Friday, December 26, 2008

big thoughts + a connection

Orc
Orkney-- orcs -- the school of sleeping whales,
To those who glimpsed it first,
Hills half-sunk in the sea.

This haiku is from a chapbook of Haiku for the Holy Places by the late, and fabulous, Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown, that I was given as a Christmas present. I honestly can't really say enough about GMB. He was one of very few authors who could write across genres, meaning that as beautiful as his poems are, his short-stories are arguably better. To my mind, his novels got better as he got older --perhaps because he'd learned how to pace himself from the delicate intensity of the poem to the short story and on to the novel. As a crossing place for languages, civilizations, religions, wars, and myths, Orkney was a powerful catalyst for his talent and imagination -- and a place that has become home to me. And I have always loved haiku -- I think it's the lyric efficiency of the genre, of a world in seventeen syllables. And bearing in mind its dedication to the natural world, I have always enjoyed my trips over to Hunting Haiku Daily.

Maybe it's because with winter here, folks are getting suitably reflective on their hunting seasons and on hunting in general. At the beginning of this month, Matt at Sometimes Far Afield put up a great piece on 'if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?'; Holly at NorCal Cazadora also has a thoughtful piece on the paradox of hunting, on what feels like to have hunted successfully, and to have ended a beautiful life; and Mike at Living with Bird Dogs has a succinct observation or two about why reducing the experience of hunting to a numbers game is to do injustice to both the game you are hunting and to hunting itself. Hopefully this pic is as convincing an argument that 'hunting' is as much if not all about the relationship you have with your fierce, rugged hunting dog.

The most recent copy of Sporting Classics magazine (Jan/Feb 2009) arrived at work yesterday. I'll admit that Sporting Classics isn't my normal cup of tea -- too many ads for guns I'll never afford, to shoot at resorts or plantations that probably wouldn't let me run my own dogs, or shoot at game that makes a better rug than it does a sandwich -- but I came across Todd Tanner's 'Wild Heritage' column describing a three-day media event he attended this fall. The highlight of the column, though, was his being party to 'a reunion' -- of Rick Ridegway's reunion with hunting after 45years. Rick Ridgeway is, frankly, a man of mythic proportions in the mountaineering community -- after being the first to climb K2, arguably the world's most dangerous mountain, without supplemental oxygen in 1978. What clicked in my memory, though, was that Rick Ridgeway is the Vice President of Environmental Initiatives for leading outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, and one of the prime-movers behind their Freedom to Roam initiative to restore and maintain wildlife migration corridors.

I love Patagonia. I love their clothes and I love the majority of their politics. But as I became a hunter, I no longer saw myself in their catalogs... that might simply be because whatever chemicals are used to create 'Hunter's Orange' are in fact highly toxic and known to cause cancer in California (who knows!)... but it seemed as though the company had discretely filed away the fact that the reason its founder, Yvon Chouinard, had gone to high, rocky aeries as a teenager and become obsessed with scaling them was because he was first and foremost a falconer -- a hunter. I don't mean to imply deception on their part, just that for them to openly acknowledge the place of hunting in their corporate legacy is perhaps too messy.

Their stance seems like the inverse corollary to something Christina Larson in Washington Monthly wrote back in 2006 about 'an emerging environmental majority': "Americans like green, but they are less fond of greens. And that has been doubly true for outdoorsmen." To me, at least, Patagonia seemed to have forgotten that its environmental sensitivity had first and foremost stemmed from the attuned senses of a man who understood the majesty and beauty and tragedy that comes from a successful hunt, especially one that is the product of a relationship between man and a bird (or dog). And while they have embraced fishing, perhaps other kinds of hunting are simply too bloody or politically complicated.

Nevertheless seeing Rick Ridgeway in Sporting Classics (along with Bill Klyn, Patagonia's fishing marketing manager and coordinator of the World Trout Initiative) is, I hope, an omen for the kinds of productive alliance that Mike, Finspot, Labrat and Matt Mullenix and others discussed in the comments section of his original post. Importantly, though, Todd Tanner also captured Rick's contemplative moment at the end of the day as he held two of the sharp-tails that had been shot that day. (I apologize for the lengthy quote, but I haven't been able to find Tanner's column on-line.)

"On the one side of this peak there's pride and satisfaction and happiness -- all emotions we feel when we're successful in the field. On the other side, a full 180 degrees removed, is the sadness of taking a life, of killing an animal we share a deep connection with; an animal we both respect and admire. It's the contradiction of the hunt, and if we lose our balance, if we stray too far from the point where we can see both directions, we risk losing an important part of ourselves...

In any case, a handful of us had the distinct pleasure of watching a good man reconnect with the landscape, and with himself, on a beautiful Montana afternoon. It was a blessing, pure and simple."

Having said all that, however distant Patagonia has become from those of us who enjoy hunting, we would probably all still benefit from reading Yvon Chouinard's revolutionary essay in the very first Chouinard Equipment catalog from 1974. As he wrote: "Thus, it is the style of the climb, not the attainment of the summit, which is the measure of personal success. Traditionally stated, each of us must consider whether the end is more important than the means."

Our two red-dog ruffians enjoyed a Christmas dinner of grilled quail we hunted back in November. I think it made them antsy to chase birds again. Thanks, too, to Jen for sending on these two pics of their respective majesties.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

musical highlights of 2008

The 'experts' at All Songs Considered have been compiling their own highlights of the year in music, while their listeners' poll has both confirmed many of their opinions in addition to adding a few other recommendations of their own.

In general, while I enjoy the opinions at All Songs Considered, I find a lot of the bands they love to be all rather samey. I haven't been a real alternative music addict since graduate school -- and regard one of my luckier moments of my previous life to book the Arcade Fire to play shortly before they went really huge and started touring with U2. And while I don't know that I necessarily adore their music, I do think that they had an original, interesting sound that it sounds to me like so many of the newer All Songs favorite bands aspire to. My biggest divergence of opinion with the folks at All Songs is that I really don't care for much of what Carrie Brownstein (formerly of the awesome Sleater-Kinney and now of the Monitor Mix blog) has nicely categorized as 'beard rock' -- music by sensitive, hirsute men featuring lavish mixes of ocarinas/acoustic guitars/concertina that they found in their grandparents' attic/a forest cabin/therapy (pick whichever combination works).

Nevertheless, inspired by listening to my All Songs Considered podcasts on my commute to work, I decided to make a shortlist of my own top-4.

Hail of Bullets, Of Frost and War. I think this is a great death metal album. It has a classic feel to it -- nice and chunky and doesn't rely on too many odd time-signature changes to keep it from feeling repetitious. I happen to think that Martin Van Drunen's vocals are perfect -- and it sounds as great as it does because it's produced by Dan Swanö (of Edge of Sanity and Bloodbath fame). Sort of Bolt Thrower meets Medal of Honor.

Kayhan Kalhor & Brooklyn Rider, Silent City. This one starts a little slow, but just picks up and picks up. Kayhan Kalhor is a virtuoso kemençe fiddle player who has already played with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, helping audiences around the world unpack the threads of musical translation along the great trade route that united east and west. Brooklyn Rider is a string-quartet based in, surprisingly, Brooklyn dedicated to using "the rich medium of the string quartet as a vehicle for borderless communication." Unlike some fusion albums, this seems to let both parties actually remain distinct.

School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms. I believe this album may actually have been released in 2007, but I didn't find it till this fall. And it's my poll. You can check out several songs from the album at their MySpace page -- although I would say that neither of my favorite songs is here. I won't tell you what they are because the album is that complete -- it's not an album you rush to fiddle with your iPod scroll wheel to get to the tracks you prefer. And each tune has its own character without sounding like a pale imitation of its neighbors.

