I had always dreamed of owning a classic grouse dog—like the ones in the old paintings. It would be an even-masked, tri-color setter male with a blocky build. He would be big and powerful with a square head and deep brown eyes. He would be a strong bird finder and would naturally back and retrieve.
My dream came true with Blue Chief!
Chief was whelped
on a fitting day in September 1996—the grouse hunting opener. Since his
dam, Finder’s Keeper, seemed a little more distressed than usual before
I went to bed, I got up and checked every two hours. At 4 a.m., Annie,
a pointer who was kenneled next to Keeper, was barking at a tiny,
even-marked male puppy that had wriggled into her run. I quickly placed
him in the heated whelping nest and Keeper promptly took over.
that auspicious beginning, Chief matured into one of the finest grouse
dogs I’ve ever owned. He had uncanny, raw, bird-finding talent. He was
one of those dogs that made finding and pointing grouse look so easy
that you wonder why other dogs struggle with it. Chief always hunted
with a strong, smooth stride and a high head.
never a field trial champion—perhaps due in part that he was always
competing against other outstanding dogs from our kennel—his litter
sister, CH A Rolling Stone and his two half-siblings, CH Blue Smoke and
CH Blue Streak. He was named closest to the winner in several
championships, including the Grand National Grouse Championship. As
befitted his natural talent, Chief found birds in almost every trial,
whether in Minnesota, Michigan or Pennsylvania. Perhaps his finest
shows included two nine-find performances at the Wisconsin Cover Dog
Chief also had the amazing and uncommon
knack to pass his natural abilities to his progeny. Litter after litter
of “Chief Puppies” produced excellent hunting dogs, and given the
opportunity, field trial competitors. Some of his offspring include CH
Regal Blue, RU-CH Neil’s First Rate, RU-CH Governor Sam Houston that,
along with Slate Brook Ford, won the prestigious Pennsylvania One-Hour
Derby Classic. Most puppies matured into exceptional hunting dogs,
though, and not a fall goes by that I don’t hear from several happy
owners about hunts over their “Chief Puppies.”
I have many
fabulous memories of Chief, such as the day a client apparently missed a
nicely pointed woodcock. Ten minutes later, as Chief was crossing the
path, I noticed something different about his muzzle and called him in.
He had tucked that woodcock into his mouth while continuing to hunt.
When he gave the bird to me it was in perfect condition, although a
little soggy! Another occasion he was running in the National Amateur
Grouse Championship in Marienville, Pennsylvania. Birds were hard to
find and near the end of his hour he pointed in a good looking
location. As the judge and I walked in to flush, the gallery started
yelling, “Bear, bear!” I never did see or hear the bear, but apparently
Chief and the judge did as both took off in opposite directions as fast
as they could!
Chief made everything easy for me.
Almost without effort, he found and pointed grouse. He naturally backed
and retrieved with a soft mouth. He hunted hard and wide, yet handled
kindly. He had a sweet disposition and almost never barked. He easily
bred many dams and sired almost 50 litters. Near the end, he was
happily running around the kennel yard until about a week before his
death. But his health declined rapidly due to a fast-growing tumor and,
once again, Chief made the final decision easy.
Thank you, Chief, for a dream come true!
Tuesday, I spent the afternoon hunting ruffed grouse with three young dogs. It was a beautiful day—damp with temperature in the mid 30s and a light breeze from the east. The cover is down now and, since the birds seem to prefer older timber, they are much easier to see. It is a great time of the year to be out in the woods. Heck, even I can hit one now!
