Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Tail That Saved My Hat

by Lynn Dee Galey 

"Your hat is safe" was the title to the email.  Months prior I had sold a pup to an avid grouse and woodcock hunter and as often happens we discussed my personal preference (okay, okay, it borders on a fetish) for just the right tail position in my dogs' points. I want 10:00 - 11:00, the straighter the better.  

When this guys' pup was about 5 months old he sent me photos from his pup's bird intro with pen raised quail stuffed into the edge of a field somewhere.  She was standing "on point" but her tail was low, below her topline, and her posture lacked intensity.  The disappointment could be heard through his written word as he mumbled something about tail position not really mattering as much as her nose, holding birds etc.  I replied, "wild birds only from here on and I will eat my hat if that tail doesn't come up.  A lot."  

Fall and hunting season arrived and I smiled as I saw that email  I opened it to see a photo of the youngster pointing a grouse with lovely intensity and a nice high tail.  

With my dogs, I'm not concerned with puppy style. I'm in it for the end product, the intelligent, stylish bird dog who has developed through good, fun, natural exposure. Keep your hands off, remain silent and let wild birds be the teacher.  Grouse or quail or Huns as teachers never depress a pups style, they only amp it up. 

Following are three examples of Firelights as pups on pen birds for their bird/gun intro and then the same dog as an adult after letting wild birds be the only teacher thereafter.  After all, we Firelights don't eat our caps;  we let Nature put a feather in them!



Friday, April 2, 2021

Week 5: Dont Mix Up Your Utensils

by Lynn Dee Galey

It was 6 degrees out this morning, and I was wishing that I had more than my LLBean flannel shirt over my nightgown.  But with a repurposed soup ladle gripped in my cold hand, I was focused on only one goal.  

We are five weeks into Annie's presumed pregnancy, and I now feel comfortable saying this about that: Annie's "with pups".  Each week my hunch has been confirmed more.  This week I sent the email to the folks on her wait list letting them know that yes, puppies are on the way.  

I reiterated that I would not be doing an ultrasound but that all of the signs are present.  I chuckled when one prospective owner replied, "Hmmm. Always hungry, expanding waistline decreased energy/activity? By Gawd I must be pregnant."

The past few days I noticed that Annie frequently had a sense of urgency about going outside to relieve herself.  Thus my soup ladle wielding escapade in the back yard this morning, aimed at collecting a urine sample to rule out a possible UTI (urinary tract infection).  Off we went to the vet where she confirmed no infection.  

It is a comfort to have vets who themselves are breeders.  That can be as big a boost to the humans involved as the dogs!  I love that she agreed that an ultrasound to verify puppies was clearly not necessary.   I relaxed when she smiled and said that Annie either has a whole lot of puppies in that compact body or she is a drama queen about the increasing pressure (a friend and Ardent Annie Admirer suggested both of these could be true😶). 

With 4 weeks left to go, a whole bunch of families and I are trying to contain our excitement. Meanwhile...Dreamboat Annie is sailing on cruise control! 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Of Prospects, Perspective, and A Good Escape Tree

by Randy Lawrence

Firelight style: (Kate/Mack youngster, Kali, on spring woodcock, March 2021)

I tried.  Honestly, I did.  36 years ago, not long after English setters and pointers had taken me over, I uprooted my five-generation home life and moved to be closer to the grouse woods we were only then learning to hunt.  I arrived just in time to witness a Ruffed Grouse population free fall, numbers plummeting to historic lows from which they likely will never recover.

So we bless the woodcock, autumn and spring.  We relish the very few renegade pheasants that skulk on the margins of antiquated farming practices.  We own a battered little travel trailer and haul long distances to hunt during the season.  But on those long nights when I toss and turn, sneaking glances at the setter puppy snoring in his crate at the foot of my bed, I can hear the voices that have haunted me for nearly a decade now: "Only a fool would dedicate himself to bird dogs in a place with no wild birds."

But such a fool am I.  That will not change as long as I can stumble along behind a nice dog who can convince us both that there just might be a bird to point somewhere out there.

