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Posts Tagged ‘hunting with Irish Water Spaniels’

The two dogs took Russ and me pheasant hunting today at the Payette River Wildlife Management Area. It’s the last day of the season, and they thought we might get lucky.

Well, we were lucky. We had a lovely walk along the river on a spectacular winter day. No birds, though. Unless you count the picked-clean pheasant carcass that Tooey retrieved. (Which I was foolish enough to not photograph before returning it to the wild.)

But we all had a good time. Here are some photos.


This last photo was taken at the same spot that the photo of Carlin was taken just a few days ago. (When Russ and Carlin had an equally lovely walk and just as many birds.)

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There were some great things about our recent hunting trip in eastern Montana. Carlin and Tooey got to trot almost to their hearts’ content in the wild country without danger from snakes, ticks, or other dogs.

There were only a few cockleburs and grass awns, and those we got out from the dogs’ coats pretty quickly.

The stars at night were amazing. I’ve never seen the Milky Way so clearly, and the Big Dipper pretty much blew my socks off (not literally–it was too cold for that) with how close and crisp those stars appeared.

And the dogs found and flushed a few pheasants and sharptails.

But mostly, it was an unsatisfying trip. It was cold – really cold: in the low 20s F during the day, and 0 at night. The birds were few and far between. And it was very windy. Even though the dogs flushed a few birds, the north wind whipped them quickly up and out of gun range and off to the far southern horizon. Being November, the days were short, and we had a lot of driving between areas where we were permitted to hunt.

And then, there was that little trip to the vet…

A bit of back-story is in order: Almost 7 years ago to the day, Russ and I were hunting the Potholes in eastern Washington with Rod and Renae. We had their dog Rio along, and we had Cooper and Tooey. Tooey liked to cruise the edges of the ponds looking for whatever could be flushed or chased. And she found something – a porcupine. That porcupine got Tooey but good. We spent quite a while pulling quills out of her nose and muzzle. We got them all out, but as soon as we let her go, she ran right back toward that spot where the porcupine had been. She fully intended to get that porcupine for what it did to her. We called her off, and most reluctantly she turned away and came back.

But apparently, she has never given up her grudge against porcupines.

It turns out that porcupines like to eat the inner bark of trees. But until this last week, we didn’t know that. Both dogs were hunting in a draw crowded with bare, stunted trees. Fortunately, Russ was on the ridge right above them. Suddenly, he called out “Porcupine!”

The dogs had ventured into porcupine country. This is what I think went through their minds when Tooey encountered the porcupine. Tooey: “Porcupine! I am going to GET you, sucker.” Carlin: “I think I’ll go see what Tooey is looking at.”

Both dogs got quilled by the unhappy resident. Once Russ called out, the rest of us came running to grab the dogs and take them back to the truck, where we could try using a hemostat to pull the quills out.

But getting them out didn’t work so well this time. We finally muzzled Tooey with a rope during the operation, but it was clear that we wouldn’t get the ones out from inside her mouth. Carlin bit Russ on the thumb while Russ was trying to get the quills out, and besides, Carlin had a quill up one nostril.

So off to the vet we drove, a little office in Glendive, about an hour away from where we were hunting.

Dr. Jen at Dawson County Veterinary Clinic was awesome at getting those quills out. The vet also did a careful, thorough search of their paws (apparently, some dogs try to wipe the quills away from their muzzles and then get them stuck in their paws), ears, eyes, mouth, neck, and front legs.

Poor Tooey had to be sedated to get the quills out from the roof of her mouth.

She found several broken-off quills in both dogs, and pulled them out, too.

Based on what we’d just gone through, we were not surprised to hear that quill-pulling is a big part of Dr. Jen’s practice. One poor local dog apparently comes in once a month to have quills pulled. I guess some dogs never learn.

Like Tooey. I imagine that this incident will just intensify her grudge. I hope for Carlin, though. He’s not as happy to put up with pain as Tooey is.

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The upland hunting season in Idaho wraps up in 3 days (December 31). So between snow storms and in freezing weather, Carlin and I went out for possibly the last time this year looking for some pheasants. With a few inches of snow on the ground left over from Christmas day, and the mercury slightly above 20°, we spent the morning along the Payette River in SW Idaho.

There was not much activity. As we were gradually heading back to where we were parked, I heard a rooster cackle several hundred yards away and saw it flush out of some cattails in front of another hunting party. The flush was so far out ahead of them and their dogs that they never took a shot.

Because it was out of range for the other hunting party and it was headed my way from my right, I stood by until it was past my left (fair game etiquette). It covered the distance quickly and zoomed in between Carlin and myself.

