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Old 01-13-2015, 03:47 PM   #1
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The making of a gundog (long with pics)

Maggie was that once-in-a-lifetime special dog you read about. She passed in February, 2014 at age 15.5, after a long, full and beloved life, with thousands of birds under her collar, having hunted all over the country. A big part of my soul went with her.

Of course, nothing could ever replace her, but I like to always have a younger dog coming along. I decided my next pup would be an orange and white female and would be named Joy in honor of all the joy Maggie brought to my life. Chase and I were looking forward to Joy before she was a gleam in her father’s eye:

She was born on June 22nd (the pup the farthest to the left) to Blase and Ginger (both prize winning western horse field trial dogs) in Wyoming:

Even with her eyes not yet open at two weeks, she was a bold pup exploring her environment (the pup closest to the camera)

And someone who loves to snuggle (the pup on top in front):

She got bigger and more capable every day (#6 from the left). Seeing this pic made me want to bring her nine brothers and sisters home too, but then I came to my senses.

Finally, she arrived at her new home in the PA mountains at age eight weeks, not the least bit rattled by her flight. We promptly went off to one of my little meadows for her first run:

Right from Day One, she kept Chase busy (and he has shown the patience of a saint!):

So many new things to learn and new experiences to have – every day a thousand puppy adventures:

Joy thrived and grew like a weed. By 10 weeks she was fully trained to gunfire, so she would be able to toddle along on our early season dove hunts – the season was about to open.

Everything she saw on our early season dove hunts on the family farm was new and interesting - like corn cobs for chewing and bees for catching:

Are we there yet (she had not yet learned that patience is a virtue)?

By VERY closely watching Chase doing his job, she gradually figured out why she was there:

She learned to help us watch for incomers. Here comes one now!!

At times, a stern lecture from Chase was forthcoming. Here she had just busted a whole flock of birds by running through them at full speed barking - oops!

Regardless of small mistakes, Joy is a happy little soul and she never lets a day pass without having fun or snuggling up!

Between dove hunts, I started to work her on planted upland birds without Chase around. At first, she didn’t quite get it why we were there.

A little teasing with some tethered quail and it didn’t take long before she got the idea that birds are something she wants:

She moved quickly from that idea to realizing that she could find these desirable things by scent. Joy had an amazingly staunch natural point right from the beginning – I could stomp and kick around in the cover in front of her and she never twitched. She was 14 weeks here and already you can see the serious predator in her eyes.

She also learned a lot about upland hunting by “helping” Chase with some pre-season scratch hunting at my hunting club:

There were also many pre-season runs in what would soon be pheasant country, to get used to the scents, sights and sounds of the real uplands that will be her working environment. I figured that I couldn’t expect her to concentrate on finding birds until she was 100% comfortable in her environment.

I wasn’t necessarily happy about some of the new things she discovered in the uplands, such as manure munching, gut pile rolling and groundhog killing:

Then, early ruffed grouse opened and real upland hunting was finally upon us – no more practice – the real thing now. Are we there yet (she was still working on this whole patience thing)?

After a week of hunting ruffed grouse, pheasant season opened and we could finally hunt the King! As usual, I dropped everything else and focused completely on getting as much time afield as possible. As a result, we were able to spend a great deal of time in the field during pheasant season - hunted several times per week. Joy really came into her own and matured during the pheasant season. In the early season, she was still a soft little pup and she wasn’t big or strong enough to negotiate the cover very well and she mostly just followed along behind my heels. Nor did she understand that the faint scent trails could lead to a bird. During the course of the season, she became a hard muscled young dog who crashed boldly through any sort of cover and who wasn't afraid to get out there. She learned to trust her nose and to work a running pheasant.

These photos run from early to late season attempt to show the progression. Joy’s first cast of the season:

Little dog, big cover:

Getting bolder:

She wants one of these of her own:

Actually hunting now:

Pointing a pheasant!

Getting strong:

Still lots of new places and things to experience for the first time - this is a BIG water bowl and what’s with that funny looking bird (Heron) out there in the middle?

A real huntin’ dawg now:

Joy’s first woodcock find (Chase came into the scent cone, too):

Hard at work:


Getting the long legs of a big running dog:

She had never seen snow before – turns out she loves the snow:

Late season points:

Joy “helps” Chase with every retrieve:

Joy is that wonderful dichotomy that is a bird dog: a hard driving deadly predator in the field, but at home she a real gentle, loving pup – never more than a few feet from me and sleeping on my chest. And, there’s always time for fun!!

