On a spectacular, late afternoon workout, Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) found and pointed six grouse and one woodcock. As Bob Wehle might have said, “This is my brag dog!”
Wild bird contacts are essential when developing our puppies. I’m exposing them as much as possible to wild birds so their hunting instincts, natural abilities, style and poise can be fostered. All are key considerations when selecting future breeding dogs.
Showing impressive style and poise for a 13-week-old puppy, Northwoods Hercules (RU-CH Erin’s Prometheus x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2016) points a single bobwhite in native wiregrass.
As soon as the Georgia quail season ends in late February, dog trainers on most plantations focus on working their puppies. Fortunately, I’ve gotten to know several of them and so I spend most mornings in March bracing our young dogs with theirs.
During a morning training run on a beautifully maintained private quail plantation, setter Northwoods Mica (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Nortwoods Carbon, 2016) and pointer Northwoods Blitzen (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) share point.
When back in Minnesota, I can’t wait to get our puppies in the woods on grouse and woodcock. Amazingly, the transition is usually easy for them.
In a scene reminiscent of a Bev Doolittle painting, Northwoods Gabbro (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016) sticks a woodcock.
By the time nesting begins and training season ends, I have a good idea of the abilities of each pup. And yeah, it’s a lot of fun, too!
Northwoods Slate (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016) stopped in mid-stride, ear flipped back, when he caught scent of a quail.
In a picturesque setting of broom sedge, Northwoods Chalcedony (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016) points a covey of bobwhite quail.
Gary Lester, an all-age handler with numerous championship titles, watches while Miller’s Creative Cause backs.
Even though the bulk of the business of Northwoods Bird Dogs is training and breeding, I really like to guide wild bird hunts. Not only does this get me into the woods but I get to see how our dogs stack up against others.
While here in the Red Hills region of southwest Georgia/north Florida Georgia during the winter, I handle dogs off horseback on wild bobwhite quail hunts. It gives me ample opportunity to compare our dogs to others on the hunts.
The last hunt of this season was held on the prestigious, historic Dixie Plantation, near Monticello, Florida. First farmed as a cotton plantation in the early 1800s, the property eventually was purchased by the Livingston family, magnates in the railroad industry, in the 1920s. They turned it into an 18,000-acre wild quail hunting plantation, definitely one of the premier plantations in the area.
The main house of the Dixie Plantation is landscaped with boxwoods pruned in the shape of horseshoes. The entrance way features a life-sized bronze statue of a Tennessee Walking Horse, the favored horse for quail hunting plantations.
Ownership of the Dixie has since been turned over to Tall Timbers Research and Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fire ecology and wildlife management in the Southeast. The plantation, now 9,100 acres in size, is used primarily for quail research. But Tall Timbers also leases hunting days during the quail season and continues the tradition of hosting the Continental Field Trial Championship, an all-age stake now in its 119th year.
2015 National Champion Miller’s Dialing In has a covey find in a clearing of longleaf pines and live oaks.
Joining our client and his two friends on this final hunt was Gary Lester, professional, all-age field trial competitor. Gary has been wildly successful in field trial placements. Besides numerous championships, he has handled three dogs that won the three-hour National Championship at the Ames Plantation in Tennessee.
How fortunate that two of those champions were with him on this hunt: CH Miller’s Dialing In (2015 winner) and the recently crowned 2017 National Champion Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo. It would be fabulous to hunt with just one of those dogs…but here were two!
In addition to Dialing In and Jo, Gary brought CH Miller’s Creative Cause, another dog he ran in the 2017 National Championship, and three winning, derby-aged dogs.
All pointer males, these dogs are big and muscular—weighing more than 55 pounds—and they are powerful, athletic animals. They moved with strength and class but were also extremely responsive to Gary. Very impressive!
Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo shows his championship style on covey find and a hunter moves in for the flush.
I was both thrilled and humbled to see our dogs braced with some of the best in the nation—so I wanted our best in my string.
