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.
Our puppy, Remi (short for Remington), is doing great. She integrated into our home so quickly that it feels like she has always been here. She is awesome with our kids and is quickly becoming their best friend. We could not be happier with her. ~ Dave and Julie, Minnesota
Our first two English setter litters of this year are settling into their new homes and lives.
The 18 puppies—nine out of CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon and nine more out of Northwoods Carly Simon by Sunny Hill Sam—were whelped in Georgia where they had a great start. Jerry and I spent countless hours playing with them on green grass, taking them for walks in the piney woods and introducing them to ponds, crates, stake out chains and travel.
Dixie is amazing!! I took her to Montana with my parents this past weekend and she loved it! Plus she’s super cuddly! ~ Isabel, Colorado
About half the puppies went to families in Minnesota but puppy buyers also hailed from Colorado, Montana, Tennessee, Alabama, New Jersey, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Willow and Rainier are turning out to be the absolute best buds. They play so well together, sleep together, etc. We all love them both soooo much, Spence & Kate have both been coming home weekends now from college just to see them. ~ Gregg and Sherrie, Wisconsin
We pulled in last night at 10. Jenny slept most of the way. She loves to chase blowing leaves and play with the many acorns that are on the drive. She does like to be held and has fallen asleep while I am typing this. Thanks so much. ~ John and Jeri, Michigan
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. hallhall.com
The nine puppies out of Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon are six weeks old. They are eating dry dog food three times per day now and Carbon is only with them to nurse once or twice per day. They are at one of their cutest stages! A highlight of our day is when we bring them out onto the lawn to play until they all fall asleep in a pile.
Meanwhile in the next run, the nine puppies out of Sunny Hill Sam x Northwoods Carly Simon are four weeks old. They are much changed since the last post! They walk all over their kennel run…..and in and out of the house. We started feeding them softened dog food (which they smell as soon as we walk into the run and scamper to the dish) and drink water out of a bowl. Carly is still with them all day and night.
Does it get any prettier than this? Merimac’s Blu Monday (Northwoods Blue Ox x CH Houston’s Belle, 2010) points a covey of bobwhite quail during the last brace of an afternoon hunt.
The experience a dog gains during a winter in Georgia with Betsy and me is hard to duplicate anywhere. For at least four months, excellent weather conditions and plentiful bobwhite quail combine for outstanding training opportunities. These winters are especially beneficial for puppies and young dogs because they get consistent exposure over a long period of time when they are maturing both physically and mentally.
Head high and practically on her tip toes, veteran Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2010) locates a covey on a guided hunt.
Betsy and I brought our own puppies from 2015 litters, setters Fendi, Gucci and Prada and pointer Chanel. All have developed well. They find and point birds and, at least most of the time, back, too.
Maddie, on left, and Chanel point scattered birds of a covey along a mowed strip. They are female littermates out of CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015.
Derbies from 2015 are proving they have what it takes. Bismuth, Nickel, Platinum and Mercury (recently sold) are finishing well on their game.
Some dogs make it look easy. Northwoods Parmigiano (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010) confidently points a covey.
We brought our older dogs as well as several owned by clients and all are veterans to these piney woods. We work them on our grounds and use them on guided hunts. Merimac’s Blu Monday, owned by Ben McKean, is easily a “10” on quail whether on wild or liberated quail hunts. Grits, Chablis, Royce, Sean, Oscar and Vixen round out my guiding string.
What style in motion! Charlie (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) shows off his long, smooth stride. Photo by Ben McKean.
We have other extremely talented client dogs with us. Pointer Maddie (CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015) is here from Maine and setter Remmie made the trip from Minnesota. Charlie (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) is here from Ohio and we also have Grace, Hannah and Jack from Montana. Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) is back for her second winter of training. Sure beats her home state of Illinois!
In good broom sedge cover, Jerry flushes for Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014). Even though not yet two years of age, Roxy runs a mature race, accurately pins birds and is steady to wing and shot.
I miss our own Carly and Carbon on my guiding string but they are busy with puppies. Each whelped litters of nine in late January/early February.
A puppy’s first point is always exciting! Six-month-old Remmie locates a quail in thick cover of a mowed strip.
A pair of eight-year-old bird dogs, setter Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008) and Chris Mathan’s pointer Pal’s Kitty Hawk (Pal’s Maverick x Wynot Kristy, 2008), share point.
Tom Windorski of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, is one of our favorite clients. He’s an upbeat guy with a big heart, ready smile and a twinkle in his eye. He has a very nice family—wife Amanda and daughters Emily and Samantha—and usually an English setter or two. According to Tom, their newest dog might be one of their best. Duke is out of the 2013 breeding (and last) of our successful nick, Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice.
Tom is a passionate hunter of ruffed grouse, woodcock and prairie birds but he also gives back to the sport through, among other ways, woodcock banding. Tom and his bird dogs have spent many springs out in the woods. As he wrote, “It’s a good time and great way to get the dogs, and owners, out in the cover to knock off the winter rust!”
