Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A young Ginny pointing a woodcock; the bird she seemed to love best.  
Explosion’s Ruffneck (Ginny)--The Last Hurrah...

For Ginny our final Pennsylvania grouse season before moving to Montana would be her last. But as always she kicked it off with a bang and...

If you would have asked me, say 10 years ago, if Ginny (16) would still be  alive, let alone be bouncing about like your basic energized, though somewhat worn-out bunny, at the mere sight of the Boss lacing up hunting boots...Well, I would have bet the farm...

Skinny as a rail, well-scarred, shredded ears, missing teeth, eyes seeming to grow dimmer by the day, all but deaf and a wobbly gait such makes you wonder if next step might be the old gal’s last. But obviously obvious "the end" has not yet crossed her mind. No longer the fastest dog on the block but she can still pick ‘em up and lay down pretty good—though an hour or so every few days is about it. So, for several seasons now, Ginny get’s the day’s first dibs and we let her blow the whistle when had enough. 

A spot we call the Spring Hole is relatively flat and easy to hunt as grouse spots get. It’s also private, only a few of us locals have permission and those do forego hunting whenever I let them know Ginny’s good to go...as mentioned earlier not always a sure bet.

As grouse coverts go this one has it all. Water, wall-to-wall good grouse eats, conifer cover to dodge nasty weather and just the right mix of brush and grassy openings to make for tough though not impossible opening day shots. 

It had rained some overnight but the morning dawned bright and cool with just a hint of breeze. A nearly perfect set-up it seemed for an ancient bird dog whose nose, like the rest of her, wasn’t quite what used to be.

So I bell her up and we start down along a little spring seep, bordered on one side by brush and grass—mostly clover—and the other a hemlock thicket with oak forest beyond.  Betting the grouse would have spent the night in the hemlocks and relish clover for breakfast instead of paralleling the crick we attack at right angles...Too and fro, back and forth from the crick through the good cover and back again, doing my best to keep her out of the trees and into the best of it. 

Twice the bell stops clanging and I find her locked up at the edge of the spring seep.  But woodcock aren’t yet in season.  As you might expect, I want badly to kill whatever she points... You know, just in case. But somehow I manage to hold fire and ignoring her nasty look, send her on...

About an hour into it she starts to fade. And now I'm really beating myself up for not saying the hell with it and dropping at least one of the woodcock. So I whistle her in, take a seat on a stump, and feed her an energy bar. All the dogs love the smelly things but she is the only one ever seems even a little bit re-fueled. And as usual gulps it down, stands, shakes and off we go.

Anyway now we cross through the hemlocks and she turns toward the truck coursing back and forth through the heavy laurel (evergreen leaved bushes) under-story. The white oak mast crop is heavy and though grouse somehow figure how to swallow even the largest acorns, these are among the smallest and a favorite.

Halfway to the truck a pair of grouse flush wild, out of range and head in the wrong direction. She sees them go, starts after, but turns, comes back, circles part-way around a big blow-down and...


With the red gods on my side for once the grouse rockets out, straight away, in the wide open. I slap the trigger, grouse tumbles, Ginny trots to it, picks it up, brings it just far enough there can be no doubt. Tosses me a conspiratorial look, throws it down and bell clanging vanishes into the greenery...

Ginny was no brag dog. Wonderful companion, easy to train, lived to please the Bosses and on her good days—those days she wasn’t nursing/recovering from injury—a pretty darn good bird dog. Like Patch she fetched whatever fell on land or water and seldom lost a cripple. And no dog I know hunted harder for so many seasons. She didn’t know quit and no amount of pain and suffering diminished her desire to git ‘er done even a little bit. 

Stay tuned: Next up Ol’ Patchy closes out his career with a flourish...

Friday, November 17, 2017

With several decades running rough-shooting dogs under my belt, two things stand out:
1)You just never know what might happen next and...2) Whatever it is no longer surprises... 
Dead genes? Whatever? Despite giving Mertie pretty much first dibs all season she did not once so much as stop at the flush of a grouse or woodcock; worse not once did she even act surprised or interested. While she was really easy to live with she showed zero interest in birds, any birds.

Over winter with the help of Buck Parsons and Bill Scimio we planted dozens of chukar and put her on released quail at least a couple times a week.  No dice.  To be fair toward the end of winter when a bird flushed she did appear to slow down just a little.

About to give up, one morning we dizzied a chukar and tucked it in the snow beside a bush. On lead she trotted up and, wonder of wonders, this time she stopped dead beside the bush where the chukar lay hidden in the snow. Not a point mind you but the puzzled look left no doubt she at least knew something was up.

For us a monumental moment.

Bill said, “Finally...”

Speechless I didn’t say anything aloud but I recall thinking something along the lines...Geezus mighty, about time.

