Friday, March 8, 2019

A Good Day At The Trial Grounds. The Georgia Region Elimination Trial

brittany win nstra trial national
Ruby and Randy


The weekend started out like any other, although the importance was, perhaps, a little farther up the scale.  The NSTRA trial season in Georgia (National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Assoc.) starts in September and finishes in the spring, usually March or April.  This year, our final trial for the  season was on the weekend starting March 1, 2019. That Friday, we all met near Ball Ground, GA at Gary Garrett's Farm, Gold and Grass Farm, to begin the festivities.  

bird hunting and bird dogs
Thank you, Gary Garrett!
To qualify to run the final trial, The Georgia Region Elimination Trial, a dog must already be a NSTRA Champion or he must have placed in a NSTRA trial during the trial year. It's called the "Elimination Trial" because it is the first step in eliminating dogs, all over the country, to send on to a another trial to determine a a National Champion. It is also used to determine a local, or Regional, Champion. 

I had 4 dogs qualify to the Regional this year.  Ruby (9yr Brit/F), Cap (8yr Brit/M), Shack (5yr Brit/M), and Pearl (5yr Brit/F).  Ruby and Cap are multiple champions, Shack and Pearl are still coming up, but both had finishes throughout the trial year.  

Pearl was eliminated, during her first brace, when she picked up her first two birds.  Her Elimination Trial lasted less than 4 minutes! It took me longer to do the "walk of shame" off the field, than it did for her to disqualify! 

Cap, Ruby and Shack performed better and made some "cuts" (after a run, only a certain number of dogs advance- they make the cut).  But, later on, Cap and Shack didn't make the cut, either.  (To be completely truthful, Cap didn't make the cut because I, the handler, made a mistake, and cost him a lot of points.   He was one dog below the cut line.  Shack decided to not listen to me (again, my fault, and a training issue) and passed up a back to lose the points necessary to make the cut.).  So, by noon on Sunday, the only dog I had in the fight was Ruby. 

From a 44 dog start, by noon on Sunday we were down to 16 dogs.  After a few more braces, we cut it to the Final 8, then Final 2.  Ruby kept finding more birds each run!  By 5:30p, it was Ruby and a very powerful  male Setter from Tennessee. The final brace would be on a huge field, with twice the number of birds, and for 1 hour.  This would be her 4th run of the day, 6th run of the weekend.  She was fit. She was always a lean dog, and I keep her in shape with roading and proper nutrition.  But, she also just turned 9 years old. After several braces, she started a slight limp in her right front leg, from a touch of arthritis.  I rested her and the limp disappeared. She was ready.  

The rain finally quit, as we went to the line, but the ground was soft and mushy.  The field was very large and had fingers extending off either end to smaller fields.  It called for a little handling to determine the best plan.  Off the line, I had a great plan in my head.  But "great plans never survive contact with the enemy" (Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Multke 1800-1891), and today was no exception.  Ruby immediately turned right and took off, full speed, into a fescue field. Normally, she would quarter back and forth, but right then she was running straight line through the fescue, heading uphill to one of the little fingers!  I decided to let her do her thing, and just tried to keep up.  One, two, three- she found three birds in full stride following a track through the green fescue.  Another one back in the adjoining field in tall broomsedge put us up to 4.  I had to get her back to the main field (I heard my bracemate shoot several times, and I was getting nervous.) So, I whistled her up, and directed her back to the big field.  A few minutes later, with her well ahead of me and the judge following her closely on an ATV, she locked up in a big clump.  5 birds on the card now.  I knew a likely location where another bird might be, and I headed that way.  But, Ruby was one step ahead of me still.  I saw her way ahead, turning left around some trees with the judge on her tail, headed to the likely area.  A few seconds later, the judge yelled "point!".  It was our 6th, and final, bird.  The old girl had done it.  Again.  For the second time (2016 and 2019), Ruby was the Georgia Regional Champion.  

Ruby (me), Izzy (Gary Drinnan), and Bee (Gene Pritchett)

You can listen to the podcast with its surprising ending.  It is Episode 3 of the podcast "Turn 'em Loose- Bird Dogs and Bird Hunting".  Give it a listen, like, share, and Subscribe.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Mama Moose: Growing up Alaskan

Cow and calf Moose
When I was 16, a friend and I were squirrel hunting outside Anchorage, not far from what is now Alyeska. Our plan was to walk through the fir trees with .22 pistols and watch and listen for squirrels. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was better than no plan. 

We were separated by a hundred yards, or so, and were acting all grown up and manly, as we hunted. I rounded a big fir tree and saw a cow moose lying down, facing away from me. I knew enough to know I had no business being there, and I was sure the girl was calving. And, I knew that a cow moose will kill a grizzly that comes near her new born calf!  I didn’t stop, blink, or hesitate more than a millisecond. I turned and ran as fast as a healthy, thoroughly scared 16 year old young man could move. I had hell on my heels, and I could hear her coming behind me. Her feet were pounding, and she ran right through saplings, grunting, and breathing hard. My only chance at safety was a dead fall  50 yards ahead of me. 

Expecting to feel a hoof in my back at any second, when I got in range, I literally jumped through the air, over a huge downed fir tree log and under a pile of alder brush someone had piled up. I kept pushing further down into the pile until I was on my back, under the fir tree log, wedged in the 8” space between the log and the ground. I was hugging that tree like it was my girlfriend! My face was turned to the brush pile where I came in, cheek pressed to the rough bark. My pistol was in my right hand, and it was as quiet as I ever heard it in the woods. 

It was eerily silent except for a heavy breathing sound six inches from my face. I slowly turned my head to the left, and looked right into the big eye of a seriously pissed-off cow moose, with her ears laid back, and her front lip exposing some big teeth. She pawed the ground trying to get me, but the logs and sticks protected me. That’s when I heard my buddy, Vince, laughing. He was safely up a tree a few yards away, and thought this was all terribly funny. To this day, I think he waited to start laughing until he knew I wasn’t dead, but I’m not real sure on that point. But here I was, on my back, wedged under a downed fir tree with mamma moose trying to kill me. 

5 hours later (actually, maybe 10 minutes) she was still there. Just as mad. Finally, I managed to transfer my pistol from my right to left hand, by feel, over my head, without dropping it. Then, I put that muzzle just in front of her nose and fired. The bullet wouldn’t hit her (although, I was kind of hoping for a lucky shot to hit my buddy, Vince, the jerk. Still laughing his head off.), but she’d feel the blast. She did jerk back, and it took all 6 shots from that Ruger revolver, but she finally gave me the stink-eye, one more time, and headed back where I found her. I gave her quite a while to settle down, and I slid out the back of that brush pile.  We shrugged the incident off, and moved to another area to continue our hunt.  I am more scared now, in the re-telling, than I ever was then.  Growing up in Alaska was heaven-on-earth for a kid.   We learned a lot about hunting, fishing, and sports outside.  Cuts, bruises, broken bones, getting lost and getting found again were part of every summer day.  There were few rules, but we’d better not be late for dinner.