On the truck were setters CH Houston’s Blackjack, RU-CH Northwoods Nirvana, Grits, Rolls Royce, Jeter, Carly Simon, Nickel, Carbon and Anhiwake Grace and three pointer females, Vixen, Platinum and Audi. I also had two English cockers, Yoshi and Arrowhead Penny, to retrieve dead birds.
The hunting party readies horses, dogs and equipment for the morning hunt.
The first morning brace was a good one. Gary ran Dialing In (the 2015 National Champion!) and I chose Rolls Royce. Both dogs were on a mission to find quail and, to my delight, they ended their hour equal in bird finds.
The highlight for me, though, was the last brace of the day when I ran Grits, a strong 50-lb. male that always hunts hard and stylishly, and Gary ran one of his winning derbies. The open, rolling terrain allowed us to see them on big, beautiful casts. I was so proud that Grits compared favorably on the ground with Gary’s all-age dog. Even better, Grits out-birded his bracemate and pointed four coveys in the hour, giving the hunting part plenty of action. I think Gary was impressed because he asked me to call him if I get another setter like that…and he’s a pointer guy!
The next morning was foggy and warm. Gary braced CH Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo and CH Miller’s Creative Cause. These two all-age champions put on a show of strength, class and bird finding with five covey finds in a bit more than an hour. Again, very impressive!
At about noon that day when the temperature was 82°, I ran two of our dogs. I braced Royce with female setter Nickel (out of 2X National Champion Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay). I was so proud that both dogs ran well, and found and pointed birds.
Both days were great hunts…and it was a special honor to watch Gary and his championship dogs.
Northwoods Nirvana (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011)
Some things seem meant to be.
When Betsy and I bred Northwoods Chardonnay in 2011 to CH Houston’s Blackjack, owned by Frank and Jean LaNasa, the pick of the litter was an extremely handsome, dark-headed male. We raised him but sold him as a 10-month-old to Frank and Jean. Now five years later, in partnership with Paul Hauge, we bought him back.
And it’s wonderful to have him with us.
His registered name is Northwoods Nirvana (2011 was the year of naming dogs after rock stars) and his call name is Pete. But everyone always calls him Perfect Pete because…well, he is. He truly has it all—excellent conformation, style on point and the characteristic, long, easy gait of the Houston dogs. Plus he has an easy disposition and is just nice to be around.
In 2015 on a North Dakota prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for Northwoods Nirvana; Northwoods Rolls Royce backs.
Not only was Frank interested in Nirvana because he owned the sire but also for his potential. Frank groomed him on the prairie for horseback competition on sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken.
Frank’s work paid off this fall when Nirvana was named RU-CH at the National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship held at the Buena Vista Marsh near Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, in a field of 47 dogs. This prestigious trial is run from horseback on native prairie chickens.
2016 National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship placements: Frank LaNasa, on right, with RU-CH Northwoods Nirvana; CH Skydancer Triple Nickel on left.
Pete has quite a pedigree. He is line bred to Houston through his blue-hen dam Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice) and sire CH Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle). He is a first cousin to winners CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock and RU-CH Erin’s Prometheus, who were sired by Blackjack’s litter brother, CH Ridge Creek Cody.
Now at just five years of age, Pete is himself a noted sire. He has been bred to about 12 females and produced 11 winners so far including the following:
- His son CH Skydancer Flash Forward won the 2016 Region 19 Amateur Shooting Dog Championship held at the Namekagon Barrens near Danbury, Wisconsin, on native sharptails.
- His grandson CH Skydancer Triple Nickel won the 2016 National Amateur Prairie Chicken Championship (when Pete was RU-CH).
Pete is certified OFA GOOD and his DNA is on file with the American Field. He is available for breeding at both our Minnesota and Georgia kennels. The stud fee is $1,000.
P.S. Two weeks after we bought him back, I took him into the woods for a guided grouse and woodcock hunt. Though he had not previously pointed either bird, he did a bang-up job and took to it easily and naturally.
