While Betsy and I were out walking our Labrador retriever May today, we flushed a grouse from its snow roost.
A snow roost is a place grouse fly into without leaving a trail for predators to follow. A grouse also conserves body heat by burying itself in snow. Though there currently isn’t enough soft snow for a grouse to be completely submerged, it can be partly concealed by several inches.
A grouse flushed from this roost on the south side of some hazel brush next to a birch tree.
nor speak of me with tears,
but laugh and talk of me
as if I were beside you…
I loved you so —
‘twas Heaven here with you.
Isla Paschal Richardson
Most of the time, Jerry and I called him Dasher. Sometimes it was Dash or Our Dash or, if he did something particularly annoying or naughty, Jerry called him Your Dash.
Physically, Dasher was a specimen. He was liver-and-white with a gorgeous, square muzzle and an even mask. Dasher weighed a solid 58 pounds—the biggest of our bird dogs. He was beautiful in motion. He moved with the strength and power of a thoroughbred but was graceful and light on his feet. Dasher was enjoyable to watch run—not only for his style but because he always seemed to be having so much fun.
Dasher was intelligent, too, and intuitive and his large, expressive eyes seemed all-knowing. He had his quirks and oddities, like all dogs. We’ll always remember his jerky motion when he noisily lapped water from the water bucket.
Dasher was almost 14 years old and had lived a happy and productive life. For almost two months, he’d been ill with a failing kidney and a fist-sized tumor on his spleen. Like so many proud, strong and stoic dogs we’ve owned before, Dasher would rally from a couple of bad days to eat well, grab a chew toy and trot happily outside for his short walks.
An uncanny Christmas evening
Dasher had endured a tough Christmas day. Food didn’t appeal to him and I couldn’t tempt him with canned dog food, cooked meat or even holiday dog treats. It was difficult for him to get up and go outside, notwithstanding the cold weather. We stoked up the fire and left him to sleep on his thick bed in front of our wood-burning stove.
Not two hours later, Dasher had shuffled to our bedroom door—something he had never done—made enough noise to wake us up and then, because he was so weak, lay down in the hall.
Jerry and I leapt out of bed and carried him back to his bed in front of the fireplace. We brought blankets and pillows. I curled up with Dasher on his bed and Jerry slept beside us on the couch.
Dasher died peacefully the next day.
Dasher was out of our first-ever grouse champion, Dance Smartly (Dancer), and a dog campaigned by Jim Tande, CH Brook’s Elhew Ranger. Among his littermates were CH Sidelock’s Rogue Trader, owned by Mitch Stapley from Michigan and RU-CH Dancing Queen, a female that produced Frank LaNasa’s CH Centerpiece, a six-time champion/two-time runner-up champion.
We kept Dasher because he was evenly marked like his dam and seemed most like her in temperament and ability. Just for fun, we continued the reindeer-naming theme.
• When he was a puppy and being worked with the check cord, he’d pick up the end of it and run around with it in his mouth. It was “so cute” but was he really “so smart” because he knew that if he had the end I couldn’t grab it?
• Dasher had a superior nose. Jerry lost a glove one day while we were working dogs. The next day, just by chance, we worked eight-month-old Dasher on the same trail. He found that glove and proudly bounded by us with it in his mouth.
• He loved heat. On a hot summer day, he would lie in front of our south-facing glass door…utterly content.
• Dasher could leap. The fence around our pasture was 5’ high. Instead of waiting for me to open the gate, he raced around the corner of the garage and took that fence in full stride—gracefully launching himself off the ground and clearing the top by several inches.
• He was a morning dog and earned the name Mr. Perky. We never had to wake him up or prod him to go out. He was always sitting up straight with ears pricked and an eager expression in his eyes.