Tom passed along an email from Donna Dustin, Volunteer Woodcock Banding Coordinator, with information for both new and returning banders.
“Hello Woodcock Banders!
“What better way to spend a snowy, windy Sunday than to dream about spring in the woods! I’m looking forward to our Banding Program this year and I hope that many of you will be a part of it.
“We will be having another Woodcock Banders’ Training Session at Pineridge Grouse Camp in Remer (Minnesota) on May 13-15, 2016. The format will be similar to past years, with a few new things planned, including banding some captive birds so that everyone will be guaranteed the chance to handle birds and apply bands, even if they aren’t actual woodcock.
“Please contact Jerry Havel (218-301-6083 or ) to make arrangements for attending this fun and educational weekend. Experienced banders are encouraged to attend along with new folks. If you are a new bander we will train you and certify your dog as steady to wing and ready for banding.
“Even if you aren’t sure whether you or your dog are ready, it is still worthwhile for both of you to come to this training. You will get the opportunity to search for and band birds with experienced banding teams. This experience is required before you can be issued a permit, and it will be very helpful to you as you finish your own dog’s training. It is also a great opportunity to get training advice and help from some very skilled dog trainers.”
Northwoods Carbon’s nine puppies by CH Shadow Oak Bo almost fill their heated nest at two weeks of age.
Somewhat like lambing season in the English countryside, two of our dams whelped litters during dank hours on bitter nights. Jerry and I were bundled up in boots, hats and plenty of down to assist as necessary.
Northwoods Carbon was first. She whelped six females and three males on January 26. The sire of this litter is CH Shadow Oak Bo.
Nine puppies out of Sunnyhill Sam x Northwoods Carly Simon nestle together under the reddish glow of a heat lamp on their first day.
Not to be outdone, Northwoods Carly Simon whelped her nine puppies—two females and seven males—on February 8. Sunnyhill Sam sired this litter.
Amazing how quickly the litters grow and mature. All of Carbon’s puppies now have opened their eyes.
What can one say when a beloved dog has died? Sometimes, bereft and numb, there is nothing at all to say. At other times, words tumble out as memories of a long, happy life together are recalled.
For what strikes me most is, simply, that May and I shared our lives in so many ways. We spent every day together. My career allowed me to work at home and home is where May always lived. She was never a kennel dog.
May and I had much in common. We both loved the water and swimming. Both of us loved our ritual of daily walks and we loved to eat. And we both loved our work as part of Northwoods Bird Dogs.
May loved the grouse woods of northern Minnesota and occasionally out-birded our bird dogs.
May was a black Labrador retriever Jerry and I bought from Dennis and Janice Anderson, owners of BritishLabradors in Houlton, Wisconsin. We had been on their reservation list for a couple years, waiting for a female out of their premier sire, Conneywarren Jason. Jason had a classic blocky head, bright brown eyes, thick glossy coat and the temperament Anderson’s dogs are known for.
It was worth the wait. On that summer afternoon when we picked up our eight-week-old-puppy, it was love at first sight for me.
May was athletic and always seemed to be in shape no matter the season. She was a strong runner with a long, smooth stride and could outpace—at least for a short distance—all our pointers and setters.
She was easily trained and in no time had the basic obedience commands down. She was an excellent retriever, too, although in a very ladylike manner. May never charged into the water, splashing anything within reach. Rather she gently waded in and then swam calmly to the dummy.
May loved chew toys and the bigger the better. She snuffled in the pot where I stored the dog toys and proudly came up with one or even two rawhides or Nylabones. Her teeth were always shiny white.
May got along with all dogs—whether our dogs or dogs in for training and no matter the age, ability or sex. She lived in the house with many of our best including setters Blue Streak, Blue Silk and Blue Shaquille and pointers Dasher, Prancer and Vixen.
May traveled everywhere with Jerry and me. Whether it was vacations in southern Arizona or guiding responsibilities in northern Minnesota, May was with us. When we moved south during the winter months first to Oklahoma and Tennessee and now in Georgia, May always made the cut.
The best brace of the day is always the last one. On a Georgia quail plantation, Jerry and I ran May with a favorite pointer Basil (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013).
Because of our business, May spent her field time with bird dogs. Jerry and I braced her with all ages and abilities. A very proud day for me occurred during one of those training runs on a good trail in northern Minnesota. May out-birded 2X CH/4X RU-CH Houston’s Belle.
On a “gang run,” May leads puppies Roy, Snickers and Axel (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) into a pond.
May also had an important responsibility in “gang runs” of puppies when she and I headed into the pasture with a group of puppies for a training walk. The puppies followed May like she was the Pied Piper. When I sang to turn May, all puppies turned. When May stopped at ponds to drink and swim, all puppies stopped, too. The puppies easily learned running to the font, handling to voice commands, dealing with heat and thirst and navigating terrain of woods and fields.
May had an extraordinary debut as a retriever on a duck hunt in 2014. Jerry took photos and wrote about it for a blog post on January 8, 2014.
