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. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

My Go-To Dog Isn't Even Mine!

Bandit and limit of Sharptail Grouse
 This short-tailed, shaggy-eared, brown dog and I left the trailer one hot day in Montana. I didn't expect much since my other dogs had been birdless all day in the heat and dry grass. I loaded up with water and he and I took off up a draw with cut wheat on both sides, brush in the draw maybe ten feet across. He showed me lots of pep, pride and gung ho. "Sure", I'm thinking, "Let's see what you look like in an hour, hot shot!" Up draws and hills and we turned the corner and climbed up to higher fields and plum thickets. I was daydreaming now with my gun over my shoulder. The water was about gone as the dog swung by every ten minutes for a fill-up. We were on the home lap and over the next rise I should be able to see the truck down below us. The dog was tireless. A freak of fitness. He covered the hills in the heat like no other dog I'd ever seen. He checked every patch of low growing shrub, getting interested each time (I could tell by watching the white patch on the end of his tail). Finally, as I was standing in the shade of a small bush watching him, he spun and locked up! He was about 250 yards away and up the side of a slope. He deserved every bit of effort I had to get a shot. He held like a rock as I came up on the other side of the slope and walked to him. Sure enough, he found them! 15 Sharpies rose up and we had ourselves some fun! This little Brit is Bandit. He is a pup by my Ace dog, but is owned by Glen Bahde. Every year I borrow him and take him with me. Every year, he's the last man standing after my other guys are worn out.

I'm always amazed at the differences in the dogs in a litter. Out of Bandit's litter, two other dogs made great grouse dogs.  They are close working, cautious with great noses and easy, gentle dispositions.  One other puppy is a house dog and I've lost track of him.  But Bandit could never be described as close working!  Good nose and easy disposition, yes.  But, he is a go-getter and he "moves out"- and always has, even as a little puppy. I love the the Bandito!  I don't think I've ever seen him injured or worn out or less than 100% ready to go.  If attitude is a measure of a bird dog, he is the best there is.  

Bandit and me in Montana this year

Bandit (l) and Ace (r) have one cornered

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association

After the Beast is cleaned out, the photos are collated, the truck vault is re-organized and the weather begins to moderate, I usually look around and notice all the seasons are closed!  Year after year, it takes me by surprise. At that point, I will retreat to my fall back position and enter field trials. My venue of choice is NSTRA, for many reasons, but mainly because that's what I started doing in 1992, and that's what I know. There are other formats out there. One of them is right for you. 
Cap, me, Ace
Waiting for the Final Six Draw

Georgia Region Championships

Gold and Grass Farms
Ball Ground, GA

March 22-23, 2014

On the site of the largest gold mining operation in Georgia, not far from the Old Federal Road and the Trail of Tears, the Gold and Grass Farm of the Garrett family is perfectly situated for hosting a NSTRA field trial.  Two good sized fields and one large field for the final hour were in excellent condition.  The final hour field was un-touched, with no dogs or practice allowed.

R.B. and Gary Garrett (the President and VP of the Region) graciously opened their farm to the Region a few years ago for a field trial.  And, like poor relatives, we haven’t left yet. Once we saw the setup, we shamelessly begged and pleaded for more amenities. Gary built a clubhouse, hookups, and gallery warm-up areas.  He drew the line at the swimming pool, restaurant and theater- much to the grumbling of the Setter crowd.  No matter, as they soon forgot that issue in an argument over which Pinot Grigio complemented which Brie!

Roll call produced 36 eligible dogs for Saturday’s cut.  With plenty of daylight to play with, we opted for an 18 brace, one field event.  Judges Steve Jaspering (Mid-South Region) andWesley Downs (Alabama Region) with Bird Planter Chuck Tash(Mid-South Region) did an excellent job!  They kept us on the straight and narrow.  Bodie Ray as the Field Marshal briefed every brace in the blind.  The weather was cool to warm to downright hot, for a bit, on Saturday as the field was whittled down to only 16 dogs.  There were some notable cuts that Saturday and some head scratching as the results came in.  Dogs that performed so well all year long had a bad run, or a tough break.  But, that’s trialing.  

Saturday night, over thick, grilled steaks and lots of laughs, we got down to some serious business as we hoodwinked,  I meanelectedmore people to serve as officers of the Region.  R.B. and Gary agreed to stay as Pres. and VP. Brenda Keck will take over as Sec/Treasurer and Gerald Pannel will be our new webmaster (after a 20 year stint by Randy Schultz).  

The High Point Dog was Buddy/ R.B. Garrett, High Point Female Dog- Skeeter/Keith Koon, Rookie of the Year- Bryan Wynn, Sportsman of the Year- Dale Aldrich, Judge of the Year- Bodie Ray, Scott Clark Award-Angela Healan, and the Pearl J. Koon Award-Smoke/Gunnyon.

Sunday started with rain and cool wind, what a contrast to Saturday! We began with 8 braces and cut down to the top 6 dogs. At the end of that, the top 6 were: Sadie/Howard, Hawk/Thornton, Snicker Pritchett, Skeeter/Koon, Ace/Schultz,Abby/Harrell.  Once more, we ran three more braces to determine the top 2 dogs by points.

At the end of that run, the standings on points were: Snicker/Pritchett, Sadie/Howard, Hawk/Thornton, Abby/Harrell, Ace/Schultz, and Skeeter/Koon.