All too soon, the season was over and this was our last bird:

By the end of the regular season, there wasn’t much left for me to teach Joy about hunting. Obviously, she is still inexperienced and experience is very important in handling hard running, hard hunted pheasant, but she seems to learn very quickly and not to lose what she learns. With more field time, she will only get better. Her only weak point was retrieving, which was probably mostly my fault in that I didn’t want her messing with pheasant and Chase is such a good retriever, I let him do it all. So, we headed to the hunting club to work on that – all upland seasons were closed due to deer seasons anyway. Much as I hated to do this, I put Chase up worked Joy alone on released birds for training purposes.

Joy killed many birds at the hunting club over the next few weeks– there are just a few:

With some work, her retrieving progressed from non-existent to reluctant to a little better:

We are making progress, but we still have a ways to go on that. Whenever Joy gets done cleaning up the released birds, I put Chase out and we do some scratch hunting, which is much more fun. To my amazement, in the past few weeks, Joy has had more initial finds and points, than Chase, who is an experienced master of the hunt. This has led to a goodly number of cool points by Joy and honors by Chase:

Late ruffed grouse season opened and we have been making an effort to find some of them in our home mountains, but birds are very thin in the areas I can reach. Unfortunately, this was a non-productive point:

Now that 2014 is over and we are into 2015, the best hunting is behind us for this season. Joy will continue to chase ruffs when we get the chance; to do yard work; to work on retrieving at the hunting club and scratch hunt with Chase until the end of March. I suspect that next fall will be a completely different ball game – she will be a one year old dog who is experienced, trained and ready! Regardless of all that, she is and will continue to be my beloved friend and companion. It’s been a joy (pun intended) getting there.

Thanks for looking!

Greg, Chase and Joy
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Old 01-13-2015, 04:06 PM   #2
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Just happened to see this. Golly, it brings back memories and what a wonderful story. My best and favorite bird dog was a Brittany named Bonnie. She could out hunt any of the pointers my friends owned. Plus, she was a wonderful companion at home. I still miss her and she has been gone 30 years. I never was able to have another dog that even compared. Finally gave up bird hunting as it became more and more difficult to find places to hunt and the quail population in our area has almost disappeared. No pheasants or anything else in our neck of the woods.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 01-13-2015, 04:07 PM   #3
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Wow, that is such a great story/post, thank you so much for sharing.

We had a English Pointer & Vizsla that we hunted, both lived to be 17 years old and died 3 days apart from each other. We just recently decided to get another dog, German Shorthair Pointer this time.

Your story hit home in so many ways, thanks again for taking the time to do so.
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Old 01-13-2015, 04:54 PM   #4
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Enjoyed the story, can't help but brag on my Black Lab. Below is a picture of one of her first retrieves in a actual hunt. Turned into a very good duck dog. Visited a friend in Kansas to do some pheasant hunting, on his recommendation I took my lab who had a total of 15 minutes of me working on upland hunting procedures with her that I had read. Might add, this was only my second hunt.

Not only did she pick up the pheasant hunting quickly, including pointing, my buddy was amazed that I could control her distance from me just with vocal commands. Also stopped her in her tracks when she jumped up a deer using just a whistle.

Certainly proud of my hunting friend, she's gotten too old to endure the cold of duck hunting, or I have, it's a toss up!
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Old 01-14-2015, 05:25 PM   #5
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Thank you for sharing.
Gotta love our four legged friends.
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Old 06-27-2015, 03:47 PM   #6
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My best friends...

Loved your photos and write up. Gorgeous dogs and I can tell you appreciate your dogs and they have a special place in your heart!

We are fortunate to have two phenomenal chocolate labs. Luther is 5 and has qualified for the 2015 Master National this fall in SC. When I picked him up as a pup in MT, I had no concept of his talent and the Hunt Tests, Upland, etc. we'd experience. I wanted a buddy and Jimmy wanted a duck hunting dog. We got both and more. Luther is very strong and athletic. Java is Luther's daughter. She is 1-1/2 and just about ready to enter the Hunt Test world. We're going to start her at the Master Level. She is so focused, loves to work and to please you. I've attached a photo of Java's first retrieve at 7 weeks and 1 day. Both dogs are very "birdie". Sure, we've got a lot of ribbons but Luther proved himself as a true blue buddy when I went through chemo for colon cancer a couple years ago. He was right there beside my bed maintaining his vigil. Love that dog! Luther is so easy going in the house and RV. But say "bird" or get near a field and he's ready to roll. Java might have more talent but is extremely loving. I appreciate the joy both dogs bring to my life. I am indeed a lucky person!

