Sunday, June 29, 2008

Man killed by mountain lion in New Mexico

Reuters reported this week that a man living alone in a mobile home near Pinos Altos, NM was killed and partly eaten by a mountain lion. This is a rare and unfortunate occurrence, and frankly, I am more worried about my dogs becoming victims than myself.

Be careful out there.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Let your dog self relocate -- or not?

I have heard many opinions about whether a bird dog should stop at first scent, and whether a dog should be allowed to relocate on birds after stopping. I have flip-flopped on this issue and finally come down on the side of letting a dog self relocate after pointing, especially on birds that are prone to run out from under a point - and most of the species I hunt will do just that.

There are two reasons I like a dog to relocate himself and a couple of conditional statements. 

First, I have always been more of a bird hunter than field trialer, and I want my dogs to be good producers of wild birds - but I want them broke steady to wing and shot. I believe that relocation on birds that are moving is one of the hallmarks of excellent bird work.  But (here is the conditional statement) once the dog has the birds and I move in front to flush, I want him steady as a rock until sent on. This is consistent with good hunting and field trial practice, and shows that the dog can think for himself. Why shouldn't he? He certainly knows better than I do what the birds are doing.  

Secondly, in a trial I want to show off my dog - I want him to display the bird savvy we have worked so hard on. Successful self relocation on birds that are running, when the dog can move as the birds move, and then pin and hold them is  an awesome display of what a great bird dog can do. Some trialers - maybe the majority - want to dog to stop and not move until released by the handler. That's fine on planted birds that are less likely to run, but on wild birds, a relocation, if needed, will more likely produce a flush instead of a non-productive.

It takes a good dog and a lot of wild bird exposure and teamwork to make a dog that is classy, positive on self relocation, and then stands when the flush begins, and remains steady through the flush, shot, and fall. But it is sooo fine to see.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Historic Supreme Court Ruling...

For decades, the meaning of the Second Amendment has been at the heart of a political and legal debate over gun control. People have argued whether it guarantees the right to bear arms to individuals or to citizens in a militia.

Written more than 200 years ago, the amendment says - A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. 

Seems simple enough, but the Supreme Court has never really ruled on whether it applied to the rights of the individual, rather than a 'collective' right of those serving in a 'militia'. Today, in Washington DC, the Supreme Court rendered, for the first time, a clear decision on the rights affirmed by the Second Amendment.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Individual Americans have a right to own guns, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday for the first time in history, striking down a strict gun control law in the U.S. capital.
The landmark 5-4 ruling marked the first time in nearly 70 years the high court has addressed the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It rejected the argument the right to keep and bear arms was tied to service in a state militia.
Justice Antonin Scalia said for the majority the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with militia service and to use it for traditional lawful purposes, such as self-defense in the home. However, he said the new right was not unlimited.
The court struck down two parts of the country's strictest gun control law adopted in Washington, D.C., 32 years ago -- the ban on private handgun possession and the requirement that firearms kept at home be unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.
The ruling marked the first time the court has struck down a gun control law for violating the Second Amendment.
The ruling won praise from the White House, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Wayne LaPierre of the politically powerful National Rifle Association, who said, "This is a great moment in American history."

Here is one American who is thankful for a government that, while often prone to swing away from basic individual rights, can also correct itself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gas prices keeping you home?

Here in California, doing this would probably invite the attention of the local SWAT team. Other parts of the world are more civilized...

Monday, June 23, 2008

a book to consider

First off, I'm flattered to Mike for letting me join Living with Birddogs as a contributor. Being a relative newcomer to the joys of pointing dogs, I've appreciated Mike's opinions over the years --and so I'm pleased to share a few things of my own here.

I suggested my first post might be a review of Dave Walker's Bird-dog Training Manual. My copy showed up a few days ago and here's a few preliminary observations. I should say that while I knew Dave's name and reputation, I found reference to the book on Jon Lee's great Pointing Dogs blog. The first thing that caught my attention was the assertion that Dave, an American Brittany Club Hall of Famer, eschewed gizmos like whoa barrels, choke collars, and half-hitches round the belly.

When I come across new bird-dog owners, I generally recommend that they read Ben Williams's Bird Dog: The Instinctive Training Method. Ben's book is as much as book about the joy of hunting with dogs as it is about actually training them -- and avoids getting caught up in all the bells and whistles (literally), collars, training tables, and check-cords. Importantly, it lets prospective bird-dog owners know what's possible with just time, clear communication, and birds. Arguably the challenge for most regular folks is that Ben is blessed with wide-open spaces and wild birds to train on.

