Before we go any further, a hearty congratulations goes to my FTFG (that's 'field trial fairy godmother'), Joan Heimbach, and FC Fieldfire's Spark of Genius SH, aka Geena, aka the G-Funk Endurance Express. Handling her own dog, Joan and Geena took on the rolling, muddy course of Blake Kukar's Circle B Farms in Somerville, TN, at the VCA National Gun Dog Championships. I mean no disrespect to Mark Spurgeon and Ruger, a truly great dog I feel privileged to have watched and who has now won the NGDC three times in addition to the NAFC, but Mark doesn't have a medical exemption from the AKC that allows him to carry a walking stick if need be or have the services of a horse handler (in addition to a scout). In short, Joan handled Geena to third place and I am in awe of both of them.
On the way back from the Armstrong-Umbel, I did stop off at Zukovich Game Birds to pick up a new flock of quail to repopulate my Evil Empire. For a variety of reasons and with the kindness of Tom Mackin, I finished a fourth barrel and did move the empire over to TMT Hunting Preserve. With the NY preserve season coming to a close in ten days or so and with Tom's business largely shifting to sporting clays shooters, it was a good time to get the barrels and birds installed so that by the time they have 'cooked' long enough and gotten habituated to the safety and security of the barrels, we can start training them to recall without worrying about hunters inadvertently bagging them.
I've set up the four barrels in mostly mix hardwood glades which should start to leaf up and offer more aerial cover from predators, but which don't have a huge amount of ground cover. In my ideal training world, I want to be able to see my dogs from a distance, have no problem with a dog sight-pointing, but as importantly want a good flying bird to be able to see the dog -- and pop if the dog starts to move and pressure it.
Folks have asked me for detailed plans for each of the barrels, none exist as such. Besides a 55gal drum, the two core pieces of hardware are a Less Mess watering and feeding system from Quality Wildlife Systems and a decent, framed recall funnel like this one from GunDogSupply. Each drum needs three doors: two roughly 4" x 4" ground floor doors, one with the funnel installed; three-quarters of the way up, and on the side away from the recall funnel, there needs to be a flight door (roughly 7"w x 4"h). You will also need latches, hinges, and either a snap-link or a lock for each of the doors, two long carriage bolts to lock the caps on the Less Mess tubes and prevent raccoon filching, a pair of handles to carry the whole thing easily, some right-angle braces to support the 'sun-deck' and the floor, some solid wire-meshing, a ratchet strap to lock the thing against a tree and stop it getting toppled, and then a rivet gun, a jig-saw, and a drill (with a 1" circular cutter as a useful accessory). Cut out the bottom of the drum, flip it over, and then work from the top down. Install the Less Mess feeders, cut the doors, put in the 'sun-deck' by the flight door (I wouldn't suggest having it extend more than a third of the way into the interior), install the recall funnel, then put in the suspended mesh floor. (In case you are wondering, the other lower door is for sticking your hand in and spooking the birds through the upper flight door, if they don't immediately seize that opportunity when you open it.) Finish carpentry this is not -- and I am no handyman genius.
Bob and I went up to TMT yesterday to see how his younger setter, a rescue I might add, got along and to give Momo and Belle some tag-team fun. Eva looks like she's come with a few gun-shy issues, but we have a plan for her and hopefully we can convince her that birds are a lot more fun than she thinks.
Bob will be the first to tell you that Belle isn't hardly trained and at ten-years-old not likely to suddenly get trained. This is to say that she'll break point while you're moving in on the bird, will break on the flush, and steal another dog's retrieve. But she backs like a fiend. Sure, she'll move when you go to flush the bird for the front dog, but she gets herself stopped and focused like a champ. This was a great photo opportunity on their penultimate bird. And thanks to Bob for the pictures.
We then took a final swing in a spot we'd been before to try and pick up the first bird that I missed -- when we'd just had Belle and Eva on the ground. And Momo got to show his own honoring style even when all he could see was the feathers of Belle's tail. Despite a charging setter, I managed to safely take the chukar down for Belle to retrieve.
We had put down a couple of quail to see if we could get Eva excited, but she seemed reluctant so we didn't force it. And while I had hand-planted them (and want to be careful about getting him on birds that might not be fully awake), I then put Mr. Enthusiasm down briefly. He ran over a bird unexpectedly, stopped-to-flush like a champ, and was then sent on. He ate up the field we were in and started to dig into the denser cover to fulfill his quest for coturnix. He nailed another quail in a thicket, tail looking like a million dollars, held while I thrashed around after the pitter-patter of quail feet, then went back to him and relocated him. Shaboom. I got the bird up, fired the gun, then sent him up the hill away from the bird. And he lived up to Bill's description of him as 'industrious,' finding a running chukar left over from someone else's hunt. Again his manners were good and I took him back to the truck, very encouraged. Once we get the Empire up and running, hopefully we can get the final polish on him and start trialing again.