Portishead, Third. I'm surprised I like this as much as I do. Some of my other favorite albums -- like those from Scott Tuma or Amiina -- are great to listen to because they are a wonderful briccolage of sounds, some prominent, some submerged. While Portishead is often credited as one of the originators of trip-hop (and this album has the trademark qualities of electronically-induced ethereality), Third seems stripped down to the most basic elements with little clutter.

One of the All Songs critics (and I apologize for not remembering who) on one of my podcasts made the interesting observation that perhaps we were entering a different aural epoch, insofar as the boombox has been displaced by the iPod, speakers displaced by headphones, and the elaborate studio replaced by the digital home recorder. In that regard, the music too has become perhaps more intimate, more layered, and arguably cleaner.

If I'm feeling more Grinch-like, maybe I'll share my biggest music disappointments of 2008. In the meantime, have fun, stay warm, and love the ones you're with. Especially if they're red-dogs.

Monday, December 8, 2008

hallelujah... that's over... when does the spring season start?

I just wrote a post for Living with Bird-dogs reflecting on our first fall trialing season, but wanted to dedicate this post to my own Derby lunatic: Mr. Enthusiasm, Mr. 200mph. He is a possessed dog who I have been told by judges places as well as he does because he also handles really nicely. He's a dog that wants to work with you.

I figured that I'd enter him in both Amateur and Open Derby to see, as much as anything if a) he had the jets (YES), and b) if running the second stake would make him a little calmer (NO). His Amateur stake went out around 9:30am and he was off to the races. He had a total of three finds and a stop-to-flush – and was forgiven grabbing another running bird that the other dog chased in front of him. His final point was a thing of beauty – especially because the light was catching his fluorescent flash collar – and because we had to come through a small break of trees into a pine glade and there he was, standing tall, pointing a brushpile with a quail underneath. (This picture is from last Thursday; we had gone up to Flaherty to see if we could hunt a couple of extant quail for Momo and to try and do some training drills with Jozsi in the wide-open spaces.)

His second stake went out around 3:30pm – and he left us for dust. Again, he knows to come around and check-in, but maybe because the start of the Open course was the same as the Amateur course, he knew which direction he was headed in. He still patterned nicely across the main path, but he was off. He pulled up in his first point almost as soon as he turned into the main part of the course and I had to call the judge up just in time to witness the bird flush wild; within two minutes, he had pointed his second bird and stood miraculously still while a quail, literally, ran under his nose. He was looking calmer till… I collared and heeled him over to the other side of the course and turned him loose, literally on top of a quail I hadn't seen. He grabbed it, mouthed it a couple of times, but gave it up without bolting. But I knew I'd just probably given up the reins. He ran like a madman and found another bird in the same copse of pines that he'd found his final bird from the day before. He held almost perfectly, but marked the bird down and despite being cast off in a very different direction took a long, looping arc back around towards it, only to stop-to-flush it. I managed to get him away from it once more and sent him off into the hinterlands to hopefully (fruitlessly) search and not find any more birds to drive him crazier. It is a roller-coaster with him.

After reading a bunch of opinions, I had also been experimenting with how much to feed him, when, in what ratios, and settled on the following:

  • on a single-stake day, and assuming he's running before lunchtime, I have been getting him out loose for 15-20mins to clear his intestines first thing in the morning and then feeding him a half-batch of food with a half-batch of Glycocharge;
  • on this two-stake day, I did the same thing first thing in the morning, and then immediately after he'd finished his first stake fed him the same combination of solid food and Glycocharge again.

My rationale was to give him enough calories to run and not have to stop to poop the whole time he was running – and without the solid food mass that might give him stomach torsion, bloat, or anything exercise-related like that. (Over the last month or so, I have also been slowly increasing the amount of Glycocharge I've been giving him to minimize any digestion issues he might have from a new food source.)

And we came out well, all the same. He won Amateur Derby beating out 11 other dogs – and took second in Open Derby, which was an 11-dog stake. We've had a very fortunate fall of trialing: 2 Amateur Derby wins, one 2nd and one 3rd in two Open Derby stakes – and he ran beautifully but birdlessly in his first and only horseback stake.

*******

All of his successes are in no small part due to the 'silent partner' in his family -- my wife, Meg, who diligently takes both boys out to run first thing in the morning and is most often the one running them in the afternoons. Both boys stay in great shape because of all the exercise (and love) she gives them.

*******

He's my first dog that makes me not able to sleep because I'm thinking about how he runs and how he desperately wants to find birds. But as one of his judges from this weekend, Ken Kohles, told me, a fellow who actually judged him in both Amateur and Open Derby, he is also a dog "that wants to be broke." Ken judged him in two stakes in which, in my estimation, he ran much hotter and much bolder than he'd run before – in part because he now knows the game, knows when and how to test his independence, but nevertheless still keeps coming around to check in before his next search-and-locate mission. I am officially hooked. And Jozsi can't believe his luck.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

good memories + good dogs

We took part in the CVVC Walking Field Trial today and while I will say more about Mr. Enthusiasm in a later post, I want to salute a few other good dogs. This was also the first trial the CVVC had held since Patrick Cooke's recent passing and so he kept floating in and out of people's conversation -- which seemed only appropriate. (And as Michelle of Broad Run Vizslas was keen to point out in the comments to last week's post, he was the kind of guy you only needed to meet once or twice to know where his heart lay.)

(I should also say that I've seen some of Michelle's dogs handled by Bob Seelye and they looked really nice.)

Dennis, Jen + Sally had decided to check out trialing as well and managed to get a last-minute entry in Amateur Gun Dog (AGD) -- and Kim of ForestKing Vizslas had also decided to enter Kyler in AGD as well, having (I believe) trialed her once before when she was much younger and before she started having litters. So, it was nice to see even more familiar folks down there and having fun with their dogs.

The first pic is from Sally's run -- and shows her first bird in flight while she stands proud for her dad. I may be wrong, but I think Sally ended up with four finds in her brace and handled beautifully for Dennis (as she does). She certainly did well enough to be one of the top-4 dogs called back for a retrieve. I didn't get to see her retrieve because I was getting Mr. 200mph ready for his afternoon run -- but from what I gather, a dog couldn't have done more. Her bird took four shots to be hit, landed on a section of frozen pond, Sally went through the ice getting the bird and then clambered back to deliver it to hand without batting an eyelid. And WON Amateur Gun Dog! As numerous folks said this evening at the awards dinner, it just takes that first blue ribbon to get you addicted.

"How much is that dualie (with two-horse, three-dog trailer in tow) in the window?"

Sally beat out some great dogs, including both Kyler and Joan Heimbach's Octane. The second pic is of him boogeying through the grass on the way to his third or fourth find. He is a big, strong-running dog with a sweet, sweet disposition. During the majority of the trial season, he is also normally handled by Bob Seelye -- but did a really nice job with Joan in the driving seat this time around. Octane ended up being called back and finished second; Joan also ran her Geena who took fourth).

If Jozsi settles down in the bird-field and works as definitively as Octane, I will be really really pleased. Which would be fitting seeing as Ocky and Jozsi share a common pairing on their mothers' side: CH Obertakt Downeast Jacky Blue JH and CH Sippican Upwind Gold Batea JH VC ROM.

