Sunday, December 17, 2017

Maggie McGoo: My Last Best Pennsylvania Rough-Shooting Dog
Previously (Part 11, Boot Camp) I related how in Maggie’s first season (age 6 months) ruffed grouse in our neck of woods had hit rock bottom—even with the big dogs on the ground we went days on end with seldom a bird contact. It seemed grouse, like Pennsylvania’s wild ringnecks,  were all but goners. The woodcock flight fizzled as well.

And so, for the first and only time in my life, we spent the winter gunning pen-raised quail and roosters.

I’m a strong believer too many tame birds ranks high among the many reasons some really well-bred, well-trained dogs never develop into top-notch wild bird mavens. The worst thing is when the young dog learns it can get away with crowding tame birds and breaking that habit is too often way beyond the capabilities of most of us John Q. Amateur dog trainers.

But Mags was different.  For whatever reasons, she pointed tame birds staunchly,  relocated as necessary but very carefully—catlike—and rarely crowded.

We shot a lot of birds over her points that winter.  But every now and then her sire’s infamous stubborn streak reared its ugly head. Acting as if she’d never smelled a bird, busting birds left and right and, worse, refusing to comply voice or whistle commands until she damn-well felt like it.
So starting in early spring and all thru the summer three days on and three days off  it was back to the basics in the yard and on the training table. I didn’t like it any more than she did but I vowed to by God break the “stubborn bitch” once and for all or...

Or as Gale said, “Get over it, get on with your life or get done with her, you’re driving yourself mad and me insane.”

If this were a fairy tale we’d all be living happily ever after. Mags would be hunting lights out all day every day.  Grouse would be thick and I would be knockin’ ‘em dead. But didn’t exactly work that way.  As turned out PA grouse would never again be “thick.” Your intrepid reporter would forever remain the streak shooter of yore.  And Mags...

Well when the so-called dog training season opened August 15 (meaning  can now run dogs in the field) it seemed she’d hit a wall. Near perfection for days on end always followed by a day or two flipping me the bird.

So I took Gale’s advice.  Ditched the yard stuff for good and, for better or worse, took to the woods. Bird numbers were far from great but at least better.  Free at last of ropes and chains, Mags turned the corner and morphed into the dog  I’d always envisioned.
I always liked the late season best.  Less competition we could pretty much hunt wherever, whenever.  Grouse seemed to hold a little better and with less food available were far more predictable. And like me, the dogs just seemed a bit more juiced by the snow and cold.

For me, that first week of the late season was by far the best week of grouse hunting ever. With Mags hunting lights out and me shooting out my butt, well after all we’d gone through it was beyond freakin’ wonderful...

But then one day I found Mags pointing at grape tangle. Same look in her eye, same intensity but instead of tail ramrod straight, it was bent and listing to one side. Don’t get me wrong here, frankly I do not give a good goddamn about style points. But when next time she pointed same I knew something was wrong. Worse, in the house more and more we found her standing, tail between her legs, obviously distressed, or worse in real pain.

So I called vet buddy, Mike Moss, and he said, “Bring her in sounds like a ruptured tail-disc.”

To make a long, really sad (actually torturous as hell) story short:  X-ray indeed showed a tail-disc injury (not a big deal). But to be safe Mike x-rayed the rest of her spine and though no further spinal injury the one above her chest showed a severely enlarged heart.

For the next 48 hours Mike moved into the office and drained fluid as it developed until at last it coagulated such he could no longer draw with a syringe.

“Chuck, I’ve done all can do. Only thing left is open heart surgery, only place is Cornell, she needs to get there quick, cost is at least $5000, chance of survival less than 5%.”

Next day we buried her on a knoll over-looking  the  spot she pointed that last grouse.

Up Next:  The Montana  Wirehairs...

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Braised Deer Shanks...Try 'em, you'll love 'em...
Wanted: Eight-legged Antelope, Deer and/or Elk

I shot my first whitetail at age 12. Many deer later around age 70 I read a recipe in Montana Outdoors for braised venison shanks.

Ever since that first deer what to do with the shanks had always been an issue—grind them up and spend the next week cleaning the grinder, carve them up and spend hours peeling off the silver skin to say nothing of those gawdawful tendons. Anyway it took all of about 30 seconds to decide what to do this time around with the four elk shanks still hanging in the garage.

Beyond sawing off the elk shanks and helping Gale with the heavy lifting (cast iron Dutch Oven is not light, in case you wondered) the credit for THE most delicious venison dish I’ve ever eaten goes entirely to Tom Dixon (who wrote the piece) and of course to Chef Gale who made sure it all went together and turned out properly. 

While the shanks were cooking I did a little research and came up with this: Cooked on low heat (300° or so) for several hours (4 or so) in some sort of broth the meat is super flavorful and all the nasty stuff melts away, further enriching and somewhat thickening the broth (Gale has used chicken and beef broth some chefs suggest venison broth) and rendering the meat almost too tender to require chewing. According to Shaw the shank muscles work harder than other muscles and the more work the richer the flavor.  Remember I’m just the messenger…

So begin by browning the shanks well in your favorite cooking oil, lard or,  as Shaw suggests, duck fat. Go slow and turn the shanks often until every surface except the bone is well-browned. Beware: Too much on the bone side and the shank will fall apart…Not good.

Once browned, Gale adds enough broth to cover the meaty part of the shanks, a cup or so red wine, zest of a lemon, butter, her favorite spices and a small peeled and diced onion. Cover, put in preheated oven and then we take the Wire Sisters out for a run. Returning couple hours later she adds other veggies (any sooner they’ll turn to mush or worse, flat out disintegrate (though some recipes suggest straining and others suggest a food processor), adds liquid as needed and returns to oven until the meat starts to drop off the bone…

Serve over mashed potatoes, add a glass of wine and ENJOY…Trust me you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

This ol' gun has done me good...
This year marks the 30th season tramping the uplands toting an over and under, 20 ga. Browning Citori. Having suffered countless miles, in thick and uncivil places, the stock and forearm are nicked and scarred, the bluing well-worn but otherwise the old gun is as good as new.

I bought it new (can’t recall how much) from the Grice Gun Shop in Clearfield, PA. As Gale was quick to question “with a half-dozen other shotguns in the gun cabinet do you really need another?” Indeed a silly question, one difficult to answer. But we bird hunters are seldom satisfied. Miss a bird or two and well, you know, it’s never the operator, always that damned gun.

I bought it in late spring. By a strange coincidence just a couple days after getting my butt kicked at the season’s first Sporting Clays shoot—imagine? It came equipped with modified and full choke tubes but naturally I needed more of a selection and purchased several others—open, skeet 1 & 2, improved cylinder, improved modified and extra full. And don’t even bother to point out that after 30 seasons I have yet to even open the latter two containers, and not a single shot fired through the full choke tube because… Well hell, ya just never know so tis best to be prepared. Right.

