Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Friday, November 25, 2022

Rough Fall

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. 

Weather came up as a big player this year with temperatures much too warm, many days getting into the 70s.  It was possible to get out for a short hunt early in the day, coming back to the truck sweaty and hot and dogs played out by the water buckets.  But to those of us who typically hunt 50+ days in the early season it felt wrong.  We couldn't get into the usual rhythm of the Fall, when this year we would wake in the morning and feel in the air that it was already warmer than we like to hunt. Too often we would pull on shorts and a tshirt instead of hunting pants and boots and disappointed dogs would sigh and go lie down.

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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Pre-season, Naturally

 by Lynn Dee Galey

“I haven’t seen the dogs, have you?” We were just taking a short 15 minute walk to look at a possible cover so didn’t have any bells or GPS on the two dogs.  After a few minutes, at the far end of the clearing I thought I saw a familiar sight buried in the thick green cover; some black and white of my 12+ year old on point.  We silently walked up and sure enough a large brood of ruffs flushed in front of her, strong flight scattering left and right.  She released after they flushed but moved forward only 30 feet and froze.  As we walked further, we saw that she was now backing the 16-month-old who was not far ahead, solid on point.  Our silent approach then caused a second brood to flush in front of the youngster and both dogs released and happily scoured for stragglers.

Points, backs, and steady into the flush on wild birds in our first walk of the pre-season. This. This is what I want and expect from my dogs. (And I hope is a good bird omen for the upcoming season!) No “pre-season training” or “tuning them up.”   For my dogs, it takes two parts to get to days like this: genes and me.

First is to have a dog bred for instinct.  I want both parents to be dogs who, as youngsters themselves, showed the ability to handle wild birds. Parents who naturally developed to staunchly hold point, no whoa or check cords or ecollars. Dogs whose teachers were the birds and dogs who were eager, precocious learners who remembered their lessons. 

Second part is the owner. Wild birds are the best teachers, not us and definitely not pen birds, so it is our job to get our pups into wild birds so they can learn.  Watch as pup blows through their first birds, don’t shoot and don’t shout. Just watch and do it as often as you can.  If your pup has the genes you will see them learn, progressing from busting to pointing, taking steps then finally standing staunch. Then, when they are staunch, get to work and shoot that bird for them.

Seven month old Firelights learning from sharptail grouse in Montana

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sailing the Grassland Seas

By Randy Lawrence

"Last Chance" by Charles M. Russell

West-bound pioneers called them "prairie schooners," ox drawn freight wagons, their billowy, sail-cloth canvas rigged to voyage the seas of prairie grass that covered our North American midland. 

That's only fitting, because those grasslands, in not so distant geologic time, were once the floors of mighty oceans caught in the squeeze of tectonic plates.  The inexorable continental shifts that jutted the vast spine of high mountain ranges from today's Alaska to Patagonia alternately filled, drained and dried mighty oceans on their eastern flanks.  

In that wide country, we chase Sharptailed grouse, Greater and Lesser Prairie Chickens, and ponderous Sage Hens, our dogs coursing search patterns above the fossils of crustaceans and fishes and jagged-toothed carnivorous sea monsters that died with the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

"Prairie Shooting - Find Him" by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819-1905)

For the Easterner who gets but fleeting glances of her dogs stitching aspen brakes, alder jungles, field edges or dense thickets, just being able to see the dogs at work is a welcome novelty.  At first, it feels like haystack needle futility- to the novice, the grasslands overpower with sameness.  But after a time, there are features - deep coulees, ridges and rises that beckon us to keep putting one foot in front of the other, tacking into the wind under that big prairie sky.

That wind.  The grass swirls and heaves in staggered waves.  Even stopped, waiting for the dogs to come around for a drink of water, there is a sense of being gathered up, of movement without making one more boot print, at times, a vertigo we remember from the last time in a boat on open water.  

But move we must.  We go in humility through low hills and draws as foreign to us as moonscape, consoled by the notion that every step taken in good game country is one step closer to birds. 

Sometimes, the dogs' point will be sudden, a gut punch, a skidding freeze.  Other times, points break like fever dreams.  The dogs' heads drop and tails crack into a narrowing search that oozes into a stalk, then a tall stop, the dogs almost lifted by scent.  

As we swing toward the stand, we fish for the camera first, then two brass-bright shells that slip into the gun without our even looking down.  Often, the first birds get up before we have a chance to flush, but we keep moving in.   No matter how many grouse chortle and cackle up into the air, we are always certain there is a lay bird or two, uncertain and still under a setter's spell.

The big country swallows even a 12 gauge's report.  If we've become separated from a companion by dog work and game contact, sometimes a bird will tumble in a shower of barred feathers before the thud of a gun shot can reach us.

In the early season, we make ourselves check, check, check to ID chickens vs. out-of-season young pheasants loafing with their native cousins.  When the pheasant law comes in, a saucy rooster interloper under a point, albeit in the wrong place at the right time, can count as a bonus.


The best retrieves come from pointing dogs excited by the chore.  Sometimes the dog's grip on the fetch will put a prairie grouse wing over its eyes.  The dog will zig zag back to the gun then, navigating to hand out the corner of dark eyes crinkled over a mouth full of game.

Tucked into a hunting vest pocket, the bird feels warm, an assurance as the dogs moil around, waiting their turn for more water.  We must take time for a swig or two ourselves, before the arid grasslands pull us back into currents of wind and game and time.

Near Scott's Bluff Nebraska, one can still walk in the 150-year-old wheel ruts of west-bound prairie schooners, the ferries of an occupation army of dreamers come to break the sod and crowd out native people, native game.  General Philip Sheridan, bent on subduing the tribes,  supplied ammunition for the buffalo hide hunters and welcomed the immigrant flood so that "the prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy who follows the hunter as the second forerunner of an advanced civilization."

"Wagon Train" by Charles M. Russell

We birdhunters walk these grasslands with dog and gun not as forerunners, but heirs, stewards if you will, to the remnant flocks of prairie grouse that the plow and market hunter, herdsman and shepherd, miner, driller, and  developer have grudgingly left.  We're not looking for food for the pot so much as food for our sporting souls.   

To that end, William Awkwright could have been writing about Great Plains grouse hunters in his landmark study The Pointer and his Predecessors (1902).  Awkright followed his beloved Blackfield pointing dogs across the Scottish moors and believed "(T)he chief glory of the sport is to shoot over a brace of raking pointers, matched for speed and style, sweeping over the rough places like swallows, and passing each other as if they were fine ladies not introduced."

We follow, our passage swallowed by grass and sky and Time.

"Pointers in a Landscape" by Thomas Blinks (1860-1912)