The National Grouse & Woodcock Hunt (NGWH), put on by the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS), is a big deal. This year, the 35th, began on Tuesday, October 11, and ran for four days. Part get-together/part fund-raiser, it is headquartered at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
In addition to plenty of good food, camaraderie and the opportunity to support a worthy organization, NGWH is bird hunter heaven. There is a sporting clays competition, shooting lessons, trap demonstrations and two days of guided hunting competition in the woods of Itasca County.
Jerry and I felt honored to be asked by RGS Director of Member Relations and Outreach Mark Fouts to put on a dog demonstration. So last Wednesday, October 12, we found ourselves at the Grand Rapids Gun Club where the RGS hosted its Outdoor Festival.
Jerry and I brought three dogs that hopefully would behave well and not embarrass us too much: Northwoods Carly Simon, above on left, pointer Northwoods Platinum and Northwoods Nirvana. Nirvana demanded some attention but the most difficult aspect was the tough conditions—really cold and windy.
The most important command for a bird dog is WHOA and very often misunderstood and misused. Jerry spent quite a bit of time explaining how we train and then demonstrated on Platinum. Luckily, she was perfect!
A highlight for us was seeing so many friends and clients. Amazing how small the bird dog world is…but also heartening that it is filled with talented, fascinating, committed hunters and dog lovers from all over the country.
We know many people involved with RGS and the NGWH. It was fun for us to see Andy Duffy and Boo, his eight-month-old setter male puppy out of our Carly Simon and Sunny Hill Sam. We last saw them in April when Andy pulled out of our driveway in Georgia with tiny Boo on his lap.
Many thanks to Mark and the crew of the NGWH for hosting such an outstanding event.
An accurate location by the young pointer Penny (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2013) 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 20 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.
Two hunters pass the backing dog and move into position to flush for the lead dog in good-looking grouse cover.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What not do do.
• 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.
• Never walk up closely beside the dog as this might break its concentration and encourage it to move.
Nick Larson could hardly wait to get his three-month-old setter puppy, Hartley (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014), into the woods.
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.
To begin, this fall is all about fun. There should be no pressure on dog or hunter. Instead, it’s a time for exposure and gaining experience. Too, let this season be for the puppy. You’ll have many years and shots at plenty of birds over the course of your dog’s life.
Here are some tips to get most out of this autumn.
Hunt as much as possible. The goal for this first year is simply to let your puppy hunt for and find grouse—and as many as possible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t point many; that will come with repeated exposure, maturity and training.
Most of what a dog needs to know about is learned from the birds themselves. Your puppy will learn where grouse live and what they smell like. It will learn how close it can get before the bird flushes, that it can’t catch the bird and how to follow running birds.
The only caveat? Shoot birds that are pointed but let the rest fly away.
At five months of age, Izzie (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) was finding and pointing plenty of birds for owner Jeff Hintz. Photo by Chris Mathan.
Allow your puppy to learn by experience. Let your puppy figure things out at its own rate, by itself and to learn by consequences. As long as a situation isn’t dangerous to the puppy, leave it alone. This is the best way for it to develop good thinking skills. By over-protecting and over-controlling, we’re basically training the puppy not to use its brain.
In other words, keep your mouth shut in the woods. Over-handling—too much calling and whistling or constant encouragement—can distract and confuse the dog.
Be patient. Developing an experienced grouse dog will take several seasons and your puppy has a lot to learn. Expect it to make mistakes — flush birds, chase rabbits and other indiscretions—this first year. Also, consider its mental limitations and relatively short attention span and remember that, at this age, your young dog has far more energy than knowledge.
Be realistic about your young dog’s physical limitations. Don’t overwork it. Several shorter hunts are better than one long outing.
Be careful when hunting over another dog and your puppy. While there can be advantages to bracing your puppy with an older, experienced dog, don’t overdo it. Your puppy needs time alone, too. Don’t let it get intimated by a larger or dominant dog.
Some parts of this post are taken from a piece Betsy and I wrote for the September 15, 2013, issue of Minneapolis-based StarTribune. http://www.startribune.com/a-hunting-dog-s-first-grouse-season-is-vital/223773411/
Serious beggars! Rose continues to teach Stella all the tricks!
~ Laura, Illinois, owner of Rose (Blue Riptide x Blue Ghost, 2010), on left, and Stella (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2015)
Business email inboxes and message queues are often full of boring stuff. But Jerry and I are always eager to read correspondence from a client who has bought a puppy or an older dog, especially if photos are included.
