Thursday, May 19, 2016

How do you relate to your dogs?



What my dog means to me.


bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby, Cap, Ace and me
I never considered I would be stumped by a question about how I felt about my bird dogs!  I pondered a bit, then considered some, and slid easily into some contemplation, but I couldn’t get a handle on “what my dog means to me”!

Finally, I approached the answer in a logical way.  Would I die for my dogs, like I would for my wife? Would I offer myself up in my dog’s stead, to keep him alive?  No, I wouldn’t do that.  However, would I put myself at risk for my dog?  Absolutely, I would!  If my dog was going through the ice, would I jump in to save him? Without one iota of doubt would I break ice all the way and swim if I had to.  Would I get between him and an angry bull?  Of course, I would. I’ve done it.

   Once, I was hunting Woodcock in local swamp.  We must have startled the sleeping deer hunter, high up in a tree.  He woke up and started yelling at the top of his lungs, cussing like a sailor, until, finally, he said, “I ought to shoot your dog right now!”  My calm demeanor changed in a flash, and I suggested he reconsider that action as ill-advised.  I’m still shocked at my instant, and unsettling, response to a threat to my dog!  So, it looks like my wife and kids come out a little ahead of my bird dogs in the “die to protect” category, which, I’m sure, is comforting to the home folks.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Bo and me winning the 2001 Quail Unlimited National Championship Trial

I look back over the many years and realize what my dogs have given me.  Through personal problems and financial setbacks, professional trials and tribulations, my bird dogs gave me unconditional love and gratitude.  They kept me on the straight course, just by virtue of the fact that I needed to care for them and they needed me.  I took a friend to my kennels, one time, and we played with the dogs for a bit.  We sat down near the kennels and talked and laughed.  Finally, she said, “Why are your dogs all staring at you?  They haven’t moved or taken their eyes off you since we got here!”  The answer was a simple one.  I am the pack leader, the doler-out of food and favor. They crave my affection and attention.  They love me.  You can’t help but return that unconditional love.  The Greek of the Bible has three separate meanings for the word “love”:  Eros- erotic love, philia- brotherly love, and agape- the total unconditional love of God for us.  My dogs show me agape love. That is, and can only be, a settling, stabilizing influence.

Bird dogs and bird hunting
Cap and me Chukar hunting Idaho


My main dog, for many years, was Ace.  A big, male Brittany, Ace was fast, strong, intelligent and a brag dog.  And, he loved me.  I was the center of his universe.  He would bounce around the truck, with his tracking collar on, looking at me and woofing me gently telling me “Let’s go, Boss!”  As soon as I took a few steps in one direction, he’d be off, looking for whatever game bird we happened to be hunting.  Having him in front of me meant frosty mornings, blues skies, cold runny noses and walking down rows of cut corn busting Roosters.  Or, hot, dry days in September, walking coulees and cut wheat looking for Sharptails and Huns in Montana, dodging cactus and drop-offs. Or, cool mornings and warm afternoons chasing Mister Ruff along trails, in Wisconsin, with trees so bright it was almost blinding.  Or, humping grassy hills within view of Mexico, shooting covey after covey of the beautiful Mearns, or climbing over fields of Idaho lava rock cussing Chukar, or dodging pump jacks and oil wells in New Mexico tracking monster coveys of Blues and Gambels. Or, maybe, merely a field trial, not far from the house.  Ace meant everything in the moment to me.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby and me Mearns Quail hunting New Mexico


My friend said I taught him about the “Zen of bird hunting”.  He said I taught him to focus on the immediate, the dog, the location, the track, the plan- but mainly the dog.  If my life is a bullseye, when I'm hunting, the 10 Ring is me and my dog.  Everything else is less.  Ace and me.  Agape love.


bird dogs and bird hunting
Ace with two Roosters






Friday, May 6, 2016

My little one, Pearl, field trialing. Git 'er done!

