Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Friday, June 19, 2020

Dragonfly Wings

Living in the grouse woods means bugs. Some are good, they are what grouse chicks need to eat. The trout fishermen excitedly talk about which hatch is active on the river. But the mosquitoes are pretty bad here right now and they show up in a scourge when I go out in the evening to water my flowers. But then, so do my heroes, the dragonflies. What is amazing is that the dragonflies will take mosquitoes right off of my arm and I feel their wings ever so lightly brush my skin as they do. The dragonflies also fly close to my hair and I can hear the soft whirr of their double wings as they do acrobatics and feast on the nuisance skeeters as they circle my head. Being touched by dragonfly wings. Pretty darn cool.

No photo description available.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Firelight Winter

Our hunting season ended several days ago when I pulled out of Kansas for the long drive back to the little north house in Michigan.  The first leg of the drive took me through the county where I used to live and hunt and it was hard to drive past those golden, grassy covers without pulling in to run a couple of dogs. But it was time.  Perhaps next year we can make Kansas a longer stay but it was time to head north. To head home.

The fresh cold air and snow are welcoming to me. The utter silence of snow falling is a thing of beauty. I love that my little backwoods road is not plowed or sanded, a road grader comes by every few days to blade the snow but it remains white and pristine and soft for walking. Temps are nose diving tonight as colder air moves in.  Life for the next few weeks will revolve around tending the woodstove that is my heat and the pack of dogs that are my company. Reading. Writing. Cooking. Naps. Walks. A Firelight winter.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Bob is Calling Us

The pack of dogs is hovering tightly around me right now because they just saw me packing luggage.  Which in itself is enough to excite this road-loving pack but even better is that some of what went into the duffle bag was hunting pants. Perhaps it speaks better of their noses than my laundry skills that even though the pants are fresh out of the laundry, the dogs immediately recognize them even though they are simple tan denim jeans.  I have yet to get hooked into the tech clothing that many upland hunters swear by, I guess that's another story.

But this week's story is that Firelight is headed to Kansas. Nope, we are not moving again, just for 3-4 weeks of hunting.  Winter set in early here in northern Michigan with 11 degrees as the high today and a few fresh inches of snow on top of the icy crust that was already there.  So we will leave the grouse to their conifer roosts: we will see them in the spring.  But in Kansas it is high season for that Prince of game birds, Bobwhite quail, and they are calling us.  And we won't turn down any cackling invites from pheasant roosters either. 

This trip is a bit different for me in that it is the first time that I have embarked on an extended hunting trip without benefit of having a travel trailer and I'm feeling a bit like I just took the training wheels off of my transportation.  I didn't quite realize how spoiled I was with the RV because I could load up everything and even had a kitchen sink and whenever I wanted I could retreat into the familiar trailer, crank up the heat and open the 'frig for a snack.  I am instead renting a house out in Kansas for our stay, we will see how that works but knowing that I will always travel to hunt, at the moment I am thinking that another RV is in my future.

Despite the zombie-long drive to the prairie, the angst of packing for the wide variety of possible weather conditions, feed and care for 7 dogs, and the cost, oh geez the cost, of all of this, I am excited and the thought of not going has never been entertained.  Because it is what I do.  My passion for bird dogs was lit 50 years ago with the gift of my first setter pup and the flame burns brighter today than ever.  And over those years I have learned that if you want to have good, really good, bird dogs, then you have to put the time and effort into them. The 30 or so days that we hunted grouse here in MI has been good and all of the dogs had a decent amount of ground time, but I believe that a really good bird dog needs to show what they've got on multiple species of birds and habitat.  The adult dogs have all already proven themselves to me in years past, that's how they have earned their spot here, so with them it will be all fun.  But this year I have the thrill of a youngster to prove who so far has been the equivalent of "here, watch this" and I can't wait to see what she has to show me.  There is also a little pup who is still very young so gets zero field pressure but she will learn important life skills/road rules such only 2 minutes to potty when we stop so you had better hurry, the world out there is entirely different than our quiet little woods home, and get used to snoozing quietly in your crate until it is your turn.

One week of the trip involves the Ryman Breeders Gathering, a unique annual event that is a highlight of the year.  Hunting with each other and dogs from other breeders, big boisterous dinners, and sharing time with serious hunters who care about these dogs is a fun and learning experience that passes all too quickly.  I know that my crew will miss the woodstove here at home but I firmly believe that they, like me, will happily give it up for time with Bob.
Lynn Dee

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Aptly Named

The title of this little blog is Firelight Reflections. A little play on words in that over the years I have most often used it to share tales and times involving my Firelight Setters.  But the name Reflections was intended to mean more, intended to offer a time and place to think and reflect on my chosen lifestyle.