Like everyone else I know who is serious about this game but lives in a game bird desert, I have tried every method I could find to bring a young dog along.  We keep three free-standing lofts stocked with hardy homing pigeons.  We own state of the art release traps and a half-dozen "whoa" boards.  Along the wall hang check cords of every imaginable length, weight, and flex.

On the woods edge above my house stand two low profile wire mesh keeps fashioned after those once used at Nilo Farms in Illinois.  We have a "Dog Training Grounds" license and in season, we live trap over two hundred quail from those pens and turn them out between our travels, just to keep us "hunting"...after a fashion.

Yes, it's cute.  But less is more in terms of sight-pointing with the wing-on-a-string.  

But the truth is, no matter how expertly we manage all of the's still artificial.  Far too often, we make assessments of young dogs based on how well they navigate our well-meant shenanigans and tricked up introductions to "bird work."  Between thee and me, most of this, from overdoing the old "wing on a string" pointing drill (curse you, Richard Wolters, for the sight-pointers your book encouraged), to virtually leading pups downwind of death-dizzied, broken feathered, poorly conditioned pen birds stuffed in green cover is mostly about one thing:  the owner is almost desperate to see his little darling point.  

Something.  Anything.

I confess that I get extra twitchy when someone with a well-bred puppy worries to me over the corollary to "Will She/Won't She Point Angst":   They are concerned with their young dog's "lack of intensity" on point or, my current favorite, "lack of prey drive."

I get it.  Some youngsters have more innate point than others.  Some are more precocious about searching game.  When I fly pigeons out of my shoulder pouch, some will give a chase then come back in and nearly undress me, trying to climb into that bird bag.  Others (some of whom grew up to be savants) chase a couple, then go sniff horse dung.

"Lemme know when you wanna fly another of those noisy buggers."

I am no different from most folks.   What I don't do is lie awake at night, distraught over the Dung Sniffers, or dyspeptic when the dog shows more "Stop" in her practice points than "Electric Slide."

There is much talk in athletic coaching circles these days about "The Process."  The assumption is that if we have a thoughtful, proven way of doing things that gets desired results, then what we should do is "Trust the Process."  

After forty years, I have a Process (we'll dignify it with a capitol "P," just because it makes me feel better to do so).  The Process begins with the kind of Prospect that has the best chance to succeed: a puppy from sane parents who sport that other important "P" word: "Proven," as in "Proven on Wild Birds of More Than One Species and Over More Than One Season."   My Process depends on Prospects who come from a Proven genetic background.

There it is.

I spend the next hopefully decade and a half putting that Prospect in Position to within the Process.

Firelight Seth figuring out prairie birds.  The intensity that will come with experience and confidence is not yet evident.

Five years and wild bird experience charged Firelight Seth's "style."

Do we train?  After a fashion.  But the better the Prospects that find me, the more "training" becomes socialization, manners, forging a connection, leash etiquette, and coming when called.  Do we do "bird work"?  Some.  We call it "Playing The Scales," fundamental work that we are careful not to overdo.

The key is, whatever we do with practice birds we do completely on the schedule of the weather, the pup's confidence level, cover conditions, etc....and we do it more sparingly than ever to lessen the risk of mishaps, to lessen the risk of a young dog going stale.

I "get" training groups.  I used to host them myself.  I had the land, the birds, the gear, and an almost embarrassing evangelical zeal "to help others" with their dogs.  It can be beneficial to pool resources and equipment; having several dogs to work means the individual is not running hers over and over.  Well-managed training groups with a clear set of objectives and a prevailing patient, accepting attitude about an individual dog's prowess and progress can be a real boon, especially to the open minded novice who lucks upon the right kind of mentors.

But training groups meet on human schedules, not relative to the circumstances listed above. Some of the nicest weather and amenable cover for people on clock or calendar can be the worst time and place for scenting conditions if we have contrived pointing drills on the program.

Some groups over-rely on equipment. I believe that the use of radio launchers may be the most commonly abused bit of training gear in our arsenal, from making dogs "trap shy" from explosive flushes to ham-handed, stubborn timing on just when to push the release button:  "If I just hold out another ten seconds, maybe Puppy will point!" Pup creeps, circles, flags, does the Macarena...