Good ancestors should produce good dogs -- and being a 1/2 sibling to Jozsi, Kim's Kyler shares that pairing, too. I wanted to write about Kyler because while she did not get a call-back, I can't imagine that there was a huge gap between fourth and Kyler. Octane was clearly the better dog of their brace, but Kyler ran big, had two great finds (including a point she held for at least four or five minutes because the judges couldn't get their horses in close enough to see her bird-work), and... and... spontaneously honored Ocky when she came across him on-point on the edge of a tree line. Looks like all that SH training wasn't in vain! The picture is of Kim handling Kyler away after her first find. And I guess that's one way that trialing is different -- Kyler ran great and just got beat. But she ran great nonetheless. Nice job, K+K.

Two other things are worthy of mention: for those in the northeast interested in checking out a hunt test or field-trial, I would strongly recommend a CVVC event. They are generally at Flaherty Field (which works well for both kinds of events) and they are generally very well organized. I joined the CVVC because of the string of their events we went to and just felt welcome and never had to worry about what was going on where. Their Field Trial committee managed to successfully pull off running 60 dogs in 5 different stakes on two courses in 9 hrs of daylight. And organize a great dinner.

In a fitting tribute, Patrick Cooke's Yogurt won the Open Gun Dog stake. (After some research, it turns out that Yogurt also has Batea back in her line, but her mother Upwind Shake 'N' Bake also produced Jozsi's father, Rebel Rouser Smokey.) Patrick would have been proud -- of her and all the dogs that came to compete.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

dogglers aplenty

The boys and I had a busy day today. I spent the day judging at the Nutmeg GSP Club hunt test up at Flaherty -- but not wanting to miss the opportunity to run the boys on birds in a big field, I drove up with them last night, and stayed in a hotel so I could let them run big first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon once everything had wrapped up.

We also knew that Dennis, Jen, Sally, Tucker, and Raven were going to be there -- to see if Sally-pants could add another Master Hunter leg to the two she earned last weekend. (Last weekend was quite successful for a bunch of people.) This pic is of Tucker pointing a quail that was completely buried under a pile of leaves. He is a happy, happy dog with a lot of potential.

As ever, we had a mixed batch of dogs to judge. But amongst them, there were some really nice dogs including this beautiful, petite Pointer named Lucy. I took this picture with the telephoto fully extended, figuring that being a Junior dog she might break any time. I needn't have worried. Field-trialers might prefer a 12 o'clock tail for style, but she looked great and ran beautifully.

Our highlight was getting the boys out for a big run after the test was completed. I was looking forward to getting some structured e-collar training time in with both boys -- to see if I could keep working on Momo's honor and Jozsi staying steady-to-fall. And it was time well-spent. Momo is really starting to internalize the concept of the honor and is whoa'ing all by himself at this point -- with Sally, with Tucker, with Jozsi. (As with his point, he is still prone to creeping a little -- but we can work on that all winter.) For his part, Jozsi is a raving lunatic, running big, finding birds, and generally very staunch on point. Birds running in the open definitely remain his weak spot, but his stop-to-flush is pretty consistent -- which for a young dog with his drive, we'll take.

I did also start getting him accustomed to the concept of honoring, of standing still on 'Stay', while his brother has a bird worked for him. This picture is of Momo getting his point on while Jozsi is standing in a rare moment of stillness.

*******

It should also be said that the New England bird-dog community lost one of its good guys on Thanksgiving. I only met Patrick Cooke a couple of times, most recently at the Nutmeg GSP field trial at the beginning of the month -- and despite being in treatment for a brain tumor, he was always talking with a wide-eyed enthusiasm about the great dogs he'd seen recently. Happily, he got to see his own FC AFC Upwind Shenipsit Rebel JH, aka. Yogurt, have a phenomenal field trial season this year . We'll miss him and, somehow, remembering him while watching bird-dogs work seemed about the most appropriate thing to do today.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

dedicated to the lovely Redgirls

We hope that the Redgirls are having an incredibly successful 'big game season' -- which is why we haven't heard so much from them. But we had our own season opener on H. vulgaris recently and managed to snap a couple of pictures.

We had a sharp turn to the cold in the last week and so the haggi have been coveying up. We found this pair -- a red-phase and a green-phase -- at the base of a large tree. Jozsi, as ever, went in directly to try and sniff them out. They were not eager to flush, at all. The second picture is of me repeating the oft-quoted adage amongst serious stalkers -- a haggis in hand is worth two in the bush -- to a bemused Momo. He seemed to doubt whether this particular red-phase met the minimum 16oz limit.

*******

In other news: Jozsi and I headed down to Flemington, NJ, for the Vizsla Club of Northern New Jersey field trial to run in another Open Derby. By the time Jozsi ran -- about 10:30am, it had gotten to a whopping 30degsF and the wind was gusting at 20+mph. He ran like a maniac, but found no birds. And so he couldn't place. That's the short version.

But I did handle him from horseback for the first time and after the first ten minutes or so once he figured out which bundled-up fool I was and who to look for, he ran huge. Both judges and the marshal complimented him on how well he ran -- I think they really wanted to him to find a bird. Sadly, at a critical point, the other handler got ahead of me and took the line I had hoped for -- and found a bird there. So, Mr. 200mph ran great, hunted hard, but came up short. I was still really pleased with him for how well he adapted to the new terrain, to the crappy weather, and to dad hollering from on high -- spring trialing will be a lot of fun.

Now, we're looking forward to the CVVC Walking Trial in early December. I got bold and entered Jozsi in both Amateur and Open Derby. I'm fairly confident he has sufficient engine capacity to run twice in one day!

*******

For those of you wondering whether you can bring a hard hunting pointing dog into your lives, here's a nice pic courtesy of Bob from our trip to Maine. The only thing you can't quite make out is that I'm actually squatting, not kneeling. I don't even remember why I decided to squat down, but the next thing I knew, Momo had snuck up and was perched on my thigh. Who can refuse love like that?

*******

In the 'real world' of bloggery:
a) MDMNM on Sometimes Far Afield has a nice post on 'Hunting in the Digital Age'.
b) NorCalCazadora has a nice post on the recent election and 'Barack Obama, Hunting, and You.' The piece is interesting and Holly's efforts to moderate the comments are, to my mind, applaudable.
c) The folks at SmartDogs have a interesting post on honey as a topical dressing for minor wounds in both humans and dogs. Geezum, you'd need to put an Elizabethan collar on me to stop licking that off a dog.
d) For those of you who just adopted a new puppy (and I know a bunch of you), here's some critical advice from Luisa at Lassie Get Help!.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

and back to our normal programming...

Welcome back, everyone! We've been out of internet connectivity for the last three days -- doing our part to host Momo + Jozsi's First Annual Invitational Grouse Camp in Rangeley, ME. We had invited our good friend, Bob, and his Llewellin setter, Belle, and Dennis and his sleek GSP hunting machine, Sally, to come along. This was their first time to western Maine and the realm of the late-season Forest King, bonasa umbellus, the ruffed grouse.

The moody picture of Momo is a good indicator of our experience. The very short summary of the three days is as follows: birds were both seen and heard flushing, all three dogs you would have expected had at least one visible productive point, everyone shot their guns, no significant impact was made on the ruffed grouse population of the north woods. Dennis claimed the only bird of the three days on the first afternoon -- and Sally can now officially be called a grouse-dog.

It drizzled on and off the first day, it snowed lightly the second day, and the sun was out for about 3hrs on the third day. In the hot-spot Momo and I found last year, it definitely seemed as though there were less birds than the year before -- and those that were there were much deeper in the woods. I don't remember how many birds the other two guys saw (we would often start out together and then pick a path each to work), but in the two four-hour chunks the boys and I spent in this same spot the box score was 10 wild flushes, 1 productive point, and 0 birds. I can only say that I had one great opportunity, fired both barrels, and whiffed.

