Snix (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) is owned by Bart Salisbury. Bart wrote: “The woodcock was about 15’ off the end of his nose. I could see it walking away from him under the bracken ferns.” Photo taken September 21, 2014, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
The ruffed grouse is the wariest of the species hunted by bird dogs, the wisest and hardest to handle.
~ Henry P. Davis, Training Your Own Bird Dog, 1948
To provide the ideal ruffed grouse shooting opportunity, a pointing dog should engage the grouse so the bird doesn’t move. Bumping grouse occurs when a dog gets too close and causes the bird to flush. It’s one of the most common training problems I hear about from clients and friends.
One reason is simply the difficulty of the quarry. An occasional bump is part of grouse hunting; but if your dog bumps more than it points, something else might be going on.
Listed below are common causes and tips for improvement and correction.
→ Cover and weather conditions.
In the early part of the season especially, the cover can be thick and conditions can be warm and dry. Both make scenting extremely difficult for less-experienced dogs and challenging for veteran grouse dogs.
Tip: The hunter can’t do anything about this one. Wait until conditions improve.
→ Lack of experience.
Rare is the dog that will be exhibit a natural ability to point grouse with just a few contacts. Most bird dogs need repeated exposure over several seasons.
Tip: This is easy. Hunt more.
→ Lack of training.
The dog doesn’t know it’s supposed to stop and point.
Tip: The dog needs to be trained to stop on WHOA.
→ Seeing grouse on the ground.
Dogs invariably see grouse on the ground and sometimes the temptation is just too much.
Tip: Reinforce WHOA and steadiness training with a visible bird on the ground.
→ Over-exposure to planted birds.
A dog can get quite close to a planted bird before it stops to point. Grouse are just the opposite and will flush if a dog gets too close.
Tip: Stay away from the game farm for awhile and provide more exposure to grouse.
The dog lacks the ability to find and point grouse due to a bad nose, inadequate pointing instincts or physical limitations.
Tip: Thoroughly check out the breeders and breeding of your next puppy. Make sure the sire and dam—and previous generations—are proven grouse dogs.
→ Stuff happens.
Even an experienced grouse dog with a bold, confident attitude will sometimes bump a grouse.
Tip: Exercise patience and move on.
A tri-color female puppy out of Northwoods Chardonnayby by Shadow Oak Bo looks strikingly like her dam.
The kennel at Northwoods Bird Dogs is gradually clearing out of puppies. The three females out of CH I’m Blue Gert by Northwoods Grits went to their new homes in early September. That leaves the five-week-old Northwoods Parmigiano x Northwoods Rum Rickey litter and, in the next kennel run, the almost six-week-old puppies out of Northwoods Chardonnay x CH Shadow Oak Bo.
Even though the puppies out of Northwoods Rum Rickey by Northwoods Parmigiano are younger than the Bo x Chardonnay litter by five days, these four don’t miss many feedings.
Rochel and Dave Moore, owners of CH I’m Blue Gert, were extremely diligent. They never missed a weekend to visit and spend time with Gert and her three female puppies. They now have their hands full with their two picks.
The Beauchamps made a quick trip from their home in Indiana to pick up their Northwoods Grits x I’m Blue Gert female. In keeping with our naming theme of the periodic table of the elements, the puppy’s registered name will be Northwoods Iron Maiden.
Seven of the eight puppies in the Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay litter settle in for a post-feeding nap.
(Jerry and I wrote this piece for the StarTribune, September 15, 2013. http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/223773411.html )
The golden leaves of autumn lie crisp on the forest floor. The dog’s bell rings merrily as the hunt moves from one likely piece of grouse cover to another. Suddenly, the bell stops. With high anticipation, the hunter searches and, near an alder edge, sees the dog — body rigid and eyes intensely focused. As the hunter approaches, a ruffed grouse noisily flushes and the report of a shotgun swiftly follows.
To achieve that classic ruffed grouse hunting experience with your dog will require hours in the woods and years of effort, for there is no game bird more difficult for a pointing dog to properly handle than a ruffed grouse. It is wily, wary and often called “King of the Woods.”
The process of 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.
Here are important considerations to make the most of this time.
Before taking your young dog into the grouse woods for its first hunt, make sure you’re prepared.
The foremost consideration is proper introduction to birds and gunfire. A basic obedience command, HERE or COME, and an attention-getting command, such as calling its name, need to be understood. In addition, the means to enforce those commands, such as a check cord or e-collar, is necessary.
