We have four new pups to work with this summer so we thought it would be good to share what we’re doing with them. They’re all coming up on six months old. In addition to the basic commands we use around the kennel (come, kennel, etc) they’ve had a few play retrieving lessons – less than 10 sessions. Three are from our Iris x Mac litter – Lock, Blue and Thistle. Here are videos of their first retrieve lesson and one from this afternoon for comparison:
This is Misty from Firelight Setters.
They’re all enthusiastic about bringing the glove and obviously very excited about the game. Keeping it to a minimum prevents having them get bored. This game will give us something to fall back on if they hesitate to pick up shot birds later and is well worth the effort.
We also take them for occasional short walks in the forest near the house so they learn to stay with us and keep track of where we’re going. Everything is an adventure at this point and it’s fun to watch them explore the world. Here are a few photos from this morning’s outing:
We started our season as usual on Sage Grouse in Idaho. Sage Grouse are still in trouble here but there were enough birds around to get some good dog work and a couple excellent dinners.
We then headed to Wisconsin for our annual Grouse and Woodcock fix. We had several young dogs that needed to see some birds so our emphasis was on giving them the opportunity to show us they have what it takes. Grouse numbers were disappointing given the spring drumming counts and most birds we found were spooky and hard to get close to. It seemed like a higher percentage were adults which explains their wariness. We managed to find enough to keep it interesting but overall it wasn’t fantastic hunting and made it difficult to get our youngsters going. One bright spot was a couple coverts with good numbers of woodcock which helped make up for the lack of dog work on Grouse.
With poor reports of Chukar numbers in Idaho after last year’s heavy snows we decided to spend the rest of our season chasing quail in Kansas. So right after Christmas we loaded up and drove to Kansas, arriving just in time for sub-zero temps and howling wind. It was too cold to hunt so we spent our first three days scouting.
January 2-10 was spent at the 2nd Rymansetters.com Breeders Gathering. Hunting was tough after the weather warmed up as birds we had located seemed to vanish. We spent a lot of time with friends old and new and had a very productive series of discussions about goals for RS.com.
First day out was a reunion of sorts. We joined Walt Lesser with October Kade, and Bob Mele with October Lizzie Lee (Bob adopted Lizzie a couple years ago). We miss Lizzie and she reminded us why on this day, making a point on a covey and a single plus retrieving both birds shot over her points.
Walt Cottrell and “Rose” joined us for a hunt and Walt got these photos of Gen pointing a dead quail, Rose backing her, and Lisa with her Bobwhite.
After saying our good byes we got serious about locating birds for our young dogs. This is only the second year we’ve hunted Bobwhite Quail so it’s as much a learning experience for us as for the dogs. A light snow fall helped by allowing us to locate/track birds and we altered our hunting style as well as the habitat covered to maximize our chances of finding birds. It paid off. These birds tend to sit tight which makes them pretty easy for the dogs to handle. However they don’t put off much scent so, combined with their tendency to hide rather than run (we did find coveys that ran), they are surprisingly difficult to locate. The dogs had to figure this out and cover ground more thoroughly and we had to learn to hit areas we had previously passed by. We finished the hunt with dogs making points on the last 7 coveys we found.
Two highlights of that last week occurred on the same day. Buck has had very limited experience despite being two years old (thanks in part to Lisa injuring her knee and foot our second day in WI and being unable to hunt the rest of the trip). He found a couple singles last year (pretty tough for a young dog) but hadn’t really had much chance otherwise. We were hunting a cover we knew held some birds and he hunted very well, covering likely areas as he should. We passed through an area where he slowed down and scoured it thoroughly. We noticed scattered droppings and Buck moved out and sped up when we got away from the sign. So we went back towards where we’d seen the droppings and he immediately slowed down and worked the area over and over. Eventually he located a good sized covey and pointed them, sitting tightly within a few feet of his nose. He clearly knew those birds were there and searched until he found them. Later that day we hunted Coulter. He’d made points on a couple coveys before but this one showed he’s got it figured out. In a brushy draw He and Candy got birdy and we again noticed scatted fresh droppings so we knew there were birds around. They both made several short points while moving up the draw, following the birds as they ran ahead of them. About 100 yards up the draw and in the last patch of brush Coulter pointed the covey and held until we arrived. A very nice piece of dog work.
