Monday, February 25, 2013

Failure? Not really.

To begin with the end-we did not pass the leg.

We passed the field stage, and the hunt-dead stage, but failed at the water retrieve.  She went into the water, swam to the bird, nosed it then turned around and came back to the shore. 

Now that I have THAT out of the way:

The weather was picture perfect for a spaniel hunt test; misty-rain, wet dogs and waxed cotton.
We arrived at the hunt test; made my introductions and even got to finally meet a fellow spaniel runner with whom I've been having an email conversation for several years.  He ran a beautiful Welsh Springer Spaniel in the master level that really showed great style and ability.

The field consisted of a rough section, maybe 3-5 acres in area. Two gunners on either side, and a couple of chukka salted throughout the length.  If I had to critique I'd say:
  • The guns were not having their best day. I can imagine how it feels to miss that first bird knowing that everyone is watching you, not to mention that the dogs performance is hinged on your performance.
  • The field was the same for all the stages: junior, senior, and master.  This means that the field was a probably a bit saturated with both dog and bird scent. (TO BE FAIR-the weather predicated this decision, and I don't question the judges. It's a critique, not a criticism) 
To be fair; I've worked with Emmie to be my gundog, not  a hunt-test competitor. I've used the hunt-test guidelines as my training guides, but she's a pet and gundog first, a competitor second. So participating in a format where I keep her in her kennel for a couple of hours and then run one 3-5 acre field is not a really fair evaluation of her abilities.  I do think I probably could have done a better job in a lot of ways-firstly I should have given her a chance to warm up before the run-or at least burn off some of her energy.  In a hunting situation I know she will take a few sweeps of her pattern before she settles into a working pace. I account for that-but there is no allowance for that in either a field trial or hunt test.

We  worked the entire field with no finds.  I have to say-she looked great and I felt good about the way she was covering the ground. Everyone, including the judges, thought she was running really well.  But like I said, no finds. Maybe it took her running the field to work out a little energy.  The judge called us back to the beginning and she ran the field again and came up with her two finds in textbook fashion:
Again, the guns were not having their best day so neither of the finds resulted in a retrieve. As part of the test standard, the judge gave her the opportunity to retrieve a hand thrown bird:
Which she did with aplomb.

I drove away from this test dejected. After all, we didn't pass the water retrieve. I could physically feel my body collapse a little when she refused that bird. I'm quite certain my family thought that I would go into a deep depression if we didn't pass this test.  And maybe I would have a few years ago.  But I'm a dad now-and I don't want my daughter to think that failure is when or why you quit anything. I want her to know that failure just shows you where you need to work on something.  It's good to have failures occasionally, as it keeps things in perspective.  Emmie's made that retrieve MANY times when we were in the field. I would have no qualms about taking her to the exact same pond, shooting a duck and know that she would retrieve it.

So what to do?

I'm an instructional designer and an educator.  I see a performance gap and I intend to close it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I'll admit it.

I'm addicted to porn-just not the kind normally associated with the internet.

No, I'm a sucker for the obscure stuff.

Porn the internet has really made possible in a BIG way.

Porn such as:

Wood porn:

Upright Bass porn:

and the most insidious of all,


Sunday, February 17, 2013


It's somewhat ironic that the reason the food-plots are being torn up by the loggers is that so much effort was put into making them arable land.  They were so compressed from the heavy machinery that no moisture would stay on them, so the sub-soiler was put to work and now several years later we are getting what is probably the best growth I've seen to date.

But this doesn't really mesh with heavy equipment and logging.  The above plot is one which has not yet been used as a collection station by loggers.

This is what it looks like when it has been used:
For some reference-those ruts are up to 18" from apex to trough.  You can still see some of the undisturbed ground; the verdant areas amid all the slop.

Again-I don't blame logging, and I should note that they have called off logging for the time being because of the amount of damage and soupyness of the ground.

