Sunday, March 29, 2009

Last Woodcock Run

As March comes to a close I knew the woodcock would start to nest and I had to stop running Emma. I ended this springs training runs with a hike into new territory. A tip that there were woodcock up Bear Run lead me on a gamelands road up into a high valley tucked between two mountains. Spotty cover along the road produced several grouse and woodcock finds but no good points. Finally I came upon a beaver dam with some nice looking cover. We only found one woodcock there but saw some splash and placed this cover on next years list to hunt. The most surprising part of the day occurred when Emma bumped a hen and rooster pheasant out of the swamp. What those two were doing in that high mountain swamp surrounded by big timber I'll never know. Far from any grain and hay fields that would be typical pheasant cover.

As I look back over this springs training runs I'm very pleased with the progress that Emma has made. If there are birds in the area I'm confident that she'll find them. She needs to hold her points until I can walk in and flush the bird but with more bird experience I'm sure that she will. It's a long road from a pup to a huntable birddog but with patience the end results are a pleasure to behold.

The only picture of Emma on point today turned out to be an empty point.

The Beaver dam tucked away high in a valley between Lock and Brush mountains.

Some of the Bear Run cover near the beaver dam.

Fresh woodcock splash. What every woodcock hunter seeks as a sign of nearby birds.

A hen mallard keeps a wary eye on us as we pass by.

Upon seeing this old tree with its twisted branches I thought of Medusa the goddess with snakes for hair of Greek mythology.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Woodcock Song

Jim-Bob has a nice woodcock singing ground just across the road from his house. With him running the camera and me holding the spotlight we made a nice little video of a male woodcock trying to attract a mate. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Still chasin' Doodles

Ran Emma today first in the Hickory Leaf covert with several short points and several bumped birds then to the Shawnee covert. After a long circle we found a bird and in open cover no less. Finally a picture of a point that wasn't taken through heavy cover. Emma continues to progress toward becoming a bird step at a time.

The Point.

Deep in the Hickory Leaf Covert

Emma checking out some scent in the Hickory Leaf covert.

Our buddy checking us out at the edge of the Shawnee covert.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Day 8 Back to Work

Day 8. I go back to work today on the evening shift so headed out early this morning with Emma to the Doll Head covert. Had hoped to have a pic of her pointing today but it wasn't to be. She had several points but every time I drew near she would run in and bump the bird. On the plus side she hunted very good and found at least 5 woodcock. Now I have to be patient and wait for the "light" to come on in her brain that tells her that she can't catch those birds so she might as well stand there and smell them. She'll have the rest of the week off to lay in her kennel and think about those smelly birds.

Smells good under here.

On the fly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day 7 Still Learning

This afternoon I chose the Hickory Leaf covert as Emma's running grounds. We got off to a fast start with her bumping a pair of woodcock in the first 15 minutes of the run. We were soon through the first part of the covert and crossing the hayfield to the larger part. Although we hunted it hard the woodcock were not to be found today. A few spots with splash and lots of good looking cover but we were all too soon recrossing the hayfield to hunt the remaining small front part of this covert. As on several other days Emma saved her point for the last few minutes of the hunt and locked up within 300 yards of the truck. I took a quick picture and moved to the side to get a better shot but the sight of me moving closer was too much for her and she rushed in and bumped the bird. That's how birddog training goes, one step at a time.

Some of the good looking cover in the Hickory Leaf covert.

Another brush-filled picture of Emma on point.

After Emma's run I still had a couple of hours of daylight left so I thought I'd run Copper through my Warriors Ridge covert and get a picture or two of her pointing woodcock. She has pointed woodcock fairly well since she was 7 months old but for whatever reasons she just couldn't scent them this evening. I watched her almost step on two woodcock and saw the bewildered look on her face as she stood there and watched them rocketed away.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Day 6 Patience, Patience, Patience

I ran Emma is afternoon in the Shawnee covert. Hunted good but bumped 3 woodcock before she was able to get a point. I keep telling myself that at this time last week she had never held a point so I've made some progress with her this week. If the rain holds off I hope to run her tomorrow and Monday morning then its back to work for the rest of the week.

You'll have to take my word for it. This was today's only point. Someday she'll point one in open cover........someday.

Someone had Blue Jay for lunch.

This bad boy could hear Emma's beeper but we kept in the cover so as not to arouse his curiosity.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Day 5 Fun with Jim-Bob

I headed north today with my nephew Jim-Bob, his setter Zeke and Emma. I had planned on resting Emma today and giving Copper a run but Copper somehow hurt her front left foot and was limping this morning. I couldn't find any thorns and cuts and am thinking she may have somehow sprained it. I had some new coverts to show Jim-Bob but with Zeke, who tends to run big when down with another dog, and Emma who is only too willing to try to keep up with him, I didn't really expect any stellar dog work. After a slow start Zeke found and pointed 2 grouse but Emma ran in and bumped both birds before we could reach them. Later Emma ran over 2 woodcock and the day wasn't looking too productive. Finally near the end of the covert Zeke went on point close by with Emma backing him. I was able to get a picture and then walk in and flush a woodcock. We tried another good looking cover but came up empty with Zeke tearing his ear on a brier and needing some medical attention. After much ear pinching and lots of Farnam "Wonder Dust" we got the wound to stop bleeding and called it a day knowing that we had some new coverts to play in next fall.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Day 4 Progressing Nicely

