Mocha exhibits the intensity, poise and style of her sire and dam–CH Shadow Oak Bo and Northwoods Chardonnay.
Here is a dog story with a very happy ending.
Mike Kowalski of Helena, Montana, first contacted us last spring. He was in the market for a well-started young dog and, since he was a professional guide, that dog had to be ready to go this fall.
Jerry and Mike stayed in touch all summer. In late August, Mike arranged to travel to Minnesota to see a group of dogs Jerry had picked for him. Mike chose Mocha (Houston’s Cappuccino), a 13-month-old, tri-color female out of CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, a litter we co-bred with Paul Hauge in 2014.
The high plains of Montana are breathtakingly beautiful. And it’s easy to see why it’s called Big Sky Country.
Mike, or Mitch as he is known to most of his clients, operates Skinny Water Anglers, a fly fishing guiding business based out of Helena. In the fall he guides for Pro Outfitters, an Orvis-endorsed wing shooting lodge, also based in Helena.
Mocha faces into the wind and sun and patiently waits while Mike adjusts her collar.
Jerry and I have received several reports from Mike.
Mocha has had an amazing first year in Montana– one of the best bird years that most people can remember. I guided over her 16 days & have hunted her another 8-10 so far.
Mocha is getting lots of work & doing a great job. I have been guiding over her every chance I get.
This is the best bird year I have ever seen in Montana–a great year for Mocha to be here. She is running big & well with all the other dogs & getting her share of points.
We couldn’t be happier. Thanks so much.
We agree. We couldn’t be happier.
The hunter aims at a sharp-tailed grouse pointed by Mocha.
Mocha (in the middle) is definitely part of the Kowalski family of kids and dogs. The pointer on the left is owned by Perk Perkins, CEO of The Orvis Company.
Tradition reigns at New Wood, a grouse camp in Wisconsin. After a bonfire is built in late afternoon, hunters and bird dogs gather around to share their day. Setter female Piper (Blue Ghost x Blue Riptide, 2010), co-owned by Chris Bye and Roberta Scherf, naps on Chris.
“Grouse camp” sure has a nice ring, doesn’t it? One imagines cabins nestled in woods, friends, good meals, bonfires and bird dogs. In north central Wisconsin, a very special grouse camp has evolved over the decades—a place called New Wood.
Jerry and I have known of New Woods for many years. The hunters are clients who have become friends as most have bought English setter puppies and dogs from us.
New Wood was featured recently by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Journal Sentinel, a newspaper in Milwaukee.
As part of their Grouse Camp Tour 2015, RGS filmed at New Wood. Co-owner Chris Bye is featured in the segment Why Camp and Bird Dogs?
In “A great day for hunting in ‘grouse camp,’” Paul A. Smith, Outdoors Editor of the Journal Sentinel, nicely depicts New Wood and captures the bond between hunter and bird dogs.
Northwoods Blackhawk Sage (on left)
CH Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015
1st Pacific Northwest Open Derby, Oregon
Owner: Bill Owen, California
Fall is the ultimate season for bird dog owners whether they choose to hunt in the woods or on the prairies or to compete against the best other owners bring to the line.
Three young dogs bred by Northwoods Bird Dogs won impressively at recent field trials. A seven-month-old pointer male won a derby and a pointer female—as the youngest dog entered—was named champion of the stake. And a two-year-old setter female placed in both open and amateur stakes at a national venue.
Congratulations to these talented dogs and their proud owners!!
Ridge Creek Pied Piper
CH Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013
1st AKC English Setter Nationals, Nebraska, amateur stake
3rd AKC English Setter Nationals, Nebraska, open stake
Owner: Chuck Brandes, Minnesota
Tian Elhew Verbena
CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013
1st American Pointer Club National Amateur Championship, Ohio
Owner: Angela Schillereff, Sauvie Island Kennels, Oregon
Grouse run. Always have; always will.
… for the birds are such inveterate runners that unless they are bunched, running themselves en famille, in some southern nook, there will be no scent-cue wanting when once you have come near them.
~ Arthur Burdette Frost, Shooting Pictures magazine, 1895
More than 100 years later, Frost’s words still ring true. When a ruffed grouse is pursued by a bird dog and a hunter, they will run. They will run and run and run—and rarely in a straight line. In fact, I’ve known them to circle back behind their pursuers. Grouse also combine evasive tactics. They’ll run for a bit, then flush and fly some distance; then land and start running again.
The birds aren’t running randomly. They’re going to places where they’ve escaped pursuers many, many times before.
Running grouse pose a special challenge and provide the ultimate test for a pointing dog. Few have the knowledge, experience and talent to follow a running grouse as far as it takes to ultimately get the bird pointed. These special dogs—perhaps less than 10% of all pointing dogs—don’t just run through the woods looking for a grouse. Instead they are constantly seeking even the vaguest trace of grouse scent, maybe long after the bird moved through the area. Once the dogs get a whiff, they have the ability to determine which way the grouse went, follow until they determine they’re close enough and then pin it.
The expertise necessary to follow a running grouse isn’t acquired in one season. It might take two years, three years or even more. But when the dog finally puts it all together and, more often than not, takes on the king of the woods on the bird’s home turf and outwits it, that is a real grouse dog.
Sky’s first sharptail that she pointed and retrieved. Thanks again for another great dog.
~ Randy, from Minnesota
The day our eight-week-old puppies go to their new owners is bittersweet for Jerry and me. All is forgotten though when we receive joyous messages and photographs showing exactly what we breed for.
