Inherited talent and ample exposure to opportunity are crucial elements to a pointing dog’s bird-finding skills. (Northwoods Nickel, CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
“That dog’ll hunt!” exclaimed Bobby, dog trainer on a large Georgia quail plantation, while we were out working puppies last week.
Bobby was referring to the bird-finding ability of his young pointer—a dog that was focused exclusively on finding quail. Bobby has been training bird dogs for more than 20 years and knows what’s essential.
“They’ll all point,” he said, “but give me the one that finds the most.”
Bobby is right. You can’t teach a dog to find birds. You can teach it to heel, come and whoa but if it doesn’t have the inherited talent to search for and to find birds, all you have is a well-trained dog. Those instincts, however, will never be maximized without opportunity—and plenty of it. Even then, some dogs given equal opportunity will be better at finding birds. No one really knows what produces that proficiency. Is it above-average scenting capability, intelligence, ability to focus? Or a combination? Or something else?
The degree of difficulty to finding birds depends on the birds. Non-wild birds such as put-out quail or game farm pheasants are generally easy to find. They usually have little idea of where they are or where to go and so, unknowingly, they become exposed.
Working puppies in groups is a fun, productive way to provide bird-finding opportunities because the puppies learn from each other. (Three females out of CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
Wild birds are the most difficult to find. They know every square foot of their own territory—from exactly where they are to exactly where they’re going. They move a lot during the day—to find food, loaf, dust and avoid predators—and most of that movement is done by walking. Their scent is left on the ground by their feet, droppings and feathers and on plants by brushing against them.
Finding wild birds is easiest when the bird is stationary and the dog hunts by that exact spot. Most of the time, though, the dog smells leftover scent. It learns to follow that little wisp of scent until it becomes progressively stronger, ultimately leading to the location of the bird.
Another experienced plantation dog trainer, Phillip, would agree. A man wanted to sell him a young dog, pointing out conformation, markings and other physical qualities and boasting about all the champions in its pedigree. Phillip wasn’t impressed. Instead, he looked the man straight in the eye and asked, “Yeah, but can it find a bird?”
Desire is another inherited trait that will lead to ample bird finding. (Northwoods Nickel, CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014)
Pro trainer Luke Eisenhart reaches in to take his derby winner Awsum In Motion out of the area after a find.
On a foggy morning in early March, I drove northwest out of our place to Erin’s Covey Pointe plantation near Sale City, Georgia. I was fortunate to have an opportunity to ride along with professional all-age handler Luke Eisenhart during a morning workout.
Luke is a phenomenon. After his first year of competing on the all-age field trial circuit, he was named the 2011-2012 Purina Top All-Age Handler of the Year. He won the next year, too, 2012-2013. In this year’s standings not only does Luke have a substantial lead over second place but he handles two of the top three dogs for the Purina Top Dog Award, Erin’s Wild Justice and Erin’s Kentucky Gambler.
To keep his string in top condition both physically and mentally, Luke combines roading and field work of 30 – 45 minutes on birds. During these workouts, he doesn’t let the dogs range like they do in a trial; rather he keeps them close and concentrates on handling, finding and pointing birds. He runs dogs in pairs and wants each dog to point several coveys and back the bracemate.
Luke Eisenhart walks back to CH True Confidence after the flush and shot on a nice covey find.
On that day, Luke worked pointer champions Erin’s Dog Soldier, Erin’s Wild Justice, Erin’s Full Throttle and True Confidence, along with setters Houston’s Blackjack and derby winner Awsum In Motion.
Like all good handlers I’ve observed, Luke is smooth, confident and soft spoken around his dogs. It can be forgotten that he is working some of the most powerful, driven dogs found anywhere because he makes handling them look easy. Luke is good because he’s passionate about what he does, works hard on a consistent basis, knows what to do and—and just as importantly—knows what not to do. His timing and execution are precise and he knows each dog thoroughly.
Also exciting for me to see was the dogs themselves. Up close, I saw their physical conformation and disposition and, out in the field, I observed their gait, style and performance.
In the truck on the way back to our place, it became crystal clear to me why Luke and his dogs do so much winning.
Northwoods Vixen, age 3 (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer) Dixie, Georgia February 2015 photo by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet
Chris Mathan feels fortunate to be living for at least part of this winter near Thomasville, Georgia, in the southwestern corner of the state and far from the cold and clouds of her native Maine. Not only is the climate more hospitable here but this the heart of bobwhite quail plantation country…and home to hundreds of bird dogs.
