Since I travel to hunt, my hunting season is extended- September through February. That is the GOOD news! The BAD news is that once it's over, it is really over. The entire country is closed and I have three prime, fit, ready-to-go bird dogs and no place to hunt. I road them, run them, obedience train them and talk a lot about "next year", but slowly the depressing fact sinks in that we are DONE/finished.....Cleaning guns, gear and re-living the flushes and retrieves will be my way of life for 6 months. Testing new gear and dreaming of new country to explore next year will help pass the time, of course. Well, the dogs need feeding and kennels need cleaning....
We are back in the Field Trial mode. Ace, above, is between runs, or "braces", at a National Shoot to Retrieve Association (NSTRA- pronounced "nastra") field trial. (click here to go to NSTRA site) There are several formats for field trials, horseback, walking, timed, speed trials. NSTRA format is simple. Five birds are hidden in a large field, while you and your competitor are out of sight in a blind. Then you both take your dogs and go find the birds. You have thirty minutes to do it and a judge will score your dog on his find/retrieve/ground handling/obedience and one back will be scored, too. (Yes, we kill the birds.) Typically, you will be able to run more than one field during the day, which is actually another separate field trial. Trophies are given and points awarded to first, second and third. Eighteen points later, with at least three First Places, and you are a NSTRA Champion. Piece of Cake! There are plenty of ins and outs about the sport. Check the website for a location near you (this is nationwide) and stop by one Saturday and see what this is all about. Call ahead and talk to the trial chairman, too. This is a low key, family atmosphere kind of thing. It's a good way to get Old Jake back on the field after hunting season......
I say this is an initial evaluation because I've hunted and trained my dogs with it for merely two days now. The day this vest arrived via FedEx, I loaded up one of the pups that needed work and drove to a clearcut that holds three coveys of quail. The terrain is steep to rolling with hardwood bottoms and trash left from the logging. Briars, stumps and wood trash are the main obstacles to walking .
Immediately upon donning the vest with two full water bottles, I noticed the weight was carried on my hips vs. on my shoulders. What a relief that will be for long casts sharpie hunting in MT or hunting Ruffs on the MN or WI trails.
The water bottles (included- not shown), are also carried on the hips. Gone are the days of water bottles adding weight to pull on the shoulders! There are plenty of pockets for everything you can think of, including a special pouch for my Tritronics G-2 transmitter. There are zipper pockets I used for license and money storage, space blanket, matches, etc. The bird bag is spacious. I have no doubt, I will be able to get a limit of pheasant in the back. The shell pockets are deep and hold at least two pen-raised quail for training in them (all I used that day). They have a long cover flap that will secure itself inside the bag for easy access (nice touch!). Initially, I fumbled around reaching in to the pockets, as they are located more to the side than on my filson. One I got used to them, I found the arrangement much more to my liking. They are out of the way of my legs high-stepping over logs and stumps.
As you can see by the pictures, the blaze orange is visible from all sides, for safety. The chest strap is comfortable and I like it a lot. It keeps everything hooked together and secure. The waist belt is wide and very secure. I got the normal buckle arrangement, but perhaps would have liked the quick release buckle more. This one has a slide through and latch combination which is a little cumbersome until you become accustomed to it. One of the questions asked upon ordering is if you shoot right- or left-handed. The vest is slightly modified for your preference. I was impressed with the level of interest in the end user of the product. My vest is the 1080 denier model. It is a little heavier than a small strap vest, but much more stable with room to hold everything you need for extended stays in the field- long casts with your dog(s). This thing is industrial strength and will last me well into the grandsons of my top dog, Ace. I look forward to giving more feedback in the future. My initial recommendation is: Buy it! http://wingworks.biz/
On a side note, I called Bob, the owner, with a few questions and caught him Chukar hunting. My questions were answered while he was maneuvering his truck down a two-track in Idaho- now, that's dedication to his product! One more thing....my pup hunted hard and well, but those Bobs managed to elude us. We'll find 'em before the season is out.
I think it is important to say this: I am not advertising for RC. I'm not endorsed or compensated in any way. In fact, I only know who the regional rep is because I got a blanket email from her saying thanks for using RC. I am a member of the Breeder's Club, which enables me to get the product at a slightly reduced price delivered to my door. I was a member of a similar "club" at Purina, as well.