An accurate location by the young pointer Penny (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) and a proper flush and good shot by hunter Mike Powers will result in this happy scene.
Flushing grouse and woodcock in front of a pointing dog might seem like a simple concept. It can make the difference, though, between a bird in the bag and an empty shot shell. In more than 20 years of guiding ruffed grouse and woodcock hunters across the northern Great Lakes region, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Some mistakes I attribute to excitement; others are downright comical; and most are merely naïve.
Here are some tips on how to properly flush for grouse and woodcock over a pointing dog.
Grouse or woodcock.
First of all, try to determine which bird is being pointed. Woodcock tend to be closer to the dog while ruffed grouse are usually farther away. Of course, if it’s late in the season and the woodcock have migrated, the bird is a grouse.
Read the dog.
Most dogs will convey bird and bird location by its intensity and body posture. A really intense posture combined with a lowered head and/or body means the bird is right in front and, therefore, likely a woodcock. A dog that stands taller with a higher head and is more relaxed on point indicates the bird is off a distance and likely a grouse. When the dog is twisted due to a sudden point, that means the bird is close and could be either a grouse or woodcock. If a dog is moving its head or looking around or if the tail is ticking, it doesn’t have the bird accurately located.
Two hunters pass the backing dog and move into position to flush for the lead dog in good-looking grouse cover.
Assess the cover.
Look at the vegetation. Young aspen cuts with scattered woodcock splash would be a good indicator for woodcock. On the other hand, a 20-year-old aspen stand with deadfalls and thick, grassy edges is more likely grouse cover. If you’ve found woodcock or grouse in the surrounding cover, that can be a good clue, but not always.
Flush the bird.
Ideally, two hunters should position themselves a few yards on either side of the dog and steadily walk forward in unison, looking for likely places a bird will sit, until about 10 – 15 yards in front of the dog. Be prepared when stopping as this often causes a bird to flush.
If a woodcock is suspected, you can go back and flush more thoroughly in front of the dog. Some woodcock will sit very tight and be difficult to flush.
Also, flush beside or behind the dog. Discern wind direction and flush upwind of the dog. And even if the dog is pointing on one side of a trail, flush on the other side. Finally, look up into the trees.
Be ready for a second bird.
If one bird flushes—whether grouse or woodcock—always be prepared for another flush. If you do shoot, reload immediately. Many times I have watched a hunter shoot both barrels, only to stand with an empty gun while another bird flushes within range.
What not do do.
• Never walk a few feet in front of the dog and stop. The dog isn’t going to flush the bird. Keep walking to flush the bird.
• Never walk up closely beside the dog as this might break its concentration and encourage it to move.
Nick Larson could hardly wait to get his three-month-old setter puppy, Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014), into the woods.
Developing a puppy into an experienced grouse dog begins with the all-important first season. The dog is at an impressionable age and lessons learned will set the foundation for future success.
To begin, this fall is all about fun. There should be no pressure on dog or hunter. Instead, it’s a time for exposure and gaining experience. Too, let this season be for the puppy. You’ll have many years and shots at plenty of birds over the course of your dog’s life.
Here are some tips to get most out of this autumn.
Hunt as much as possible. The goal for this first year is simply to let your puppy hunt for and find grouse—and as many as possible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.
Most of what a dog needs to know about is learned from the birds themselves. Your puppy will learn where grouse live and what they smell like. It will learn how close it can get before the bird flushes, that it can’t catch the bird and how to follow running birds.
The only caveat? Shoot birds that are pointed but let the rest fly away.
At five months of age, Izzie (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) was finding and pointing plenty of birds for owner Jeff Hintz. Photo by Chris Mathan.
Allow your puppy to learn by experience. Let your puppy figure things out at its own rate, by itself and to learn by consequences. As long as a situation isn’t dangerous to the puppy, leave it alone. This is the best way for it to develop good thinking skills. By over-protecting and over-controlling, we’re basically training the puppy not to use its brain.