In every pack or every group of bird dogs a fairly strict social hierarchy exists.  At the top of my pack is the ruler of the kingdom and the doler out of the favors- that would be me.  Next, the top dog, is Cap (he thinks of himself as the "wonder dog") followed by Ruby, then Shack.  Low on the totem pole is Pearl.  She's the youngest female and is the smallest, as well.   At two and one half years, she still gets more of a thrill out of seeing a covey fly then locking them down and waiting for me.  This is not an insurmountable problem, and I fully expect this year to be her year to put it all together, but when the unavoidable comparisons are made with the rest of the pack....well, she is my happy little girl. 


bird dogs and bird hunting
Pearl pushing hard.




Trialing
I trial all my dogs.  It teaches them so many good things and it makes me teach them the basics.  A dogs that will point, retireve and back, hunt objectives and remain obedient in the field will be able to transition to the hunt very easily, I've found.  My trial format of choice is NSTRA (National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association).  I took my little girl to a NSTRA trial the other day, just to test the waters.  I think she did very well, although the score card may not have reflected that opinion.  She had lots of heart and worked hard to the very end.  
 
bird dogs and bird hunting
Where to now, boss?

bird dogs and bird hunting
Hey, I found one....right here!

bird dogs and bird hunting
Get him up, boss!  I'm ready.

bird dogs and bird hunting
Nice shot and retrieve!
So, she may not be my hottest ball-of-fire.  But she's still my girl and she's still in the line-up.  I can feel it in my bones that this will be her "break out" season.  My little Pearl. 


(All photos by Jeff Hurndon)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Summer pondering.

The old boy is gone now. When he was little, you couldn't wipe the grin off my face.  He was fast and sure, didn't bump birds, retrieved to hand.  He was a bull in the field, no matter the cover or terrain.  Confident and very sure of himself, I would bite my tongue to keep from bragging about him.  Every so often, I'd slip up and would reply, "Oh yeah.  Not to worry." when asked if he was going to be able to make a particularly difficult retrieve in Idaho.  Or, if he would get out and hunt the prairie in Montana for Huns and Sharps. 

I have hundreds of pictures of him coming in with many different game birds in his mouth.  The one on the homepage of my BLOG brings up a particularly intense memory. 
bird dogs and bird hunting
Ace and Two


 Eight years ago, I was hunting, alone, in North Dakota.  I was covering ground, every day, that I'd covered year after year.  I knew every roll of land, coulee, stream, tree and badger hole.  After a few days hitting the favorites, visiting friends and killing roosters, I sat down over dinner and grabbed the PLOTS (Private Land Open to Sportsmen) Map and looked for something different. I noticed an area designated a Waterfowl Production Area. A big lake surrounded by grass and tree lines, surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of cut wheat.  Anyone who hunts ditch-chickens will begin to drool at that habitat.  It was perfect.  

This was late in the season, however, and I knew, since this was public land, the hunting pressure would have been intense on this perfect piece.  But, the old boy and I left the young pups in the truck, loaded the 20 ga. with Prairie Storm 3" 5's, and eased down from the parking area toward some tree lines in the distance.  The weather was perfect with a northerly breeze, blue skies and a nippy chill.  The dog waited until I took a few steps to indicate the direction, then he took off into the light brown grass.  We headed down a slight hill into some rows of millet and corn, headed for the tree line that bordered the area.  On the other side of the trees was cut wheat.  

We crossed three other tree lines and the grass fields between them.  I gave him plenty of time to run the edges and through the center. Nothing after a half hour, or so.  He was the perfect predator on a perfect day.  He wasn't even breathing hard- just working that nose and looking for likely habitat for the pheasant. I never said anything, or whistled.  He worked from 50 to 450 yds away- most of it out of sight.  I used an early model Garmin tracker and occasionally was lost in thought on my stroll through the country.  We hit the last tree line and I got on the upwind side and let him work the downwind side with that nose of his.  It wasn't long before the Garmin paged me back to the real world- POINT!  I couldn't see him in the thick trees, but he was 150 yards ahead, and slightly right.  We were getting to the end of the row and, knowing him, he had one pinned between him and me.  I walked up with the gun ready as the big, old rooster blew out right in front of me heading for the big wheat field.  The dog was ten feet behind and in full stride when the rooster hit the wheat. He scooped it up and put it in my hand. We sat for a little and admired the colorful rooster before we started back to the truck.  Back up the hill, through tree lines, temp dropping and the wind biting a little bit.  Point! Right in the middle of a grassy field, straight ahead 50 feet.  I chuckled when I saw the old dog turned like a pretzel and locked down on a big clump of grass.  His eyes were glassy and his jaws worked- "eating scent" I like to call it.  Something else was different, though.  I was just about to take a closer look, when the grass shook and a squawking, cussing flash of mad rooster blew up and out.  He dropped easily and Ace brought him to hand.  I grabbed my water bottle for him and he was drinking when I saw what was different.  He had 10+ porcupine quills sticking out of the side of his face!  No doubt due to a close encounter in one of the tree lines.  We sat down and I pulled them out with my Leatherman tool.  He was stoic through it all. Just as I knew he would be.  He bagged two roosters with fine work and got quilled in the face.  Just another day at work.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Breeding for the perfect bird dog...a different way to get there.