  Firelight Deacon, "playin' the scales," spring woodcock before his second season.

Clumsy blank gun etiquette.  Too many check cords or the wrong kind in the wrong application.  Too many people talking or whistling.  Too many hands on dogs that are trying to figure things out.

Youngsters appear "soft."  They lack "intensity."  They "don't show enough prey drive."  

Most of that's pigeon poop.  It's people desperate to see their puppy point.  It's people obsessed with trying to do something, anything, so they feel like they are training.  It's not about youngsters not showing enough; it's people not showing enough savvy...trusting neither Prospect nor Process.

I am embarrassed to admit that there was a time when I thought I could tell what a dog was going to be after watching her perform under these galling circumstances.  I would like to go back and ask forgiveness of every dog and handler I subjected to my splatterninny takes.

But dogs and more insightful handlers than I gave the lie to that misinformed perspective enough times that, clumsy pun intended, I got the point:  Maybe we ought to let these youngsters develop on their individual schedule under far more authentic conditions before we even dare venture an opinion about what they might become in the field.

Firelight Cool Hand Luke (Firelight Kate X October Blue Doc)

But even after becoming more "Bird Dog Woke," I couldn't resist offering advice, albeit in a different cause.

I once affronted a phone caller passionately lamenting "lack of style on point" in his young dog. 

"Get a cat," I urged, tongue so firmly lodged in my cheek that I feared a puncture wound.  "That's what all the great gun dog photographers do when they need a fiery picture of some field trial champion; they let him point a cat.  Nothing puts more hot point in a pup than a nasty barn cat."

I told him to site that trap close to an inviting "escape tree," as if that was some sort of technical term, and to keep his hands off his dog and not speak to it while it was on point, you know, just as I was sure he'd been doing all along (cough, cough, eye roll, cough).  

I suggested he might want to have a ladder and welding gloves at the ready if he wanted to fetch said feline for another go.

I didn't hear from that guy for some time.

People are people.  That means that with some training groups, members aren't helped to maintain a healthy perspective about the Progress of their Prospect within the Process.  They become competitive.  Instead of keeping the faith with their dog, they compare her aptitude to that of their friends' dogs.

I once found myself sitting with a long-time friend, a veterinarian, who had brought her admittedly rather dim, galumphing young shorthair to an expensive three day, "dogs under two years" seminar hosted by a famous pro.  As the weekend was winding down, it was commonly whispered between newly minted "experts" present that Doc's dog Phineas was firmly lodged at the bottom of the class.

Since that was in my Bad Ol' Days when I still knew everything about pointing dogs, I plopped down next to my friend late on Sunday afternoon to offer a little "hang in there" sentiment.  The good doctor looked at me and smiled.

"This has been a great weekend," she said. "We had a fine time.  I learned a lot, but the big deal was that it confirmed what I already knew."

Doc chuckled as the big liver and white dog at her feet rolled over to cadge a belly rub.  "Phineas is a mighty athlete," she said, reaching down to oblige her dog.   

"We just have yet to find his event."*

Firelight Storm in the Michigan grouse woods

(*Epilogue:  Doc and her husband, a springer spaniel devotee, retired not long after, kept a home on the Northern Plains, and shot prairie birds over Phineas's stolid points in between fits of spaniel mania.  Phineas, indeed, finally found "his event.")

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

In The Grand Manner

 by Randy Lawrence

Most of it wasn't wild bird hunting.  We hatched out 300 Northern Bobwhite Quail each year and raised them in near total isolation in the spacious pens behind the house.  Big feeders and waterers kept human contact to an absolute minimum.  The birds were nervous, strong fliers with no resemblance to the preserve birds fed like barnyard fowl and handled into broken feathers and indifferent flight.

Everyone who releases birds wants to brag and say, "Why, most folks can’t tell the difference!"  That’s only when the “most folks” in question hadn’t hunted wild bobwhites in our hills, in the Deep South (when they still had birds), or farther out in the Midwest. 