Chris runs The Sportsman’s Cabinet where she plies her extraordinary design skills to build websites and other marketing materials. She also has amassed one of the country’s best portfolios of outdoor photographs, focusing on dogs, upland bird hunting and field trials. In partnership with Mazie Davis, Chris founded Strideaway, an online publication dedicated to field trials.
For more than 10 years, Chris has worked with Jerry and me for all our marketing needs. She designed our website and shot all the photographs. In addition, Chris designed and photographed the website for my other business, Dazzle Gardens.
I felt fortunate to chat with Robin Gates and to see CH Shadow Oak Bo up close after the morning’s braces at the 2015 Continental All-Age Championship.
Betsy and I were excited to watch two-time National Champion Shadow Oak Bo compete at the 2015 Continental All-Age Championship held at the Dixie Plantation in northern Florida. Though I had watched him before, I couldn’t miss an opportunity for another look.
Bo is handled by professional Robin Gates and co-owned by Butch Housten and John Dorminy.
Bo, who had just turned nine years of age, hunted the course hard and far, yet handled easily as he hunted from one birdy location to another. He had four finds on coveys, one where the birds were unseen by the judges and two that required relocations.
I was very impressed with Bo’s relocations. Both times, he was on point to the front. After thorough flushing attempts, Robin released the dog and Bo was masterful. He moved positively yet cautiously, exuding confidence that he knew his job. After 40 – 75 yard relocations, Bo pinned the coveys. Robin moved in quickly to flush and the birds were right where Bo indicated. Again, in both instances, the quail flushed from a wide area, indicating they were a feeding, moving group—not the kind that are easy to keep on the ground.
Bo finished his hour well, perhaps not as strong as Robin would have liked and not good enough for a placement but clearly showed us why he’s had such a long, successful career. Interestingly, Bo was being treated for a good-sized abscess on the side of his rib cage due possibly caused by a migrating grass awn.
After the morning’s running, Betsy and I walked to the kennel area. Robin handed Bo a treat as he opened the kennel door. We chatted with Robin who then offered to let us see Bo.
Physically, Bo is a specimen—strong and solid. He is a gentle dog with deep, sensitive eyes that convey intelligence and calmness.
If there is one word to describe Bo’s personality, it is calmness. He was calm on the dog wagon; calm prior to his brace when being outfitted with the Garmin; calm after his brace; and calm while we petted him and chatted with Robin. Most importantly, Bo was calm—yet also composed and intense—on point.
We were happy with everything we observed about Bo. It’s easy to see why he’s so outstanding in field trials. We wish him the best.
“Dam Row” is the first three runs on the south side where Vixen, Chablis and Carly live.
So far, so good.
Dams of three of our five planned litters for 2015 came into season in January. Within two weeks, Northwoods Carly Simon and Northwoods Chablis had been bred and Northwoods Vixen had been surgically inseminated.
Jerry and I can confirm that all three are definitely pregnant. But when we added whelp dates to our Google calendar, we realized we might be a little sleep deprived later in March.
March 17: Northwoods Carly Simon by Northwoods Grits
March 23: Northwoods Chablis by Northwoods Blue Ox
Mach 24: Northwoods Vixen by Rock Acre Blackhawk
Carly, Chablis and Vixen are very healthy and, until March, Jerry will continue a light exercise routine so they stay in good shape.
On this crisp, sunny morning, setters Carly and Chablis enjoy their new chew toys while Vixen, the pointer in the background, prefers the warmth of her house.
The dog handler (in orange vest) flushes as two hunters move into position over a classic point by one of the best in our string, Northwoods Carly Simon (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) during a guided hunt on a private quail plantation.
The adage “Time flies when you’re having fun” could not be truer for our winter in Georgia. Between training puppies and young dogs, conditioning older dogs, guiding foot, jeep and horseback hunts, riding braces at field trials, caring for 28 dogs and two horses and the day-to-day work of running a business, Betsy and I are definitely busy and are definitely having fun.
Due in large part to Matt Moehle who was hired last spring as the property manager, the grounds of the farm we lease are dramatically improved. Matt has burned, mowed, chopped and fed and, as a result, there are twice as many wild coveys. The habitat is excellent for put-out covey survival, too. It is truly exciting to see such progress in just one season.
The English cocker Yoshi has been fun to train for flushing and retrieving. He is all puppy—happy, playful and earnest.
