One of the really cool things about attending a gundog-centric event like Pheasant Fest is that you get the chance to see so many different gundog breeds under one roof. It really is a unique opportunity, and I can't think of any other venue where you can see such a diversity of working gundog breeds from, literally, all over the world. Some of them look familiar enough to where you can at least take a guess at what they are, and some of them you simply don't have a clue.
Here are two of the many breeds represented at this year's show. I'd like to do something a little different from the usual caption contest, so what you have to do is figure out what they are. One of them might be an easy guess for some of you, as the breed -- while still very much a novelty -- is gaining in popularity. The other one will be a little more difficult to identify, and even harder to pronounce correctly.
With gas creeping toward (and in many cases breaking) five bucks a gallon, it's getting ever more expensive to drive to your training grounds. But if you live in a heavily-populated area with no adequate training grounds nearby, you really have no choice. And it's not a problem that's limited to suburban areas, either. Despite living in the sticks, I have limited access to good training grounds nearby and must drive for virtually all of my field training.
It's a never-ending struggle to find a good training spot, and then figure out a way to afford to get there. The trick is to get creative, and -- to use a horribly tired expression -- think outside the box. I've previously discussed some of my experiences in never-ending search for training grounds, some of the more, uh, unorthodox choices in the search for said grounds, and the idea of downsizing your rig to something more fuel efficient.
Big news from the world of big-running bird dogs: the 2012 running of the National Field Trial Championship at the historic Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tennessee wrapped up this week, and as it was last year the new champion is an English pointer...
"When Steve Hurdle won the National Championships for Field Trialing Bird Dogs with Shell Creek Coin back in 2006, he didn't get much time to enjoy it. Hurdle collapsed and nearly died with an aortic aneurysm just after the awards ceremony at Ames Plantation and spent the next few weeks recovering.
This time, he hopes to do his celebrating at home instead of in the hospital. Hurdle added another trophy to his mantle Tuesday morning when Connor's EZ Button was named winner of the 2012 event on the steps of the grand manor house at Ames.
I sat in on a lot of cool seminars, met a lot of cool people, saw a lot of cool dogs, and discovered a few cool new products (all of which I'll write about in future blogs), but for sheer, unadulterated cool, nothing could top listening to and meeting the undisputed dean of American bird dog trainers.
How cool is Delmar Smith? Chuck Norris showed up at one of his seminars, and Delmar had him force-broke and steady to shot by the end of the day. He's so cool the folks at NPR ask him to be on their game shows (No really, they did. Listen to the podcast. It's a gem. Delmar absolutely kills it...)
I'm going to the dogs this weekend, which means I'm off to the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Kansas City, which, unlike SHOT, remains mostly a zombie-free zone. There are, however, tons of upland hunting, gundog and conservation-related vendors and speakers at the trade show. So if there are any training questions you'd like me ask, products you'd like me to keep an eye out for or gundog breeds (there are dozens of breed clubs at the show) you'd be interested in learning more about, be sure to tell me in the comments section.
In the meantime, here's an interesting story that dovetails nicely with my last blog post on GPS technology. South Carolina lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime for anyone other than a dog's owner to remove its GPS tracking collar.
I had an hour or two to kill this past Friday, so I decided that a short afternoon quail hunt at a spot just a few minutes from my house would fill those hours quite nicely. I loaded up my little setter, Jenny, and we were hoofing it through the sagebrush within 20 minutes of pulling out of the garage.
A little while—one small covey of birds and no shots—later, we found ourselves back at the hunting wagon, Rocinante, sucking wind and water. I was, anyway. Jenny was remarkably energetic for having endured such a death march. I figured Jenny had run flat out for approximately 34 miles, and that I had walked at least 20 miles following her. I was also sure that Jenny had, on that wide-open prairie, opened her range up to that of an all-age horseback trial dog. Why, she wasn't even a dog on some casts, but a small, flowing white dot on the far horizon.
And then I looked at the data. Delusion, meet reality. As you can see from the photograph, Jenny ran a total of 7.7 miles, at a relatively steady and sedate average speed of 6.27 mph. Even on her longest cast, she was never more than a couple hundred yards away. (Disregard that 9.8 miles distance measurement. That's the distance from my house, where the pic was taken, to where I turned off Jenny's collar at the hunting spot.) And just how far did Iron Man here walk? Probably less than half of that distance, and certainly under four miles.
The frightening picture gave Joi Hosker both hope and despair. Hope because it meant her champion show dog had been found. Despair because it showed him hooked up to IVs and near death after being attacked by a bear. For eight fruitless months, she had searched for George, her Plott hunting dog whose registered name is “Hosker’s Georgie Boy.” It’s a lost-and-found story with a tall “tail” of an ending.
"...In late 2009, Hosker boarded George with a hunter/trainer in Columbia County while she traveled to Lake Charles, La., to visit her seriously ill mother and her husband was out of town on a job. When she returned home after her mother’s death, Gary Hosker broke the news that he feared George might be dead. The kennel owner had told him George had escaped.
Anyone who's ever owned or been around them knows that dogs are a Swiss army knife for the soul. No matter what's troubling you, no matter how bad things are, or how bad they may get, the presence of a dog just seems to make things better. How do they do it?
Who knows, but if Big Pharma could somehow extract, replicate and synthesize into pill form, the effect of a dog's love on the human soul, it would immediately render all other forms of therapy and treatment obsolete.
But they haven't, thankfully, which is why we still have stories like this one from the New York Times Magazine about a young boy suffering from the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and the dog that helped him when nothing else could.
There are any number of things that can go wrong, sometimes horribly, when we take our dogs into the field. They can run through a fence and get torn up, run through a cattle guard or hole and break a leg, run into a porcupine or skunk, inhale dangerous seeds, get bitten by a snake, trampled by a cow, run over by a car, get overheated, dehydrated or completely lost, the list is pretty much endless in terms of potential dangers.
All you can do is take it on faith that those things won't happen while hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. That's why most of us do things like carry first-aid kits on all our hunting trips and plugging the phone numbers of local vets into our cell phones.
But here's one more thing that every one of us should familiarize ourselves with: what to do if one of our dogs gets caught in a body-gripping trap. Here's an absolutely heartbreaking story from last week's Minneapolis Star-Tribune about a rash of dogs dying in traps.
From the story: Doug Snyder won't forget the day he loaded a .22 rifle and shot his dog at point-blank range. He and his two teenage sons were walking along a forest road near their cabin east of Hinckley in late December when Polka Dot, their 9-year-old setter-Lab mix, suddenly howled in distress. Bolting headlong into the woods, Snyder found his dog 60 yards away with its head and neck caught in a deadly body-gripping trap. "She was standing there, bleeding from the snout," he said. Frantically, Snyder and his 16-year-old son struggled to free their pet before it suffocated. But two powerful springs held the trap's jaws tightly closed. "We fought like hell to get it off, and we couldn't," he said. "She was melting away."