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Archive for December, 2011

You have to eat what you kill. That’s the rule.

So while I was out washing Tooey (who had rolled in something muskily smelly out in the hunting field), Russ cooked up a wonderful Asian-flavored, pheasant soup. Appropriate, since ringneck pheasants were originally introduced from China into Oregon in the 19th century, their first appearance in the United States.

Cooper and Tooey admiring the pheasant soup

It was delicious! Even Cooper and Tooey got a ladleful on their dinner.

Here’s Russ’s recipe for Asian Pheasant Soup:

2 pheasants, skinned, cleaned, and quartered
2 Tbs olive oil
1 quart of chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped
water to cover
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
5 large mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 stalk lemongrass
1 medium ginger root, chopped into 2″ pieces
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 can coconut milk
chopped cilantro for garnish

Brown the pheasant pieces in olive oil in large pot. Add onions and continue browning. Add water to cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Pull out pheasant, and debone the meat. Chop meat into 1″ pieces and return to liquid. When cutting pheasant, be cautious of Irish Water Spaniels sneaking up behind you.

Add stock and all the vegetables, garlic, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender.

Remove lemongrass and ginger pieces. Add coconut milk and stir.

Serve with cilantro garnish.

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I hate pouring-down rain. If I have to be outside, or even if I choose to be outside, pouring-down rain is my least favorite weather. That, and frozen rain. Grick.

So, guess what kind of weather we typically get in December in western Oregon? You got it. Pouring-down rain. But this winter, we’ve been beguiled. It’s been dry and cold, not wet. So a hunting trip down in the Umpqua River valley seemed perfect for our Christmas vacation.

The Big K Ranch is a beautiful place. It’s just the place to go when you want a lovely setting, great hospitality, comfortable cabins, delicious food, and good pheasant hunting. That’s my kind of hunting trip.

Russ hunting in front of the Big K lodge and cabins

We had all of that, plus pouring-down rain. But if you’re gonna hunt in the rain, you better take an Irish Water Spaniel. Or two. Plus a Boykin Spaniel for variety, and friends for good company.

Norm and Scarlett, the Boykin Spaniel, quartering the field

We hunted two fields, each about 100 acres. The first run, we took Scarlett, handled by Norm, with Russ and Kent as gunners. Scarlett bounded, jumping up and over the cover, quartering the field. She flushed one pheasant, which got away, and then found two or three additional birds. But as you know, it was pouring down rain. The pheasants didn’t want to fly in the rain, so they ran along the ground. Scarlett gave chase, but the pheasants were faster, and ran into the thick, thorny brambles that filled a ditch along the center of the field.

Cooper hunted the second field, with me as handler in the center of the field and Russ and Kent again at the edges as gunners. Cooper found his first rooster, which did its best to run and then fly away low. Cooper fired his afterburner, and after almost getting the bird several times, pulling out tail feathers with each grab, he finally caught the bird and delivered it to me alive.

That experience turned the lightbulb on over Cooper’s head. Wow! There are birds out here! Over the next hour or so, he quartered the field and flushed three more pheasants. One got away, but two were shot, retrieved, and delivered.

Russ and Kent admiring Cooper's pheasants

Toward the end of the morning, the rain lightened up just a bit, and we decided to take Tooey out into the field that Scarlett had hunted earlier that morning. Tooey has sometimes been really excited about birds, but other times she’s been sort of ho-hum. So we decided just to see what would happen. Tooey quartered the field beautifully, without much handling. She’d run to one side of the field, get to that gunner, and then turn around to run to the other side.

I’d say that Tooey was mostly just out to see what was out there, maybe a mouse or a vole (she likes critters). But at one point, she trotted out past the edge of the field we were working and into the cover off to the side. And wow! She flushed her first pheasant! Russ shot it, and Tooey raced off to retrieve it and deliver it to hand, just like we’ve been training.

Tooey looking pleased with her first pheasant

We hunted a bit more, but by that time we were all tired and dripping wet. But happy. Handling my dogs and watching them work in concert with the gunners made me forget all about the rain.

Wet gunner, wet dogs, wet pheasants -- but who cares about the rain?

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I have always wanted to say that, and now I can. I teach a variety digital arts at the Art Institute of Portland, and I take in home work assignments on a variety of digital mediums. I normally download student assignments onto my laptop or portable hard drives — but occasionally I will accept a small thumb drive that I can download at a convenient time.

This morning, as I was getting ready to head to school for the last day of the Fall term, I heard a distinct crunch coming from the next room. Something was not quite right. I went to investigate, and there was Tooey, lying on the bed with 2 GigaBytes of digital illustrations and photographs in front of her, as shown below. Did you ever wonder what was inside those small portable thumb drives?

No data was ingested, just 2 GigaBytes of photography made inert with just a few bites from an Irish Water Spaniel.

2GB Thumb Drive: exploded view

 

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One of the things that a hunt test doesn’t really test, is the patience of a dog to sit in a cold damp duck blind for hours, while nothing happens. Cooper was spending this cold December day indoors at an obedience match, but Tooey was willing to do a long “sit-stay” – outdoors. And sit with lots of distractions such as duck calls, distant gun shots, low flying Sandhill Cranes, thousands of Canadian Geese, Swans, Bald Eagles, Marsh Hawks, duck decoys, freezing weather, mud, and all the things that make up a Pacific Northwest duck hunt. Except ducks.