Besides the 12 ga. Elsie was too heavy, choked modified/full and never did fit. The 16 ga. Model 12 was cursed with a modified barrel—worse, on the tight side, way too tight for early season grouse and woodcock, for-get-it. Ditto the Browning Sweet Sixteen and the Special Field 870—granted the spiffy as hell custom straight-grip stock was pretty to look at, but way too heavy and never did quite fit.  And while the ancient Fulton Arms 16 ga served me well as a kid, it was way too clunky, stocked beyond ugly and choked way too tight for serious bird shooting. And nobody in his right mind would tote the Browning Superposed 12 ga. ,sporting 30-inch barrels choked full and fuller.

I rest my case.

At this stage (61 seasons and counting) barring unforeseen disaster the Citori is it. Most days I shoot it pretty well and those not so honky dory well, who gives a rat’s butt. I’ve always been something of a streak shooter and would hope that by now I’m wise enough to realize, for better or worse, all things pass. Truth be known at this stage, shooting—good, bad or ugly—is the least of it. You young guys go ahead and giggle but I guarandamntee one day you too will come to agree a day still standing is a really good deal.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Patch, aka, Great White Lab
Patch: Your Basic Smart Ass, Talented, Versatile, Renegade English Setter  

Earlier I ratted a few of Patch’s many less than admirable traits and barely hinted on his many talents. So this last time I promise nothin’ but good stuff.

With few exceptions the good ones really do die way too young.  With us losing any dog—good, bad, even ugly—leaves a huge all but unbearable void.  Like his mama, Ginny, Patch hunted well for several years beyond what sadly seems to be the normal dozen or so season life-expectancy of most rough-shooting dogs.  And as we did with Ginny, as he began to slow down we let him call the shots—when and for how long.

But like Ginny, Patch didn’t know quit and even the last couple seasons most days it was me, not him who called a halt. But a couple hours into a borderline too warm November afternoon he pointed a woodcock and it fell on the far side of a creek. In typical fashion he charged across, snatched up the woodcock  with enthusiasm, turned, came running and...You guessed it, flopped down in mid-stream, with a look left no doubt...

Boss, this case is closed.

Those days he brought his A-game ( and stuck with it) my other dogs  were demoted to also rans. Blessed with a keen nose, inherent instincts, stamina and tenacity to, as I like to say, git ‘er done, running mates were left to eat his dust. Uncanny at knowing just which spots in any given covert (even those he’d never seen before) should hold birds he coursed from one objective—green briar, grape vine tangle, hedgerow, alder swale, you name it—to the next probing each one like a heat seeking missile until he struck pay dirt.

Given even marginal conditions—hot, dry, windy—he was rock steady, pointed staunchly for as long as it took for the guns to arrive, unless, of course, he deemed it necessary to relocate on a running bird.  Trailing a running bird he seemed to know just how hard to push and not bump. He rarely lost a cripple.  But unlike his Mama (and most of the rest of the pack) he fetched to hand as opposed to bringing part way before tossing bird down...

Like you got hands, see ya later... 

Patch seemed to relish jump shooting ducks and water retrieves as much as busting brush for upland birds. A friend labeled him “Great White Lab”. He jumped in with enthusiasm no matter how cold the water. Back then, geese were pretty scarce in our neck of woods and he didn’t get many chances. The first one beat him up pretty good but the next time he didn’t so much as flinch...The ensuing brawl wasn’t pretty but he won and dragged it in. Gasping for breath, he trotted off a ways, lay down and refused to even look my way leaving no doubt geese were no longer a part of his agenda.

One day while hunting grouse, he brought in a hen turkey sporting a broken wing but otherwise unscathed. Had I not already shot and tagged a turkey what to do would not have been an issue but...OK, I can put you out your misery, leave you for the foxes or...So I did what seemed more (fill in the blank), dispatched the poor thing and dropped in freezer alongside the legal one. But when this happened again and then again...Well, I got a little spooked, like what if someone sees me, turns me in to the game warden--a friend, in case you wondered...

(Let’s call him Joe to protect the guilty) “Joe, hypothetical? You’re a bird hunter, your bird dog brings ya a crippled turkey, otherwise unscathed. You already tagged a bird, so... Leave it for fox bait or what?
“Well Chuck, without a doubt first thing I’d do is not tell the game warden.”

One of his last hunts I get lucky and double on grouse. Feathers fly, both fall just a few yards apart. In typical fashion he’s on the first almost before hits the ground, snatches it up, brings it straight to me, drops in my outstretched hand, wheels about, heads for the second.  But runs right by the bell sound growing dimmer by the second.

Recalling the time he ran off after fetching a grouse and I found him a short time later upside down sound asleep in his kennel, well, right off I get on him pretty good. But when I can no longer hear the bell naturally I'm really pissed and, cussing such to make a muleskinner blush, head for the truck.

It starts as a barely audible tinkle, then for sure bell clanging and here he comes--of course proudly  toting the missing grouse. 

“Hey Boss, wait up, I got somethin' for ya.”

Twas a wise man once noted, "Trust the dog."  Amen.

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...

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rosie had a bunch of flaws but bird work was not one of them.
Comes now two more to the fold—first Rosie, a skinny, little  4 or 5 (or 6 or 7? Nobody seems to know...) year old setter who’s doubtless been around the block a few more times than one might expect for  her age, whatever it may be? And, a few days later, Mertie, a 3-year old well-bred (a littermate has just won a Japanese national championship) Elhew pointer.  Having spent all 3-years living in a neighbor’s empty rabbit hutch except for the many times she’s escaped and come visiting my dogs—Ginny, Patch and Maggie Magoo.

As Gale says, “What the hell are you thinking?” You too might wonder but the answer is simple: While I know way better when it comes to free bird dogs I just can’t bring myself to say NO!, NO!, a thousand times NO!!!

Gale, as hinted above, is totally against it from the get-go...Especially when Rosie arrives, takes one lap around the property, put’s a slight whuppin’ on poor Maggie—who turns tail and runs like hell.  Starts in on Ginny (no slouch her ownself), but on second thought, thinks the better foe might be  Patch.  Who has learned the hard way, after years of suffering  his mama’s abuse, to quickly retire to his kennel at the first hint of violence.  But for reasons way above my pay grade to even think of unraveling, this time Patch comes boiling out and the brawl is on...

Naturally, with fur and blood flying, I jump into the fray, attempt to break it up—a really bad idea.

While the two protagonists appear none the worse for wear.  A couple bare spots and little blood splatter is about it.  All these many years later I still bear several scars on my left arm. Naturally Gale, who has long since fled the battlefield, insists I head to the ER for stitches and a long overdue tetanus shot.

Rick Smith/Mertie this year's seminar demo dog.
Mertie was the easiest dog I ever yard trained.
Thanks to the Red Gods who, over the years have bailed me out of a bunch of wrecks, when Mertie arrives (more on how this came about later) there is no brawl. Ginny curls a lip, shows  her snaggly teeth, snarls a little, then drops her milk and the two sniff noses and butts and call ‘er good. Patch, raises his head, sighs, and goes back to napping. Mags and Mertie having bonded earlier, are buds and go to playing. Rosie, for maybe the first time in her life, simply ignore her and goes to flushing tweeties from the surrounding bushes.