As the rooster cruised about 10 feet off the ground, I made a passing shot and watched it tumble across a small ditch of moving water and into some cover about 50 yards away. Carlin, however, was fixated on the other hunting party and never saw the bird or my shot.

I called him in to me and then sent him on a classic “dead bird” drill. He crossed the stream with a leap and up the bank toward the bird. With only one “over” cast from me, Carlin headed into the cover straight to the bird. On the return trip he hesitated at the creek (deciding to jump or wade), but with the bird in his mouth he wisely chose the latter. Moments later, he delivered the bird to hand.

And that is why we train our dogs.

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Carlin delivering his bird near the banks of the Payette River

 

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A sunny November day in Southwest Idaho is by definition a perfect day to go chasing pheasants with your dog. Today, Carlin was up for the task, so we headed to an area along the Payette River near the micro-town of New Plymouth. The area we hunted was along the flood plain of the river. It was laced with ponds, ditches, cattails, and other terrain that provides good cover for upland birds.

Carlin took about 20 minutes of covering ground when he got birdy. I watched him study an area of cover and then visually track something in the grasses. In he dove and out came a rooster pheasant.

Now one might assume that having observed Carlin’s behavior that I would have been ready with my gun. The bird came right at me and over my head, but I totally missed it with both shots. At least it got Carlin jazzed up about finding birds.

A short time later, he was out ahead of me walking a ditch line where he flushed up another rooster. This one didn’t have a chance, and I dropped it right back into the ditch. Carlin got his first water retrieve of the season with a gorgeous bird that will be on our dinner table within a day or two.

He was quite proud of the find and retrieve. He shows this pride by willing pose for the camera and waiting to hand off the bird until our short photo session was over.

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Idaho, our new home, has lots of opportunities for those who love being in the outdoors with their dogs. Which, of course, is one of the reasons we moved here.

Today Carlin and I drove south of Boise to an area along the Snake River for a day of pheasant hunting. Specifically we were there to meet Steve, who lives in nearby Nampa, Idaho. Our paths originally crossed at some Spaniel Hunt tests in Oregon last August, just when we were planning our move. At Steve’s invitation, we had the opportunity to hunt with him and his English Springer Spaniel, Storm, at this beautiful location in southwest Idaho.

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

Steve and Storm, near the Snake River

The day started with some excitement when Storm flushed a rooster out from underneath a tree growing next to where we had just parked — while the guns were still in the car. A good sign. Then, as Steve and I started out into the first field with Carlin, we had barely started when another hunting group dropped a bird about 60 yards in front of Carlin. And of course their two dogs raced off for a retrieve. It was an effort, but I managed to get Carlin in and away from that bird and the competing dogs. We immediately moved over to another field with some very tall cover.

The grass was so tall that I lost sight of Carlin, but I did see a rooster fly up that he flushed. A quick shot dropped it back into the cover, out of my sight, but Carlin was on it and delivered it to hand. It took him more time to find me than the bird.

First bird of the day

First bird of the day

The heavy cover was a real effort for man and dog to bust through, so we gave Carlin a break and brought out Storm. A lot of hunting from that dog, but no birds. After she was spent, we gave Carlin another round that lasted less than 30 minutes. He slowed to a trot and was pretty much done hunting for the day.

Carlin heads into tall cover in front of Steve

Carlin heads towards the tall cover in front of Steve

So back into the car with the boy and another round for Storm. This dog was not be stopped, and so we went for another hour in all types of cover, but the only birds put up were a covey of quail. One shot each from both Steve and myself did not add any quail to tonight’s dinner.

We did however have a great day, in a new state, hunting with new friends. And will be enjoying Carlin’s second Idaho rooster for dinner tonight.

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161111_0013blogRather than wind chill factors and deep snow, today’s November weather threatened us with sunburn and overheating. But before it got too warm today, Carlin and Tooey flushed up this nice rooster pheasant from a field not too far from Horseshoe Bend, Idaho. I was also fortunate to bring it down with a quick shot from my 20 gauge for an easy retrieve for Carlin.

This makes it Carlin’s official first bird of Idaho, which he can now add to his list of successful bird states that includes Oregon, Washington, Montana, California, and Colorado. Tooey already has some Idaho birds on her resume, but is willing to keep adding to her tally. Carlin will have to hustle to keep up with her bird numbers. And he still needs to add a few states to his list in order to match Tooey who has the same list as Carlin plus Kansas and Utah, and the province of British Columbia.

Life is good, especially with good dogs . . .

