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.
Houston’s Blackjack (5-9-20) is with us in Georgia for the winter and available for public stud.
Jack is handsome—an evenly masked, tri color—and has a leggy, strong build. He weighs 55 lbs. He has an exceptional gait, endurance and heat tolerance. He is a proven bird-finder and is ultra composed on point. His hips are OFA Excellent.
With limited opportunity, Jack’s progeny have won in the grouse woods and on the prairies. Betsy and I bred several litters by Jack and he’s produced outstanding grouse dogs that naturally back.
Jack’s wins include:
Winner/2012 National Amateur Prairie Chicken Shooting Dog Championship
Runner Up/2013 Region 19 Amateur Shooting Dog Championship
2nd Place/2013 US Chicken Championship (reverted to all age)
Please click here for Jack’s pedigree. Please Contact Us for stud arrangements.
Sandra Boynton deftly portrays a dog on the night before Christmas.
In January, Betsy and I discovered a beautiful spot to live and work during the winter months. Southwest Georgia not only has desirable weather but it’s the heart of bobwhite quail plantation country and the lofty pines that dominate.
During a morning training session in February, Bob Senkler’s Northwoods Grits (Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis, 2011) finds a covey of quail in native wiregrass (Aristida stricta).
Betsy and I became even more enamored of bobwhite quail in March. We saw countless wild coveys and dozens of released and Johnny house birds. We never tired of watching them on the ground, listening to them cluck and call, and ultimately to feel the excitement of a covey flush.
Northwoods Vixen (CH Westfall’s Black Ice x Northwoods Prancer, 2011) takes a well-deserved nap after whelping nine puppies by CH Elhew G Force in April.
May begins our summer training programs. Jeff and I work Steve Snyder’s Dusty (Blue Shaquille x Snyder’s Liz, 2012) on pigeons.
Our last puppies for 2013 were whelped on June 22. The CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Highclass Kate litter included two females and four males.
Scott Berry’s pointer Dagny exhibits excellent staunchness during a training session in June.
Vixen is back at work in July. She shows outstanding posture and intensity pointing bobwhite quail.
In August, a whole new routine begins. I begin training dogs on wild birds both from home and at our North Dakota camp. Dan conditions adult dogs from a four-wheeler.
Frank LaNasa and I have trained off horseback in North Dakota for 12 years now and we both love our time there. Frank’s CH True Confidence is backed by Dan Stadin’s Northwoods Guns N’ Roses (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chardonnay, 2011), on left, and Sam Gary’s Northwoods Anhiwake Grace (Northwoods Blue Ox x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2010).
For most of October, I guide for Bill Heig out of Bowen Lodge northwest of Grand Rapids. At the end of month, though, Ray Marshall and I enjoyed three days in the woods, here with Northwoods Carly Simon (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2011).
Our November Puppy Quail program is always a great way to wrap up training in Minnesota. The birds are seasoned and the puppies exciting. Dale and Jess Robinson’s Mac (Blue Shaquille x Houston’s Belle’s Choice, 2013) and our Beemer (CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis, 2013) share point.
The year has come full circle; Betsy and I are back in southwest Georgia for the winter. We brought several client dogs and all our own puppies to train on bobwhite quail. One morning in December, I was invited on a hunt on the private Sunny Hill plantation. It was thrilling to see such good bird work by several of their well-trained pointers.
The piney woods of southwestern Georgia are gorgeous…especially in early morning.
A big contingent of Northwoods Bird Dogs will hit the road soon for the long drive to the southwest corner of Georgia. Jerry and I will bring a select number of client-owned dogs and, with the exception of two, all of our own dogs.
We’re excited to get back to our southern training grounds just outside Thomasville, Georgia. The location is ideal in so many regards. Not only is it smack dab in the middle of bobwhite quail plantation country but there are many field trials held in Georgia and nearby Florida and Alabama. Thomasville is a charming small town. The weather is ideal. The piney woods are beautiful. And the Gulf Coast is a short 80-mile drive.
Back in Minnesota, the kennel will be in the very capable hands of Dan Stadin, the guy who works with us throughout the year. He’ll be busy with Northwoods Chardonnay, who is scheduled to whelp her litter by Blue Chief (frozen semen) in late December. Since Northwoods Chablis is due to be bred to Northwoods Blue Ox early winter 2013, he needs to be in Minnesota.
Jerry and I will make a quick trip back to Minnesota in mid January to pick up a fresh group of client-owned dogs.
The most common sight here in southwest Georgia is Jerry out working dogs…and when he’s training Northwoods Vixen, our young pointer, it becomes one of my favorite sights.
