Northwoods Zeus (2010 – 2012)

Some dogs are special. Whatever it is about them—a look in their eyes, a personality trait, their talent in the field—they call us to them like a siren. And some dogs are even more rare; some become soul mates.

Zeus was that sort of dog for Joe.

Jerry and I first met Joe in November 2011. Even though Joe already owned a German short-haired pointer, he was in the market for a second bird dog and Frank LaNasa recommended us to him. It was a long visit. Jerry showed Zeus in the field and we all petted and played with Zeus in the kennel office.

Joe bought Zeus and immediately started calling him “Super Dog.” We began frequent and spirited communications. Here are the highlights.

December 27, 2011:  first email
Zeus settled in right away eating dinner last night. My wife gave him a blanket to lay on. I had visions of him eating it but he didn’t ruffle it at all when I checked on him this morning. She told me I could get rid of the German dog and get another pointer if they are all as nice as Zeus.

February 5, 2012:  first photo

September 23, 2012:  mid-season email
Hunted around projects this weekend. I had to pull him off the wood cock and switch to grouse. He did a water retrieve on a woodcock. I had more birds per hour than when I had a seasoned short hair running the same ground in good years. Heading to Montana for 10 days on October 6.

October 14, 2012:  Zeus in boots
Zeus ran well in Montana. Check out the very short clip of the best dog in the world. Looking for a second dog. I had to put down the shorthair late spring. Sad day.

(I love this video. It shows a very tentative Zeus in his new boots. In the background, Joe says, “Zeus, show us your boots!”)

October 24, 2012:  last email
I lost the dog of a lifetime on 10-23-12. He was the most special dog to me as if we were matched by God.

The rancher that watches the land for my friend came driving down to see who was parked at the end. He was looking out the window to see me walking down the field and the birds flushing by the passing truck. This caused him to veer to the left side of the road edge where Zeus was on point. The rancher did not notice my dog.

I placed my best dog, and a big chunk of my heart, on the high hill on the ranch. A cross made of barbed wire marks the spot. He was my 16th bird dog and he took my heart with him. Not sure if I can lend my heart to another bird dog again.

* * * * * * *

Joe, Jerry and I know you’ll never forget Zeus but, hopefully, the raw anguish and pain will eventually subside. And if it does, we hope you’ll remember another of your emails:

The problem with a good dog is you will want another one.


…Grieve not,
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



Northwoods Zeus photo at right above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.


The rush of a covey flush

There is nothing more exhilarating to a bird dog or a bird hunter than the flush of birds.

It begins with the intense demeanor of the dog as it stands on point. Anticipation follows when the hunter moves in front of the dog. The explosion of wings is the thrilling culmination.

Ah, I never tire of watching or hearing birds flush.

In addition to pigeons, we use bobwhite quail to train dogs. Four recall pens called Johnny houses are placed strategically around the pastures—near wood edges and clearings. In early July, I buy 12-week-old bobwhites and put about 35 in each Johnny house. They come to know their terrain and learn how to covey up just like wild birds. And by the end of the season, the birds are incredibly strong flyers.

Recently I visited all four Johnny houses to feed, water and check on the quail. I also opened wide the release door to let the birds out.

This video shows bobwhites flushing from each house. Enjoy!

Winter plans on a Georgia quail plantation

Georgia quail. Those two words create an image of a worn two-track in a park-like setting with longleaf pines towering over an understory of wiregrass and sage. Hunters ride in a mule-drawn wagon with retrievers aboard. Mounted scouts ride ahead of the wagon, handling braces of athletic pointers that are pursuing the gentlemen’s bird, the bobwhite quail.

What bird dog enthusiast wouldn’t want to be there?

Betsy and I are excited because we will be! This winter, we’ve arranged to train on a quail plantation near Thomasville, Georgia. The area is known as the Red Hills Region and stretches from Thomasville in southwestern Georgia to Tallahassee, Florida. The extremely fertile soil supports native longleaf pines, live oaks, dogwoods and azaleas which, in turn, support bobwhite quail.  The Nature Conservancy has designated the Red Hills as one of America’s “Last Great Places.”

We have a beautiful setup including a nice house, dog kennels, horses and hunting rigs. In addition, the plantation includes vast acreages of wild quail populations and plenty of land for Johnny houses and liberated coveys.

We plan to be there from January to mid March. Because we’re taking all our own dogs, we only have space for a very limited number of client dogs. But we hope there will be opportunities for guided quail hunts.

What we’re watching now: Buck

Jerry and I don’t own a television but we’re loyal customers of Netflix. One of our laptops has good Dolby sound so when we need entertainment and diversion, we bring one out of the office and plop down on the couch by the fire. One of our favorite things to watch are current tv shows such as The Good Wife and The Closer. There are no bothersome commercials so an entire episode only lasts about 40 minutes.

But occasionally we’re in the mood for something more substantial and then we indulge with our own Sunday Night at the Movies.

Last night was snowy and cold—perfect to stay in and watch Buck, a Netflix DVD that had been in our “in box” for several days. This is an award-winning documentary (U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) about Buck Brannaman, the real-life person and inspiration for Nicholas Evans’ book, The Horse Whisperer. Robert Redford directed and starred in the 1998 movie adapted from the book.

What a wonderful story that was beautifully photographed and told by the people themselves. As Jerry and I watched Buck work with horses and their owners, it became clear that Buck’s gentleness, patience and insights would apply not only to dog training but to most interactions with people, too.

Thoughts on the 2012 grouse and woodcock season

Even though the ruffed grouse drumming counts last spring showed an average decline of 24 to 60% across Minnesota, I had a pleasant surprise this fall. Based on the number of grouse we flushed during our guided hunts, the broods had good survival rates. This was confirmed by the higher than expected ratio of young-to-old grouse we bagged.

Overall, we averaged 3.8 grouse flushes per hour during our hunts, which was slightly higher than last year. Most of the reports from our clients and fellow hunters also extolled markedly higher flush counts.

The bigger surprise, however, was the number of woodcock. We flushed almost three times as many woodcock as in 2011 and maybe the most we’ve seen in more than five years.

Clients of ours who hunted Michigan and Wisconsin also reported excellent numbers of woodcock.

Minnesota frequently is the nation’s top ruffed grouse producer. On average, 115,000 hunters harvest 545,000 ruffed grouse in Minnesota each year, also making it the state’s most popular game bird. During the peak years of 1971 and 1989, hunters harvested more than 1 million ruffed grouse. Michigan and Wisconsin—states that frequently field more hunters than Minnesota—round out the top three states in ruffed grouse harvest.

Here are photos of some memorable hunts.  Enjoy!

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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