This is what the mountains around the High Desert valley looked like yesterday at my game club near Hesperia, CA I took Pride the English Pointer out for 90 minutes of work on a few released bobwhite quail. They are well fed and strong and sure feel like wild birds when they flush. We basically just release them and go find 'em. That way they are very alert! Enough to make an old guy blush when both barrels get burned and no feathers fly. Oh well.
The result was very satisfying-- wonderful quail meal in the offing! (I do love my old AyA XXV 12 bore double. These make fabulous ruffed grouse and woodcock guns too.)
The surprise guest was Digby, the mighty Dachshund that belongs to the club manager. He is a fierce hunter and determined retriever. The quail is about 1/4 his size. He even tries to drag pheasants in too. All heart!
We live in a small condo and have no yard and really no place to exercise Pride, the English Pointer, during the off-season. Plus, the few fields that might work out are rattlesnake havens in Southern California for about 8 months of the year. What to do?
A friend suggested a roading harness. I always thought you used these with a dog sled or wagon, with a bunch of dogs in tandem and trotted them up and down country roads for miles a day. Not so! I checked with a really good guy in Mississippi, Steve Snell who runs Gun Dog Supply in Starksville, MS and he told me how to use a harness. "Hook the dog up and walk slowly down the road/sidewalk. They naturally want to pull. Works on any bird dog, foxhound, coon dog, whatever." (The one I bought is here-- http://tinyurl.com/dfcan4 --It has a great padded area across the chest. You don't want anything that lodges against their neck. That could really hurt a dog.)
This works just great for Pride. We walk her 30 minutes every morning and she really pulls. Two other benefits: walking on the pavement/sidewalk keeps her toenails buffed down and it keeps me in shape too. We go about two miles. When the season opened this past fall she was a little pooped after the first couple of times out but it was also warm. As the weather cooled it was obvious that she was in good shape. This may not be as good as runninng 30 minutes a day but it sure beats doggie-couch-potatoe-syndrome!
I know that in MInnesota being out walking with ice, snow and subzero tempertures isn't great but you can do it once the weather eases up and you have all summer to get ready for those great fall days in Minnesota woods and fields.
All I can say is "Hunt 'em up Pride!"
I started the whole blog thing about 18 months ago and was fascinated by the opportunity to share my most trivial thoughts with a world-wide audience instantly. Much better than the old Xerox machine methods! The upgraded blog tools here are really super so your prospects of floods of boring old stuff from a curmudgeon on the Left Coast have improved greatly. To wit, yesterday Pride and I hit the bird fields again with the AyA XXV Churchill-style 12 ga. in tow. Chukar partridge were again the desired quarry. But that is somewhat irrelevant because the real topic here is "Will English Pointers retrieve?"
When we got Pride last year she was nearly three years old, had limited field trial work, lots of running, some birds, not much shooting or retrieving. She would retrieve, but it was sort of, well, you know, Huh, you want me to bring the fluffy, feathery, shot up thing back?? sort of stuff. The old adage plays well here--shoot a bunch of birds over your dog with no others around and let it figure the whole thing out.
Yesterday I shot indifferently--4 birds with 7 shots, all over points. These chukar are planted "hot" and they really move. A couple were planted in side hill spots where the 71 year old legs and balance system got tested pretty good, especially after the first bird went out behind me--it had crept through a thick tangle of brush and found the rear exit! Two shots, the bird came down, but pretty far out. Pride finally dug it out--it had run a little before giving up but she found it. Two other birds were downed well within range. The fourth, however, was a big male and I just plain missed the first shot; the second barrel hit him hard but he kept going up the face of the ridge finally going down about 100 yards out in pretty thick grass and sage. It took awhile, but she came running back with that bird.
Last season she would probably have given up on both of the tougher retrieves. Now, after shooting several dozen birds this season the habit is fixed. Point bird, watch it fall, bring it back. She's happy and so am I. All dogs want to please us, we just have to let them find out what we want. Patience, repetition and reward is the forumula I've found.
In early December we spent an afternoon and the following morning at the game club we belong to south of Hesperia, CA. I know most of you think that is probably somewhere on the moon and if you check out the blog piece I wrote out here you'll see a picture that does resemble moonscape. http://tinyurl.com/yd33dmr But that's not the point!
I love old shotguns. The bird gun pictured here is an AyA 12 gauge in the style of Robert Churchill, i. e., 25" barrels. It is thus termed a "XXV" and is still routinely made and sold by fine Spanish gunmakers at about one tenth the cost of a true Churchill. I have handled both and my Spanish lady has the same balance and feel. This gun is a Holland&Holland style back action sidelock. The barrels are bored light IC and Mod and for pointed birds it is just the ticket. I shoot one ounce of chilled #6 shot for both chukar and pheasant at these close ranges. If I still lived back there and could chase grouse and woodcock this would be my choice of guns. It was built in 1967 and spent many years in Scotland shooting driven birds. I obtained it from a Scottish gunsmith early in 2009. The importation was straightforward; shipping and duty costs did add up. But to obtain this same gun today would cost at least 3½ to 4 times what I paid for it in total. Any of you who like these old guns should get after them now because they are drying up at modest prices.
Oh, we had a heckuva' good time and shot chukar and one pheasant as a big time treat for Pride the Pointer. That weird looking critter next to the gun is a chukar. Not too much like a ruffed grouse but when set out properly they will fly like the devil himself is chasing them. I have had more than one wild flush and the birds end up in the cedar trees that grow on about one third of the 1400 acres of our club. Once in there it's about like grouse shooting in the evergreens used to be in Minnesota--iffy, chancy and maybe!
We never put out more than two or three birds for Pride during a two hour hunt. That way she works, we walk and it's about as close as we can get to a true hunt. I never thought I'd be doing this, but then I never thought I'd be 71 either!
Once my vision was improved after several surgeries and after about 18 months of shooting skeet again, the old itch to hunt birds returned. But what to do as I neared the big Seven Oh?
My wife and I visited a game farm and I shot some pheasants over a club dog. That was fine, but it wasn't my dog. The last bird dog, Babe the Brittany, had died in 2003. Then I met several guys here who hunted valley quail, whatever they were (!) and they used pointing dogs. I was excited about birds again so we decided to search for a pointing dog.
The criteria were pretty stringent: must be older and trained, we have no yard whatsoever and there is no public ground nearby that might serve to train a dog; I wanted a dog that could hunt right away last Fall, not a year later; and, the state of my health, though pretty good, is always a little dicey as time moseys by, to say the least.
Through the wonder of the web I found a new friend in
She is now going on four years old. She loves to hunt, points stylishly as you can see above, is a fair-enough retriever and is just a character!
The perfect dog? No, there really aren't any in my 40 years of knocking around the fields and woods. She likes to creep a little on point when I get close to her. She won't move unless I'm there though. That's okay because I like her to flush the bird. I trained seven bird dogs over 25 years and all were allowed to flush except one. I trained one to be steady to wing and shot just so I could say I did it. But as soon as you start hunting such a dog with your friends' dogs you'll find that all that effort disappears. If the other dogs break it's nearly impossible to keep your dog from going too.
The bottom line is that we love her to death! She lives in the house and pretty much thinks of it as her kennel. We're up every morning at 0530 hours and by 0615 we're out for her two mile walk on a roading harness. Keeps her fit and us too. Hard to get old with a kid like Pride in the house. She won't let us. More to follow.