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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.