bird dogs and bird hunting
2XNSTRA CH FlyBoy Ace's Delta Captain (Cap)
Since Ace passed away, his puppy, Cap, has been my main dog.  In the field or on the trial grounds, Cap has stepped up and is outstanding in both venues.  As close as last February, when I took the dogs to Oklahoma for the closer, Cap was a star.  At five years old, Cap spent most of his life in the shadow of his dad, Ace.  When birds needed finding, when conditions were tough and adverse, Ace was the main guy.  Whoever got to run alongside him needed to know how to back and have the manners Ace demanded.  Cap was second fiddle.  Now, at the top of the list, he's showing the mettle that his dad passed down.  His mom was a daughter to Nolan's Last Bullet, so the genetics are there.  It's good to see him fulfill that potential.  In Oklahoma, we arrived at the end of the season.  It was perfect hunting weather, cold and damp. The parking areas were beat down and bird feathers were scattered around- I just knew the wild birds had been shot up.  I put Cap and Shack (another Ace puppy, 2 yo) out and jumped the fence, loading my gun.  Before I even had my mind straight, Cap's Alpha pager went off, followed closely by Shack's. 200 yds away, Cap had a covey nailed with Shack backing from a respectful distance! It was a small covey, 10-12 birds, and they didn't hang around long, but we managed to put one in the bag and move on.  Over the next hour, Cap pointed 3 coveys and Shack 1.  We never moved more than 300 yards from the truck. I was very impressed with the little guy! The numbers don't reflect his drive and intelligence, all subjective stuff a dog man can sense more that see.  Shack was coming along, as well, and that thrilled me, too.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Cap 2nd Place 2015 GA Region Championships

Breeding

Several friends in the field trial world and hunting world, as well, contacted me to breed Cap to their females.  I figured his genetics were well worth passing on, in fact, my next breeding here at home will be to Ruby (NSTRA CH FlyBoy Ace's Ruby Deux), a direct daughter of Nolan's Last Bullet and 2016 GA Region Champion.  From that litter, I will keep two pups for my my follow-on bird and hunting dogs.   When we arrange a breeding, it's the old fashioned way.  Wait 10 days from when the female first started bleeding and couple them 3 times over the next 5 days (or variations on that theme).  This last month, a friend wanted to breed Cap while we were at a field trail in N. GA.  We were pressed for time and a little concerned about finishing in time.  The owner of the property is a vet and his brother, also a vet, said we should "Fresh AI" them.  New to me, it's a procedure whereby the semen is collected on the spot and then inserted into the female- all within 5-10 minutes!  Easy , fast and with no drama!  After 2 of those sessions over the 3 days of the trail, I feel very comfortable that the results will be positive.  Turns out, after talking to several people in the know, this procedure is becoming very popular- and I can see why!   Of course, there are cautions, and initially I would want a vet to do the procedure. But, the process is not difficult and I know a few pros that do their own Fresh Artificial Insemination.  I was impressed with the entire procedure and I think it's the way of the future for breeding these bird dogs! 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Having some fun in the off season! NSTRA.