While I wouldn't claim that Momo is a great grouse dog -- because he simply hasn't had the experience -- and Jozsi just barely got initiated in this particular game -- the numbers would suggest that there were less birds and those that were there were huddled under evergreens to try and stay dry and were not putting out much scent. With the exception of the first three birds and the final bird we saw (that were sunning to dry out), everything else was in deep cover and flushing at any proximate sound. Last year I suspected that the birds were really sensitive to noise and chose to run my two boys without bells -- nevertheless, and including the one productive point Momo was able to establish, all the grouse that flushed flushed on some kind of noise (me crashing through the trees, me calling to Jozsi, etc.). As ever, we got a learning lesson from the mighty pah'tridge.

But we did have fun together -- and while we might try and go earlier in the year next year to try and find more less-experienced birds, hopefully this was the first of many M+J's Invitational Grouse Camps.

*******

In other performance news: we did run Jozsi in the Nutmeg GSP Club field trial at Flaherty last Sunday on the way up to Maine. This time there was an Amateur Derby stake -- and because the Derby dogs aren't required to honor their bracemate should the occasion arise, he was the last of the 7 dogs and so ran alone. On the one hand, not having a bracemate may let the dog concentrate more on his handler, but on the other having a bracemate may fuel the dog's competitive spirit. In any case, Jozsi ran like a madman -- and while I would have liked him to have stayed a little more steady-through-the-shot, he had three nice quail finds along the course and a stop-to-flush on a pheasant. Our Regal Vizsla puzzler is 'Find the pointing vizsla in this picture.' This was his first point on the course and he is in there: I can find his nose, erect tail, and one raised leg. But this is a good illustration of the joys of running vizslas in fall foliage.

To cut to the chase, though: he won! We now have another blue ribbon and a nice horse-brass to add to our collection.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

triple-double + publishing glory

First of all, we just learned that my wife has had her first piece of work in the field of education and educational reform published. Splendido!!! She wrote the essay with three women who she was in the doctoral program at NYU with (and who became good friends, as a result).

My one comment: Em, where's the ballet in Nell Nodding's Ethics of Care?

*******

While Meg is in Portland, OR, making presentations and being a smarty-pants, the boys and I have also celebrated a first... three consecutive days of making our bag-limit hunting pheasant. This is much less about body-count than it is about being fortunate enough to get out for three mornings in a row, enjoy the beautiful fall colors (as in the top pic), and actually get both boys on birds.

We went to Stewart on Thursday and I figured I'd run Jozsi in one of the bigger, wider-open fields first -- a field we have never found a bird in before -- to encourage him to stretch his legs in preparation for tomorrow's field-trial. We must have missed the stocking truck by less than an hour. In his forty-five minutes on the ground, Jozsi had eight pheasant flushes, two of which he actually pointed and, miraculously, which his father managed to shoot. We bagged out in 25mins. He also found two quail... which flushed as a pair and in my mental gymnastics of 'Oh, quail! Oh, two quail! I could shoot a double...' I whiffed with both barrels and both birds. To Jozsi's credit, the air was thick, the wind was gusty, and the birds very skittish; he does have a nice stop-to-flush as a result. Here he is at the end of his run... I don't think you can make out all the scratches on his nose and eyes, and the bloody part of his tongue is hidden, but the big slobber across his own nose should tell you how jazzed he was. (In the interests of brevity I will spare you the details of Momo's run.)

The hunting season at Sterling Forest opened on November 1st -- and there are a couple of sections the State stocks with birds. I am lucky to work with folks who are forgiving enough to let me come in a little later when Meg is traveling so the boys aren't crated for too long -- and so I decided to head up to Sterling for a morning run on Thursday. I put Momo down first and of we went. I'm not sure if he was hyper or the wind was just light and intermittent and patchy at best in the trees, but he flushed two birds before he was able to get some kind of point on. The birds, again, seemed freshly stocked and fairly skittish -- and so when heard him stop and called to him, the rooster flushed up over an outcrop across my front. And his flight was canceled at that point. He then went on to bump, point (which I unexpectedly flushed and then missed), and then bump another three birds in succession in a heavily wooded section -- and I can only imagine that he was both really excited and not getting any wind-assistance. Feeling a little frustrated I then took him into one of the more open fields and got him set-up with what little wind there was directly in his face... and was rewarded with a nice point and, after several breaks on the flush, a solid steady-to-fall and an enthusiastic retrieve.

Having bagged-out, I then decided just to grab my blank-pistol and take Jozsi on a training run. My little lunatic got one point in early on, then maybe bumped two birds. (I say 'maybe' because I couldn't see him in a dense thicket for the first and he had just turned a corner into a new hedgerow on the second and I didn't hear a definite silence from his bell before each of the birds popped out.) In any case, I fired the pistol with each flush and he remained steady. I took him back into the open field and, in the deafening quiet, realised he had thrown a beautiful point. I kicked myself for having left the camera at home. He looked gorgeous all stretched out, head-high -- and had scented a wet hen-bird tucked into a tussock of knee-high grass from about 12ft.

This morning we figured we'd get out slightly earlier to beat the weekend rush -- and got to the Indian Hill parking lot at 7am. And found two trucks. Indian Hill is only about 500acres so as soon as anyone else is in there ahead of you, there's a good chance you'll find them. I got Momo out first again -- and we quickly saw a pair of hunters (with an audible dog-bell) in one of the more open fields. I had planned to leave those for Jozsi to spring through, so we headed off to the ruins of an old homestead. We had gone maybe 10' when Momo froze up -- and we saw the dumbest rooster in the world in the middle of the path ahead. Momo stayed put while I walked to within 4ft of the bird and one up, one down, and a nice retrieve to boot. Ten yards up the path to the homestead, Momo goes on point again... and this time, I let him down by missing the hen that jetted up through the vines and trees. We hunted up around the homestead and as we came back down met the two guys, a father and son, and their friend's chocolate Lab who'd been hunting the fields. They'd flushed one hen but missed despite unleashing a volley reminiscent of the Western Front. We then cut cross-country again and as we came up over a streambank Momo got his old-school stretchy-point on. I managed to flush the rooster and knock it down for this retrieve. Happy vizsla. Even if these were farm-raised birds, most had been on the ground for 48hrs and were not sticking around -- although if anything, the damp heavy air kept them on the ground till the last second. (In the interests of brevity again, at his turn Jozsi had another 45min sprint-fest, found a bird in the middle of a swamp thicket, stopped-to-flush, and then actually released and came to me on a verbal command -- because we couldn't see each other.)

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In the strangers-in-the-woods category: this is a swift hello to Gerald. We met at Indian Hill on Thursday, but didn't know it at the time. (Gerald is a friend of Bob's -- and who actually met Momo the time Bob looked after him one weekend we decided to go away; Gerald's even visited The Regal Vizsla of his own free will.) It was a pleasure to meet you, Gerald! Hope we'll meet again.

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In the friends + relatives section: while Jozsi's brother, Rocko, did not earn a placement at the Vizsla Club National Field Trial in Sonoita, AZ, on Thursday, we did just learn that Jozsi's breeder, Lisa DeForest, handled Upwind Kismet Rapid Fire, aka. Mason, to a third place in the Amateur Championship. Well done, Lisa + Mason!!!

