About a week ago Pop was hobbling around on three good legs with one week ago today marking the entry deadline for the Grand National Grouse Puppy Classic. I decided to scratch Pop from the entry and save the fee, as honestly I haven’t had a dog hobble around to the severity he was in some time. I had some Novox remaining from Annie’s tailbreak debacle so he got in three of those doses before he didn’t seem to be needing it anymore. . . post-draw of course. So with no commitment made to puppy classic at the revered trial grounds of the Flanagan’s (home of Grouse Ridge Kennel) we loaded up into the grouse wagon and headed due west to camp… yes Pop too several hundred miles out of judgement.
We weren’t in a big hurry, we got up there around 10am or so and it was already starting to warm up. We pulled off the road and parked sooner than normal to hit a patch of cover that always seems to hold birds – grouse that is. The little recovering pup was himself pulled and readied first. He tore off down the road before jumping into the cover on the left I cut in to as I’ve become accustomed to him working back his first stretch back towards me. He came back in and then went out to work again somewhere between 10 and 2 o’clock at 60-90 yards before stretching back out in front. I know so many books out there focus on teaching the dog how to run a hunting pattern. Perhaps some of the continental/versatile breeds that have some more hound type trailing tendencies may need that, but early on I’d heard that a forward, pocket-working pattern is a hereditary trait and the cover dog guys seemed to target it in there breedings some time ago. (There are a few cover lines out there that were known to loop back around and hunt to the sides however.) I suppose if I had to point the finger at dog behind Pop to attribute his natural tendency to keep forward, it’d have to go to Wire, who was known to be forward (among other things) and passed it onto his progeny. At this point, Pop’s wearing a long-range bell with a heavy clapper for his increasingly bigger casts. At this point it was right around 60°F, full sun, no breeze, and Pop still sporting his winter coat. He started to shorten up at the 20 minute mark. We walked the road back to the truck, Pop running back in on small casts along the road as he felt the extra urge or after we’d pass and he’d be in a puddle. – It was so warm I didn’t want to put him on the lead and have him at heel on the way back.(That also gave him the opportunities to drop into the puddles.) There were no birds. Which, thinking about afterward, it made sense where we were. We were in high stem, but little weather cover, and it had rained pretty hard the afternoon and night before. Something that didn’t register before I ran Blaze either.
Blaze was ran at the same place. Pop was ran deeper and farther back to keep clear of the road, it’s a closed -off, no thru traffic road, but I don’t even like to give pups the opportunity to squirt out onto it with my thought process being – if you don’t want “traily” dogs, don’t even give them the opportunity to develop that habit. But blaze, older and brand new all age (turns 3 in June), having not been handled from big trails or roads at younger, more impressionable develop stages (like Pop is now) stays off the road and in the cover, he hits the road edge and turns back in. Much of his run I just walked the road. He ran nice and stayed forward. Honestly I was running him to handle just as much as get in any potential bird work. Of course after all this talk of him not running trails or roads the time he did actually point was from the road. I went in to try and put something up, but I did not. There was a few grouse droppings in an open pocket underneath a laurel bush. I released him to see if he’d relocate. He was birdy in the nice patch of laurel I’d just traipsed through but he didn’t linger too long before moving on. An unproductive but not a complete waste, he smelled bird and he was mannerly throughout. The temperature was still rising and he made it to just over 35 minutes before he shortened up. I never understood the disdain at which the (english) pointer guys call setters “shags”, their hair was just longer and they’ve feathers, so what? And then I got a “shag”. Blaze… his coat- really thick and really long. Even when shaved to 1/2″ length and soaking wet, it’s hard to see his hide. After his “Hey, it’s really hot out.” revelation, the first puddle he found had him wallowing like a bull elk. Something he also does after being sprayed for ticks, getting a bath, of in fresh powder in the late season. All unashamed exfoliation for him.