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Old 06-29-2015, 10:01 AM   #7
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Thanks for the kind thoughts, everyone! Yes, Artsie, my dogs are basically my family. My wife is living, but totally handicapped and requires 100% 24/7 care, as a result of massive brain damage from a catastrophic stoke nearly 5 years ago. This makes for lots of difficult days. I couldn’t deal with those days if I didn’t have the dogs, who seem to respond to my every mood and bring constant happiness to an unhappy place. Sounds like you have been helped through some difficult days by your dogs, as well.

Java is a very pretty pup. Luther sounds like a great dog, too. Do you actually hunt hem or just go for titles? If so, where and for what?

I’ve never had a flushing dog – only Brittanys since I was 8, so the training is much different and I wouldn’t know where to start with a Lab.

I had forgotten about this thread. I guess I should update the Joy saga.

In 2015, we did a lot of playing up in “my” mountain when we couldn’t be hunting:

My little brook was frozen all but for a small open area in the middle:

The hard, wind-blown crust on the snow that covered the big lake made for good running and playing:

We did a good bit of scratch hunting at the hunting club – here a Joy point, Chase honor for my SIL and grandson:

We did a LOT of training in the snow. Here is a very unusual photo in that you can see the bird that Joy is pointing. She can’t see it and is pointing by scent alone. This may help a viewer understand the experience, skill and judgment that goes into a successful point. First, the dog must find the bird in the vast uplands, track it down (a bird can easily outrun a dog in heavy cover) and cut it off. By scent alone, the dog must get close enough to the bird so that the bird is afraid to keep running, but the dog must be sufficiently far away from the bird so that the bird feels secure enough to stay put and not flush. The dog must then hold the bird until the hunter can manage to make his/her way up to the often quite distant bird (this can take a good while); and then stay rock still while the hunter walks in past the dog to the bird and flushes the bird.

We worked on retrieving on training days, too:

A good bit of the time, the snow was too deep and crusted to allow us to get into the deep woods and mountains to hunt the very elusive local ruffed grouse in the late season. Getting a ruffed grouse around here is probably more difficult than bringing a trophy elk to bag. They are VERY wary and need to be pointed carefully and silently from a distance or they will flush. Certainly not something one would even attempt with a rookie hunting dog. But, we were able to get in a few hunts between heavy snows. Unlike me, Joy could run on top of the crusted snow:

Chase and I walked frozen streams when we could:

We all love the mid-winter woods!

Suddenly, Joy SLAMMED into a hard point – going from a streak in the woods to a motionless statute in a half-second. She was pointing a ruffed grouse from a full 30 yards out!!

I walked in on the point, the big male grouse flushed and I somehow managed to thread a shot through the trees to a spot where the fast, thundering bird was going to be – and the bird flew into the pattern. Chase retrieved. The ultimate upland prize; our very last wild bird of the 2014/15 season; and an incredible topper for Joy’s first season, which started at the age of 10 weeks:

Ruffed grouse are among the very best table fare and it was enjoyed that night:

Joy got a taste, too. She’d earned it!

Eventually the ice began to break-up and spring started to arrive:

It was Joy’s first spring. What’s this odd clear, wet stuff? It’s supposed to be hard and white!

Early spring skies while running the uplands.

Lots of cold water here:

Her first classic “wild goose chase” helped Joy learn to swim. “Oh, lookit the size of that bird!!”!

“He’s out there and I’m here!”

“I’ll get the wily bugger for ya, Boss!! Hey, I can SWIM!!”

Chase, the wise veteran of many “wild goose chases” watched in quiet amusement from the shore as Joy swam all over the lake while the male goose kept egging her on by honking at her:

Eventually, I became concerned about Joy spending so much time in that icy water (she doesn’t have a heavy coat or an ounce of fat) and I called her back. Happily, she listened immediately and swam directly back to me.

As the weather warmed, we usually ran by water, so the dogs could stay wet, cool and run hard. Joy began to swim just for fun. There was lots of play in the water, too.

Pointing wood ducks from the shore:

“Helping” me (not!) with any spring duties of getting rid of groundhogs on the family farm by chasing every one within a mile into its hole:

Digging up a mole in my woods:

Romping in my brook:

Some of the many “wild goose/duck chases” of the summer. Score so far: Joy – 0; geese/ducks – 10,000.

Chasing the ball (actually practice for real water retrieves in the fall, but she doesn’t know that):

Yippeee!! Life is good for a puppy in the summer.

