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 just re-posted and it’s worth a listen.
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.
Dogs, handlers, owners, judges and others at the conclusion of a derby stake held by the MGDA in 2012.
Grouse trials for this spring have been scheduled by the three clubs in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Trial enthusiasts should be especially excited for this year’s competition as all events were cancelled last spring due to too much snow. Let’s hope the weather cooperates this year!
Chippewa Valley Grouse Dog Association
Friday, April 4 through Sunday, April 6
Trial is held in the Eau Claire County Forest outside Stanley, Wisconsin. For further information, please contact Brent Sittlow, 952-221-3455.
Minnesota Grouse Dog Association
Friday, April 11 – Sunday, April 13 (one-hour shooting dog stakes)
Friday, April 18 – Saturday, April 19 (half-hour shooting dog stakes)
Trials are held in the Rum River State Forest outside Mora, Minnesota. For further information, please contact Greg Gress, 612-590-2353.
Moose River Grouse Dog Club
Friday, April 25 – Sunday, April 27
Trial is held in the Douglas County Forest outside Danbury, Wisconsin. For further information, please contact Sig Degitz, 715-374-2289.
For directions to each venue, click Directions to Field Trials.
CH Dance Smartly (CH Northern Dancer x CH Vanidestine’s Rail Lady, 1991 – 1999) was our first grouse champion and the beginning of our line of pointers.
Perhaps no other breed of bird dog has had more selective breeding based solely on their performance in the field than pointers. Even so, pointers are also excellent hunting companions and house pets.
In addition to our English setters, Jerry and I always have owned pointers. We’ve bred, trained, competed and lived with them for more than 20 years and are now producing our fifth generation.
Eight of the nine puppies Northwoods Vixen whelped on April 21, 2013, by CH Elhew G Force at seven weeks of age.
In the southern part of the country and in particular where bobwhite quail are sought, pointers far outnumber setters and other bird dogs. But in the north, there is much misinformation and bias against them. New clients, friends and others invariably ask two questions: Don’t they run too big? Do they make good pets?
Don’t they run too big?
This bad rap likely comes from field trial competitions where pointers dominate. Even though setter Shadow Oak Bo won the three-hour National Championship in 2013 and 2014, pointers hugely outnumber setters at the high end of horseback shooting dog and all age competition and have since the early 1900s.
Representing the third generation of pointers, Northwoods Prancer (Dashaway x Fallset Fate, whelped March 22, 2008) points with high head and confidence. Jeff Hintz moves in for the shot. Photo by Chris Mathan.
But our pointers—whether male or female—hunt the cover at the proper distance. On the prairie, they open up but in the grouse woods or southern piney woods, they hunker down. Most importantly, our dogs handle easily and want to go with the hunter.
Do they make good pets?
Absolutely! Our pointers have two speeds—one for the field and one for the house—and they are smart enough to know the difference. Again, whether male or female, they are wonderful pets. Some traits are intangible, some tangible and others are just plain interesting.
Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, whelped April 17, 2011) is a sweet, calm dog in the house and loves to lay in the warmth of the sun.
• sweet natured
• even tempered
• independent but never aloof
• very easy to house-break
• rarely bark (except to guard the house)
• natural tendency to retrieve
• love to lay in the sun, even on a hot summer day
• can seemingly “hold it” for hours on cold, blustery days
• short, stiff hair is shed twice per year and can be difficult to remove from furniture and clothing
Dashaway (CH Brooks Elhew Ranger x CH Dance Smartly, 1997 – 2010) had extraordinary strength, grace, ability and personality. He represents our second generation.
Beautiful, powerful, graceful, cool.
Besides endearing personalities, our pointers have all shared appearance and performance traits in the field and on point.
Our pointers are beautiful with nicely shaped heads and sharp eyes that don’t miss anything. Most are evenly masked. Some have clean white bodies while others are ticked and have body spots.
Their conformation is beautiful, too, and they move with power, strength, flair, grace and agility. On point, they are breath-taking. Posture is lofty, intense, cool and composed. Jerry and I once found Dancer, ankle-deep in snow, 20 minutes after time at a championship in Gladwin, Michigan. Even though shivering, she stood tall and staunch and had that grouse pinned.