Day 4 started out cold and windy. Emma's foot seemed fine this morning after last nights thorn removal so I traveled north to my Doll's Head covert. Just a couple of minutes out of the truck and we wild flush two grouse that really gets Emma's blood running, along with her feet. As we work our way through cover I see Emma bump a woodcock in the distance, then minutes later I almost step on one camouflaged against the leaf littered ground. A little while later I can just hear Emma's beeper on point mode. As I dodge hawthorns and alders she seems off to my left, but no she's off to my right. So I'm running a few yards to my right and stopping then running a few yards to my left and stopping trying to figure out just where she is. Finally I decide that she is indeed off to my left and as I hurry toward her I spy her running through the woods obviously hot after a flushed bird. Whether she bumped the bird or it flew on its own I'd never know but you always have to trust your dog and I was happy that she had held the point for as long as she had. As we worked our way toward the end of the cover a woodcock lifted between us spooked by either Emma or me. The far end of cover is often productive but today it was void of birds so we started back toward the truck. As we passed an alder filled swampy area Emma's beeper goes on point mode again. She's not far away this time and when I reach her she is on the far side of a small stream pointing into a clump of alder. The stream is just a little to deep to wade and just a little to wide to jump at this point. I snap two quick pictures of her and work my way upstream several yards to find a spot narrow enough for me to leap. As I land on the far bank I see the bird flush out of the alder clump just ahead of Emma's nose. After telling her what a good birddog she is we continue to work our way toward the truck. Minutes later her beeper again is telling me she's on point somewhere ahead. Once again I'm on the wrong side of the stream and before I can cross I see the bird in the air and Emma in hot pursuit. By now the truck is in sight. I'm cold, tired, hungry, and pleased with Emma's work today. She found some birds, bumping some and pointing others, and hunted the cover vigorously. In my mind we had an excellent day. Tomorrow Emma can rest as my preliminary plans are to take Jim-Bob, Zeke, and Copper to some new coverts I discovered last fall in Northern Cambria Co.

THE POINT!!! I know it doesn't look like much to most folks but to me it's what I've been waiting for, for a long time :). Always on the move.

Showing off her mud stripe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day 3 Still Smiling

I started day 3 by taking Hattie and Emma to my Warrior Ridge covert. After about 1/2 hour Hattie gave me two nice points with Emma running in and bumping the birds. We made the trek through some open woods to another covert that turned out to be empty of woodcock although I did wild flush a grouse. On the way back through the open woods Hattie drew to a point with Emma stopping and backing her. I tried for a picture but in my excitement it turned out poorly. I circled around both dogs looking for the bird but it turned out to be an empty point. Still I was happy to see Emma backing instinctively. We were approaching the truck when Hattie went on point again in a typical low crouching woodcock point. After I took a couple of pictures of Hattie Emma suddenly appeared from in front of Hattie. She immediately slid into a point and held while I walked in and flushed the bird. The air was filled with "Good Girls, Good Girls" and the morning run ended on a happy note.

After lunch Emma and I headed for my Hickory Leaf covert. The wind had picked up and the temperature was rising as I entered the wet bottom. Half way through the first section of this covert I walked into a woodcock that flushed back toward the truck. We then crossed a hay field to enter the larger portion of this covert. A large wet lying old pasture field filling in nicely with hawthorn, alders, and briers, if it hadn't been for the distant traffic noise I could have believed I was in the Canaan Valley. We followed the perimeter of the field with Emma hunting creditably but finding no birds. As we were completing the circle Emma's beeper suddenly went to point mode. As I hurried along a rusty wire fence her beeper kept getting louder and louder but for the life of me I couldn't find her. Finally I made out her form in a mass of alders and multi-flora rose. As I moved in from behind (it was the only way to reach her) she backed out and relocated to the one side of the tangled mess and locked up on point again. On my second step into the dense cover the woodcock erupted up and away and for the second time today "Good Girl, Good Girl" filled the air. The rest of the circuit was uneventful until I started the final turn toward the truck. In a scattering of hawthorn with little ground cover Emma suddenly threw her head to the right and slid to a stop just as a woodcock rocketed away. So ended the afternoon run with some nice progress made. As I unloaded Emma at home I noticed her limping and removed a hawthorn from her left front paw. Depending on how she's moving tomorrow morning the little girl just might get a well deserved day of rest.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 2 Success

A late start put me into a favorite Somerset Co. covert about 1:00. Emma was doing her best impersonation of a ROFTS (runoff fieldtrial setter) hunting for the most part out of my hearing range. About a 1/2 hour from the truck I flushed a woodcock. I whistled Emma in and as she circled furiously she almost stepped on another one that barely escaped her frantic lunge to catch it in midair. I weaved my way through excellent cover for the next 2 hours with no results. If Emma bumped into any they were beyond my hearing and eyesight. As I headed home I decided to try another smaller covert. We left the truck with Emma not quite so big running and hunted through some nice hawthorn thickets. We had almost completed our circle when suddenly Emma was pointing off to my right, I hurried over trying to find her in the cameras LCD but the cover was too thick. As I pushed my way through she broke off point, rushed in, and flushed the woodcock. Not a perfect point by any means, but much better than running over top of them. It was great to see her stop when she hit scent and hold a point. I think I may just have a birddog after all :).