Your young dog also should be accustomed to the sound of a bell or a beeper and to riding in a vehicle. It should be at a suitable weight and in good health, too.
Exposure to grouse.
Most of what a dog needs to know about finding and pointing grouse is learned from the birds themselves. Exposure to grouse — and plenty of them — is crucial.
Your puppy will learn key details about grouse.
• Where they are most likely to be found.
• How to differentiate where the grouse is as opposed to where it was.
• How close to get before the bird flushes.
• That it can’t catch the grouse.
• How to follow running birds.
The goal is to have your puppy hunt for and find grouse. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.
Handling in the woods.
Expecting your puppy to be in sight always or range at a certain distance is unrealistic and, in fact, can inhibit its bird finding. As long as it is checking in and hunting in the direction you’re headed, you don’t need to say anything. Over-handling, in terms of too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement, can distract and confuse the dog. In addition, it could alert any grouse to your whereabouts.
At times, you’ll need to communicate with your puppy. Use the basic recall or attention-getting commands and be sure to have the capability to enforce them.
If your puppy gets overexcited, take a break. Give it time to settle down and regain its composure.
Owner attitude, expectations.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons. Your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits, not pay attention and, at times, become uncontrollable.
Be realistic about your young dog’s capability. It might look mature, but it is still just a puppy. Be cognizant of its physical and mental limitations; i.e., plan several short hunts instead of one long outing. To encourage your young dog to point grouse and not flush them, shoot only birds that have been pointed.
Finally, do remember to have fun with your puppy. Take time to savor this first season — hopefully the first of many — in the grouse woods.
Both photos above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.
CH Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008). Photo by Ben McKean.
CH Houston’s Blackjack was recently acquired by Dr. Paul Hauge from Jack’s co-owners, Frank LaNasa and Leroy Peterson. Jack is a six-year-old setter male out of Paul’s 2X CH/4X RU-CH Houston’s Belle by CH/RU-CH Can’t Go Wrong, so it’s a very cool and fitting purchase.
Frank handled Jack on the horseback shooting dog circuit and earned placements in many trials, including a championship and runner-up championship.
Paul placed Jack with Luke Eisenhart, a professional handler in all-age horseback field trials. Luke is one of the best and was the Purina Top All-Age Handler in both 2012 and 2013. Luke will enter Jack in wild bird trials in the Dakotas, in addition to quail trials in the southeast.
The all-age circuit is the highest level and most demanding of pointing dog field trials. It takes a special dog to to compete with the likes of two-time National Champion, Shadow Oak Bo, a setter, and many, many winning pointers.
Good luck to Jack, Paul and Luke!
An accurate location by the young pointer Pesto 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 17 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.
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.
Two hunters pass the backing dog and move into position to flush for the lead dog in good-looking grouse cover.
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. (See video below for how not to flush the bird.)
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.
• Never walk up closely beside the dog as this might break its concentration and encourage it to move. (See video below for walking up closely beside the dog.)
• 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.
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.
Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014).
If Jerry and I could sum up the summer of 2014 in one word, it would be “puppies.” With the exception of the Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis puppy in early spring, never have our litters occurred so closely together and so late in the year.
As it turns out, though, summer is a wonderful season to raise a puppy. Besides the general relaxing of rules and moods, kids are out of school and have time on their hands. Parents take holidays from work and vacations are planned—many to cabins and other rustic venues where dogs are welcome.
It’s been fun for us to spend time with the new puppy owners, some of whom are old friends. We’re thankful for owners who spare no expense when a puppy flies off to its new home and we’re thankful, too, for families who drive hours—and from as far away as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Texas—to pick up their puppy.
Most of all, we’re grateful to all the families for their warmth and loyalty and for the good life they’ll give their new puppies.
I can’t believe I got one of your dogs.
~ Jeff, owner of Bates (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014)
We recently returned from a week-long vacation at a lake cabin, and Timber enjoyed all that the new environment had to offer. At one point there were a total of 7 dogs running around, and he wanted to play with every one of them! He learned to enjoy playing in the water with the other dogs…..he has shown a lot of enthusiasm for jumping into the water to retrieve sticks and his retrieving dummy.
~ Keith, owner of Timber (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014)
The puppy is doing great. He handled the 2-day trip home like a veteran. He gets along well with the other dogs…..he and our other male are great pals.
~ Mike, owner of Charlie (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014)
So in love with our little Belle. She is the sweetest puppy we have ever met. Belle is so well behaved and a Miss Social butterfly. Thank you so much again for this darling puppy.