Dave relies on three pieces of equipment: a check-cord, a training collar, and an e-collar. He also relies on a communication sequence that uses verbal, non-verbal (but acoustic), and the least amount of stimulation necessary to signal to the dog that it is now being asked to do something different. And all of this starts with what he calls "the art of walking a dog." The other critical piece of advice he repeats over and over is to keep your mouth shut. Especially when training, keep your talking to your dog to a minimum -- to give the words that you do speak more significance.

This last piece of advice is one that rings especially true for me. I feel pretty comfortable saying that most of my older dog's sins or failings are inherited from his dad not knowing exactly what he wanted, not knowing how to ask for it, and talking too much in between. One of the things I appreciate about Dave's book is that in what is largely a filler chapter in most dog-training books, 'Choosing Your Dog,' he does include four clear skill-set phases in a dog's development that take the dog from being to steady-to-wing through retrieve-on-command. As with much of the book, Dave sets out clear learning goals for each phase. If I'd had a clearer idea of what I might have been able to do with a bird-dog, maybe I would have talked less at my older dog.

I won't go into all the details of the book, except to say that a) it relies on a clear sequence of skills, and b) that I learned a bunch of things that I don't think I'd read elsewhere. For example, I found Dave's chapters on 'Using Training Birds' and 'Training in the Field' to be well worth the book as a whole. The 'Training Birds' chapter is short, but has enough suggestions on how to actually and humanely limit training birds' flight (using tethers or plucking primary covert feathers) to be well worthwhile for relative newbies like me. The field training chapter walks you through the sequence of skills that make a good dog a finished dog that starts with the foundation skill of stop-and-stand-still -- and I wish I'd read the book when it first came out in 2005. That doesn't mean that other folks like me are screwed when it comes to applying a lot of Dave's method into the skills our dogs already possess, but it does mean that things might have been smoother at this point. And there's still time for me to get that rock solid honor in place.

Dave has a really straighforward writing style, but there were some things I wish I could have seen in practice. Take advantage of the video clips on Dave's site -- the one on his training collar makes it a lot clearer to me how it does (and importantly, doesn't) work. Nevertheless, I would love to see how Dave 'circles' a dog when it starts to break point - the idea sounds great, but I can't quite picture it in practice. Perhaps needless to say, Dave has a bunch of DVDs available. Again, check out the clips on his website -- he looks like a hoot. Sounds like he had a nice dinner with Jon Lee, too.

If you're thinking about starting a new pup, and you want to try most of the training yourself, I think Dave's book is a good investment. You're still going to need time, patience, and above all to help your dog by keeping your mouth shut.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pete Houser's Rosie

My friend Pete Houser has a fine young setter named Rosie. I hunted with Pete when Rosie was a pup and she was a real handful. But with perseverance and a bit of help from pro trainer Sheldon Twer, Rosie has come along well, and is a fast, wide and stylish bird dog. She shows her style in the photo above, taken last season in Montana, pointing sharp-tail grouse.

Rosie is by Been's Great Day out of Tug Hill Ballerina - both proven producers, and Pete is fortunate to have her. Pete does not trial Rosie - she could be competitive - but she is lots of fun to run and hunt over.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Complete Guide to Wing Shooting - by Alex Brant

I bought this book based on the well done technical articles that Mr. Brant has written for Shooting Sportsman Magazine. The book presents a strange mixture of the obvious and arcane. 

On one hand, Brant delves intelligently into shotguns and gun fit, chokes and patterning, and how to hit clays and high driven birds. Good stuff. But Brant, primarily and by his own admission a clay target and driven bird shooter, short changes the type of upland shooting that must of us do in North America, hardly a useful word beyond talking about his dogs. That, and the superfluous advice on how to dress oneself, makes a book that would not satisfy the North American hunter who shoots over his flushing or pointing dogs. 

Mr. Brant writes in a voice that feels somewhat condescending... I cannot put my finger on it exactly, but I am pretty sure that I do not want to go bird shooting with him. 

Save your money to buy Bob Brister's Shotgunning, the Art and Science.