Meanwhile Gale casts me a really evil look, shakes head in obvious disgust (pitty?), slams the kitchen door. Leaving my admittedly lame excuse—you know Ginny and Patch are really old and Mags is just learnin’ the ropes, need more dog power—to fall on deaf ears. And yes, I do endure the silent treatment for several days.

Oh well...

Stay tuned there is more, way more...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Gittin' 'er done, slow but sure.
The highlight (or low light depending) of  gunning all those pen-raised birds was how well Maggie adjusted to stopping at first hint of scent and not crowding—in my experience usually big trouble for dogs switching to wild birds who, for the uninitiated, don’t  do crowding well. Her performance led to my agreeing to run her in one of those “quick-draw shoot ‘em ups” so popular with many shooting preserve devotees.

With 10 birds planted and two of us armed with 10 shots each (the idea is to gun down all 10 birds with 10 shots in the least amount of time; the gold goes to the team who guns down the most with the least number of shots in the fastest time. Usually young guys who can run and keep up with flushing breeds and shoot lights out take the money.

So when Mike Moss and I with Mags at Heel  strolled to the line we didn’t expect much more than hoping Mags would do her thing and, of course, we didn’t want to miss no matter how long it took.

Well, not to brag, but we all came out firing on all cylinders, missed nary a shot and Mags nailed 10 birds real quick—No we  didn’t win but we posted the highest score of the few pointing dog teams and finished a surprising 3rd overall...Hot Damn!

By the time the next  Smith Training Seminar rolled around Mags yard training was pretty much a done deal with one glaring exception: Despite countless repetitions on the Whoa Post, on and off lead, with or without birds, she would Sit instead of “standing still, four feet planted firmly, do not move”...And no way could I stop her as my friend and long time pro-trainer, Web Parton defines WHOA! “ Whoa Broke means she’s running flat-out and STOPS like right now every single time...Like right now. “

Gale invited Rick and cousin, Ronnie, to the Club for breakfast each morning during their stay in the area. Naturally I ran Mag’s reluctance to Whoa properly by them.  Rick said, “Since we need a demo dog tomorrow anyway and sounds like she’s doing pretty good except for, bring her and we’ll  git her straightened out.”

So, as I expected she did the Heel, Here, Kennel stuff both on and off lead like a pro and she didn’t disappoint when Ronnie asked me to demo Whoa, first on the post and then on lead...no surprise she sat every time. And as usual no amount of coaxing (cursing) on my part changed things even a little bit. The crowd laughed, the Smiths chuckled and Rick said, “As ya’ll can see, Chuck’s a pretty good dog trainer ‘cept he needs Duct Tape.” I of course turned beet red, cussed the stubborn bitch some more, handed the lead over and slunk to the rear.

Rick took the lead, continued giving his spiel, every now and then stopping Mags—no command given.

After about 10 minutes of this he turned and walked her several hundred yards up into the field, “Whoaed” her, dropped the lead and walked down to finish.  Fifteen minutes or so later the little bitch had not moved so much as an eyebrow.  Rick walked up, tapped her to release and as she rambled down hill toward me he “Whoaed” her again and, you guessed it, she put on the brakes. 

Whoa Broke? You betcha.

And that, as they say, ends yet another chapter in this spell-binding drama.

Stay tuned, there is more, much more...

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Good lookin' pup, but at this stage one with zero wild bird experience...
Boot Camp

With Wehle’s words “he (Elhew Damascus) didn’t come to his training properly...Has something of a stubborn streak...” ringing in my ears, haunting my dreams...Like what if Mags is too stubborn for me to handle?

Soon after Mags arrived, I got a lucky break when my friend, Buck Koritko, Lion Country Supply owner, sponsored a Rick Smith training seminar which was to be held at the Spruce Creek Rod & Gun Club where I was employed as its Riverkeeper.  The day before Buck called and said “If you want to meet Rick and Delmar come on over this afternoon.” I didn’t know much about son, Rick, at the time but I sure as hell knew a lot about Delmar. For years I been reading Bill Tarrant’s glowing articles featuring Delmar. So naturally I headed to the store like pronto.

We hit it off almost from the get go and Rick invited me to attend the seminar though entering Mags was out the question as she was way too young.

Up to then with the exception of Bess who was essentially trained-up by the breeder (see Part 1 of this drama) I had “trained”—and I use the term loosely—those followed. My training program was of course cobbled up in bits and pieces I'd read and some of which I made up as went along. With all the ups and downs I'd had with the setters Ginny and Patch it began to dawn I needed a better program. 

Inspired by the Smiths I vowed to stick to their Silent Command program--train-up Mags to their high standard come hell or high water. Still pretty young some days the yard training went south in a hurry, other days she did pretty well. Far from finished when that first season opened she was reasonably reliant at coming to voice and whistle. But as Delmar pointed out, "Ya can start her and stop her, take her huntin'...

Sounded like a plan.

Birdy as they come,  she pointed and chased anything moved—mouse, grasshopper, tweety bird, butterfly, rabbit, you name it. Deer? She wasn’t quite sure what... But after a short chase, with me yelling NO! LEAVE IT!  she’d eventually turn back, usually hide behind me and bark foolishly until finally shutting up and Hi-On. 

In late summer, she ran into a hen grouse with several half-grown chicks. Suddenly, she got birdy as hell, flash-pointed a couple times and...CHARGE! Birds went every which way, most ended up clinging to a handy limb, while Ms. Grouse flapped about wildly, clucking furiously at the now totally insane Pup.  I ran in and grabbed the check cord, tried to calm her and make her stand. No dice. Defeated, I dragged her kicking, howling and barking pathetically out the woods where I finally got her under semi-control and back to the truck.

All the way home in the backseat she bounced window to window, whining and howling pathetically, certain those damn birds were out there somewhere.

Oh well...Onward and upward, after all she at least had a wild bird contact under her belt...

But that was about it for the season. Grouse in our neck of woods that year had hit rock bottom—even with the big dogs on the ground we went days and weeks with nary a bird contact. At times we considered maybe like Pennsylvania’s wild ringnecks, grouse were all but goners. The woodcock flight, for whatever reasons, fizzled as well.

For the first and only time in my life we spent the winter gunning released pen raised quail and roosters.

Not what I had in mind, but a bird dog needs dead birds...Right

Friday, October 20, 2017

Elhew Maggie Magoo
Elhew Maggie Magoo

I think was an article written by Bill Tarrant in Field and Stream first got me hooked on the idea of getting an Elhew pointer. For the uninitiated “Elhew” is Wehle spelled backward. Robert Wehle, once CEO of the Genesee Brewing Co. developed the line over many generations. Which in the opinion of many were (are) the ultimate in pointing dogs. Whatever, I wanted one.

So with Ginny and Patch getting on in years and feeling the need to add dog power to my operation,  I contacted Wehle with the intent of buying a pup... But with a price tag of $1500 and up depending on the expectations of a given litter, to say nothing of at least a 2 year wait, well I just did not have that kind of cash to toss around and I never did hanker long waits.

But then the unexpected happened.

