Monday, November 11, 2013

This Is My Bird Dog

I know I promised to only discuss the present and the future in my blog but today's blog needs a little (okay a lot) of background.  I promise to quickly get to the present and then the future if you will just bear with me.  This blog is about my bird dog and I have three options at the moment - the big dog, the mad dog, and the little dog.
My current bird dog options.
I did not grow up hunting but I did have a BB gun (still have it). I owned a Daisy single pump lever BB gun. When you shot it you could follow the BB with your eye all the way to the target - obviously it shot so slow. Compared to the BB gun/pellet gun we got for our oldest son when he turned 10, my BB gun is a complete joke. At its peak, it may been able to shoot a BB at 200' per second while my son's gun shoots at almost 1500' per second. Wow! But this blog is not about my BB gun envy - this blog is about my bird dog. 

I did not grow up hunting (catch my drift). My first exposure to hunting came when I was 21 years old from my older brother who lives Wyoming. He and I would talk on the phone (way before email much less the availability of smartphones) almost daily during the fall hunting season with him telling me all about the fun he was having and about his first bird dog named Georgia. Georgia was a bullheaded black lab but she could hunt. She just wouldn't quit but this blog is not about her. 

My brother convinced me that I needed to hunt so I headed to Walmart to buy my first shotgun (actually the only gun I have ever bought still to this day). I bought a Remington 870 Express shotgun with two different barrels. One barrel was shorter and rifled for shooting slugs and the other barrel was long and smooth for shooting bird shot. Well now that I had a gun I was ready to hunt. 

I arranged for my first hunt to be a whitetail deer deer hunt on a professor's land. He had just planted a 40 acre field with thousands of trees and the deer were talking their toll nibbling all the buds off the tips of the trees stunting their growth. He welcomed my attempt to hunt deer. Well - one problem. I had not shot a gun since I shot skeet at a family reunion when I was 10. Sure I had shot a lot of BB guns growing up and in scouts but never a real gun. I went deer hunting without ever shooting my shotgun - I would never recommend this to anyone and was foolish to do this myself. However, this blog is not about my first deer hunt - it is about my bird dog. 

Well now that I was a hunter, I needed a bird dog. I introduced Ripley in a previous blog (Introducing Ripley) and he tried to be my first bird dog.  He was part labrador retriever but the shepherd half of him made it very difficult to retrieve.  Ripley would definitely find birds and pick them up - it was the getting him to bring them back to me that was the problem.  However, as promised this blog is not about my past; it is about the present and future so we will leave Ripley stories for another time.
Ripley with a forced photo pose - he hated these photos.

My next bird dog was the real thing and he is still going strong (well not really strong but his will is there when he is awake).  Hunters Marsh Masai Warrior (aka Maddux or Mad Dog) is a yellow labrador retriever with an amazing pedigree.  Both his father and his mother had national hunt test or field trial champions as grandparents (Lean Mac was his mother's grandfather for those of you who follow dogs - Lean Mac is one of the most decorated labs out there).  Maddux could down right hunt. He had an ability to mark 3 birds down and remember where they all were as he retrieved them one at a time.  His nose is the best nose I have seen on a dog.  And he was fast!  He routinely would catch the pen raised pheasants we could hunt in Wyoming - yes catch them before they had a chance to get off the ground for us to shoot at them.  The only sharp-tailed grouse that I have ever harvested was caught by Maddux.  His nose would find the bird, quickly pinpoint its location, and he would be on top of it before the bird could react.  As amazing as Mad Dog is, this story is not about him.  Maddux is 13.5 years old and unfortunately for me cannot hunt anymore - it hurts him to just walk much less chase after birds all day.
Maddux at 6 months old
Maddux at 9 years old

No this story is about my current bird dog - Shep.  Shep is a mutt.  Shep is small.  Shep is - well Shep is Shep but right now he is the closest thing I have to a bird dog.  Shep is also the reason I do not hunt birds very often anymore.  Without a dog, bird hunting is not a wise use of my time.  Birds especially pheasants can hide in plain sight and get away with it unless you have an experience dog to smell them out.  Plus if you shoot a bird in tall grass or cattails, you want a dog that can find and retrieve your game.  Case in point from today - we walked through a large patch of grassland and did not find any birds.  A pair of men came through 20 minutes after us and we watched them flush 3 pheasants - they had dogs that could hunt.

My brother, his son, and new puppy walking the grassland.

Shep walking at my heels
About today - my brother convinced me to go hunting with him so he could work his new 9 month old lab puppy.  I agreed but was hesitate about bringing Shep but any dog is better than no dog in most cases as they run around crazy and may bump a bird inadvertently.  Not the case with Shep.  Today he spent the majority of the day walking behind me right at my heels.  How was he ever going to find a pheasant walking behind me.  Needless to say he did not find a single bird.

The best part of Shep's story today was at the top of a small knoll.  Pheasants seem to congregate on the tops of hills so we typically plan our hunt with a path that takes us from hilltop to hilltop.  Well as we get close to the top of each hill, the hunters go on high alert expecting a pheasant to jump up at any moment.  At the top of this particular knoll, I happen to spot a pheasant just 5 feet from me hunkered down in hopes that I just walk right by.  With my real bird dog, Maddux, this probably would never have happened because he always hunted in front of me and would use his nose to find the birds.  Well Shep was in his usual place at my heels.  I stopped moving and told Shep to get the bird while pointing forward.  Shep just looked at me.  SERIOUSLY!  We are hunting pheasants and there is one less than 5 feet away and Shep just looks at me.  I couldn't believe it.  My brother comes over and was just about 10 feet from the bird just as I make the determination that this pheasant was wounded so it couldn't run or fly.  I squat down and pick up a small stone to toss at the bird.  I was hoping this would inspire Shep to chase the stone bumping into the presumed wounded bird. I had hoped this would inspire Shep to at least think about hunting.
Shep and his blank stare
I threw the stone and said, "Shep, get it".  Again the blank stare.  WTF is wrong with this dog!  I got fed up with Shep and took a step forward myself to just pick up the wounded pheasant.  Just as I took my second step towards the bird, it explodes off the ground and flies strongly away from me.  It was just hiding and holding tight because I had a lousy dog that could not hunt - I honestly think the bird knew this!  I was not much better as I missed the easy shot as the bird flew away unscathed. Unfortunately I did not think to get a photo of all this commotion.
Maddux with one of his last retrieves at 13.5 years old
Wow!  My bird dog is a non-hunting mutt that barely weighs 40lbs that walks at my heels when hunting.  When presented with an easy bird, he stares at me blankly.  No wonder we had to work to find birds today.  To end the day, I got out the Mad Dog and threw a pheasant a few times for him to retrieve.  While this may sound morbid, I did it for my old man who lives to find birds but just is not able to anymore.  He hurts and as I write this is lying down passed out from today's hunting trip - he never even left the truck except for his 5 retrieves.  Maddux has set a high standard for my future bird dogs and Shep has set the bar so low that I am considering taking out the big dog (our Great Dane) on my next bird hunt to see if she can do better.  She is great at hunting pumpkins.  :)

The Big Dog Hunting Pumpkins

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