As Betsy wrote in “Training puppies on Georgia bobwhite quail” on January 16, we’ve been working a nice group of puppies. Three litters (two sired by Northwoods Grits to Houston’s Belle’s Choice and I’m Blue ; one by Blue Riptide x Carly Simon) are typical of our dogs—they hunt hard, point and back on their own by six months of age. Mercury, a handsome, strapping male by Parmigiano x Rum Rickey is developing more slowly but shows exciting potential. Our out-crossed puppies by Shadow Oak Bo and Chardonnay have a ton of point, naturally back and move with beautiful, easy gaits.
Also with us is a talented group of derbies (one-and-one-half-year-olds). Three pointers out of Elhew G Force x Vixen, NW Smooch, Audi and Jaguar, and the setter Rolls Royce (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice) are progressing extremely well. Most are steady to wing and shotgun and solid on backs, too. I’ve used them during guided hunts where there is lots of commotion—multiple people flushing and shooting, others watching, horses, mule wagons, jeeps and other dogs. Such experiences do much to make a bullet-proof dog.
During a training session on our farm, NW Smooch (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) points with poise, style and intensity.
It’s been a fun experience to train Yoshi, an English cocker spaniel. Yoshi is a personable, energetic puppy and loves to flush and retrieve quail. I used him on a guided hunt and he did an admirable job.
Again this year I’ve been fortunate to be part of a client’s hunts on private plantations. These hunts are the real deal—all on wild quail—with hunters and dog handlers on horseback and a mule-drawn dog wagon. I’ve handled our client’s dogs and our dogs in braces with plantation dogs and it gives me an ideal comparison. I’m proud to report that all do very well and are only bested by a veteran pointer. Another testament to our dogs’ talent is that many handlers express interest in buying a puppy—even a setter puppy!
Ahniwake Grace (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010) is used exclusively on private quail plantation hunts where she typically out-birds her bracemates.
Our star performers include:
• Jeter and Carly Simon (Shaquille x Choice)
• Ahniwake Grace (Blue Ox x Choice)
• Grits and Axel (Blue Ox x Chablis)
• Merrimac’s Blu Monday (Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle)
Another fun aspect of our winter has been hosting several clients from around the country. Betsy and I give them a tour of our place and, in the evening, invite them to some of our favorite restaurants in Thomasville.
Along the driveway leading to the heart of the Dixie Plantation in Greenville, Florida, a sign reminds everyone to be cautious during the running of the Continental All-Age Championship.
Finally, we rode (me on horseback and Betsy on the dog wagon) several half-days at the prestigious Continental Championship held on the Dixie Plantation.
Handler Luke Eisenhart prepares Houston’s Blackjack for his brace. Tracking collars are permitted but the receiver is held by the judges until after time.
Before the sun had cleared the tall pines early on a crisp Florida morning, CH Shadow Oak Bo was loaded into the dog wagon for his brace, second in the day’s running in the 2015 Continental Open All-Age Championship. He sat in the box, big brown eyes calmly observing all the commotion as the seventh day of the prestigious field trial got underway.
This was familiar territory for Bo. In 2011, he won this trial and in 2012 he was named runner-up champion. Bo also won back-to-back National Championships in 2013 and 2014.
While waiting in the dog box, CH Shadow Oak Bo serenely surveys the scene during a the morning’s running of the Continental All-Age Championship.
At 10:05 a.m., Robin Gates, Bo’s trainer and handler, placed the dog back in dog wagon but not before Bo had three bobwhite covey finds—two on masterful relocations. Gates commented, “He did a good job.”
The Continental Field Trial
The Continental Field Trial Club was formed in 1895 in Chicago so this year marked the 120th. In addition to the all-age competition, an open derby was held. The prestigious trial drew the best amateur and professional trainers/handlers in the country and not merely for bragging rights. The purses were substantial—$15,000 for the all-age champion and $6,000 for the derby winner.
The list of pros was impressive and included, besides Robin Gates and others, Hall-of-Famer Garland Priddy, 2012 top all-age handler Luke Eisenhart and Richie Robertson. Sean Derrig and Gary Lester, top amateurs, had dogs entered. Even Ferrel Miller, owner, trainer and handler of the famous Miller dogs, came to watch.
The entrance sign to the Dixie Plantation on Livingston Road, decorated with drawings of bobwhite quail, pretty much says it all: owned and managed by Tall Timbers and home of the Continental Field Trial.