Wehle, perhaps feeling sorry for my sorry ass, suggested I contact a guy in Tennessee (sorry I forget both his name and town) who was buying and breeding Elhews somehow didn’t quite measure up to the Wehle's high standard.

He said, “You want to get a pup sired by Damascus.  A dog I had hoped would become the ultimate pointing dog I’d been breeding for so long. But while at first he seemed to be “The One” alas didn’t come to his training properly...Has something of a stubborn streak which at this stage in our breeding program is not desirable. You should be able to get the pup you’re looking for at much more affordable price. Good luck and let me know how works out.”

Maggie Magoo (stemmed from Elhews in her pedigree: Maggie Mae/Mr. Magoo)  arrived at the Pittsburgh airport a few days after the magic 49th day. A tiny little thing, orange and white and full of piss and vinegar from the get-go.  When we got home, I put her down in the yard just in time for our neighbor, Wayne Harpster, to drive up the hill, snarling diesel pick-up revved to the max. Undaunted, Mags wheeled about, took a few steps toward the approaching  truck and...

And slammed the prettiest puppy point imaginable. Wayne stopped, rolled the window down, spat a stream tobacco, said, “Nice lookin’ pup, she’s gonna be a good one.”

And she was...

Stay tuned, the ride continues...

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Over a career spanned nearly 16 seasons, when Patch was on he pointed
countless grouse and woodcock; when he was off...Well, as I'm sure you
will agree, Ol' Patch was really OFF...
No desire to use Patch as stud dog and of course to quell the inevitable male urge for female companionship we had him neutered early on. In the last episode I related his obvious distaste at having anything to do with deer. So, when in the offseason, at about age 4 or 5 he started disappearing sometimes overnight, sometimes for a couple days or so where he went and why had us stumped. Worse each time he returned looking not only white as snow but fat and happy. The only explanation we could come up with someone, somewhere was taking him in but of course never really knew. For several years the disappearances happened at least a couple times and always during the off season.

Then one time I let he and Ginny out to clean the kennel and suddenly it occurred could see Ginny nosing about out back but no Patch. When he didn’t show up that night we figured “off on another over-nighter” and... Well, hell, see ya in a couple. But this time “a couple” turned from days into weeks.  Convinced he was gone for good we quit looking but...

Two weeks after he had vanished, we came home from work and there on the porch lay the S.O.B. –as always snow white, upside-down, sound asleep and looking fat and happy,

As I recall he only did the overnight thing once during hunting season. In January, Gale, our oldest grandson, Brian, and I decided to spend the last of the grouse season at our hunting camp. After a big breakfast in mid-morning we headed out. Ginny and Patch both brought their A-game that day and despite a few misses both Brian and I pocketed a grouse.

Late afternoon it began to snow—serious snow that piled up quickly, clogged the dogs’ bells and quickly filling any tracks.  Pretty hopeless conditions, I called a halt and whistled for the dogs to come in. Ginny came right in but no Patch.  When he failed to show after several more blasts Gale and Ginny headed for the truck. Brian and I went looking for Patch tracks.

We found a set (now just slight depressions in the snow) seemed to line out toward a paved road bordered the camp property. But the storm had deer moving and it soon became impossible tell dog tracks from deer tracks.

So we turned back to the truck and for the next several hours drove every road in the area. I knew most of the neighbors for several miles around and knocked on every door had a light in the window. “No Chuck, ain’t seen your dog.” Before going to bed we drove all around again, checked in again with several neighbors...No Patch.

To shorten a long tale, we repeated all the above next morning...Nothing, no one had seen Patch. So we loaded up, drove to a nearby hotel, gave them our home phone number and... Just as we were about to leave, Gale came up with what turned out a brilliant idea...”Our phone number is on his collar. Why not call our neighbor, tell her where we hide the key and have her check our answering machine.”


But here the plot thickens. Seems a guy indeed has Patch in Red Rock...“Well hell, Red Rock is only 25 miles up the road.”

Seems the guy, who just happens to have a kennel full of setters, is sitting reading the Sunday paper when a setter walks by the window... “Hm-m,” says he. “Don’t look like one a mine.” But by the time he puts on boots, coat and hat, Patch is gone. So he follows tracks down the hill and there sitting on the porch of an empty hunting camp sits Ol’Patch--as the guy says, grinnin', waggin' his tail, like where you been.

And that would be the end of it weren’t for the “rest of the story.”

When we get there shove  the old reprobate in his crate, thank the guy he says, “Before you take off, follow me I want to show ya somethin’.”

The hunting camp (does sort of resemble ours) is encircled by a wide, well-trampled path in the snow. Who knows how many laps it must have taken to trample it such?

But the big question is how the HELL did he get here?

Given it snowed most of the night dropping more than a foot, it’s inconceivable he would have traveled that far in unfamiliar territory. The highway passes through mostly un-occupied woods so chances of stumbling on someone were pretty slim. The storm would have kept traffic to a minimum but was plowed. Did a snowplow operator or other driver familiar with the area, pick him up and drop him off at the side road leading to the kennel?

Anyway, all these years later the only plausible answer I can come up with is... We will never know.

What a dog, eh?

Stay tuned there is more, much more...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

When Patch brought his A-game it was grouse beware...
For several years Ginny and son, Patch, were our constant companions and only bird dogs. Kenneled by day they spent the evenings lounging about the couch and slept wherever they happened to be when the lights went out. In winter Patch’s spot was beside the red hot woodstove. After awhile we got over fearing he would catch fire and I moved the fire extinguisher out of sight behind the couch—though still within easy reach.

With wild roosters all but gone and having no interest in gunning the tame variety we turned our attentions solely to ruffed grouse and woodcock. With each passing season the Pennsylvania grouse population seemed to be spiraling slowly downward and, especially mature birds, became way more skittish and difficult for the average pointing dog to handle.  Crowd one even a little bit and it would slink off and flush wild. Patch proved to be a quick learner and by age 3 (4th season) was as good a ruffed grouse dog as any I’d hunted over.

Opening day of Patch's fourth season, long-time hunting buddy, Mike Ondik, and I put Patch down in the State Gamelands just outside State College. A typical October opener, cool in the morning, too warm before noon, but with the woods and hedgerows  a riot of colors who could fuss about a little discomfort.  With the promises of a good hatch and Patch now bringing his A-game (at least most days) our prospects seemed as close to a slam dunk as any wild upland bird hunt gets.

Since I worked on the property and Mike lived a few yards from its boundary we all knew it well.  And as with any familiar covert both hunters and dogs are well aware of the bird’s favorite hangouts. So when I sent Patch he bee-lined for a nearby sumac and grape tangled hedgerow. We trotted along behind and got there just as he slammed the first point of the day.

Mike went through the hedgerow while I circled to the Patch’s front. Two grouse thundered straight away down the near edge. A set up, I somehow missed both barrels. But then a third rocketed off, crossed the hedgerow and Mike dropped it. Patch made the delivery (always to me, no matter if I shoot or not...Atta boy), spun around and, bell clanging, took off.

