Saturday, August 2, 2014

Puppies, Debutantes and Coming Out Parties

Flyboy Ace's Black Pearl (Pearl)
A little over a year ago, Ruby came in season.  I got Ruby four years ago, after waiting two years, from Nolan Huffman in South Carolina.  She's a daughter of 32XCH Nolan's Last Bullet (frozen semen) and her mission, besides being an amazing bird and trial dog, was to breed with my Ace dog and produce a follow-on male and female for me.  Eleven months ago, Ruby whelped eleven puppies.  All thrived because she was a super mom. Six females and five males.  Really, the purpose for the litter, all those years in the making, was for us to keep a liver female.  Ace is liver.  Cap is liver.  Ruby is orange, but I'm partial to the liver Brit.  The biggest problem I had was picking the puppy, of course.  All but one of the liver females were identical. 

(Photo by Nancy Whitehead)

(Photo by Nancy Whitehead)

They all had the same head coloration as Ace and Cap.  Believe it or not, I had trouble telling Ace and Cap apart in the field.  So much so, that I put different colored collars on them! I really wanted a dog I could quickly distinguish from the others. Pearl had that all-liver head on her and solid body.  There was no doubt who she was when we scanned the pile of Brittany puppies.  And besides, she was a holy terror, aggressive and a real bully.  She never backed down from any puppy there, even though she was only three-quarters the size of the biggest.  I liked that.

Everyone has a different method when picking a puppy. Some great trainers say check out the parents, then close your eyes and grab a pup and go.  Others spend a great deal of time studying and making noises and playing and stuff.  I like bold movers and pretty dogs. Pearl fit the bill perfectly.  As she grew and matured she picked up the mannerisms I was looking for from the sire and dam.  She had the color, intelligence, run, and birdiness from Ace (NSTRA CH and Grandson of 32XCH Nolans Last Bullet) and the run and stamina from Ruby (who came from horseback stock on her mother's side and 2XFC Diamond Hill Dan). In short, all the bona fides aside, the bottom line is this: the lady can find birds and look good doing it. She is bold and inquisitive and listens to me.  She hits the bottoms and the pastures as easy as the cutovers- with grace and speed.  In about a month, she and the rest of the kennel will head out on our first traveling hunt of the year- to Montana for starters, then maybe Utah, Wyoming,  or Minnesota, or....who knows?  She will be in her own kennel getting booted up and wearing the Garmin- just like the big dogs...  

She doesn't know anything about her history or breeding or who her daddy was.  But, hopefully, she'll know what it feels like to get a snoot full of intoxicating Sharpie or Hungarian Partridge scent coming up the nose.  I see her frozen like a statue on the side of a coulee, with me easing up in front of her, just before the world explodes in feathers and shots and the smell of gunpowder. And another generation of bird dog has its "coming out".  

Friday, July 25, 2014

30 Minutes in the Life of a NSTRA Field Trial Handler

Recently, I participated in a National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial in Waverly, NE.  Normally, my field trialing takes place in Georgia, my home region.  However, since the hunting season was finished and our trial season was complete until September, and my two trial-ready dogs were still primed up, I figured to get one last week of competition on them.  Cap, 4 year old Brittany male, and Ruby, 4 year old Brittany female, were as ready as ever and hardened from 6 months of bird hunting and trialing all over the country.  They knew the game and were as solid as any dogs I've ever had the pleasure to own. 
NSTRA Champion Flyboy Ace's Delta Captain (Cap)
This particular trial was a bit different, being a "National Trial", one of 5 held throughout the year around the country. The entry field is capped at 128 dogs, many dogs are many time or multi-champions. Ruby and Cap were very close to their championships prior to this trial.  The work-ups to the main trial allowed us to run several "normal" trials and possibly pick up points toward a championship and that was a consideration, as well.
Cap First and Ruby Third
Elimination Trial
As it happened, Ruby had two third placements and Cap had a first placement during the elimination rounds.  Cap was only shy one first place finish for his championship, so, when he took the field for his Final 8 Brace run, he was a NSTRA Champion.
Flyboy's Ruby Deux (Ruby)
Photo by Nancy Whitehead
The Story:
We arrived a week ago, after a leisurely Memorial Weekend drive through the heart of America. Cap and Ruby knew the drill after a season of hunting.  We were rested and fit and ready to run.  The heat arrived about the same time we did.  Highs of 96 on the fields pushed the dogs to the water barrels and ponds more often and the handlers wore shorts and short sleeves and suffered through grass cuts and black flies.