Still and all, ours were very, very good. The secret was an elaborate system of trapping and releasing the pen-raised quail. We turned them out in long patches of dwarf sorghum days before the weather and our work set us up to hunt.  If "Mr. Bob" Thompson, the major domo of this operation, didn't get to go along on a hunt, the second question he asked (after a query about the dogs, of course) was, "How did the birds do?"

That's because those birds were the base of all the dog work and shooting we did on the farm.  There were several times the dogs turned up a bonus  Ruffed Grouse or two, and there were Woodcock, always Woodcock, spring and autumn on the gnarly edges of wide hay fields.

In the beginning, there were wild coveys along the ridges above the broad bottom land, down along shaggy fencerows, even one bunch for years we called the Junk Yard Covey because they had set up housekeeping in an around a dump kept by previous owners of this land.  If we believed we were on a wild covey, we saluted those birds with a safe shot in the air, then worked the dog on the singles.  We fell into the habit of carrying a blank pistol for just such a blessed event. 

Mr. Bob had come to pointing dogs from the Labrador game, and he arrived steeped in stories of quail hunting by Buckingham and Babcock.   For a time, he kept an English setter called Jetset Danny on the shooting dog circuit with Doc and Andy Zoll.  Bob and his wife Sybil showed up on weekends to tailgate, talk dogs, and ride the braces on borrowed horses.

But Bob wasn’t long for the professional field trial circuit, even if he did get to handle Danny in the amateur stakes.  In the back of his mind, Bob had always wanted to hunt, tongue lodged firmly in cheek, in what he termed “The Grand Manner,” meaning “from horseback.”  To that end, he went to school on friends like the Zolls, Tate Cline, and John Thompson, pored over thick books on managing farmland for quail, bought three easy-going Tennessee Walking Horses named Snowball, Belle, and Ebony.  Just like that, Bob was in what he laughingly called “The Plantation Business."

Mr. Bob on Ebony, a walking horse raised and trained on the farm.  This is a classic photo to the author because Bob's pointing where he last heard the dog's bell. That white fedora still hangs on a farmhouse peg.

By the time we became friends, Bob was down to just one true “horseback dog,” a rawboned wind burner named Willie.
  Williedawg was something of a pheasant and quail producing legend in the sportsmen’s club fun trials that Bob and a circle of buddies kept going into the early 1980’s.  To paraphrase Coach Bear Bryant, Williedawg could beat you finding just his’n, but he was just as liable to find his’n, your’n, and any of their’n left over from earlier braces.

                            Williedog was bred from Sam Light's great line of "Sam L" setters.

Bob field trialed and hunted Willie from a stout one-eyed white walking horse he called "Snowball."  He sang to the dog while Willie gobbled up the terrain:

“Heeeeeeeeeey,” Bob would chant.  “Heeeeeeeey. Heeeeeeeey-Yup!” 

Snowball, parked out, as Bob pulls his shotgun from the scabbard.  The dog is on point in the brushy draw to the horse's left.

The "singing” helped Willie keep track of horse and rider without coming in. That meant all of the dog’s focus was on scouring fencerows and food plots, sucking scent, then later, sucking up small trophies and cash prizes awarded at the end of each weekend’s fun trial event. 

(A sidebar from Bob Thompson, who "sang" on horseback and seldom spoke or whistled to his dogs on foot:  "Sometimes the worst thing we can do when we want a dog to look us up is to keep makin' noise.  Shut up!  Let 'im get worried about where you are.  If you've got the right kind of relationship with your dog, he'll come lookin'.  If he knows where you are because of all your racket, why would he swing by?)

It's important to note that Willie had done his puppy catechism in the woodcock coverts of New Brunswick; when Bob brought him back to Ohio, Willie was stamped as that rare pointing dog who understood how he was to handle when Bob was in the saddle, how he needed to hunt when his partner was on foot.  When the fun trials finally petered out, Willie never again left our Perry County, hunting the home farm and nearby Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock coverts.

