Southwest Georgia during winter is a tremendous place to develop young bird dogs. The conditions to work dogs and find birds are virtually ideal for more than four months. This not only gives ample opportunity on birds but also allows young dogs to mature while getting consistent exposure and training.
This was the second winter Betsy and I lived at Arrowhead Farms near Dixie, Georgia. The perfect location is 20 miles east of Thomasville, Georgia, the heart of bobwhite quail plantation country. We had a talented group of dogs with us—both puppies and seasoned veterans. In addition to watching the progress of young dogs, it’s also fun to see older dogs get better and better.
We enjoyed many of the same experiences as last year but new opportunities opened up for us. Here are the highlights.
Invitations to quail hunts on several quail plantations. One client leased hunts on various plantations and it was educational to see how they were managed for habitat and how the hunts were run. I especially enjoyed watching their dogs work and observing their hunting and dog-handling style. Many times, I braced our dogs with plantation dogs and was extremely pleased. Our dogs—whether young or experienced—compared very favorably and impressed local trainers and handlers. In fact, one plantation ordered two setter puppies from us.
Roger King, dog trainer at Pine Fair, flushes for his pointer during a training session.
Become acquainted with professional dog trainers from various plantations. I joined the local club and regularly trained with several of them on their quail plantations. They were a nice group of people. It was quite a privilege.
Exclusive access to the 1,900-acre Miami Plantation. The property ownership is now in transition but, for the second season, I trained on good populations of quail. On an average morning, I flushed eight to 12 wild coveys in three hours.
Lots of birds. This was an incredible year for bobwhites in southwest Georgia. On most plantations it was common to flush 18 – 25 wild coveys during a three-hour hunt. At the Annual Plantation Owner’s Trial, held this year on Ted Turner’s Nonami Plantation, more than 100 wild coveys were flushed in a single day.
Give my legs a break! All hunts and training sessions at plantations and most of my training at the Miami or Arrowhead Farms were done from horseback. While the pace is slightly faster than I usually walk, it’s a tremendous advantage. I can easily see what the dog is doing and I’m able to focus on the dog without worrying about where I’m walking. Arrowhead Farms owns many horses but I mainly rode a very nice, 13-year-old Tennessee walking horse named Willow. He was a pleasure to ride and I think he enjoyed it, too!
Minnesota Grouse Dog Association Open Puppy winners (from left): Northwoods Troy McClure posed Ben McKean, Lake Effect Tilly and owner Tim Kaufmann, Northwoods Rolls Royce posed by Jerry.
For the first time since 2012, the Minnesota Grouse Dog Association (MGDA) held a spring field trial last weekend. Due to still unbelievably wet courses and iffy conditions, the trial was shortened from three days to two.
And the weather still wouldn’t cooperate. Saturday and Sunday weren’t the best of days to be in the woods running bird dogs—temperatures hung in the 30s and 40s and the wind howled—but plucky field trial competitors entered dogs, slogged through muddy courses and had a good time.
Jerry uncovered two amazing statistics. More than half the dogs that competed (19 of 35 dogs—54%) trace back to our Blue Silk either through her sons, Blue Shaquille and Northwoods Blue Ox (Oscar), or daughters CH I’m Blue Gert, CH Satin From Silk (Peggy) and Northwoods Blue Babe (Mikki).
Multiple grouse champion Houston’s Belle, owned by Paul Hauge, also left an incredible mark on setters in our region. Through her daughters, Houston’s Belle’s Choice (Jill) and Snyder’s Liz, 37% of dogs entered are out of Belle.
