Wednesday, October 7, 2009

chasing pah'tridges

First of all, congratulations to Jane at The Literary Horse for being the 20,000th visitor to The Regal Vizsla. Jane's blog constantly reminds me not to take all this horse business too seriously.

It's been a busy couple of weeks or so at work and, after waffling like Brett Favre for several weeks, decided I needed to get out of Dodge and go chase grouse sooner rather than later. And so while I apologize for not convening the Momo + Jozsi's Second Annual Invitational Grousehunt, my general psychic state couldn't deal with hanging around in New York City any longer.

Over the weekend, I did head up to Flaherty to run Momo in his next MH attempt at the Connecticut Valley Vizsla Club's Fall hunt test on the Saturday, judge JH on the Sunday, and in between hopefully scout for Yogurt at the PANE Field Trial which was being held on a different part of the grounds. The weather was horrible and Momo fell foul of a wet, running chukar and moved too much to mark it as it literally ran circles around him. The judges asked to see a second honor out of the other dog and so Momo found another bird and then made a 40yd+ blind retrieve. Didn't get him back in the game, but it was a nice bonus. Judging JH the next day was enjoyable, although scenting conditions were tough for the dogs and a number of dogs weren't able to find a qualifying bird until the final minute or so. I will probably write a subsequent post on JH handling because it was very interesting to see how folks dealt with their dogs seemingly not performing at their usual level.

We then jetted up to Oquossoc to visit with old friends from when we used to live up in downeast Maine. The two previous times I have hunted grouse up here, I've come in the first week of November -- and it was amazing to see all the fall colors ringing the hills and lake. We had heard various tales of the demise of the ruffed grouse in western Maine -- but happily found plenty of evidence to the contrary. My friend Dudley and I hunted separate spots in the same general location and the final box score for two days came out at 34 flushes (including one woodcock) with three grouse taken. And for the first time, too, we saw not one but three large ungulates like this young fellow out for a morning wander on the main road.

I had really wanted to bring the boys up here to let the wild birds teach them a lesson or two. The last two years I learned quickly that the November birds were skittish and took the bells off the boys to allow them to at least get feasibly close to their birds. My update on this hypothesis is that Maine grouse are skittish, period. Of those 34 flushes, perhaps a quarter were genuinely pointed by either dog; a fair number of flushes were merely heard as they blew off into the far-away in response to a dog cracking a branch or moving brush too quickly.

The challenge of course now became how to keep track of a moving dog in heavy undergrowth, especially if the dog has decided to point. I try to be really quiet in the woods -- and use a very gentle mouth whistle to alert the dog where I am. At one point, Momo had cut in to some evergreens and I could no longer see him, so I whistled him on... once, twice, and then a third time. He then barked and a grouse flushed with the noise. I felt terrible. We both learned our lesson the next day -- I whistled quietly, heard nothing, and decided to step gently toward where I'd last seen him. I stepped over a downed tree into what looked like moss, but cracked a good sized twig in the process. I was a good 10yds away from the pair of grouse that flushed in front of poor Momo, banking up and away through the mixed maple and pine trees.

The video clip below is what happens when you try to video a crazed two-year old trial dog minutes after he's had his first grouse shot for him. I had wanted to bring him up to Maine so that he would hopefully get a wild bird education and learn that he was the not the master predator he imagined he was. While I can't say that he ever fully established a point, he learned very quickly what he was looking for and got very adept at his stop-to-flush. And a dog standing still does get his first bird shot out of a tree if need be. Not glamorous. Not particularly sporting. But a huge stimulus for a young dog.

I would speculate that tales of the minimal number of grouse are being perpetuated by 'heater hunters,' the old-timers who like driving up forest roads and shooting birds from the window of their jeep. Nevertheless, as you can see, there's not a whole lot that's easy about hunting grouse in Maine -- and early season means more leaf cover for birds to fly behind. And while Tuesday was a beautiful day, Monday was a classic Maine fall day... if you don't like the weather, wait 15mins. As you can see, Momo and I had to hide under a tall fir for 15mins of hard, hard rain but soon after, he got on point just over the shoulder of a slope. I saw him point, but as soon as I walked in to him, a bird flushed and flew up and across me. And miraculously, I made a competent crossing shot. Incidentally, upon dissection, all three birds we took were primarily eating maple seeds -- both regular and the larger striped maple -- unlike the clover and ferns that they seem to prefer come November.

Momo's second bird can only be described as beautiful. I kept the fan -- and now that we are home, I can tell you that the feathers are a solid inch longer than those on from the grouse we took two years ago. And whether male or female, this bird also had a full complement of black collar feathers. Sadly for this bird, it flushed ahead of Momo's point as I hollered to Jozsi, flew into a tree, but then lifted off again as I was walking in and Jozsi was barrelling back. And Momo got to make another perfect retrieve. Here's a picture of two happy vizslas on a cool Maine afternoon... you can see that, in my optimism, I had put a Tracker collar on Jozsi so I could locate him in the unlikelihood that he could stand a point out of sight.

The birds had the final laugh, though. As we got within 50yds of the truck, walking down an overgrown timber path, Momo scooted right and peered over a berm to get scent. A bird flushed up over him and flew down the path directly in front of me. I fired both barrels and probably missed underneath both times. However good you feel about yourself, a grouse slaps you for even approaching hubris.

Here's to good friends, good dogs, and beautiful, wild birds.


Kim said...

Nice photos and video!! Looks like it was a successful few days! Someday we will make it out there!

Winter Bicycles said...

That road screams for a bike.

Just don't hit the locals...

Shawn K. Wayment, DVM said...

Andrew...can't tell you how many times I've had birds do that to me (like that grouse did) over the years! Sure keeps things interesting! Sounds like fun!


iyisab said...

i'm looking on the internet for a resource for Vizsla's in Maine. I'm interested in a puppy and have only found a couple who haven't heard from. My husband and I are both from Downeast Maine and would like any information you might have that may direct us to a litter within the next year. Thank you for my intrusion on your blog.

Jane said...

Yay! I get to be the 20,000th! I'll start baking. Thanks Andrew. Great read, and love the photos and video.

The moose: WOW what a shot. I think my obsession with buffalo and koi would move over if I were in moose country. (as opposed to wild turkey country, which is merely annoying)

The dogs: Great pic. The first thought that came to mind, seeing the expression on their faces, was: We're Special Ops. Reporting and Ready. We're going in.


Andrew Campbell said...


The two breeders I know of in the very northeast are Patricia Folz of Szikra Vizslas (SzikraVizslasATaolDOTcom) and Chris + Wendy Russell at Widdershins. If you go to the sidebar on this blog, you'll see a link to their website with their contact info on it. I don't know the Folz's well, but they have produced some very nice, sucessful conformation dogs. Chris + Wendy are maybe an hour from you up in Dover-Foxcroft -- and if you're looking for a well-tempered, well-socialized dog that can also hunt (if that's what you want), I would tell you to start and finish with them. I also know their bitch Seeker has just been bred to a fantastic Dual Champion dog, Octane.

all best wishes in your search

Scott said...

Great post Andrew.... I've spent lots of time hunting the Rangeley and Oquossoc areas with my dogs, and reading this post now, in the dead of a tough winter lifts my spirits. I can't wait to get back out there with my dogs and my side-by-sides!