It appears that our dogs—whether setters or pointers—have some things in common. They are “outstanding” in the field. They like the water and will endlessly retrieve Frisbees or dummies. They seem to have an affinity to the females in their households and some are savvy about finagling a comfortable spot to rest.
Nothing makes us happier as breeders than knowing our progeny are living happy lives with loving families. Many thanks to our wonderful clients!
As Zada approaches three years old, I would like to thank you again for an outstanding bird dog. She has the great fortune of living in eastern Montana…hunting 90+ days every season. Pictured here with my son, Tommy and a hun.
~ Tom, Montana, owner of Zada (Ridge Creek Cody x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2013)
Woodland’s Blue Hunter turned 16 today. He was the best hunting dog I’ve had, never a false point, always brought back what I shot (even when I didn’t know it) and didn’t miss many birds in the woods.
~ Tom, Wisconsin, owner of Hunter (Blue Chief x Woodland’s Mohawk Daisy, 2000)
So proud of Emma. Shot 4 sharptails over her points ….she retrieved 2 perfectly but wasn’t too interested in the others…But, so happy with her overall…runs big but not over the horizon …she relocated 4-5 times on a running bird but I kept up with her and she finally locked her down…up she went…bam…down she went. Just love her to death. THANK YOU for providing me such a magnificent hunting buddy!!!
~ Howard, Montana, owner of Emma (Northwoods Grits x Northwoods Carly Simon, 2015)
Jenny loves to retrieve in the water. She just won’t quit. She does well without the pfd…..just getting her used to it so she can ride around on East Bay in our boat. She’s very smart. Picks up stuff very quickly…heel, whoa, come. She has a nice fast pattern in the woods. Looks me up and stays to the front. Totally ignores the 209 primer pistol. She is more than ready for birds.
~ John, Michigan, owner of Jenny (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
We cannot express how happy and in love with this dog our entire family is and how happy we are that we found you and Jerry to get our dog from. My wife and I joke that Remi is the “hub” of our family. She literally has a different relationship with each of us (my daughter, son, wife, and I). We took Remi to my parents’ house, about an hour north of Traverse City, Michigan, right on Lake Michigan.
~ Dave, Minnesota, owner of Remi (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
John and I ran Dixie out at a state park on Saturday with her new ecollar! She did amazingly well! The area was covered with cactus and it didn’t slow her down at all! She was a tough cookie! She handled very easily and often responded to a whistle or call without the need to correct or beep her on the collar. She learned to swim in the reservoir after the hike and then rode around in a kayak with me for about 45 minutes!
~ Isabel, Texas, owner of Dixie (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
Elmer turned two this summer and he is still as sweet as can be. Besides hunting, he loves to fetch the frisbee (not balls though). Besides the fact that he is the world’s messiest water drinker, he is truly an amazing dog and we love having him as part of our family. Just last weekend my son (6 yrs. old) was feeling sad and he was sitting on the front step. Two minutes later he was giggling and smiling because Elmer showed up and was giving him kisses.
~ Kjellrun (below), Illinois, owner of Elmer (Northwoods Grits x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2014)
Timber and Huxley make a handsome pair of Northwoods Pointers!
~ Brandon, Minnesota, owner of Huxley (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016), on left, with co-worker Keith’s Timber (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Prancer, 2014) and Keith’s daughters.
Riley did great on the drive home and is doing very well acclimating to her new environment. She feels very much at home and loved. She is soooo sweet. Thank you for this wonderful addition to our family.
~ Maureen, New Jersey, owner of Riley (Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Carbon, 2016)
Jade continues to make me laugh on a daily basis. She knows that she is not allowed on the furniture, but refuses to chew a bone anywhere other than this couch cushion. She will not step on another piece of furniture, only this piece when she gets a bone. She is downright hysterical. Thank you for such an amazing dog, and we have another huge season planned.
~ Frank, Michigan, owner of Jade (Rock Acre Blackhawk x Northwoods Vixen, 2015)
Pointers are not allowed on the furniture at our house—little dogs yes, but not bird dogs. So Murphy pulled the cushion off…
~ Tony, Minnesota, owner of Murphy (Elhew G Force x Northwoods Vixen, 2016)
Callie, on left, and Blitzen share point on a bobwhite that landed in the willows.