I first hunted our 19-month-old pointer, Maggie, whose application is
a 10. She is so focused that it seems her body is being pulled through
the woods by her nose. We hunted in mature aspen woods bordering a
young aspen cut mixed with hazel and swamp grass. Maggie’s first bird
began with an unproductive but ended with a stylish point in grass. I
walked in, flushed the grouse and missed with both barrels. Sorry,
Maggie! Her next point was off to my right, again in sparse grass. As
I walked in, two grouse lifted some distance from her. I passed those
up and walked on. Another bird flushed from in front of Maggie, but
stayed too low to get a clear shot. When I released her, she hunted for
50 feet and froze again. Thinking another grouse, I rushed to flush
the bird, only to watch a late migrating woodcock fly away. Finally,
Maggie pointed into an area thick with hazel and fallen logs. This
red-phase bird gave me a clear shot and Maggie retrieved it to hand.
Good girl, Maggie!
Next out of the truck was Moxie, our
2½-year-old setter. Moxie is exciting to watch, both in motion and on
point. Everything she does is at Mach One and she always gives 100
percent. She had been performing well this fall and several grouse has
been shot over her points. Lately, however, Moxie started crowding the
birds and the birds flushed before she could get them pointed. This
behavior is not uncommon in a dog her age and, in time, will pass.
However, in these situations, I insist on her stopping to flush and
correct her by standing her back where she should have pointed. Moxie
worked two separate running birds, and intentionally flushed them –
which gave me excellent training opportunities. Towards the end, the
bell stopped abruptly about 80 yards out, below a large enclosed deer
stand. As I approached, Moxie showed her characteristic, lofty pointing
style with poker straight tail and head tilted up at a 45-degree angle.
I thought, “This is it, I’ll shoot this bird for her and we’ll be on
our way.” As I got closer I could see she was backing a life-size deer
decoy!! At least she is an honest backer.
Last out was
Oscar, our handsome 23-month-old setter. Big, strong and powerful,
Oscar started out a little wide and rough, but came across enough so I
could tell he was hunting for birds. It paid off at about 20 minutes
when his bell stopped a short distance into a thick young aspen cut,
about 60 yards out. As soon as I got near, but not in shooting range,
two grouse blew out wild. Oscar stood his ground and when I released
him, he relocated further into the cut and pointed again. I flushed and
flushed but couldn’t produce a bird, though I’m sure one ran out that
way. On the return loop to the truck, we hunted mature aspens, thick
with hazel and with a slight roll to the ground. Shortly, Oscar’s bell
slowed, stopped, started up quickly and then went silent again. I
hustled through the downed timber and hazel. I found him pointed on the
top of a slight rise, looking down into a mess of tangled aspen. He
held staunchly while I worked my way around the fallen timber. When I
was about 10 yards in front of him, I spotted motion on the ground. The
grouse flushed right to left and I shot. Oscar broke but went right to
the bird and retrieved it to hand. It was a gorgeous bronze male. Good
Have you ever been frustrated with a young dog that puts bird after bird into the air after pointing for only a fleeting moment? Me, too!
But don’t be too quick to admonish your dog. After significant experience with many pointing dogs, I have learned that this type of young dog has the makings of a top-notch, wild bird dog that can provide exciting bird work and excellent shooting opportunities. Why? Because in the process of flushing all those birds, your young dog is learning one of the most important lessons of a pointing dog—accurate location.
Accurate location is essential to productive dog work and good shooting. Consider the alternative: continually walking in front of your dog on point and no birds flush. Anticipation fades and, more importantly, you no longer believe your dog. When you start second-guessing, you are down the wrong path!
How does a dog acquire accuracy of location?
First of all, the dog must have inherited the genetic traits of a strong nose and boldness towards birds. Dogs that demonstrate accurate location are more likely to produce dogs with similar abilities.
Secondly, the dog must be given ample opportunity on wild birds. He must be allowed freedom to match wits with a wild bird on its own turf and, ultimately, must be allowed the freedom to make mistakes. There is no shortcut for his step. Most dogs flush many birds before they learn.
Finally, the dog must be trained to hold point in a manner that doesn’t either diminish its boldness or increase its cautiousness.
Sound genetics, plentiful bird exposure and proven training techniques are crucial components to accurate location of the bird by a pointing dog.
Enjoy the process!