I spent much of this past Saturday judging the puppy stake for the West Branch Grouse Trial Club. I did start the day showing up later than I wanted to… to watch the first brace of all-age (AA), which had a setter I wanted to watch. I missed it, but I did get to walk and watch the dogs brace that ended up winning it. For puppy, it ended up being good pool of pups to watch. Unlike the derby and AA stakes judging puppy is different, birds are a non-factor. I’d liken it to somewhat of a scouting combine, pups are putting down an effort but the game isn’t really being played. I’m not suggesting puppy is harder to judge than a derby or all-age stake by saying this, but birds and the ensued contacts can allot judges the occasional easier-to-make decision between two appearing-evenly, shown dogs- for instance if one had a one more find than the other in an otherwise evenly perceived effort, the nod should go to the extra bird. Thankfully on this day, each pup made it a clear case as to if they belonged in ribbons, and even where they belonged in ribbons. There were some honorable mentions I would’ve given, pups I do hope to see again regardless of whether I’m running against them or judging them. And I’m sure for those who walked the braces on the pups that placed, there was no surprises when the winners were announced.
At the end of the day it left me driving out wondering where Pop would’ve ended up in the mix. I’d thought about taking him along to run afterward, which I somewhat regret not doing. What I did do though was pack up Blaze and Annie and stopped on the way home to run each of them for a short time in an area I thought would have some returning woodcock.
The old, reliable grouse wagon churned down the road with two anxious dogs in the back. Driving by the area in mind I found a big muddy flat, with brushy areas that ebbed and flowed through on the higher spots filled with Silky Dogwood (a woodcock favorite). Bingo, I thought. I parked, grabbed the tick spray concentrated specifically for the dogs (and my chaps), a loud bell (it was gusting all day) and an e-collar. I dropped the tailgate, pulled Blaze and set him on the former to spray, bell and collar. I set him on the ground and let him loose, down into the slup we went, heavy camera over shoulder and GunX trainer on hip. 5 minutes in Blaze’s bell would cease.
On my way to Blaze’s last bell clap I was quickly educated that the area wasn’t all dogwood, much of the cover and tangle had “teeth” and being so dry those teeth had zero give and tore me up. I must admit, it’s in this particular type of cover I may have a somewhat irrational fear of losing pieces of ear(s) – it’s always on my mind as I’m boring through it and occasionally peeling off what may tear up more than I’m willing allow. I got in on Blaze and put up nothing, and he was in a good spot that I was expecting something but deep in the nasty stuff I didn’t bother to look for signs of drillings or splash, I’d already spent enough time in the crap so on we went. It was about 5 minutes later he’d stop again.
This time he was in more dogwood than anything, all though he himself was not in it at the time. I came in from his left and snapped a quick photo, then moved more in front of him to where it looked he had a bird. I heard what I though was ‘peep, peep!’, then Blaze’s bell, split second lull, followed by the whistling wings of a woodcock. Blaze broke and had to be steadied up, collar corrected and made to stand a might longer. As I went up to release him I saw a small feather hand from his whisker. No doubt it was a woodcock feather, seemingly a smaller on near the first hinge. The bird had to be within an arms length of his snout, literally right under his nose. I believe he got teeth on it, the peeping be it’s first to wingbeats before Blaze contested. I suppose it was too tempting to just watch. I wish I not zoomed in as tightly, I may’ve otherwise got the bird in as well. The wind had been gusting hard all day (which did slightly hamper picking up the occasional dog bell all day) and Blaze about ran the next one over with the wind blowing hard in the direction of his tail to his nose. That one had him being steadied up and collar-corrected again. In the dogs defense, it was his first wild bird run in months and his official make or break breaking doesn’t begin until probably May. He’s happy, loves birds, loves to please, and knows whoa, he’s ready for the pressure of being finished on birds.
I put up a third and final bird while he was out in front later on when we were heading back to the truck. 3 birds in about 35 minutes. After we loaded back up I drove down the road to another spot to put Annie down in. Honestly I was ready to call it a day but like fishing where you need to have a line in the water to catch fish, you also need to have a dog down to get them into birds. I gave her 15 minutes in an area that ended seeming too wet (pictured). No birds, she was still glad to be out and I was able to drive home feeling better having done so. Hopefully we’ll get into some more action tonight. Tonight is Pop’s turn, may pair Tipper up with him.