This year started out with a bang. We went out to North Dakota for the first time in hopes of finding lots of bird contacts to help steady a young dog. While we had some success, there was of course plenty of frustration (more to come on ND part 2 during sharp-tail opener).
We found plenty of birds. A pleasant surprise after coming in blind with lots of research. Having come home early however, it was just a small taste. With the passing of father time came the opening day in Michigan. Finally, I’d be able to come home from work, take the dog out for an hour or two and see what she was made of.
Opening day of Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock season was a warm one. I left work early to try and extend our first outing. Arriving home, I packed up the car, grabbed the dog, and we set out to one of our favorite covers. A cover that had a small bit of the right aged aspen, lots of bushy, shrubby “upland scrub”, evergreens, swamp, and cedars. It really is the perfect mix of covers for these birds. On average last year I’d see 1-2 grouse, if not more, and a dozen woodcock.
We got to the spot. 1 truck in the usual parking lot so I extended to the far end of the cover, figuring at least we would spread out. Slightly unwilling to change my plan. Anyhow we got out and started our hunt. Nothing was seen in our first bit of the walk besides a man with his vizla (General Patton). We stopped and talked for a few minutes. Turns out Jake was the president of RGS for our chapter. We talked a bit about hunting, our dogs, and he mentioned the upcoming chapter banquet. I told him I actually just bought my ticket on the drive home so I’d see him there. He mentioned him and his dog just hunted the edge of the cover and didn’t touch the middle.
With that in mind we set off towards the middle of the cover. Didn’t see much for the first 10-15 minutes. Then later a few woodcock. Lainey wasn’t steady, a bit too excited it seemed. She was working too far away so couldn’t confirm or deny if she was doing her job well. It seemed she was just chasing birds. I didn’t end up connecting on anything that afternoon.
Excited, frustrated, annoyed. All feelings coming through my head during the hunt. It was hot, the dog was hot, so we wrapped it up and went home.
This isn’t to say I felt defeated, but having taken the advise of many people to not shoot bumped birds, it doesn’t seem to be working too great. We flushed a probably 10 different birds, or maybe 5 with 5 more being the same bird, her not holding steady on a single one, let alone really pointing at all. The dog wasn’t listening to me all that well. She was ranging further than I cared. Chalk it up to a dog out of practice, but she seemed to better at 6 months of age than she is doing at 18. I was told not to force her to range closer, and generally she does a good job adjusting to cover types for range.
A day has now passed. Lainey isn’t acting like she’s feeling too great. She doesn’t want to play fetch, instead of excitedly running to me and insisting I throw he ball, she lays silent inside her igloo. She returns the ball walking very slowly. She feels warm. She didn’t eat. We take her temperature. It’s bordering 104.
The next day my wife says she hasn’t improved all day, so she takes her to the vet. The vet runs bloodwork, comes back negative. Can’t find anything particularly wrong with her. So he prescribes a round of Antiobiotics – Augmentin, or some other mix of Amoxicillin and something else. He gives her a anti-inflammatory shot, and also a prescription of Rimandyl (i believe it was). She seemed to be feeling better a few hours later.
The dog improves, and I give her a week before we start back to hunting.
We go back hunting, I’m making an effort to hunt new covers so we head to a new spot. The cover looks great, but I saw plenty of footprints and dog prints, so it looks like I’m not the first to be here this day. We come across a couple woodcock 10 minutes into our search. She’s busting birds again…
Finally, I call her back to me, she comes. I water her. Then when we are ready to get going again, she stops not more than 10 feet from where we were. She points! Thank god, maybe she isn’t a dud is what runs through my head whilst reading my gun. I walk forward and the dog lurches forward, and the bird goes up. A woodcock. I take aim with my wife’s grandfathers 20ga 870 wingmaster.
1st shot – BOOM – miss.
I rack another round. BOOM – I’m aiming at leaves at this point. Probably didn’t get that one, oh well. My ears ring, everything seems muted for a few minutes. Lainey is excited. I’m excited myself. Lets see if we can find it again and give it another go.
Lainey bounds into the woods in that direction. She yipps and is stopped in the woods. She found it. I must’ve just winged it and Lainey finished the woodcock off. She sits proudly next to the bird. Ready to start looking for another. She doesn’t bring the bird back to me. Go figure, at least she shows me where it’s at.
I’m accepting of this mediocrity of dog work I suppose. She finds them, sometimes points them (I hope this improves with my patience holding firm.) She at least shows me where the birds are dead (similarly to in ND). But for a dog that loves retrieving balls, you’d think she would love retrieving the birds as well. I guess it’s time to tighten the leash and start force fetching her, I built the training table already so it’s just a matter of figuring out how I want to go about the process.
This is the epitome of Upland Slummin. Things are good, not great, sometimes you feel shitty about not doing best by the dog in getting her trained. A busy lifestyle, a lack of desire to sit and train the dog, has stopped me from making these things happen. Putting this all into words makes me feel motivated to make this happen, but how long will this motivation last? I keep going hunting more and more, I get flashes of greatness and then plenty of time I feel frustration in my pointing dog just flushing and bumping birds (If you can call it that).
I do feel like she is still immature, a slow to develop dog. So I’m trying to take things slowly. She is happy to walk at a heal, she (for the most part) has great recall. But dang it I would love to see her lock up on more birds than she does. I think she’s relying more on her eyes than her nose, which worries me. But then when thinking back to seeing her track things I’ve watched her follow a jackrabbits sent 50-75 yards perfectly to a T.
I suppose some direction, mentorship, and maybe some homing pigeons might help solve these problems with consistent training. All things I’m lacking. I’ll certainly put in the effort to make the best dog I can, and make the most memories and her (and my) life as exciting and memorable as possible.