Open Shooting Dog
1st Lucy, owned and handled by Rod Lein
2nd Northwoods Parmigiano (Sean), owned by Paul Hauge, handled by Jerry
3rd Lola, owned and handled by Scott Anderson
1st Luna, owned and handled by Brett Edstrom
2nd Northwoods Rob Roy, owned by Chris Bye & Roberta Scherf, handled by Chris
3rd Axel, owned by Ryan Flair, handled by Jerry
1st Northwoods Rolls Royce, handled by Jerry
2nd Lake Effect Tilly, owned and handled by Tim Kaufmann
3rd Northwoods Troy McClure, owned by Dale Robinson, handled by Jerry
Our sincere thanks to MGDA officials Gregg Gress, Dave Moore, Rochel Moore, Scott Anderson and Brett Edstrom for putting on the trial. It takes hours of planning, coordination and lots of plain hard work and we’re grateful for their efforts.
Congratulations to the winners!
At seven weeks of age, puppies from our 2013 litter of CH Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay rest together.
Even though our females have been right on schedule with their heat cycles, it is still darn hard to wait… and wait…and wait.
But here is a happy report on three litters.
CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer
Prancer came into season in late February while Jerry and I were in Georgia. Even though G Force was competing in a field trial when the time was right for breeding, it was still relatively convenient. We have confirmed the pregnancy and Prancer should whelp about May 7. The puppies will be eight weeks old and ready to go their new homes in early July.
Also at seven weeks of age, the pointers out of CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen in 2013 pile together for a nap in the nest.
Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice
Choice was bred to Grits on April 7. She is due to whelp about June 9 which puts the puppies at eight weeks of age on August 4. We’re a little nostalgic as this will be Choice’s last litter.
Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon
Carly just came into season on April 7 and we’ve made plans with Rodney Klimek, Riptide’s owner, to have him here by April 19. If all goes well, Carly should whelp about June 21.
It doesn’t get much better than this sweet, tranquil scene at the Humes’ home in Pennsylvania.
All puppies from these litters are reserved. One female is available from Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert (who is due any day) and one female from our additional litter.
Since Garmin Ltd., purchased Tri-Tronics in 2011, the Tri-Tronics products have been slowly disappearing.
The most recent re-introduction was of the Garmin PRO Series Remote Trainers. Basically, these ecollars are versions of the Tri- Tronics products I’ve been using and recommending for many years. Based on some not-so-good redesigns of previous models, I was concerned that the Pro line would be drastically changed. But the fundamental designs are very close to the originals and several features were improved and added. More good news: the prices are substantially reduced.
Complete information on the PRO Series as well as other dog tracking and training equipment is available on the Garmin website: https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/on-the-trail/dog-tracking-training/cOnTheTrail-cDogTrackingTraining-p1.html
Gun Dog Supply reviews the PRO Series on their website: http://gundogsupply.com/review-new-garmin-tri-tronics-pro-550-70-trashbreaker.html
Northwoods Bird Dogs is an authorized reseller of Garmin products and we offer the best prices and free shipping. I can help you decide what gear is best and show you how to use it. Please contact us for more information.
It’s very rewarding to watch young dogs mature…..especially Jack (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013).
Then again, there’s nothing like running experienced bird dogs. This is sure a pretty sight: four- year-old Tripp (Houston x Northwoods Blue Babe), on left, and nine-year-old Jill (Gusty Blue x CH Houston’s Belle) honor Gert (I’m Houston’s Image x Blue Silk), an eight-year-old.
Boreas, our name for the male puppy out of Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, went to his new home with the very nice Wiedmann family. He looks pretty comfy on the lap of one of the Wiedmann sons as he watches a Gopher hockey game.
In fading afternoon light, Sean (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010), points a covey of wild quail in native broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus). Willow, a nice Tennessee Walking Horse owned by Arrowhead Farms, calmly grazes.
Land management of quail plantations is big business in southwestern Georgia…and a key component is fire. On one of our last days, plantation manager Matt burned an 80-acre piece.
Matt was pleased to get a good, clean burn. The only remaining vegetation is native longleaf and loblolly pines (Pinus palustris and P. taeda)—both of which have biological means to survive fires.
It was both gratifying and educational for Jerry and me to have so many dogs from our 2013 CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen litter. Sisters Kiah (on left) and Meg share point on a covey hiding in thick cover.