Flies have landed on fourth-generation Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, whelped April 17, 2011) but they don’t bother her composure and posture on point.
Our line of pointers.
Jerry and I strive to breed dogs that have it all—talent, brains, personality, conformation and looks. Even though our final decisions are joint and mutually agreed on, Jerry deserves credit for masterminding our breeding program. Through travels for training and field trial competition, he has a vast network of friends in the bird dog world and talks to them often. He studies canine genetics, anatomy and personality and his stack of reading materials always includes bird dog magazines. Plus, he has a photographic memory for pedigrees.
The foundation of our pointers is the Elhew line which was conceived by the late Bob Wehle and practiced for more than 50 years. His goal was to breed a dog that not only performed well in the field but also trained easily, had pleasing conformation and the personality to be good companions. Bob usually stayed within his line but continually looked for outcrosses that “nicked” with his dogs to improve what he had.
We also use Bob’s approach. We stay in our line with its strong Elhew background but constantly look for outside pointers that successfully nick with ours.
Pesto (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, whelped April 21, 2013) is the fifth generation of pointers bred by Northwoods Bird Dogs. She exhibits all the best traits–style, confidence, conformation, intelligence, talent, temperament and looks.
Boreas, the male puppy out of Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, has a big yawn on Day 10.
On the very wintery morning of February 5, Northwoods Chablis (by Northwoods Blue Ox) whelped one male puppy, an evenly masked tri-color with a body spot on his right side. Both dam and puppy are healthy.
To properly commemorate the season and the strength of the little puppy, he is named Boreas after the Greek god of the North Wind.
Dan Stadin, his wife Paula and our good friend Jan are in charge of the care and handling of Chablis and Boreas. Chablis is an excellent dam–attentive, gentle and unflappable. By 10 days, his eyes had opened and, judging by his round tummy, he’s getting plenty to eat.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Chablis and Boreas!
A decades-old electronic training collar left behind by a previous dog trainer. I found it in the office of our Georgia kennel.
That is a frightening-looking unit that seems more suitable for a Frankenstein movie than for dog training.
But that’s exactly what it is—a TX electronic training collar made by Sensitronix in 1969. I found it in the kennel office of our Georgia training grounds.
The first electronic training collars, often called shock collars, were developed in the 1950s. They were big, bulky and unreliable and could deliver only one, hot level of shock. Their primary use was to break bad habits such as chasing off-game but they were also used as a last resort to bring in a run-off. The high voltage could just as easily ruin a dog as fix a problem.
The electronic training collars of today are as different from older models as are the earliest mobile phones from current, sleek Apple and android devices. Commonly called “ecollars” now, they are extremely reliable and much smaller in size. Most provide two types of stimulation—continuous and momentary—and some offer vibration or tone options. Most importantly, the level of stimulation is highly adjustable and can be modified to the dog’s sensitivity and training situation. The lowest levels are imperceptible to most dogs.
Unfortunately, a stigma remains about the use of ecollars. Some people still believe they are cruel and prefer to train the “old-fashioned way.” Well, that quaint way incorporated some brutal treatment: jerking a dog around on a very long check cord, dragging a dog behind a horse to bring it back where it knocked birds, using a flushing whip, throwing objects and/or peppering the dog with rat shot or 9-shot from a shotgun.
Used properly, today’s ecollars are, by far, the safest, most humane and most effective training tool available. They provide the ability to correct a dog the second it makes a mistake with the lowest level of stimulation necessary and the impersonal capability to correct a dog when working at a distance. Too, at a higher level, a dog learns it has control of the ecollar through its behavior.
As with any tool, though, an ecollar is only as good as the person wielding it. The dog must understand what is expected and must be properly introduced to ecollar stimulation. And the person still must learn the basics of dog training before using an ecollar.
On a misty morning in heavy cover of broom sedge and brambles, Jerry discovers Tripp on point. But Tripp’s find wasn’t a covey of quail. Instead, a lone woodcock flushes from the spot.
Veteran grouse dog Blue Shaquille (Houston x Blue Silk, 2004) backs Northwoods Rum Rickey, his daughter by Snyders’s Liz, 2012.
Just off a mowed strip and very near a field edge, Northwoods Guns N’ Roses (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011) is backed by attractive, all-black-headed, aptly named Coal.