I put Blaze away and headed to the main part of camp, the gathering place, ate lunch and burned though a few rounds of pistol cartridges and shotgun shells. After running in some prime real estate on top and coming up birdless I thought I’d drop into the hollows, into the shade and along all the hollow runs and small brooks. I pulled Tipper next. By the time we got down into water he was ready for it, he got his fill and went back to work. 15 minutes in his bell was silent. He was down below me, a small hollow in the bottom of a larger hollow working cover along a brook. I headed down in after him and looked for a few minutes, I couldn’t find him. Still no bell. As I thought I was getting too far forward I circle back but went in a little deeper. A bird burst out of a pine off to my right. “Whoa!” – a knee-jerk reaction as his bell didn’t even tinkle. The GunX barked and I circle back a little further yet to find my dog- up on a shelf between the brook-bottom and the higher shelf I was on originally. It put him about eye level with where the bird went from. On we went.
About ten minutes later his bell stopped again, this time he was much easier to spot. I walked down in to find him in a fairly open section along the brook with tall pines on each side. There wasn’t much cover to kick, I walked a wide loop while looking up into the lower pine limbs. Nothing seen or heard and with his intensity subsided I released him to continue on. I walked back to pickup my camera I set down, jumped the brook and got up on the other side of the bank and crawled up onto a parallel flat, as my head crested the grade I came eye level to running bird 25 feet out or so. I managed to snap a shot before it burst away. Tipper was long gone so I didn’t even bother to pull the GunX. Evidently the bird was near the edge when Tipper rolled in. We circled back around towards the ridge top the truck was on. At that point the heat was starting to get to me as well, in fact I saw the head of a deer that may have found the climb as troubling and just gave up ( pictured at the end). Honestly it took probably 3x’s as long to get back up to the top as it did getting down. We both watered up and finished off a ham sandwich, I’m not one to share lunch with dogs but this sandwich wasn’t much cooler than the inside of the very warm truck (windows up) – the kids’ pink lunch bag with rainbow unicorn design was insulated about as well as you’d expect from a $7 Walmart job – don’t judge, it was handy and I was in a hurry. (Santa still has yet to bring me option #9 from this list.)
Spent with the temperature now over 70ºF, the truck was now headed home. Annie just road along for the torture, watching and listening to everyone else run. She’ll get her time back but there was some retribution… at home when I walk to the kennels with chaps on or I’m wearing a hat, she knows we’re headed somewhere- while all the boys run around the yard and have marking wars and empty out she’s bouncing around at voluntary heel waiting for the first chance she has to get into an open box on the truck. Totally disregards any bathroom thoughts. I never pulled her out of the truck and I paid for it. Thankfully, I’ve got removable “bad dog” mats in the topper and she has a short memory and no capacity for grudges. That is one very convenient thing about the Easy Loader Kennels here, they unbolt apart and can be cleaned easily and throughly. The dogs don’t care for the act of exiting the truck topper but they are liking the times on trips where the Easy Loaders are taken along (stored underneath nested together, which also work as nice storage bays for bags and gear and slide in and out), they’re brought along to bring the dogs in at night. (One’s always on standby at the house anyway.)
Afternoon, the results had long been on for the winners of the puppy classic. As the truck rolled into cell service on the ride home the phone began to buzz with texts. One had a picture, but several people let me know about Pop’s littermates Penns Rattler Raider and Hatchet Jack that took 3rd and 4th place in the Grand National Grouse Puppy Classic that Pop was supposed to be in, pre-injury. At any rate it’s an early indication that it was a good breeding and will be a good litter (5 males) as Pop has shown he’s got the makeup to contend and he’ll get another crack at one or two (puppy stakes) before the spring trial season is over and he turns derby-age July 1st. Interestingly I had thought about taking Raider . . . but decided to go with Pop. I was dead even one them but Pop found the corner of the yard fence that had quail just on the other side, that was the “tie-breaker”. Evidently either choice would have been a good way to go. Had I had an opening, they both might be with me now. Three of the four winners at the classic were under my judgement earlier this year, two of them I used for placements.