I don't think we'll be plowing this food plot anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Watching the Westminster dog show last night was yet another chance to push myself deeper into despair.  I admit I find it hard to care very much that the Toy group has allowed it's breeds morphology to approach the absurd; they always were and are. A group that was, to put it kindly, bred to 'amuse' and functionally attract fleas from aristocracy.

But the Sporting group?  I've already commented on the drivel announcers make regarding the various breeds to give them a unique character (why else would they be a 'breed'); a spiel taken directly from a book "breed standards".   Last night was a particularly low point to me-only ONE of the entire Sporting group was commented as having any title other than "CH", and that was a single JH (junior hunter)-the entry point in hunt test criteria.*

With some sincerity I ask-should there be a class action suit against the AKC to force them to guarantee that a breed not only PHYSICALLY conforms to a stated standard, but FUNCTIONALLY as well? If function simply doesn't matter, have the announcer say:
Ideal height at the shoulder for dogs is 20 inches; for bitches, it is 19 inches. Those more than one inch under or over the breed ideal are to be faulted. A 20 inch dog, well-proportioned and in good condition, will weigh approximately 50 pounds; a 19 inch bitch will weigh approximately 40 pounds. The length of the body (measured from point of shoulder to point of buttocks) is slightly greater than the height at the withers. The dog too long in body, especially when long in the loin, tires easily and lacks the compact outline characteristic of the breed. A dog too short in body for the length of his legs, a condition which destroys balance and restricts gait, is equally undesirable. A Springer with correct substance appears well-knit and sturdy with good bone, however, he is never coarse or ponderous.

*further research leads me to note:
Irish R/W setter- JH (but not noted in the commentary)
American Water Spaniel - JH (ditto)
Vizla - JH (ditto)


Wirehair Pointing Griffon MH - (ditto-but are you kidding me?!?!?  This dog has been judged to perform at the highest level, and no comment on that? If you want to make use of the judging for hunt tests and have them matter for the judging of conformation-add points for each level of hunt test and make JH a minimum for entry)

I'll get off my soapbox...for now.  It takes only seeing a few dachshunds in wheelchairs because someone decided the breed should have legs too short and backs too long before you get sick of it.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It's not often that the spaniel gets to take the spotlight. 

I came across this yesterday:

There are lots of shots of good work from spaniels in Ireland.  A lot of what is shown in the field trial is what I would expect from a well trained spaniel on the hunt in the US.  The driven shoot on a syndicate-not so much.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

saying goodbye

A post titled 'saying goodbye' in a gundog blog is generally going to end with the digging of a hole and many tears.  This isn't like that.

No, today I said goodbye to my first halfway decent SXS-a Miroku manufactured Charles Daly 500:

Gun enthusiast Chuck Hawks sold me on it with his review, summed up:
Basically, the Charles Daly Model 500 field gun lived up to its namesake. It is a very good shotgun that was under priced when new and is still undervalued on today's used market. If you find a used one in good condition, buy it.
My search for this Miroku (I call it that b/c Charles Daly seems to bring many different things to mind for most shooters) actually started well before it's acquisition.

I was indoctrinated into the world of birds, bird-dogs and bird guns long before I could honestly say I was a bird hunter by the writings of the late Michael Macintosh. (and if we're splitting hairs, I really am a "rough-shooter", not a bird hunter) For those a generation older it might have been ruffed grouse laureate George Bird Evans, or Robert Ruark with his Old Man who made the introduction. For me it was Macintosh.  He set the stage with his treatise "The Best Gun Ever Made". A tome on the wonders of the genius that was Ansley H. Fox's SXS. To poorly quote from his lengthy online epitaph- "His prose did more for the SXS Renaissance than anyone in this country-not to mention pipe smoking!" 

There really are advantages to the SXS in the field, aside from the aesthetic.
  • They are generally lighter than a comparable O/U
  • They aim more intuitively in a snap shooting situation 
  • They don't open as wide at the gate so loading is easier.  
But most importantly there is the aesthetic- they do just 'look right'.

