William McClure was a friend and mentor to me starting when I first spoke to him in 1987 until his death in 2013. Bill was a Brittany enthusiast and former breeder of the breed. He helped me find the breeder from whom I purchased my first dog, Christie, and shared his experience in training Brittanies for hunting with me when I trained Brittanies of my own. As this hunting season progresses and I take to the field with Hera, my fourth Brittany, I hear Bill’s voice, his warning against taking my dogs to hunting preserves to shoot pen raised chukar and pheasant. Bill warned me that pen raised birds are often not strong fliers and easy for the dog to catch. This, he warned, gives them the idea that they can catch wild birds too which is the last thing you want. I chose not to heed his warning at the time as I knew that hunters commonly visit hunting preserves with their dogs without issue. I took my first three Brittanies, Christie, Maggie and Juno to hunting preserves and never had a problem. In fact the photo at the head of this blog features me with my beloved Juno at the end of her first hunt on a preserve. Still, I wonder now if I should have heeded his warning, given that Hera is breaking point on woodcock, bumping the birds rather than waiting for me to walk up the point. Continue reading →
Hera during a break in our morning hunt at the Marlborough Forest.
Hera turns five next month and by and large is a seasoned hunting dog in her prime. I remember how impressed I was with her when she pointed grouse and woodcock in her first season in 2013 when she was barely a year old. The other three Brittanies who came before her did not make their first points on wild birds until they were in their second seasons and closer to two years old. Hera started her career as a hunting dog on a firm foundation, but in her second season she took to breaking point and bumping birds before I could walk them up. This proved frustrating for me, but I was patient with her and over time I got her back to remaining staunch on point. She was fine in her third season and her performance last season was superb. She remains staunch on point on woodcock she finds in the fields I run her every day through the year. Typically, she finds woodcock in these fields early in spring. They are migrants returning from their wintering grounds. Imagine my dismay that now, in her fifth season, she experienced a relapse and took to breaking point again.
Hera at the end of a full morning of hunting grouse and woodcock.
Got out for the second time this week with Hera to chase some grouse and woodcock. This time it was a solo hunt, just Hera and me on our own. I set out for the farm near Spencerville shortly after 7:00 am, but had to double back when I realized I left my phone at home. After retrieving my phone we were on our way and arrived at the farm at about 8:30 am. The temperature was 5 C and there was no wind. It looked like a good day in the field was in store for us. My enthusiasm soared when seconds into the hunt Hera locked up on point. It was at the edge of a trail in a dense stand of aspen and evergreens. I searched for a way through the cover to approach Hera head on, thinking it might be a grouse. I pushed through the cover and a woodcock flushed, climbing through the brush to the right of me very close. I turned as quickly as I could and got off a shot, missing spectacularly. It was a challenging shot so I took it in stride, buoyed by the fact that Hera found and pointed a bird so quickly. However, what followed left me bewildered and a little dismayed.
Mike and his German Shorthaired Pointer Maggie Mae on her first hunt of the 2017 season.
The heatwave continues as the small game and upland bird seasons get underway. It was Sunday morning, September 24, 2017, the day after the opening of duck season, and the temperature is expected to reach 40 C again. I arranged to meet with another of my new hunting buddies, Mike, who is training his first gun dog. He is the proud owner of a 17 month old German Shorthaired Pointer named Maggie Mae, Maggie being her working name. I met Mike last season while out running Hera and after chatting he and I became hunting buddies. Maggie was still a puppy last season, too young to join us in the field and not gun conditioned at that point. It was really too hot to stay out for very long with the dogs, but we thought we could at least introduce Maggie to Hera and let them get acquainted on a grouse hunt. Woodcock season opens on the 25th of September this season. The objective for this morning was to run the dogs together after grouse on the property near Spencerville where I also hunt deer with three friends. Mike is a seasoned deer hunter and I took the opportunity to show him the areas I hunt deer with my friends. We had a good, albeit brief, morning afield with the dogs on this all too hot day.
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 →
Hera with the hapless black squirrel she caught in the garden this morning.
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.
Hera proudly displays her kill at the top of the stairs.
“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.
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 →