Joy just turned one year old this past week and what she has learned in that short time is nothing less than amazing. None of it has diminished her, gentle, loving, happy nature. She’s always up for a cuddle!

Two more long, stinky summer months to get though – then Sept 1 rolls around, the first bird season opens and life can begin again. I can’t wait to see how Joy does in the field, once we can be out there again.

We hope you enjoyed our update.

Greg, Chase and Joy
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Old 06-29-2015, 11:59 PM   #8
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Really enjoyed reading your post and your pictures are super. Thanks
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Old 06-30-2015, 12:16 AM   #9
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Hey Birddog Man,

Fabulous photos, the landscape is absolutely beautiful and the photos so clear. Beautiful soft faces on the sweet dogs. They are SO lucky to be living that life, the life they were meant to live.

I had an English Cocker Spaniel, show quality, buff colored, and that dog was the love of my life. I raised him from five weeks and he thought I was his mama. Not only was he a great pet and companion, but he would naturally flush birds when I'd take him out to a field and I don't know the first thing about bird dogs; he just did it naturally.

I see you are a Winnebago owner - me too. I'll have to join the Winnebago Owner's Club one of these days.

Thank you for sharing this.
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Old 06-30-2015, 09:51 AM   #10
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Luther goes nuts when he sees Jimmy getting his shotgun out. He LOVES to duck hunt! We did what a lot of other people mistakenly do, we let him duck hunt when he was young and he had to un-learn some things. He's an excellent marker and can challenge a blind. Since he was a Junior dog, his flamboyant style and sheer athletic talent often brings applause from the gallery. Our dog trainer, Jim Elam with Lake Country Retrievers in Warrenton, NC, says he's running better now than any dog he's ever had before and that is a big statement. Tomorrow we are going to meet Jim at a farm south of here and train. Both dogs will be with us through the 4th of July holiday and then will go back next Monday for Jim to train full-time. Jim is going to run Luther in the Master National. My husband thinks I should do it but I want to see what Luther really can do. He's approaching his athletic peak--5, 6, 7--and I don't want to mess it up. We've had some phenominal hunt tests together and if he doesn't pass, 90% of the time it is my fault. Somehow a situation comes up I've never dealt with before or my timing is off. As much as I'll miss my buddy this summer/fall, I'm really looking forward to watching him run. I heard a story about a fellow who'd trained really hard and got up on the line at the Master National for the 1st series. His dog broke on the flyer and was disqualified. He turned to the gallery and held his hands up and said, "I don't have to worry about this anymore!" With dogs, you never know!!!

Your photography is excellent! It doesn't hurt that you have beautiful dogs, too. I'm sorry to hear about your wife. I think the true testament of love and a good marriage is how the difficult times are handled. That says a lot about your character. I hope you have a good support system around you, too.

Our dogs are our family. I'm fortunate to have one daughter with two grandchildren, a girl 14 and a boy 12. They live a little over an hour away but are caught up with jobs, school activities, sports and would you believe bagpipes! So sometimes I don't see them for months at a time. Luther and Java fill that time and need for comfort nicely. Over the years God has given me the custody of some exceptional animals in my life--dogs and horses--and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have had some part in their lives. They've made me a better person. I was going to drop in a photo but it's not cooperating.

Keep sharing your photos. They are outstanding and all that see them enjoy them.
Jim & Bonnie - plus our labs, Luther, Java & Odis!
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Old 08-06-2015, 08:00 PM   #11
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Great read. Great photos. Beautiful dogs.

Thank you.
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Old 08-07-2015, 03:36 AM   #12
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Thanks! Only three more weeks to wait now until the first wild bird seasons opens here.

Joy says she is ready! Here she is pointing a song bird while playing in my little brook:

Chase cooling off on a long, late summer day:

Greg, Chase and joy
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Old 10-12-2015, 07:36 PM   #13
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I love this! We have 2 perfectly ruined English Setters at home - both rescues. Our guess is the younger male was "in training" when he made a run for it, as he is an escape artist. We took him to a bird dog trainer who confirmed he'd had minimal training. Your dogs, your landscape, your photography, your dedication and your documentation are moving. LOVE this post.
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Old 10-13-2015, 07:45 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Wanabes View Post
LOVE this post.
Thank you so much! Reading back over this thread, I realize that it is Ms. Joy’s life story so far. I guess I might as well take a little time and update it.