Starting puppies on birds is right at the top of our list as a fun part of our work. And it’s something Betsy and I believe in beginning when they are quite young. Puppies at three to four months of age are much easier to start than eight-month-old pups.
When we work puppies on birds, we head out into the pasture to one of our four recall houses. The pups watch as I flush a good number of quail from the house and, then excitedly, they are off. They chase the quail wherever they fly—into the woods, alders or willows.
These bobwhite quail act much as wild birds do and hit the ground running. Puppies learn to use their nose to follow the scent until they come upon the bird. When they find it they might point briefly or just jump in and flush it. Either way they then chase the bird with our high praise echoing in their ears.
Murphy displays remarkable poise, intensity and style on one of his first puppy points.
Betsy and I never flush the birds. Instead we let the puppies point until they move in. From this, puppies learn when they have the bird, and importantly, when they don’t.
A key part of this whole exercise is that we don’t interfere or make any effort to restrain the pups. We do loudly praise the puppies when they flush a bird and will call or sing to direct them a bit. We think it’s crucial, at this time anyway, for puppies to learn—to find the bird, point it and then flush it—all on their own.
All puppies pictured above and below are 12 – 14 weeks old and all are pointers out of Northwoods Vixen by Elhew G Force.
Pearl pointed her first wild birds today. One grouse and two woodcock. I was walking along and looked down at my gps to see where my older dog was and when I looked up, Pearl was on point about 30 feet in front of me with a 12- o’clock tail and a high head. I walked in and flushed a woodcock about 10 feet in front of her. She then proceeded to point a grouse and another woodcock before I decided it was enough for one day and carried her out.
~ Caleb, Minnesota, August 14
Our puppy is doing very well and healthy. We named him Bandit. He is very birdy and outgoing. I’ve started his puppy program and he is already learning the fetch command. He loves getting around the quail pen and tries to break in every chance he gets. LOL
~ Tim, Florida, August 17
Coop is coming along great. He’s had some clipped wing pigeons and I’ve started him with the cap gun—no problems there at all. His prey drive is off the chart. I have him standing still on the bench. Also been working on recall with check cord.
~ Tim, Massachusetts, August 16
Photo by Chris Mathan
I knew when she was a pup that she was special. One of the best and nicest bird dogs I ever owned.
~ Paul Hauge
Even though Paul Hauge and Jerry conceived the idea together, Paul deserves all the credit. He bred Houston’s Belle’s Choice, daughter of his multiple grouse champion Houston’s Belle, to Blue Shaquille. Paul then hand-picked four—two males and two females—for us to buy, raise and train.
One of those puppies was a female we named Northwoods Chardonnay, call name Lucy.
Lucy was a tremendous bird finder whether in the grouse woods, the Georgia piney woods or on the prairies—but that wasn’t her greatest gift. Lucy’s gift was her style. She had unusual loftiness both in motion and on point. And her composure on point with nose pointed toward the sky made her look like she weighed 100 pounds. When I approached her points, she would always roll a sparkling eye at me that seemed to say, “Look at me and see what I found. Again. Pretty good, huh?”
Yeah, pretty damn good.
Photo by Chris Mathan
Jerry and I often commented that Lucy was the prettiest setter female we’ve ever owned.
She was tricolor with distinctive markings. The mask on her left side was a perfect oval encompassing head, cheek and ear and, of course, a brown molly spot was just above the eye. On the right side, her ear was black but the mask was reduced to a small circle of color around the eye.
But Lucy was more than a pretty face. Her 40-lb.-body was perfectly proportioned and she had a long neck and high tail set. Her gait was spectacular—strong, fluid and graceful—and her front legs reached far forward on each stride. Lucy always seemed to be having fun for she bounded about with energy and enthusiasm.
Lucy was bred to some of the best setter males in the country including CH Shadow Oak Bo, CH Houston’s Blackjack, CH Ridge Creek Cody, RU-CH Erin’s Hidden Shamrock and our own Northwoods Blue Ox. No matter the sire, outstanding dogs were produced.
Here’s a short list:
Northwoods Nirvana, owned by Frank and Jean LaNasa, Minnesota
Northwoods Fuzzy Navel, owned by Don Freeman, North Carolina
Houston’s Bold N Fresh, owned by Jim Depolo, Pennsylvania
Northwoods Charles, owned by Bill Owen, California
Ridge Creek Piper, owned by Chuck Brandes, Minnesota
Northwoods Nickel, owned by Jerry and me
Lucy was one of those rare dogs that could consistently, with little experience, pin ruffed grouse. When she was only one-and-a-half years old, I took her hunting in northern Wisconsin with another guide. It was late season and the grouse were hard to find and even harder to shoot. Right in front of us, Lucy worked a running grouse and made that bird stop and hide behind a big log in wide open pole timber. We walked right in, the grouse flushed at our feet and we both missed!