Though too many leaves made for tough shooting (I know, excuses, excuses) still he gave us so many chances that by early afternoon we’d both limited on grouse and pocketed several  woodcock for good measure. Wish now I’d counted points but trust me was a bunch—as good a piece of dog work as I’d seen at the time.

Alas, as I've hinted previously Ol' Patch did not always bring his A-game. Truth be known he had more baffling tricks under his too often damnable hide I hardly know where to start.

But stay tuned and I promise to at least try to sort some of it out... 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Following her second heat cycle we bred Ginny back to “The Meat Dog” and she whelped and nurtured 10 healthy pups—one of which, a male, we kept. (As always Ginny ruled the roost and seldom allowed the whole bunch to nurse same time).

Patch was born in April so there wasn’t a lot of training time until the grouse and woodcock season opened in October.  He took to “yard training” in typical puppy fashion, one day pretty good,  the next not so honky dory.

The good news, by the time the season opened in mid October, as often as not, Patch was pretty  steady on planted pigeons and on his best days pointed more released quail than flushed. Far from a finished product, but not bad, considering  still not 6-months old.

Comes now Opening Day. I had access to a nearby private property where I was pretty sure we wouldn’t run into other hunters/dogs, where a youngster could do his thing, start to figure things out without competition or worse getting caught up in the chaos sometimes found on public lands.

The first hour or so he rammed around at warp speed (Mama would have been proud), busted and chased a bunch of tweety birds and a couple grouse with enthusiasm—though clueless to the ideas of working bird scent or even so much as faking to slow down at the flush. So I said “enough.” And turned intending to make a big circle back to the truck put and call it good. Within sight of the truck we left the woods and entered an overgrown field where the landowner had planted a nasty, multi-flora rose thicket. 

As Patch hit the edge, he wisely turned and ran its length, spun back and...POINT!

You can imagine the turn around came not only as a big surprise but one I did not want to blow.

About 50 yards away I didn’t waste anytime getting there and just then up jumped a woodcock. It went straight up, towered briefly and headed for the far side the multi-flora. Even before it started to fall Patch was off and vanished in the thorny jungle.  Not my first rodeo dealing with razor-sharp rose bushes I did the end around and...

He stood, wild-eyed and with just a tip of beak sticking out his maw.  “Fetch,” says I.
Gulp! and gone.

Turns out a monumental moment in a long and storied career. With great and lasting difficulty he finally up-chucked at least a large part of the mangled carcass. And...and he not only never ate another bird he became a real-hot shot—a fetchin’ machine—true story.

The bad news: Of the many bird dogs of several breeds I've run, Ol' Patch was by far the most baffling; like just when I thought saw it all well...

Stay Tuned There Is More, Much More 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Young ruffie, Chuck Robbins photo
Explosion’s Ruffneck (call name Ginny)

A snowy, frigid (like 20 below) Christmas morning Gale and I drove over the mountain on icy roads to choose a setter pup. While we knew the breeder, both personally and by reputation, we’d never seen his place before.  So were a bit surprised when  directed  to an obviously hastily constructed wire-enclosed pen and a slapped together wooden box with a tattered burlap bag covered opening.
But before we could reflect on its flimsy construction and how cold the precious pups must be, out bounded a handful of white and orange, 12-week old pups, each crashing the fence, rolling and jousting each other in a wild melee.  Oblivious to the cold each bore that look...take me, take me!  Except for one which was hell bent to steal the show, chase the others back into the box—though with pups going every which way was pretty much a lost cause.

“Which is ours?” said Gale.

“That little bitch beatin’ up on all the others. Man look how she rules the roost. Believe it or not she’s the only female and as you can see is for sure boss dog.

So while I settled up, Gale—with Ginny in her arms already sound asleep—headed for the truck. When I got there she was curled in her lap snoring way too loud for such a little thing—a trait she would take to her grave 17-years later.  She hunted long and hard for 16 seasons. Given she did everything at warp speed, how she maintained the fire and stamina for so long was beyond baffling.

Sired by Explosion, a big Ryman/Llewellyn setter cross—nicknamed “The Meat Dog” for his prowess at putting birds in front the gun—we registered her Explosion’s Ruffneck.  As turned out the name pretty much said it all and at times proved to be wildly understated.  She was indeed explosive, by far the fastest dog I’ve ever blown a whistle over.  A real ruff-neck, she was oblivious to idea of avoiding self-inflicted pain and at times appeared to harbor a bit of a death wish.

Like the early winter morning I heard her barking and growling ferociously and discovered her terrorizing a hole beneath a large fallen oak. The same hole a sow black bear had birthed four cubs two winters prior.  Though no bear sighted this time around from the way she was carrying on I can’t shake thinking Mama  Bear had indeed again took up housekeeping.  Another time we heard her barking and discovered she’d treed a visibly and audibly distraught hen turkey.  We got to the slightly leaning tree just in time to see her run out of limbs a few feet below the turkey.  Judging how she clung to the tree, obviously hadn’t quite thought the operation through to a satisfactory conclusion.

When became apparent no amount of coaxing was going to bring her down, naturally I set the gun down, shed vest and shinnied up there. And yes I had a helluva time holding her and not losing my grip as we came back down.

But even that episode paled to the day we found her impaled chest first on a dead chestnut limb. Bleeding profusely, I yanked her free, wrapped the hole tight with a couple shirts, grabbed her up and headed for the truck, at least a mile distant. Maybe half-way there I stopped to catch my breath, she wriggled free and took off hunting as if nothing had happened!

Gale, who was toting my hunting vest and shotgun, screamed, “Holy shit, Chuck, you gotta catch her before she bleeds out.”

Bellowing dire threats along with countless whistle blasts for once she obeyed and came slinking back. But the real wonder was the hole in her chest, though ugly, apparently didn’t penetrate the chest cavity and the bleeding had all but stopped.  I muttered another string of unprintables, snapped a lead on the bitch and dragged her to the truck. Later our vet confirmed the wound looked way worse than was, cleaned and dressed it,  said, “She’s sure lucky but otherwise good to go.”

She died with shredded ears, the result of too many encounters with razor-sharp multi-flora rose thorns.  Which she plowed through going full bore as if it were tall grass. While my buddies carried blood stop powder in 35mm film canisters I toted a full jar. Instead of white and orange she ended most hunts pretty much blood red, with orange and white accents. Jack the Ripper would have been proud.

The good news is when not hell bent on destroying herself Ginny developed into a reliable and easy to handle bird dog. She rarely busted birds, pointed staunchly, hunted down cripples as good as any and fetched, if not always to hand, at least tossed them down in plain sight.

When conditions were just right, cool, light breeze, damp enough underfoot to muffle our approach and improved scenting, Ginny did okay too. But given warm, dry, no air, like most dogs, she struggled to get it done.  A faux pas obviously bothered her way more than me. And it was pretty neat to watch how careful and plotting she worked after bumping even a single bird. Such that it was a rare day she didn’t give me at least a good chance or two—and should I blow them... Well if looks could kill...

