Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Too much drive or too little sense?

Heidi and me in the Pease River bottom in 1992. She's wearing her "It's Hell Being a Bird Dog" expression while I pull off her boots after a morning hunt. Some years, the river bottom is a carpet of sand burs. (Photo by Brad Carter)
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Patrick's blog about hard and soft dogs in general and his beloved Trooper in particular really struck home. In regard to working terriers, Patrick describes a hard dog as one that goes in teeth first and never backs up regardless of quarry or conditions. A soft dog, on the other hand, usually locates and bays the quarry until the hunter can use his tools to extract and dispatch it. Not surprisingly, over the course of a long field career, the hard dog suffers more damage than his softer counterparts.
Expanding on Patrick's description, I might call Maggie a hard dog. She descends from big-running field trial stock, and, true to her lineage, she's a very fast, wide-ranging slasher with near-maniacal prey drive. Yet she's fairly easy to handle, because she likes to stay out in front. You won't win a field trial with a dog that casts out and comes around behind you, no matter how many birds he finds. I have little doubt that if a skillful handler campaigned Maggs on the field trial circuit, she'd be competitive. She's a stylish blur, just what judges are looking for.
And she has spent much of her career sidelined by injuries. Unlike her Aunt Molly, a sturdy 55- pound thoroughbred out of the same bloodline, Maggs is a very delicate 42-pounder. Even though West Texas quail country punishes her body, she knows only one speed and one way. Hit the shin oak motte at full tilt; dive off of the 6-foot bank; run flat out over the roughest, rockiest, most broken terrain imaginable.
So she tears up a knee, and the doc orders a month-long break in the middle of quail season. The next year, it's a badly strained ligament in her paw. Two weeks of crate rest followed by a month of only light exercise. I could go on. She re-injured her paw early this season, but seems to have recovered. Still, I'm waiting for the next blown knee or serious gash.
Heidi, on the other hand, came from a solid but undistinguished line of gun dogs. Oh, there were field champions way back there, but she wouldn't have gotten a second look from a field trial judge. Yet she took a sensible approach to her job. Instead of running flat out, she covered her ground at a comfortable lope. Yes, she'd sometimes get out a quarter of a mile or so, and she'd swing around and nail a covey two hundred yards behind me, but she slowed down when she needed to and understood that it's best to ease into a plum thicket. As a result, she could hunt two long days in a row or several consecutive half-days, all season long.
Yes, we gun dog lovers owe much to the field trial folks. We have better dogs today because of competition and testing. But a field trial heat typically lasts 30 minutes and is likely to be held on fairly open, gentle ground so that judges and handlers can see the dogs.
I love hunting with Maggie. With her big heart and sweet nature, she'll always be one of my favorites. But I'll think long and hard before buying another pointing dog pup sired by a field trial champion.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Out and About

Russell Graves has some great photos from his trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and some righteous bow hunting shots.

Julie Zickefoose visited the Bosque Del Apache NWR around the same time and grouchily argues against sandhill crane hunting.

Rebecca gets some great news.

Mike, at Sometimes Far Afield, takes us on a pheasant hunt in the Texas Panhandle.

Rod Dreher worries about intellectual incest at universities.

Steve Bodio shows us his new goshawk here and here.

Terrierman rips price-gouging veterinarians.

Take a quick look through Chas Clifton's eyes. Personally, I like his view.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cate and the Coyote

How 'bout them ears?

Two or three times a week, I run Cate in the woods along a creek that wends through a park near my home. I can't carry a gun, of course, but the woods are full of fox squirrels, and Cate is starting to tree. We're violating the local leash law, but no else walks in the woods. There are no trails there - other than old game trails - and real woods, with briars and deadfalls, are just too untidy for most suburbanites. They stick to the paved trails that run through open, mowed areas of the park.

A large male coyote lives along the creek. We see him on nearly every outing. On cool days, we'll sometimes find him lazing in the sun along the edge of the woods. As far as I know, he causes no trouble. The first time Cate encountered him, back in early October, she weighed all of 18 pounds. But in her currish little mind, this was something to be chased, caught, and whipped to a frazzle. She took off after the coyote, baying bloody murder. The coyote loped away, probably wondering about this crazy little blond dog. Nowadays, after a few scoldings, Cate pays the coyote little attention. Usually, he stops and watches us at a distance, obviously waiting for us to pass so that he can go on about his business.