That was one of the best pieces of work on grouse I’ve ever seen.
Jerry and I kept Lucy until she was five years old when Paul bought her back.
Early in 2016, Paul repeated an earlier breeding to Erin’s Hidden Shamrock. When he got Lucy back from Illinois, home of Shamrock, something was clearly wrong. She was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma. She was also pregnant.
Torn between concern for the dam and concern for the fetuses, Paul consulted with his vet and long-time friend Dr. Mark Nelson of Interstate Veterinary Hospital in Centauria, Wisconsin. They chose a course of action that focused on Lucy but with minimal harm to fetuses.
By late in her pregnancy, Lucy was gravely ill and Jerry and I desperately wanted to see her. We had planned to visit on a Sunday in early July. But on that Saturday, Lucy was failing and Paul brought her back to Mark.
Lucy must have given the entire strength of her weakened body to her puppies for as she died, three live puppies were delivered.
And today, Lucy’s litter of two females and one male is seven weeks old and thriving. Amanda and Joyce, two amazing women who work for Dr. Nelson, dedicated their days and nights to feeding and caring for the puppies. Due to their loving ministration, Lucy’s gifts will live on.
Lucy was a great bird dog on all species of game birds and produced outstanding pups in every litter. She was very sweet and lovable. She is missed.
~ Paul Hauge
Photo courtesy of Ben Sklar/For The Washington Post
Dog lovers know that dogs are far smarter than most give them credit for.
So it won’t surprise some to read about their newest skills. A recent feature in The Washington Post by Andrea Sachs details how dogs are being trained for security purposes at facilities in Texas, Pennsylvania and Alabama.
“The dog—all wet nose and whiskers—is the new face of security,” writes Sachs.
A primary purpose is for use by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
“’There is no better overall detector of explosives than a dog’s nose,’ TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said. ‘Dogs work an environment like no technology can. They are versatile, mobile and very accurate.’”
Besides offering detection, dogs can act as deterrents and “’…also calm the whole screening environment. Animals are inherently fascinating to watch,’” Neffenger said.
German shepherds and many retrievers have been used in the past. Now breeds such as Munsterlanders, Germain shorthaired pointers, Belgian Malinois, weimaraners and springer spaniels are being trained.
The ultimate attention–and what the dog wants most–is our physical touch.
Dogs constantly watch us. They’re trying to figure out what we’re doing. They watch us not because they adore us but to determine if something is about to happen that might benefit them. They even want to make that something happen.
But first, they need our attention.
How does a dog get our attention? One of the best examples is barking. Even though that attention may be a negative “Quiet,” it still got your attention. Other attention-seeking behaviors include nudging an arm or hand, mouthing, whining and sighing.
A key aspect to understand is that we control our attention. We can use our attention to communicate approval of what the dog is doing, or disapproval. A quick glance in the dog’s direction might be the approval it needs. A higher level is spoken words and the ultimate attention we can give a dog is physical touch.
Withholding attention is a high form of disapproval.
Giving attention for a behavior often leads to more of that behavior.
~ Turid Rugass, international dog trainer and author
To use your attention as a training tool, give the dog your attention for behavior you want to continue and withhold attention for behavior you don’t. Be patient and wait for the right behavior while ignoring others. And great timing produces quick, clear results. Bad timing could reward incorrect behavior.
Your attention is one of the best tools for training your dog. It’s always with you and doesn’t cost a thing. Even though using your attention properly will take some practice to master, it’s worth it.
PS A recent piece in The Washington Post confirms my thoughts. Among other pithy comments and research results, Kimbriell Kelly writes “research shows that dogs are primarily motivated by praise.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2016/08/17/what-does-a-dog-want-more-good-boy-or-treats/?wpisrc=nl_pwrainbow&wpmm=1
This is the time to withhold attention!
Just wanted to say thank you again and let you know our puppy is doing great already. Attached is a photo of our little guy Jack with the puppy. She has been adjusting wonderfully, although we know this is just the beginning
~ Karrli and Caleb
In some ways, this litter out of Northwoods Vixen by Elhew G Force was unprecedented.