At home, Bob hunted Willie from horseback.  Bob hated any kind of technology in his hunting, so there was never any talk of beepers, only then coming into vogue.  “Takes all the fun out of it,” he’d growl, preferring to set out on Snowball to go find Willie when neither of us could hear the dog’s over-sized Swiss bell.

Willie wearing the bell he would eventually wear out.  He's on a woodcock in this photo.

I could never prove it, but I always thought that Snowball knew when Willie had gone on point.  Bob thought so, too.  I can’t begin to guess how many times Bob gave Snowball a loose rein in the direction we’d last seen the big tri-colored dog, and the little white horse seemed to take us right to the stand. 

We’d “park out” the horses some distance downwind of the dog, dropping the reins and letting them graze.  My big Rose mare had maybe a touch of Equine ADD, so I carried a weight in my saddle bags.  I’d drop that weight to the ground, then clip Rose’s rein ends to the weight.  It wasn’t enough to stop her had she wanted to tear off, but enough to remind her that she could get plenty to eat right there while we humans went trundling off to find the dog.

(Above) Midnight Rose, minding her manners during a training exercise. The walking horses were an integral part of our training as well as bird shooting. They seemed genuinely interested in all of it.

Bob had several reputable birdguns lying in a wooden gun chest that doubled as an unobtrusive bench in his den.  But his saddle gun was a Savage 220a 20-gauge, a hammerless single barrel gun, the kind kids once got for Christmas. It’s important to note that this particular $125 Savage boasted a custom stock cut and bent to Bob’s specs, particularly as advancing years and stiffer joints made a shorter stock a necessity for someone who took shooting seriously. It also was precision choked.

The bar sinister Savage 220a, custom stocked and choked.

That's right.  Bob had stuffed that 20-gauge tube in a paper grocery sack and carried it into the workshop of a friend and master gunsmith who specialized in boring custom chokes.  Bob told Ken Eyster the paper bag was to insure that Eyster's regular Krieghoff, Purdey, and Perazzi customers did not become ill if they saw Bob's proletarian bird gun.  Eyster stopped laughing long enough at some point to put a devastating “Skeet” choke on Bob’s saddle gun, and it rode along on every horseback hunt for the next twelve years.

 The single barreled gun was a nod toward Bob insisting on savoring his shooting and stretching his dog work.  One cartridge was enough, shooting only over points.  Bob would stand marking the fall of a bird dropped on the covey rise as the rest of the group flew out into the cover.  Willie was a very casual retriever, so we celebrated whenever he delivered to hand, and simply pocketed the quail when the setter pointed dead or stoically stood over another of Bob’s birds.

We hunted the singles, maybe two or three, before Bob would set Willie up away from
singles already sounding “covey up, covey up.”   For that great dog’s entire life, Bob made him stand there until I could almost see the setter rising on his toes, so keen was he to go. 

 That’s when Bob would send him on with two sharp toots on the plastic Thunderer he kept threaded on a dirty nylon lanyard.  Willie would explode into his first reach as Bob shoved the empty 20-gauge back into the leather scabbard and levered himself back up into Snowball’s brush scarred Trooper Saddle.

Not long after this past century’s turn, Snowball was buried at the corner of the pasture where he lived for some 30 years.  Bob had a marker made with the epitaph “A Good Horse;” it hangs on the fence where we can see it every day.  Willie’s collar bell rests on my mantle these days, the clapper missing, lost one day after years of beating against that dog’s great heart.  I know this may seem a bit maudlin, but that silent bell sits next to the old wooden Winchester shotshell case topped with a quail sculpture.  Bob’s ashes rest inside, not far from the rocking chair where he read and held court in the little farmhouse kitchen. 

The whistle on the white nylon lanyard has been replaced at least twice.  That latest clear plastic model rattles against two woodcock bands taken from birds Willie pointed there on the farm coming on two decades ago.  Listen carefully, and you can still hear them clicking when I walk into a point by Deacon or Luke, that single barrel Savage balanced easily between my two hands…all in the grand manner, don’t you know.