The flip side Ginny when woodcock were the quarry, she seemed to kick it up a notch regardless the conditions.  I shot more woodcock over her points than all the rest of my dogs together. To be fair during her time afield the woodcock migration was still pretty strong.  And she was uncanny at finding ‘cocks in places we’d never dream of looking. In mature oak woods, harvested crop fields and once  atop of a rocky ridge—for sure no country for earthworms—in a blinding snowstorm she pointed not one but several.  Another time I found her on point in the old apple orchard out back of our hunting camp—at least two months after the season and the last migrants had winged their way south. And later same day at the very edge of a beaver pond all but frozen with winter fast approaching. And on and on...

Hunting prowess aside she was a easy to live with house dog and a great companion. That she endured all those injuries and still got it done for 16 seasons I think pretty much says it all.

All these many years later we still miss ya gal...

To Be Continued...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Chuck Robbins photo....
Around age 4 or 5 I decided to breed Bess to a friend’s male. Twice failed but the third time sort of worked like the proverbial charm but... Her litter of one produced without a doubt the worst example of a “bird dog” ever.

As big as a really big setter, Sam was indeed a handsome dog, great personality, loved people, especially kids, might have been the easiest to house break of all but was absolutely clueless to the ideas of pointing birds and despite countless repetitions never did learn to obey even the most basic commands—such as No and Here. To be fair I don’t think stubbornness was the issue.  I do think Sam suffered what would be labeled in the classroom these days a learning disability.

If Sam ever pointed even a single tweety bird I missed it. Though he did run down and kill a skunk but not before getting thoroughly doused. Twenty miles from home I threw him in the trunk and still we had to drive home with all the windows down. Worse I never did get the stink out of the car’s interior, forget the trunk. A couple weeks later, he tried to eat the one and only porcupine he encountered—an ugly affair, in case you wondered, and one pretty much nailed the coffin shut.

When one day, I let him out to clean the kennel he made a few mad laps around the yard, jumped the fence and vanished. I spent a couple days looking for his sorry ass before finally coming to my senses and giving it up as a really bad idea.

Around 7 or 8 Bess began to slow down and seemed the perfect time to add a little dog power to the operation. I tried a couple Britts but neither came close to being a suitable replacement.  During that period a guy I barely knew called and offered to give me a fully trained springer spaniel bitch. “Just too busy to hunt her. She’s a really good dog and deserves better.”

Though I had no desire to own a flushing dog for reasons now long forgotten  I bit.  As turned out, Sophie and I had really brief relationship.  It soon became apparent “fully trained and really good dog” were blatant lies. Right off, I planted several birds, turned her loose and and she failed the abbreviated “hunt test” completely. Thinking maybe she’d had bad experiences with planted birds I took her to a friend’s shooting preserve in the off season. There were plenty of leftover released birds hadn’t been handled for several weeks—pheasants, chukar and quail—and she not only failed to work/ flush a single bird properly she ignored both voice and whistle commands any “fully trained dog” would know.

Blatant lies aside she had the personality of an angry rattler. Whenever I approached her kennel she would run into her box and growl.  I could stop her growling and coax her out by rattling the food pan but the look in her eye left no doubt we were far from becoming best buds.

Then one day as she ate I reached in to fill her water bowl and she bit me on the hand. The bite did not draw blood and I foolishly decided she struck not out of anger but rather surprise or even fear I might take her food away. But a few days later as I set her food pan down she nailed me good, leaving a scar on my forearm I carry to this day decades later. And that as they say was that. I snapped on a lead dragged her to the truck, tossed her in a crate and dropped her in the yard where she came from... And you guessed it I never heard from the guy again. Do you suppose he knew?

That same summer I had another short relationship (like 6 weeks) with a male tri-color setter named Tuck. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I think a friend of uncle Bob who bred setters offered him for free—something about too many dogs? Why he didn’t sell him is more than I know. But when uncle Bob declined I ended up with Tuck. (As they say a sucker is born every minute?)

Anyway between work and fishing, I had little time to run dogs.  But I did manage to get him out a couple evenings. The second evening he trailed a hen pheasant and her half grown chicks a long way in an alfalfa field, pointed staunchly until I flushed them.  “Lookin’ good,” I told uncle Bob, next day. But a couple weeks later, I came home from work and found him dead in the kennel.

Sorry but I can’t shake the feeling the breeder knew too.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Photo Courtesy Cornell/Gerrit Vyn
Ringneck specialist that she was, my fondest memory involved the biggest flight of woodcock I have ever encountered and the absolute clinic she put on next day.

Dick, I, and our Britts, Hazel and Bess, had been hunting grouse and woodcock all day in a pouring rain. I can’t recall much about the hunting that day other than we each shot a couple woodcock and I think Dick killed a grouse. Anyway both dogs hunted hard but perhaps because of the downpour neither performed even close to their norm.  Soaked to the skin, in late afternoon, we slogged out of the brush to the car and decided to call it quits.

But about halfway to town it quit raining. As luck would have it we’d just passed the Ball Field—a pet woodcock covert. Dick said, “What the hell we can’t get any wetter lets give it a whirl.”

So we put the tired, wet dogs down and entered the alders surrounding the  Ball Field and five minutes into it Hazel locked up, Bess backed and Dick dropped the ‘cock. But that was it. Shooting hours ended,  we put the dogs at heel, slogged toward the car. But just as we emerged from the alders suddenly it started raining woodcock.  Countless birds were dropping in all around us and of course the dogs went nuts.

We finally got leads on both and dragged them to the car. As Dick turned on the headlights to turn around, the infield was wall to wall woodcock and still more birds were dropping in. Naturally we made plans to return at first light.

The morning dawned dark and gloomy with ominous looking clouds scudding overhead pushed by a strong north wind. Unlike the evening before no woodcock dotted the infield in the headlights.  It seemed to take forever until light enough to shoot.  Then, as quietly as possible we tugged on shooting vests and loaded our guns. For reason escape me we’d left Hazel in her kennel, so I belled up Bess and turned her loose.

She hit the ground running and about halfway through the outfield grass dropped to a crouch, cat-footed to the alders and disappeared.

We hurried along behind, ducked into the flooded alders, slipped and splashed to higher ground and just then somewhere ahead the bell stopped clanging.  It took a little searching but we found Bess locked up staring toward a head-high hemlock thicket.

Dick said, “Take ‘em.”

As I started to circle a little to one side up jumped three birds. I swung on one going high left and dropped it. While Dick dumped one winging through an opening to the right. I swung back on the third towering high overhead and missed.  Dick, who seldom missed,  swatted it down going away.

After fetching the birds Bess moved on, went about 50 yards and locked up again, this time all but hidden behind a big oak blow-down.

Dick said, “Get in the open and I skirt around and try to send  ‘em your way.”

He did and sent the single right at me. I ducked, turned and missed the easy straight-away both barrels.

Dick laughed, “Good shootin’ kid, better luck next time.”

