The play story in the Outdoors Weekend section of today’s Star Tribune, “For the love of bird dogs,” features Northwoods Bird Dogs. Outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson wrote the piece after he visited the kennel and hunted over Shaq and Oscar last week. He also shot the photographs.
Dennis has written about Jerry twice before but those articles centered on training and developing pointing dogs. This time he focused on the background of our business and the significance of our breeding program.
Dennis is an excellent writer no matter whether he’s taking on tough conservation issues or reporting on a fishing trip to a northern lake. I’ve always especially liked his pieces that are essay-like in style and cover subjects not necessarily outdoors-oriented.
In the final paragraphs when Jerry releases Oscar from a grouse point, Dennis perfectly captures the desire of our dogs to find and point birds: “Racing ahead, and quickly up to speed, Oscar was intent on finding still another bird. It’s what he lives for.”
The main photo by Dennis is good, too. Shaq is as fine a bird dog as we’ve owned and Dennis caught the handsome head and breath-taking composure on point.
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.
Northwoods Jaguar, on left, and Buddy, littermate brothers by CH Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013. Photo taken July 14, 2014, Duxbury, Minnesota, by Jerry Kolter.
Most of the dogs we sell are as much beloved pets as stalwarts in the woods and fields. Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) is large for a lap dog but manages to get plenty of attention from Chris Senkler.
Even though Jerry and I focus on breeding bird dogs used in the pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock, families who buy dogs from us hunt other birds. In fact, September found many hunters and their dogs heading west to the prairies of North Dakota and Montana. (First group of photographs.)
September is still a busy training month for Jerry and Dan…..and there’s almost no place they’d rather be than out in the woods and fields training bird dogs.
The CH Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay puppies and three neighbors out of Northwoods Rum Rickey by Northwoods Parmigiano watch kennel activities.
Then, of course, I must include photographs of puppies. Our two August-born litters are coming of age and ready to go to their new owners. The last group of photographs is from buyers of 2014 litters. These puppies are getting plenty of play time with their new families and their first introductions to birds and hunting.
Jack (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate, 2013) after a long Sunday, with the afternoon’s work on the tailgate!
~ Barry Frieler
This was Finn’s (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2014) first-ever pointed wild bird – cold, wet and windy in endless native grasses 5 miles from the northeastern corner of Montana. It was a short point; but an excellent find and retrieve right to hand. PRICELESS!
~ Todd Wiedmann
Look who I ran into out in Montana!
~ Joe Montgomery (on right) owner of Buddy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013), on finding another long-time friend/client of ours, A. G. Murray, Jr., from Oklahoma, who is now on the fourth NBD-bred setter.
Piper (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010, on right) still ranged, but was in control and purposeful and she was the same bird-finding machine she is in the grouse woods. Roy (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) is an extremely good “warm weather” dog, and everyone who hunted behind him wanted him or a puppy from him.
~ Chris Bye
What a pretty sight! Jerry often braces two dogs together because it offers many training opportunities. Occasionally, he runs three dogs, especially when one is experienced. Morris (Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011), on left, has a beautiful find on a wild covey of sharptails. Veteran setter Choice (Gusty Blue x Houston’s Belle, 2005) and derby Smooch (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) honor Morris’ point.
From the age of eight weeks, we put puppies on the training barrel for initial lessons in whoa training. Five-month-old Northwoods Platinum (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) shows extraordinary poise and composure.
During one of those perfect mornings to be running dogs on the prairie, Frank LaNasa flushes for his multiple champion Homemade (on right), who is backed by Lucy (Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011).
Franny (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle, 2010), on left, and Gus (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011) score a divided find on sharp-tailed grouse in a scrub oak patch on the barrens.
I took Frisco (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) out for her first walk in the wild last weekend. We found grouse immediately and she got her first taste of feathers. She was not going to give up the grouse and ran around showing off with a lot of pride. So let the training begin….which will be all fun!
~ Rick Buchholz
We took Ellie (Northwoods Grits x I’m Blue Gert, 2014) for a walk at the club today and she backed Betty…..pointing what turned out to be a covey of 20 chukkar that must have been released last week. When they flushed Ellie went charging in the woods and was pretty amped up on the scent.
~ Tom Beauchamp
Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) continues to do well… everyone who meets him comments that 1) his name is very fitting; 2) he is so nice and sweet and calm; 3) he’s soo soft!!
~ Kjellrun Olson
Boatswain (Blue Riptide x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2014) is doing great, doing just what puppies should—tearing up anything he can get his mouth around, and exploring and learning lots everyday! He seems to be a natural retriever, because he is always carrying something around in his mouth and loves to come show it off.
~ Ben Whitten
Roxy (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) has been an outstanding addition to our family. She is full of life and our children absolutely love her.
~ Joe Byers
The very first covey of three grouse we ran into, Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014) clearly indicated he scented birds. He was very excited and attempting to bust through some very thick cover on his own…I know he’s still very young and I just want him to have fun out there, which he did.
~ Nick Larson
Snix (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2012) is owned by Bart Salisbury. Bart wrote: “The woodcock was about 15’ off the end of his nose. I could see it walking away from him under the bracken ferns.” Photo taken September 21, 2014, near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, by Bart Salisbury.
