One Opportunity, One in the Bag

IMG_6514.JPGYesterday was brisk but clear, with only a predominant, but never unruly breeze for most of the day. I slept in, so did the dogs; the truck tires cracking and popping the ice work on the road into camp just before 11. I was fine with that as in looking at the forecast earlier from the comforts of home we would’ve been talking single digit mercury levels before that and I didn’t think any birds would be eager to get down and start to sashay around either. To much of my chagrin, most of this season has been “Over / Under Setters”, abandoning our namesake as being the play on words it once had with just two dogs has long been over for sometime.

The double gun flavor here to a degree has been out of my control, I’m very much a firm believer of the old saying “Beware the man with one gun, he likely knows how to use it.” and being of umpteenth generation of true Pennsylvania Dutch blue-collar, no frills practicality and linage… which has been solidified by five kids; a cabinet with a slew of double guns not even a option. (Unless they were theirs of course… 😉 ) So to cap this meandering rant, the Baker Gun & Forging stock’s crack has separated again and it’s probably time to just restock it. Which rolls back around to the no-frills practicality paradigm, we all know how much it costs to have a stock fitted, I’m not a metal-to-wood fitting craftsman and the gun was a blue-collar, no-frills model back in 1916, and the cost to re-stock would be about double the gun is worth (maybe that’s why they’re called double guns… it was extortion scheme all along). So I’ve been toting a perfectly good 26″ 20ga Fausti-manufactured over/under produced for a US manufacturer not it the shotgun business; a nice little grouse wand in its own right. Why not sell it/trade it for a side x side? – Because we all know when you buy a new gun and go to sell/trade it, you’re gonna take a bath on it.

IMG_6518.JPGSo back to the day. Blaze (Long Gone Boston X a cracky Pennstar female) was pulled out of his box first, straight to the tailgate and flopped on his side, his pads getting a generous helping of Musher’s Secret applied. Nothing annoys me more (or probably the dogs too) when they’re stopping to know at those hard-packed snowballs that form on their feet. Next was a bell, e-collar, and stupid orange vest. For a few snowy hunts this year, and our trip “north”, we’ve been using and testing SportDOG’s TEK 2.0 LT GPS System. We didn’t have it so the orange vest was used to help me find predominantly white dogs standing birds in the snow an easier task because without it, it can be a downright chore. Upon release he took a brief moment to flop on his back and snake his way through the inch of snow on the ground before running down the road and diving into the cover.

IMG_6515.JPGWe worked our way down through a 70 acre section that has always been referred to as The Slashings, it has continually offered the best opportunities for dogs but has probably past its prime as the last two years hash’t been too great. Blaze ran, I walked. No tracks, no tracks, no tracks and it continued at least when I was in it with him. Much of the time I was out walking the main road, a liberty that can be taken with an older dog. (If it’s done with a younger developing dog, they’re just taught to run the path of least resistance along with you and that leads to a yo-yo’er… runs out, runs back, runs out etc.) Blaze would pop out occasionally and cross over onto the other side of the logging road which was mostly commanded by white pines and short laurel.

IMG_6529.JPGIt was his second or third crossover into that he stopped, I saw him stop. I walked in behind, snapped a photo and proceeded. As I walked in closer I saw a bird pop out from behind a small fallen tree, on foot, and skirted around the base of a white pine, Blaze saw him too. Blaze took a quick step forward which started a short chain reaction, beginning with a booming “Whoa!” from me which achieved my intent but also began a flurry of wings from the bird. It went up left to right in the open and it wasn’t a snap shot situation which meant I was in trouble. I think I got to “lead it!”s off in my head before I touched off and watched it fold. Blaze remained standing, probably in shock I hit the thing, which being still new at this All Age game was a good thing to have despite that step he’d taken. I was able to walk over and pick the bird up and give it a gentle shake in face and a pat or two before tapping his head to release him. One bird contact, one in the bag.

Popinjay or “Pop” was pulled next. Pop is by Impact Player out of Elektra. He went through the same preparation progression as Blaze, same dumb vest, etc. He got a louder bell as the wind picked up a little and he’ll push the limits yet stay forward, a nice combo. We ran a different course, it was more of a prospecting run more than anything else. A course that took us through heavy, wind-breaking pines to sunny southern facing ridge sides. Not a bird, not even a bump from one on a limb. There was quite a bit of traversing on this one and provided good insight into were he’s at physically right now as spring trials are not so far off. No birds, it’ll be noted and next time he’ll get to run on whatever is perceived as prime real estate for where we’re at that particular outing.

