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One piece of advice I got after Cooper died was to start some new activities and traditions. Do something that will make me happy because it makes my dogs happy. Do something that doesn’t carry memories of when I used to do that or go there with Cooper.

Sounded like good advice. So, inspired by last Friday’s training day, I went and got an inexpensive, bright orange, kayak.

Sunday morning, before it got all hot, we all went to the Sauvie Island dog training area, hoping to find enough water to kayak in. It’s been very hot, and we didn’t get any of our usual June rains. So we weren’t surprised that the usual smaller training ponds were completely dry. But there is a larger lake inside the dog training area that we thought we’d try.

Too bad it didn’t occur to me to check out the name of that lake: Mud Lake.

Muddy and mucky it was. Even though I tried to pole they kayak out several yards to what I hoped were deeper waters, I never did get into waters where I could float, much less where the dogs could swim – in fact, they never got deeper than running through really muddy muck.

Then we tried another lake. It was a little deeper. I slogged several yards away from shore, pushing the kayak along, the muck almost sucking my sandals off my feet with every step. Finally, I hit some float-able water, but no matter how far away from shore I got, the dogs never did find anything deep enough to actually swim in. (Although they did get a mud pack beauty treatment.)

After just a few minutes, we packed up everything and left.

So disappointing.

And then Russ mentioned this spot he remembered where we might be able to find some deeper water. So we turned around and found a low bank where we could put into to the river. The river was definitely deeper. When we stayed in near shore, there was an eddy where I could paddle slowly and the dogs could swim. When we got out farther, the current was swift enough that it took some doing to not simply float away downstream.

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Trice in the kayak, Carlin and Tooey in the water

Trice and Tooey swimming in the river

Trice and Tooey

But even so, it was like heaven. Before last Friday, I hadn’t been on a boat for years, and that session was way too short. So on Sunday, floating on the water, watching my water-loving dogs play and swim, run around on the bank, and then jump back into the water — I loved every single second, and they did, too. They both slept soundly all the way home.

I hope we can do it again very soon.

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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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Day 6 of Pheasant Quest 2014

We are still on the hot and sunny high plains of Kansas. We hunted the morning, bagged another 10 pheasants, had lunch, packed, and headed north.

Now while getting 10 pheasants in the morning is nothing to sniff at, it is becoming the Kansas normal. But the highlight of the hunt was a record retrieve by Miss Tooey.

The dogs flushed up a rooster out of the milo that went vertical as though it had been in a rocket silo. The pheasant then streaked north, and Kent (a top skeet shooter and instructor) took a long shot at the disappearing rooster and connected. The bird took a death glide and fell 200 yards away. Tooey marked the fall and lit out across two strips of milo and two wheat belts, straight to where the bird had landed in some grass. This is a record retrieve distance for Tooey, and I couldn’t be more delighted. And this was after she ran down a crippled bird that landed and had run some distance. Tooey and Scarlett didn’t give up, and that is why Tooey found the live bird and brought it to me for a humane coup de gras. A trained dog makes for a good hunt.

Tooey and her 200 yard retrieve for Kent

Tooey and her 200 yard retrieve for Kent

Because we hunted early in order to beat the heat, the low sun made for some nice dog photography potential.

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Tooey’s last morning in Kansas

After we packed the car, Norm, Scarlett, Tooey, and I headed north to the Nebraska panhandle while Kent headed home to Illinois. By 5:00 p.m., we made it to a little ranch south of Bridgeport, Nebraska. Behind our cabin was a gorgeous pond surrounded by cattails. Tooey bee-lined it to the water to wash off the Kansas dust. Both pups got in a few water retrieves while Norm and I broke out the cigars and scotch. The coyotes came in to observe and comment while we basked in this oasis of a Nebraska ranch, anticipating the pheasant hunt of the following morning.

1 pond plus 2 water dogs makes for happy pups

1 pond plus 2 water dogs makes for happy pups

A great way to wash and Irish Water Spaniel

A great way to wash an Irish Water Spaniel

Norm discussing the finer points of cigars and scotch with Scarlett

Norm discussing the finer points of cigars and scotch with Scarlett

Day 7

Last night around midnight, Tooey, who had been curled up on the bunk bed with me, got up, ran to the door, and started barking like it was the 4th of July. Bright flashes were coming in from around the window curtains, followed by long rolling rumbles of Midwest thunder. The weather had shifted fast while we slept. Notice the cloud build up behind Norm in the previous photo. Well those clouds were followed by driving rain and a night of thunder storms with Tooey barking till dawn (not restful).

The daylight broke with non-stop lightning and more rain. We consulted with the ranch owner and determined that the weather forecast was not compatible with walking in the fields with 28-gauge lightning rods in our hands. He had reviewed the weather maps, as most Midwest farmers are prone to do, and the prospects were dimming. So discretion being the better part of valor, we abandoned pheasant hunting in Nebraska and ran from the storm front.

As soon as we were safely out from under this storm cell, I checked the weather in our planned hunting area.

Say no more . . .

Say no more . . .

This map shows tornado and flood warnings where we had planned to hunt, but now we are in western Wyoming, safely to the left of the orange. No, Tooey, we are not in Kansas (or Nebraska) anymore.

To be continued . . .

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In a parallel universe, I have my own piece of dog heaven, but in this one, the closest I have is the delta. So that’s where I chose to spend my first day of the new year, with Cooper, the dog of my heart.

I went out as early as I could, so as to miss as much of the holiday crowd as possible. The delta is one of the few places of any size around here where you can run your dogs without a leash, so it’s popular, especially on weekends and holidays.

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We took a meandering path out toward the river, up hills, through trees, and along the power lines. Cooper always runs out ahead, and then stops and waits for me to catch up, poor two-footer that I am.

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When we got to the river, of course the only thing to do is throw the bumper so Cooper can retrieve it. Does he care that it’s winter and the water is cold?

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No. Retrieve in the water, do a couple of land retrieves in the sun, and then water retrieve again. All that work keeps a dog like Cooper plenty warm.

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The hike in and the water retrieves took a couple of hours, and by the time we’d hiked out, it was midday, and fog had rolled in and obscured the sun. And the crowds had rolled in, too. Definitely time to go.

But we’ll be back to this little slice of heaven, hopefully before the next new year.

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If one is in need of fun, and the day is sunny and warm, and you live near the west coast, and it’s a Monday off work, and you have a Favorite Photographer and a couple of Water-loving Spaniels who love to go along, where better to go play than the beach?

Just make sure you have a camera and toy to take along!

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Cooper, retrieving out of the Columbia River, with Mt Hood in the background.

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Sunny, warm, that stretch of the river all to ourselves, after a long hike through a field at the delta. And a Friday off work.

Afterward, after we were both warm and dry, Cooper even gave me a rare kiss and cuddle. What could be better?

Not much that I can think of.

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Russ: Hey, Cooper! Do you want to go duck hunting today?

Cooper: Do I get to wear camo just like you?

Russ: Sure, but keep in mind it is going to be cold and wet.

Cooper: I’m an Irish Water Spaniel. I can do cold and wet.

Russ: Point taken. OK then.

Cooper: Can I put my wet muddy feet on the furniture in the duck blind?

Russ: Sure. So does this mean you want to go?

Cooper: Is the bear Catholic? Yeah, I wanna go!

Irish Water Spaniels

Two boys in their duck blind, Aumsville, Oregon
photo by Norm Koshkarian

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