The weather in southwest Georgia is usually perfect for bird dog training but this winter brought two brief chilly spells when night temperatures dipped below freezing. Ice forms on a beautiful fountain outside the Brooks County Courthouse.
Jerry and I never tire of this site: lofty native pines on a southwestern Georgia quail plantation.
Northwoods Rolls Royce (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013) points and holds a wild covey of bobwhite quail.
In addition to time in the field, young dogs are trained in the yard. Pesto (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013), who resembles her dam but also exhibits Elhew characteristics inherited from both sides, shows remarkable composure in a training session.
Jerry was fortunate to be invited to several quail plantations to hunt and train. A canopy of venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss is the quintessential entrance.
One morning Jerry loaded Willow, a nice horse he’s been working, into a small trailer and several young dogs, including pointer male Buddy, and headed to a local plantation to train.
Jerry has also traveled to quail plantations for hunts with Sam Gary. Sam moves into position after a find by his black-and-white pointer female Hannah, who’s backed by a plantation dog.
A favorite training session for Jerry and me is to take some dogs out at the end of the day. The temperatures have cooled, birds are plentiful and scenery is outstanding. Basil (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) and our Labrador retriever May pose with Jerry as the sun sets.
Jerry and I are equal opportunity dog owners and usually have three “house” dogs. Shaq, a setter, is descended from our first setter Charlie; Vixen is a great-granddaughter of Dancer, our first pointer. Labrador retrievers are represented, too, by May.
Northwoods Carly Simon points a good distance from a single ruffed grouse in northern Minnesota.
The goal of the breeding program that Betsy and I began 19 years ago has always been to produce the best grouse dogs anywhere. To make our string, a dog—whether English setter or pointer—had to prove that it could find, point and handle ruffed grouse. Further, it had to point not just one bird or two, but grouse after grouse after grouse.
Since our focus was ruffed grouse of the north woods, we didn’t consider southern birds. For the past two winters, though, Betsy and I have lived in southwestern Georgia and have trained on bobwhite quail. During recent hunts on several beautiful quail plantations, we had the opportunity to directly compare our setters and pointers to those used by professional guides. It’s clear (and gratifying) that our dogs do extremely well here on these wild birds.
We think several similarities exist between grouse and quail dogs.
Wild birds in the woods.
Habitat for bobwhite quail in southwest Georgia consists of tall, longleaf and loblolly pines with low-growing shrubby and herbaceous plants. In other words, it’s similar to woods where ruffed grouse live.
In typical bobwhite quail cover, Northwoods Carly Simon points a covey on a southwest Georgia plantation.
A covey of 12 or more quail can be as difficult to find as a single grouse and a dog needs a discerning nose to consistently find them. While bobwhites do allow a dog to get closer, they can be touchy, especially in January and February, about the approach of the dog. A good dog points from a distance.
Desire to find birds under tough conditions.
Grouse dogs are constantly getting hit by sticks, grasses and briars and their feet take a beating from all kinds of debris on the forest floor. Too, early in the season, weather conditions are often warm and dry. Circumstances are similar for quail dogs. A good quail dog must have tenacity and desire to keep hunting when cover and conditions are tough.
Hunting range and pattern.
The wooded habitat for both ruffed grouse and quail is quite uniform and birds can be found anywhere. The key for finding both is coverage, not range. Plantations mow the underbrush in a grid pattern and a dog should hunt these strips in a forward, crisscrossing pattern at an ideal range of 50 – 100 yards.
Early in the season, both ruffed grouse and quail are easier for a dog to handle. By late season, both birds are wily and wary and use every tactic possible to avoid detection—from sitting tight to running away to flushing wild at the approach of the hunting party.
One advantage, though…
Quail do one have one distinct advantage over ruffed grouse when it comes to survival. A ruffed grouse is a loner and relies on its own individual instincts and experience. Since quail are covey birds, they are dependent on each other and usually react as a single unit. Further, the wariest bird enhances the survival of the entire covey.
Jeff writes: Absolutely wonderful day when the sun is shining and you are shooting a 410. Five coveys over Izzie all blank gunned.
