In training my dogs I am loathe to use force. This is one of the reasons I hunt with Brittanies. When I researched the various breeds of gun dog I could choose from I found the Brittany best suited for the upland gunning I do here in Eastern Ontario and for my personality: I am a gentle man and a gentleman. I talked to Brittany breeders and read up on the breed and learned that Brittanies are renowned for their eagerness to please their masters and are easy to train. I also learned also they need a soft hand in training; that and there is never an excuse to beat or mistreat a dog. Hera is my fourth Brittany and by far the toughest of the four. As with the three Brittanies who came before her (Christie, Maggie and Juno) I always make certain Hera enjoys her time afield and that every outing ends on a positive note. This does not mean I never have to correct her, but in doing so I use force only as a last resort. True to the breed, Hera is eager to please her master and is happiest when she is in my good graces. When it comes to meting out discipline, usually scolding her in my sergeant-major voice is sufficient. She responds with contrition and I am careful to forgive her and assure her she is still my girl. Continue reading
I was late for work this morning. I was running late from the moment I woke up shortly before 6:00 am and let Hera out into the garden through the kitchen door. I had a quick breakfast, Weetabix with fresh blueberries, milk and a little brown sugar. When I finished my breakfast I went to the kitchen door to see if Hera wanted in and to my surprise saw a black squirrel sitting atop a fence post overlooking the garden. The squirrel seemed to be taunting Hera, scurrying around the top of the fence post and short distances across the fence as Hera calmly watched as she reclined on the porch. “Oh, you foolish squirrel,” I thought, “you really should not underestimate my Hera. She is no house pet, rather a keen little huntress who views you as prey.” I left Hera to her hunt and continued getting ready to leave for work.
It took me about twenty five minutes to shave, shower, floss, brush my teeth and dress. It was almost 6:30 am when I came downstairs, grabbed my lunch from the fridge, put it in my backpack and went to let Hera in. I had ten minutes to make my way quickly to the bus stop to catch the 6:40 bus to work. When I got to the kitchen door to let Hera in, there was no sign of her. Usually, she waits on the porch for me to let her in. “I hope she did not find a way out of the garden in chasing the squirrel,” I thought. I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch and called her. There was no response so I walked down the steps off the porch to look into the back of the garden. It was then I saw Hera standing proudly over the carcass of the squirrel that foolishly taunted her a short time ago. As soon as she saw me, she picked up the squirrel and bounded up the steps, across the porch, through the open kitchen door and up the stairs to the second floor.
“Okay,” I sighed, “I’ll catch the 7:00 am bus to work.” Hera was very pleased with herself, but followed my lead as I brought her outside to the garden. Once outside, she grudgingly gave up her prize when I told her “give.” I put the hapless squirrel in the green bin and rewarded Hera with a cookie back in the kitchen. As I made my way to the bus stop I thought about how much enjoyment I get from having Hera as my gun dog despite the minor inconvenience of being a little late for work.