Tooey spent the night curled into a very tiny ball in the front seat of the truck with her nose buried. With the temperatures just below freezing, she looked half her size as she conserved body heat, but very much sound asleep. I woke her about an hour and half before dawn (5:30 am) as we got our first come – first serve assignment of a hunting spot on Sauvie Island.

After the decoys were set in ice over shallow water, we moved a few yards back into the adjacent corn field to wait for first light. No sooner had we sat down, when a duck zoomed by and failed to escape the first shot of the day. Matt, our hunting partner, scored the first duck. Rather than make this a shaggy dog story, I will say that this was also the only duck of the day. Very few were seen and very few shots were coming from adjacent ponds and corn fields. Oh well, only one shell was used between us and it worked just fine.

Tooey, an Irish Corn Dog

And that is how Tooey got to do her long “sit-stay” which morphed into a long “down-stay”, and then evolved into a long “sleep-stay.” But having a calm quiet dog in the blind is an attribute, and so for her first official duck hunt, I am happy. She was quite curious about the decoys and was especially intrigued with one of Matt’s that had fluttering wings. That is what she is staring at so intently in the photo above as she peeks out from her corn field duck blind.

Tooey, holding the one and only duck of the day

After a few quiet hours we called it quits and collected the decoys. Tooey and Goose (Matt’s Lab) then did high-speed zooming laps around the cornfields on the way back to the trucks. There was a lot of dog energy that had not been consumed retrieving bazillions of ducks that needed to be spent before the ride home.

But now that my work schedule has become reasonable again, both Cooper and Tooey will be able to join me for a few more long “sit-stays” in the blinds. There are about 45 days left of this duck season, and I now have quite a few weekdays off, which should make for a few more opportunities to go hunting with Irish Corn Dogs.

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Tooey, my sweet Tooey-Too, turned 3 years old yesterday. She got a bath, and a bone, and a Beginner Novice run at an Obedience match. She also got a chance to do some field training today.

With Tooey, I’m just working with her as time allows, not really stressing it. She has one pass at a Junior Hunter test, but several failures. One of her major problems has been that she wouldn’t happily pick up ducks. She’d pick up bumpers, but not ducks. And, alas, ducks are what are used in hunt tests.

But maybe with maturity comes a change of heart.

Just after dinner last night, we prepared for today’s training by getting the ducks out of the freezer so that they could be at least a little thawed by this morning. We put them in a bag, on the counter. Tooey spent almost the entire evening lying down, parked in front of that counter.

Hmmm….

Then, this morning, all she wanted was to follow that bag of ducks into the car. After we put the bag of ducks on the back seat, we practically had to drag her away with the leash to take her for her morning’s constitutional.

We got to the training ground, and much to Tooey’s vocal exasperation, Cooper ran first at today’s training, and did a pretty nice job in the cold, dense fog.

Cooper returning the bumper to Russ

Then Hank’s Standard Poodle, Laney, ran her marks and blinds, and then Tooey got her chance.

We set up for three single marks. The winger was loaded with a duck, Hank took out a duck for the second mark, and Russ took a bumper for the third.

Tooey sat at heel at my side, watching Hank intently. I did everything I could think of to aim her nose toward the winger, which was to be her first mark. I finally picked her up by her collar and moved her into position. Her spine was pointed the right way, but her nose and eyes were still pointed at Hank.

I set off the winger’s duck call and launched the duck. Tooey turned her head and watched it fly. I sent her, and she zoomed out, but straight toward Hank. Argh! “No!”, I said, and walked out and grabbed her by the collar, and then pointed her toward her mark. She ran out again, somewhat more pointed where I wanted her, but then she angled toward Hank again.

Fortunately, at that point, Hank started walking toward her first bird, and Tooey followed his direction, turned her head, and located the 1st duck. And picked it up and ran straight back toward me.

By this time, I was back in position, so I took that duck from her (with a lot of praise) and aimed her at Hank. I’m sure she was thinking something along the lines of “Finally!” Hank threw the duck, I sent her, Tooey zoomed out, grabbed the duck, and ran back with it. Hurray!!!

Then it was time for the third mark. I aimed her at Russ’ station. He threw the bumper, I sent Tooey, she ran out about 30 yards and stopped. She turned and looked at me, and I swear I saw the thought bubble above her head:Russ had to throw three bumpers, wave his arms, and practically jump around before she’d go out there and get that bumper. Which she finally did.

So…

Part of me is thrilled that she now wants to pick up ducks. If that keeps up, it may be that she’ll actually go out and pick up ducks at a hunt test (although we still have a lot of work to do to get the distance and difficulty ramped up).

But part of me is, well, chagrined. She’s supposed to pick up what I tell her to pick up. I’d like to think that she and I may do something in Obedience, in which she’ll have to pick up dumbbells, metal articles, leather articles, and cotton gloves.

But I think that for today, I’ll just enjoy her zooming out and back, triumphant, with her duck.

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