I haven't always subscribed to this doctrine.  I used to think a SXS was some kind of Jed Klampet holdover. The old codger with his SXS-why would anyone want one?  I certainly didn't know anything about one other than the antique caplock muzzle loader from the Civil War era hanging in my grandparents den. They certainly weren't in vogue. Growing up, we all wanted Remington 1100's rather than the single shots we had.

I can distinctly remember the very first time I went to the sporting clays course as an adult, and noticed the wide maw in the rail of the gun rack on the first station. It took me a few stations to realize what that was for-the added width of  SXS barrels.  But who would shoot clays with a SXS?

How little did I know. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What dogs can do when you're having a bad day

Yesterday...One of those days where things just didn't seem to get better no matter how hard I tried. Sanguine?  Yes, but honestly I spent the day trying to be a 'difference maker' in higher education only to come up not making much of one. Come home to a loving family, but my primary thought was that others would be probably better off if I could be alone for a bit to decompress/recompose (blame it on being an only child).

Let it be known that taking the dogs for a walk is not always what I categorize as 'quality' alone time. The very nature of some gundogs, spaniels and setters in particular it seems, is that they always look to you for their sense of well being and direction.  So if you are in a particularly 'prickly' state of mind, what Holly Golightly called the "angry reds", they might seem...annoying. Not all breeds are like that-many of the continentals I've known could care less if you were the one handling them on a leash or some stranger they'd never met before.  They behave much the same either way.  Not so with spaniels (spaniels would make sure a robber was shown where the treats were kept and given lots of kisses before rolling over for a belly scratch).

But I digress.  I've heard this closeness best described by someone who cherishes it in their dogs: "I wouldn't have a dog that didn't follow me when I leave a room".  One of my dogs eventually notices when I leave the room.  The other will have followed me. Guaranteed. And I love them both.

The usual walk/exercise loop is around a 10 acre field in a park.  The field is an equal mix of briar and rye; mowed by the city a few times a year so it's never really overgrown.

With the upcoming hunt tests I decided to take a more circuitous route through the field than I normally do, thinking I could at least give Emmie a chance to work on her pattern.  100 yards into the field she got 'birdy'.  Based on passed experience I'm thinking it must be deer poop that has her so animated, because this area is generally all but bereft of other game-but I should know how to read her signs better by now because she was working on real scent.

Low and behold:
whiiiirrrllllss  up from the grass. Rising nearly12' into the air before heading to the safety of the privet hedge encircling the field. I was being presented a chip shot as it reached it's apex-especially compared to the three flushes I fought both briar and brush to see just a few weeks ago.

But the season's over.
No gun.
It's a public park.

Nevertheless, there was a smile on my face.  And there was much loving-up on Emmie for finding probably the only real gamebird in the whole county.

A bad day was reclaimed thanks to a 4 oz bird and a 38# dog.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sometimes it doesn't pay to be a softy

I spent Saturday on the lease working the dogs on released quail.  I say dogS because that's what it was; both dogs at the same time.  Please don't misunderstand as I don't have a favorite dog.  I do, however, have only ONE dog that I am actively trying to get titled.

Meet the other:
This is Prescott.  Prescott has the heart of a lion but is only held back by his genetics. He is from "bench" lines, rather than "field" lines-not something anyone in the general public would know about because they get all their information from the AKC ; watching the dog-show circuit.

In the world of Springer Spaniels there is a division/schism.  If you watch the Westminster dog show (the second oldest animal sporting event in the US-can you name the oldest?) and listen to the commentators describe the temperament of each breed as it parades around the ring; you would be of the opinion that the "springer spaniel" would be described:
The English Springer Spaniel has been endowed with style, enthusiasm, and an "eager to please" quality common to most spaniels. He is recognized for his ability to keep going and going under adverse hunting conditions, which is partly due to his medium-sized, powerful body. He has long, hanging ears and a moderately long coat that can be black or liver with white, blue or liver roan, and tricolor. (taken from the AKC breed description)
What you do not hear is that the Springer Spaniel was split between show and field lines somewhere in the 1950's and that the two strands are hardly recognizable as the same breed.

