In early November, I took my new springer pup to NW Iowa for a total immersion 5-day pheasant extravaganza. It was a big gamble with a very inexperienced dog but she seemed to come through it well and showed signs of good things to come. Here is the rest of the story for the season to date.
After NW Iowa with its many honey holes, we came back to reality in central IL. The two biggest high points of the season were the Birkbeck and Sibley PHAs. At Birkbeck, we saw about 18 hens and 7 roosters. Lots of wild flushes, except of course for the hens who waited until you almost stepped on them. Managed to kill 2 roosters. Had one rooster fly right down the line of 3 hunters and we all missed him cleanly at about 30 yards. Had to have been that strong tail wind. Pip hunted pretty well in tall cover. Found several hens. No retrieves. Gary Lutterbie’s springer Sam did a good job.
Then we hunted some smaller covers with lower bird numbers. Pip was consistently finding birds but as they got fewer and farther between, she wanted to range further. Keeping her close is still something we’re working on but the pager feature on the Dogtra collar seems to be enough to do the job. I like this because it doesn’t tip off the pheasants like the whistle does.
One solo hunt comes to mind where a rooster flushed by some timber and caught me completely by surprise. As I struggled to mount the gun, I tangled it in my whistle lanyard. First shot went 12’ over the bird. As he sped through the branches I saw an opening and tried a desperation shot. Managed to hit him fairly hard and saw a leg drop but he continued flying through the woods into an adjoining field about 100 yards away. I had to pick Pip up to cross a woven wire fence and try the retrieve.
The trees had been thick enough that I couldn’t tell exactly where the bird had landed. I called Pip to the general area then kept encouraging her to “look close.” After about 5 minutes, her head came up and she started looking into a thick clump of foxtail. Jumped in and came up with the rooster. Yay!
Sibley PHA was a great trip. Saw about 18 hens and 8 roosters. We wound up shooting 5. One highlight was when Pip worked a scent for at least 70 yards through some very heavy brome grass. No flush. We stopped when the cover changed and regrouped. Of course, as we stood there taking a breather a rooster jumped up from the middle of our group and took off making a corkscrew turn as he went. There wasn’t a safe shot until he was almost 35 yards away and we were tied in knots. I gave him a salute with no effect. He had done this before. Pip made two good retrieves and rooted some birds out of dense cover.
All in all, it’s been a great season so far for “new doggie.” We don’t have any more PHA permits or honey holes but are having fun just putting our noses in the wind and seeing what we can find. This morning Pip was hunting in a dense patch of teasel and tree limbs. A Coopers hawk flew out and sat on a branch. Pip kept working then flushed a hen. I suspect the hawk had been after the hen until we screwed up the deal. No roosters but still a good day watching a young dog begin to turn into a bird dog.
I used to work in Washington, D.C. and would park near the tidal basin at the Jefferson Memorial and walk to my office. The tidal basin is ringed with cherry trees and is the focus of the Cherry Blossom Festival every year. The problem is I can’t remember a year when the blossoming of the cherry trees actually matched up with the festival dates. Some years it was too early, some too late. The blossoms themselves were beautiful but festival crowds often missed them.
Jeff Lampe, his son Victor and I just concluded a 5 day walkabout pheasant hunt in NW Iowa. Jeff and I had gone there in the past when the corn was still in the field (too early) and more often when the weather was around zero, winds 30+ mph and the cover was full of snow and barren of birds (too late.) This year our timing was just right. At the top of the list were two covers we hunted within a day or two of the nearby corn being harvested. In one of them, pheasants started to fill the air right after we stepped into the field and didn’t stop until we had limited out. All told, our group (occasionally including Jeff’s Uncle Rick and his son Mike) harvested 39 roosters. One of our best hunts ever.
All of this set the stage for the maiden real hunting experience for my year old springer Pip. Pip is what is called a “soft” dog. She’s shy around strangers and wary of new situations. Although I had been working with her, I didn’t know what was going to happen when the pheasant scrum started and guns started blazing. I’ve seen many dogs break out in this situation and disappear over the horizon.