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Tomorrow, the travels begin! Don't know how much internet we'll have, probably not much, so it may be Thursday night before I can post again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

glory + family reunion

I apologize for putting this in reverse chronological order, taking Sunday first -- but I was so excited to see Momo's mother, Makin, again and to see her hunt. The occasion was the third annual VCCNE Pheasant Hunt at Hedgerow Kennel & Hunt Club -- once again, beautifully organized by Stephanie. Good eats, good birds, and good company. And, somewhat miraculously, good weather for the third year.

I had only registered Momo to hunt and had drawn the first hunt of the morning -- but asked Manny and Rich to shoot for me so I could keep handling Momo and keep on him for his steady-to-fall. It was pretty clear, though, that birds were running -- but we did manage to pin the first pheasant in some small pines. Sadly, while I got it to fly, neither Manny nor Rich were able to take a shot -- and we watched it fly right up along the preserve boundary. Based on Momo's susbequent tracking, it crossed over into the State Forest next door and found safe haven. Momo then got wind of another pheasant, which it became clear had also just started running. I relocated him and he, whether deliberately or accidentally, got down below the bird and it flushed back into open territory. I relocated Momo again and he froze up once more. Sadly while the rooster had tried to belly down as low as possible in some grass, its big tail feathers gave it away. We got everyone set up, I busted through the trees and up and down it went. Momo was psyched to bring that monster back.

With our hunt over, I asked to accompany Neil + Makin on their hunt. Not being a hunter, Neil had already asked for one gunner -- and figuring that I was going anyways to watch Makin and hopefully get some nice pics, I brought my gun, too. Makin is now seven years old and a very petite 39lbs. Lael + Neil have obviously kept her in great shape. Watching her run, it was obvious where Momo's abilities come from. She was awesome... the only clues that she currently lives in a non-hunting family were that she was maybe not as staunch on point or quite as responsive to her handler. But she found birds like a champ and dragged those big birds back to Neil like she did it everyday. This pic is of her with her first rooster of the morning. She is such a pretty girl.

This family pic is the best of the four or so we tried to take with Momo and Makin. She of course is well-mannered; whenever Momo sees a camera, he somehow thinks you're trying to steal his soul and can't sit still. In any case, they share the same eyes and forehead. And the desire to hunt birds.

It was a good morning for the Team Vizsla -- Eastern MA chapter, too. The bird that was shot for Momo was Rich's first pheasant and so we let him have it. And then I went out with Rich and Ella to gun for him so he could handle his dog, too. It was great to see Ella having a good time -- and it's clear that Rich has done great tracking work with her. After inadvertently running over her first hen and it flushing up over Rich's head and off, she pointed her first rooster (who I could hear running off to our right) and then, once released, followed the scent of the trackstar to the base of a tree. He then flushed up and came down abruptly. We then headed back down a powerline to see if we could find the first hen-bird. It heard the three of us busting through some trees and flushed. I actually managed to hit it with both barrels, albeit at some distance, but it glided down rather than tumbling. Once we got in its approximate landing area, Ella started getting all jiggy and quickly found it in some tall grass to the side looking for a quiet place to expire. While she does need to better gauge how close she needs to point a pheasant without busting it, Ella looked awesome.

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Before heading up to MA for the pheasant hunt, I ran Jozsi in his first field-trial at Flaherty Field Trial Area in CT. We got there in plenty of time so I could watch a friend's dog run in the Open Limited Gun Dog stake. I quickly realised that to do so, I was going to have to ride a horse. And I hadn't ridden a horse since our first trip to Mongolia in December 2004 -- and it had been 20years since I had ridden one before that. So I rented a horse from a wrangler and tried not to fall off. The horse was awesome, although the stirrups were a tad long and so when we did get to a canter, I was not using my leg-muscles as shock-absorbers. I can still feel it.

But we were entered in Open Derby: for those who may be novices like me, 'Open' means that it is open to amateur and professional handlers (and so, handlers will in most cases be on horses); 'Derby' means under two years of age. And while I had just successfully ridden a horse for the first time in almost four years, I was not going to try and learn how to handle a dog from horseback and also try to find a scout for our first trial experience. (A scout is responsible for keeping an eye out for the dog, especially if it's been gone from sight for a while and might be on-point someplace, and for holding the handler's reins while the handler dismounts to handle the dog once it has gone on point.)

So, I elected to handle on-foot. And god bless the little guy for not getting entirely freaked out by the dozen or so people surrounding his dad on those big noisy smelly quadropeds. He did seem to start out a little slower than usual and not range as far as usual, but that could easily have been the novelty of the situation. By the time we were halfway through, he was starting to open out a little more. In summary, all I can say is that I love this dog. He handled beautifully, ranging out, checking in occasionally for direction, following hand-signals... I barely said anything till his first bird-find.

He had three bird-finds and one non-productive (meaning he pointed but no bird was produced) in the middle of those three successfuls. Flaherty is also a WMA, meaning that the State releases birds for hunters on the grounds, too -- and based on the number of dogs who had come up unproductive in the Open Limited stake, the judges were speculating that these were from pheasants that once discovered had opted to sprint for it. And so I wonder whether this was what had created his non-productive. Happily, since Momo and I had our disastrous run up at Sharpe's Farm in June, I keep a flushing whip in my vest. And the final two of Jozsi's finds were tucked in under trees surrounded by thin saplings. Tossing the whip at them made both of them flush. However the remarkable part of his run was that, while completely unnecessary for Derby, I was able to command Jozsi to 'stay' and not to break and chase any of the three flushed birds. He was just great. I came away feeling that even if we didn't end up with a placement, he had behaved exactly as I'd wanted to -- but it still felt good that the judge that primarily judged him did compliment him as he walked past (once he and the other judge had decided on the placements).

I did have several interesting conversations with experienced trialers, including Bill Felins (whose great dog, Doc, was bred to Jennifer + Dennis's Sally) who deserves a mention in person just for putting up with all my dumb questions over the last few weeks. In an Open stake, while a horse handler is not allowed to force the pace of a stake when braced with a foot handler, it now seems fairly obvious that a foot handler is at a disadvantage for at least two reasons: the horse handler is higher off the ground and can therefore maintain eye-contact with the dog at a greater distance -- enabling the dog to range further with confidence; the horse can also serve as a surrogate for a directional hand-signal so as the dog checks in visually with the handler it need only look at the direction of the horse's head to discern where it should be headed. Oh dear, I knew I shouldn't have opened this Pandora's Box!

And so while it turned out to be a small stake of seven dogs, Jozsi placed Third! And so for his first trial in front of horses, especially while being handled on-foot, and for running against at least three dogs that were handled by professionals, I feel very pleased with him. We had to leave before the results were announced -- but Dennis has his ribbon. It's big and yellow. That's all I really care about. The picture is from the pheasant hunt, though -- but I think it conveys his general state-of-mind pretty well.

Jozsi is entered in an Amateur Stake (which is, by definition, a walking stake) this next Sunday on our way up to Maine for Momo + Jozsi's First Annual Invitational Grouse Camp.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

assorted bits of news

Meg and I got some culture yesterday evening -- and went to see Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland's production, at the St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO. My father had seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe when it first came out and had strongly recommended it. We were unable to get tickets for its first US run, although Alex Massie at The Debateable Land was.

The play is derived from interviews the author, Gregory Burke, conducted with veterans and former soldiers from the Black Watch (The Royal Highland Regiment) who had served in the current war in Iraq. And while the play is about those experiences, it is also about the 'Golden Thread' that ties generations of young (Scottish) men to military service and the complete lack of respect for tradition that military bureaucracies seem to observe when they eliminate mythic collective identity for the sake of 'efficiency.' Even though it absorbed the histories of two of the oldest regiments in the British Army (the 270-year history of the Black Watch and the 375-year history of the Royal Scots), the Royal Regiment of Scotland has little of the magic that comes with generations of honorable military service.

