Connor–A Grouse Dog

•February 26, 2019 • 1 Comment

Before Maxwell, before Bromley, before Tucker, before Buddy that loveable rescue setter–there was Connor.

Connor was a block headed chocolate Lab with a lot of British in him. Connor was my first grouse dog, a wonderful friend and partner and Toni and I loved him dearly.

I shot my first Ruffed Grouse over Connor and its a day I will never forget. An October morning of bright leaves and sunlight along and old tote trail at the front end of ‘Goss Cover’. The cover I named after the family that owned the land that gave access to the area and in honor of the patriach that gave me permission to pass.

There were two grouse having breakfast on some tender greens off to the right and Connor set them to flight. One of them went off at a 90 degree angle to the right into trees and safety. The other more or less straight ahead along the edge. He fell to the forest floor at the bark of the gun. An easy mark for Connor and he picked up that Ruff with his ever soft mouth and brought it to me with a smile. I will not forget the soft warmth and heft of that bird. We must have stood there together for several minutes admiring the result of our partnership. Connor taught me the excitement and rush of a Ruffed Grouse flushing.

Connor has been gone for some 15 years now. He was taken early at 5 years young by a hit and run driver. A very sad and late night for Toni and I, but I don’t have the heart to recount that tale this morning.

Connor and I discovered the singular enjoyment of the uplands together. I knew no other bird hunters at the time, deciding to pursue this activity on my own. I’m struggling for a word other than ‘sport’, because hunting upland birds with a four legged friend is something more than simply ‘sport’. Still struggling. Perhaps another day will suggest a better word.

I was out on my workbench a few minutes ago, adjusting a gunstock soaking in acetone and happened to look through the contents of a jar setting there.

I found this old tag that belonged to Connor.

I have few pictures of Connor. He was of a time before we carried smart phones everywhere and those pictures I did have of him in the field were lost when a hard drive failed some years ago.

I did often carry a camera while working. Connor was also a job site dog and was always there making sure he didn’t miss anything.

You are still missed, Connor. You were a good boy.

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A Season

•February 24, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Thinking back on the upland bird season from here in the extreme northeast corner of Oklahoma, I must say considering all things, a good one.

Beautiful country and the start to a few friendships, an old man of a setter and a young pup full of vim and vigor coupled with a positive attitude—make for a good mix.

We searched for bird holding cover in two states coming up short in any close by areas. By close by, I mean within 2 hours. It seems that the states may be a bit ‘too’ optimistic regarding bird opportunities in places. Habitat, weather and the realities of change do not make way for optimism. Facts are stubborn things and do not give way to hope or anticipations.

Having said this—there is reward to the searching and of course, watching the dogs excitement when the tires hit the gravel roads.

My heart also begins to race at the sound of thrown gravel and the rumble felt through the seat and wheel.

Its part of the adventure and never to be considered a waste of time spent.

Like all of us that pursue such things, back home in New Hampshire, I spent many years, tire tread and boot leather searching for likely bird cover and the honey holes such cover may reveal.

We are starting all over again in this strange and so different land.

“Older now and still running against the wind”.

We give many thanks to those friendly and unselfish souls who have offered suggestions and more.

Thank you.

Next season is just around the corner of a hot summer to come. May all of you and your four-legged friends have a fine and healthy time between the seasons.

A book or two to read, memories freshened with pictures and conversations of the last and the next.

Back to the Panhandle

•February 14, 2019 • 2 Comments

So a bit of a recap after musing. The kind of musing that goes on during a solo drive home after a hunt.

The vastness and after walking over several lows and highs where they all look much alike, it is a bit intimidating.

The dogs tend to keep going–mostly. Max stretches out pretty good and is always hunting. This makes me smile–a lot.

It smells fresh and particularly nice in the early morning with a mist rising up out of the river valley.

The sand burrs were not bad at all but I booted the young fella anyway.

The prairie is large and a north woods hunter needs to re-evaluate distances and water toting.

Good boots are required.

An eye or sense of rodent holes can make a difference.

I think that Mother’s pack vest bought years ago and is nearly unused–will get some use next season. It will hold more water and a layer shed.

The tightly woven cap that holds water works twice. Once for the dog and again when redonned.

There is wind on the prairie…terrain causes shifts.

Quail on the prairie: its very cool that the covey once pointed and flown, provides additional multiple opportunities for a pup and the guy watching the pup and smiling.

Quail can run….a lot.