Medical care in the field

Shawn Wayment (BirdDogDoc) is a Vet and bird dog man. He has a great blog - BirdDogDoc Chronicles - and has posted a comprehensive list of what is needed in a first aid kit in the field. From his blog...

"Bird dogs are faced with many perils in the field, so it's very important to carry a field first aid kit and know a few basic dog first aid procedures. Another important thing is to have a veterinarian that understands field dogs and the rigors that they are challenged with in the field. Have your veterinarian help you get a good first aid kit together for this fall."

I know how handy a first aid kit can be - one of Pete Houser's setters tore her shoulder on a piece of barbed wire in Oregon a couple years ago, and Pete, Clair and I stitched her up with dental floss. Would have done much better if we had the first aid kit that Shawn recommends.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

At some time every bird dog man (sorry... bird dog person) loses one somewhere out in the country. The creeping realization that your dog is lost brings on a low grade panic, a confusion of ideas about what to do, and what to do next swirl around in the mind.

The poster above is a souvenir of a few years ago when I lost my maniac setter, Benny. I was staying at a place I rent on the breaks of the Wenaha River in NE Oregon, fooling with dogs, birds, and steelhead for a month or two. One morning while loading the dogs into the Landcruiser, Benny slipped by me at the door to the garage, ran down the drive, across the little road, and into the breaks. A hellish steep, timbered and wild place. Yelling and whistling did no good, he wasn't waiting for me to go hunting.

I immediately started after him but he was gone and not responding to calling or whistles. I started driving the ridge road in the direction he had headed. Stopping, whistling, calling, firing my gun in the air. I stopped trucks of elk hunters to ask them to keep a lookout. By mid-afternoon three of my friends were also out driving, calling, looking for Benny. No dice.

Next morning I went to my friend Dean to use his printer to make the poster you see above. I widened the search area, talked to everyone on the roads and in the village of Troy, Oregon. I postered signs, trees, bulletin boards for 10 or more miles in every direction.The $100 reward got some other people out looking, too. By night fall of day two, everybody knew about Benny and the reward. But no joy.

Day three. I was pretty convinced that Benny was gone for good. I had to do the thing I feared most – call my wife and tell that Benny – her favorite – was missing in action. I kept driving, calling, whistling, shooting in the air, and interviewing rangers, hunters, cattlemen. Still no Benny.

The morning of the fourth day, I was preparing breakfast when the dogs on the chaingang set up a barking and howling. I figured the resident bighorn ram was taking a shortcut through the yard again and went out on the deck for a look. Out pops Benny from the brush in exactly the place he had disappeared days before. He was hungry and thirsty but no worse for wear. 

They usually come back on their own. “Where 'ya been, Benny?”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tommy flies to camp

I just shipped Tommy to Field Trial trainers Randy Anderson and Tony Falley of CROSSCOUNTRY KENNELS for a three month session with wild birds in North Dakota. The aggravation of getting all regulations satisfied and the expense of shipping has been more than I expected.

Tommy just had a session with our DVM late last week - check-up, full set of boosters and his first Red Rock rattlesnake vaccine injection. He had already had rabies vaccine prior to being shipped to us in January. The window to ship him was open early this week, and I rushed to make arrangements to ship via Delta to Randy in Tulsa, OK. Except I needed a health certificate. 

So... I called my vet and got the office weinie, who said that I needed to bring him in for a check up and rabies shot, which they did not have on his records. After finally convincing her that the same dog had been in the office a few days before, that I had already provided the rabies information, and that he would be flying (God willing) within a 10 day window, she said, "Well we need to weigh him again, please bring him in." So I load the pup into the truck and off we go to the vet. Arriving at the vet's, I put Tommy on the scale, and he scales the same as he did 5 days before - 44-1/2 pounds. She smiles and hands me a full page form to fill out which asks for information about his rabies vaccine (manufacturer and lot number), and other details I didn't have... grrrr. I suggested that it would have been good if she had informed me of what was needed when we spoke on the phone 30 minutes earlier.  After atrip home to fetch Tommy's file folder and phone call to Bruce Hood DVM, the vet who inoculated Tommy in January and issued the original health certificate in Missouri, I managed to have him quickly fax the details to my vet. After more than a hour in the vet's office and two trips back and forth, I had the health certificate and had only to set up the flights, prep a traveling crate, affix stickers and assorted warnings to the crate... then to the airport, yada, yada...