There is very little about southwest Georgia that resembles home. The woods and lakes of Minnesota seem far away—not only in miles but in cultural differences. Obvious anomalies include no snow and no SA convenience store on every corner. The agricultural landscape consists of peanut and cotton fields and vast groves of large pecan trees; no corn or soybean fields in sight. Sometimes it’s even difficult to grasp that this is part of the United States and people here vote for the same president.
Other basics are different, too. For example:
• Rather than neighborhoods and communities full of beige vinyl-sided houses, here the majority of homes are adorned with brick, usually some shade of red brick. Architectural features such as shutters and front porches (complete with rocking chairs) are ubiquitous. Few homes have garages and even less has basements.
• In the upper Midwest, not many broadleaf evergreen plants grow. The landscape here looks green even in January due to the plethora of big live oaks and many shrubs including camellias, kalmias and hollies. Turf grass is even green in winter.
• Winters are very mild with highs in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Snow is extremely rare. It’s now spring and the sunny, crisp days are more reminiscent of falls days in the north.
• Speech varies from an incomprehensible dialect to typically southern expressions. Truly, I have, quite politely, asked people to repeat themselves because I haven’t understood one word they said. Almost everyone uses “you-all” although, with their drawl, it becomes a single syllable word pronounced like the two-masted sailboat, the yawl.
Even so, Jerry and I have loved living here. We have met some extraordinary people, all of whom exude graciousness and warmth. Many are courteous to a fault with lots of “Ma’ams” thrown into the conversation.
Even more than normal, our meals are highlights of our days as we eat what locals eat. We’ve had grouper and shrimp from the Gulf, catfish, BBQ, biscuits, grits, cornbread, hush puppies and pecans in bars and pies. From nearby Florida, we’ve eaten terrific grapefruit, tomatoes and strawberries. Jerry has even tried and enjoyed sautéed turnip greens.
The dogs, seemingly, like it here, too. Each has a spacious kennel run (5’ wide by 10’ long) and an elevated dog house that is just the right size—cozy yet large enough to allow for air flow on warm days. Not one dog has become ill with intestinal problems, tick-borne diseases or other issues. The training opportunities on wild coveys of quail and, when necessary, on liberated Johnny-house quail have been excellent.
Here are some of our favorite sights of southwest Georgia.
A classy aspect of most plantations is a simple, understated entrance.
Southwest Georgia, and particularly Thomasville, is the center of quail plantation country. Highways (Plantation Parkway), art festivals (Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival) and businesses (Plantation Propane & Petroleum) are named in their honor. Quail plantations themselves have names, too. Many are Native American in origin—Seminole, Cherokee, Osceola and Kickapoo, while others are evocative: Sunny Hill, Twin Oaks, Mistletoe, Longpine, Dixie.
Evergreen azaleas are in full, glorious bloom now. Azaleas belong here in the piney woods of the Red Hills region and prove it by happily putting out hundreds of flowers on a single shrub. The most common flower color is deep pink but I’ve seen shrubs with blossoms of light pink, peach and white.
Elements for a successful burn on a quail plantation include: one guy on a four-wheeler with drip torch that ignites the brush, water supply in yellow container and furrowed row that serves as a fire break.
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is the dominant plant of the once-extensive southeast forest that originally (pre-Euopean settlement) comprised an estimated 90 million acres. The stands were rich in numbers of vascular plant species—second only to the tropics—and relied on the natural phenomenon of lightning-started fire for management. Fire continues to be important but now must be set with special permits.
Thick bark on mature longleaf pines makes them resistant to fire.
Some of the nation’s most prestigious shooting dog and all-age field trials—the Masters, Continental, Florida, Free-For-All and the National Open Shooting Dog—are held during January, February and March in this part of the country. A huge draw is the opportunity to run on wild bobwhite quail.
Pots of herbs and a garland of cotton adorn the front of Liam’s Restaurant in downtown Thomasville.
Brick-paved, downtown Thomasville is charming and lively. The buildings have been completely renovated and all now bear a plaque noting the original business name and date. Benches and large container gardens full of blooming petunias and pansies line sidewalks and lovely wrought iron signs mark the streets. In homage to its quail plantation heritage, bronze statues of sporting dogs and 12 bobwhite quail are in various locations. Jerry and I discovered some terrific restaurants: Jonah’s Fish & Grits, Sweet Grass Dairy & Cheese (& wine!) Shop, Liam’s Restaurant, Savannah Moon Bakery & Café and Grassroots Coffee Shop. No trip downtown is complete without checking out Kevin’s, a very classy store with hardwood floors and old glass cases that sells premium firearms, outdoor gear, sporting apparel and fine china and crystal.
