowing briskly. I walked in and about 20 birds exploded from the hillside. My gun tracked one, and then another, and both fell dead. Sunnie retrieved like clockwork and I was in my happy place. I watched the escaping birds and saw exactly where they landed. I was thinking we were about to have a really fun morning. Everyone knows if you give them the hill they will run over the top and leave you standing gasping for air while they flush off the other side. There is no choice you have to get above them to hold them on the hill. So we climbed straight up the steep hill to get above and around on them. When we were on top of them we started our descent. They were right where I thought they would be. When Sunnie got downwind I saw her nose cue into the wind she then accelerated right through the whole covey and chased up every bird in the flock. I was so shocked I did not know what to do. She has been stopping to flush every time for 6 months and pointed strong all her life. After got my jaw to close, and I came to my senses I stopped her with the whoa command, and set her back making her stand while I walked around hopping a straggler would flush. I had no such luck. Thinking this was some sort of fluke I released her and we hunted over the hill in the direction some of the birds went. As we got to the top she cued on scent again turned into the wind and flushed another bird. I was more on my toes this time and hit her with the collar, and this time she at least stopped. I set her back again and went through the motions before I released her, and we hunted on. The same scenario played out one more time. I had seen enough. It was time to pick her up and go back to the drawing board with her.
This kind of thing has happened in one form or another to me for as long as I have tried to train a better dog. I try to assume it is due to my short comings as a trainer/handler. It is best for me to feel this way as it prevents me from getting angry at the dog. Maybe I am even correcting it wrong. I do the best that I can with the knowledge and experience I have. Many of my Facebook friends say they have noticed this behavior when a dog is in or coming in to season. Maybe she will show in the next few days. Some say dogs just have bad days. Maybe the strong breeze was a factor on this day. Maybe dogs are just as quirky as we are and there is no real explanation. The only thing I know for sure is we will get her straight one way or another.

Have you had any experiences like this with your dogs? How did you handle it?

This is a slide show and Video of sunnie's first 6 months

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Pa'tridge... well I've heard that some people call them that. To me they are Ruffed Grouse. I chose to pursue them today. They are a somewhat overlooked resource here in Utah, especially after about the end of September. Many people hunt them early ,but a lot of folks forget the season runs through dec. these days. They are way more fun to hunt in November when the weather permits than in September. It is winter in the high country, but the birds are just beautiful right now.  I ran Tic today with the thought of steadying him up a little on them. Pheasants really loosen him up every year. It is a consequence I am willing to deal with because I love hunting them. It worked, but I had to let the first two birds go because he crowded them. He and I came to an understanding, and it didn't take long for him to remember the way I like him to do things. We had 5 really nice points before all was said and done. I would have posted more pictures of points, but with the snow in the high country, and Tic being white they looked bad so I only posted this one. I think you will see what I mean. Find It was nice to connect on four of the five birds he pointed. One of them is a brown phase, that is always cool to see. They do get up and get out this time of year. Shooting is still difficult on these forest dwelling buggers, but it is so much easier with the leaves off of the trees. Hunting forest grouse has been a nice break up from the prairie birds. Sunie on Blues then Tic on Ruffs.
Some say the Ruffed grouse is the king of upland game birds, while others say the pheasant is. Im not sure if either crowd is right because I cant live without either. Thank goodness for the terrific variety of game birds in the west.
It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Tic showing off