 Shade was a commodity in short supply, but the clubhouse had a large covered porch that felt like heaven after a brace. After all those days of braces running two dogs and with generally good runs (one I wish I could forget, we were beaten so badly!), here we were at noon on Saturday a week later.  Ruby made the Final 16, but was eliminated earlier that day in a squeaker.  I was proud of her.  She never quit, never slowed down.  Cap made it through the 16, and he I were heading to the line one more time in the Final 8.

The Start.
Cap and me  in Background

Cap and I ran this particular field only once the entire week prior.  I told him not to worry, birds smelled the same on this field, the next field or 5 states over.  He told me "No sweat, Pops!  Just shoot 'em when they get up and follow me.  I got this thing nailed."  Lack of confidence was never a problem in the little guy. The judge said turn them loose, and I let him go.  Cap immediately turned left and hit full stride along the edge of the boundary.  The edge line cut left again, but he continued straight, into the field, full speed, smoking! I knew there was normally a bird close to the front, a "gallery bird", so I let him run. He made a loop to the left, in the corner, and, still at full stride, headed back to me hard along the edge line.  Not 15 seconds in to the brace, he was flying now, coming straight at me as I stepped in to the field, loaded my gun, stowed my lead and watched him.  About 20 yards away, maybe 3 yards in the field, headed straight to me, he pitched left, his rear end flew out from under him and he rolled over.  He came up and stood tall and still, pointed as proud as I've ever seen any dog! "Point", I yelled (perhaps a little too loud, since I heard the gasps from the gallery.  I'm going to say right now pride can be a downfall, but I was downright proud of that little dog right then!).  The shot and retrieve were normal and we had a decision to make.  Cap looked at me and I motioned to him in a direction that would take us directly across the square to the opposite corner.  The wind would be on our right shoulder.  Our opponent would be caught in the right corner, as well. Which is where he went off the line.  If we could get the bird in the middle or far corner and then come back left for another bird, that would be three birds out of five.  We would be sitting pretty good.  About halfway across the field, I noticed my opponent executing a retrieve in the corner. It was one to one.  As I looked up, Cap spun and locked up, "Point"!
He was a long ways away, but staunch and the bird obliged by holding until I arrived. Once again, the shot and retrieve were normal. This time I sent Cap into the large area remaining, in which no dog had been, the last corner.  He took off, and I looked for my opponent.  He was hurrying  across the center of the field for the same corner.  Both dogs were moving quickly now and it was really a race in the tall grass. No one knew where the bird was or even if there was a bird there, but we sure did act like it.  Cap spun first.  "Point", I yelled, this time with some gusto, since I was 50 yards from anyone and standing out on the Nebraska prairie watching my little guy run his heart out.  It took me some time to get to him again and, just before I did, I heard a shot and saw my opponent's dog running to a downed bird in the center of the field.  My bird flew and dropped for the retrieve.  It was three to two.  At this time, I pointed Cap at the other handler and we went with him. The reasoning was this:  If he finds another bird, I will get a back- I'm still ahead. If I find a bird, he will get a back- I'm still ahead.  In a "beat your brace-mate" format, the tactics changed somewhat.

We worked along together for a while until my bracemate spun around and made a beeline for the fence separating the two fields.  It didn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that he may have held a clue as to the whereabouts of another bird or at least suspected the location of a "crossover" bird from the other field.  He was ahead of me, but Cap was fast and got to the fence just about the same time as his dog.   Both dogs caught scent now.  The grass was easily four feet tall in the little slough and the dogs ran through the grass several times.  My opponent went in to the grass and called his dog in to the spot he suspected.  Cap was about 30 yards away and I was coming up fast from the center of the field.   "Point" he yelled!  It was three to three.  "Cap!  Here, boy!"  Cap came up fast to me, looked to his right and spun around in a point. "Back", I yelled!  He stuck it! I walked to him, knelt down and took his collar in my hand and told him I was really proud of him today! 

Our judge walked over slowly, got down on a knee, and looked the situation over.  He whispered to me, "Randy, I think Cap is backing the situation (can't really see the other dog, just the other handler) and I'm going to give you another chance at a back."  Judges make judgment calls, it's why they aren't called scorekeepers.  I said, "Are you sure, Judge?"  He nodded, and that was that.  We would not get any points for the back.  The score was three to three with 5 minutes remaining. 