One major thing that has changed which has had a big effect on Joy is that, after five years as a nearly 24/7 nursemaid (my helpless, brain-damaged wife cannot be left alone for even a minute), I couldn’t take it anymore and hired a full-time (40 hr/wk) nurse to help me care for my wife at home. So, while my wife’s horrible situation and behavior hasn’t changed at all, my situation has changed dramatically for the better. As a result of being able to spend much more time afield with my dogs, I am now back to my pre-nursemaid weight and fitness level (which was quite good), am much happier and am even a much better nursemaid for the other 128 hrs/wk when I am on sole duty.

The first “wild” bird season here is dove season, which opens on September 1. It isn’t real upland hunting, because doves don’t hold for points, but we get to be out and the dogs get to do some retrieving. My extended PA Dutch family owns several large 18th century farms in the valley below the mountains where we live and that is where we hunt doves.

The weather was unusually hot and steamy this year – temps in the 90’s on many days. Too hot for the dogs to work too hard, even though I kept them wet by carrying lots of water.

Intently scanning the skies for incoming birds:

Late summer uplands – no color in the forest yet:

No, this dog isn’t dead, just trying to cool off

Chase retrieving a dove:

In between dove hunting sessions, we went to the hunting club two or three times per week to scratch hunt – to try to find birds other members had released but failed to find. Again, it’s not quite real wild bird hunting but it’s pretty close. The birds get quite wary after some weeks of dodging many dogs and hunters plus the avian and ground predators.

I was worried that Joy might have forgotten everything she learned during her puppy season over the long non-hunting hiatus. It turns out that she lost none of her desire, but, after not being able to hunt for so long, she was a bit too enthusiastic. Instead of carefully stalking running birds, trying to get ahead of them to cut them off and bring them to a point, etc, she was tracking them too fast, hard and close and was causing them to flush 200 yards ahead of me. Chase, of course, had forgotten nothing and did his usual superb job. Instead of honoring Chase's points from a distance, Joy pushed in too close, at times causing the birds Chase was pointing to flush.

I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this, as subtle behavior in the presence of jumpy upland birds is a very difficult thing to train. I decided to simply express my displeasure gently when she busted a bird or busted a Chase point (Joy is a tough-as-nails little critter, but she lives to please me and is crushed if she does something that disappoints me), provide lots of opportunity for her to work birds and (hopefully) let her figure it out on her own. This seemed to work. Over time, she began to work the birds more carefully – Joy point; Chase honor:

Another - from the business end this time (it’s really tough getting photos of points this time of year because the cover where they actually find the birds is taller than I am and so thick I literally can’t see my feet when I standing in it, so most pics are taken in open areas):

Dear Ms. Joy was doing better on the retrieving, too – better than last year:

Meanwhile the weather was growing cooler and we were more able to really work afield. You could finally start to smell glorious fall on the air!! We worked a lot of birds. Since my killing of the bird is the reward to the dogs for a job well done, I only shot those birds that the dog handled perfectly.

This hunt in Early October told me that my training “plan” (non-plan, really) for Joy had succeeded. Chase pointed what later turned out to be a cock pheasant on the edge of heavy cover; and Joy honored the point perfectly from 15 yards away.

The bird took off running in that super-thick cover. Both dogs worked like a team, tracking that bird all the way down that long field toward the far tree line you can see in the pic, attempting to get it to hold for a point, but never pushing the rooster so hard that it flushed. They worked that one bird for maybe 15 minutes. A real virtuoso performance for birddogs. Finally, I heard Joy’s point alarm beeper going off about 50 yards from the end of the field (couldn’t begin to see her). She had the bird held for a point!! Then, Chase’s beeper went off, too – he was honoring!! I climbed into the jungle to flush the bird. When I got to within about 30 yards of where I heard Joy’s beeper, the bird thundered into the air. I only got a half-second glimpse of his bright colors and long tail before he disappeared from sight because the cover was way over my head. That was just long enough for my little 20 gauge to speak. I had no idea if I hit him or not.

A few moments later, Chase and Joy popped out of the cover with the bird!!

A human could look for a downed bird in that stuff for weeks without finding it. The dogs took seconds. Amazing!

Joy’s own retrieving has improved steadily. This pic of her in full-speed action is from this week. You can see that we now have some early fall color.

The first real upland season, ruffed grouse, finally opens this Saturday. Chase, Joy and I are all as fit, trained and ready as I can make us. Joy has nonetheless remained a complete cuddle pet - as gentle and loving at home as she is driven in the field - that wonderful dichotomy that is a birddog.

More later, hopefully.

Greg, Chase and Joy.
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