Litter brother to the pointer sisters above, Buddy points in front a young longleaf pine in its fire-protective “grass stage.”
Every March, I silently thank the gardener who, many years ago, surrounded our little rental cottage with plantings of robust Formosa azaleas (Rhododendron indicum ‘Formosa’).
Jerry works one-year-old Northwoods Vixen on her pattern. She looks good in this shot–hunting forward at a good distance–but Jerry is constantly watching and will nick her if she strays too far past the 2 o’clock position.
During a hunt, a bird dog’s place is in front of me. I want to see what it’s doing. My ideal pattern is when a dog covers the ground in a crossing pattern at the right distance while hitting likely bird areas. It must also keep track of me.
Many handlers use the clock analogy. A dog should spend most of its time in a pocket between 9 – 10 o’clock position on the left and the 2 -3 o’clock position on the right.
Good dogs seem to have a compass that keeps them oriented to my whereabouts, i.e., they can hunt and pay attention to me. The worst don’t have that capability and spend much of their time behind me or, something that really drives me crazy—yo-yo in and out.
Right- or left-handed dogs.
When a bird dog completes a cast to either side, it should turn forward. Due to terrain or wind direction, a forward movement isn’t always possible or practical and the dog should be given some leeway. I’ve noticed that dogs seem to be either right- or left-handed in their pattern. They’ll naturally turn out on one side of me and in (and back) on the other side. The pattern becomes a large clockwise or counterclockwise loop.
Wind and patterning.
Wind direction plays a big role in patterning—and rightly so from the dog’s point of view. Most dogs pattern wider and more laterally in a headwind because they tend to not want to run directly into it. In a tail wind, most dogs will run farther forward and work back towards me.
How to develop a pattern.
When dogs are puppies, many owners focus on bird work but this is also best time to develop a hunting pattern. Good habits are formed young!
Betsy and I begin patterning with our puppies’ first walks in the field. (They always wear short check cords.) We move slowly so puppies can stay in front. Often we change directions and call/sing to get their attention. Occasionally, a subtle and gentle tug on the check cord becomes necessary if a puppy wants to go behind or on either side.
• Don’t go back to get a puppy. It needs to learn a tough lesson—to pay attention to the handler and find the handler when it gets out of touch.
• Begin calling/singing when the puppy gets at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions. Don’t wait until the puppy is too lateral.
• Keep the walks/pattern work short when puppies are young. Consider their short attention spans.
When the puppy matures and becomes ecollar conditioned, pattern work can be continued (if necessary) with nicks and/or continuous stimulation.
In the end…
The goal is to find birds, not run the perfect pattern. In general, though, they’re not mutually exclusive. Over time, a dog that runs a good pattern will cover the ground more effectively, be easier to handle and, in the end, find more birds.
CH Shadow Oak Bo is posed at the conclusion of the 2013 National Championship with, from left to right, co-owner Butch Houston, scout Hunter Gates and handler Robin Gates.
At the Ames Plantation in February 2013, Shadow Oak Bo was named winner of the National Championship. What makes that remarkable is that Bo is an English setter, the first setter to win in 43 years. Even more astonishing, he was a repeat champion at this year’s National, an accomplishment not equaled by a setter since 1901/1902.
Bo is the buzz of the setter world—and really the entire field trial world—and therefore much discussed. His pedigree has been analyzed; his ancestors scrutinized. Theories abound as to the source of his talents. Due to his heterogeneous pedigree (constant out-crossing) Bo was described in a Pointing Dog Journal article as “catching lightning in a bottle.” Others have probably calculated his COI (Coefficient Of Inbreeding) and are madly searching pedigrees to see which females will match Bo’s.
I think the production of a dog such as Bo, like most bird dogs that outperform their peers, is simpler to describe yet far more work to actually accomplish. Certainly Bo’s success boils down to giving the right dog the right opportunities; but long before that, before Bo was born, there were years of effort and lots of miles behind bird dogs.