All I will say as a review is that I went in feeling on the verge of flu and as though I might have to leave before the end of the 110min continuous performance. Instead, I didn't notice the passage of time and realized that I have sat through a lot of crap in my time. Really quite impressive.

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The road-racing season is largely over. And while none of them have formally acknowledged being vanquished for the fourth consecutive year, I came out glorious in the Cobblestone Fantasy Cycling League over my friends, Dan, Mike, and Patrick -- coming in 67th overall out of 1013 players worldwide. Long live Team Chinggis!

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Speaking of Chinggis: for those of you have visited Mongolia in recent years, you are probably aware of the amount of development that the capital, Ulan Baatar, has seen in the past decade. There are plans afoot now, sadly, to develop the Children's Park in downtown UB. The park is one of the few remaining substantial pieces of green space -- and just beyond the increasingly crowded city center. Journalist Michael Kohn has started a blog to try and coordinate efforts to save the park.

Thanks to Annie-bagsh for the heads-up and to Steve Bodio at Querencia for helping to get the word out.

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We did get the call-up for the PANE Field Trial at Flaherty this weekend. I'm a little nervous at Mr. Enthusiasm's official debut as a field trial contender. Hopefully I won't screw things up for him. Here's a picture of his little muscle-butt pointing a quail from the other weekend for good luck!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

training update

We had a bit of a long day today, but had a pretty successful training experience up in Berkley, MA, up at Hill & Hollow. (They don't have their own website, but Walter Cruz has some pics on his site. Walter, incidentally, is one of the gentlemen of the pointing dog world and a regular fixture at hunt tests in the northeast.) For those in southeast MA, Hill & Hollow is a great place to train -- there are a variety of fields, the birds are relatively inexpensive, and Ann Marie raises some great-flying quail.

We had planned to drive up last night after work, stay with Jen + Dennis, and then head the 20 or so minutes down to Hill & Hollow today. But between getting delayed on the subway, feeling exhausted, and a good-sized storm, I decided to get up slightly earlier this morning and do all the driving in a single day. The plan was to run Momo & Sally together so that they could both get practice honoring their bracemate -- and for Momo to keep practicing his steady-to-fall.

I had of course also brought Mr. 200mph and Jen + Dennis had also brought their four-month-old, Tucker. Tucker is still very much a pup, but Jen + Dennis have already started working him on obedience and basic fieldwork... and it shows. While his little pudgy puppy butt occasionally gets distracted, he was looking great... like Sally, he's maybe not the most intense dog you'll ever see, but he seems to have a pretty calm temperament and handle nicely. (We gather that Sally's pup, Raven, that Jen + Dennis are also keeping may come to rival Mr. Enthusiasm for intensity.) This is a great pic of Tucker pointing a quail while Dennis and Tyler, their oldest son, move in to steady and staunch him up. Tucker is Tyler's project, or vice versa, time will tell. In any case, Tyler was learning as much as Tucker -- and both were doing a nice job.

In the interests of showing some nice pics of Mr. 200mph, here's one from his high-speed run of the day. For a wicked fast dog, he handles really nicely -- and while he still occasionally does goofy stuff like try to snap at a bird, he is generally very staunch and now very close to being steady-to-fall. He snapped into this point and held it nicely while I took pictures and we figured out what to do. Unfortunately it was a bird that we'd had to hand-catch before and so I knew it wouldn't fly -- and so it was a question of trying to get him to stay put while I hand-grabbed it again, tossed it, fired the blank pistol, and then tried to command him to stay (and not chase it down again). He's a stud who really processes each run (and the corrections you give him) pretty well as he does it. And his excitement is contagious.

The highlight though was watching Momo and Sally work together. We tried to simulate a hunt test by making them walk a backcourse -- and then making each dog honor the other through the retrieve (assuming that Roy Orbison and Ray Charles, aka Dennis + Andrew, could actually shoot the birds [safely]). Momo has really only had a little training practice honoring Kyler -- and so while he knows Sally and has been warmed into honoring Jozsi on his walks in the park, this was going to be the first time that I tried to just let him do it himself without hollering a 'whoa' command to him. Both dogs did well. There were a couple of occasions when the two dogs were running fairly close together when we weren't entirely sure if Sally was honoring Momo or had picked up her own scent trail -- but she certainly never stole a point and it certainly looked as though as soon as Momo froze up, she immediately stopped. In any case, and in addition to a couple of close honors like this one, she also threw a couple of honors at a good 30yds. After the first couple of runs, when I just 'toned' his e-collar as soon as he could see Sally on point, Momo seemed to grasp it. And threw some nice patient honors as a result. He is still a little 'creepy' and also broke on his final steady-to-fall -- but that's what the next six months of training are for!

Depending on whether there are any scratches at the Pointer Associates field trial, we may run Jozsi in his first real trial on Saturday up at Flaherty. If there aren't, we will head up to Stewart on Thursday to hunt and will then head up to ForestKing on Saturday evening before heading to the VCCNE 3rd Annual Pheasant Hunt on Sunday.

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In other training-related news, SmartDogs has a couple of potentially interesting books for us to look out for. And Anna has had a few breakthroughs with the troubled Ziggy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

tag team champions of the world...

We had visitors for the past two days: Ella, Khumbu, and Rich of the Team Vizsla -- Eastern MA chapter. Rich had wanted to come out and do a little hunting and get his two red-dogs out in the woods for the first time.

We decided to meet upstate yesterday and run the beasts up at TMT. The owner has been kind enough to offer me the opportunity to run my boys up there when he's closed to see if we can pick up any of the birds clients missed over the previous few days. And so we got the four red lunatics out in shifts.

Rich and I had an interesting conversation about the merits of hunting on preserves -- and at least here in southern New York, there are a number of significant merits. On the one hand, you can hunt or train for seven months of the year; unless you're terribly unlucky, you're guaranteed bird-contact; and you shouldn't have to worry about others walking up on you and causing an unsafe situation. On the other hand, the dogs may learn to follow the smell of the ATV that's used to put the birds out; and it's going to get expensive quick. But what we talked about was the fact that, as far as the birds are concerned, it's somewhat moot to say that preserve birds are less wild than those that the various States stock many of the public hunting areas in the northeast with. I will still maintain, however, that whether on a preserve or in a WMA, it's pretty easy to tell a bird that's been on the ground 10minutes, 2hrs, or has survived an overnight.

Somewhat surprisingly, Momo found and pinned a monster rooster pheasant -- and by pinned I mean that he got close enough to freeze the bird without causing him to run. I'll admit I wasn't expecting that big bird and thought I'd flubbed my first shot through the trees, but had connected well with the second barrel. In any case, the bird went down, Momo waited, and then brought that big beautiful bird back. I am so pleased with him. Sadly, while Ella looked fairly convinced in another spot, we had no other definite bird contacts.

This morning we made our first pilgrimage to Stewart Airport to see what we could find. As we pulled up to my favorite field, we saw three guys heading out with a Brittany. We were so close to the honeyspot, as we discovered shortly as shotguns started blazing! Nevertheless, we found a double parking spot nearby -- and took the dogs out in pairs, Momo with Khumbu, and Jozsi with Ella, in part to give Rich's dogs some competitive inspiration. Momo had an interesting point on something... I say 'something' because I couldn't tell you exactly what it was he found and we flushed twice. It was not a pheasant and it didn't fly like a timberdoodle -- but seemed more quail-sized or slightly bigger, but somehow the color grey seemed most prominent. In any case, as you can tell, I couldn't get a shot off in the thickets. Jozsi, too, stuck a great point but it turned out to be non-productive... which is weird for him because he tends to run over birds rather than false-point.

