Monday, January 25, 2016

McGuane goes bird hunting

I can't seem to get enough of Tom McGuane. His writing, anyway. His pithy, pointed and pungent phrasing - please note the alliteration here - always seems to be on target. In this short, self deprecating essay Tom is going pheasant hunting with his pointer, Molly…

    ...As I get ready Molly stays close to me, prancing like a cheerleader. A small cloud of butterflies dances across the tractor ruts and Molly makes after them like a rocking horse but returns to my side when I whistle.
   All right, ready to go. "find some birds," I tell her. She gives me one last look, as though from the cockpit of a fighter plane, and pours it on. I don't believe this. My heart begins to sink as she ticks off the first 880 and I realize nothing has changed. 
   I walk gloomily along a shelter belt of Lombardy poplars with only the vaguest reference to the to the shrinking liver-and-white form in the distance. At the far end of the field, I see her stop, lock up on point, then selfishly pounce into the middle of the birds. Gloom. Gloom. Pheasants scatter. But wait -- my God! They're flying this way.
   Like the lowest kind of dry-gulch artist, I crouch in the hedgerow. The pheasants keep coming, Molly yelping along behind. At fifty yards I rise to the balls of my feet. At twenty I stand up out of the brambles and… shoot a double! Two cock pheasants tumble. I scramble around to gather them up before my dog can rend and eat them. 
   I hang the handsome birds from my belt. Their rich, satisfying odor keeps man's best friend trot ting along at my side. Now and again I hear her teeth click lightly. There is a spring I know near the thorn grove where I can gather some wild, peppery watercress for our game dinner.
   At last that perfect symbiosis between man and his dog! I finally feel Molly is as good a hunter as I am. 
   We approach the Land Rover. The cloud of butterflies blows across the tractor ruts again, and I check myself from pursuit.

MOLLY from An Outside Chance by Thomas McGuane

Wish I was here












A couple years ago. Pete, Clair and I went to hunt prairie chickens in Nebraska. As usual, Clair took a number of excellent photos. The one above is my favorite. Ted and Rosie pointing birds, Pete and I moving up to flush. And, yes, we downed a couple birds.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Elongated Soft Palate in bird dogs

Elongated soft palate (ESP) is one of a set of conditions normally associated with brachycephalic syndrome, which is endemic to pug-nosed dogs. These breeds very often suffer breathing and other problems due to the truncation of their noses. What I did not know is that pointing breeds can suffer from the problem.

For a bird dog ESP is a huge problem - the rear of the soft palate extends down far enough to partially block the airway leading to the trachea and it makes full inhalation and exhalation especially difficult. Animals with elongated soft palates breathe heavily with a fluttering , gasping sound. They may also gag when they try to swallow, and may even have pale gum tissue from lack of oxygen in the blood after exercise.

My young pup, Little John or "LJ", has been with John McIltrot in Montana since last summer. John noticed that he ran well but tired much sooner than he should. John spoke with Dr. Terry Terlep, DVM of Thomasville, Georgia who felt that the symptoms were consistent with ESP. Subsequent medical examination revealed that his airway was restricted due to an elongated soft palate. "It was like he was trying to run a marathon while breathing through a soda straw" according to John. He just could not show us what we truly expected from him.

This is the first I have heard of this problem in pointing dogs. I spoke with Dr. Terlep hoping to learn more about ESP in pointing dogs. He told me that when he had his practice in South Florida he would see four or five bird dogs a year that were afflicted with ESP. "Owners usually came in saying the dog overheated or lacked stamina. The sound of dogs with elongated soft palate is distinctive, the dog breathes like a freight train after exercise and the labored breathing has a fluttering sound."

"The treatment for elongated soft palate is surgical, simple and effective. The operation takes only 30 minutes or so and when completed the difference in performance is dramatic. This problem can be present in all pointing breeds and is hereditary, but the genetics have not really been studied " Dr. Terlep continued. I think bird dog people, especially breeders, need to take this more seriously. Certainly they should learn to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment when they see it."