Here's the rub. I know of a great dog food that does everything I want it to do. It's high energy, low stool volume, super for the coat and the dogs attack the dry kibble. The problem is the price. I pay $46/37.5# bag. I can drive 50 miles and pay $36, but if I'm going to feed this product, I will buy it at my local feed store. I've tried Loyal Performance, by Nutrena. The price is better, the dogs love it and the energy level is high, but their coats are dull. I tried Black Gold. Price is good and the dogs like it, but the stool volume is large and the quantity to feed is much more than the premium feed.
So, I went to the Internet and Googled "the best dog food"..wow, that was a lesson! Every brand had a DVM testifying to the greatness of the product. Every page had do's and don't's in feeding dogs. Every site said to beware of all the other guys! Chicken meal ain't real chicken, only diseased animal innards are sent to dog food, dogs need meat and offal and... fresh is best!
C'mon my friends, in all the vet schools we have in this country, someone has researched the best way to feed hunting dogs. What is the answer? I guess the fact that it is a multi-Billion dollar industry doesn't help the flow of usable information......
What do you feed? Are you happy with it? Would you recommend it?
After much research and trials and first hand investigation, after being satisfied with one brand and then seriously disappointed with yet another recall on that brand, I've settled on a brand I think incorporates all the features I think are important. Royal Canin. For my dogs, Brittanies, I feed Royal Canin Medium. I've had them on this feed for the last two hunting trips and all the field trials this year. I put them on the high powered feed RC Endurance (I think) for one hunting trip, but for the cost and hassle of getting it, I went back to the Medium, which I can get a the local PetSafe Store. None of the stuff is cheap, but with my four main dogs, I think it is OK. The result is healthy dogs with healthy, shiny coats, less tartar on the teeth, small stools. And, I'm only feeding them between 2 and 3 cups, depending on size....per day!
Now, having put a full year of travel, hunting, trialing and training on my dogs while feeding Royal Canin Medium, I can say with affirmation this is an excellent kibble. I did notice the coat sheen, the endurance and the small stools. For my dogs, I feed between 2 and 3 cups per day- a little more on trips. I travelled nearly 15,000 miles on hunting trips and perhaps half that for field trials. Through it all, they loved the kibble and it kept them going- with no additive. I say all that to say this: Royal Canin may not be the best fit for you, but don't settle for the cheapest stuff. Do the homework and find them a good quality feed that will keep them energized and add years to their life!
It's been two years with my dogs solely on the RC Medium Adult. The results are the same- great energy level (for competition and hunting), coats are glossy, endurance is excellent. I have changed my formula somewhat, in that on hunting trips where the dogs are running hard 2-3 hours per day in heat, snow, rain and over rough and vertical terrain, I will feed them the Puppy Blend for medium dogs. "Medium" doesn't mean anything other than the size of the grown dog. The Puppy formula is 30/20 blend, which I think has more energy available. Interestingly, I think the RC vets would challenge me and say the RC medium has everything they need and the Puppy kibble may not have the best balance of minerals and vitamins, etc. (I went to a meeting with the RC development team and vets, and that was the message. The feed is specific and complete.) However, I wanted the extra energy and I didn't want to use any additives and my dogs are only on the puppy kibble for the duration of the hunting trip- usually 2-3 weeks- and then they are back on the Adult. I don't feed any additives. I don't water the feed. I wait 20 minutes after feeding and then give them all the fresh, clean water they want. (Apparently, that is the best method for the dogs to obtain all nutrients. Actually, research has shown that if the dog is fed within 30 of completion of exercise, he will get 90% of the nutrients in the feed. The numbers may be off some, but you get the drift. That is not practical for me as I feed at the end of the day- 5 dogs at once, but it is the best way.)
I've also learned this. There are MANY good dog foods out there. This one works for me. If anyone tells you there is only one way to feed your dog, be skeptical. A very good, not too expensive, feed is Purina. They also are one of the only companies with their own research and development department. They can afford it. A lot of the research in to athletic dogs and their nutrition comes from Purina. I have 8 dogs- 5 are athletes. I can afford to feed whatever I want, so I'm willing to pay more. Many, not all, times you get what you pay for. I'm watching the price of feed skyrocket. I'm convinced a lot of that price increase is due to increased demand due to increased awareness by the consumer. In other words, if it's trendy and a "hot" item, the cost per pound will increase. Notice I said "cost per pound". Purina and RC started inching the price up AND decreasing the size of their bags. Originally, with Purina, at least, they were using a 50# bag. It's down the 37.5# now. RC is down to a 30# bag (35# for the Breeder's Club). Like I said though, if you find a good feed that does what you want and your dogs THRIVE on it, go ahead and get it.