People were involved who really knew bird dogs, i.e., people who actually worked them, studied them and determined their true worth in the field and on wild birds. In my opinion, not much time was spent counting championships, looking at pedigrees, calculating COIs or thinking about line-breeding vs. out-crossing. Instead, they worked their dogs and bred one worthy, proven dog to another for generation after generation until “lightning in a bottle” appeared.
No matter the breeding methodology followed, success or failure depends exclusively on the selection of individual dogs. Period.
A grouse perches in a young aspen on a cold winter morning in the woods surrounding the kennel.
The ruffed grouse of the northern parts of their range instinctively know how to survive the worst winter weather. Jerry and I have seen depressions and wing marks on the surface of the snow where grouse have burst out of their roosts. While it’s common knowledge that birds fluff out their feathers for insulation we were astounded by Jim Brandenburg’s photograph of an inflated grouse. (Search for NW798 at www.jimbrandenburg.com.)
Dan Stadin, the guy who works with us and is managing the Minnesota kennel while Jerry and I work in southwest Georgia, has noticed grouse in the woods surrounding our place. On a recent early morning, he caught one sitting in a young aspen.
While perched high in birch trees, three ruffed grouse feed.
Bill Heig of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish saw three grouse in the upper branches of two birch trees, filling up, no doubt, on buds and twigs.
2X CH/4X RU-CH Houston’s Belle (2001 – 2011). Photo by Chris Mathan.
In October 2011 Jerry was interviewed by Chris Mathan of The Sportsman’s Cabinet and Strideaway. It’s a really good interview on the importance of females in a breeding program.
Chris asks, “What is the most important part of a breeding program?” and Jerry answers, “The female is the key.” For our English setter line, he says that Houston’s Belle and Blue Streak were the foundation dams. Both Belle and Streak were multiple grouse champions but “daughters of champions were better producers” for us. Belle produced Houston’s Belle’s Choice and Blue Silk is out of Streak.
Chris recently re-posted it on Strideaway. The values remain vital and it’s definitely worth a listen.
(Too, if you want a good laugh, you have to check out Jerry’s hat. Why did we ever think that goofy, seed-corn style was attractive?)
Meg (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) points with exceptional poise in mixed cover at Arrowhead Farms.
Wet from morning dew, Chardonnay (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2009) nails a covey in heavy cover on the Miami Plantation.
Grace (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle Choice, 2010) and Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011), in front, and Franny (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle, 2010) and Ox (Peace Dale Duke x Blue Silk, 2007) are tired, wet and happy after a conditioning run on a pine-needle-strewn road.
In his fluffy puppy coat, Jack (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013) points with composure and high head.
The pointer Pesto (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) and the horse Willow take a break in tall broom sedge on the Miami Plantation.
On an exciting late afternoon training session, Gert (I’m Houston’s Image x Blue Silk, 2006) is backed by Ox (Peace Dale Dule x Blue Silk, 2007) on a field edge where Jerry and I have found quail countless times.
Ben McKean flushes for his setter Franny (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle, 2010) on the Miami Plantation.
In thick, nasty cover on the Miami Plantation, Sean (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle Choice, 2010) backs the pointer Joe.
Earnestly and intensely, Kiah (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) points a single quail in broom sedge on Arrowhead Farms.
On the Disston Plantation, young Axel (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) backs an experienced pointer.
With one front leg lifted and poker straight tail, pointer Buddy points a single quail on an open hillside of Arrowhead Farms.
Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) points a covey in beautiful cover on the Miami Plantation.
Tripp (Houston x Northwoods Blue Babe, 2009) backs another setter during a late afternoon hunt on the Trinity Place Plantation.
During staunchness training, Dusty (Blue Shaquille x Snyder’s Liz, 2012) holds for the flush on Arrowhead Farms.
Near the base of a large live oak on Arrowhead Farms, Buddy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) locates a covey.
Meanwhile back in Michigan, “Scout (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) knows where to spend this brutally cold winter,” writes her owner Jeremy.