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I have consolidated the last three days of our pheasant quest primarily because as we traveled west, internet connections became scarce, and so it would have been hard, if not impossible, to update this blog.

Day 9: Near Corinne, Utah

The agricultural fields sandwiched in between the Wasatch mountains and the Great Salt Lake allowed us a morning to look for some Utah pheasants not far from I-84. The rain had been persistent prior to our arrival and consequently the hay fields were still un-mowed (tall and thick). The wheat grass along the edges was tall, but gave the birds some space to move around. While the morning was clear and crisp, the cover was still wet. Not ideal, as birds generally don’t want to fly with wet feathers. (Go figure.) But as we moved up the rows of tall wheat grass, the dogs successfully put up a total of 9 birds.

Two things of note. My shooting was improving quite a bit, so no dramatic shots or retrieves were required. Dog flushes bird, Russ shoots bird, dog retrieves bird, next. But out over the hay fields, two birds did get up in front of Norm, where he made a couple of successful long shots. The deceased birds glided into heavy wet alfalfa, a hundred-plus yards away. Scarlett, who stands just below the height of the hay, quartered out in front of Norm, and found both birds.

So after a couple of hours we had 8 more birds to add to the cooler.

If you are a photographer such as myself, or a serious bird hunter, it is inadvisable to wield both a camera and shotgun for reasons of safety, aesthetics, and only having two hands. I carry a small camera in my upland vest while hunting, but only use it when the shotgun is down and safe, hence no action photos when I have a gun. As such, the following image is one I made while resting at the end of a field, looking back east at the Wasatch mountains to give an visual reference to the hunting conditions.

Norm and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

Norm (carrying both shotguns) and Tooey near Corinne, Utah

After cleaning the birds, we snagged a lunch at Mollies in Snowville, Utah and headed into Idaho for the night.

Day 10: East of Shoshone, Idaho

We spent the night in a ubiquitous Motel 6 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Then after a solid breakfast at a local place named Norm’s Cafe in Twin Falls, we headed north to Shoshone, then west on along the rail line until we found the Little Wood Ranch, which straddles the  Little Wood River. This was an area of hay and grain fields surrounded by sagebrush. Due the marvels of modern irrigation, when you mix water with Idaho desert soils, you get great farm land. (Yes, this is the source for your fried potatoes at McDonalds and Tater Tots from Ore-Ida foods, but I digress.) These fields held quite a few birds and due to the dogs’ week of daily hunting and our week of practice with our shotguns, the birds were easy to find, shoot, and retrieve.

While the hunting seemed like a slam-dunk pheasant shoot, it turned out to be a dunk only. Tooey followed a scent trail and disappeared into some tall cover next the the Little Wood River. I immediately knew this was not a good thing thing, because if Tooey finds water, she goes swimming for the sport of it. I quickly dropped my shotgun, ran to the river bank (a 4 foot drop), and saw Tooey swimming hard upstream but floating downstream in the swift current around the bend. This is not an image you want etched into your memory if this is the last you ever see of your dog. I ran a short distance downstream along the bank, and got Tooey to swim laterally until she could find some traction on bottom. She got to the edge, I lay down and grabbed her collar (and I have long arms) and pulled her up the bank.

Now with a wet (and happy) dog, I had to find my shotgun somewhere upstream. Dog, check. Shotgun, check. Okay, time to start hunting again. We crossed a small footbridge over the river and hunted a field on the north side. Norm shot a bird that glided into trees next to the river. (Oh Shit!! Not again.) Scarlett disappeared into the cover, and then into the water. But as providence would have it, the pheasant landed in a shallow eddy on this side of the river, and  Scarlett found an entry point that matched her 12″ height. Wet dog, wet pheasant delivered to hand. Heavy sigh.

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

Tooey, thinking about the Little Wood River on the other side of those trees

The only other interesting note was that we bagged a couple of chukar in addition to the 8 pheasants. While this is a pretty location with birds, I am no longer inclined to hunt areas with swift moving rivers with steep banks.

A couple of hours to the west, we stopped to have dinner with a dog friend, Ryan, near Boise, Idaho. We met Ryan several years ago in Oregon where he was one of the founding members of the Lower Columbia Hunt Retriever Club. But his work took him, his family, and small fleet of Labrador Retrievers to Idaho. After a nice break catching up and having great Thai food (way off the Interstate), Norm and I headed back into Oregon and a night stop in Baker City.

