Reflections on bird dogs and a wingshooting lifestyle.
Firelight Bird Dogs
Friday, April 14, 2023
Diary Page of a Dog Breeder
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Of Bird Dogs and Brio
by Randy Lawrence
From the beginning, description of gun dog performance has cribbed some of its vocabulary from the world of horses. Perhaps that is rooted in fox hunting, where horse and hound are inextricably tied. But even we boot leather bird dog aficionados have been known to steal an expression or two.
Dogs and horses with unusual stamina are said to have "bottom." A canine or equine that goes off script, that is, becomes unresponsive to handler or rider, is described as having "the bit in his teeth." Much of what we value in a bird dog's gait comes from the free-flowing examples of the class saddle horse on the move.
A word to describe the most charismatic of horses is "brio," a term with Italian origins that my dictionary says stems from the early 18th century. That same dictionary defines "brio" as "enthusiastic vigor; vivacity; verve."
That belongs in the lexicon, for I like that in a dog.
One of the much ballyhooed virtues of the throwback type of English setter is a calm, low-key demeanor by which we set great store. The notion is that such a dog is much easier to live with than the high-wire hijinks of so many of the more modern bloodlines.
But some dogs are "calm" to the point of being phlegmatic. Doltish. "Drooling goobers," as a close friend has characterized them, seeming not to care whether school is in session or not. If it wasn't for the occasional tail wag, we might be tempted to put a palm to the rib cage to see if the dog is breathing. That kind of dog likely stays within skeet range while hunting, makes for a great fireplace andiron, and an easy pose for the family Christmas card.
But a Drooling Goober has nothing for my soul.
A dog can have spark, a big personality, an obvious enthusiasm for life beyond the feed pan, without being a wacked-out Odie from the Garfield cartoons. A dog with "brio" is one that is fun to live with, to school, to hunt over, because everything he does is done with a bit of dash, a measure of joy. That kind of dog is lovely to look at on the move, or in repose. He simply catches your eye just standing there.
A thoughtful gun dog breeder once wrote that we gravitate toward certain dogs for the same reasons we gravitate toward certain people. I like people who are upbeat and expressive. People who are quirky. Original. Happy in their work and play. People who understand when it's OK to be playful and when it's time to get down to business.
That's Firelight Seth. He is, as the young folks say, "a good hang."
When Seth is in the room, I have trouble not watching him. Not hall monitor watching, as with some of my other crew members, but watching to see what he's doing or thinking...because Seth is no poker player. I know where his head is at most of the time. He gets all sober and thinks. He laughs. He is also a bit of a worrier, Seth, and right now, his concern that Luke or the puppy Patch will cadge a toy that he might want has him lying near my desk with a plush buffalo, a Kong, and one of those thick rope do-hickeys between his paws where he rests his head and watches his housemates, also making sure where he is lying conveniently keeps Luke and the puppy from being closer to my chair.
Seth bogarts all the Good Stuff that he had to do without in another blighted period of his life.
He is also incredibly patient with younger dogs. When called upon to babysit the pointer puppy McNab, Seth put on a brave face, but his eyes were pleading. "What manner of fresh Hell is this? Can you please help a brotha out over here?"
A freakishly mild February has the woodcock back in our home covert on the earliest date in recent memory. I have watched different dogs take on the thickets of cane briar in and around our several acres of black alders for 33 years. Most of my dogs slow down and pick their way through; even some of the most confident pointers and setters we've run on this farm - Riley, Doc, Fancy, Dusk, Deacon, Moxie - have gone at that covert with a measure of, shall we say, "discretion."
Not Seth. His SOP is, "Where's the first tee? What's the course record? Hand me the driver!"
His tail cracks as he pushes cover, juking like a cutting horse on a cow, skirting the meanest parts on the down wind side, slowing only slightly when his nose catches Something Different.
For a big dog, Seth is cat footed. I don't hear him pounding the turf. He flows through the meanest cover with a big flowing gait that is both powerful and agile. When he is solo, especially here on his home turf, he is wider, stretching his range to the very edge of his collar bell because he knows where the birds (and I) should be.
He checks in without coming in. He knows his business, and I try hard to stay out of his way. I will sing to him- "Heeeeeeeeey, YEP! Yep, Yep!" - the way the field trialers do, like my old friend Bob did on this farm for 40 years, whenever we want to change directions. A dog like Seth will retire a fella's whistle.
The only thing hotter than the unseasonable air is one of his signature points, tail up, head slightly down, ears forward as I wade into the thick 'n' thorny to get his bird in the air.
He bulls in at the flush, and, shame on me, I let him, the blank gun's report a sort of benediction/exclamation point. If he swings back, I'll call him in and set him up where he pointed. If he doesn't, well, today, I am not inclined to play a game of Wannabe Trainer With An Old Dog Who Knows Better.