Just the night before, Vixen had slept in the house with no sign of being close to whelping. When she did begin whelping at about noon on May 21, she didn’t stop until 12 hours later when she had safely delivered 11 puppies, our largest litter ever. Most impressively, all puppies were healthy and vigorous and all survived.
The eight weeks the litter is with us fly by and soon it is time for them to go to their new homes.
Tim Moore, owner of G Force, chose a white-and-black male. Next Jerry and I decided on a liver male and an orange female. Then puppy buyers from as close as the Twin Cities and from as far away as Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma made their picks in order until all 11 were with their owners.
The puppy is great. We had absolutely no problems at the hotels or on the very long ride home. We decided on the name Coop. Thank you so much.
~ Tim, Massachusetts
She is doing great. No mistakes in the house. Coming to my mouth whistle. Went fishing with us tonight. Only problem is deciding on a name!!!
~ Brian, Pennsylvania
Huxley is doing great! He is so smart and loves to retrieve his soft new pheasant toy. I’m very impressed. He’s been a pretty good sleeper for the most part as well. A couple accidents, but we are trying to make sure he goes out often. Heidi keeps saying he couldn’t be more perfect. I agree.
~ Brandon, Minnesota
We just picked him up. He’s doing great and my two kids are spoiling him with hugs and a little bit of hot dog.
~ Tim, Florida
One evening, Jerry and I couldn’t resist tossing a dead pigeon around for our two puppies. What fun to see them grab the bird and proudly carry it around the yard.
Photo by Chris Mathan
Prancer was a Cadillac.
~ Mark Fouts
With heavy hearts, Jerry and I share the almost unbearably sad new that Northwoods Prancer has died.
Prancer was whelped out of Fallset Fate, owned by Mark and Janie Fouts, by our male Dasher in 2008. In lieu of a stud fee, we wanted a female puppy and as Prancer was the only female in the litter, Mark honored the deal.
Prancer lived in the house with us when she was young. There is almost nothing more heartwarming than holding a sleeping puppy.
Prancer was a star in our kennel—whether in the woods guiding grouse hunters or as a dam. Prancer was also smart and a beautiful dog with a strong physique. We adored Prancer but when she turned six, we gave her back to Mark and Janie in a totally fitting, happy turn of events.
Mark wrote this moving tribute to Prancer.
“With all great dogs they have to start from somewhere. I was fortunate to have a female pointer named Fallset Fate. She was white and orange. She was everything you would want in a hunting dog. Worked to the front, pointed, backed and a strong retriever. She even retrieved from water. She was a joy to handle and had an easy loving personality. A very good family dog, or as I say, a “good citizen.”
“I was thinking if I was fortunate to have another dog like her I would be blessed. I had heard of Jerry and Betsy at Northwoods Bird Dogs and their breeding program. I was told about Dasher and thought this would be a good fit. We decided on the breeding and waited for the results. Fate had only four puppies, three males and one female. The little orange and white female looked like her mother. She was chosen to join the Northwoods kennel.
“When Jerry and Betsy retired Prancer from their breeding program Janie and I were fortunate and gifted to get her back to our family. When she arrived it was like looking at her mother Fate. The look in her eyes, same personality. I always wonder if dogs know that they used to be at a home or kennel in their earlier lives. She adjusted well. She was instantly part of our family. I can’t recall how many times I called her “Fate” while I was hunting with her.
“I have had other breeds of dogs and had some very good ones, but you know when a breed and style suits you. I like to put it in simple laymen terms. Everyone drives different vehicles. They all get you to the same location. But I have settled on driving a Cadillac. They are smooth, easy to look at, and with a little polish they hold their value. Prancer was a Cadillac.
After a day in the woods, Mark Fouts proudly shows off his trio of female pointers: Prancer, on left, with her daughters Jordy and Timber.
“In the field she was a truly honest dog. If she had a point there was a bird somewhere, trust her. Jerry and Betsy brought out the best in her and she was able to pass those traits on to her offspring. Right now I have two dogs from Prancer, Northwoods Fallset Timber and Northwoods Fallset Jordy. The fleet of Cadillacs is still going strong.
“When you lose a dog like Prancer I think you miss a little heartbeat. Sometimes it is hard to get your breath back when it happens. With wet eyes you have to remember the good times and the love that they give back unconditionally, no strings attached.
“Thank you to Northwoods Bird Dogs for letting your family be a part of ours.”
~ Mark Fouts