This article by Cathy Lewis does a good job of describing some of the differences. And this goes into a much more lengthy discussion but best summed up:
The Field Bred English Springer Spaniel is different from the Show Bred English Springer Spaniel. They have been different dogs, for 70 years.
Prescott was my first gundog, and I did what A LOT of people do-I looked through the various breed descriptions to see what was the best choice for my next dog.  I had just recently put down my first dog, a wonderful German Shepherd, and wasn't looking to get another of the same breed.  I may have one again sometime, but the memory of her was just too strong especially since the last several years of her life were less than healthy. In the end I didn't want to try to replace her, but I knew I wanted a dog in my life.

My search led me to Springer Spaniels: based on the AKC description, a GREAT all-around gundog.

OK-where to find one? Obviously the local paper classified ads. Where else?

A trip to visit a local family who had bred their springers led me and my soon-to-be bride to our first dog.  (In hindsight I probably did stack the deck a bit in our favor by doing a pretty good job of picking out a good pup.  My experience with my GSD had taught me about dog behavior. And our choice wasn't/hasn't been something either of us have regretted.)

However, Prescott is a bench-bred dog.  He is not built for speed and does not have the same desire to please that i have come to expect from practically every field bred spaniel I have come across.  He is very independent and sometimes willful.   He was very slow to mature.  But at the time-what did I know?

He is a gundog, right?

After a year of working on basic obedience skills with him I ordered a box of training supplies from Lion Country Supply. In particular were freeze dried pheasant wings:
pheasant wings
(prepare for hyperbole) When I brought the box in from where the UPS man had left it- a light-bulb went off in Prescott; and not a crappy fluorescent one. The old fashioned, instant, switch-on, light-bulb.  Something in his soul was stirred by the smell of those wings coming from INSIDE the box; before I had opened it; and it was behavior we really hadn't seen before.

Our road to proper gundog training was underway because he IS a gundog.  Stored away deeply in that soft fluffy body is the heart of a gundog.

So when it was time to decide what the training regimen was going to be this past Saturday, and when I saw the excitement in Prescott's wagging nubbin of a tail, I couldn't very well leave him behind; even though it meant a less than stellar training day.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Weekend training

As a full-time gundog owner, full-time otherwise employed father/husband; the weekends are when I get to spend at least one long training session with the dog.  During the week I always try to have at least one small training session per day on top of the regular exercise walk/run; an attempt to keep the mind in the game, if you will. So the coming weekend brings up the question of "what would be the best use of our time?"

We have a hunt test coming up and I reallywant to make sure we nail it.  There's no logic behind it other than this is what we've been working on for the past year.  I know her abilities to find a planted bird within a predetermined field have very little to do with her function as a gundog. Yet, on some levels I want to take her to the MH, but I just don't know if that is going to happen.  I know she can finish out the SH level test-and so on some level she might be just like her mom, but for different reasons:


 (from the Royal Legacy website):  

"Royal Legacys Dixieland Jazz (Jazz) DOB: 3-27-02 was offered to us when she was six months old. A family with small children, a small house and Jazz was not working out. On checking her papers we found that she went back to FC Denalisunflos Jolly and FC Denalisunflos Tailor. Jazz is a very personable dog, a great bird finder, and non-stop retriever. She was started as a Junior Hunter and progressed through Senior Hunter, failing to qualify only once. We determined that Jazz was not going to naturally run big enough to qualify as a Master Hunter. Rather than trying to force her out, we took her hunting. Jazz found her place in life. She works close, checks in on a regular basis and will beat the cover all day long to find one more bird. Jazz is a 40 lb. B&W personal hunting partner."

The interesting thing about that description is how well it resembles our relationship with Emmie.

She is my personal hunting partner.