Yesterday (Friday) morning was the first indication that things might be changing as we moved a couple of grouse in Red Barn for the first time in a while. Today we were out in one of our bigger grouse covers where we had failed to find grouse recently and moved ten grouse and 17 or 18 woodcock in three braces. Dave Hawke from Ohio is staying with Tony for a week to work dogs and in attempt to beat the August heat we met at 5:00 this morning and got the first brace down by 5:30. I had to increase the backlighting on my Astro to be able to read it as it was still a little dim in the woods.
Dave ran his puppy Daisy with LJ and she had a couple of bird contacts. The first bird we heard go was a grouse right of the breakaway and it might have still been up in a tree. LJ then pointed a a couple of woodcock and a grouse. We had another grouse flush wild during the brace. The humidity was high and the air was dead calm. All the little seeps and water courses in the cover were dry. Daisy started to lose interest after about an hour but she found a couple of woodcock late and got fired back up. LJs grouse came just before we got back to the truck and on the opposite of the road from where we were running.
The second brace was Bee and Dave’s dog Ginger that is a littermate to Frankie. Dave was having some technical problems with his collar and Ginger got to show us that she was not afraid to stretch out in the heavy cover. We moved one brood of grouse that had about five birds in it. Bee pointed initially and then got a second bird from the brood and Ginger came in and pointed another one. It’s great having all the woodcock we have up here, but there’s no substitute for grouse. The dogs can’t crowd them and it’s always exciting to hear one or more of them thunder out. And this time of year the cover is so thick that hear them is about all you can expect. The grouse hunting here really doesn’t get good until the leaves start to fall in mid to late October. That’s not to say we don’t shoot some grouse early in the season, it’s just that you get to see a lot more of them later.
The third brace was Trip and Little Thuddy, Trip had a stop to flush on a grouse as did the Thudster. By the third brace it was already getting warm, even though it was still before 8:00 when we broke away. I turned my ankle on Thursday and cut the third brace short as Tony and Dave climbed the hill with Thuddy. He pointed a bunch of woodcock (5 or 6) and finished his hour strongly despite the heat and humidity.
After breakfast we went to the bird field to kill a couple of birds for Abby in an attempt to give her a little more confidence and fire her up. She seemed to like picking up the dead birds and went after the second one with enthusiasm when she saw it fall. She may just be a dog that needs a lot of birds shot for her before she’s clicking an all bird dog cylinders. We also put out a couple of birds for Trash and she looked good on them. Dave just brought a dozen or so birds primarily for Abby. We won’t work any of the other dogs on them as they seem to be finding and handling wild birds well.
Someone asked me the other day how much I work my dogs. For the adult dogs every other day or 3 times a week is enough to keep them in shape and sharp. I’ve been keeping LJ on the same basic schedule but want to push him a little harder to get a better sense of his mental and physical toughness. He ran Tuesday for a regular workout and then got a short 30 – 40 minutes in Red Barn on Thursday. Friday we ran LJ and Frankie for a good hour and half in Red Barn starting in Section 1 and going all the way to the end of section 3 and back. So this morning Jack was a little gimpy so I took LJ again and ran him for a tough 90 minutes or so. Physically he didn’t let down at all and he was still hunting hard at the end of the brace pointing a grouse right before we got to the truck which showed he was still focused on the task at hand. Although there is only one grouse trial (Armstrong-Umbel Classic) that runs more than an hour, I think it is really important that we train our dogs to do more than that. In Texas when we hunt from horseback it’s not unusual to have a brace of dogs down for as long as two hours and hunting here in the fall we have many covers that require much more than an hour to hunt them fully. Some breeders and grouse trialers are accepting the hour as the limit of their dogs endurance and often come to campaign and breed dogs that are hard pressed to meet that criteria if its a little hotter than expected or the course is especially dry. I’ve seen braces where the handler, the scout, and a helper in the gallery have all carried water and the dog needed all of it. Those are not the dogs we should be rewarding with championship titles and we should definitely not be promoting them in our breeding programs. The majority of puppies I raise go to hunters who don’t have a whole string of dogs. They need dogs that have the endurance to hunt for longer periods and often for multiple days in a row when they get a chance to take some time off to bird hunt. Hopefully by expecting more from my dogs than an easy hour once in a while I’m breeding dogs that are not only competitive but will also be able to adapt to the needs of the hunter with just a dog or two.