For bird hunters who live in the northern half of the country, winter can be bleak. Winds howl, snow piles up and grouse, woodcock, quail and pheasant seasons (except on certain reservation lands in South Dakota) have closed. Hunting clubs, preserves and game farms are open but are still somewhat weather-dependent.
Some friends of ours leave their bird dogs at home and turn to ice fishing. Others hunker down and do their best to survive with mental capacity intact. There is another option, though.
Jeff writes: Mearn’s hunting today on the live oak plains near Nogales. Not as many coveys as Wednesday but very good dog work. Hershey was the dog of the day….had 2 coveys and a single.
Go south. Bird hunting seasons are still open in many southern states. Here’s just a sample.
• Arizona: Gambel’s, Mearn’s and scaled quail seasons open until February 9.
• Georgia: ruffed grouse and bobwhite quail seasons open until February 28.
• Kansas: bobwhite quail, pheasant & prairie chicken open until January 31.
• Louisiana: woodcock season open until January 31; bobwhite quail season open until February 28.
• North Carolina: woodcock season open until January 25.
• Oklahoma: bobwhite quail season open until February 15.
• Texas: bobwhite quail season open until February 23.
Jeff writes: You know you are in great Mearn’s cover when the oaks are recovering from a fire and you hear the drones all day.
Jerry and I can vouch for hunting in most of these states but we retain a special feeling for quail hunting in the deserts of southern Arizona. The warm, sunny days are ideal for outdoor activities. Terrain can be a little tough, though, as cacti abound and the hillsides can be steep and filled with sharp rocks. But three native quail species, Mearn’s, Gambel’s and scaled, are striking to see, generally abundant enough and fun to hunt.
Too, evenings bring stunning sunsets behind the Tuscon Mountain range when all one has to do is decide what’s for dinner—big steaks and beer or authentic Mexican and margaritas.
Jeff writes: Lost Izzie when my Garmin battery went dead. Found her on point deep in a prickly pear patch. Took the picture and shot a bird from the covey.
Thanks to our friend and neighbor Jeff Hintz who shares beautiful photographs from southern Arizona.
Tim Moore, on left, poses third place Elhew G Force while Sedge Surfer, winner of the stake, is on right. Standing behind Surfer and holding the plaque is his owner, Field Trial Hall-of-Famer Bill Perry. Jim Tande is the tall guy wearing a tan hat in the center of the back row.
Georgia is bird dog country and home to some of the finest quail dogs in the nation. A recent amateur shooting dog stake, the Henry Banks Memorial, reflected that high standard. Champions, both open and amateur, and the RU-CH in the National Amateur Shooting Dog Invitational (Heard Hill’s Queen Mary owned by Buck and Lynn Heard), were entered.
It was a privilege and an honor to be invited to judge the stake. The other judge was fellow Minnesotan Jim Tande. Jim is a friend and a former rival from our days on the grouse dog field trial circuit.
This trial was held on Burnt Branch Plantation in Ochlocknee, Georgia, which is owned and generously shared by Eddie and Carole Sholar. There were three beautifully groomed, one-hour courses through classic, piney woods country. The headquarters consisted of roofed eating area, huge fire pit (which was continually tended), bathrooms and plenty of room for trucks, trailers, horses and dogs. Coffee was available all day long and gracious breaks were taken for breakfasts of warm biscuits and hearty lunches.
It was gratifying to see a non-championship event so well attended. At times, 15 rigs were parked and up to 20 people riding in the gallery. Many didn’t have a dog in the stake—they were just out to enjoy the scenery and see good dog work. Something I’ve never seen in the north, a short prayer was said every morning before the first brace.
Pointer male Sedge Surfer (owned by Bill Perry and handled by Tim Moore) won first place. In his hour he pointed six quail coveys and ran a great shooting dog race. Second place was awarded to female pointer Miller’s Calamity Jane (owned by Mike Moses) with five finds on a difficult course. Surfer’s younger brother, Elhew G Force (owned and handled by Tim Moore), placed third with a powerful race and two impressive finds.
On a personal note, it was really fun to judge with Jim and nice for Betsy and me to see again Elhew G Force, sire of our 2013 litter by Northwoods Vixen, and the big, handsome setter male, CH Houston’s Blue Diamond (Houston x Forest Ridge Jewel), owned by Ross Leonard.