Next was the two pups. Annie’s pride and joy, actually probably neither anymore as that motherly instinct has long wore off now that they’ve been separated in their own kennels for months and now just two of the gang like all the rest. As Pop was getting debriefed on the tailgate (un-belled, etc.), I noticed a puddle on the rubber mat in the bed and a dripping from the rear off the dog topper. I had my suspicions. Pop was packed away and the designated puppy box was opened. The thinning cedar shavings pushed aside to reveal a very wet rubber mat that is normally black but took on sort of a brownish color. Irritated, “Who did this?” I muttered. The pups just danced and carried on in celebration  that their time had come. I’d thought of closing the door and locking it back up hoping to convey some sort of lesson or message, but I knew they haven’t had enough trips under their belt yet to even consider they might be able to put 2 and 2 together. They’re still young enough too that I should’ve aired them out quick when we arrived.

So I grabbed one by the scruff and set on the ground, followed by the next. They rooted and tore around with their soiled undersides and tails as I dug for their collars and two appropriate bells in the gear bag. I managed to get both one them with limited hand contact to their coating of shame. We ran the same cover Blaze went through, not looking for birds really, just getting accustomed to running in the woods and keeping them in front, not to the sides much. They ran together for much of it and before breaching off more and more as time went on. The purpose of these two were field trial prospects. The ultimate goal being one of these kept on permanently as such. The female pup caught my more, just a tad more animated overall. We’ve been calling her “Breeze”. The male held his own just fine in that regard but he’s clearly carrying more weight than needed, which in turn has brought about them being fed separately now. He had kind of taken on the name “Gus” by default as we had to call and refer to him as something, nobody really crazy about it, but “Hoot” has since came and stuck.

IMG_6528.JPGWe all loaded up and drove out past the entrance gate towards home but for one more stop, Annie was up. Annie is one female removed from Long Gone Madison and Annie’s dam, Long Gone Zeena, is a nice one too. From what I’ve seen, Annie seems to be a combination of those two, or I see similarities in both. Same progression as Blaze and Pop, paw wax, bell, e-collar and dumb vest. Vests are too much like dress up for me but I do appreciate them A.)- in the snow and B.)- for Annie post litter… her underside can take a beating in short laurel. We traversed an adjacent camp’s logging road that branches at the same main road our camp’s does, it’s a y-intersection. We have a good relationship, they trap (all foot-holds) coyotes and bobcats (permits permitting) on ours and I hunt an occasional piece of ground on theirs. Today was one of those days.

We neared the top on the ridge and really cut into it bringing it back down to the bottom again. The heart of it about 100 yards wide by 350 yards long, Annie had it covered. We’re back at the main road and about 100 yard behind where the truck was parked she dropped down into a bottom flat which drops down further into a gully cut by a mountain brook that starts there as well. I heard here bell’s tempo change and saw her tail really whirling before stopping briefly. She was birdie but a little unsure or unsatisfied, perhaps just not a deep enough drag of bird for her snout. She intensely moved forward closer. Whirrrl. (a poor choice describe a grouse flush and I’ll take suggestions.) a bump. She got a “Whoa!” from me and a collar correction which its severity wouldn’t equate to any more than an ear-flick to us… unpleasant but not unnerving. The bird was in a seep below a few white pines, bare ground, no food, but some fresh water that doesn’t have a swift current on the ledges like the brook does… easy drinking for a fowl. I tapped her head and we continued.

No more contacts in this stretch, it was too sparse this time of year but the whole bottom was out of the wind. We climbed back out on the road again, this time about 500 yards in from of the truck. Annie climbed the bank above the road and got into the heavy combination of towering white pines and mid-height hemlocks there… hemlocks which had branches the whole way to the ground. With snow and bitter cold, there’s usually birds in the bottoms of those. What happen next is hard to recount. She was somewhere above and I heard a bird go out, it sounded like it was in a tree as they weren’t to far away at that time. I was pretty sure she heard it as well as she stopped. As I walked up not 15 feet from where I began a flushed a bird out of a smaller hemlock and watched it sail up and disappear into the white pines, Annie stood. I walked up, with no more birds popping up, released her and knew the day had come to an end.

I was glad to of been able to find the mark on the one bird we had a handled chance at as the numbers weren’t much in our favor.

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