• Dasher chewed his way through hundreds of dollars of dog beds. I bought beds from L.L. Bean, Orvis, Cabela’s and Fleet Farm. Finally, last fall, I succumbed to the grandest of beds, a Mud River Homebase. This thing is gorgeous! It is made from 6”-high memory foam and is extremely comfortable. Plus, it’s a whopping 43” long x 30” wide. Dasher loved his bed, guarded it and rarely shared it. Forever it will be known as “Dasher’s bed.”
• Dasher had an outstanding nose and was a natural at finding and pointing ruffed grouse, even at a young age. One day I was working him with two other year-old puppies. One by one, the other two came out to the logging trail and hunted on ahead of me. Dash was the last one to catch up. When he was about 75 yards ahead of me, on the same trail the other pups had just gone down, he stopped, turned his head slightly and pointed. I walked up and a grouse flushed noisily and Dash was off in hot pursuit!
• I remember well (so does Betsy) the day he beat his kennelmate, CH Blue Streak, in a spring grouse trial when he was three years old and Streak was in her prime.
• Dash had endless stamina and, amazingly, kept himself in excellent shape without any real conditioning.
• Dash was a member of the guiding team on the day I clocked the highest flush count of my life. I ran him in the middle of the day and he found as many grouse as those that were down during the prime morning and evening hours. When Dash pinned a grouse, we’d follow the beeper. The hunters likened him to a hound—follow the dog to the treed game!
Dasher was bred just handful of times but left outstanding progeny. Jason Gooding at Goodgoing Kennels bred his female, Moxie, to Dasher twice. Out of that came Goodgoing Hannah Montana, a field trial dog handled by Brett Edstrom, and fabulous hunting dogs owned by Todd Gatz of Ely and Wayne Grayson of Mississippi. Jerry and I have an attractive orange-and-white female, Prancer (remember the reindeer thing?), from a breeding to Fate, Mark Fouts’ extremely talented grouse dog. We plan to breed Prancer to CH Westfall’s Black Ice this year so we’ll have grand-Dashers. (How about a Vixen or a Blitzen?)
Jane, my sister-in-law, sent a kind note with the perfect sentiment: kindred spirit. To some it might seem odd that a dog and a woman could be kindred spirits but that, in a nutshell, is how I feel about Dasher.
And I miss him.
Experienced field-trial people have said, “Give a dog a name to live up to.” Betsy and I can certainly vouch for its truth. We named a spirited, feisty, black-and-white setter female Blue Streak.
Streak was a 35-lb. bird dog that lived for the hunt. She had endless stamina and an uncommon level of focus when hunting. She was sure and intense on point and no cover, from Minnesota and the Dakotas to Pennsylvania and Texas, ever deterred her. She was calm in the house but a whirlwind in the field. She was a fierce trial competitor and an outstanding grouse hunting dog.
Blue Streak was whelped in our first litter in June 1995 out of Spring Garden Tollway (Charlie) and Finder’s Keeper (Sparks). The litter contained five males and three females including future grouse champion Blue Smoke and the outstanding Oklahoma quail dog, Colonel. Five developed parvovirus at five weeks but all survived without ill effects. Streak was the smallest in the litter and, early on, we nick-named her “Little.” We tried several times to change it but nothing else seemed to stick. Little it was.
We were neophytes in dog breeding but felt we had a unique nick with Charlie and Sparks—both out of Jack LeClair’s Spring Garden Kennel. Charlie was beautifully conformed and it clearly showed in his stamina and strength. He was fast, also, and could run like the wind. In fact, to this day, he was as much dog as I have owned and it took me several years to get him under control. While hunting grouse in northern Minnesota one fall, a friend asked if I’d ever hunted grouse in Canada. I said, “No, but I think Charlie has!”
Sparks was a medium-sized, chestnut-and-white female that was an outstanding wild bird dog with excellent instincts around game.
Streak never acted like a carefree puppy. When Betsy and I took the litter out for romps in the woods, she was serious and hunted with focus and determination. This continued as she matured and, ultimately, she pursued anything—birds, rabbits and deer. Deer became her bane. Streak chased so much, so far and for so long that she became lost, occasionally even, overnight. Her record was three days and three nights in Michigan when I lost her at the Lakes States Grouse Championship.