bird dogs bird hunting
Randy and Ruby
I first ran a +NSTRA (National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Assoc.)  field trial in 1993 (perhaps 1992 or 1994, but '93 is my best guess.).  My member number is 8381 and we are way past the 4-digit numbers, now.  I remember where that first trial was, too.  In N. Georgia at a man's farm by the name of Chuck Parkerson.  Chuck, and the fledgling Georgia Region, wanted new members and advertised in the Georgia Market Bulletin. They said you could have fun with your bird dog, more action per acre, and extend the hunting season.  The yuppie, with the Brittany his wife bought out of the Atlanta paper for his birthday, showed up to see what it was all about.  It rained and was cold and dogs ran off, trucks got stuck......but, it was a great time!  I had a blast and never looked back!  I was hooked on the field trial game.  (www.nstra.org)

Back then, I walked fast and grumbled because I couldn't get a decent workout in during the day. I was known to change into running shorts and take off for an hour run between braces. Now, I grumble when I run more than 4 braces in one day, because my legs cramp and I'm sore all night!  
bird dogs bird hunting
Handmade "Jeff Welker Original" First Place Trophy

Back then, I worried my dogs wouldn't back. Now, I worry because they back too much. 

Back then, I thought a bird dog was a bird dog and it was all about the training. Now, I know genetics are paramount, but it's still a lot about the training.  


Back then, a trophy was incredibly important. Now, how my dog performs is incredibly important, way more than any trophy.  

bird dogs bird hunting
Rotating Trophy
The Trial

Fast forward to today:  We (Ruby) managed to win the 2016 Georgia Region NSTRA Championships.  Over the years, we managed to place Second twice, Third twice, Fifth once and Sixth once.  I made a comment at the end that I felt like I was always the Bridesmaid and never the Bride!  Well, all that ended last weekend.  My dog, Ruby (NSTRA CH Flyboy's Ruby Deux), won the Region Championship!  I qualified three dogs for the championship trial, Cap (my go-to male Brittany), Shack (my young, up-and-comer male Brit) and Ruby (my female Brit, who just had a litter 28 Dec!).  I almost didn't enter her, since her puppies had only been gone a month and I wasn't sure she would be fit enough for 6+ runs in three days.  Apparently, I was wrong. Not only did she have the fitness (we did work hard on that), but she had a tremendous desire!  She missed one hunting trip with her puppies and a few field trials.  Do you think she didn't know where I was and what I was doing without her?  I'm lucky she didn't bite me when I got back and brought three tired and skinny bird dogs home. 
nstra, bird dogs bird hunting
Randy/Ruby, Jared Roberts/Dice,Terry Taylor (Linda Lowe)/Belle, Brennan Greene/Toothpick

From the first run Friday, until the last retrieve on Sunday, she ran a hard and thoughtful race.  I swear I saw her return to an area (at least twice, I saw this) and work it until she found and pointed a bird that was buried up in tall fescue! She's always been a thinker- and that will slow down a dog.  Many times, the hard charging, run to the front dog will find more birds, while the thoughtful, methodical dog will be left behind in the race.  This weekend, Ruby managed to use her head and her speed to her advantage.  In addition, when I needed her to listen to me, she did.  We were truly a team. 
field trial bird dogs bird hunting
Region President Gene Pritchett, me and my wonderful wife, BJ.
So, now, the lady is retired.  She has nothing to prove to anyone.  She has her NSTRA Championship and her Region Championship and it's time for her to retire and make room for our follow-on male ball-of-fire, Shack.  She will be my quiet, no drama, steady hunting dog and she will make my next puppy for the string.  I never need to wonder when I drop the tailgate in Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, North Dakota, or anywhere, what dog I have when she jumps to the ground.  I have my steady, reliable champion.  My girl. 
bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby (Photo by Nancy Whitehead)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A different slant on the election. Who is looking out for the birdhunter?

I'm not a political creature.  I pay attention, I vote for who I think would do the best job (in this case, leading the country.), and I demand a certain sense of character/decorum/attitude from that person.  Long "coffee house" discussions bore me, and I've noticed they are usually more about the speaker than about the issue.  Speaking of issues, The big ones, Defense, Security, the Common Good, etc are obviously most important. After all that, how about the really minor stuff? Who's looking out for us?

For example, the Public Land issue out West has been a brief flare now and then in the news.  What would Hillary or Bernie or Donald or Ted or Marco do with them?  Would they turn them over to the states?  Would they continue to keep the Federal ownership and accessible to all of us?  I think the answers might surprise a few people. 