In other words, keep your mouth shut in the woods. Over-handling—too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement—can distract and confuse the dog.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons and your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits and other indiscretions—this first year. Also, consider its mental limitations and relatively short attention span and remember that, at this age, your young dog has far more energy than knowledge.
Be realistic about your young dog’s physical limitations. Don’t overwork it. Several shorter hunts are better than one long outing.
Be careful when hunting over another dog and your puppy. While there can be advantages to bracing your puppy with an older, experienced dog, don’t overdo it. Your puppy needs time alone, too. Don’t let it get intimated by a larger or dominant dog.
Some parts of this post are taken from a piece Betsy and I wrote for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. http://www.startribune.com/a-hunting-dog-s-first-grouse-season-is-vital/223773411/
Callie, on left, and Blitzen share point on a bobwhite that landed in the willows.
Starting puppies on birds is right at the top of our list as a fun part of our work. And it’s something Betsy and I believe in beginning when they are quite young. Puppies at three to four months of age are much easier to start than eight-month-old pups.
When we work puppies on birds, we head out into the pasture to one of our four recall houses. The pups watch as I flush a good number of quail from the house and, then excitedly, they are off. They chase the quail wherever they fly—into the woods, alders or willows.
These bobwhite quail act much as wild birds do and hit the ground running. Puppies learn to use their nose to follow the scent until they come upon the bird. When they find it they might point briefly or just jump in and flush it. Either way they then chase the bird with our high praise echoing in their ears.
Murphy displays remarkable poise, intensity and style on one of his first puppy points.
Betsy and I never flush the birds. Instead we let the puppies point until they move in. From this, puppies learn when they have the bird, and importantly, when they don’t.
A key part of this whole exercise is that we don’t interfere or make any effort to restrain the pups. We do loudly praise the puppies when they flush a bird and will call or sing to direct them a bit. We think it’s crucial, at this time anyway, for puppies to learn—to find the bird, point it and then flush it—all on their own.
All puppies pictured above and below are 12 – 14 weeks old and all are pointers out of Northwoods Vixen by Elhew G Force.
Pearl pointed her first wild birds today. One grouse and two woodcock. I was walking along and looked down at my gps to see where my older dog was and when I looked up, Pearl was on point about 30 feet in front of me with a 12- o’clock tail and a high head. I walked in and flushed a woodcock about 10 feet in front of her. She then proceeded to point a grouse and another woodcock before I decided it was enough for one day and carried her out.
~ Caleb, Minnesota, August 14
Our puppy is doing very well and healthy. We named him Bandit. He is very birdy and outgoing. I’ve started his puppy program and he is already learning the fetch command. He loves getting around the quail pen and tries to break in every chance he gets. LOL
~ Tim, Florida, August 17
Coop is coming along great. He’s had some clipped wing pigeons and I’ve started him with the cap gun—no problems there at all. His prey drive is off the chart. I have him standing still on the bench. Also been working on recall with check cord.
~ Tim, Massachusetts, August 16
The ultimate attention–and what the dog wants most–is our physical touch.
Dogs constantly watch us. They’re trying to figure out what we’re doing. They watch us not because they adore us but to determine if something is about to happen that might benefit them. They even want to make that something happen.
But first, they need our attention.
How does a dog get our attention? One of the best examples is barking. Even though that attention may be a negative “Quiet,” it still got your attention. Other attention-seeking behaviors include nudging an arm or hand, mouthing, whining and sighing.
A key aspect to understand is that we control our attention. We can use our attention to communicate approval of what the dog is doing, or disapproval. A quick glance in the dog’s direction might be the approval it needs. A higher level is spoken words and the ultimate attention we can give a dog is physical touch.
Withholding attention is a high form of disapproval.
Giving attention for a behavior often leads to more of that behavior.