Due to this deer-chasing proclivity, there was a three-year gap between Streak’s last derby placement and her first win as a shooting dog. She and I worked hard and, finally, in the spring of 2000, it started to pay off and Streak began the first of her two “streaks.”
• Won the Region 19 Walking Shooting Dog Championship (30 entries)
• Placed in the next five shooting dog stakes
Streak’s second “streak” was even more impressive. We entered her in six championships and she placed in five—an incredible series of wins. Consequently, she earned several prestigious awards.
Streak earned an invitation to the 2001 Grand National Grouse & Woodcock Invitational Championship. Betsy and I traveled to Marienville, Pennsylvania, where, over the course of three exciting days, she went head-to-head with the best grouse dogs in the country, including three-time-Invitational winner, CH Centerfold Rose. Streak and Rose were the only two dogs in the call-back on the final day. When the dust settled, Rose was named champion and the runner-up was Streak.
• Runner-up Grand National Grouse & Woodcock Invitational
• Runner-up in the National Amateur Grouse Championship
• Won the Minnesota Grouse Dog Championship
• Won the Wisconsin Cover Dog Championship
• Won the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship (80-dog entry)
• Won Michael Seminatore English Setter Award
• Won William Harnden Foster Award
• Minnesota/Wisconsin Cover Shooting Dog of the Year
• Won Minnesota Grouse Dog Championship
• Several local field trials
• Minnesota/Wisconsin Cover Shooting Dog of the Year
Streak was then eight years-of-age and instead of a heavy field-trial schedule, I hunted with her and used her in our guide string. At the hunting lodge, she is now famous for leading me and their guests on some spectacular hunts into heretofore unknown territory.
Her final competition
Something happened during the summer of 2005 when I was, as usual, out on the prairie working dogs and training them for the fall field trial and hunting season. Streak had been in semi-retirement but, out on those alfalfa fields and in those pastures, she ran and hunted at a high level, beating most of her younger brace mates. I thought, “She could still win the Grand National Grouse Championship!”
The 2005 running was held at the Gladwin grounds near Prudenville, Michigan, and Streak and I made the trip. The judges were David Grub, veteran trainer and Bird Dog Hall of Fame member, and Rob Frame, a competitor and judge of many grouse championships.
Streak ran in the first brace on the first day of the running. She put down a savvy, hard-hunting, forward race and had two grouse finds and one woodcock find. At the age of 10, Streak was named Runner-up Champion over a field of 81 younger entries.
• Runner-up Grand National Grouse Championship
Less than a month later, I took Streak to Texas. She hunted but with little enthusiasm and didn’t eat well. A diagnosis revealed an inoperable tumor located in her chest cavity between the heart and lungs. She died in March 2006.
Streak was a 4X CH/4X R-U CH and finished her field trial career with 22 placements, all on grouse and woodcock.
• four championships
• four runner-up championships
• two classic wins
• three 1st, two 2nd and three 3rd place shooting dog placements
• one 1st, two 2nd and one 3rd place derby placements
We only bred Streak twice but she left us a legacy. She produced CH Bobby Blue (owned and handled by Bob Saari), winner of the Minnesota Grouse Dog Championship and a powerful competitor, when bred to CH First Rate. We have her daughter, Blue Silk, Bobby’s littermate, and through Silk we have sons, Blue Shaquille and Northwoods Blue Ox. In addition, Blue Blossom (Tina) was whelped from Streak’s breeding to CH Grouse Hollow Gus. Tina was an excellent grouse dog and, in turn, whelped many talented grouse dogs.
Betsy and I are now whelping litters that have Streak as a great-great-grand-dam. We will always be on the lookout for a competitive, fearless, black-and-white puppy…..that just might also be small in size.
I wonder if Max hunts with an ACME shotgun? A good quail dog, but not worth a damn for roadrunners…