Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Blood In The Alders

 

We do not shoot woodcock in the home covert, fourteen acres that lay wet at the back of my farm. Through it crawls a lazy creek that the beaver jam every year or so with housing projects my Amish farmer wrecks with his backhoe. 

 

We planted black alders along that creek in 1988, trees that have been cut over twice, the last time in 2013.  The main stand holds bird in spring, dancers that spiral over an adjoining hayfield we call the Goose Pasture.  Last year was our best yet for staging birds on the move in autumn, the dogs pointing resting woodcock across the entire plot.

 


So the home covert is part woodcock preserve, part schoolyard, conditioning for the older dogs, the perfect place to light a fire under youngsters.  Since the last cut, the alders have yet to drown out the cane briar and black raspberry laced like concertina wire through the understory.  I follow my dogs, my loins girded in heavy canvas chaps over jeans, camera stuffed in the armored Filson vest that’s been missing a bottom button for twenty years.  I snug tight a low profile blaze orange cap that I will still have to pick up half a dozen times. Thick gloves I’d never wear toting a shotgun make running camera and blank gun a challenge.

 

But the only blood shed in the home alders comes from setter tail tips and hunter forearms…foreheads…and #@%&* ear lobes.  The older dogs know this covert by rote.  They muscle through sharp tangles and race along the more open fence row edge, pinning birds in places where they have found them for years.   It’s not pretty pointing dog work, more spaniel-like rooting at times.  But a hot point in a briary corner where we’ve found woodcock for generations of pointing dogs remains as fresh and exciting for Deacon and Doc and Lucy as it was for Arran and Captain, Cotton and Dusk, Willie, Dinah, Molly and all the rest…and is for me.

 


Before the alders were planted, the former owner of this farm rode a one-eyed white walking horse to his woodcock and even the occasional ruffed grouse, the dogs coming across wild birds in the thickets above broad food plots where bobwhite quail covied.  The quail were pen-reared in isolation, live trapped and never handled.  They were skittish, flushed hard and flew fast…but they weren’t wild birds, and the landowner used a highlighter to mark the woodcock contacts in his game diary where he kept track of dog work and shooting. 

 

We took turns as horse holders and gunners.  Not always, but most times, we shot over, rather than at, woodcock the dogs stood, not because we didn’t love the shooting or a lovely meal of fast-seared woodcock over wild rice.  We knew even back then that the birds were in trouble across their range and eventually consecrated the farm as sanctuary for them.

 

These days, the horses are saved for other times and places, and we take Shank’s Mare into the alders.  Even the puppy, the irrepressible Firelight Cool Hand Luke, takes a turn down one section that isn’t quite so gnarly, gamboling and snuffling and dinking about until I fly a big racing pigeon from the shoulder bag of loft birds I carry just to make sure there are no dry runs.  As the dark bird batters its way up and out of the alders, it’s almost like a cartoon electric charge runs all through the puppy;  when he chases, I squat to shoot the .22 blank gun into the ground, muffling its sharp report.  Every release adds purpose to puppy putzing and gets us closer to the time when a woodcock cooperates and holds upwind.  When that moment comes, point or push, it doesn’t matter.  It’s a wild bird contact, another chance to ignite his Firelight blood toward a gun dog fever from which I hope neither he nor I ever recover.


- Randy Lawrence

 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Introducing....

Randy Lawrence is to be an occasional collaborator on this blog. A retired teacher of writing from Hocking College, for 20 years, he wrote the monthly "Wingshooting" column for Sporting Clays Magazine. Randy shares his beautiful hillside farm in southern Ohio with a motley cast of canine characters including the setters Firelight's Deacon and Cool Hand Luke, October Blue Doc, Huntmore's Lucy Lieu, and Longhunter's The Count. Randy's 40 years' experience paired with his passionate, on-the-dog's-schedule approach has led to a fun and valued collaboration with me at Firelight.

Welcome Randy!

 - Lynn Dee                                                                                                 Randy and Deacon 



Thursday, October 29, 2020

All Too Soon

 

When the feed store clerk came out with the heavy bag of pigeon seed, I opened the tailgate and asked him to set it next to the months’ worth of dog food bags that are still in the back from last week’s delivery.  Upon arriving home, I pulled into the garage next to the bags of recyclable bottles and also noticed that I had forgotten to take the trash to the transfer station last week. 

Crossing the driveway, I pulled the blue tarp a little tighter over the surplus firewood still lying in a jumbled heap in front of the garage, waiting to be cross-stacked in place since the garage already has four orderly rows of wood lined up from front to back. That wood ousted the little SUV that is loaded with dog crates, which means scraping heavy frost from the windshield each morning.

As I sit here at the laptop sitting on the kitchen table, the black, expensive-looking boxes from my new camera are still on the table as is the box with the new CO detector for the RV.  The Garmin doctors-bag-look-a-like sits at the end of the table with life supporting wires charging collars and handheld. Rain crusted leather boots sit in a scattering of sand beneath the table by the door and as I drop my gloves onto the mantle above the woodstove a small puff of dust lifts.  

The bottles, boxes and firewood will all still be there to be taken care of when accumulating snow gives last call to bird season. But for now, the eager young dogs need more birds, the skillful old dogs deserve more birds, and the primetime stars in between do also, and we all know that this favorite time will come to an end all too soon.