Quail will find a hole after being feathered or leg broke.

When they fly over a rise, there is no telling if they broke left right or kept straight.

A mist in the morning makes a difference–for about 2 hours.

Dogs love the feel of running in a big open space–like the prairie.

Lesser prairie chickens sound much like a ruffed grouse when taking off.

No need to be askeered of sand burrs…pups likes booties.

Both pup and the fella following and smiling are glad to get back to the vehicle.

The prairie is a lonely place.

WCC Brown Slayer

•February 7, 2019 • 2 Comments

Several years ago, fishing with friends Mike Kroll and Mike McDonald up on West Canada Creek Upstate after a rain…the water was fast and deep.
I located a deep scoop hole at the head of a run where I suspect browns might be holding. I reached into my pack and dug out a nice meaty looking weighted pattern that seemed would do the job of reaching those trout holding in a place of refuge. Sure enough casting 20 feet above in order to allow some time for the fly to drop deep enough yielded the desired outcome.
This would be that brown from that day in 2013.

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This is my version of the memory I have of that fly.
My intention is to soon offer it to some small mouth bass that live in a nearby creek.
WCCBS

A Funky Safety/This Bird Has Flown

•February 2, 2019 • Leave a Comment

It was mid morning of a late October day. The sun was just warming the damp forest floor. The leaves were just wet enough to be quiet and a first season Setter was on the lane to becoming a bird dog. Coming around the corner of a mostly grown in tote road, the man saw the Setter still and near rigid. His nose visibly active and his gaze fixed.
As he cautiously approached, his thoughts of a pup deserving his bird had him nerved up. The bird must be close. Yes behind that clump of spruce. Two more steps. Maybe it will choose to fly ahead down the old lane.
In the middle of that thought its wings slammed the ground and rose from the black growth and into the sun streaming into the lane. An easy going away shot. The man could see the grouse fall in his mind’s eye as the 20 gauge 101 came up smoothly from port of arms to mount.
In one practiced series his thumb and finger worked in concert.

Both dog and man watched the grouse fly on to safety.

Blogs–That have Suffered

•January 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

As I have looked at several great blog sites that I have followed over the years, I find that most of them have fallen out of use. Most haven’t seen a new article or story posted for years. It seems that some once busy forums have suffered as well.

I blame the evil of social media and its various seductions.

These–such as Facebook and Twitter are ruining otherwise good minds.

I was so corrupted for a time, but no more.

Stand with me against this onslaught upon all that is good. Resist this mental disease gone viral–before it is too late.

Resistance is not futile!

A journal and memories afield

•January 21, 2019 • 1 Comment

Perhaps its because I am getting older. Not old mind you, but of an age where I can feel my own mortality as a reality and no longer the nearly indestructible man I  have been since crawling under the catwalk of the Queen City Bridge picking pigeons while in the second grade.

Perhaps because the new vantage point makes me wonder how many more dogs I have time to love. Maybe this is why I’ve been thinking about the four legged friends of the past and has me of late, looking back at some journal entries of times afield and the evidences in them of how amazing these dogs are…to us.

I will leave Vincent the Magnificent the kayaking, rock climbing, bank dog, Golden Retriever and Connor the chocolate lab and my first grouse dog, for another time. I did not have the foresight to keep any journals of those days—although many memories still shine clear and bright.

I did keep a daily journal intermittently of some adventures my first setter Tucker and I have had together and it is those I have been looking back to. Tucker has aged as I have. He will be 13 come September. If the old saw is true—that a year to us is 7 years to a dog, he is now 84 plus years old. That beats my age of 63 by a good bit. If I am doing as well as he is at 84, I will have done very well indeed. He will still hunt all day, if I were to let him. Oh, his rear wheels would give out under him a few times in uneven terrain and he would be a very sore and lame pup for a couple days, but his heart will not have faltered nor his desire to hunt.

Tucker is a Llewellin English Setter. Tri-colored out of Little River Kennel in Alton, NH. He is a bird dog and my friend and partner.

In his early puppy training, he was a quick learner. That yard work stuff where an owner first gets to interact with his dog in a way that makes for both frustration, impatience and pride. Tucker learned to walk at heal and whoa on spaced out 3’x3’ plastic squares—he learned both at the same time walking at heel and then when reaching and standing on a square, he learned that whoa meant stop and stay put. The squares seemed to help communicate the stay here part. It didn’t take long.