All in all, Pip came through like a trooper. She has always been birdy and turns into a very confident dog in the field. She got excited and was ranging too far initially but I started using the page feature on her Dogtra collar to tighten up her pattern. On the second day I killed a rooster she had flushed and she brought it to my hand like she had been doing it her whole life. Then Uncle Rick shot a bird and she brought it to him (I’ve never had a dog before that would do that.) From then on Pip kept getting better. She hunted close, flushed birds and retrieved some cripples we would have never found otherwise. In several places the cover was head high so dog help in making retrieves was critical.
There are definitely more pheasants in Iowa this year. I had a great time with Jeff, Victor and the other Lampe kin. I have been on this trip so often and lived off their great hospitality that I have been adopted as a common law cousin. Good people, great cover, lots of pheasants and the added bonus of watching a young dog begin to blossom into a real bird dog.
Hmm, the Iowa season is open for quite a while yet.
Last week closed the chapter on Lily; my best ever hunting dog/family pet. An English Springer spaniel who would have been 15 this July. Up until the day before she died she would let my 2-year old grandson do all the things that 2-year old boys do to dogs without complaint. She was a sweetheart.
In her hunting career, she saw some good pheasant cover and even more marginal cover (it was mostly Illinois, after all.) Watching her bounce through a field always warmed my heart.
Have great memories of her time with our family and our times afield. Here is a blog I first posted in August 2008:
I have said I wouldn’t pheasant hunt if I didn’t have a dog. That is true.
While the birds are exciting and trying to comb the cover and find them is a challenge, it doesn’t work for me without a pooch. I am not a great trainer. I make lots of mistakes. I have never had the chance to work closely with an experienced trainer so all of my dogs have been “home grown.” But even a mediocre dog brings a new element of optimism and excitement to what could otherwise be a fairly dull hunt. They add another dimension to the chase.
My current cohort is a 9-year old English Springer Spaniel (field type, not one of the show dogs) named Lil. She is also known as: Lilbert, @!**#, fuzzy dog, furball, Lilienthal (ask my daughter about this one) . . . you get the idea. Prior to Lil we had another springer, an English pointer, a Brittany, an English setter and a beagle.
Lil is first and foremost a member of the family. She sleeps in the house, demands attention, will clown for treats and is ever vigilant against the chipmunks and moles that threaten our yard. She is a “soft” dog and her feelings can be hurt easily. However, when she catches sight of birds, any birds, she transforms into something else altogether.
Lil is birdy and a natural retriever. Without these two qualities, I would never have been able to get her to her current level of bird dogness. Springers are known for having “on” switches and Lil hits hers when you release her in the field. She is the picture of excitement, bouncing through cover, searching for scent, wagging her tail. She is driven to find something and her enthusiasm is contagious. That spark is what I enjoy and why I spend the time to make it happen.
We bought Lil in southern Iowa. I made the classic mistake of bringing the family along. We had waited a few years since the death of our first springer Teddy who was also a dearly loved family member. I had analyzed all of Teddy’s shortcomings and was ready to clinically pick the proper successor. The breeder had a few options to show us and we watched started dogs that quartered nicely, hupped on whistle, etc. The last dog was Lil. She came out of the barn and the breeder called her. She took one look at him, grabbed an empty sack of dog food that was twice her size and streaked off directly away from us. Daughter Sara instantly said, “That’s the one I want.”
Life with Lily is interesting. She wouldn’t eat meat for several years. She hates swimming—our previous springer would swim for hours behind a canoe. Her biggest joy in life is rolling in a fresh pile of cow manure or a carcass. I couldn’t get her to obey the most elementary obedience commands. I paid the breeder quite a bit of money to get her started and she learned absolutely nothing while she was there. Don’t pay for training if you can’t be directly involved in the process. Gradually, she has gotten me more or less on the same page with her. We are something of a team now and have had some great days in the field together. We’ve both learned a lot.