To make a long story short, Bess pretty much moved through the covert going point to point. Dick shot three more times and was limited out (5). Doubtless you readers are dying to hear my shot count, but all you need to know is when we quit at noon Bess had pointed at least 15 times after Dick quit shooting and I had four woodcock total to show for her considerable efforts.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rough Shooting Dogs (Part 2)

My first real bird dog, a Brittany spaniel, was the runt of a litter of field trial hopefuls. The breeder said, “She’s just too small to run with the big dogs so I can let you have her for 35 bucks.” He then sweetened the deal, “If you give me a hand feeding and cleaning kennels, I’ll get her trained up with the rest.”

 Naturally, I accepted and every chance I would put a lead on Bess and ride my bike the couple miles to Lou’s place. He had 15 kennel runs filled with trial dogs, dogs-in-training and for sale.  While Bess might have been too small to run with the big dogs, it soon became apparent she packed a ton of smarts in a small package. Right from the get-go she was always the first to grasp whatever it was Lou wanted. Such that as the yard training progressed I noticed Lou might be having second thoughts but to his credit never once wavered from our agreement.

After about a month Lou began to switch from obedience to birds, even though “quail walks” had been a part of the routine since the first day. He never did train her steady to wing and shot, “said most hunters want the dog to get on downed birds right away, ya lose less cripples.” And it took only a few sessions with planted birds until Lou started running her exclusively on released quail. Most of the time she pointed the covey staunchly and only once in awhile busted singles. I could tell by his grins how pleased which vanished quickly when every now and then she’d take one out obviously on purpose.  “Defiant little bitch ain’t ya.” Then he would get a hold of her by the ears, give her a good shaking, dress her down, make her stand, and then send her again. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. Lou said, “Don’t ever let her get away with the bull shit but don’t lose sleep either.  She’ll eventually get tired a being scolded and come around.”

By the time dove season opened he declared, Bess, a “gawldurned bona fide bird dog, you betcha.”

Opening day, Ralph, a neighbor invited me to tag along with he and son, Dick. I don’t know how old Ralph but Dick was WWII veteran and both were something of local hunting and fishing legends. Anyway along with Ralph’s pointer, Ev and Dick’s Britt, Hazel, we waded to the tip of an island in the North Branch Susquehanna, spread out in the sweltering, bee- and mosquito-infested smartweed jungle and began blazing away.  The pressure was on as my two companions seldom missed, sending their dogs to fetch following every salvo.  

Meanwhile I blazed away yanking the trigger at least 50 times with nary a cut feather.  But  when Dick said, “You done yet?” Thanks to Bess I was able to answer, “Hell yes.”

“Does that include the even dozen birds that thievin’ pup a yours stole?”

Oh well, like Lou said, don’t lose sleep over the BS.... Right.

Anyway, Bess, soon learned the hard way stealing birds was not such a honky dory idea when next time Ev took exception and gave her a good thrashing. 
I don’t think she ever weighed over 35 pounds. And doubtless “too small to run with the big dogs,” she could really pick ‘em up and lay ‘em down and didn’t know the word quit. Besides doves we gunned wild ringecks, ruffed grouse and woodcock, once in awhile wild bobwhite quail and jump shot ducks and the occasional goose.  No super dog, still she gave me enough chances that sort of by osmosis I eventually became a passable shot. She excelled at running down cripples and, while Ev cured her of stealing, she fetched anything I shot, fur or feather, though she had to drag in geese.  
An okay grouse and woodcock dog , she excelled on wild ringnecks. During her reign of terror (mid-60s to early 70s)in our neck of woods longtails were plentiful and because Pap knew just about every farmer in the county, finding a place to hunt them was not an issue.

Early on she learned to push running roosters slowly so as not to run them up wild. When the bird stopped she would point and not move until I either flushed it or tapped her on the head. Sometimes the point/move operation went on for several hundred yards. When at last she pinned it, as often as not, it was right under her nose, offering me an easy shot. 

But wild roosters being, well wild, some were slick operators—ran off, flushed wild, no shots.  Then one day she pointed, started slinking ahead and... Suddenly took off, running full bore in a wide circle far out to the front and... Came bounding back our way and slammed a solid point. Now she had the bird pinned between us.  A setup even I couldn’t blow and the rest, as they say, is history.

While I’ve heard of other ringneck specialists pulling this off, no dog of mine ever did. Though to be fair  Bess had way more experience chasing longtails than perhaps all my other dogs combined. About the time she was winding down wild ringnecks in Pennsylvania were all but gone—development, changed farming practices and the PA Game Commission’s ill-advised effort to save ringneck hunting by planting pen-raised birds to supplement the few wild birds remained. A feel good effort served only to nail the coffin shut. Sorry but we witnessed time and again wild roosters defending breeding territories against tame birds which knew no such boundaries and fighting off the competition when they should have been courting hens... I rest my case.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Annie the Wirehair fetching a sage chicken
Rough Shooting Dogs
The British term for what we call “bird hunting” is “rough shooting”—stumbling about the brush and fields hoping our dogs either point or flush birds within range allowing us to blast away. As opposed to taking a stand at an assigned “shooting station” and blazing away at driven red-legged partridge  sailing by overhead, meanwhile addled gun handlers  feverishly shove fresh shotshells into the chambers of a matched pair of priceless Purdeys—or whatever brand of so-called “London Best Shotguns” one prefers.  Having never crossed the Atlantic I am told our modus operandi  is frowned upon—the why of which is baffling.

Over here things are not so cut and dried, especially here in the wild west, where it is still sociably acceptable in most circles to shoot grouse off limbs or sage chickens out the truck window. Meanwhile some of us run high class, really expensive dogs , shoot shotguns costing several thousand dollars—high end stuff most of us really can’t afford—and think nothing of tramping countless miles of inhospitable country for the mere chance to collect a handful of feathers.  As opposed to gunning down the costly tame variety, raised in flight pens, as often as not dizzied and tucked under a convenient bush before loosing equally costly dogs and wielding equally costly shotguns—one guy told me it might cost more but the results are guaranteed notwithstanding death marches are not an issue.

We are of course like the Britts, a strange bunch, but having chased a variety of bird dogs over hill and dale for 61 years and and counting I’ve come to the conclusion without the dogs well... For-Get-It.

In the beginning our rough shooting dog was a leggy, black mutt, with pointy ears and a white chest blaze, named Tippy. Father told anyone who would listen Tip was a registered black Lab. Non-hunters of course were clueless, but any hunter worth his salt knew better, which often led to some really loud, heated and entertaining disputes—which I’m pretty sure he lived for but can’t prove.

Whatever Tip was he loved to hunt. He trailed ringnecks silently and tongued (rather yipped pathetically) anything else—rabbits, squirrels, feral cats, skunks, you name it.  Since I was the only one in good enough shape (I played football, basketball and baseball) to keep up I got most of the shooting. Father and uncle Bob abhorred rabbits and squirrels, were interested only in roosters and got to shoot only when a bird flushed and flew back their way. We hunted grouse and woodcock as well but wisely left Tip at home.

My first real bird dog, a Brittany spaniel, was the runt of a litter of field trial hopefuls. The breeder said, “She’s just too small to run with the big dogs so I can let you have her for 35 bucks.” He then sweetened the deal, “If you give me a hand feeding and cleaning kennels, I’ll get her trained up with the rest.”