~ Turid Rugass, international dog trainer and author
To use your attention as a training tool, give the dog your attention for behavior you want to continue and withhold attention for behavior you don’t. Be patient and wait for the right behavior while ignoring others. And great timing produces quick, clear results. Bad timing could reward incorrect behavior.
Your attention is one of the best tools for training your dog. It’s always with you and doesn’t cost a thing. Even though using your attention properly will take some practice to master, it’s worth it.
PS A recent piece in The Washington Post confirms my thoughts. Among other pithy comments and research results, Kimbriell Kelly writes “research shows that dogs are primarily motivated by praise.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/08/17/what-does-a-dog-want-more-good-boy-or-treats/?wpisrc=nl_pwrainbow&wpmm=1
This is the time to withhold attention!
Left to right, Rod Lein with his dog, Joe Byers with Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014), Dave Moore with Bette (Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert, 2014).
The goal of the breeding program at Northwoods Bird Dogs is to produce grouse dogs that have it all—personality, conformation and hunting ability. Of prime importance to Betsy and me is that our puppies and started and trained dogs go to buyers who will give them ample hunting opportunities.
But, too, since we come from a field trial background, it is both gratifying and valuable to know when given a chance, many of our dogs have the fire, style, focus and tenacity to compete and place in field trials.
On behalf of very proud owners, we want to recognize puppies, derbies and shooting dogs that have placed in grouse, walking and horseback field trials held by clubs around the country.
In 2014 we bred Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011), an outstanding grouse dog owned by Bob Senkler, to two proven females.
Center, Ellie (Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert, 2014) owned by Tom Beauchamp and handled by Rich Hollister.
CH I’m Blue Gert, owned by Dave and Rochel Moore of Minnesota, to Grits produced three females and all became winners. Ellie, owned by Tom Beauchamp of Indiana, placed second in the 2015 Grand National Grouse Puppy Classic. She followed that with several derby placements on grouse and woodcock in Michigan.
Dave and Rochel own the other two females, Skye and Bette, and both dogs placed in grouse trials. Skye won the Moose River Grouse Dog Club (MRGDC) derby last fall while this spring Bette won a derby stake held by the Minnesota Grouse Dog Association (MGDA).
On left, Dave Moore and Jim Tande with Skye (Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert, 2014) and, on right, Jeff Hintz with Cooper (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015).
Grits’ other 2014 breeding was to Houston’s Belle’s Choice. The lone female of the litter went to Joe Byers of Illinois. Not only did Roxy place second in a 2016 MGDA derby stake (beaten by her half-sister Bette) but she received her certification for use in woodcock banding at less than two years of age.
Northwoods Vixen’s 2015 litter was produced using frozen semen of multiple champion and Hall of Fame pointer Rock Acre Blackhawk. Impressive attributes of Vixen puppies is their innate intelligence and a willingness to please. Whether the offspring are hunted on grouse, woodcock, bobwhite and other quail, pheasants or chukar and no matter what state, all adapted to birds, terrain and handler.
Robby Graham (on left) with Maddie (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015).
Three earned placements in derby stakes while still puppies. In Maine, Robby Graham’s Maddie placed in two derby stakes and Arizonan Jeff Hintz’s Cooper placed in a grouse trial derby stake last fall. Bill Owen of California handled his male puppy Sage to several derby placements and first place in a puppy classic.
On left, Bill Owen and Sage (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015).
Betsy and I were so pleased with a 2013 litter of Vixen by CH Elhew G Force that we bred her dam, Northwoods Prancer, to him in 2015. Mark Fouts of Wisconsin got a female he hunted extensively on grouse and woodcock. Jordy’s experience showed this spring when on a nasty, rainy, sloppy, 38-degree day, she placed in the MRGDC derby stake.
On right, Mark Fouts with Jordy (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2015).
