I made my first kill of the 2018 woodcock season late this morning. I was hunting in the Marlborough Forest at the patch of cover I call Schäfer’s Wood. I shot a woodcock over Hera’s point. I downed the bird with the second barrel of my Franchi Instinct SL in 20 gauge. We are two weeks into the 2018 Fall hunting seasons, and the weather is much improved. Still, conditions in my preferred hunting grounds are the driest I ever saw in all my years of hunting. I hope we get significant rainfall before mid-October. It took a lot of walking this morning, but Hera and I got into birds. I enjoy watching Hera working the covers we hunt for birds; watching her work the covers leaves me wondering at times if I trained her as a hunting dog or if it is she who taught me as a hunting dog owner. Continue reading
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
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
It is the end of October and the 2016 woodcock season is winding down. The forecast was for light rain, but virtually no wind this morning when I set out with Hera for the Marlborough Forest. We got away a little later than usual as I slept in a bit. We arrived at Cowan’s Corner close to 9:00 am. I hoped there might still be a few birds in the cover, left over from the great shoot we had the previous Monday afternoon. It snowed on Thursday and there were remnants of this on the ground as we approached the forest. It was overcast, but not raining when I set out with Hera at Cowan’s Corner for what turned out not her best day in the field. She locked up on point very quickly only to jump the gun and bump the bird before I could walk up her point. I bumped a second bird in short order, it flushed unseen. Hera was back in form when she pointed the third bird we found at Cowan’s Corner. It was in thick cover so I was well pleased when I flushed it over her point and got it with my second barrel. Hera made a good retrieve and we moved on.
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.
Hera is my fourth Brittany. She turned two years old earlier this month. I am reminded as this current hunting season progresses that you cannot expect too much too soon with a young gun dog in training. Hera was my little prodigy in her first season; she pointed and retrieved ruffed grouse and woodcock for me as a one year old puppy. None of the three dogs before her were doing this at her age. I was so impressed and happy, I expected more of the same in this season. However, for whatever reason, Hera is finding and pointing birds, mostly woodcock, locking up on point, then breaking point and pouncing as I make my way to walk up her point. She pounces when I am several yards from her and the bird. This ensures the bird flushes without the chance for a shot, which defeats the purpose of Hera and I out hunting together. She does not understand she is hunting for me.
The past three days, in the latter part of the woodcock season–migrating woodcock are generally found in this part of eastern Ontario through October–we are getting into birds, only to have this frustrating pattern of point, break point and flush, play itself out again and again. This is so frustrating. What am I to do about this situation? How can I remedy it? I am going to schedule training sessions for Hera and myself at a pheasant hunting preserve I used with the previous dogs in their training. It is Banin Upland Game Farm, about an hour’s drive from where I live. The owners of the preserve took a hiatus from their upland game bird hunting enterprise a couple of years ago, but are happily back in business in the present. I will spend some time with Hera, working her on a check cord with pigeons to get her to remain staunch on point.
Hera is my fourth Brittany, so you think I would be seasoned enough in gun dog training to manage the embarrassing situation when she decides to disobey most spectacularly during a confrontation with non-hunters. My buddy Jason Quinn and his dog Nos joined me as I took Hera to the vet for her annual vaccinations and a heartworm test. Following the visit to the veterinary clinic, we made our way to some parkland along the Rideau River in the south part of Ottawa for our daily dog run. I have been running my gun dogs there since the 1990s and only on one other occasion had a confrontation with people who complained about my dog. I remember standing my ground on that occasion; it was with Maggie, my second Brittany. I told them, calmly, I would look after my dog, that they should just continue with their walk. When one of the persisted in berating me I shut him up telling him to “piss off.” He went on his way muttering insults. Today’s confrontation was far more dramatic. Continue reading