Friday, October 23, 2020

Puppy Boundaries

 Puppies.  Who doesn't love puppies? Yet many people dread the puppy phase of their dog's life.  When I read and hear about people whose puppies are terrors in the house, biting hands with their sharp teeth, chewing on woodwork and furniture, jumping on people, bolting out the door when someone comes in I can understand why they don't love puppies.  It doesn't have to be that way.

Start with the genetics of the puppy. Chose a breeding that offers the "livability" that you want for yourself. Actually witness adult dogs from the breeder living in a similar environment.  If your bird dog is going to double as a house pet I strongly recommend you spend some time in a home where one or more of that breeding lives.  Each of us has very different home situations, energies and stimuli and what one person considers good and acceptable may not be for you or me. 

Once that well chosen puppy is home it is still up to you to "civilize" it, that is, shape it into the dog that you imagined living with in the first place. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of setting boundaries with puppies starting the day that you bring them home.  Limits. Restrictions and understandings.  For example, from the beginning, my own dogs learn the following: No, you do not go through any door or gate unless I tell you to. No, you do not jump on people or nip hands. No, you do not get up on the sofa. No, you do not scratch the door when you want out. No, do not put your paws on the counter. You will spend quiet time in your crate or kennel. You will respect fences and not try to escape. You will sleep in until I get up.  

These are all very reasonable expectations that I set for my own dogs: each home will have it's own. I joke that my dogs are miscreants because I do not teach many of the usual pet commands such as sit or lie down. But from puppyhood my Firelight crew is taught my limits and boundaries which is how I can have a half-dozen bird dogs that double as house pets yet maintain a fairly normal looking home. Boundaries make for a more pleasant pet experience as well as help with building the foundation for the desired partnership in the field.  

My most recent miscreant pupil, Firelight Cool Hand Luke


Cheers
Lynn Dee Galey
Firelight Setters, Michigan


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Choices Can Be A Gamble

 

When breeding my first ES decades ago I traveled to a very reputable breeder whose stud dogs were highly respected in the bird dog world. He let two brothers out into the exercise yard for me to choose between. Both were nicely built, good looking dogs.  The first one briefly greeted us and then went off across the yard  to do dog things. The second dog came over to me, held his head high and looked right at me.  He then floated across the yard with high head and tail catching the breeze of the day, looking like a million bucks. The bite on the second dog was off a bit so the owner said that he and others had usually chosen to breed to the first. But to me the decision was an easy one since I have always sought eye catching style.  I gambled on the bite and in all of these years I have had only one puppy with a bad bite but a whole bunch with that proud tail waving high in the breeze and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

Firelight Storm and Firelight Tweed  

  

Cheers, Happy Hunting and High Tails,

Lynn Dee


Monday, October 5, 2020

Size Matters

 

The old timers said that if you have to bend down to pet a gun dog's head then it is a Spaniel.  A Setter's head is where your hand rests when hanging down at your side.  If you have to raise your hand to pet the head then it's a Dane.

 

Believe it or not, the size of a bird dog is one of the topics that can turn a discussion ugly.  To that, and to the endless volleys of "best breed" arguments, I say that is why there are chocolate and vanilla and lots of flavors in between:  pick what you like and don't worry about other people.   It's enough for me to just focus on my own dogs as far as size and base my breeding goals on personal taste, what experience has taught me works, and what the avid hunters who buy my pups say that they are seeking. But make no mistake - size does matter.  

 Let’s define “size” in a gun dog.  We usually hear just the weight of the dog for size comparisons, but I believe that height is also important. Why? Because together they give you a more accurate picture of how the dog is built.   That build determines so much about gait, stamina, and durability.

 As example, I have three dogs who are each 22" at the withers yet their weights are 50, 54 and 63 lbs. The 50 and 54 lb dogs are females and although the same height, the one weighing 50 lbs has the shorter coupled, more compact body that I prefer.   That compact, short coupled body is more ergonomic because the topline remains level and tight during movement and therefore is more efficient with no body roll or extra motion that wastes energy. This translates into more bottom to hunt faster and longer without fatigue and quicker recovery for day after day of hard hunting.

 The 63 lb dog is a nice short coupled male with good bone and masculine musculature that adds up to the higher weight than the females of the same height. But I have another male who at 65 lbs is only 2 lbs more yet is a full 2" taller with a longer and leaner build.  Again, the weight alone does not accurately portray dogs. 

 Hunters shopping for a Setter are often understandably puzzled when they see Setters listed as ranging from 35 lbs to 80 lbs.   My females are running 48 to 54 lbs. and are 21 – 22” tall at the withers.  My target for males is 60 lbs, but I see a little more range with most of mine weighing 55 – 65 lbs and 22 – 24” at the withers.  In a sense, in my Firelights, I am looking for the “middle dog” in the size range of modern Setters:  a dog with enough size that there is no doubt that it is a Setter but moderate enough in size to be animated, attractive, and athletic on the move while maintaining excellent stamina and healthy durability for a lifetime. 

Female,21" 48 lbs. Hunted til 13, lived to almost 16. 


   

   Male,22" 63 lb. Powerful and compact. 
   


Cheers and Happy Hunting all,

Lynn Dee