Later, when I sing him around toward the brushy draws on the hillside, he's like a kid being pulled off the best roller coaster at the county fair, glancing back over his shoulder as if all of those spindly alders are going to pack up and leave before he gets another ticket to ride.
But he's grinning when runs by, head up, happy to be working, happy to be into birds...happier still when the slip lead stays in my vest and he knows we're simply regrouping for another go.
His white and orange silhouette flashes in the pale late winter sun, slicing up those hillside thickets with "vigor, vivacity, and verve."
With brio. I like that in a dog.
Friday, November 25, 2022
by Lynn Dee Galey
Hunter's blogs are typically about glory days, full of birds, steady dogs and steadier guns. Like many others, I have a huge catalog of photos from so many of those days across the many years. And there will be many more to come, I'm sure. But this years entries are not as plentiful as most years and I have come to discover that I'm not alone.
We don't read much about are when things out of our control fail to align yet have considerable impact on our hunting. This piece has been percolating in my brain after similar conversations with several very good grouse hunters. Three of those hunters are friends that I consider "1 percenters" on ruffed grouse. These are guys who know grouse and habitat inside and out and talk about the diet and habits of grouse as thoroughly as some do their children. Their bar is set high for how their dogs handle birds and the dog is to set them up for efficient, productive gunning. But the common thread heard in each of our conversations is that this has been a very rough fall on ruffs for each of us with fewer hours on the ground and fewer birds in the bag.
Conditions were dry, too. Bone dry. The rustling of leaves on the ground makes for good word play but serves as a loud alarm for wildlife, and birds were heard but not often seen as they blew out far ahead even in front of solid dogs. The warmth however seemed to attract an ever-increasing number of out of state and downstate hunters and every pull off was well worn from truck tires. Tailgate photos from those folks showed numbers of woodcock and maybe a single grouse. It apparently was a good year for woodcock hunters.
Employment and jobs this year played a bigger role than usual for friends. I'm not sure if it is a reflection of the instability of our country's economy or perhaps a phase related to the age of my friends, but job losses and job demands devoured many hours for several friends. These are folks who normally have their work and hunting schedules ironed out months in advance for a seamless number of weeks of hunting.
Personally this fall I struggled with multiple dog injuries which is very unusual for my crew of 7. I literally go years without any dog issues but this fall some of the dogs spent all of their allowance at the vets and weeks at home on the DL. With my vet being an hour drive each way, each visit interrupts a whole day. My vet is a bird hunter herself and just yesterday when she walked in and saw me sitting there again asked, "What are your dogs doing to you lately?!!"
I don't write this to whine or complain and conversations with friends were not whine sessions either. Just an observation, more of a surprise, or disappointment. We each still had memorable days this year, just not as many, and it all felt a bit out of sync. We each hope that late season in December will offer good days yet to come. The 18" or so of snow out my door is taunting our optimism, but the collars, boots and gun are all still sitting near the door.
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
They Don’t Know…
“They tell you not to cry.
They tell you he's just a dog, not a human.
They tell you it will pass.
They tell you that animals do not know that they must die.
They tell you that the important thing is not to make them suffer.
They tell you that you can get another one.
They tell you it will happen.
They tell you there are more unbearable pains.
But they don't know how many times you've looked your dog in the eye.
They don't know how many times it was you and your dog that looked in the dark.
They don't know how many times your dog was the only one by your side.
They don't know that the only one who hasn't judged you is your dog.
They don't know how scared you were the night his moans woke you up.
They don't know how many times your dog has slept next to you.
They don't know how much you've changed since the dog became a part of your life.
They don't know how many times you hugged him when he was sick.
They don't know how many times you pretended not to see when his hair was getting whiter and whiter.
They don't know how many times you've talked to your dog, the only one who really listens to you.
They don't know how good you were to your dog.
Little do they know that only your dog knew you were in pain.
They don't know what it's like to see your old dog trying to come over and say hello.
They don't know that when things go wrong, the only one who isn't gone is your dog.
They don't know that your dog trusts you, every moment of his life, even at the last moment.
They don't know how much your dog loved you and how little he needed to be happy, because you were enough for him.
They don't know that crying for a dog is one of the noblest, most meaningful, truest and purest things you can do.
They don't know about the last time you rocked him hard ... being careful not to hurt him.
They don't know what you felt when you caressed his face in the last moments of his life"
- author unknown
I probably need to add that I have not experienced a recent loss at my kennel but I share this for all dog lovers and especially for two dear friends whose own tears are streaming this week.
Saturday, October 8, 2022
Beeps and Bells, Tech in the Field
Friends will recognize this as the ever-present mess at the end of my kitchen table. But what it represents is my conflicted participation in technology in the field.