I moved up alongside and knelt down, one hand grabbing her collar, the other wrapped about her flank. Bill tip-toed to the other side to kick the sleeping chukar to flight.

“Go ahead, flush it.”

About to nudge it to flight with his foot, he stopped in mid-kick, “Damn Chuck, she’s got her foot planted on it or goddamn close.”

Releasing my grip I said, “Give it a kick anyway, see what happens.”

He did, the chukar hopped a couple steps forward and took off. Mertie lunged forward, turned and bounded off the opposite direction.

"That's it. Can't take no more..."

The rest of the story starts with my giving her to a Wounded Vet, Alan, a guide at a small private  shooting preserve.  I told Alan upfront of how frustrated, disappointed and that I doubted she would work out but..."If ya want her she’s yours, good luck."

About a year later I ran into the preserve owner. “Hey Chuck, good to see ya. Alan asked me to say thanks and to let you know how well that Mertie dog is doin.’ She’s our best dog by far, hard to believe same dog.”

Stunned beyond speechless... He went on to explain how at first Mertie seemed clueless and then one day she just turned on...

“Tell Alan, I couldn’t be happier and if you guys don’t  mind I’d like to see her in action sometime.”

But then I just never got around to it.

Then a year or so later Alan stopped by, said “Thought I'd let you see Mertie in action, see if you want her back.”

“Yes, would like to see her but no, she’s your dog, glad she worked out.”

“Well, before you decide, let’s let her strut her stuff a bit. I got to tell ya somethin’ might change your mind.”

To make a long story short seems a grouse guide/grouse trial competitor who uses the preserve to train-up pups and get his string in shape wants to trade Alan two finished dogs for Mertie.

My reply, “She’s your dog...”

Time passes and I again run into the preserve owner...”Hey Chuck, did ya hear? Ol’ Mertie just won herself a Grouse Championship.”

“No shit.”

Stay tuned for the rest of Elhew Maggie Magoo's story...

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who knows which of my many rough-shooting dogs
pointed this one but sure wasn't Mertie...
With Ginny, 16, and son, Patch, 15  the hope was for one the other dogs to step up. But while Mags had done really well pointing and not crowding pen-raised birds she had yet to prove herself on wild grouse and woodcock.

From what I saw in the preseason as long as I ran Rosy, who somehow couldn’t quite shake the idea of being boss dog, alone she would "find" plenty. But, for reasons I never did figure out, sometimes she would point staunchly then circle the bird and, of course, with our grouse as skittish and educated as any grouse anywhere this faux pas almost never worked—usually the bird flushed with her first misstep and that was that. The good news she only did this every now and then and hardly ever twice in a single outing. Who knows?

While I could live with her busting a few birds two record breaking porcupine encounters that fall really put our relationship on thin ice. Both occurred on weekends and both required expensive vet visits. Both times she required sedation to pull literally hundreds of quill from her face, inside mouth and just about every other part of her body. We stopped counting at 500 the first time and we all agreed the second was even worse.

Gale never did bond with Rosy, I think mostly because she whipped up on her buddy, Patch. But when, next spring she got blindsided and ended up with a broken leg...Well, soon as we got home from hospital I called the previous owner and said, “Come get your dog, she’s too much for me.” 

As I mentioned in a previous installment, Mertie was the easiest ever to yard train. Start to finish I doubt the whole process took 6-weeks. Pretty damn good for a dog been penned up and pretty much ignored for the first 3 years of her life.  Also she never chased a single deer, ran a nice ground pattern and from the get-go seemed to get that “Here” meant get your butt here pronto. Apparently so happy for the attention almost anything I said brought her running, but...

Though she was easy to live with, got along with well with the other dogs (Rosy excepted), was  smart, athletic and obedient, possessed stamina to hunt all day, everyday, and as I mentioned last time was about as well-bred as they come—her littermates were tearing up various trials all over but...

Yes, by now I’m sure you readers get than with my dogs there always seems to be a BUT...Admittedly most, if not all, are at least in part the fault of your intrepid reporter but in Mertie’s case I plead not guilty. For you see when it came to birds, wild birds, planted birds, released birds, you name it, Mertie was CLUE...LESS.

Graduated from yard training, when dog training season opened August 15th I began running her in the grouse woods every chance. Not once did she so much as act birdy, not once did she so much as stop to flush. Even birds nearly stepped, flushed right in her face failed to get her attention—she just kept goin’ on as if nothing out the ordinary had just happened.

By this time in my career, for better or worse,  thought I'd seen it all. But, trust me, this unexpected turn of events really tossed me for a loop. Beyond baffled, I ran it by every bird dog man I knew and found not one had ever experienced such odd  behavior.

The stock answer, “Who knows, maybe doin’ all that solitary in a rabbit hutch killed off the genes...Good luck and let me know how turns out.”

Stay tuned the rest of Mertie’s story is one for the ages...