Randy called me this morning to say that he had Tommy with him, and that Tommy was "...laid back and relaxed - not weirded out at all like some dogs get when flying." Anyway, $404.65, a crate, and another vet bill later, Tommy is in Vinita, Oklahoma starting his formal education at the tender age of 10 months. He will be in North Dakota with Randy and Tony beginning July 5th. I will travel to ND for a few days of dog work with Randy and Tony in late september, and then head for eastern Montana for sharptails - the beginning of my '08 - '09 bird season. 

Ted will stay home and train with me this Summer, and travel with the rest of the gang to ND in September.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A fine Scottish gun

For some time I have been interested in the work of Scottish gun makers, Dickson and MacNaughton particularly. Both Dickson and MacNaughton were pioneers in developing a sophisticated action type - the 'round action' - also called the trigger plate action. John Dickson first began manufacture of these advanced arms in the 1880s, when Purdey's was still making hammer guns.

The Dickson round action guns have a very innovative design that attaches the lock parts and springs to the trigger plate, and uses arched springs as opposed to the 'V' springs traditionally favored by sidelock builders. The arched springs are less prone to breaking, but still offer fine, crisp trigger pulls. SInce all the action mechanisms are mounted to a single, unifying component, they are far less likely to get out of adjustment. Another innovation is the placement of the ejector hammers in the action bar, instead of the forend.  This also aids reliability, makes the action bar short and quite strong, and centralizes the weight of the gun well between the hands.

The Dickson gun shown above was made in Edinburgh and delivered to the new owner the day before grouse shooting season, in the year 1893. Originally built with 30" Damascus barrels, the gun was rebarreled by the makers in 1959 and fitted with a fine set of 27" compressed steel chopper lump barrels, bored 1/4 and 1/2 choke. It weighs 6 lbs., 3 ounces and is a lively gun to shoot.  The lovely French walnut is original to the gun, and wood like this is very hard to find now.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Stating the obvious... leave them be

Many a bird dog has had a run-in with a porcupine. Porcupines are often found in forests and in shrubby ravines in prairies and grasslands. When threatened a porcupine faces away from its aggressor with quills erect and slashes at the attacker with its tail. Loosely rooted quills detach from the porcupine on contact. The tip of each quill is covered with backward-pointing barbs. Beyond the barbed tips, the shaft is smooth and hollow. A quill embedded in tissue will migrate into deeper tissues. Dogs suffering a porcupine encounter often break quills off at the surface of the skin after the encounter. Generally a nasty mess and painful.

I have had several bird dogs quilled and they have learned after the first experience to stay back from the porky and will usually point them from a safe distance. Some 'sharp' breeds will repeatedly attack porcupines, unfortunately. They don't learn to leave them alone, probably wanting to extract a measure of revenge for past pain suffered.

The best tools for repairing the damage to a dog are a Leatherman or a pair of hemostats. It is best to immobilize the dog - a dog in pain is likely to struggle and cause quill breakage during removal, and may bite you. Cover the dog's eyes, and securely clamp each quill close to the skin and pull it straight out. After removing all that can be removed in the field, I consider it best to take the dog immediately to the vet to insure removal of ALL quills and partial, broken bits, especially if there are quills in the tongue, gums, or around the eyes - all of which are very common in quilled dogs. The vet will remove them under sedative or anesthesia and probably also administer an antibiotic to prevent infection.

So. Do you shoot porcupines? I did shoot one once, but no longer. Dennis Kavanaugh says that a dead porky is very attractive to dogs - they want to roll in the mess, and are quilled by the dead quill pig. Even in  death they are a hazard.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lindner made Charles Daly 20 Gauge

This is an old Charles Daly 20 gauge gun - Grade 165 - that was manufactured by H. Lindner. My friend Clair Kofoed located this gun and arranged for me to buy it. It was in rough shape but the barrels were sound. I 'adopted' it and turned it over to Dennis Potter, Pete Mazur, Sam Welch, and Gary Goudy, who (in order) repaired, refinished, picked up the engraving, and restocked it for me.  I thank them for their usual superb work.

The gun weighs about 5-1/2 lbs and has 28-1/8" inch Damascus barrels with 2-3/4" chambers. Made for the American market and marqued 'Charles Daly' by the premier retailer of sporting goods of that era - Shoverling, Daly and Gales. I believe that it was made between 1897 and 1900 and it is still doing useful work on quail and doves. 

Click on the photo for an enlarged view.