Our last day of hunting capped off the trip nicely. We’d been running Piper every day and she’d seen a couple singles flush but had no other contacts. This day she got out ahead of us and pointed for a while. It was windy and we never heard the flush but she had a covey pointed and was back where they flushed checking it out, making several short points and eventually locating a single straggler from the covey.
In the end we’re really happy with the development of our youngsters and got to enjoy some quality hunts with our older dogs. Now it’s puppy season (we’re babysitting Brook’s litter right now) which will keep us busy for the next few weeks.
We’ve always considered retrieving an important part of a hunting dog’s job. Aside from being a nice addition to the enjoyment of the hunt, a good retriever knows how to search for and locate crippled birds that run off after hitting the ground, giving you a chance to recover birds you have little or no chance of finding without a dog. A couple incidents on our recent trip to Wisconsin served as a nice reminder just how important it is.
One morning I took Iris out and,towards the end of the hunt, we flushed a Grouse that fell at my shot. I marked it well but knew it wasn’t dead so I got to the spot as fast as I could. Iris quickly found a single feather on the ground and searched the immediate area for the bird. There was a lot of blood on the ground and a small spot of fresh grouse droppings so I knew I was in the right place. Iris acted like she smelled the bird a short distance away but we were unable to find it so I gave up and headed back to the truck. Having only had a handful of birds shot over her Iris just didn’t have the experience to know how to find a running cripple despite searching hard for the bird.
Since it was only a quarter mile or so from the truck we decided to take an experienced dog back to the area to search for the crippled Grouse. River is very good at hunting dead so he got the call and we took Violet along for the experience. Upon reaching the site both dogs quickly located the scent where the bird hit the ground and started searching for it. River began working in circles around where he first smelled the bird and soon located the same spot where Iris got birdy about ten yards away. He knew what that meant and started searching in a line beyond this second location. Twenty yards further on he pointed and there was the Grouse, still very much alive, hiding under a log.
He soon grabbed for it and caught it after a short chase, turning my mood from disappointed to elated.
A few days later I had Lizzie out and a Grouse flushed from over a small hill ahead of me. I threw a quick shot at it but lost site of it as I shot so I didn’t know whether I’d hit it. Two more Grouse flushed so I hurried over to give Lizzie a chance to point any remaining birds. She locked up so I snapped a few photos then walked in to flush.
When nothing happened my first thought was she’s pointing where one of the birds had been. Then I remembered I’d shot so I looked on the ground and soon saw the bird hiding where it fell. Very nice.
We then followed up the other two birds and Lizzie pointed the first in young Aspens overlooking a wet area. The bird flushed out over the alders and I shot it. Lizzie beat me there and was searching excitedly about fifteen feet from where I marked it. She didn’t locate it so I called her over to where I marked its fall. She got birdy right away and searched hard in circles around my mark, repeatedly sniffing under clumps of grass and willow trying to locate the bird she could clearly smell. She then headed over to where she’d first smelled the bird and continued hunting on that line, quartering narrowly and several times sniffing the ground. I followed and she pointed the Grouse about forty yards ahead. Again it was hiding under a log and she quickly caught it. Needless to say she made my day. A point on the third Grouse, this time with a clean kill, added the icing to my cake.
Although there is disagreement about the value or necessity of retrieving, some even claiming it is a negative (the desire to catch the bird makes the dog less likely to hold point), for me there is nothing to discuss. We have an ethical obligation to do whatever it takes to recover game after the shot and a good retriever simply can’t be beat when it comes to locating downed birds.