Posted by Geoffrey
I woke up this morning later than planned, filled with enthusiasm for another day afield with Hera, my Brittany. These days I find my body lags behind my enthusiasm for getting up to go upland hunting. Usually, I am ready and on the road by 7:00 am hoping to start the the hunt by 8:00 am. This morning I woke up sometime after 8:00 am and undaunted, had breakfast, loaded my shotgun, hunting gear and Hera into the car and got underway. The objective for the hunt today was to check on the deer stands on the farm near Spencerville where some of my hunting buddies and I hunt whitetail-tailed deer in the rifle season. This year rifle season opens November 7th and runs two weeks. I grabbed a coffee at a Tim Hortons on the way to the farm and arrived shortly after 9:00 am. I noticed on the drive to the farm that the recent rainfall was sufficient to fill the swamps that were dried out when I first hunted the farm at the end of September. “Good,” I thought, “hopefully, the wetlands on and adjacent to the farm are holding water again.” Hera was raring to go when we got to the farm and off we went. Continue reading
The last two days saw high winds with higher gusts blowing intermittently. This is really not good weather for upland gunning. Still, I offered to take Mike, my newest hunting buddy, woodcock hunting on Sunday, the 23rd of October. It did not help that I woke up early Sunday morning reeling from a shocking headache and waves of nausea. “That’s what Advil and Pepto-Bismol are for,” I said to myself as I made ready to go meet Mike for our planned woodcock hunt. Despite the poor weather conditions and my personal malaise, I was on my way to meet Mike shortly after 7:00 am. Mike lives in Osgoode, a village not far from where I gun for grouse and woodcock in the Marlborough Forest. A lot of rain fell toward the end of the previous week and I hoped this would improve conditions in the woodcock covers. If so, I was confident we would get into some late season birds passing through and dropping in on the Marlborough Forest. I arrived at Mike’s house a little late (I texted, advising him I was running late) and he was ready to go. He opted to follow me in his vehicle. Off we went, bound for Schäfer’s Wood. Continue reading
What behooves me to write this entry in my hunting diary about a day afield with Hera where no birds were pointed or flushed is the trio of events that put me slightly on edge, but to my relief ended happily. I got out Sunday morning with Hera, a little later than usual. We were on the road at 8:30 am, starting the hunt at the new patch of cover I found the week before at 9:30 am. It was chilly this morning and there was frost on the ground. The chill in the air and the snow flurries that came later in the morning gave me the tingle I usually experience as Christmas draws near. We gave the cover a thorough sweep hoping to turn up some grouse, but all we saw was another hunter in the distance riding an ATV.
Undaunted we moved to Lester’s Square hoping to find woodcock. We made our way along a stand of cedars surrounding alder runs. The ground is boggy and we turned up woodcock in this cover in hunts the previous week. Hera made a couple of flash points on old scents, but the birds were long gone. We pressed through the cover to a trail left by hunters over the seasons that leads to another stand of cover that often holds woodcock. As we made our way along the trail I spied several people on horseback approaching. The stand of cover to which I headed with Hera took us away from the approaching riders. I heard one of them point out “there’s a hunter.” I turned, tipped my hat and bid them “good morning.” Hera barked once when she noticed the riders, but otherwise ignored them. I was a little concerned when I saw the horses as Hera has never been in close proximity to horses. Thankfully, she took no notice of them; she is focused on game birds.
We swept the cover and though we turned up no birds, my hopes were raised momentarily when I spied the telltale droppings–splashes of white dung about the size of a loonie–on the forest floor that show woodcock were in the area recently.
We came full circle to where we started the hunt at Lester’s Square and to my surprise a deer was standing at the edge of the forest road, next to a cedar hedge. At first I was not sure it was a deer, thinking it might be the trunk of a cedar, but as Hera drew near the deer (a doe) raised its head. Hera noticed the doe when she raised her head and watched as the doe bounded off into the forest. To my relief Hera did not go tearing after the doe. The memory of my first dog, Christie, who took off after a deer on her first training run sprang to mind. She was four months old and went missing for a few hours leaving me beside myself with worry until I finally tracked her down and brought her home safe and sound. I swear sometimes my dogs will be the death of me. In a final yet futile effort to get into birds at Lester’s Square, we made our way through the cedar bog where I got turned around the week before. This time I am happy to report I found my way through the bog without getting lost and not having to employ either my compass or the maps app on my cellphone.
We took our leave of Lester’s Square and made our way to Cowan’s Corner. I held out hope there might be a bird or two in the cedars and hardwoods around the beaver pond at the far end of the cover. My hopes were dashed when I found the ground dry as a bone. No birds were found, but as I made my way along the trail while Hera quartered through a stand of tamarack a hare ran across the trail in front of me. It was gone before I had time to react, but I was pleased to see it, the first one I saw this season. As we continued along the trail, things quickly got tense and I narrowly avoided disaster when Hera sniffed out a porcupine hiding in a culvert. Fortunately, the porcupine was well inside the culvert and not looking for a confrontation with Hera. I moved a stone to partially block the mouth of the culvert and ordered Hera away. The last thing I wanted was my dog to end up with a face full of porcupine quills. We will avoid the area for the rest of the season. It was about 1:30 pm when we got back to the car and I called it a day. Though we turned up no birds on this hunt it was a good day in the field nonetheless.