I started using GPS collars many years ago when my finest grouse dog ever, Patch, was almost 12. I watched her one day in the woods as she stood paused on a check back to where I was and I realized that her hearing was failing. Her increasing deafness meant that she was unable to track my opposite-of-deer-stealth through the woods and if she could not catch a glimpse of my movement then she didn’t know where I was. I figured that if she was unable to locate me then I had better be able to find her. So an ugly, clumsy Astro collar joined her simple leather collar with the brass bell, and a handheld unit took up space in my minimal vest.
After Patch passed, the Astro was used only in Montana and Kansas where the dogs range far and wide and can be on point 400 yards away without me knowing. Many visitors feel that the woods here in northern Michigan are vast and remote but in reality, roads and atv trails are crisscrossed throughout and never far away. Being able to look at the handheld and see where my dogs are has become a crutch of sorts and I use the collars daily.
This year I added a Fenix watch which works along with the Garmin handheld and despite my initial thoughts that it was overdosing on technology I have to admit that it actually simplifies things. A quick glance at my wrist tells me distance and direction for each dog and I just leave the bulky handheld in my pocket.
I still don’t use the stimulation/shock option on the collars; I simply don’t need them for my dogs. However, I have trained them to come around when I tone (beep) them on the collar which works well on windy days when they cannot hear my somewhat puny lip whistle and I am making a turn or heading back.
So, each day I come home and dump the mess of gadgets on the table and dutifully plug them into their chargers. When ready to go again the collars beep as I turn them on, I put the handheld into the vest, the watch on my wrist, and the dogs all dance at the door, each hoping that it is their turn to have a collar strapped on and be loaded into the Jeep.
I still, however, truly miss the countless days when I simply pocketed a few shells into my jeans pocket, slipped the bell collar over the chosen setter head and walked out the door.
Bells now sit as dusty memories on a shelf.
Thursday, September 15, 2022
Hunting and Taking Photos
By Lynn Dee Galey
Of the human senses, studies show that smell is the most strongly tied to memory. To this day if I catch a whiff of black cherry pipe smoke, I half expect my long gone Dad to appear.
But it is my hunting photos that most often take me time traveling, and I can remember exactly where the photo was taken and the experience of being there.
This is the reason I take hunting photos - try to hold on to those moments, to be able to refresh my memory of them even years later. Happening across a photo off season of a point or of a view or natural landmark often leads to me opening folders on the hard drive to once again touch the memories. The heat or cold that day, or the drought, or how the dog was soaked from dew. How that dog sounded as it moved through the grasses. Being in awe of a forever horizon, or the sound and colors of the leaves beneath my feet. Hunting partners, some no longer with us. That pup’s first point and retrieve.
Social media and high tech cameras and phones have turned hunting photos into a competition. “ I killed more birds than you.” “I shot my first bird 10 minutes into the field and posted it right away.” “My dog’s tail is higher.” “ My rig is more serious looking.”
I encourage my Firelight folks to take a lot of photos of their dogs and hunting but instead of seeking affirmation from others, I hope that their photos:
1. Provide a flood of memories of the experience for many years to come.
2. Allow photography to slow us down and use making photos as a training tool. Taking photos of the dog on point reminds us to take our time, don’t rush into a point, expect the dog to do its job. Meanwhile, photos taken can reinforce steadiness as our dog must hold the bird as long as it takes the gunner to take the pic, stow the camera and walk in for the flush.
Take your camera or phone along hunting and use it. What you experience on the hunt today can be vicariously enjoyed for many years.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
What's With the ©Firelight on the Pics?
by Lynn Dee Galey
I hate thieves. They impact our every day lives in so many ways that we don’t even think about it: lock up your doors, cars, children, dogs, guns, crates, wallets, bicycles and anything you don’t want to lose. And unfortunately, unscrupulous behavior extends into dog breeding. Online scammers are stealing photos of quality puppies and dogs – and write ups about the dogs and breeding – from good breeders and use them to create fake websites and lure in unsuspecting buyers. It all looks and sounds good until the buyer sends in a deposit and bam, the scammer blocks them and their money is gone. This is happening across all breeds. People are too trusting in their excitement about a puppy and the internet has made it even easier to steal both photos and people’s money.
I have had photos stolen and used by others. Years ago I even had a kennel logo stolen and used by a trophy company. So, with puppy scams becoming even more frequent I am trying to prevent my photos from being used by putting ©Firelight as a watermark on them. Sure they can photoshop and remove my watermark but hopefully they will be less inclined to bother. Or, if someone sees my watermark photo being used somewhere unauthorized, maybe they will notify me. So yeah, I hate thieves and this is one small step I am taking to make their lives a pinch more difficult.