Sunday, October 31, 2010

The South Dakota 5-minute field trial

"We may not see a placement in quite awhile." this one is from April 2010
We went up to Hungry Valley, Nevada to the German Shorthair Pointer Club of Northern Nevada walking field trial this weekend.  We were to run in two 30-minute gun dog contests.  One on Saturday and one on Sunday.

I was told over the last six months that if I took Bailey, who was a green broke dog to South Dakota on a pheasant hunt that I would ruin his field-trial abilities.

"It is like taking a well-tuned track race car and take it off-road joy riding." A good friend of mine told me. 

Well, I now call what happened this weekend, the South Dakota 5-minute field trial.  Bailey ran Saturday afternoon in Limited Amateur Gun Dog and within five minutes had pointed two birds.  But on the first bird he held his hold for about one minute.  I think the chucker choose to leave and Bailey moved in and flushed the bird before I could get to him.
I was about 150 yards away when he went on point.  I had not given him a "whoop" call (code for DON'T MOVE) as I approched (I was within 30 feet when he moved.)  He might have held until I got there if I had.  My mistake.

That was at the four minute mark.  He was out of the contest. 

Before I could collar him, he went on point on a second bird about 100 yards further down the course.  I had to put his leash on and pull him off his point (hated doing this, but was ordered by judges that is what was to be done.  In hindsight, I should have picked him up physically and repositioned him way out of the way through the flush of the bird) while the bracemate, that was honoring Bailey's point, was given the bird found by Bailey.  Two birds in five minutes, but we were done in that contest.

Sunday morning.  We are the first brace out.  Would the South Dakota 5-minute field trial continue?
Off we went just after 8 a.m.  Bailey shot out like a rocket.  He was 300 yards away within a minute and running well.   At four minutes Bailey was out of sight over a small ridge but a chucker flew from the left to right and then we saw Bailey in chase.  The judge hadn't seen Bailey flush the bird so we carried on.  30 seconds later, Bailey now came upon bird number two that he sent into the air and gave chase.  Judge calls out to me "Handler, collar your dog."

So in two days Bailey has found four birds in 10 minutes.  Many dogs had gone birdless (not locating a single bird) in the 30-minute contests.

Bailey running through a South Dakota harvested corn field
I have lost my "broke dog" by taking him hunting in South Dakota.  I would not have changed a thing in what I chose to do.  I can work to steady Bailey again.  I could never replace the great time we had in South Dakota.

 Bailey is one hell of a bird dog.  He has a nose and a drive that impresses even the seasoned pros. 

Now Bailey and I have some work to do.  That's ok.  He is young (28-months-old) intelligent and willing.

South Dakota was an adventure of maybe a lifetime.  It was a "no brainer" that we made the right choice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Final post about SD written on way back

October 22, 2010

Woke up to abundant sunshine and a gentle breeze. The best weather yet for being outdoors. A good breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, coffee, and a glass of V8 tomato juice started out the day. The meal was prepared by Ken on a very well used 1960’s era oven and range unit.

The house that is Ken and Janet’s South Dakota home belonged to the grandmother of a local rancher who lives just about five miles up the road. Ken and Janet got it for a song. The plan is to make it the summer through fall home where they can train dogs and enjoy this great country. Ken really enjoys the people and mix of farming, ranching, open spaces that is the lifestyle of those in this part of South Dakota. I am finding a new affinity for these hearty individuals. They do not ask for handouts or government for help. They take on jobs that need to be done with a determination to accomplish whatever task in ahead. Their faces and bodies are weathered beyond their years. These folk, that call this area of our United States, home are the ones Ayn Rand admired in her writings.
Atlas Shrugged
During our thirty hour drive to Firesteel from Davis, California, we passed the time driving or being the passenger by listening to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” It was the abridged version but still was approximately 12 hours. As we drove through towns and cities the further away from the San Francisco Bay Area, the more the story resonated with the tone that the individual still means something. But at the same time you see how the draw of the “big cities” and the easier life shown on tv and the movies over the last few generations have created the exodus out of places in the Midwest. But now some people I talk to are seeing some of the choices Ayn Rand’s characters had to come to grips with. The able and intelligent man and woman are starting to leave the statist regions where free enterprise and ambition are punished instead of rewarded. Here on the plains, your survival is still your responsibility. I truly like that. You see it in the eyes and voices of these quiet people. They have nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. To boast is profanity in these parts. God I like it here.