We just finished our Chukar season in western Idaho. With bird numbers still low and weather (fog) and road (mud – at one point we lost control of the truck at 10 mph in low gear and 4WD) conditions conspiring to keep us away from most areas it was really tough to find birds.
By the end of the season it felt like spring. Temps in the 50s, Huns were paired up, grasshoppers were out and flowers were blooming.
Roads dried out enough so we could get around better the last 4-5 days of the season and we found a few more birds. We had to work REALLY hard to get our young dogs into birds. Like 4-5 hours a day climbing hills like this: We had six 8 & 10 month old pups with us that had never seen wild birds. We worked them a few times on training quail and got them shot over in October and they looked really good so our expectations were high. But the proof is in how they handle wild birds so we were intent on seeing how they would do. They not only met our expectations, they exceeded them, and they’re easily the best batch of young dogs we’ve had. 3 out of 6 (Prince, Blaze, and Iris) made points on the first wild birds they found and Brook was pointing Chukars by the end of the first hunt on which she saw birds. We even managed to shoot a couple over those first points. We weren’t fast enough to get photos of them pointing but here are some videos of retrieves:
Iris (River x Spice) retrieving the first Hun she found, and pointed:
Brook (Doc x Camas) retrieving the first Chukar she pointed – this is actually the third time she brought it to me:
Here’s Gen (Heath x Pepper) on the first bird we shot for her. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with it at first but the early play retrieving lessons paid off and she recognized the fetch command:
And this is Violet (River x Paint) retrieving a Hun:
We had one hunt that’s good for a laugh. Every day we see a different truck parked in the same spot and we always hear shooting there. We’ve never hunted it but we decided to give it a try. So we climbed up and crossed a ridge over to a big canyon that’s hard to reach from other places so we thought we were on to something. It was very steep dropping into the canyon so we were walking very slow when Lisa says “there goes a covey of Chukars”. It took me a while to find them – hopping up a huge cliff 100 yards ahead of us in short steps all the way to the top. They’d obviously played the game before and there was no hope of getting them. This is the spot: It was like one of those old cartoons and we were Elmer Fudd. It did make us notice this Golden Eagle nest though:
All in all we had a good time and were especially happy with the performance of our youngsters. Seeing them put it all together under such trying conditions with only a few bird contacts was very gratifying. Since we took more photos we’ll just put them in here for fun. Hope you enjoy them.
We have never participated in field trials or hunt tests, but we have always thought that our dogs should do OK in NAVHDA’s Natural Ability Test, with the possible exception of the tracking requirement. But, without actually trying it this was only a guess. Last year Andrea Ashbaugh decided to enter her female Dart, out of Pepper and Heath. As far as we know this is the first time one of our pups has been entered in a NAVHDA test.
Andrea is a good trainer and Dart was coming along great for a young dog, but as the test approached it was looking like things weren’t going to go very well. Dart had been pointing wild birds fine but she thought planted birds were dumb, plus she had no enthusiasm for water retrieves. The guys at the NAVHDA chapter were also giving Andrea some grief about trying this with an English setter, especially a Ryman type.
At the last minute Dart decided to play along and everything suddenly fell into place. She got a Prize One with 4 points out of a possible 4 in all but one category! In Andrea’s words here is how it went:
“107 out of a possible 112 points. Nose:4, field search:4, water:3, pointing:4, tracking:4, desire to work:4, cooperation: 4. 4 is max possible in each category, and each is multiplied by an index # correlating to the importance of the characteristic. Water got 3 b/c I had to verbally encourage her, but she swam with minimal delay for plain bumpers. It was windy and (relatively) cold, but she did it. I really liked all of her work, and the judges loved her cooperation in combination with her obvious desire. And her ease of handling for the physical exam, lol.
“In the chapter results, she was (of course) the only ES tested. She was the only one out of 12 tested that got a 4 on tracking, which I thought was pretty cool, as our “work” on tracking consisted of maybe 2 drags in our tiny front yard. Nose, much? Her track was about 80 yards to the pheasant with her sticking to an interesting zig zag down the track the whole way and locking on point about 15 feet from the bird.