My lifestyle is not for everyone. I live on the edge of thousands of acres of forest on a pitted, sandy road.  As far as I know, there are only 3 of us who live on this road year round; the owners of the handful of cabins scattered in the woods live downstate in the cities and come up only for summer holiday weekends. For all appearances, it looks like some owners never come at all.  I live with 7 birddogs who represent generations 5, 6, and 7 of Firelights.  There are hunting boots, rubber boots and snow boots scattered by the doorway. The dining table is cluttered with flowers in my grandmothers crystal vase, half empty boxes of 28 ga shells, my laptop, and empty wine bottles from recent dinners with friends.

It snowed here today, adding up to perhaps 8" or so but has tapered to a fine, light white mist seen in the yard light.  There are no tracks out on the road.  We knew the snow was coming so were prepared to settle in for the day.  There must have been a bird hunter out in the woods this morning for the re-opening of grouse season though because a Labrador Retriever, wearing an orange hunting vest and a GPS/ecollar, came running out from the trail and sensing that this was a dog friendly house, came up onto my deck and asked to come in.  He suddenly turned his head as if he heard his owners whistle or perhaps a buzz on his collar and then raced back off and up the trail. He came back briefly but then disappeared.

The outdoors this evening have that wonderful soft darkness of a fresh snowfall. I had to help the spindly pine out front on which I had strung some Christmas lights, the weight of the heavy snow had pulled the few branches to the ground and even the top was bowed down and touching the snow.  The woodstove is burning steady and warm, I will need to carry in a few more logs before bedtime. And what a wonderful thing it is to be sitting and reading when the yearling dog decides that she need love, or perhaps that it is I who needs love. She comes over and places her front legs and chest across my lap and I set my book and glasses on the nearby table.  She quietly lies there for a few minutes as I stroke her silky ears - I love Setter ears.  After a short time she removes herself and goes to lie in front of the stove, a long sigh is heard as she settles in.

Come tomorrow we will explore to see if the footing is reasonable for hunting as I hope to get this youngster into more birds this season.  But for now, I will reflect on the path that brought us to this peaceful moment and wonder where it will take us next.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Wrath at the Grapes

Location, location, location.  Indeed the reason why I bought this particular property back in early summer. The location is rural, private, away from any towns and a walk out the front - or back - door puts me and the dogs into grouse habitat.  With a garage, a barn, big mature trees and a couple of private acres of yard surrounded by woods it's a pretty nice place to have a pack of dogs.  First order of business was to have most of the back yard fenced in for the dogs as my pack enjoys spending good weather days out there doing, well, whatever it is that dogs do. Run. Dig. Lots of digging, motivated by mole trails through the yard which as a result has parts of the yard looking like Fort Grayling Camp did mine field practice here.  Bark. Lots of barking because for the first time in their lives my dogs can see a road from their yard and having grown up without seeing a road, they believe that any passing truck is actually in our driveway and therefore must be announced.  We're working on that. Also within the yard there is a lovely arbor with a swing beneath. I can picture the former owners sitting there in the cool evenings, enjoying the flower plantings that my dogs have been umm, shall we say re-arranging.  

The arbor has nice old grape vines woven onto it and friends stopping to see my new place frequently commented on how come autumn I would be seeing grouse flying in at dusk to dine on the grapes as well as to the apple trees further over.  It has been a wet summer and the vines took off and grew. And grew. They grew so much that I had visions of Jack and the Bean Stalk.  They completely covered the arbor, nearly blocking the swing from view and I wondered if the old arbor was strong enough to bear the weight. Part way through the summer I noticed grapes developing on the ends of the vines that were peeking out from the leaves.  It was around then that I also noticed some of the dogs spending a good amount of time around the arbor and suddenly it hit me: the dogs were eating the grapes.  

A voice in the back of my head shouted that grapes are toxic to dogs and sure enough, a quick Google study came up with a thousand pages warning of the toxicity of grapes for dogs and horror stories of dogs dying within days of consuming them.  All I could think was to block the dogs access to the vines so quickly disassembled a chainlink kennel in the garage and erected the panels to surround the arbor to block the dogs.  So now there was a somewhat bizarre looking chainlink stockade within the yard containing not dogs, but instead wild and wooly grape vines that grew and grew.  I decided that come spring I would build an attractive wood fence around the arbor to preserve the sweet little spot in the yard.

