Even though the bulk of the business of Northwoods Bird Dogs is training and breeding, I really like to guide wild bird hunts. Not only does this get me into the woods but I get to see how our dogs stack up against others.
While here in the Red Hills region of southwest Georgia/north Florida Georgia during the winter, I handle dogs off horseback on wild bobwhite quail hunts. It gives me ample opportunity to compare our dogs to others on the hunts.
The last hunt of this season was held on the prestigious, historic Dixie Plantation, near Monticello, Florida. First farmed as a cotton plantation in the early 1800s, the property eventually was purchased by the Livingston family, magnates in the railroad industry, in the 1920s. They turned it into an 18,000-acre wild quail hunting plantation, definitely one of the premier plantations in the area.
Ownership of the Dixie has since been turned over to Tall Timbers Research and Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fire ecology and wildlife management in the Southeast. The plantation, now 9,100 acres in size, is used primarily for quail research. But Tall Timbers also leases hunting days during the quail season and continues the tradition of hosting the Continental Field Trial Championship, an all-age stake now in its 119th year.
Joining our client and his two friends on this final hunt was Gary Lester, professional, all-age field trial competitor. Gary has been wildly successful in field trial placements. Besides numerous championships, he has handled three dogs that won the three-hour National Championship at the Ames Plantation in Tennessee.
How fortunate that two of those champions were with him on this hunt: CH Miller’s Dialing In (2015 winner) and the recently crowned 2017 National Champion Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo. It would be fabulous to hunt with just one of those dogs…but here were two!
In addition to Dialing In and Jo, Gary brought CH Miller’s Creative Cause, another dog he ran in the 2017 National Championship, and three winning, derby-aged dogs.
All pointer males, these dogs are big and muscular—weighing more than 55 pounds—and they are powerful, athletic animals. They moved with strength and class but were also extremely responsive to Gary. Very impressive!
I was both thrilled and humbled to see our dogs braced with some of the best in the nation—so I wanted our best in my string.
On the truck were setters CH Houston’s Blackjack, RU-CH Northwoods Nirvana, Grits, Rolls Royce, Jeter, Carly Simon, Nickel, Carbon and Anhiwake Grace and three pointer females, Vixen, Platinum and Audi. I also had two English cockers, Yoshi and Arrowhead Penny, to retrieve dead birds.
The first morning brace was a good one. Gary ran Dialing In (the 2015 National Champion!) and I chose Rolls Royce. Both dogs were on a mission to find quail and, to my delight, they ended their hour equal in bird finds.
The highlight for me, though, was the last brace of the day when I ran Grits, a strong 50-lb. male that always hunts hard and stylishly, and Gary ran one of his winning derbies. The open, rolling terrain allowed us to see them on big, beautiful casts. I was so proud that Grits compared favorably on the ground with Gary’s all-age dog. Even better, Grits out-birded his bracemate and pointed four coveys in the hour, giving the hunting part plenty of action. I think Gary was impressed because he asked me to call him if I get another setter like that…and he’s a pointer guy!
The next morning was foggy and warm. Gary braced CH Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo and CH Miller’s Creative Cause. These two all-age champions put on a show of strength, class and bird finding with five covey finds in a bit more than an hour. Again, very impressive!
At about noon that day when the temperature was 82°, I ran two of our dogs. I braced Royce with female setter Nickel (out of 2X National Champion Shadow Oak Bo x Northwoods Chardonnay). I was so proud that both dogs ran well, and found and pointed birds.
Both days were great hunts…and it was a special honor to watch Gary and his championship dogs.