Unfortunately, he terrifies folks who walk their small dogs through the park, even though he never bothers anyone. Someone has complained to the local animal control people. Lately, I've been finding wire snares along the game trails. I suppose I ought to start packing wire cutters in case Cate runs into a noose.

Of course no one worries that dogs might get caught in these snares. After all, no one actually goes into the woods. There are wild animals in there.

I wonder. Just how tame do our woods have to be to satisfy safety-obsessed suburbanites? Can we not tolerate one beleaguered coyote?

Back to the Panhandle

Weekend before last, Brad Carter and I loaded the dogs and headed back to the Panhandle. We hunted in a cool drizzle Friday afternoon. The dogs found a couple of coveys, and we took a few birds while Cate howled in her box. We got back to the truck just before dark and let her out. While Jack and Maggs drank from a windmill tank, Cate jumped in and paddled around. Then, of course, she had to go back in her box soaking wet.

Next morning, we hunted in the rain. I topped a hill south in the river and felt a warm breeze out of the South. Sure enough, the rain stopped and the temperature rose. By mid afternoon, we were sweating and the dogs' tongues were dragging. Still, we managed to move a few coveys. Cate got acquainted with sand burs.

Jack, Brad's French Brittany, points a covey beneath a cedar.

Brad waters Jack from a canteen. We tease Jack about looking like a little bear. He doesn't seem to mind.

We moved a few more coveys Sunday morning. A good hunt, all in all. Maggs held up well - her paw seems fine. The plains got some much-needed moisture, and we took home a few birds. We're not covered up with quail this year, but I'd say we have plenty.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Panhandle Hunting Trip Report - Finally

Way back in mid-November, the hoped-for cold front never came. The first afternoon, Brad and I cast Jack and Maggie up a brushy draw in the breaks south of the Pease River and tried not to think about rattlesnakes. It was clear and about 80 degrees. I had already seen a rat snake crossing the road. The mesquite was still green, as was the waist-high broomweed and the thickest crop of ragweed I've ever seen. The Rolling Plains made excellent use of the spring and summer rains.

Of course the dogs were stepping on their tongues fifteen minutes later when they plowed into a big covey that made a joke of the old rule that says that bobwhites rarely fly further than 80 yards. After a fit of whoaing, cussing, and whistle blowing, we got the dogs started in the direction most of the singles had taken. Amazingly, they found and pointed a few of the those birds, which had flown across a wide draw then up and over a hill. Most of them were a good 150 yards from where we flushed them. Of course they probably ran after they lit, but you get the picture.

Two hours later, with the sun disappearing behind the red cliffs above the Pease, we made it back to the truck, sore-footed and out of water, but encouraged. We'd moved three big coveys in about two hours, in miserable heat and rank cover. Certainly not impressive by Texas standards but much better than last year. Big coveys usually mean a good quail population. In lean years, six-bird coveys are common, even early in the season. A couple of good frosts, a little rain or snow, and we'd be in business.

Maggs on point. Seconds later, a covey flushed. Note the rank cover.

Next morning, we woke to fog and cooler temperatures. We moved a couple of coveys, but by lunchtime, the sun had burned the fog away and we were faced with another November day fit only for golfers and rattlesnakes.

Even worse, Maggs was favoring her left front paw. She injured a ligament in that paw last season but seemed to recover after a six-week rest. Still, I suspected she'd re-aggravated her old injury. I checked on her after lunch, and sure enough, the outside of her paw was badly swollen. The hunt was over for good ol' Maggs.

But fear not. After a three week rest, Maggs was back in action.

Stay tuned for another update.

Typical Panhandle bobwhite country. Looking north over the Pease River breaks.

I'm back - with apologies

I apologize for the light (non-existent) blogging the last few weeks. Magazine deadlines have left me with little energy to spare. Many thanks to everyone for all the good hunting wishes, and to Matt for the blunt and completely justified reminder.