My niece with her favorite bird dog
My fascination with bird dogs started when I was a boy. I remember the first time I saw a dog point as clearly as the rooster Sunnie nailed last Thursday. My father raised German Shorthairs, and though he wasn't big on training he did run the dogs on wild pheasants occasionally. On one of these outings I saw a dog point for the first time. Through the eyes of a child it unbelievable to me that the dog wouldn't try to catch the bird. I also remember how startled I was when the bird flushed. Dads Shorthairs were beautiful dogs that stood solid for a long time when on point with little or no training. They lived in kennels and lacked the manners of a house dog, and were more bird hunting machine than companion. I was a little boy and they would sometimes knock me down but it was only because of their uncontrollable
Having grown up and had a few dogs of my own as well as helped many others with theirs the fact that they point on their own is still a wonder to me.
Sunnie, a ten week old puppy showing point.
energy and never of vicious intent. When he had a litter of puppies I would play with them and try to teach them things even though I didn't know the first thing about training a dog. I would watch them romp around and play, it was so much fun. Sometimes one would show his potential by pointing a grasshopper, butterfly, or a sparrow, and I really thought it was cool that a young puppy would point on his own without being taught. I also wondered if I could use one to find grasshoppers for me to catch as fish bait, but that dream never became reality. I guess its not to late.
   A bird dog is an interesting creature. He can be as close to perfect some days and on others look as if he has never seen the field. Each one is an individual, even within the same breed each is as different from the next as you and I. He is born to do his job. If only I could work with half of the enthusiasm of a 2 year old setter pup I might just be in the Whitehouse. He lives for his purpose and for you and me, but expects nothing in return. He might be expected to learn how to handle many different birds that live in very different terrain. He must learn to hunt closer in heavy cover for Ruffed grouse yet be able to run big in the open chukar hills. He is expected to handle running birds one day and then nervous flighty birds the next. He may even be asked to run in a field trial with different rules all together. It is amazing to me that they can and do learn all this. All in all his ultimate satisfaction is just to please us. To please us! Think about that. What other animal lives with so much love and admiration for another? It blows my mind.
Tic on pont in a field trial
We are the beneficiaries of 100's of years of selective breeding. In this day and age you can buy a dog that not only pleases your eye, but specializes in the terrain and species you hunt. If you do some research within the blood lines of just the English Setter you can buy dogs that naturally range at what ever distance you please, and that grow to nearly any size that you please. This is not to mention the many other breeds available. Short hair, long hair, short tail, long tail, big, small, medium, dogs that don't point at all but flush its all for you to choose from. Even then amongst the dogs that specialize in one thing or another there are the jack of all trade types that are bred to do everything. They will point your birds, retrieve your ducks, trail a fox, and even follow a blood trail to help you track down your wounded big game animal. It is amazing to me that they can and do learn all this. Bird dogs are simply amazing!

   I understand that bird dogs aren’t for everyone, and that owning one is a very real lifestyle choice.
Especially so for those of us who have them in the house. I still cant help but wish that everyone could know what it is like to work with such a fine animal together as a team. The bond between hunter and an old dog he has spent so much time with is difficult to explain yet everyone that has
experienced it knows exactly what I am talking about.

Beyond the hunt a bird dog is always there for you. Always.

Monday, November 3, 2014

One More Apple

As I walk through the landscape that I have spent early November in for 23 consecutive years I can't help but notice the changes that have taken place. The view is still a breathtaking image of an upland landscape. It isn't the glory days when pheasants could be heard cackling in every direction before shooting time on opening day, but there are still a few birds to find. It is funny how I hardly noticed just how beautiful it is when I was younger. Now I look over it with different eyes. As I walk I am haunted by images of old dogs, friends, family, experiences, and events that have taken place there. Every bush, tree, ditch bank, and field is a slideshow of pheasant hunts passed. There is a single apple tree I have picked an apple from every single year. Except for the year there wasn't enough water for the tree to produce any apples. The apples are small, but it is the most delicious apple I eat in any given year. These days many of those fields of memory have lost their beautiful pale yellow grass to the plow. The bird habitat gets more narrow and less dynamic every year. You can't blame the farmer. He is simply trying to scrape a living from the land. I am very worried about the future of this place. Having grown up on the edge of agricultural land I have watched all the farm land near my parent's home turn to subdivisions, mini malls, and box stores. That is what pushed me to find new hunting grounds 25 years ago. Now we face the same thing again in a completely different way. I keep telling myself it isn't as bad as development. It is much more likely a wheat field could be turned back to CRP than a house. I am still saddened by it all, and it is completely out of my control.
So this year as I walk, and I look over the classic fall colors. I see the silhouette of a man, a boy, and a dog walking through the grass below me. I see the light in a young dog's eyes turned on by the first encounter with the intoxicating scent of a wild bird. I see an old rooster cackling from the cover after being bested by an old dog's nose, and brain. I see that old dog living up to his bloodline doing what ever fiber of his being tells him he was born to do. If only we had such purpose. I see the faces of people spending time outside doing something they love. And a thousand other images that I want permanently etched in my mind. I don't want to think of a world without these things. Lastly, I am going to walk over to that apple tree and eat the best apple of the year, and hope it isn’t the last one I eat.