Hera and the ghost of William McClure

 

 

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Hera is my 4th Brittany.

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

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Hera, a work in progress

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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.

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Two birds with one stone

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Jason posing with a grouse he took on our morning hunt with Hera and Nos.

Got out today for an upland hunt with my friend Jason for the first time since his daughter Rose was born three years ago. I find my hunting buddies often have far less time for hunting once they become family men so it was great to get back in the field with Jason. I asked Jason the evening before if he would join me on a hunt for grouse and woodcock at the farm near Spencerville. He told me he had to be back by 1:00 pm as his wife Fran had plans. I reminded him that the it generally takes about two hours to sweep the grouse and woodcock cover on the farm so if we were in the field by 8:00 am we should have ample time for a morning hunt and get back to Ottawa in time. It is about an hour’s drive from Ottawa to the farm. Jason agreed to the plan and added that he wanted to bring the sacks of corn and mineral salt blocks along to set out by our deer stands and scout out a new location for his wife Fran’s ladder stand. We hunt deer on the farm during rifle season in November. This meant taking out his ATV so we could carry the sacks of corn and mineral salt blocks back into where our ladder stands are located. It was an ambitious agenda, but feasible if we timed it right. Continue reading

Someone didn’t have her Wheaties this morning

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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.

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Welcome, Maggie Mae, to the thrill of grouse and woodcock hunting

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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.

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The best laid plans.

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View of the Castor River on opening day 2017.

September 23, 2017 was the first opening day of duck season I experienced in which a heat warning was in effect with the temperature expected to reach 40 C by the afternoon. I had mixed feelings about getting out this morning because of the unseasonably warm temperatures for this late in September. Still, I was up at 3:00 am, dressed, ready and on my way to pick up Thomas, my newest hunting buddy, at his house for 4:00 am. Shooting time started at 6:20 am. It was warm enough at that hour that I did not need layers of clothing and I was more concerned  about being too hot in the field. I picked up Thomas and we made our way to the farm outside Russell, Ontario where we planned to sit on the Castor River and watch for mallard and wood ducks. It was the first time for Thomas, his first opening day of duck season, and I was hopeful we would get into birds. We arrived in good time (shortly before 5:00 am), but despite my best laid plans, we were confronted with a number of pitfalls. Continue reading

Spare the rod, spoil the dog?

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It is never okay to beat or mistreat a dog.

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Hera stalking a rabbit on her afternoon run.

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