Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ship of Dreams

by Randy Lawrence

The word “amateur” gets a bad rap in the modern English language.  We equate “amateur” with a fumbling, stumbling, bumbling approach to something that “professionals” do better because…well…they do it for the dough.  If they don’t do it well, presumably the market dictates (other than notable exceptions among elected government officials) that they don’t get to be professionals for very long.

But we get the word “amateur” all wrong.   Even I, who academically bobbed and weaved through two years of high school Latin, recognize the roots of “amateur” as “amare,” meaning “to love.”  Only the rare person has the passion and commitment to rise toward the top of a profession doing it pretty much strictly for joy.

In dog breeding, “top of the profession” can mean any number of things:  field trial wins, bench show trophies, performance dogs that excel in a particular sport, purpose-bred service animals, healthy companion dogs that live long and active family lives.  None of those achievements lends itself to money-raking volume; too much time is needed to prove out individuals at different life stages to meet exacting standards.  It’s a niche biz, a boutique operation if you will, that survives only through the dedication, expertise, and almost ruthless discrimination in selecting and proving out bloodstock.

Folks know what they pay for a puppy.  They multiply that by the number of pups they presume the breeder is selling.  They do what they perceive as the math.  Their eyes get big.  Visitors look around and see the modest house and yard, the vehicle old enough to vote, a property where only the dogs sparkle.  Certainly some are thinking “off shore bank account” or “illegal substances,” maybe even “online casino habit.”

A terrific bass player I know books gigs as a high end act.  He never apologizes for that.  “Look. They’re not paying me just for that night.  They’re paying me for fifty years of rehearsal and performance.  All the nights I sat in my room and practiced until my fingers were numb.  The nights I played to an empty house, the ones I played three encores that were SRO and never saw an extra dime. The bad food, long bus rides, and weird venues we played when we toured out of Nashville.  They can’t possibly pay me what that’s worth, but they can pay fair freight for what I bring to that bass, that performance, every time out.”  He has a job any night he wants to work, because his talent, pride and work ethic deliver the goods.

Top breeders (should) price their puppies that same way. Even so, expensive travel to provide the day after day, immersion wild bird hunting background, the breeder's expertise, health screening, mating searches, prenatal and postnatal care, proper screening of buyers and making placements that further a breeder's interests for just one or two litters a year is only sustainable if it's a deep passion...that old "amare" thing again.  

Lynn Dee has been planning this next litter, in essence, over eight generations of Firelight setters. 

She has decided that it is Dreamboat Annie’s turn to contribute to the
  To that end, Lynn Dee has been scouring the country, looking at photographs and videos, watching dogs work in person, listening to evaluations of like-minded folks, looking for a heavily hunted, wild bird-proven, OFA-certified mate whose disposition, conformation, athleticism, size, and overall looks matched Annie’s.                                                                 

Certainly, there were studs standing in more convenient locales, ones that another breeder might deem “good enough,” at least under the notion of “Most Convenient Sperm Donor.” But the net continued to widen as this, that, or another dog fell short against Lynn Dee’s hard and fast breeding rubric earned over an entire adult life dedicated to the single minded pursuit of producing talented, hard-hunting companion gun dogs. 

She actually was lucky this time around.
  Not only did she find what she feels is the perfect match for the lovely and so talented Dreamboat Annie, but said suitor is only some 1200 round trip miles away. 

By comparison, the mating that produced Firelight Moondance in 2019 was also a 1200 mile trip.  As in “1200 there, and 1200 back.”

Of course Annie, being Dreamboat Annie, would only sail into heat as virtually the entire United States and Canada sinks into a stormy deep freeze.  Arrangements made weeks ago have been remade, revised, and strung through a connection of friends along the way who will shelter Lynn Dee, Annie, and the ubiquitous she-who-rides-shotgun, Firelight Storm.

The obligatory brucellosis test has been done.  A progesterone reading is pending to determine the best EBD (estimated breeding date), and therefore the best ETD from Michigan.  Over east, a veterinarian is on standby for an assist with an artificial insemination if necessary.  Another great friend has been enlisted to keep the Firelight home fires lighted while Lynn Dee is away.