Out of the 12 tested, 4 got a prize 1. I think Dart might have even gotten a 4 on water if the entry hadn’t been a drop off into the little pond they used. She immediately went for her first bumper, then on her 3 or 4 step into the water she fell in over her head. After splashing back onto the bank, she was a little hesitant, feeling out the drop off then swimming for her two retrieves which got her the 3.
What blew me away wasn’t so much her overall performance, because I’d seen how well she searched for and pointed wild stuff, and cooperated as she developed this year, but her extremely fast learning curve from “planted birds are non-entities” and “swimming for plastic bumpers is a REALLY STUPID idea” to a prize one…two weeks. Two. Weeks. Good god, what if I actually knew how to train one of these dogs?”
Paint whelped her puppies Saturday night February 2nd, two males and five females. The whelping went smoothly and Paint and the pups are doing great. We’re even caught up on sleep. Here’s a short video clip of Paint and her pups.
The word that best describes this season’s chukar hunt for us is- COLD!! Cold and snowy. It’s common to have some cold periods during the month or so we can camp over there, usually a few days or maybe a week of lows in the teens and highs in the twenties or thirties. This time it was colder than that for the whole trip. The warmest days had highs only in the mid twenties, and it was down in the single digits all but a few nights. There was also a significant amount of snow to deal with. All of this made for tough hunting conditions for us and the dogs.
The only good thing about the snow is that it helps to concentrate the birds. Steep, south facing slops often melt off if there is any sun, despite the cold air temps, and when they do there will almost instantly be new cheat grass shoots in response to the moisture. Some of our favorite hillsides were a foot deep, but others were lush with new growth, and had plenty of birds.
Our basic strategy most days was to sit in camp with heaters running until mid day, and then get one hunt in during the warmest part of the afternoon. Some days it took quite a bit of debating to drum up the courage to actually get out of the truck. High teens, along with not too much wind, seemed to usually be the cutoff for whether we thought we could hack it or not.
Fortunately all of our current dogs have already proved themselves on wild birds, so we could just go enjoy the best part of the day without feeling pressure to be out when it was too miserable. Still, by the time a good 2 or 3 hour hunt was over we would typically be hurrying off the mountain to get back to the truck as the evening temperature dropped, with dogs in tow who wished they didn’t have snowballs between their toes.
Always nice to be out camping and hunting with the dogs, even if it is 5 degrees. At least it wasn’t minus 20 like it was at home while we were gone. Eventually the season is over though, and it’s time to get back to work. Also had to get home so Paint could whelp a new litter…
We have three litters due late May/early June. Paint x River is due around May 22nd, and Pepper x Heath is due around June 2nd. Paint is definitely pregnant, we’ll know about Pepper within the week. These are repeat breedings that produced excellent pups. There are pictures of several pups from both litters in our Feb. 6th post “2011 Pups“.
The third litter will be out of Blair x Heath. Blair is a very nice example from our Bess x Sage breeding owned by our good friend (and extraordinary veterinarian) Walt Cottrell. She is 47 lbs, OFA Excellent, athletic, and hunts close. She also looks a LOT like Bess. Bred to Heath, we expect her to produce medium sized, athletic pups with great conformation. Walt will raise Blair’s litter in PA.
Blue’s owner Sue sent us these photos of Blue from recent trips in the field. Blue is almost two years old, born early March 2010.
Two points on Huns. He’s got Sharptails in the rest. The last two are both shots of one point. In Sue’s words- “He went into some deep grass and out of sight and when I found him he was on a nice solid point. This is the one he held so nicely when the sharptail decided to fly off one at a time, honking and flapping, he held for all of that. I was in front of him saying “Whoa” and he started to let down a little but held for me while I looped way out in front and flushed the rest of the flock, about 15 birds in all!” Except for the first Hun point, all of these photos were taken during one outing last week. Nice work Blue!