We then managed to get in to my favorite parking spot -- and the games began. Certainly it sounded as though the previous three guys had enjoyed plenty of opportunities and they mentioned that they'd taken a bunch of quail -- and so Rich and decided to split up and hunt the edges. The Mominator got a couple of nice points, including this one, on one bird before I finally managed to get a decent, even impressive, shot and bring it down. After weeks of dragging pheasants out of the woods, he was very psyched to go pick up a quail. We had three more points on three more birds: one ended up being hand-caught, and two more flushed in crazy thickets that we couldn't get a shot through. That's why they call it 'hunting' and not 'shooting.'

In the blogworld, Matt Mullenix has a nice two-parter about raising kids and raising food -- there's a nice exchange with NorCal Cazadora about why it seems fewer young folks are being drawn into hunting. Speaking of NorCal Cazadora, she has a great post and extensive comments about 'hunting with heart' (to rephrase David Petersen's great collection of essays of the similar name). And to the bozos at Stewart who left a rooster and a hen in the woods because they had either shot their bag-limit already or couldn't be bothered to retrieve them from the brambles, get it together!

To end, here's a nice pic of Rich walking back to his truck with Ella. Hope you get to do it a lot more this fall.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

safety safety safety

Mike Spies wrote a nice piece back in early August about approaching a dog on point -- and with opening day past for just about everyone, it seems like we should probably revisit it while we're all still (perhaps a little too) excited by fall. With the distinct possibility of doing some guiding at one of our local preserves, I have thought and re-thought how I would want clients (especially those who may have very little gun experience) to treat me and my dogs so that we can all come away with a smile on our face at the end of the day.

I'll be honest and say that if you're working over pointing dogs and have a break-open gun, whether over-and-under or side-by-side, then that gun should remain broken until the bird is about to be flushed. I have a belt-and-suspenders mentality which says that gun safety catches just aren't enough insurance against an accidental shot -- and a broken gun in the field is almost as safe as it comes. And if you are working over pointing dogs, there's no need to rush maybe even anything. Personally, I close my gun only when I'm about 6' from my dog, walking in from the side. The safety catch only comes off in advance of the flush once I've passed him.

In preparation for hunt tests, or if I am running the dogs for friends to shoot, and depending on cover, I'll position the gunners roughly parallel with the dog and about 6-10' on either side. Clarify where their shooting zones are -- and especially if the birds are not flushing high, I will kneel as soon as the bird goes up. The picture here is from the VCCNE Fall Hunt Test with Ivan's Fruska on point waiting while the gunners on either side dispatch the bird (in the middle of the pic); in MH, the handler has to simulate shooting at the bird, but for safety reasons isn't permitted to shoot. For me, when hunting or training, no bird is ever shot on the ground without an explicit request to do so - and once dogs and others are secure. And no flushing bird is ever shot if the dog isn't absolutely steady.

Now I do have a slightly different approach to the gun mount than many. For me, the mount is merely a prelude to the actual shot -- in theory, at any point during the mount, I should be able to pull the trigger and hit the bird. For other folks, they carry the gun barrel high (which is nice and safe) at a port-arms -- however, when a bird flushes, they are very often bringing the barrel down as the bird flies into their sight plane requiring them to stop that motion and change direction. For safety reasons, I will walk in to flush a bird with the barrels at the lowest safe angle -- at least 2' above my dog's head in the unlikely situation that either one of them goes bonkers and decides to jump after the bird as it flushes. This means that I don't have to change direction with the barrel, and generally gives the bird enough time to get to a distance that I won't pulverise it and to a height that the dog is at no risk.

And as soon as the bird is flushed and down, I break open the gun while I send the dog to retrieve or hunt dead. I missed a second bird when we were out hunting with Brisztow Jones the other weekend, but my dog means a lot more than a hasty shot ever could. If it happens to you, mark the second bird down and hunt it up once your trusty canine retrieving machine has brought you back your first prize.

There's no need to rush. For all the adrenaline that does get flowing during a hunt, direct it at the bird once it has left the ground and reached safe cruising altitude (for you and your dogs, at least). Never let your barrels drop below waist height -- and especially if it's a pheasant, let the bird flush up and level out before pulling the trigger.

Monday, October 13, 2008

hunting with Her Majesty

We had the pleasure of the company of HRH Brisztow Jones on Sunday to show Her Majesty the TMT Preserve and give her the opportunity to chase some pheasants for the first time. Here she is, very pleased that Momo is about to come out and play.

It was another warm day, probably up to 75degsF, and unlike our trip up there with William, there wasn't much breeze either. We let Brisztow run first and Karen asked me all kinds of questions about whether there was a real strategy to 'hunting'. I'll be honest that when it comes to hunting on a preserve, I note which direction the wind is coming from, head for the most likely cover, and then follow the dog -- occasionally calling the dog around and working them back into the wind. But like I said to Karen, I largely trust the dog to guide the direction -- they have several hundred million scent receptors to find birds with, and I have about six, all of which are tuned to finding donuts or crullers. Here's Momo's happy face after bringing his dad a monster bird.

Brisztow actually found more birds than we initially knew. Her challenge was that she didn't know what to do when she encountered the particular pong of the pheasant. And so while she got all birdy, and successfully tracked her first running bird (which I was embarassed to miss when it finally took flight), and then got all curious in a couple of other spots, it wasn't till one of my boys got to those same spots and got their point on that we knew she'd come a lot closer than she knew. (Karen's version of events is here.)

She did also love the boys. Although, sadly, as she discovered, given the choice between flirting and looking for birds, sadly romance comes second. This pic shows Her Majesty in the Taj Mahal, cooling off after her run, but wondering why Jozsi hasn't broken her out yet. We did put all threee dogs down at the end of the afternoon and she got a good sense of how crazy vizslas hunt.

Hopefully we'll get to do it again -- and hopefully when it's a little cooler.

Friday, October 10, 2008

some thoughts on Senior Hunter

Here are a couple of pictures courtesy of Bob from last Saturday's CVVC hunt test. The first is of me and a jubilant Kyler in her favorite position, wrapped around a human neck (and she is more than willing to jump up there). You can just make out the three puppies in the exercise pen behind us. Kim has just posted a few pics from the weekend, including a couple of pics of the pups running around with a freshly deceased quail in their mouth.


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Thanks to everyone for their comments after our success last weekend. Rickdio, incidentally, is Rick Diatolevi of Marrick Vizslas and treasurer of the CVVC. Bob and I watched Rick's Baci run in JH -- and watching her pattern to and fro from cover to cover from the very beginning of the breakway point was really satisfying to watch. Baci, incidentally, is the mother to Khumbu, brother to Ella, and the other half of the Team Vizsla -- Eastern MA chapter.

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Having now completed it, here are a few thoughts on Senior Hunter.

a) There is arguably a larger gap between Junior and Senior Hunter than between Senior Hunter and Master Hunter. In JH, while two dogs are braced together, they never have to interact on the course; whereas in SH, dogs have to honor each other’s point. In addition to the honor, SH dogs also have to retrieve – and so while the four core scoring areas (Hunting, Bird-finding, Pointing, and Trainability) remain the same, the scoring areas now expand to six. By contrast, going from SH to MH, the dog needs to be able to perform the same skills, but with less guidance from the handler and with a higher degree of finish. The challenge of MH is paradoxically what makes it easy to prepare for. The standards are relatively clear and the expectations of the dog and handler relatively high.

b) Be aware of the rules. There is some ambiguity in the rules and a lower expectation than MH in terms of how a dog performs the skills it’s required to. The two examples that immediately come to mind are the retrieve and the honor.