Meanwhile, Annie has the whole pack in an uproar.  She has taken to role-playing the wrong role by mounting all and sundry compliant (and those not so much) housemates.  Firelight Seth has upped the Annie Angst Ante with his usual lovelorn lunacy, featuring falsetto whining, the occasional Howlin’ Wolf blues lick, and back beat barking.  Lynn Dee claims she is wearing ear plugs as she looks at the weather, packs the truck, eyes her shallow bank account, and counts days against progesterone levels.  Rumor has it she catches herself humming the theme music from this midwinter voyage:

Heading out this morning, into the sun

Riding on the diamond waves, little darlin' one

Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Ship of dreams
Oh Annie, dreamboat Annie
Little ship of dreams*

 * Heart. “Dreamboat Annie.” Producer: Mike Flicker, Performers: Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson. Aug. 1975.

Captions:    Firelight Dreamboat Annie, dam of upcoming litter

                    Firelight KM Tip, chosen sire for this next litter

                    Firelight Dreamboat Annie


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Staving Off The Spork


by Randy Lawrence

Once upon a time, on an two-day hunt to a far away locale, I missed nine wild pheasants in a row.  Over points.  With a 12-gauge shotgun that cost more than my first car.


To paraphrase Churchill, I missed them over land and over sloughs.  Through shelterbelts.  Along fence rows.

 Nine in a row.  Over solid points.

Looking back, I liken it to being slowly eviscerated with a spork.

Did I mention they were all over dead-red, locked-down, there it is, points ?

 Are you feeling me here? The dog that you’ve maybe bred, birthed, raised, trained, endured through canine puberty and into wild hare adolescence has done everything right…and you can’t step up there and put a swarm of angry #4 plated shot in the way of a coat of many colors ditch parrot that’s cackling obscenities as it wings away. 

Make that a dull spork.

I suppose this would be amusing (for someone else) if (A) I didn’t have to lie awake at night wondering if any of those nine birds left without a single sign of carrying errant pieces of my shotgun’s pattern, and (B) if holding up my end of the bargain with my dogs wasn’t so vital to me.

Forget ego.  People who shoot for their ego are not only craven boors, but they’re not likely to be reading in the Firelight blog.  So let’s move on.

We want to shoot well because we are humane, respectful stewards of precious wild game. We want to shoot well because we want a reward for our dog beyond the point, to have feathers in her mouth, to keep her stoked and keen and to build intensity.  We want to shoot well because we’re the third corner of the game, gun dog, and bird gun holy trinity…and there is art and beauty and a certain majesty to that.

Besides…I cherish skillfully hunted, prepped, cooked and served grouse, pheasant, woodcock laid out for good folk who know what a game meal actually means.

So what do I do about learning to “miss ‘em closer,” as one waggish instructor was fond of saying?  It’s the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall (or for you young folks, the stage at Red Rocks)…practice. 

Maybe you’d like to take a wingshooting lesson with an instructor who enjoys teaching game gunning.  It’s amazing what several sessions with a good coach can do for our move to the target, our way at looking at game.  For women shooters, particularly, a lesson is a natural place to check on eye dominance as well.  Most of all, the best instructors make the experience fun, reminding us of why we like to shoot in the first place.

And if your instructor has a good background in gun fitting, a series of lessons is a great time to check to make sure that your shotgun comfortably, easily shoots where you look.  The best teachers can check how your physique, technique, and the stocking of your particular gun match up.

Another good practice is to shoot sporting clays a different way. Visit courses that allow guests to choose their targets.  If you arrive at a stand with marks that don’t replicate your hunting, maybe you pass and move along.  When you get to a station that has a fast quartering bird that gets up and gone like an orchard corner grouse that’s foiled you more than once, maybe you stay and shoot that station longer.

On outings like that, less is more, especially with a lightweight small-bore gun.  Certainly we are stoking that beauty with sensible target loads, but still, a long afternoon whanging away at clays without suitable breaks in the action can make even a seasoned Gun sloppy about her gun mount or overly aware of recoil.

The best sporting clays shooters I knew in my 30 years covering the game picked up their gun every day in training. Some did drills with mini-mag lights stubbed in the barrel, others tracked the joint between their den wall and the ceiling, others mounted their gun in a full length mirror…every chance they got, upwards of 100 times a day.

We can do a version of the same thing.   We can argue the semantics of “muscle memory,” but the idea is that we want to groove correctly bringing that gun to our face until all conscious thought is out of the move.  On August 1st, every year, my old friend Bob Thompson brought out his Superposed 20-gauge and kept it by his TV chair.  Whenever he walked past that empty shotgun, he’d open it (as we always do) to check safe, close the action, and thoughtfully rehearse his gun mount. 

He did that each and every day until the season, and he only stopped then because he was getting out with his dog every day.   I suppose that is as close to religion as Bob ever got, but he was a faithful penitent until the year before he died at age 88.