We are a two hour drive to the closest “big” city. Bismark, North Dakota, or “Rapid” (Rapid City, South Dakota). We took an hour drive due east to Mobridge, SD, for a few supplies and to look around. Mobridge, SD (bridge over the Missouri River) has a population in the low thousands.

 The Missouri River here is wide and cuts through a countryside with neither trees or shrubs that boarder the banks of the river. A cold looking sight. Abundant water in the river and very dry prairie hills all around.

Ken got Scarlet, Hank and Nelli got winter jackets to wear. Unlike Chloe and Bailey who have their cozy sleeping bags, Ken’s short-haired dogs have nothing to keep them warm when the temperatures drop below freezing. Running’s Farm and Fleet, in Mobridge is one of the most amazing of department stores.

 Here you could spend a dollar or five thousand dollars in just a short period of time. During the winter, Ken and I talked about how the locals would shop. “Well,” Ken told me, “ you’d come to Mobridge maybe once every couple weeks for supplies but most-likely, you’d drive up to Bismark or Rapid with a long list of things needed if the roads were clear. There you would have the Lowe’s and bigger discount stores that would make the trip worthwhile.“

Noon came and we came back to gather the dogs and guns to head back to some our favorite hunting spots. Maybe 50% of our hunting has been done in a two square mile area a little to the northwest of the house. This “walk-in only” area boarders Bernie Boysen’s farm and was an area of coal mining 50 years ago. Here there are spoil piles that were covered with dirt maybe 20 years ago to hide the scaring done to the landscape by the strip-mining operations

. Now, nature has tuned into a great spot to hunt pheasant. The little draws have water and cover. The area is just west of corn and wheat fields. Bailey and Nelli hunted the open spaces, tulle patches and around the little ponds that dot the landscape. Our take for the afternoon was just one pheasant. Bailey’s point is getting better every day as he finding more and more pheasant.

 Many of the flushed birds are hens that Bailey and I watch fly away. We are finding about ten hens to every rooster, but that is how nature needs it to be. The hens produce the next generation of birds. Two million roosters will be harvested this year out of South Dakota. South Dakota is the mecca for pheasant hunting for good reason. The chief among them is that the state wants hunters to come here. It is a big part of the local economy. “Find a need and fill it.” Government here works well with the land owners in mutual cooperation and benefit.

There is a new intensity in his point. He loves hunting and he is good at it. I have my hunting dog that I was not looking for until I owned Chloe. I had messed her up early introducing the gun too early. So Bailey came to me and we are having a great time learning how to be a team in the fields. It will take a few years. I am very happy I had Bailey professionally “broke” before the trip. He has now worked “wild birds” for five days and even though he has not stayed steady to shot or given me a consistent retrieves, the basics are firmly established. So upland bird hunting is a team sport and the team of Bailey and Rod should do just fine.

October 22, 2010

Last day in South Dakota. Warmest so far with projected highs in the 70’s today. We started packing for the long trip home in the morning and then took to the east one more time. We were headed out to Moureau Park, about six miles south of Timerlake. We are too early to hunt but this was on Ken’s to do list for future trips. On the way we stopped by a deserted farm that we had seen a few days before just outside of Firesteel. We jokingly called it Rod’s place.