We hit every corner, ditch, slough and clump in the next five minutes and when time was called we were at the opposite end of the field.  Our judge rolled up and asked if we wanted a ride back to the clubhouse, but Cap and I decided we would just walk back and soak up the day.  If this was the end of the run for us, I wanted to take the stroll back nice and easy and enjoy every bit of it.  We did a good job.  More importantly, my dogs did a good job.  We lost by 21 points difference out of over 1200.  We gave 'em a good scare!  We had a good time and had some laughs, some agonizing moments, some disappointments. Overall, the total experience was worth the travel and training and money.  After all, it really was about the people and the dogs....mainly the dogs.  
Cap after his run.

NSTRA is a great way to spend a day in 30 minutes with your dog.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Head to the Mountains for a quick break!

The heat settled in, the dogs sprawled in the shade, the pool felt like bath water and both the boss and I started thinking we needed a little "getaway".  "Bozeman!", I said. "Great," she said, "let's do it!"  Off we went to the airport and found out we couldn't get there from here- sold out. How about Billings? Sold out. Humm. Let's go to Phoenix!  No problem there, I thought, who in the world wants to go to The Valley of the Sun in July? Wait a minute, said the Boss, how about Denver? We can hit the mountains! Let's go!  Checked the bags. Held up in security and missed the flight!!!  Arghhh! The next three flights were full, but our bags made it to Denver without us. Finally, about 4pm, we joined them and we were on the way to the mountains!

We found a great trout stream. I could see the fish!

Rocky Mountain National Park. I never even knew there was one. 

Look at this big boy feeding right along the side of the road. 

This baby, bull Moose is growing by leaps and bounds. 

Winter Park and a Wine Festival-  a serendipitous coincidence! 

Here's a young bull Moose grazing by the road. 

Cow Elk and a calf. 

We ended up driving north from Steamboat Springs to Laramie, WY. We intercepted the old Overland Trail and followed it to Ft. Collins. The next day, we headed back to the farm. 

A three day siesta that really refreshed in a part of the country I'd never seen. Beautiful country, beautiful animals, streams and fishing. It doesn't take two weeks to recharge!  Grab the spousal unit and go!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Some of my favorite bird dog pictures from back in the day.

New England, ND  (read the fine print)
"Gotcha!" Cap on Chukar ID

Cap on Chukar covey in the rocks

Ace and Hungarian Partridge Idaho

Ace hit a covey of Blue Quail hard in TX

Me and the guys in ND

Momma and her favorite, Cap, in ND

Bo, 2001 QU National Champion

Ace and Pheasant ND

Ace and limit ND

Cap and Gambles AZ

Cap and his first Sharptail Grouse MT

NSTRA CH Randy's Rednecked Ruby

Cap and Sharptail MT
Worn out pup Chukar hunting ID
Ruby and Valley Quail ID
ND- the end of the bird hunting rainbow! 

Momma's first Bobwhite on the rise! GA

Monday, June 16, 2014

Field Trialing in the Heartland or Why would I drive 1000 miles to roast in the heat?

Flyboy's Ruby Deux
When bird season is shutdown everywhere, with no hope of a covey rise, and training quail are gone, the dogs begin to mope in the pen. I like to road them everyday with the ATV and work the puppies on obedience and take long walks around the pastures simulating hunting casts. But, also, I like to continue, with my main dogs, to compete in NSTRA (National Shoot to Retrieve Association Field Trials).  This time of year, the major national trial remaining is the UKC Performance Trial in Waverly, Nebraska.  128 top dogs from all over the country gather to compete for championship points.  Generally, prior to a major trial like this one, the local club will run a "pre-trial", which is a normal NSTRA trial for the competitors.  It will enable the non-local dogs a time to acclimate to the terrain, weather, scenting conditions, etc.  In this case, the pre-trials started on Saturday prior and ran until Tuesday.  The main Trial started on Wednesday and ran through Saturday.  We arrived on Saturday before the main trial started and I took a picture of the temp gauge in my truck.  96 degrees!  Really? Wow!  I was so glad I put the extra time in to conditioning my dogs.
Hot Day for Field Trials