The Dixie Plantation
The history of the Dixie Plantation is similar to other bobwhite quail plantations in the Red Hills Region, an area rich in natural resources in southwestern Georgia/northwestern Florida. In the early 1900s, wealthy businessmen and their families rode the train from their northern homes as far south as possible…and the tracks ended in Thomasville, Georgia.
Gerald Livingston was the son and heir of Cranston Livingston II, an investor in the Northern Pacific Railway. Livingston and his wife Eleanor lived in New York City where he ran the stock brokerage firm of Livinston & Co. In 1910, Livingston first traveled to the area on a hunting trip and later, in 1926, the couple purchased the first piece of property (7,500 acres) and named it the Dixie Plantation.
The lush cover on the Dixie Plantation can be thick with brambles, broom sedge, wire grass and other plants. The overhead canopy is live oaks draped with Spanish moss and longleaf or loblolly pines.
During the 1930s, Livingston bought additional property and the plantation increased to more than 18,000 acres and straddled the Florida/Georgia line.
The gallery is often large and can get spread out, especially when a dog is on point. Often a handler not in the brace will ride along and road his dogs.
The Continental and the Dixie
The tie between the Continental Field Trial Club and the Dixie Plantation goes back 78 years. Livingston had always been an avid sportsman, hunting with his pointers off horseback. When he was president of the Continental, he first hosted the trial at the Dixie in 1937.
After Livingston died in 1950, his heirs continued running the plantation and continued to host the Continental. In 2013, plantation ownership passed to Tall Timbers Research & Land Conservancy but Livingston’s legacy is still honored. Randy Floyd is President/Treasurer of the club and has run the trial for 18 years. He also works for Tall Timbers at the Dixie Plantation.
Water tanks are placed at strategic locations on the courses. They are of multiple use—horses drink, trial dogs are dunked before their brace and roading dogs plop in to drink and cool off.
The vast piney woods of the Dixie is a true challenge. To win, a dog needs to cover acres of lush, thick cover, show consistently and point multiple coveys of wild quail, all while the handler rides about 75 yards ahead of the judges and sings to his dog. Even the scout’s job is limited to riding to each side, ensuring that the dog isn’t passed by while on point.
The all-age circuit is dominated by pointer males and the Continental was no different. Of the 88 dogs entered, here’s the breakdown.
• pointer males: 66
• pointer females: 12
• setter males: 9
• setter females: 1
Of the many extraordinary champion dogs, Jerry and I were especially excited to see three. We, together with Paul Hauge, our partner in numerous dog ventures, bred Northwoods Chardonnay (owned by Paul) to frozen semen of Shadow Oak Bo. Chardonnay whelped eight and we have four puppies with us for the winter.
Scout Tommy Davis leads Houston’s Blackjack to the breakaway for his brace in the middle of a dry, sunny afternoon.
CH Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008), again bred by Paul, Jerry and me, is now owned by Paul and campaigned on the all-age circuit by Luke Eisenhart. Jack ran in the middle brace on a dry, calm afternoon. At 35 minutes, he had the first find but was picked up because he moved about six inches on the flush. “The birds were right under him,” Luke remarked.
True Confidence, owned by Frank LaNasa and handled by Luke Eisenhart, is held by Luke’s scout, Tommy Davis, just prior to the breakaway.
CH True Confidence (call name Bob) is owned by good friend and partner in our North Dakota camp, Frank LaNasa. Bob is a multiple champion in prairie trials and this winter Frank placed Bob with Luke. On a brisk morning, Bob ran a strong forward race, had a nice limb find and an unproductive in a known covey location.
The Continental usually has a thrilling finish. The main running consists of one-hour braces which are really just qualifying heats. At the discretion of the judges, dogs are called back for one-hour and 50-minute finals. The extremely competent judges this year, Harold Ray and Doug Vaughn, named 12 dogs for the finals. As much as we rooted for “our” dogs—Bo, Jack and Bob—none was in the call back.
By the end of Saturday’s running, Luke’s pointer Erin’s Wild Justice, owned by Allen Linder, was named champion and Miller’s Dialing In, owned and handled by Gary Lester, was runner-up.
Congratulations to Luke, Allen, Gary and their champion dogs!
Not much is more serene than a dam and her puppies. Northwoods Carly Simon earns this rest after whelping eight puppies by Blue Riptide in June 2014.
There must have been something in the air around the holidays here in southwest Georgia. Within days of each other, Northwoods Carly Simon, Chablis and Vixen all came into season.