For SH, “A Senior hunting dog must retrieve, but a dog need not deliver to hand in order to receive a Qualifying score.” (p.22) The AKC Scoring Guidelines then state that “In Senior, the dog is not required to retrieve to hand, but the Regulations do not specify how close is close enough to qualify. One or two steps would be generally acceptable.” (p.33) As for the honor: “In order to receive a Qualifying score, a Senior hunting dog must honor; a handler may give a dog a verbal command to honor. In order to receive a Qualifying score, a Senior hunting dog must see or acknowledge that its bracemate is on point before it has been cautioned to honor.” The ambiguity arises from the phrase ‘see or acknowledge’ insofar as it creates the opportunity for a handler to command their dog to ‘whoa’ as soon as it has positive visual contact on the pointing dog, whether or not their dog has made any indication that it might otherwise stop moving of its own accord. As was evidenced in our final leg, there is a not-altogether-unreasonable expectation on the part of some SH judges that some acknowledgement (like breaking step, slowing, etc.) be made by the dog before a command to honor be given.

If you are like me and don’t have a reliable second dog (and ideally a reliable second handler) to train with, then you sometimes you have to settle for the lowest qualifying denominator, ie. ‘whoa-ing’ your dog potentially as soon as it can see the other, pointing dog – with the understanding that some judges may want to see more and you are unlikely to score highly (and thereby make up any extra qualifying points you might have lost elsewhere).

c) Get your dog not just steady, but accustomed to distractions. Hopefully this picture illustrates the point. I am in the center of the picture with my hand raised in a 'stay' command. The chukar, incidentally, is about 3' directly in front of The Mominator. In the background you can make out (from the left) one of the judges, one of the gunners, and the other dog and his handler -- the other gunner and judge are out of the frame to the right. It can easily take 2 minutes for this entire circus to get itself situated before you step in and flush the bird. Also keep in mind that some judges will decide to arrange the gunners for you, others will expect you to do it (and only intervene if the situation looks potentially unsafe); strictly speaking, the regulations state that handlers are initially responsible for positioning the gunners. So you might find yourself giving instructions to humans, as I was, while your dog is also waiting for its next command. And it needs to just stand there while all this goes on around them. Train accordingly.

As ever, if you can, train for the level beyond the one you hope to qualify at. And see if you can find someone you respect to watch your heat -- that might even turn out to be one of your judges -- to give you feedback whether you qualify or not on what you might do better next time.

e) Be prepared for the unexpected -- and remember that the title means nothing to the dog, but your love does. This is to say that I was probably more nervous about finishing the SH title than my dog deserved me to be. It took us seven attempts to get four passes -- and even though there were parts of all three unsuccessful heats that miffed me, ultimately it all comes back to your responsibility and ability as a trainer and handler to train yourself and the dog to perform at a level that doesn't give a judge any other option than to qualify you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

two good boys

We had an unexpected trip up to TMT today -- unexpected in that they are normally closed on Thursdays, but for a variety of reasons Tom invited us and my friend, William, to come up and chase some pheasants. To be honest, I was really looking forward to just handling both the dogs and have William shoot so I could keep Momo on standing steady-to-fall and keeping Jozsi steady-to-shot at the very least.

Momo did great with his steady-to-fall. He's obviously started to internalize that this is what I need him to do -- and the secret, I think, was gradually transitioning from yardwork and 'stay,' to a checkcord and pinch-collar, and then phasing over to just an e-collar. And today, he needed no e-collar at all. As I said in my post about my trip up to TMT with Scott and Bob the other weekend, Tom has monster birds -- and I asked Joe, Tom's co-worker, to weigh the first cock-pheasant that Momo brought back. And yes, 4.25lbs. This picture shows him retrieving a hefty hen pheasant (and you can see what kind of cover he's having to work through). Momo also did some really nice tracking on a couple of running birds, never crowding them even after being released from his point. I was impressed.

Jozsi was actually really great today. Perhaps pheasants just stink more, or the breeze suited him better today -- but he didn't bump a single one of the four birds he located and, very admirably, didn't grab the hen pheasant that literally vaulted on to a branch a foot from his head before seeing me and William and taking (a short) flight. Here's a nice point from Mr. Enthusiasm. So, all in all, a good day and some tasty meat in the fridge. If anyone has some favorite pheasant recipes, let's hear them.

We'll be back on Sunday with HRH Brisztow Jones. Hopefully we're equally as successful.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

ugly betty...

If you remember my notes to prospective handlers from a couple of weeks ago, I will reiterate the following: "there only two kinds of scores: qualifying and not-qualifying." And while we squeaked it, Momo was awarded his final qualifying leg towards his Senior Hunter title. He rocks.

What was interesting was the conversation with the judges afterwards. The thing I thought he might get nixed on weren't the things the judges had an extended conversation about as to whether or not to qualify The Mominator. One of the reasons you have two judges is because some rules still require interpretation -- and two brains generally think better than one. One of the ambiguous statements in the AKC rules regarding 'honoring' (where a dog that encounters its bracemate on point 'honors' that point by stopping and remaining still until the other dog has retrieved its bird) in the SH level is that "a Senior hunting dog must see or acknowledge that its bracemate is on point before it has been cautioned to honor" (my italics). And so, while we would all love our dogs to recognize their bracemate on point 20 yards away and stop on a dime without command, that's both an ideal set of circumstances and arguably within the expectations of a Master Hunter. One of the challenges for all judges is that, paradoxically, while it's easy to score a perfect performance, it's not so easy to score a barely passing performance. And the judges expressed concern that Momo hadn't really acknowledged his bracemate before I'd "whoa'ed" him. But they passed him all the same.

And here's a gratuitous picture of one of Kyler's puppies, the Dark Blue Boy... if we could have three, he'd be on my shortlist. All three of the pups were at Flaherty and I'm sure there'll be some pics to post in the future of them each taking their turn at carrying a recently deceased quail in their mouth.

I have to admit that I was arguably more nervous in this heat because I was even more eager just to get the SH title out the way -- in part so I can concentrate on the hunting season and on entering Mr. Enthusiasm into some field trials. And when I saw that they were putting out chukar for the Master and Senior braces, I was pretty nervous after all our recent training experiences with the wee grey sprinters. And so, after one flushed under Momo's nose and it started running around in the open, I took the opportunity to give it as wide a berth as possible. In any case, Momo did what I expected of him and asked him to do -- but the real gem of the whole brace was that when his bird was flushed, it was cleanly shot, and he stood where he was told. And waited to be sent for his retrieve. I was so pleased with him. Training seems to be paying off.

And once again, it was a good showing for Team Widdershins... Kyler had a great run for her third leg of her SH. The upper picture is an artsy pic of of Kim walking her heat. Hopefully there'll be good news to report tomorrow afternoon. (Incidentally, I will be running Momo in his first MH heat tomorrow with the expectation that this will be a great training run. Planets could come into alignment -- but we should be able just to have some fun. Wooohooo.) The second picture is of the Team Vizsla -- Northern MA chapter support crew.

My good friend, Bob, came out to watch his first hunt test -- and it was a huge turnout with 6 braces of MH, 8 braces of SH, and 21 braces of JH. He got to see all kinds of dogs -- Portuguese Pointers, English, Irish, and Gordon setters, lots of German Shorthairs, and of course vizslak. Happily we had beautiful weather. So, I think he's hooked.