Posted by Geoffrey
This is Hera’s third season in the field and she is coming along nicely in her training as a gun dog. I documented the difficulties I had last season in the diary entry The terrible twos. In her second season, Hera manifested the symptoms of the “terrible twos” in breaking point and bumping birds before I walked up the point. She experienced a couple relapses of this behaviour at the start of this season, but today she made three staunch points on woodcock. I walked up each point and she held as we got the birds in a squeeze play. I got a shot away at the first bird she pointed and missed spectacularly. The second bird flushed under a tall cedar tree and did not offer a shot. Hera pointed the the third bird close to where the second bird was found in a mix of aspen, cedar and alder. This time I dumped it cleanly with my first barrel.
Conditions in the woodcock coverts this season are not the best. Though the ground is not dry and hard; neither is it damp enough for the woodcock to easily probe for earthworms. I am not seeing the telltale splotches of woodcock droppings in the coverts. Hera finds and points many old scents each day we are hunting, which tells me woodcock are moving in, but not staying long. This is what I find in the Marlborough Forest and on the property I hunt near Spencerville. We are getting into birds most days afield, but not in numbers I experience when conditions are better. However, the birds we found this season were exactly where I expected they would be. She is getting the experience she needs to develop as a gun dog and I am patient with her, though it is frustrating when she stumbles onto birds, bumping them before she scents and points them. I remember this happening on occasion with the three dogs I hunted before Hera. It is an occupational hazard for pointing dogs.
We will take to the field each day the rest of this week and with any luck will get into more birds. There is one spot in the Marlborough Forest I hunted in seasons past, but it is now part of the Rideau Trail. As I drive past the spot on my way to another part of the forest I remember hunting a particular patch of cedars there with my first two dogs. These days I leave the area to the non-hunting users of the forest, e.g., the bird watchers, hikers and cross country runners who frequent the area. Hunters are not the only ones using the Marlborough Forest and it is important that we extend courtesy to the non-hunting users of the forest. There is another patch of cover I want to explore as we head into the field tomorrow morning. I am hopeful we will turn up more birds, but whether we do or not, Hera and I will enjoy our morning afield.
Posted by Geoffrey
What was planned as a training session to get Hera staunch on point became a comedy of errors. I drove out to Banin Farms with the plan to work her on pigeons with the help of the proprietor Edmund Hassett. The appointment was at 9:00 am on October 23rd. I arrived and found Edmund had pheasants, four of them, ready for our training session. I appreciate Edmund is under a great deal of stress. His wife Vera is recovering from a stroke she suffered four weeks ago, so I did not mention the misunderstanding and we got on with the training session.
I put Hera on the 30′ check cord I made for her training and off we went. The plan was to let Hera find the birds and when she locked up on point, Edmund would take hold of the check cord and hold her on point while I walked up and walked around the bird before flushing it. Unfortunately, things went off the rails from the get go. The first bird jumped up, flushing wildly, before Hera got near it. I shot it and it went down in a glide into a wooded area. As we made our way to track the downed pheasant we walked up where the second bird was planted only to find this bird had already hightailed it. Hera did a great job tracking and retrieving the first bird, a lively cripple.
Moving onto the third bird, it flushed as Hera stumbled over it. I shot it and Hera Maggie made the retrieve. We moved onto the fourth bird and again, she stumbled across it, flushing it before she locked up on point. It was shot and retrieved also.
I asked Edmund if I could try pigeons, as was my original plan, and he retrieved three pigeons for me. He could not help me with Hera’s training with the pigeons, but showed me how to plant them. I planted the pigeons and let Hera go after them on the check cord. Things went from bad to worse. I quickly found Hera does not recognize pigeons as game birds. She ran through the field where the birds were planted, eventually stumbling across them and treating them as she does other non-game species, such as mice and voles, as something to pick up. I rescued the pigeons (keeping Hera from devouring them), setting them free so they could return to the loft.
On the way home I took Hera to Lester’s Square in the Marlborough Forest for a quick sweep. She flash pointed a few old scents, but no birds were found. My hopes of starting her on the road to being staunch on point today were dashed, but the effort will continue.