Day 11: A great Oregon pheasant hunt

Back in our own state of Oregon, we wandered out north of Baker City to the Tucker Creek Ranch. Fortunately Tucker Creek, which runs through the heart of the ranch was about 2 feet wide and dry. But the fields and trees along the creek bed were ideal bird habitat. The weather was perfect, the landscape was eye candy, but the birds very elusive. Tooey put up two rooster pheasants that went into my hunting vest. Tooey put up a third rooster, but somehow my crack shooting and Norm’s long distance skills were no match, and it got off to live another day. Oh well. On our way back up the creek towards the car, a covey of about a dozen quail flew up out from the cover and upstream among the trees. But quail season does not open for another 5 days, so we just watched with delight as these birds reconvened into the cover (another reason to return to Tucker Creek).

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

Russ and Tooey with our matching vests at Tucker Creek Ranch

As we poked around the stream bed, I frequently reminded Tooey to “go find the birds”, but in her excitement, she must have misheard me and instead thought I said, “go find the burrs”. Being a good dog, she complied and brought back plenty. In addition to the cockle burrs and the sand spurs, she added a new variety to her collection, Beggars Lice.

Tooey with the birds and burrs

Tooey with the birds and burrs

While we only came away with two birds today, it was the best hunting of the trip. The weather, topography, ranch owner were perfect. Maybe it’s an Oregon thing.

After nearly two weeks of Motel 6s, it was time to go home. We just packed the dogs, birds, and gear into the car and headed the last 300 miles home to Portland. Arrived dirty and dog tired. But happy.

Day 12: Dog Grooming

Even though an hour was spent last night grooming Tooey to get out the burrs and spurs acquired from Tucker Creek Ranch, another pass was required this morning before it was bath time. Trice will be returning from her vacation in a few hours, and Tooey will be clean, dry, curly, and smelling fresh when Trice walks in the door.

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

Sand Spurs and Beggars Lice (a burr the size of a lentil)

And so in the last 12 days:

  • 3000 miles driven
  • traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas (and back again!)
  • 47 birds delivered to hand (45 pheasants, 2 chukar)
  • weather included hot sun, tornado warnings, flash floods, thunder storms, driving rain, and blue skies. Everything but hail and snow.

Tooey has been a trooper; sleeping all night on the beds in Motel 6s, logging 3000 miles in her car crate, protecting me from thunder, and covering miles on the ground looking for birds.

She is a Champion in the show world. She also has her titles in Obedience and Rally, Retriever and Upland Hunt Tests. She has earned the AKC All-Around IWS award and has qualified for the Quintessential Versatility Award. She is also a Top Producer in that she has produced three champion show dogs (aka puppies) located in the the USA, Canada, and Australia. And she is (as of now) one of only 5 Irish Water Spaniels to have done all of the above.

And now for the drum roll . . .

I have no data to prove this, but of the other 4 IWS that can match Tooey for the number and variety of titles and accomplishments, I venture that none of the others has ever produced as many birds in as many states as Tooey. So far to date, she has found and delivered waterfowl and/or upland birds in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Idaho. (And next year’s plan includes the Dakotas and Canadian provinces!)

In my mind she is quite a Renaissance Dog. What’s not to love.

 

To be continued . . .

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And yes there are pheasants in Kansas.

Tooey and Scarlett had no problem finding and flushing Kansas pheasants this morning. I actually stopped counting, but maybe around 20. My shooting was not that impressive in the beginning, so there were quite a few opportunities for me to work with Tooey on being steady to flush and shot. But by the end of the morning, I settled into the shooting groove (4 roosters for me this morning), and Tooey retrieved a total of 6 birds, and Scarlett 2 others. (Norm and Kent brought down the other birds.)

Were you looking for this?

Were you looking for this?

We were hunting in alternating strips of milo and native grasses, with most of the pheasants holding up in the milo. After Tooey determined that the milo was source of the birds, she stayed in tight and just worked the crop, only going out into the grass for the retrieves. After 3 hours, the dogs were tired and warm, so we stopped at 11:00 a.m., and returned to where we are staying at Beaver Creek Ranch. I couldn’t be happier with Tooey’s performance on Kansas birds. And we have 2 more days at this pheasant paradise.