Williedog and Bob Thompson

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Playing The Match Game

by Lynn Dee Galey  

In January of 2018, I attended the Breeder Gathering in Kansas.  Gathering days are filled with daily hunts followed with evenings of lively group dinners, evening discussion forums, and a lot of fun.  Members attend from all over the United States for the wild bird hunting and fellowship of course, but a critical side component is the chance for the kind of networking that small-scale breeders crave most:  the chance to scout, in person, dogs who might make into future breeding partners.

One day in particular, I hunted with New Yorker Bob Mele and Walt Lesser, lifetime Ryman setter aficionado and co-author of The Real Ryman Setter.  One the ground were my Sally and Bob's two females, Lizzie and Abby.  The three dogs were nearly indistinguishable as they skirted the edges of the cover, hot footin' to hit likely spots on the horizon, weaving in and out of every pocket in that particular section of farm country.  Although that particular covert was not especially productive for bobwhites, I was impressed by the hunt Bob's dogs showed and discovered they were related, Aunt Lizzie to Niece Abby.  That started this breeder's scheming, dreaming wheels a'turning.


Two days later I hunted with a Ryman/Llewellin male from Idaho called Doc, Abby's sire and Lizzie's brother.  As I watched him hunt hard, stylishly point his birds, then lie down and relax on the sunny hillside next to his owner, I was pretty sure I had found the sire of my next litter.   My Dreamboat Annie would be the product of our breeding to Doc, and now, three years on, that little spitfire gal is a lady in waiting on a litter of her own.

 Dreamboat Annie

Selecting proven bloodstock is a full time job for the breeder who puts hunting ability and performance conformation at the tip top of considerations.   That means studying video.  That means long conversations with others who have hunted with a certain dog and actually knows at what he or she is looking.  The ideal is the rare chance to actually walk behind that dog in the wild bird coverts.

The stakes couldn't be higher for folks who breed but one, at the outside two, litters a year.  Get it right, and the breeding totem moves forward toward the ideal.  Get it wrong?  That's a detour that may take years to get back on course.

Some of the most important litters in ongoing my breeding blueprint have been literally years in the planning.  Firelight Tweed was an exceptional companion gun dog and remains an important touchstone in my breeding program.  When I had the chance to meet her son Parker and his owners at the aptly named landmark pizza pub, Parker Pie in Vermont (an absolute must stop each visit I make back east), I was taken aback at how Parker was his mother in male form.  He had the look, the personality, the character, the quality, the field reputation.... unmistakably a Tweed offspring.  Plus, he is the brother to my outstanding bird dog, Storm. I knew that day that I had to get a puppy from Parker .

Years later I sent a photo of a 3 week old puppy to Parker's owner and said, half-jokingly, that I finally had the right female to breed to Parker so the boy had better keep himself prime!  That puppy was my Kate, and she lived up to my intuition in every way.  When she came of age as both a fine field performer and potential brood female, plans were made, but a family emergency suddenly made Ken and Parker unavailable when Kate was in season.  Plan B was ready in just such an eventuality;  I bred Kate to another lovely male and those pups have been precocious and oh so pleasing.  

But I still wanted my Parker x Kate litter.  

Arrangements were made, but on the cusp of a Parker-Kate hookup, Life happened...and Kate came into heat in the middle of the sale of my home in Kansas and a search for a home in the Michigan grouse woods.  That meant that the movers and my household headed to a storage unit in Michigan while Kate, the rest of the pack and I headed to Cape Cod and Parker. 

Our timing was perfect. We got two breedings.  I filled up on fresh seafood. All that was left was to head back west for northern Michigan where I still needed to shop for and buy a house in time to deliver the pups that I knew were coming.

Despite every monkey wrench Life threw into my Swiss Watch/Cuckoo Clock planning over the next two months, we managed to manage:  I moved into my new Michigan grouse house on a Saturday, built a whelping box the next Monday, and welcomed ten Kate and Parker puppies that weekend.   Two years later, that litter is turning out into everything I thought that they would be, proof of the best of what judicious line breeding can offer in fixed, desirable traits.  I watch Dance, my puppy from that litter and in my mind's eye I try to see what she might be able to weave into the weft of Firelight genes.