 When we had seen it from the road, the windowless house and outbuildings looked in surprisingly good shape. Now upon closer inspection we found a house that nature was quickly returning back to the earth. The large barn that had appeared fine from the road had collapsed in the back. The property was nice but the buildings were only good for firewood. Rod’s place was a bust.
Moureau Park covered maybe 2,000 acres with a small lake as its centerpiece. Here in late October the valley surrounding the lake was a picture of pastoral serenity. Man had created a sanctuary for wildlife away from the blowing plains that surround these small canyons.

. Winter is coming and man and nature are preparing for six months of tough conditions. But for now peace is only broken every once in a while by the sound of a rifle or shotgun in the distance. People around these parts hunt to put food in the freezer to feed the family. So the sound of the gun is a sound of nature here in South Dakota and most of the upper central part of this great country.

One last trip into Timberlake for Ken to order a dozen special Vizsla logo’d hats for Willow wynd Kennels (Ken and Janet’s kennel name) puppy buyers. Tess (Ken and Janet’s fourth Vizsla) is home with her seven new pups. Ken wants to support this small community that will be their home for a few months every year in their retirement.

Noon came and we headed home to get the dogs and hunting gear for one last outing.

Bailey even sore was ready to go
   We had not found the abundance of birds that we had envisioned. These abundant pheasant live more in the fields southeast of the Missouri River. In those parts of the state, pheasant can number over 200 per square mile. The flip side is that hunters number 10 per square mile and most of the hunting lands are private property where the owners request a “hunting access” fee. More pheasant but more people. We are happy with our fewer birds and many fewer people. Sharptail grouse live more in the area we hunt and this was a bird Ken had a great desire to hunt this trip.

Our last outing had Bailey and I taking a “walk-in area only” side of the road that looked promising for pheasant as Ken and Hank took to the other side with its wide-open prairie grasses holding the elusive sharptail. We planned to hunt two hours and meet back up at the truck. Hank’s big running style suits these prairie lands where he can traverse huge swaths of cover quickly and in search of covies of sharptail.

My side of the road had ravines and mounds that were a easterly continuation of the coal worked fields a half century ago we had hunted the day before. One of the highlights of our hunting experience occurred around one of the “potholes” of a cottontail-lined lake. Bailey ran on tender feet around the lake. He had learned the pheasant like the tullies and hunts these areas carefully. About 15 yards ahead of me Bailey came to a slam stop point. I gave him a gentle “woop” and walked past to the bush he was pointing intensely. When I rustled the bush, a large cock pheasant flew out of the cottontails and out over the lake. One shot brought the bird down into the water.

Bailey arrives at downed pheasant. 

 Without hesitation Bailey busted through the small stand of cottontails and into the water. After a quick thirty yards of swimming,

Bailey brings the big bird back to shore

 Bailey arrived at the 5 pound bird and taking it into his mouth turned and swam back to shore. Once he got to land and about five feet from me, he deposited the soaking bird down and gave himself a good shake.

 I couldn’t have been happier. A water retrieve was the last part of the puzzle I wanted to witness my new hunting partner achieve. The rest of the hour and a half had us wandering around more “potholes” and taking in the remains of a huge dragline crane carcass was good but anti-climactic.

 A few more missed shots and my gun misfiring a couple times (something I need to get looked into at a gunsmith at home) closed out my hunting trip to South Dakota 2010. Ken had had wins with Hank and Scarlet in the field also and as we both headed back to Firesteel, we reflected on six days of hunting pheasant and sharptail. We had come across over 300 birds in our walking. Most out of range for a good shot, some in range and missed and a few taken.

 Our young dogs started out last Sunday full of energy but not part of a “hunting team.” By this afternoon as the sun was setting, all four dogs, Hank, Scarlet, Nelli and Bailey were “getting it.”

 Next year, the dogs will be better hunters and so will we. The conditions in which we hunted could not get much better (Ken wanted a light shower about mid-week,) in our opinion.

 We were leaving the fields, man and dog, tired but extremely happy with the choice to drive 1,500 miles from home to walk over 50 miles in the hills of north-central South Dakota. Tomorrow is the long trip back to “civilization.” I’m ready to go back with renewal of body and mind.