An Affair with Setters (The Future)

Selected from a litter of 5 females at Warren Sheckells Pinecoble kennels in June of 2007 to be my future hunting partner Emma and I have had a run of bad luck with her training. Still too much of a puppy in the fall of 2007 to seriously hunt we spent time walking the woods learning all the sights, sounds, and smells that awaited her young senses. Through her first winter i took her into my grouse coverts to expose her to birds knowing that the survivors would be too spooky for her to point but it would be exposure never the less. As spring drew near I planned to saturate her with migrating woodcock contacts, but on March 3 on one of our first woodcock outings misfortune struck. A short jump over a small drainage ditch resulted in a torn Bakers Cyst in the back of my left knee and left me basically immobile for almost the whole month of March with me finally hobbling along with a cane and seeing her point, then bump one woodcock at the end of March which is when the birds start to nest in my coverts so ending any more training runs. Let me say now that I've never been a fan of pen-raised birds for training purposes. Although I realize that the vast majority of birddog owners use pen-raised birds for training, I often think it is more for the dogs owners benefit ( to see their pride and joy pointing a dizzyed quail or pigeon in a grassy field with their friends looking on) than the dog. I feel that a dog trained on tame birds must still put in just as much time on wild birds as the dog that never smells a tame bird. I've made a few feeble attempts to use tame birds, pigeons with Hattie until she started to lose her intensity on point, and quail on Copper until she almost caught several which could be very detrimental to a dogs training. Maybe if I weren't so stubborn I could learn how to properly use tame birds to train with, but I've trained my first two setters almost exclusively on wild birds and hope to train Emma in the same way. So Emma celebrated her first birthday with very little bird contacts and I waited through the summer expecting to hunt her hard on woodcock in the fall to catch up on her bird experience. I started the 2008 hunting season hunting my favorite woodcock coverts with Emma only to find that the woodcock were non-existence. Warm weather held the birds to the north and the season slipped by with very little woodcock exposure. So it was into the grouse coverts with Emma to bump the few grouse we could find. In her defense I will say that she continued to hunt hard and find the few grouse that were scattered about in my coverts but was never able to hold a point on one. A couple of times she came close but the grouse always lifted before I could get into position for a shot and I ended the season without a shot fired at a grouse when Emma was on the ground. So here it is March 10, time for the migrating woodcock once again. Last Sunday Emma bumped the only woodcock we found although we search several of my best coverts. Yesterday we traveled north to a new covert I had found on a late winter hunt. Beautiful looking cover but it was empty of woodcock. It did hold two grouse one of which Emma flash pointed with her beeper going into the point mode for several beeps before it flushed. I have the rest of this week off because of a plant shutdown and hope to find those elusive woodcock that have started to haunt my dreams. Hopefully as the week progresses I will have better posts to report on Emma's adventures. I pride myself as being a patience person but lately I've begun to have fears that my inability to expose Emma to wild birds will have an adverse affect on her future as a birddog. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dolly Sods

Lying along the top of the Big Allegheny Front nestled in the southeast corner of Tucker Co. WV is a mysterious land call Dolly Sods. A search of Wikipedia will show you that this is the highest plateau east of the Mississippi, reaching its pinnacle at Mount Porte Crayon at 4770 feet in elevation. First seen by white men in 1764 by the Thomas Lewis surveying party it was mostly avoided as too impenetrable until the late 1880's when railroad logging made the spruce, hemlock, and hardwood forests accessible. Although few records were kept of the size of the trees harvested one white oak was measured to be 13 feet in diameter at a height of 16 feet and estimated to be well over 1000 years old. In the early 1900's fire ravaged the area limiting the regeneration of the forests. Soon afterward a family of German descent named Dahle homesteaded parts of the area and used the burnt over lands to graze sheep and cattle further hindering the regrowth of trees. In time the Dahle name was localized to Dolly and the grazed lands were known as sods so this is how the area came to be called the Dolly Sods

A land of immense silence, of impenetrable rhododendron tangles, of massive boulder fields, of red spruce forests that stretch on to the horizon, of breathtaking vistas, of misshapen spruce with limbs growing only on their eastern side battered by near non stopping western winds, of tempestuous weather that can one minute be a azure blue sky and suddenly change to a choking thick fog that cloaks you in swirling mists. It is a land of bear hunters with their packs of Walker, and Redbone, and Bluetick hounds, of birders sporting binoculars and long lensed cameras, of city bred yuppies bent under backpacks filled with the latest gadgets of survival seeking the solitude that is so alien to them. This is also the land that I and a few other birdhunters come questing to each fall for the meager numbers of grouse and woodcock that call this magical place home. Surely not to fill our gamebags but to experience this thing call DOLLY SODS.