This is a BLM map of a piece of NM. Each square is a square mile (640 AC.). Currently, all of it, except the white squares, belongs to you- almost all of it huntable without permission.   This is an example of what's available to the hunting sportsman right now. Will the states do a better job of protecting it and still allow access?  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Some Photos of Oklahoma Hunting by Christine Harrison

Blues sauntering by.
 
Running into Robert Wagnon and Christine Harrison proved to be fortuitous.  Little did I know, when I invited them to hunt with me the next day, that Christine is a professional photographer! My first clue was the very expensive camera with huge lens attached dangling from her neck, but slung out of the way so that her shotgun would not bang it.  Robert told me she likes to take pictures almost as much as shooting quail! These are some of the pictures she took during our day strolling the Oklahoma prairie.  
 

Checking a large roost.

Watering Cap

Robert and Me

Where'd they go?

Me and Cap


We had a great day chasing covey after covey through the sand dunes and Christine captured a lot of it on film.  She really knows her way around a camera, and she and Robert were delightful companions in the field.  https://ccsphotographyonline.smugmug.com/

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Late Season Bobs



Shack and Me

A few weeks after returning from New Mexico, I was ready to head somewhere with the dogs.  They were at the top of their game, totally fit and ready to load up.  Over dinner after a movie, I casually mentioned to the BandC that quail season was still open in parts of the west.  In moment of weakness, she allowed as how she'd be OK with my absence for a few days. 'Nuff said!  I was out the door at 0400 the next morning headed to Oklahoma!

Shack on a covey.


Why Oklahoma?  I missed the opener, due to the heat and really not wanting to drive 12 hours from North Dakota (hunting pheasant) just to go shoulder to shoulder with every other birdhunter from the South.  It was hot that weekend, so I turned West and went back to Montana for some Sharptails and Huns.  Now, here I am in the last few weeks of a banner year, hunting public land and easily finding large coveys.  Yes, they've been flushed numerous times and they are a bit "wild",  but my boys really did well with them and put me in shooting range a lot over the next 5 days.

Pearl on her own covey.

I hunted public land.   Oklahoma has several large 10,000+ acre Wildlife Management Areas around the state that are managed for birds (quail, dove, etc.).  Of course, they get a lot of pressure throughout the year, especially in a year like this one, with a bumper crop of quail. One of my past favorites was Cooper WMA, near Woodward, OK.  Rolling sand hills, with mesquite and plenty of ragweed and sunflowers and water tanks, give Cooper a perfect habitat for Bobwhites.  Fort Supply WMA (across the street from Cooper) is another great spot.  There are many listed in the "Where to Hunt" section of the state website.  Each has a listing for  a resident biologist or manager and they are most helpful with your questions.  ("Where are the most coveys?" questions might not get answered. Really? Do some scouting.)  For example, at Packsaddle WMA, the resident manager advised me to "get a mile away from a road or parking area since 99% of hunters make a mile loop".  I thought about it, and he's right.  I do the same thing.  Black Kettle WMA is located in the Black Kettle Grasslands and it's spread around in separate tracts.  But, maps are available and the tracts are large and easy to find, well marked.  Caution!!!!  Some (not all) of the WMA's close for hunting at 4:30 PM. You need to check (closely) the regs for each area to see which ones.  The rumor I heard was that a prominent bird hunter from the Idaho area suggested this rule to protect the Bobs when they start coveying up for the night.  Whether that's true (I think it is), or not, don't be on the receiving end of a $200 fine. 

Habitat.


I started out at Black Kettle WMA and had some initial success.  We hit a few spots and found a few coveys.  Lots of hunters were in the area. There were four groups with dog trailers at my motel, some had been there more than a week.  I had some trouble locating areas that were not "claimed", by the time I found a nice one.  (Interestingly, I saw plates from Kansas, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.) So, I packed up and moved to another WMA further North.  Few hunters, sandy, hilly terrain and a great population of Bobwhites met me the next day.  The first afternoon, in 2 hours, I found 4 coveys and never got farther than 400 yards from the truck! The dogs, fresh from working the running SOB's in New Mexico, were loving life on these tight-holding Bobs.  I'm still smiling!