                  Great memories that will last a life time. My first hunting adventure. But not my last.

Back to work BBQ of pheasant and salmon.  Both wild and delicious.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vizslas on the plains of South Dakota

October 19, 2010

The weather has improved. The sun rose to a brisk 39 degrees and a 15 mph wind out of the north. Our weather band radio told us of highs in the upper 50’s today with clear skies. Yesterday was perfect. Today was to be perfecter!

Bailey was BEAT! He had run hard for the last couple afternoon hunts with little rest. I was concerned that he may be ill. On the South Dakota prairie, Bailey yesterday had discovered a cactus plant the size of a walnut with thin, sharp spikes that ranged from ¼ inch to 1 inch long.

These grew in large patches in open ground and stuck to Bailey’s paws. I would have to pull them out with my bare hands as the spikes dug into my fingers. In one patch, I had to carry Bailey out about 20 feet because as soon as I removed one, he would step on another. By this afternoon Bailey had learned to go around these open spaces. Cactus in South Dakota. Who would have guessed? So was Bailey reacting to the cactus or the pond water that he drank and bathed in as we walked the draws that held water? I had never seen Bailey as tired and lifeless as I had this morning.

Ken had to run some errands in Isabel, and I stayed around the house. Took the dogs on a bit of a run next to the Honda Trail 90 that I had brought. I wanted to see how Bailey would do on a short run. The little motorcycle cut through the prairie fields around the house with ease. The dogs running ahead, to the side and at times having to catch up after a stop to check out something of interest. Bailey came alive in the fields and was happy. Once back to the house, he got on the couch for another nap.

By one 1:00 we were in the fields again. We just took Hank and Bailey, as Scarlet had cut pads and Nellie was limping also. A day for resting the girls. The hunting was good for Bailey and me but not so great for Ken and Hank. Hank is a “big-running dog” who is bred for this trait, which is more suited for big country bird hunts with the hunter on horseback. Bailey, partly because he was tired, stayed closer today. No need for the tracking collar. I knew where he was almost all the time. He stayed about 50 to 100 yards ahead most of the day. This is good for a hunter on foot. We are getting better as a pheasant hunting team and even scored a sharp-tail grouse in the open prairie cover.

Over the last three days, I must have walked 30 miles behind my dog. I am tired. It is a good tired from doing what I came so many miles to do – to follow my dog as it served “a dog’s purpose.”

As sunset approached, I found myself on this small rise overlooking Firesteel Lake. The sky was turning orange, and over the lake tullies and marshes, hundreds of ducks were coming back to rest. Thousands of birds were alive and in the air in the maybe 3-mile area I looked down upon. I reached for my camera and found I had not brought it. As I stood there letting the scene sink in to a pleasure moment I will long remember, I knew my camera would be useless in capturing the scene. This 5-minute rest stop was worth the trip even if nothing else good happened. A very good day.

October 20, 2010

Today was a very long day of hunting with very little to show for it. Sharptail grouse live in the wide-open prairie grasses and require a great amount of walking to find them. Bailey is beat, sore, and needed some down time. Ken and I went out with Hank to try our luck with them during the morning (around 9am) since we couldn’t hunt pheasant until 1:00.

Hank is a two-year-old Vizsla that Ken and Janet bred to achieve a “big running” dog. Not all pointers “run big,” and in the world of pointing breed horseback field trials, this is one of the key traits judges and breeders look for. “Run big or go home,” is often heard. A dog who can run an hour while the owner follows on horseback. A big-running dog will cover vast amounts of land quickly. This is the combination that you want to hunt sharptail grouse.

With Ken and I both sore from 3 days of hunting on foot, the combination of a young, not-yet- “broke,” high-octane Vizsla and a rolling prairie going on as far as you could see, the odds were stacked against us. After an hour we were spent and had no birds in the bag. Hank, who at times was out of sight over a ridge 680 yards away, was happily running and running and running. On this morning, the team of man and dog did not hunt together. Luckily, Ken owns a horse and Hank will be “broke” this year, so the team of man, horse, and broke dog will find future success in their sharptail hunting adventures.