Jerry and I developed an affinity for native longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), the stately evergreen that dominates the landscape in southwest Georgia. The longleaf has a unique start to life. Up to about six years of age, most of the growth takes place below the ground; all that shows above is a very cute, dense cluster of needles that looks more like a grass and, in fact, is termed the “grass” stage. Those needles also protect the young plant from fire.
Mornings in the piney woods are beautiful and May, our Labrador retriever, and I loved the daily walks around our place.
I was surprised but happy to see one familiar tree even though it bloomed about two months earlier than at home. In mid February, red maples (Acer rubrum) became noticeable due to the spectacle of red flowers along bare branches. Tiny samaras soon formed. Red maples have a huge range—among the most abundant and widespread of eastern trees—from northern Maine to the southern tip of Florida.
Jerry and I don’t own a television but we’re loyal customers of Netflix. One of our laptops has good Dolby sound so when we need entertainment and diversion, we bring one out of the office and plop down on the couch by the fire. One of our favorite things to watch are current tv shows such as The Good Wife and The Closer. There are no bothersome commercials so an entire episode only lasts about 40 minutes.
But occasionally we’re in the mood for something more substantial and then we indulge with our own Sunday Night at the Movies.
Last night was snowy and cold—perfect to stay in and watch Buck, a Netflix DVD that had been in our “in box” for several days. This is an award-winning documentary (U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) about Buck Brannaman, the real-life person and inspiration for Nicholas Evans’ book, The Horse Whisperer. Robert Redford directed and starred in the 1998 movie adapted from the book.
What a wonderful story that was beautifully photographed and told by the people themselves. As Jerry and I watched Buck work with horses and their owners, it became clear that Buck’s gentleness, patience and insights would apply not only to dog training but to most interactions with people, too.
Jeff Hintz with his sidekick JTH Izzie.
Anyone who has visited our kennel has probably bumped into Jeff Hintz at some time or another. Jeff and Ron Watson own a very cool hunting lodge about 400 yards to the east of us. Both have been friends of ours for many years through dogs, field trials, hunting and other shared interests. Jeff and Ron are retired now from successful careers in the Twin Cities and so have lots more time to spend as our neighbors.
Jeff is also an invaluable member of our training team. He joins Jerry and Dan during the summer months when our programs are in high gear. He gathers pigeons from the lofts, places them in releasers and then plants them in the field. Too, Jeff is a crack shot with a shotgun when the training calls for dead birds.
Jeff is a pointer guy and usually owns several at a time. Currently he and his wife Carol have Cassie (CH Front ‘N Center x Dancing Queen), Hershey (CH Front ‘N Center x Chickadee) and from our 2011 litter of Northwoods Prancer x CH Westfall’s Black Ice, a beautiful black-and-white female named Izzie.
Like the rest of her seven littermates, Izzie is a sweetheart in the house and a tiger in the field. She was quite precocious and last year Jeff successfully hunted her on grouse, woodcock and the quail of southern Arizona. In addition, Jeff has gathered a couple of nice placements in field trials, including a recent second in the Region 19 Amateur All-Age Derby.
After Jeff’s work for us is done for the day, he usually heads home for some lunch and returns about an hour later at the helm of his gas-powered golf cart. He pulls up close to our front door, opens the cover to his Ipad case and logs onto the Internet using our wi-fi signal. (We joke that he works for free wi-fi.)
Perkily riding shotgun, wagging her tail and acting as if she owned the place is Izzie. She calmly waits while Jeff works. Soon Jeff cranks up the golf cart and the pair head back home.
Silk has exalted status at Northwoods Bird Dogs. She is the eldest dog at 13 years of age and at the top of the pecking order. Much like a Dowager Duchess governing her estate, Silk rules our kennel with gentleness and wisdom but will tolerate no fools.
Silk was only bred three times but whelped our two best-producing setter males. Blue Shaquille is out of a frozen semen breeding to Houston in 2004 and from CH Peace Dale Duke, Silk bore Northwoods Blue Ox in 2007. Through her sons, she has shown up in every setter puppy’s pedigree for many years.
Silk herself has an impressive pedigree. Her dam was our extraordinary Blue Streak, a four-time champion/four-time runner-up champion, and her sire, First Rate, was a multiple champion in horseback field trials. Besides a very sweet disposition, Silk inherited an accurate nose, uncommon stamina and a tenacious application. Prior to retirement, she amassed several placements in grouse trials and was a first-string member of our grouse-guiding team.
Silk has earned her special treatment and now spends evenings and nights with Jerry and me in the house. But before we head to the house and while we’re finishing feeding and kennel chores in late afternoon, Silk is free to roam. She trots outside the building and seemingly inspects everything—puppy pens, gates and perimeter fences. She then comes back to do a quick look-see at the dogs and runs inside the kennel.
One hot afternoon last week, Silk rested in front of the fan while she waited for us to finish.