Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chara

       
A special pup.
 
June 3, 2001 - August 12, 2016

     Sometimes we are really lucky and in 2001 I certainly was. Stumbling around looking for a German wirehaired pointer, I came upon a breeder in New York who introduced me to Weidenhugel Chardonnay, a predominately white German wirehaired pointer pup. It was love at first sight.
          By then more than a dozen years had passed since a bird dog had been part of my life. Chara was smart, learned quickly, loved to hunt, and became more than a dog, much like a best friend. When I worked in my shop she hung around, always ready for a two or five minute lesson. Heal, stay, whoa all came easily to her. Pigeons and quail became part of my life, for without birds you will never have a bird dog.
          The first hunt, at five months of age, was in a state run wildlife management
Learning together.
area. She pointed a pair of quail and brought back the one that fell to the shot. I never felt prouder. And throughout her entire life, her hunting enthusiasm never waned.
          I could go to the post office in our busy town and ask her to sit outside by the door and know she would be there when I came back out. Walking unleashed, she would heal through the sidewalks as people passing patted her head. I beamed.
          Exiting the post office one day a car’s tires screeched. A scared young golden retriever dashed across the street not twenty feet away, narrowly dodging the skidding vehicle. Good Samaritans tried to catch the dog, but it was too scared to trust anyone and dashed hither and yon, eyes big as golf balls. I walked to my truck and let out Chara. She trotted over to the frightened dog and the two sniffed noses. Slipping my finger into the collar of the golden retriever, then I walked the dog back to its owner. Never did I feel prouder of Chara.
   
As a young dog.
       On our first trip to grouse country she never actually pointed any of the skittish grouse, but she performed perfectly on woodcock. It was the beginning of a partnership that lasted her life time. We hunted old coverts that I had hunted as a younger man with an overly eager Brittany spaniel. Chara’s performance made that Brittany look like a fool. Together we stomped all over the north woods.
          Our first duck hunt together confused poor Chara. Why weren’t we walking and looking for birds? After all, we had a gun with us? Forcing her to sit, we sat in the weeds behind a few decays that I had carved years earlier. If it wasn’t for my hand on her neck and finger inside her collar, she would have dashed off looking for upland birds. Not long after legal shooting time a pair of mallards fell out of the sky and I stood to shoot, causing one to tumble into the water.
          About to give the retrieve command, she was already in the water and halfway out to the duck. Duck hunting was a piece of cake after that. One cold January she even retrieved a golden eye.= that fell a hundred yards from our duck boat.
          I learned to trust her nose and never doubt when she worked bird scent. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty in the classic sense, but with the nose to the ground she always found the bird. Grouse have always walked and now woodcock seem to also, but with Chara it didn’t matter, she would always find them. Point, think, wait, re-point, think, move, re-locate…it would continue, and I could always tell when the bird was pinned.
            The memories go on…the day where we must have found a hundred woodcock,
Hard on a point.
or the woodcock that fell into the river, or the crippled Canada goose that paddled out over a hundred yards from shore. Or the grouse pointed on opening day one year while her fourteen month old sibling honored, only to have the each retrieve one wing of the bird while the breast stayed where it fallen. Or the time she pointed straight up at the bird in a softwood tree? Or the day we hunted all day from the house and moved so many birds, but none really offered a shot. When I broke open my gun back at the house I had forgotten to load it. We laughed, at least I think she did too. Those things will stay with me.
          So many times, when her bell went silent and I knew she was on a point yet I couldn’t find her, I would call her name. It’s a mystery how she figured it out, or even how she did it, but Chara would move just enough that her bell would ding once, letting me know where she was without frightening the bird.
          So many other dogs passed through Camp Grouse, but Chara was always the Grande Dame. In the alder thickets or grouse coverts, she never seemed to notice the other dog’s presence. Dogs hunting with her learned a lot, of that I am sure, and I wish our young pup had had a season or two with her.
          But that wasn’t to be and last week Chara left us. It was her time, with fifteen hunting seasons behind her. It was more than I could ask and a life that most dogs would dream of, never tethered and in the woods almost every day.
In her last years she loved the cool stream.
         The last few bird seasons were easy hunts, but some that I will remember forever. Hunting over an older dog is very civilized, with a slower pace and avoiding the nastier thickets. She stayed determined and hunted hard until the end. We hunted the cream coverts the last couple of years, flat with few thorny thickets.
         Now she is buried beside the apple tree behind the house and I hope the grouse come out to visit her. I am sure they can share stories and have a few laughs. Come spring time she certainly will be able to hear them drumming.
          Chara, I will never forget you.
As I will always remember her.



Friday, July 29, 2016

What is Good Enough?

    Years ago when I had more energy my dogs had better be perfect, or pretty close. Steady to wing and shot, retrieve to hand, with perfect manners around the house were expected. My oldest wire was a struggle with the honoring of another dog’s point, but the steady to wing and shot came without too much trouble. Life looked golden.
Maggie on the run.
    But achieving something and maintaining something are two different things. I hunt alone much of the time and enforcing the steady to wing and shot turned out to be difficult when she had a different mind. I would get frustrated and the dog would dig in her heels. During one December hunt in her fifth or sixth year I threw in the towel and stopped reprimanding her when she broke on the flush. Bird hunting has been more fun since then.
    But I understand and admire owners who demand dog perfection and can maintain it. We all set our own standards, whether bird hunting, trout fishing, or maintaining our home or vehicle. Life demands much and time is finite, so each to their own priorities.  
    A dog’s intelligence is the most important thing and that probably has more to do with the breeding than anything else, but we can do a lot to stimulate a puppy’s brain. I love a dog who figures things out on her own and learns relocate on a moving grouse. My oldest always knew more about where the bird was than I ever would, at least until it flushed. So I let her move, head down sniffing foot scent if necessary…stopping, starting, and pointing whenever the bird stopped.. She almost never bumped a bird, her patience and determination certainly surpassing mine. If I waited long enough we would certainly find and pin the bird for a flush.
    Manners around the house are a must, after all, dogs in our home live pretty darn well. Honoring another dog’s point is also a must, because visitors often bring their dogs along and nothing frays friendships quicker than one dog stealing another’s point.
Georgia working her magic.
    One thing I have learned over the years is that breeding has more to do with how a dog turns out than any training along the way. Georgia, a German shorthaired pointer from Hedgehog Hill Kennels in Vermont, taught me that. With no bird hunting training at all, only the basic manners that every dogs should be taught, she was a gem to hunt over. For four seasons I had the pleasure of “borrowing” her for bird season and she truly was a rock star, repeatedly pointing and retrieving ruffed grouse and woodcock.
    Right now we have a seven month old German wirehair in the house from Ripsnorter Kennel, named Ripsnorter Magallow Magic Snapshot. She seems smart and constantly watches the older dogs to quietly learn. Her lineage goes directly back to my oldest wirehair, who has been a brilliant hunter. Young Maggie hunts hard when we are in the woods, points song birds and butterflies in the yard, and watches with fascination the birds flying overhead. The manners required for civil living are pretty well ingrained and soon we’ll be looking for woodcock to train on.
Chara with her great, great, great, great, niece last March.
    So far she is more than good enough. I am very hopeful.