One o’clock came and we headed about 5 miles east to some public hunting lands that had looked promising on a trip to Timberlake. The corn fields, stubble wheat fields, and open ground with cover all looked promising. No luck in the fields today. By 3:30 we reverted to “road hunting” where Ken would drop Bailey and me off along a county dirt road that had ditches on each side, and he would drive ahead 3 hundred yards or so and park and act as “blocker.” Pheasant will run along a ditch until they come to the end or something that blocks their path before taking to the air. Bailey, by this point, was happy just to run easily run the ditches in search of pheasant that “held” while at the same time pushing those that run toward Ken. This method had limited success and did raise about 7 roosters and a dozen hen. One bird in the bag was all we could accomplish.

About an hour before sunset, we worked an area of Isabel Park where rows of trees have been planted for natural cover for the local wildlife. We were running out of day and this was an area that was on our “do list.” With about 15 minutes left in day, Ken catches the sight of a rooster flying above the grove of trees and lets off a shot. He hits the bird and it falls. Not to the ground but up in the branches in a tree and gets hung up in a branch about twelve feet off the ground. We try to dislodge the bird, but I end up climbing the little tree to free the bird. Ken and I both have one bird in the back of the Dodge after a very long day of hunting.

There is this thing that happens sometimes when hunting birds with a shotgun. I had hit my bird from fairly close range with #6 shot from the rear as it was flying away. When we got home and I tried to “dress” the bird (remove the feathers, wings, feet and head), I found there was not any good meat. The blast had been too much- too close. I reluctantly gave up saving this one for the bar-b-que I plan to have next week.

At about 7pm we quickly feed the dogs and clean ourselves up for a night out on the town. We were going to the only bar/restaurant in Isabel for a beer and a good meal. The only place you can buy liquor is in the bar. You buy a 6-pack of Miller, Bud, or Bud Lite to go, or you can have any mixed drink or Sam Adams, Fat Tire, or Bud on tap.

The bartender / waiter was a man in his forties with a brown “get-‘r-done” sleeveless t-shirt, jeans, dirty ball cap and a scraggily beard. He was doing his best “Larry the Cable Guy” but was too busy to be sociable.

Ken and I sat at the bar until a table opened up to sit for dinner. The bar was packed. Going though the 2 plain steel doors going into the bar, there was a paper sign “No one under 21 may enter this bar.” Once through the second door into the bar with no windows, 4 pool tables, a 20-foot bar and a dozen or so tables , there sat a mixture of local ranchers, farmers, business owners, and hunters. This was the only restaurant in a 15-mile radius, so families with their little kids sat at the tables or the little ones ran around. This bar was the social hub of the community like a pub would be in an English town.

As soon as we walked in the door, Tammy, who owns the Isabel Hardware and Co-op, greeted Ken warmly and told him to make sure he came by before he left the area for an Isabel Hardware store ball cap.

The next couple hours went by enjoyably as we had a great steak and good mug of beer. We visited with locals and some hunters who had come from all over the country. At one table a pair of long-time married couples sat enjoying some ice cream. They were from the Denver area, and the 2 couples had been coming “up here” for the last 12 years every year to hunt upland birds. We sat and joked with 3 brothers and one of their friends who came in from Washington, Montana, and one who is stationed in Okinawa, to hunt upland birds. All 4 were hunting behind a 7-year-old field Springer Spaniel. They had taken 10 birds. Ken and I were hunting public land. They were knocking on farmers’ doors asking for permission to hunt their fields.

On the 9-mile drive back to the house, I told Ken that this has been on enjoyable vacation. Except for the Phillies–Giants ballgame on the TV in the bar, we have not seen TV or listened to the radio for 6 days. A simpler life and time here in the northern central part of South Dakota.