May died on January 12. She suffered one seizure in October and then a series of them just before Christmas due, most likely, to a brain tumor. Our vet put prescribed Phenobarbital and we had some rough days carrying her in and out. She had slowly regained her former strength and personality as her body adjusted to the drug. But early on that Tuesday she had several small seizures in a row that more medications couldn’t help. Even though she could recognize her name and me, she wasn’t there and clearly it was time to let her go.
I know May had a long, happy life but I miss her every single second. I just can’t shake the feeling that I should see her first thing every morning and last thing at night. And the world’s just not right without her.
A typical scene after a day in the grouse woods at New Wood, a hunting camp in northern Wisconsin: Chris Bye and his setter Piper.
When the Ruffed Grouse Society and the American Woodcock Society cast their Grouse Camp Tours 2015, better stars than Mark Fouts and Chris Bye couldn’t have been chosen.
Mark and Chris are not only passionate bird hunters but both are intelligent, thoughtful and well-spoken. (In fact, they are so entertaining and loquacious that Jerry and I could listen to their stories for hours.)
A joint venture of the sister RGS and AWS organizations, Grouse Camp Tours 2015 is a series of videos the staffs undertook to “celebrate habitat, membership and the grouse/woodcock hunting experience,” according to the website. (http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/) Crews traveled to various venues last October and captured the action and conversations on video.
Jerry and I are especially proud of the featured dogs. Mark and Chris are not only friends but clients of ours and have bought many dogs from us over the years. Currently, Mark owns three pointers and Chris owns two setters with another puppy reserved.
Recently extended versions of each video were released. Mark and Chris are featured in Day 3 and Day 4, respectively. For winter-weary hunters, the scenes in the woods with dogs pointing and birds flushing might be a much-needed balm.
Mark Fouts and his three pointer females: Prancer, Jordy and Timber.
Grouse Camp Tour Redux – Day 3
The focus of this video is the new hunter mentor program under the guidance of Mark.
Mark Fouts, RGS Director of Member Relations & Outreach
Tucker & Wyatt Johnson and their father Greg Johnson
Nick Larson, RGS Regional Director (Minnesota & Washington)
Matt Sorberg, RGS Editor & Director of Communication
Prancer (Dashaway x Fallset Fate, 2008)
Timber (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011)
Jordy (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014)
Grouse Camp Tour Redux – Day 4
Chris Bye and his father Chuck own a cabin in the middle of prime grouse country in northern Wisconsin. Over the years, the property’s primary purpose morphed into a grouse camp beloved by a steadfast group of friends and their English setters. Among other insights, Chris explains the extraordinary camaraderie between hunting friends and their dogs.
Nick Larson, RGS Regional Director (Minnesota & Washington)
Dog Stars Roy (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012)
Piper (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010)
Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014)
Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014)
Kally (CH Can’t Go Wrong x Cold Creek Pearl, 2011)
Northwoods Blue Ox (CH Peace Dale Duke x Blue Silk, 2007) has always been a soft-mouthed, natural retriever.
Grouse populations might be up or might be down but no matter where we are in the cycle and since there are only so many autumns in a life time, October finds me in the woods. And 2015 will go down as another good year.
What a beautiful sight……and the Holland & Holland is nice, too.
In early October, I load up our string of veteran grouse dogs and young dogs and head to Bowen Lodge, northwest of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on Lake Winnibigoshish. I’ve been guiding for Bill and Gail Heig for almost 20 years and spend most of the month with them. Even on a day off from guiding grouse hunters, I still walk tote roads and slosh through bogs while training our young dogs.
Jim DePolo is justifiably proud when he finds his four-year-old Morris (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011) on point.
Bill and I were disappointed in the grouse numbers. We expected an uptick based on good spring drumming counts but reproduction did not follow. We flushed about the same number of grouse per hour as in 2014—which continues as the lowest number since the peak in 2010. We had better dog work on the birds we found and shot more than last year.
Northwoods Carly Simon (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) receives well-deserved pets from Ben Johnson and his son Seth after a warm morning in the woods.
As in 2014, we had another big year for woodcock flushes. Fortunately, woodcock keeps guiding clients happy during a slow day for grouse.
Some dogs–like Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011)–have a natural affinity to find ruffed grouse. This gnarly, nasty cover screams grouse.
As for the dogs, it was a good year, too. Four-year-old Northwoods Vixen put it all together this fall. She pointed and handled grouse as proficiently and stylishly as any. No matter time of day when—or hunting spot where—I ran veterans Ox and Carly, both were, as usual, simply outstanding. Young sisters Carbon and Bismuth and pointer Platinum advanced and by the end of the season, all handled grouse like mature dogs. While not as far along, one-year-old Nickel and Mercury still found lots of birds and pointed many.
It’s hard to beat an afternoon like this in autumn–two happy hunters Ken Taylor (on left) and Jim DePolo, their handsome setters Tyler (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) and Morris (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011) and evidence of some good shooting.
My time at Bowen Lodge is special. The dogs and the birds are instrumental but it’s the clients, too. Most have been with us for those 20 years and now are friends. In fact, I can’t wait to see them all again in 2016.