To Be Continued...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Blown Out Rivers and Creeks?...

...Head for the many high country lakes and ponds...
Annie and me fly fishing Widgeon Pond on the Red Rock Lakes NWR a couple May's ago.
...scattered all across the Beaverhead National Forest, in southwest Montana. Contact,or better yet stop by, the Forest Service Headquarters here in Dillon and request the free Lake Inventory publication. Purchase the BNF Travel Maps and you're in business. Last time I looked there were about 300 lakes listed. Showing range, latitude and longitude, elevation and species and access--horse and foot travel, ATV, motorcycle, 4X4 or motor vehicle. Obviously this early in the season many are still iced over so pay attention to the elevation beforehand. As a rule those below 7500 feet are open now but there's still a lot of snow so getting there might pose a problem. The highest, the 8-9000 footers won't see open water until at least the end of June and some remain frozen well into July.

Many of the lakes hold westslope cutthroat trout, some pretty big. Brook and rainbow trout, Arctic grayling are found in many others. I know of only a couple brown trout lakes. No matter which lake, low, high, whatever the hot time is when the ice goes. For the next couple weeks trout swarm the shallows, looking for food in the warming water and in many cases looking to spawn. 

You don't need a lot of different flies--turkey jigs, chronomids, sheep creeks, wooly buggers and ants--always ants--are about it. Suspend the flies under a bobber, cast out and let 'er set, then let 'er set some more is one of the best methods. But if you can't stand staring down a bobber by all means strip 'em on a sink-tip or later when the trout go deeper, a full-sink line.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Catch And Eat

Article & Photo Courtesy Tom Dickson, Editor, Montana Outdoors Magazine
Sesame-Crusted Pan-Fried Trout

Preparation time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 20 minutes | Serves 4.

Most trout anglers don’t keep fish anymore. That’s been good for trout conservation because a released fish can be caught again. But it’s a shame so many anglers—and their families—miss out on the joys of eating freshly caught trout, once a cherished Montana tradition.

Where legal, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally keeping some trout for a meal. FWP biologists account for harvest in regulations designed to keep populations healthy. In fact, regulated harvest could actually benefit some populations by giving remaining fish more food and habitat to grow larger.

A delicious way to turn a few trout into a scrumptious meal is this simple recipe. It’s a slight variation on one published in Field & Stream from a Maine chef, who created it for brook trout. The yummy sauce derives from a unique mix of ingredients, most of them found in the Asian aisle of Montana’s larger supermarkets. Readers may balk at buying sesame oil, hoisin sauce, and sherry* for a single meal. I urge you to make the investment. Believe me, you’ll make this dish more than once.
Fillets of perch, walleye, freshwater drum, and larger trout work well, too. Keep the skin on if you can, but it’s no big deal if you don’t. Store-bought cod, tilapia, or pollack also make good substitutes. 
4 whole 11- to 13-inch trout, gutted
1 T. plus 1⁄2 c. vegetable oil, divided
1 T. minced fresh ginger
1 T. sliced garlic
1⁄2 c. chicken stock
2 t. dry sherry
2 t. soy sauce
1 T.  sesame oil
3⁄4 c. all-purpose flour
5 T. toasted sesame seeds
1 t. table salt
1 T. butter
1 T. Chinese hoisin sauce
1⁄4 c. chopped scallions (green onions)
1 small tomato, chopped
Julienned scallions, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat 1 T. oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Sauté the ginger and garlic for 1 minute, or until just golden. Add the chicken stock, sherry, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes, and set aside.
Combine the flour, 3 T. sesame seeds, and salt in a bowl. In this mixture, dredge the trout, which should be wet so the mixture adheres. Heat the remaining 1⁄2 c. oil in a large sauce or frying pan over medium-high heat. Fry the trout until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Cook in batches.

Place the trout on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven for 6 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken-stock mixture to a simmer and whisk in the butter, hoisin sauce, chopped scallions, and tomato. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Place a trout on each plate and spoon the sauce over each fish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 T. sesame seeds. Garnish with scallions.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Catch and Release...

...Keep 'Em Wet.

It makes sense that fish that are played longer and held out of water longer will experience more stress, and the more stress experienced by a fish the more likely it is to die when released. To reduce stress, scientists have recommended some general guidelines for catch-and-release angling

1) Minimize angling duration (the time a fish is played and handled for hook removal) .

2) Minimize air exposure (15-20 sec) by removing hooks with the fish in water and photographing fish quickly.

3) Use barbless hooks and artificial lures/flies.

4) Use rubber nets void of knots that protect fish scales and mucous 5) avoid angling during extremes in water temperature

Many of these guidelines are already practiced by educated anglers that retrieve fish quickly, leave them in water during hook removal, use barbless hooks, and photograph fish quickly before releasing them, ultimately keeping fish out of the water for no more than 15-20 seconds.

Anglers should also limit fishing during warm summer periods when trout are stressed (management agencies sometimes close fisheries during these warm periods).

These behaviors by educated anglers have helped substantially to reduce fish stress from catch-and-release fishing, thus increasing the chance those fish will live to be caught again.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Great Public Lands and Wildlife Heist...

Should the DC crooks get their hands on Pittman-Robinson Funds you can kiss the opportunity to photograph (watch) desert bighorn rams on public lands good-by. State wildlife agencies stand to lose millions and the first to go stands to be  managing fringe big game populations such as these. Desert bighorn tags bring big bucks but with no protections and no funds to manage they won't last long.

As the national media frets and fixates on whether or not Trump and his gang of thieves are in cahoots with Putin, he is quietly going about robbing we sportsmen and conservationists blind. Hardly a day goes by without another egregious Executive Order designed to gut every important protection which has to do with the things we hold near and dear—clean air and water, public land and water managed not for profit but for fish and wildlife; fisheries,  wildlife and public lands management based not on how the political winds blow but on sound science; assurance that moneys generated by hunting and fishing flow to the agencies mandated to protect and manage our fish and wildlife and not line the pockets of the crooks, the bottom feeders who are currently  jumping for joy every  time Trump picks up his pen. 

Clean Waters of the US...outrageous.  National Monuments... blatant Federal overreach of the antiquated Antiquities Act.  Dingell-Johnston, Pittman-Robinson Funds...outrageous waste of “tax” dollars. Grab ‘em, gut the state fish and wildlife agencies and get on with it. Here in Montana, this little review gem is estimated to cost Fish, Wildlife and Parks 20-million in lost revenue and nix any chance of purchasing the Grant Marsh WMA on the Bighorn River...”Make America Great, eh?”
And these three are just the tip of a very large iceberg. And what do most of us do? Nada, nothing, sit on our hands and keep on electing yes men like Ryan Zinke.  Insuring  a never ending supply line of self-serving  goons  to his cabinet posts, the Senate and HR.

Meanwhile we fret and fixate on that dreaded knock on the front door where the gestapo rushes in confiscates our guns...Never, I repeat NEVER giving a thought to what the hell good are the guns to us ordinary hunters if there are no public lands to hunt.