On January 4th, Dr. Rich Scherr, DVM, of Great Falls operated and corrected LJ's palate. It is a relatively simple procedure that employs a laser to cut away excess soft palate tissue and simultaneously cauterize the wound. Dr. Scherr also mentioned that LJ had robust aerobic capability comparable to the 'plumbing' of a larger dog. We are hoping that this correction helps LJ to reach his full potential.

UPDATE - February 7th. >>>> L.J. is running very well and his bird finding and endurance is much improved. I think the problem is behind us.


Here is LJ - sedated and ready for the procedure that will allow him to better do what he was bred to do.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Rearranging body parts

For the past six years I have been increasingly suffering from hip and leg pain caused by pressure on the lateral nerves where they pass through my spine at L4-L5.  The condition - spinal stinosis - is fairly common. This was further aggravated by a ruptured disk at the same location. For a guy who would like to fly fish rivers, hunt birds, run dogs, or ride a horse at a field trial, this is a significant limitation.

After attempts at relief, including physical therapy, flexing exercises, steroid injections, and acupuncture, the only relief I could get was from pain killers, which I become increasingly dependent upon for daily functioning. My excursions into the bird field were almost zero this season.

So, on November 12th, I checked into the Stanford Spine Center to undergo surgery - a "bilateral micro decompression" - by Dr. Todd Alamin. Surgery took about an hour and a half. I awoke and immediately realized that the pain in my hips and legs was gone. I am recovering from the small incision in my back and expect to be healed completely by year end. I am walking 5.5 miles every other day and in physical therapy to recover my former level of fitness.

Life is good again.

Cody gets close…but no cigar

Cody has been running in trials here on the West Coast. He was named Runner-Up Champion in the California Quail Championship, which is a National qualifier. He was bested by Hal Meyers fine setter female, Zorra. She qualified a second time for the National Birddog Championship in Grand Junction Tennessee.


Friday, September 4, 2015

Time for birds - at last

Dove season, for me, is always the beginning of Fall and bird hunting. Never mind that it is still Summer. 

For a number of years now, Pete Houser has been kind enough to invite me to Southern California for the opening of dove season. This year, as usual, we went out scouting birds on August 31st to check the known hot spots and look for new opportunities. We found enough birds in residence and a new spot or two so we were satisfied that we were ready for the opener the following day. After an excellent brunch at a Mexican restaurant in El Centro we went out for some pre-season shooting - at pigeons and Eurasian Collared Doves. We had a great time for a couple of hours and burned a box or two of ammunition while downing some birds for the freezer.

For whatever reason there were a lot fewer hunters this opener than the past several. And, unlike many past seasons, we found more White Wing Doves than Mourning Doves. We also found that, unlike past seasons, Eurasian Collared Doves were very widely distributed rather than concentrated in a few small areas near towns and feedlot operations. In fact, The Eurasian Collared Doves were as abundant as White Wing Doves and far out numbered Mourning Doves.

Eurasian Collared Doves do not count towards the dove limit in California.  Accordingly, we call them "Zeroes". Due to the abundance of Zeroes we made a relatively large bag in the first two days - over 100 birds and within the 15 bird White Wing/Mourning dove limits for each day. A great shoot and a great time.



White Wing, Eurasian Collared, and Mourning doves with my 20 gauge Charles Daly. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Summer doldrums

It has been a tough Summer for a couple of reasons that I don't want to discuss here. But a note of encouragement arrived with a call from John McIltrot, who said that Andy is doing very well - he is becoming a reliable bird finder and a solid bird handler. Photo by John shows Andy (facing the camera) and pointing a bird.


'Little John' Is running all over the prairie and rippin' birds in the best approved puppy style.

I am headed to Montana at the end of the week and will have some fun at John's camp, then head over to Paul Garrett's camp. 


Bird season is comin' and I am starting to feel renewed sense of purpose.