When the first heavy frosts hit this fall and the grape vine leaves dropped I was shocked to see that the arbor did not just have some grapes for the neighboring grouse, it held hundreds of pounds of ripened grapes.  They smelled delicious even from afar and the dogs were digging and doing their best to get at them.  A shout out to the community got no response from anyone perhaps interested in using them for jelly or wine.  I am pretty domestic in the kitchen but my interest in wine is limited to drinking it from a glass.  


As the grapes ripened further they began to drop to the ground. Most stayed safely within the mini-compound but some would inevitably bounce out through the fence and I could see the dogs frequently shopping around, nose to the ground.  So began a several-times-a-day routine of doing a "grape check" around the arbor before I could let the dogs out.  It's a good thing for a private, rural location... nightgown, tousled hair, boots and jacket were my morning wardrobe and duty of the day with rake in hand.  

The grapes are now turning mushy and are dropping in large quantities.  Today's duties included getting inside of the grape hoosegow and beginning to hand strip the grapes from the vines in an effort to keep them contained.  As I moved around within the stockade and was squishing purple from beneath my rubber boots I had flashbacks to an old "I Love Lucy" episode where for some forgotten reason she and her friend were foot-stomping grapes. Only there was no laugh track for me, instead all I could hear was an oft heard mothers lament of "this is why we can't have nice things." 

The fanciful thoughts of pretty picket fencing around the arbor are gone. Replaced by vengeful fantasies of taking a chainsaw to the whole thing come spring to remove this doggie-biohazard from what was supposed to be a doggie sanctuary.  It will be sad to remove something that would bring pleasure to some others but this is my Grouse House and it is too much of a risk for my Firelight grouse dogs.  As an old friend always says.... darn dogs anyway.  

I ironically toast the day with a glass of wine....   Cheers.
Lynn Dee

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Profit, Bird Dogs and My Dog Ate My Lottery Ticket

To anyone who actually hunts and breeds a few bird dogs, the first part of the title is obviously a joke that they fully get. But the second part of the title is unfortunately true. 

Yep.  I rarely buy a lottery ticket but for some reason, yesterday I did. Once home I tucked it under my laptop for safe keeping and in the hopes that I would remember to check the numbers since I have been known to buy tickets and for months forget to check them.  But this morning I carried my laptop into another room for some work, forgetting about the ticket until I noticed one of the dogs - okay, it was Flint, I am not going to protect the guilty - chewing on something. What I took from his mouth was just enough to tell me that he had just eaten my Powerball ticket. So if the news announces that the winning ticket was sold in northern Michigan and unclaimed, please don't tell me.

As far as making money on bird dogs, that is a serious topic which deserves its own post one of these days.  But the bottom line is that hunting and being a conscientious small breeder of bird dogs is a labor of love and is an expensive one: it certainly does not bring a profit.  Yes, a litter of pups a year brings in a short burst of money - thankfully - because the ledger hangs long and heavy on the expenses side IF you are raising bird dogs who are actually hunted and proven to have talent before they are bred. A breeder who just keeps a large number of dogs in kennels and always seems to have puppies available, make no mistake, that is a commercial kennel operated for profit, not bird dogs. 

If you are a serious hunter who wants a talented bird dog, please understand that the genetics of hunting talent are intangible and somewhat fragile. Even two outstanding parents might not pass the same level of talent on to their offspring. So why would you risk buying a pup whose parents have not been proven to have any talent at all? Whose only claim to fame is that somewhere back in the pedigree are the names of dogs and breeders who did indeed work hard to earn reputations of talent. If you are a wild bird hunter, the fact that a pup's parent was able to locate a chicken pen-raised bird in a training situation tells you nothing about talent. So, if you are a wild bird hunter, give yourself better odds than my Powerball ticket once gave me and buy a pup from parents who themselves have been proven talented on wild birds.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Dog Speed

I am test-driving a new camera right now and taking lots of awful photos with it. Wonderful new technology and equipment fail to overcome my shortcomings as a photographer. But I have fun any way. 

This photo caught my eye and made me laugh.  I am calling it: which speed of dog do you like?  On the surface it is just a poor quality but fun photo. But it is also a conversation starter. I have many discussions with hunters about how fast their bird dog covers the ground but find that since our dogs do not have speedometers on them, words such as fast, moderate or plodding have very different meanings to different people. GPS units report mph run by the dog but that is skewed somewhat by things such as terrain, did you leave it on as you drove between covers, how often the dog went on point or even how often the dog stopped to pee. Without actually seeing a dog hunt or a really good video of the dog, it is a difficult trait to measure. Yet footspeed is an important topic to hunters - and therefore breeders - and there is no right or wrong.  So, which flavor of speed would you choose from this silly photo?