Finally, Ian MacTavish of Minnesota won all three placements in a stake at Minnesota’s St. Croix Valley Brittany Club’s trial this spring. Ian had the foresight to buy two females from a litter we co-bred with Paul Hauge out of our Blue Shaquille to his multiple champion Houston’s Belle. One Ian named Pearl became not only a consistent winner in AKC field trials but also quite a producer.
Ian MacTavish with left to right: Kevin (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Cold Creek Pearl), Pearl (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle), Maggie (CH Can’t Go Wrong x Cold Creek Pearl).
Placing first in the stake was Pearl’s son out of CH Shadow Oak Bo; second was Pearl; and third place went to a CH Can’t Go Wrong x Pearl daughter.
Congratulations to all dogs and their owners!
Ben is primarily a grouse and woodcock hunter so he and Franny spent their memorable days in aspen cuts and alder thickets.
Franny taught me more about dogs than I care to admit. She was a thinker. She was different. This is what made her special.
~ Ben McKean
It’s always heartbreaking when a treasured dog dies. But especially awful is when a bird dog dies terribly in the prime of her life.
On what started out as another beautiful Saturday morning in Georgia, I left the house early and headed to the kennel to do my morning chores. Immediately, I noticed Franny, a normally lively five-year-old setter female, in an odd hunched position in her run. Her body was bloated, too, and fearing a twisted stomach, Betsy and I rushed her to our vet. Despite an heroic, two-hour emergency surgery, Franny died.
Franny was owned by Ben and Maureen McKean, long-time clients and friends, of Minnesota. Franny was whelped in March 2010, the last litter from Paul Hauge’s multiple grouse champion Houston’s Belle by Northwoods Blue Ox. Franny was a big, powerful female like her blue-ribbon dam; she inherited the grit and endurance of Ox.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember when a robust bird dog was a cuddly puppy…but not Maureen.
Ben and Maureen entrusted Franny to us for her training and Franny, in turn, excelled. She achieved the highest level of training for a pointing dog—steady to wing, shot and fall. Franny also spent every winter with us, gaining invaluable experience with hours on bobwhite quail. She became the star on our Georgia quail guiding string. The weather didn’t deter and it didn’t matter whether we hunted from foot, jeep or horseback or if we were out one or three hours, Franny loved to hunt and always found birds. And when she pointed, the birds were precisely where she indicated.
The shadows were long when I found Franny on point—strong, staunch and stylish on a large covey of quail—at the end of what was to be her last hunt.
Ben hunted Franny extensively on grouse and woodcock and her last fall had been her best.
“Last year, Franny and I had better numbers together than any of my other dogs. She handled at a more manageable range in the thick cover and provided better opportunities than the others. I know she had her strongest talent in the south on quail. I am glad that she was able to put grins on the faces people that she was able to hunt with, including mine. She was an entertainer, a true bird dog and a great friend. She will be missed.”
~ Ben McKean
Betsy and I agree. Franny was a special dog and we were very proud of her. And yes, she put a smile on my face, too, every time I hunted her.
Between morning braces of a quail hunt on Pineaven Plantation, Jerry explains the intricacies of Garmin collars with a group of hunters. A matched pair of mules is hitched to the wooden dog wagon where a Labrador waits up front and bird dogs rest in the boxes.
Bobwhite quail. Longleaf pines. Mule-drawn wagons. Bird dogs, retrieving dogs, handlers, horses and hunters. All are integral components of the one-hundred-year-old tradition of wild bird hunting on the plantations in the Red Hills region of southwest Georgia and northern Florida.
Pinehaven Plantation, located near Monticello, Florida, is the setting for the video. It is a privately owned, 5,500-acre plantation where I have been fortunate enough to work on occasion. Because no actual guiding is necessary (rather we follow courses of the mown checkerboard ground), my responsibilities are as dog handler for our client.
Jerry with Penny (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013), on the left, and dog trainer Bobby Ryan with his pointer prepare to start the afternoon brace on Pinehaven Plantation.
Hall and Hall, a real estate company headquartered in Montana but with offices scattered throughout the West, produced this video.