Parker, it took me nine years to get to you, buddy, but it sure seems you were worth the wait!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Is She?

 by Lynn Dee Galey  

Is it my imagination or is Annie already thickening around the waist?  She sure seems extra hungry these last several days, even turning to begging (which previously was beneath Her Nibs).  And while we're pondering all of this, were those small stomach upset bouts she's suddenly suffered actually morning sickness?

It has been not quite three weeks since we journeyed east and Annie had her snow bunny rendezvous with handsome Tip.  Folks excited to bring home a new hunting buddy this summer are already asking if I think the breeding took. I reply that it is much too early to know for sure.  

Gestation for dogs is 9 weeks.  Many people have an ultrasound done at about four weeks which can usually confirm if a dog is pregnant. I prefer to stay as natural as possible and not stress my dog, or possibly expose her (and, in these times, me) to something nasty with a vet visit.  

Besides when you live with your gun dogs who are also your companions and breeding animals, you tend to notice even small changes and develop a sense about them.   By four or five weeks there should be clear signs that suggest it is time to put a new coat of paint on the whelping box, not to mention figure out a more comfortable sleeping arrangement this year for me in the puppy room for those anxious, long nights when Annie's time comes.

I’m not going to raise hopes yet, but I do think mid-March is a great time to look online for a new sleep sofa.  You know...just in case.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Echoes On The Prairie

By Randy Lawrence

The air felt 10 degrees cooler down in the ravine.  We had been walking for a very long time over the hard-baked September prairie without moving a single bird.  The plum thicket at the bottom of the coulee held a trickle of a creek, and  Dusk, the big old-timey looking setter, drank his fill before we pushed on to the head of the draw.   A dense cluster of shrubby plums squatted there, dark and thorny, marking the spot where we’d eventually climb back out on top to the grasslands.

I believe there are times when we simply feel we are in the presence of game.   A cynic might suggest that any prairie bird hunter who didn’t bet on the end of that cut should turn in his boots.  Either way I was already hustling up the slope when Dusk went solid just inside the plum patch.

He relocated one time, then pointed again.   I could hear bird mutterings and scoldings deep in the shade before a Sharp-tailed Grouse beat out of the cover into the turquoise sky.  

Perhaps it was the heat or fatigue or maybe just a smug bit of calm from being right about the cover.
  Whatever the reason, for once, I didn’t behave as if wingbeats set my hair ablaze.  I got myself turned, the antique 16 gauge came up without a thought, and the second grouse lifting through the gnarled branches folded as it cleared the trees.  Two deep flushes off the edge of the draw came before I could move on a Sharp-tail I didn't even hear go out, a  hard-flying silver shape banking right to left over the thicket.  That bird tumbled off my left barrel, a silhouette against the late afternoon sun.  I broke the gun, short-stopped the ejected empties with my right palm, and looked for the dog.

Too late.  Intent on the retrieve, Dusk had stumbled on a pair of skulkers.
  He stopped at flush, wagging his tail almost sheepishly as the lay birds clattered away, dark shapes twisting into that odd waggle-flight of prairie grouse.  

Eventide caught us cleaning birds and feeding dogs next to a backcountry stock tank tucked into a broad valley.  Game trails spidered away from the big cement pool brimming cool water from a prairie spring.  We had just finished our chores when the bison came out of the gloaming to drink.

Part of a small herd we’d been told ran this particular ranch, they tossed immense shaggy heads, grunting and shuffling single file down the far rise.  We clambered into the truck and drove up the opposite hillside to a low ridge overlooking the tank.  Sitting down against the truck, weary legs stretched in the grass, we watched the snuffling, jostling relics gathered ‘round the water under a sliver moon, like the grouse, the dog, and the slender double gun, echoes of times long past on the northern plains.

Photo Credits:

"Bison Bull" and "Aspenglow Dawn t' Dusk" by the author.

“Prunus Americana (Wild Plum).” Minnesota Wildflowers, Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, 2021,

“Public Domain Picture: Sharp-Tailed Grouse.” Public Domain Files, US Fish and Wildlife Service: Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, 2 Apr. 2014,