~ Robby, owner of Belle (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014)
We are very impressed with her natural abilities so far. We have thrown pretty much 2 dozen balls each day and she retrieves them to hand. When the older dog goes on point she naturally stops as well with a high tail. We are very pleased with our new hunting companion and look forward to many years of memories that we will share with you.
~ Rick, owner of Frisco (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014)
Elmer is doing very well. From the very beginning, he has been sleeping well in his crate and he never cries. We’re working on some basic commands and he learned to come right away. We walk our daughter to school every morning and Elmer has been enjoying that along with all of the activity at the school. All in all, he is absolutely fantastic and we all love our new family member.
~ Kjellrun, owner of Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014), pictured with Northwoods Roy Roy (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012)
Wanted to let you know that Hartley, Lacey and I are still having loads of fun together! I loved watching him try to climb steps for the first time as he was a little unsure of it. I helped him once or twice but each time I walked up the steps myself, and without encouragement, I let him figure out how to follow me. A half day later and he was going up and down no problem. He’s a fantastic dog and we can’t commend you both enough on your dogs and breeding program.
~ Nick, owner of Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle Choice, 2014)
The ride home went really well….spent the afternoon playing in the yard and getting used to the kennel / house. She is already running in and out of her doggie door in the outside kennel (very cool and unexpected). We brought her in the house for the night about 90 minutes ago… we put her in the (inside) kennel and she started to cry a little…..it was a solid 30 minutes of puppy screaming, but she wore herself out and now she’s sound asleep…..we are head-over-heels in love / happy.
~ Joe, owner of Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle Choice, 2014)
Our little puppy is getting big! 24 weeks and as of 2 days ago – 38 lbs. Everything is going very well! Right now focusing on WHOA command, birds, scent points instead of sight points, and continuing to slowly intro the gun. I have 40 young pheasants and 10 bobwhites that I’m working him through the rest of summer before we head to NE MT to chase sharptails. Then back in MN woods to hopefully rustle up some real grouse. Looking forward to having fun with him in the field and woods…and watching him develop this fall.
~ Todd, owner of Finn (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
On the North Dakota prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for brace mates True Confidence, on left, and Northwoods Grits on a divided find.
Any sportsman will tell you that two dogs find more birds than one dog.
~ Er M. Shelley, Bird Dog Training Today and Tomorrow, 1921
It seems that hunters and field trialers have commonly had two dogs on the ground at the same time for a long, long time. And for good reasons. Not only is the whole thing more productive but it truly is the epitome in working pointing dogs. Finding a bird dog on point while another backs is a beautiful sight.
Even though the noun “brace” has many meanings—from clamp and support beam, to things medical, mathematical, musical and nautical—for us, the key definition is “a pair of like things.” Hunting two or more bird dogs together is a brace.
Whether handled by the same or a different person, there are several considerations when bracing dogs. Chief among them is that not just any two dogs will make a good brace.
In the thick grouse woods, it’s memorable to come upon a fine piece of bird work by brace mates Northwoods Blue Ox on point, backed by Northwoods Carly Simon.
Good brace mates.
• The dogs should hunt independently yet be cognizant of what the other is doing so both can get in on any bird work.
• It’s perfect if one dog ranges wider and one is closer so more ground is covered more thoroughly.
• Easy handling dogs are best. At a minimum, one should be an experienced, almost automatic dog.
• The dogs must back their brace mates on point.
Bad brace mates.
• Competitive dogs are difficult in a brace. Some dogs are even more competitive to a specific dog.
• Two young males braced together can become quite a kerfuffle.
• Some dogs pay more attention to the other dog than to their task.
• When the same dogs are hunted together frequently, one might depend on the other to find birds and is content to back.
Two dogs will not only cover more ground but they’ll usually do it at a faster pace than if run singly. They might tire more quickly—which then might require more dogs to hunt the same amount of time.
How to know what dogs brace well together? Try them!
In the middle of feeding time, a female puppy out of Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon steps back and rests.
Puppies can be born in any month, or course, but certain times of the year are preferable.
In the realm of field trial competition, the opportune season is winter, and the earlier the better. When competing as a derby (up to about two years of age), the theory is that those dogs have a maturity advantage over those born later.
Jerry and I don’t compete at championship levels any more so timing isn’t as crucial. It is ideal to have puppies old enough so they can be introduced to the grouse woods in their first year.
But there is much about breeding and timing of litters that is out of control of the breeders. The major issue is the heat cycle of the dam. Too, depending on the chosen sire of a litter, geography could be challenging and either chilled or frozen semen could be necessary.