Stella’s first sharp-tailed grouse. Who looks happier ??? Great job, Stella Blue. Hunting with all the Northwoods setters in Montana!
~ Laura, from Illinois
Our puppies this year seem exceptionally precocious. Pointers out of Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen and a setter female of Northwoods Carly Simon by Northwoods Grits have already hit the woods and fields. Most impressively, the young dogs have found, pointed and usually retrieved the birds.
Jade on a hot Michian grouse opener. She pointed 5 woodcock and 2 grouse on her first run. She was staunch on all birds and let me flush all of them. She stays with me, almost always naturally forward and seems to have an unbelievable nose. Her bird sense is like nothing I have ever had as a puppy. She is an absolute dream to own in all aspects. Thank you for the chance to own one of your pups.
~ Frank, from Michigan
Walked up, took the picture and flushed a covey of 6 sharptails.
~ Jeff, from 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 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.
Jerry and I wrote this piece for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. (http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/223773411.html ) Even though two years old, the information is still valid and worth re-visiting.
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.
In thick cover on the barrens of northwest Wisconsin, Platinum (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) finds a covey of sharptails.
A lot (and I mean A LOT) of hours are spent training dogs on wild birds during August. Locally, woodcock and sharp-tailed grouse are plentiful while travel to the prairies of the Dakotas give dogs opportunities on both sharptails and pheasants from horseback.
On a misty morning in North Dakota, three pretty females find and point pheasants. On left, Frank LaNasa’s Claire (CH True Confidence x CH Lil Miss Sunshine, 2014), Paul Hauge’s Mocha (CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2014) and Tony Follen’s Lucy (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011).
Training on wild birds takes tremendous effort but there is just no substitute. As friend and training pal Jeff Hintz says, “The difference between planted birds and wild birds is like playing checkers versus chess.”
The woodcock have been plentiful in the pasture edges and Smooch (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) accurately locates a single.
Since it is so much work, we accept a limited number of clients’ dogs to train on wild birds. Setters Grits, Royce and Mocha have made every trip to North Dakota. On local sharptails, I’m fine-tuning the abilities of two-year-old pointer littermates Nutmeg, Smooch and Jaguar.
The beautiful fields of North Dakota are vast and can be a challenge for young dogs. But one-year-old Carbon (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014), on right, shares point with the veteran Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) on a covey of sharptails.
For our own veterans, I sharpen up their staunchness and let them have fun in the woods while conditioning, too. And it’s one of the key ways Betsy and I evaluate young dogs for potential future breeding. Prospects from our 2014 litters—Carbon, Bismuth, Mercury, Nickel and Platinum—are gaining invaluable experience on wild birds.
From a long distance out, littermates Nutmeg, on left, and Jaguar (CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) point a covey of sharp-tailed grouse.
In this case, Northwoods Aerosmith (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) receives only praise–not correction–from his owner Ken Taylor.
Even though Gary Larson retired from The Far Side daily cartoon 20 years ago, I still remember many. With clever drawings and simple prose, he succinctly satirized dogs, cats, cows, bears, doctors, scientists and Neanderthals.
Among my favorites was a two-panel cartoon depicting a man admonishing his dog. The panels had the exact same drawing but different headings and different cartoon bubbles.
What we say to dogs
Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You say out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!
What they hear
blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah…
Larson nailed it. Applying strictly human means and psychology when reprimanding a dog doesn’t work. We need to correct in ways that a dog understands.
A well-behaved dog is a partner that’s a pleasure to hunt over and a wonderful family companion. But for safety reasons too it’s essential that a dog responds to corrections. It behooves an owner to master this skill.
• Be consistent.
• Say the command once and then enforce. You are the leader and must make your dog respond.
• Timing is crucial. The dog needs to know why it’s being corrected. The best time to correct your dog is to anticipate when it’s going to do something wrong or when just starting to do something wrong. Don’t administer correction afterwards—rather wait until the next time.
• Administer the correction with the right attitude. Use a calm, confident, assertive manner. Don’t get angry.
• Use only enough correction to stop the behavior. Don’t over react or lose your temper.
• Voice: We use QUIT. It’s an easy, one-syllable word and when combined with a low, guttural tone of voice, it gets a dog’s attention. NO isn’t recommended for a pointing dog because it’s similar to WHOA.
• Tools: When the dog is close, try a tug on a leash, check cord or pinch collar. When the dog is a distance away, we prefer an ecollar. Even a rolled-up newspaper whacked near the dog will get its attention.
• Physical: Sometimes, this becomes necessary. Grab the dog by the scruff of the neck, look it straight in the eyes and sternly say QUIT. Never strike or kick a dog.
Some final thoughts…
Consider your dog’s temperament and understand there are differences in learning capability. Dogs can be bold and fearless or soft and timid or some can have a difficult combination of headstrong yet submissive.
Ultimately, you must make your dog respond—whatever it takes.
It’s unlawful to reproduce Larson’s panel but click here to see Ginger and her owner again.
Judging by the news and photos we’ve received from puppy owners, summertime and puppies belong together. From Colorado to Massachusetts, Oklahoma to Minnesota and Michigan, puppies are out and about with their owners.
We are both having the best time, and he could not be a better puppy!
Northwoods Blue Skye is sight pointing pigeons and has been demonstrating a natural retrieving instinct. She has adapted well to her new family and has shown to be a very intelligent and affectionate pup.
Bandit is…great fun. He is a wonderful addition to our family.
And owners are eagerly anticipating this first fall in the woods and fields with their puppies.
I can’t wait for the fall with her. So far we are set for 6 states and 9 or 10 different upland birds.