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.