2014 has been an anomaly for Jerry and me as, here it is mid August, and we have just whelped two litters. We’re thrilled that both dams and all puppies are healthy and we’re excited about the potential of the puppies. In addition, litters out of Northwoods Carly Simon by Blue Riptide and CH I’m Blue Gert by Northwoods Grits are now seven and five weeks of age, respectively, and are maturing very nicely into tiny dogs.
At some point after a couple weeks, it can be nice for dams, occasionally at least, to have a break from her puppies. Jerry and Dan built this nifty rest bench that fits perfectly over the whelping nest. Not all dams seem willing to jump up but, on this day, Gert enjoys a brief respite.
At five weeks of age, the three Grits x Gert females eat moistened dog food and continue to nurse. The door to the outside run is propped open and they now easily go in and out. They are fairly active with quick movements and it’s darn difficult to snap a good photo.
At night, bobwhite quail sit shoulder to shoulder facing outward toward danger. Obviously, the Riptide x Carly puppies have nothing to fear—all heads are together when they sleep.
Paul Hauge bought Northwoods Chardonnay from us earlier in the summer. When she came into heat, Paul and Jerry developed a plan to breed to the extraordinary setter, Shadow Oak Bo, a two-time winner of the National Championship. In a complicated and expensive process, frozen semen was shipped from Thomasville, Georgia, and Chardonnay had surgery at precisely the opportune time. She whelped five females and three males in the early morning hours of August 8.
Northwoods Rum Ricky rests while her two-day-old puppies nurse and sleep. This litter, three females and one male, is by extremely talented and handsome Northwoods Parmigiano, owned by Paul Hauge. Rickey whelped on August 12. (Have you ever seen a rounder tummy?)
CH Ridge Creek Cody (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008)
Jerry and I received horrific, heart-breaking news from North Dakota. During the morning of Saturday, August 9, Ridge Creek Cody and several other dogs drowned while on a conditioning run from a four-wheeler. Cody was owned by Larry Brutger of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and trained and handled by Shawn Kinkelaar on the horseback shooting dog circuit.
Nine other dogs perished including 6X CH/7X RU-CH Hot Topic, 2X CH Royal Rocks Mr. Thumper and Handsome Harry Hardcash.
Ridge Creek Cody was whelped in 2008 out of two grouse champions, Can’t Go Wrong x Houston’s Belle. Paul Hauge, Belle’s owner, and Jerry were the brains behind the breeding. Jerry had competed against Can’t Go Wrong on the grouse trial circuit and was extremely impressed with his fluid gait and extraordinary ability to find and point ruffed grouse. Too, Jerry campaigned Belle to all of her championships and knew her strengths.
We both remember the day Larry picked up Cody as an eight-week-old puppy. As little Cody romped around the kennel office, Larry talked of his plans for training and competition. That first year, Jerry took Cody to our camp in North Dakota and worked him on the vast prairies. Matt Eder further developed Cody but it was Shawn Kinkelaar who took on Cody and fully realized the dog’s potential.
Cody was a 3X champion and one-time runner-up champion.
2014: Midwest Open Shooting Dog Championship
2012: National Amateur Pheasant Shooting Dog Championship
2011: Idaho Open Shooting Dog Championship
2011: All American Open Shooting Dog Championship (Runner-up)
In addition, Cody was the Bill Conlin Setter Shooting Dog Derby Award Winner (2009-2010) and placed third in the United States Quail Shooting Dog Futurity, a rare accomplishment for a setter.
Among trainers, handlers, judges and fellow competitors, all agreed that Cody had supreme athleticism—a skill level on par with Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
Cody had become an extremely popular sire and his progeny were just starting to be recognized. Jerry and I bred Northwoods Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009) to Cody in 2013. We’ve stayed in contact with most of the puppy buyers and trained five, even though the clients are near and far. It was a stellar litter.
• Piper: owned by Larry’s friend Chuck Brandes, St. Cloud
• Willow: Gregg Knapp, Wisconsin
• Charlie: Bill Owen, California
• Zada: Tom Condon, Montana
• Stoeger : Drew Milles, Minnesota
• Mazie: Scott Harness, Minnesota
• Rae: David Larson, Minnesota
That Cody was a rare champion with desire and ability is obvious but when he stayed with Larry, he was a cool, calm house dog.
What a tragic loss—not only to the Brutger’s and not only to the field trial world where a valiant competitor is respected but to the English setter world at large.
Our sympathies to Larry and his family. RIP Cody.