Cap with Pearl backing. (She's hard to see.)


The good thing about very late season hunting is the corporate information available on bird numbers, habitat and locations.  Of course, the bad thing is the fact that the birds have been shot into for the last 3-4 months.  This year, that didn't touch the numbers.  The numbers of hunters, of course, was way down, as well. And, to me, that is a great thing.  To have thousands of acres to roam and hear nothing but quail whistling and the wind in the trees and grass, that is a special day- a day to drive a thousand miles to experience!


End of a great hunt. 


Heading home. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chasing the Blues

Cap holding a covey.




After the hunt in December was such a success, I knew another trip to New Mexico was in the cards.  This time, however, Ruby was with her litter and it would be only Cap, Shack and Pearl.  With only the three, I would need to be very careful about who ran when and also ensure their food and  nutrition was top-notch (as I do every time).  First, I needed to drop off one of my pups, to his owner in Nebraska, from training here in Georgia.  You know, on the map, it doesn't look like much, but that was a long drive.  The dog got delivered and the Brits and I found ourselves in Southeast NM, once again.  
Bob, me, Terry

I met up with Bob, Robert and Terry, all seasoned Blues hunters, and we hit the caliche roads looking for coveys.  After hunting the area for 10 years, I pretty well knew where to go and I was very comfortable searching for new areas. 
Great Habitat
Roost
I was most interested in getting my two pups, Shack and Pearl (M/F Brits- 2.5 yo) time on these birds, as they are known to be very difficult for a dog.  It takes a solid, intelligent dog to handle these running devils consistently.   I wanted my pups to get a lot of time on against them.  It's  a great year for that. 
Shack (B/M)

Not once did we put dogs on the ground that we not rewarded with at least one covey, usually many more!  There is nothing that trains a new bird dog faster than wild birds. 
Shack with a nice retrieve!

A good afternoon for Shack.
The terrain is hilly, sandy and full of mesquite and sand burrs.  We kept the dogs in boots all the time.  Especially with so few dogs for a week + hunting, I couldn't take the risk at having one of them come up lame due to foot problems.  In addition, I always pay very close attention to their nutrition and sleeping arrangements.  So, my experiment using motorcycle inner tubes (see previous post) worked very well.  I encountered no difficulties with the dog's feet.  They are easy to put on and take off and I used the same four boots on all the dogs they entire time.  During that trip I lost two boots to tears- both due to my removing the tape from the boots. There were no losses due to the terrain.  I had no  foot problems due to trapped sand, etc.  In short, I can heartily endorse the use of the inner tubes for protection against sand burrs, etc., in the Southwest. (http://www.abirdhuntersthoughts.com/2015/06/dog-boots-need-them-or-not-which-brand.html)

Hunting the Dunes!
Siesta Time!
Another item I'm very involved in is the nutrition of my athlete dogs!  I not only feed them a quality kibble (for me it is Royal Canin Adult Medium.  I'm not going to get involved in the dog food debate, there are many good ones out there!), but, when we are on the road competing or hunting, I also supplement their kibble with glycogen supplements, etc.  Back in the day, one or the other of my dogs would "go off their feed" after a week or so and I would be scrambling trying to get them to eat.  That's what led me to dog food research and Royal Canin, etc.  Now, after a hard exertion, I give them a supplemental product called Glycocharge.    I most heartily endorse this product and I've seen the effects over time.  Of course, all my observations have been subjective and not scientific, but, in my opinion, this stuff works.  On another note:  Another product was recommended to me, which I used on this trip and during a 3 day field trial, is Elements Nutrition.  They have products for recovery (similar to glycocharge), hydration, joint care, and an energy supplement.  I used all of them this trip, especially the joint care, recovery and energy supplement.  I believe them to be beneficial and will use them extensively for the next few months' field trials.  I believe they are very much worth a look, if you are considering a supplement for your dog(s).
Heading out.
The outfit.
In all, this was a great last trip of the year.  The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold, and the birds were plentiful.  I'm back home now, playing with my 3.5 week old puppies and imagining their futures as I smell the puppy breath.
Cap and his haul- 6 covey points.
Me, last day.
Last light.
Driving out view.