Friday, August 14, 2009

It's not so much the living... as the life.

For more years than I care to say, each spring I’ve looked forward to getting the dogs out for early season workouts. It’s no secret that October is my favorite month of the year, so it only makes sense that April would come in second for it is the month that closest duplicates the best of Autumn. But when it comes to working bird dogs, you have to get out as soon as you can because in the middle of April it becomes unlawful to run dogs in bird nesting cover, which could mean just about anywhere. Clearcuts, fields, and some meadows are OK, and I rely on these for spring training when I plant birds for the dogs to find, but before I go to this artificial type setup I try to get the dogs in as many wild birds as I can. That means keeping a close eye on the receding snowline and hitting the south slopes as soon as some of the snow has melted away. I’ve been known to load dogs and sleeping bag in the truck and drive south until there was no snow to work the dogs. Sometimes that has taken me nearly to Iowa before I found enough bare ground to turn them loose on. During lean snow years I’ve actually went north and set up chilly March tent camps to run dogs on native grouse when the going was good.

I suppose I don’t really have to hit it so hard anymore, at least as long as I’m not currently running dogs in field trials. Old Ty is as trained as he’s ever going to be and is much better at his job than I am at mine, and even though Jack is always goofing around and could always find benefit in a tune up, I guess it’s really not all that important this early in the year. But I truly love seeing a dog pointing grouse and after a long winter and half a lifetime messing with bird dogs, man, I’d sure be lost not doing it. Someday I won’t be able and, hell… I don’t even want to think about that.

I tried full-time dog training for a while, and the lifestyle out on the summer prairies and spring and fall woods was indescribable, but I lacked business savvy and had a young family to support so a steady job with benefits won out over chasing dogs and seasons all over the country. Looking back I have to wonder, but that water flowed under the bridge long ago.

There was a time on the grouse and woodcock field trial circuit when the dogs I ran won a lot more than not, and I got to know some of the best dog handlers in the country and they got to know me. Those friendships endure and though I seldom enter dogs as a handler, it’s a rare year when I don’t accept a field trial judging assignment or two. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve seen some fine, fine dogs.

A lot of good dogs have passed through my own kennels as well, along with some others that, well… I don’t work so hard at remembering. While I haven’t time to work more than a few dogs, it seems every summer I end up with one or two from other folks who must have even less time than I do. Through it all I’ve built some valued experience with quite a few different hunting breeds. Most of the time I’ve spent with field bred English setters and pointers and though there are some pretty accurate generalities you can say about the breeds; if anything, I’ve learned that each dog is an individual regardless of breed.

I’ve also worked with a couple of German shorthairs, a couple of Brittanys, a Gordon setter, some labs and springers, and there’s even been one or two of questionable breeding in my kennels. Right now I have made the acquaintance of a German wirehaired pointer and after only a couple of days I have to admit I’m kind of taken by this dog. She has an engaging personality that’s hard to ignore, seems eager to please and likes to be around me. She runs hard when she gets the chance but about the time a setter would be topping the hill she’ll turn back and check on me. The weather is pretty warm right now so all our workouts are limited, but it’s a good time for some yard work and this wirehair is catching on fast. Of course, she has one season behind her with an owner that knows what he’s doing so that helps. I’m happy to have her here for now and am eager to see what kind of bird dog she’ll develop into by hunting season.

All this dog stuff keeps me from fishing as much as I’d like, and some of the home projects that never seem to get started; but I’ve seen some neat country and interesting sights following bird dogs that I might have otherwise missed. And folks call me from all over the country to ask how the grouse numbers are. I never tell ‘em, of course, but they know that I know.