3 guys, 2 dogs, 9 birds

3 guys, 2 dogs, 9 birds

Beaver Creek Ranch

Beaver Creek Ranch

The only pernicious seeds that clung to the dog’s coat were sand burrs. About 1/4″ in diameter, they are the perfect nucleus for a matt. But as luck would have it, the ranch has a covered hot tub on the shady side of the house that matches the height of a grooming table. So it only took a few minutes with a very relaxed Tooey to extricate the burrs.

A Kansas grooming table and one tired puppy.

A Kansas grooming table and one successful IWS

To be continued . . .

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With the weather being a balmy 90 degrees, Patrice converted the back deck into a grooming spa for all three dogs.

A bath, blow dry, trim, and a pedicure for the fleet of pups.

Tooey admiring her nail trim

Tooey consulting on her foot trim

Carlin found his bath and blow dry strenuous enough that a nap was in order while he waiting in the queue for a nail trim.

Carlin, catching up on his sleep

Carlin says, “Wake me up when it’s my turn.”

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Carlin, catching up on his sleep

Cooper relaxing after his turn

Surely a belly rub is included in the full spa treatment, is it not?

Ms Tooey, looking proud in her field cut

Ms Tooey, looking proud in her field cut

The three pups and their personal spa mistress.

The three clean pups and their personal spa mistress. Tooey, on the table, Carlin, in the lap, and Cooper, with one of his tennis balls

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Yesterday was a warm and sunny Sunday — perfect for outside dog baths and trims (or at least, I thought so…)

Cooper got his bath first, and then mostly a full clip-down. I was actually sort of sad clipping him down. Having promised him that the 2014 National Specialty was his last conformation show, I decided I had better take a leaf out of Rebecca’s book. She clipped her dog down so that she wouldn’t be tempted to show him. Sounded effective, so I did the same to Coop. Except I will admit I chickened out a bit — I left his topknot and ears long instead of clipping them all off.

Still, ever since Cooper got his championship, I have shown him in conformation just for fun. He’s a beautiful dog who moves with grace, and I shall miss showing him off.

Then Tooey got her bath. I am planning on showing her at least one more time, so she got a more formal show trim.

Carlin was out and about in the back yard all this time, observing the whole grooming routine, when he wasn’t chewing on pine cones and sticks, that is. He saw and heard the water spray start, the hair dryer go, and the clipper buzz. Didn’t seem to faze him. So when the other dogs were all done, Russ lured him into the bath tub, too. And guess what? There are treats in there! Even Cooper was impressed.

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No bath for the puppy this time, though. After bathing, drying, clipping, and scissoring two Irish Water Spaniels, I was tired and didn’t feel like struggling with a wiggly puppy. So instead I captured a family shot of everybody (except me…) relaxing afterwards.

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Cooper is dog with tenacious drive mixed with the perpetual motion of a compulsive retriever. But he will always sit calmly in front of my camera and pose with the sparkling demeanor of a show dog at Westminster. It is one of his many charming virtues.

So once again I asked the boy to step in front of the lights for a few shots. But before he jumped up on the table, he snagged his photo buddy, a.k.a. “Rubber Duck”. The duck has been his companion since August of 2007 when he was awarded it as a participant in a Bird Dog Match as a 6-month-old adolescent. (This specific duck is actually the second generation duck, thanks to Ms Tooey.)

Cooper and dear duck friend

Cooper and dear duck friend

Now Ms Tooey doesn’t like to left out of anything. It doesn’t matter if Cooper has to go to the vet, she wants to go first. It is her nature as HBIC (Head Bitch in Charge). And so when Cooper stepped down, Tooey jumped up to stare into lens as well. If Cooper gets this much attention, she wants more.

Ms Tooey

Ms Tooey

The reason for the photo event was quite benign. I was testing a new camera and wanted have some familiar subjects to compare to photos taken with other equipment I use. As both pups had just finished getting a bath and some grooming for the recent dog here in Portland, this shoot was the convergence of having the studio set up and two clean dogs.

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20140120-122346.jpgOnce I decided to show both Cooper and Tooey at the 2014 National Specialty in April, I’ve been growing out and doing some judicious trimming on their short field clips, trying to sculpt them into something resembling a show dog. Cooper’s topknot is now about the right length, but his ear coat is still too short. Tooey’s topknot is a touch too short, but her ears are beautiful. Both dogs need to grow out some coat on their legs.

But grooming isn’t all that’s needed for show dogs. They have to actually go into the show ring from time to time. Just so that they remember how to gait around in a circle and trot nicely on the up-and-back.