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 be 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.
A tri-color female puppy out of Northwoods Chardonnayby by Shadow Oak Bo looks strikingly like her dam.
The kennel at Northwoods Bird Dogs is gradually clearing out of puppies. The three females out of CH I’m Blue Gert by Northwoods Grits went to their new homes in early September. That leaves the five-week-old Northwoods Parmigiano x Northwoods Rum Rickey litter and, in the next kennel run, the almost six-week-old puppies out of Northwoods Chardonnay x CH Shadow Oak Bo.
Even though the puppies out of Northwoods Rum Rickey by Northwoods Parmigiano are younger than the Bo x Chardonnay litter by five days, these four don’t miss many feedings.
Rochel and Dave Moore, owners of CH I’m Blue Gert, were extremely diligent. They never missed a weekend to visit and spend time with Gert and her three female puppies. They now have their hands full with their two picks.
The Beauchamps made a quick trip from their home in Indiana to pick up their Northwoods Grits x I’m Blue Gert female. In keeping with our naming theme of the periodic table of the elements, the puppy’s registered name will be Northwoods Iron Maiden.
Seven of the eight puppies in the Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay litter settle in for a post-feeding nap.
(Jerry and I wrote this piece for the StarTribune, September 15, 2013. http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/223773411.html )
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.
CH Houston’s Blackjack (CH Can’t Go Wrong x CH Houston’s Belle, 2008). Photo by Ben McKean.
CH Houston’s Blackjack was recently acquired by Dr. Paul Hauge from Jack’s co-owners, Frank LaNasa and Leroy Peterson. Jack is a six-year-old setter male out of Paul’s 2X CH/4X RU-CH Houston’s Belle by CH/RU-CH Can’t Go Wrong, so it’s a very cool and fitting purchase.
Frank handled Jack on the horseback shooting dog circuit and earned placements in many trials, including a championship and runner-up championship.
Paul placed Jack with Luke Eisenhart, a professional handler in all-age horseback field trials. Luke is one of the best and was the Purina Top All-Age Handler in both 2012 and 2013. Luke will enter Jack in wild bird trials in the Dakotas, in addition to quail trials in the southeast.
The all-age circuit is the highest level and most demanding of pointing dog field trials. It takes a special dog to to compete with the likes of two-time National Champion, Shadow Oak Bo, a setter, and many, many winning pointers.
Good luck to Jack, Paul and Luke!
An accurate location by the young pointer Pesto and a proper flush and good shot by hunter Mike Powers will result in this happy scene.
Flushing grouse and woodcock in front of a pointing dog might seem like a simple concept. It can make the difference, though, between a bird in the bag and an empty shot shell. In more than 17 years of guiding ruffed grouse and woodcock hunters across the northern Great Lakes region, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Some mistakes I attribute to excitement; others are downright comical; and most are merely naïve.
Here are some tips on how to properly flush for grouse and woodcock over a pointing dog.
Grouse or woodcock.
First of all, try to determine which bird is being pointed. Woodcock tend to be closer to the dog while ruffed grouse are usually farther away. Of course, if it’s late in the season and the woodcock have migrated, the bird is a grouse.
Read the dog.
Most dogs will convey bird and bird location by its intensity and body posture. A really intense posture combined with a lowered head and/or body means the bird is right in front and, therefore, likely a woodcock. A dog that stands taller with a higher head and is more relaxed on point indicates the bird is off a distance and likely a grouse. When the dog is twisted due to a sudden point, that means the bird is close and could be either a grouse or woodcock. If a dog is moving its head or looking around or if the tail is ticking, it doesn’t have the bird accurately located.
Assess the cover.
Look at the vegetation. Young aspen cuts with scattered woodcock splash would be a good indicator for woodcock. On the other hand, a 20-year-old aspen stand with deadfalls and thick, grassy edges is more likely grouse cover. If you’ve found woodcock or grouse in the surrounding cover, that can be a good clue, but not always.
Two hunters pass the backing dog and move into position to flush for the lead dog in good-looking grouse cover.
Flush the bird.
Ideally, two hunters should position themselves a few yards on either side of the dog and steadily walk forward in unison, looking for likely places a bird will sit, until about 10 – 15 yards in front of the dog. Be prepared when stopping as this often causes a bird to flush.
If a woodcock is suspected, you can go back and flush more thoroughly in front of the dog. Some woodcock will sit very tight and be difficult to flush. (See video below for how not to flush the bird.)
Also, flush beside or behind the dog. Discern wind direction and flush upwind of the dog. And even if the dog is pointing on one side of a trail, flush on the other side. Finally, look up into the trees.
• Never walk up closely beside the dog as this might break its concentration and encourage it to move. (See video below for walking up closely beside the dog.)
• Never walk a few feet in front of the dog and stop. The dog isn’t going to flush the bird. Keep walking to flush the bird.
Be ready for a second bird.
If one bird flushes—whether grouse or woodcock—always be prepared for another flush. If you do shoot, reload immediately. Many times I have watched a hunter shoot both barrels, only to stand with an empty gun while another bird flushes within range.