Field Trialing is for the fit dog and handler.  I say that without reservation.  If the dog is not fit, he can't handle the heat and stress of running flat-out in the heat (or snow, rain, etc.), day after day.  Of course, Fido may do very well a time or two, but, if you are observant, you will see the winners on the podiums as perfect physical specimens. They are worked ahead of time- trained and practiced and roaded/run....a lot.  They can handle the physical stress of travel, changes of routine and scenery and running hard day after day. As for the handler, it helps to be able to move quickly, as well.  I tried hard to keep up with the younger bucks and running is not allowed (the rule is absolutely, strictly enforced), but sometimes age and fitness matter.  It's important to be able to move quickly around the field with the dog working as a team- heat or not.


Cap 1st and Ruby 3rd in Second Day Elimination

The Final 8 (Cap is 3rd from left.)

In the end, we made a good run.  I, personally, made it farther than ever before in a National Sanctioned NSTRA Trial with a Fifth Place finish with Cap. Ruby finished near 10th (not sure of her final ranking).  I'm  proud of both my dogs and how well they worked against some very tough competition; I would say some of the toughest in the nation. I have two more Brits back in the barn, both 9 months old, and they swear they are ready right now! Pearl is a little, liver colored female and Shack is a big, orange male.  Both are out of Ruby by Ace.  They both have what it takes to find birds for me.  And they both will field trail when the seasons are closed everywhere, and there's no hope for a covey rise.
Nebraska Cornfields and Rainbows

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Blue Highways. What are you missing?

On my way to a national Field Trial in Nebraska, after loading the Beast and dogs and what I needed for a week of bird dogs and such, I took to the Interstate on a well-travelled route. I swear I could put the Beast in the grooves, set the cruise control and take a snooze, I'd taken this road so many times!  In a way, it was a comfort as landmarks ticked by. I even recalled stops with certain dogs, long gone, and trucks, long sold and gone to the scrap-heap.  I do it every trip and it provides me with a mental mile marker list. Back in the day, I would pore over maps (you remember the paper kind, right?) and try to spot a shortcut. Most times, my fancy shortcut wasn't. Over the years, I came to realize the Interstate system was faster. It was comfortable. It was plain, white bread, vanilla America. Just like the Yankee, who marvels at southern grits and cornbread and sweet tea, or the magnolia-mouth southern sweetie who is indignant when a New Yorker doesn't want to chat for 10 minutes about "momma and the family" before giving directions- regional differences are disappearing. We expect, as a people, to see, hear and smell the same thing coast to coast. The Interstate does that for us. That's a loss for us.

Apparently, I've been living in a bubble all of my 63 years. The day I chose to drive to Nebraska was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. "So what?", I thought.   Well, here's what. I've never seen traffic so bad in all my life. From Atlanta to Kansas City, it was heavy to completely stopped, at times. I lost hours of travel time. It seemed like every car had six kids and pillows in the windows and a passenger or two asleep. By the time I reached central Missouri (not my favorite stretch of Interstate on the best of days), I'd had my fill. I exited near Columbia, MO and headed north. The was NO WAY on God's Earth I was going anywhere near Kansas City with all these cars on the road. I'd rather drive the Blue Highways. 

In Mexico, MO, I saw the American Saddlebrd Horse Museum!  Who knew!  I joined US Highways that were Interstates in every sense of the word, with 70 mph speed limits, but with no traffic. I kept pushing North to hit a major east-west US road and went through Centralia, MO, where the cemetary was decorated in flags. I had to pull off and gather it in.

In Chillacothe, MO, I was talking to my longsufferingspouse on the phone and neither of us could figure out how to pronounce the name!  A quick exit, and 10 minutes later, I had my answer courtesy of a lifelong, and proud, resident.  In Brookfield, MO, an old man sat down and told me about 30 years of hunting quail with his two best friends. He shot a 28 ga. auto-loader and had some fine dogs. He lost his friends to old age and his desire to hunt at about the same time.  I passed Gen. John Pershing's home, and farms and clean roads, tight fences. I passed white painted farm houses and signs that read, "planting season, watch for big equipment".  Mostly, I passed flyover America. My kind of America. Blue Highway America.  Amazingly, I made it to my destination in plenty of time, well-rested mentally and physically. I talked to some nice folks and learned some pretty cool stuff along the way. Not one of them told me I should be taking the Interstate.