Tooey also needs to remember to hold her head up, and Cooper needs to remember that he has to stay in the ring for the whole time, and not try to jump out. (Based on yesterday’s performance, both dogs need more practice.)

Also, there has to be one handler per dog. There’s only one of me, and two dogs. So, Russ very generously gave me an early birthday gift — he agreed to show Tooey while I showed Cooper.

So for the past several days, we’ve been bathing and grooming dogs, washing and ironing show clothes, digging out the show leads, and coordinating with friends for a little time, a critical eye, and some judicious trimming with the scissors pre-show on a grooming table. (Thank you, Colleen!)

And if you’re lucky, all that adds up to a ribbon. Which Cooper got (even though he behaved like a dweeb, always either turning to look at Russ and Tooey or trying to run out of the ring), winning a very surprising Best of Opposite Sex, beating his half-brother Riki, who got got a ribbon for winning Winner’s Dog. Yay for the Realta brothers!

Fortunately, we also had moral support ringside, and since we were lucky in more ways than one, moral support came equipped with a camera.

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Stacy with Riki, then Patrice with Cooper, [skip one], and then Russ with Tooey
photo by Norm Koshkarian

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Patrice with Cooper, photo by Norm Koshkarian

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Julia with Bold (a Tooey puppy) and Russ with Tooey after the show
photo by Norm Koshkarian

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This upcoming weekend isn’t going to turn out as I planned. Not that this will be bad. Just way, way different with a few unexpected challenges along the way.

Some back story: Several weeks ago, I realized I had a whole lot of options for this weekend. I could show my dogs in conformation at the Greater Clark County Kennel Club show. I could show them in Rally at the Sherwood Dog Training Club Rally Trials. Or I could enter them in a Barn Hunt RATI test.

Finally, I decided to enter Cooper in Rally on Saturday. He likes Rally, and Tooey doesn’t. I also decided to enter Tooey into the conformation show on Sunday. She likes it, and I wanted to get her back into practice with conformation shows so that when I take her to the IWSCA National Specialty in 2014, she’ll be prepared. Even though he’s only shown one dog once, Russ then very sweetly offered to show Cooper in conformation, and I could show Tooey in the same show.

Great! Sounded like a fun weekend. So I entered everything.

Then Tooey came into season — a whole month early. We revised our plans. After discussing all the do’s and don’ts of showing a bitch in season, Russ said he’d handle Tooey because she’d be easier. With Tooey in season, we both figured that Cooper would be a bit nuts, and I generally have somewhat better control.

But as the last couple of days progressed, it became apparent that Cooper has gone beyond “a bit” nuts. He’s a lot nuts. If he’s in his crate and Tooey is out, he keeps his eyes on her at all times, and he how-ow-ow-owls whenever she’s out of sight. When he’s out of his crate and Tooey is in hers, he’s obsessed with sniffing every surface she has touched. He eats only a little. It’s pathetic.

And it’s apparent that I probably wouldn’t have a good time showing him in conformation, and neither would Cooper. So instead Russ is going to take him hunting on Sunday, while us girls go to the show.

Going to the show means that Tooey has to have a bath. Not only does she stink, but she needs a bath to make her coat look good for the show. I had planned to take her to the local do-it-yourself dog wash as usual, but… The dog wash can be a crowded, slippery, busy place, and I lay awake all Wednesday night worrying about whether I was up to all those logistics, plus the added complications of Tooey’s being in season. No, I decided, I’m not. So she has to get her bath at home.

But I don’t have an indoor bathtub. I have a tiny indoor bathroom with a shower. I do have an outdoor portable bath, but last night it was 21 degrees F and windy. Much too cold for an outdoor bath (even for dogs who plunge into icy ponds to retrieve birds).

What to do?

Why, put the portable bath into the bathroom, with the drain hose snaking into the shower stall.

That’s me, standing in the shower and Tooey in the portable bath. I had to get all the shampoo and towels together first, then get into the shower, then Russ brought in the bathtub, and then he persuaded a skeptical Tooey to hop in, and lastly he brought me the hose, which was attached to the faucet in the adjacent kitchen.

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It was a bit messy and very wet. If we do this again, we’ll spread lots of towels on the floor before the tub goes in. But she got nice and clean, and was ready to be dried off with my hair dryer while standing on the grooming table in the kitchen.

A very DIY winter bath for a hot show girl.

Lucky Cooper doesn’t need a bath to go hunting.

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