In other words, Jerry and I have been busy. With the setters, we were pretty sure natural breeding would work fine but Vixen’s was more complicated. When using frozen semen as we were with now-deceased CH Rock Acre Blackhawk, multiple progesterone tests are necessary so the surgery to implant is conducted at the opportune time. The surgery itself is rather minor—about a 20-minute procedure with a small incision in the abdomen and then placement of the now-thawed semen directly into each horn of the uterus via a fine needle.
This pointer litter includes white and either black, liver or orange puppies.
If all goes well, the whelp dates should be about:
• Carly: March 17
• Chablis: March 23
• Vixen: March 24
In April 2013, Northwoods Vixen naps after whelping nine puppies–two males and seven females–by CH Elhew G Force.
Setter litter at two weeks of age sleeps and snuggles in the heating whelping nest.
Jerry and I divided the puppies into two groups—younger and older—and they rotate days in the big puppy exercise pen. This day the young ones got their turn. Handsome male Mercury (Northwoods Parmigiano x Northwoods Rum Rickey) is surrounded by four litter sisters (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay), from left, Nickel, Mocha, Gold and Holly.
The word for this training season in Georgia is “puppies.”
Jerry and I have 11 puppies with us. Five are owned by clients Joe Byers, Paul Hauge and Dave and Rochel Moore; we own the rest. Mercury is the lone male but he’s definitely big enough (43 lbs. at five months) to hold his own.
Against a background of mature and sapling longleaf pines, Jerry and I watched as, separately, littermate sisters Nickel, on left, and Holly (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay) worked and then shared point on a single wild quail.
Here’s the roster:
• P.T. (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer)
• Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice)
• Bonny and Biz (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon)
• Bette and Sky (Northwoods Grits x CH I’m Blue Gert)
• Gold, Holly, Mocha and Nickel (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay)
• Mercury (Northwoods Parmigiano x Northwoods Rum Rickey)
We divided the puppies into two, age-based groups and alternate the exercise and training routines. Every morning, Jerry loads a group into the truck for a short ride to the big exercise pen. At the end of the day, that group also gets an extensive walk.
Littermate sisters look like miniature versions of their parents, Northwoods Grits and CH I’m Blue Gert. On left, Bette (mini Gert) and Sky (mini Grits) share and hold point on a single bobwhite.
In the beginning, the puppies simply learned about everything in the field: how to hunt, where the birds were and how to use their nose. They learned to handle to voice and whistle commands. Later the puppies learn to back and a blank pistol is introduced. Further maturity gains them individual time and/or work with a bracemate in the field with Jerry.
Intermixed with time in the field and exercise pen is yard work. Jerry walks the puppies on a lead, does barrel work and teaches HERE, WHOA and KENNEL.
Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice) is a talented, spirited puppy. She inherited the best of each parent—drive from Grits (thus the Garmin collar) and a swift, graceful gait from Choice.
Perhaps most importantly (and rather than a winter in the frozen north with little stimulation), our puppies get ample exercise, lots of socialization and a steady, busy routine. And Jerry and I love having them with us. No matter how frenetic or discouraging a work day might have been, a puppy walk in the afternoon heals all. It’s rewarding to see each puppy mature in size and strength and to watch the light bulbs in their brains switch on. Too, from our breeder’s perspective, this is a great opportunity to evaluate our 2014 litters.
So maybe in addition to the word “puppies,” I would add that this winter has been a “blast.”
This is puppy training! Bonny (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon) nicely works bobwhite scent while Mercury (Northwoods Parmigiano x Northwoods Rum Rickey), even though he’s seven weeks younger, hasn’t yet figured out much.
Dragging a check cord and wearing an ecollar, seven-month-old P.T. (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer) is now in staunchness training. Jerry flushed several birds out of a Johnny house and P.T. found, pointed and held them.
Littermate sisters Gold, on left, and Mocha (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay) find and share point on a wild covey of bobwhites.
On a recent Saturday at Mays Pond Plantation in northern Florida, Jerry entered his first local field trial, the Georgia-Florida Hunting Dog Invitational Field Trial, and earned his first accolade, an Honorable Mention.
Jerry competed against dog handlers from 17 area quail plantations where pointers dominate the strings. Of the 26 dogs entered, only two were setters and one was Franny, the dog Jerry chose to run.
Franny, a five-year female out of Northwoods Blue Ox x CH Houston’s Belle, inherited some of the best, key traits of her parents. She is a big, strong dog and ran a strong, hunting dog race in the first brace after lunch. She had two covey finds and two backs of her bracemate’s unproductives.