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.)


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.


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!!!


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.


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.