Snicker/Pritchett and Sadie/Howard went in to the Final Hour after a short rest.  There was a lot of experience in both dogs and handlers here. Gene Pritchett, sometimes known as the Gator Man, has been all over NSTRA with Snicker winning and making friends.  Keith Howard’s been winning in NSTRA for over 20 years with many dogs, including several Georgia Region Championships.  This wasn’t the first rodeo for either one of these handlers and we settled in for some great action.  The field sloped up from the gallery, so we could see a majority of it.  The trucks were lined up in front of an old building (built around thetime of the war of northern aggression) that served as a Post Office, hotel and office for the gold mine whose shafts ran underneath the field in front of us. The skies were clear and the cool wind made for a comfortable day.

Keith Howard and Sadie (L)
Gene Pritchett and Snicker (R)
In The Blind

                                                   Off the line, the dogs were primed and ready to go.  In 30 minutes, 8 birds were on the card.  In 45 minutes, 9 birds.  When time was called, Snicker had 5/5 and Sadie 4/4.  A careful check of the records indicated Snicker did not have a back during the trial!  A “backing situation” was carefully setup as the tension mounted.  Snicker is an outstanding dog.  He is not known as an outstanding backing dog.  But, that day, on top of an old, flooded gold mine in north Georgia, the 10 year old GSP eased himself in to a back that was not pretty- but, it was good enough, nonetheless.  

The 2014 Georgia Region Champion is 4-Time NSTRA Champion, 3-Time Georgia Region Champion Snicker/Gene Pritchett.  Runner up, Sadie/Keith Howard, 3rd- Hawk/Gene Thornton, Jr., 4th-Abbey/Harrell, 5th-Ace/Randy Schultz, 6th- Skeeter/Keith Koon.  

Snicker, Sadie, Hawk, Abby
Georgia Region Championships 2014 
We give a special “Thank You” to R.B. and Gary Garrett for the use of their historic farm, for the cooks and helpers and all the people who worked behind the scenes to make this great event happen.  Thanks, especially to Purina, Garmin and Owens for their continued support of our favorite sport.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What Makes a Bird Hunter?

(This guy's not a counter...he's sick like me)

I learned from my wife, over lunch, that a friend I hunted with years ago has "given up bird dogs and bird hunting altogether" and now plays golf.  GOLF?! Really?  Immediately, I wondered if I could ever give up my dogs and bird hunting...there is no way this side of heaven I would willingly do that! Then, I began to ponder the question, What makes the bird hunter?  Or, more specifically, what makes the REAL bird hunter.  I guess I would need to define what that is (and that's the fly in the ointment).  I know what it isn't. 

Me in Montana with Sage Grouse

It's not about the killing.  I've never had an unsuccessful day in the field.  Not once in over 24 years of traveling and hunting birds in this country have I been less than successful when the boots hit the ground.  If that phrase confuses you, think about it.  What defines success for you?  Birds in the bag?  Is that the measure? Killing birds as an end result of working with my dogs as a team makes for a great finish.  But that is by no way the measure of success!  Watching a pup quarter and think and work with me as a teammate in the heat or snow or thick woods, even without a point- that's success.  Having two mature, bird finding machines work their hearts out in cactus and scree chasing Gambels with no luck, but refusing to quit- that's a good day! And, please don't misunderstand, walking with one dog and pointing 16 coveys in 6 hours for a limit of Bobs in the hilly Texas panhandle land is a successful day as well.  

Cap and Me in NM.  It was a very good quail year! 

The guys I see quit and walk away would only ever talk about the 16 covey day.  They are "counters", I call them.  It is still a competition to them. They are the guys that want to know "How many did you kill?" when they see me after a trip. It doesn't surprise me when I hear these individuals are now hunting the fairways....

I've read so much really good stuff over the years.  Classics that we all have on our shelves, and I have my favorites along with everyone else.  There are new guys writing now- real writers- guys that can turn a phrase and make it dance.  I've blogged about a few.  Their stories are the kind that stick with you and come back over and again.  The pictures from the stories are vivid, which is a neat trick, since there were no pictures in the books.  These authors are bird hunters.  They aren't counters.  I think they absorb the day, weather, the sun, the wind.....the vibes...and they can morph that in to words and manage to string it into a coherent sentence.  Something I will never do.  Doug Deats' book left me pondering more than once in that regard, just as an example. I thought about writing once.  But, I had a serendipitous encounter with a real author and wordsmith.  What I gained from that was a sense of perspective.  I'll stick to the storytelling.  

Me and Ben O. Williams

What makes a Bird Hunter?  I guess I know when I see one.  I hunt with a bunch of them.  I can guarantee you they won't sell off their dogs and go play golf.  They may sell off their kids, but not their dogs! (I still don't get the golf thing!  Golf?  I don't even like pastels!) I know these guys will be at it long after their legs have given up and the lungs are shot.  The most heartbreaking moment for any of them will be when they realize they won't be able to take the old boy out this year (I almost couldn't type that one!).  Shades of Jenny Willow.   

Well, that time isn't here for me.  And, God willing, it won't be here for a long while.  Keep your eyes open for the real Bird Hunters out there.  Raise the young ones up to be ethical men and women in the field.  Start a new pup when your youngest hits 5.  Leave the gates like you found them.  And, try to be the man (or woman) your dog thinks you are.  

Ruby, me, and Ace in NM