He learned a disdain for pen raised quail because he could catch them when they flushed after the point. That was more my fault than his. Stronger flying pheasant and chucker cured him, but it was wild birds that brought out the bird dog in him. Just as it should be.

One of my earliest entries involved a young puppy before his first hunting season finding a grouse that wasn’t a grouse. It was a dusting grouse spot recently vacated by a grouse. Nevertheless, it was a moment for celebration.

Another– while out with a trainer helping us both to understand the setter dog game, Tucker happened to find himself on the opposite side of a small pond. Garret suggested that I call him to me. I did and Tucker swam a beeline across that pond directly to me. Garret opined that Tucker was a prodigy. I smiled a lot. Tucker forgot the trick sometime over the next few years.

A wonderfully strange and comical event took place the following year in Tucker’s first full season. He chased a woodcock around a small tree clump several times before that woodcock flew. I was fortunate enough to shoot him. He may have been dizzy. True story. He chased the bird around and around like a train on a circular track.

That was the first and the last time that he ever chased a woodcock. Tucker loved woodcock and discovered that it was much more fun to point them and enjoy a snoot full for as long as possible—at times that would be long indeed.

One day in ‘Mossy Cover’, before the adoption of tracking devices, we relied strictly on a bell to know the whereabouts of a pup in thick cover. Mossy Cover is a low area filled with vernal pools, fallen trees, ferns and alders. A cover that holds some grouse and local woodcock as well as being a happy hunting ground for flight birds. A wonderful and almost magical place that Tucker and I enjoyed. Tucker was in his second season and beginning to get the idea of things birdy. His bell stopped ringing this morning and because it was such thick cover, I had lost knowing just where he was. I called and called and searched until finally my eye caught sight of his tail through the alders and ferns. That sickle tail of his has enough white in the feathers to make the seeing a bit easier. It had been a good ten minutes of looking and there he was locked up on a woodcock. He had never been more than 40 yards from me and could hear me calling him all the time. I walked in and his eyes sort of rolled over to briefly communicate his semi-sorrow at ignoring me at the same time saying—look Dad. Look there. Though I was a bit worked up over the searching, I moved in to kick the bird up and connected for my partner. It fell into a wet area of moss and fern and Tucker found it, picked it up and shortly dropped it again. Such was his way with woodcock. He would hunt dead, pick it up and if feeling charitable, would carry it a few steps and never much more toward me before dropping it.

Tucker’s first grouse was later in that same year on a mid-November afternoon. It was one of those damp, cold gray days over at ‘Apple Barn Cover’. The ground under foot was tangled briars that require careful walking. I had raised my eyes about the time Tucker’s bell quieted to find him pointing with head and tail high. Even then, this more often than not meant the quarry was not a woodcock. He was fixed on a point about 30 yards ahead to an old apple tree fairly covered in grape vines. I didn’t quite get to Tucker before that grouse rocketed out to the right and low. We still have that tail fan. The thing about grouse falls and Tucker is a reluctance to immediately give them up—such a treasure they are to him. He has not changed since that day.

Its funny how a man’s memory works and which memories burn the deepest. One sunny October morning, with or without the aid of the journal– a morning that seems forever etched on my mind. It was a gorgeous morning with dry crunchy leaves underfoot walking into the cover. Named later for the morning. We had had an hours worth of flushing grouse in nearly impossible to walk cover and were both a bit tired, thirsty and hungry. We decided to stop just this side of a stone wall in a tiny clearing to sit on a broad gently arced rock that rises just a bit above surrounding grass. Sun was streaming through an opening above and Tucker and I sat together there and enjoyed a drink and a shared sandwich. He was content to set and soak it all up—it seemed, just as I was. Leaning on my shoulder, I can still feel his warmth and gratitude. Lunch Rock Cover. We have returned there many times since.

One afternoon of a late October day while walking along a trail that connects two portions of a favorite area, Tucker got birdy and pointed toward a stone wall to our right. A moment later he moved about 10 yards down and crossed over the stone wall and locked up solid pointing right at me. There he had pinned a grouse against the stone wall between us. To his chagrin, I missed that grouse when it flushed and actually that wasn’t the first time that same bird eluded us in such a fashion—never Tucker’s fault. He knew his business.

There are many more days shared afield alone and with friends and other dogs. We have many stories to tell of our time together. We are not quite done yet. Two dogs have passed during his twelve and a half years and we have a new pup, now.

Tucker has slowed some and so have I…

 
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