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Carlin and Tooey ton their Idaho pheasant hunt

Carlin and Tooey taking a break during their first team pheasant hunt

I had hoped to make the move to Idaho by the opening of pheasant season, but I missed it by a couple of weeks. So here we are at the beginning of November. We headed 30 miles north of Boise to an area along the Payette River. Both dogs totally knew what was up — having left home with blaze orange and a shotgun means only one thing.

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Normally when hunting solo, my preferred method is to take one dog out at a time. But this time, that method precipitated a severe temper tantrum with the remaining pup. Nothing like working a field while listening to your other dog barking non-stop in the car, a half mile away.

Today’s goal was not to come home with a lot of birds, but it was to reward the pups for their patience over the last month while we disrupted their routine with our move to Idaho. So I succumbed to the whining, and took both dogs out together to work as a brace covering the fields. It actually worked out quite well. They stuck together, both keeping inside gunning range, and when one became focused on a specific piece of heavy cover, the other stepped in to help scour out any potential birds.

After a few hours of this, we didn’t flush any birds, but we did come across a nice rooster pheasant. It was a simple retrieve as it was found lying dead at our feet. Some other hunter must have shot this one, but was not able to locate it. Based on the body temperature, it appeared to have been downed only a couple of hours earlier. And so with that bird in the hand, we continued to look for our own and enjoy the cool Idaho November day.

Final score: no shots fired, the one retrieved rooster, a few miles of hiking, and two very happy dogs.

Life is good . . . .

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I love walking outdoors, and my dogs love to work. And those are two of the major reasons I like hunt tests and hunting. They are all excuses to be outdoors, watching my dogs do the thing they love.

As much as the dogs and I love working outdoors, it’s not always safe for the dogs. And I’m not talking about the big dramatic things, like getting lost, falling down a bank, or running into a trap. And I’m not talking about the annoying but not dangerous collection of burrs and twigs in the coat. I’m talking about little insidious things. Like seeds. Like grass awns. Like splinters of cactus spines.

Before today, we already knew a little something about this. You might remember that Cooper got a seed trapped under a third eyelid while doing a summertime hunting demonstration, causing the whole area around the eye to swell, grow painful, and become inflamed and weepy. When he got home that day, we’d done the best job we could, carefully searching out and removing all the seeds we could find from his eyes, ears, feet, and anus. But even with our best efforts, Cooper still had to go to the vet for treatment.

Today Carlin joined the ranks of dogs who go to the vet after hunting.

We’re not sure what the nasty small thing that got Carlin was because, whatever it was, it was either already gone or too small to see. But it was something sharp and nasty, like a grass awn or a cactus splinter, something he would have encountered in California at the hunt test or Colorado while hunting. It burrowed its way into the skin between two toes, and then, based on what the vet saw, it traveled halfway up the paw and then straight down, stopping just short of coming out between two pads at the bottom of his foot.

The vet opened the track left by the debris, and flushed it out several times. Now Carlin is home, recuperating. We’re in for a week of foot soaks, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory meds, but that’s OK.

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See? I have an owie, but the vet cleaned it up really nice

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Getting my foot soaked is not so bad. I get lots of treats!

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I am being a very good boy. I lick my foot just a little bit. The vet says that’s OK because it keeps the wound open. Good vet!

Carlin doesn’t seem too unhappy. He’d been sedated, so he was a bit loopy when he came home. But he’s not licking the wound excessively, he’s not limping, and he’ll let me touch it, so I think maybe we’re going to be OK.

My friend Sharon advised me to make some changes to my grooming routine when I go hunting in dry areas, where grass awns and seeds abound. She suggested I trim the fur out from between his toes. Apparently, grass awns and other debris hook onto the fur, and that gives them the traction they need to propel themselves into the skin. If I’m very careful, she says, if I use a very small scissors, I can trim the coat from just between the toes and still leave enough coat on the top of the toes to keep him decent looking enough for a conformation dog show.

I’ll give it a try, but I wonder — maybe Carlin doesn’t want to be a show dog. First he gets a series of skin infections that makes him drop his fur. Then, after that has finally grown out again into a beautiful show-worthy coat, he rolls himself in a field of burrs in Montana in October, requiring a very, very short all-over clip to get them all out. And now, just when I think he might be barely presentable in January, he gets into something sharp and nasty, requiring a foot shave.

I guess I could stop taking him hunting… Nah!

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Happy 7th Birthday, Tooey!

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Tooey at 7

Today Tooey turns 7 years old. As you can see, she is still her beautiful self, still scanning tree branches for squirrels, still living enjoying her life with a quiet zest.

It’s been a relatively quiet year for Tooey. She’s no longer competing in any obedience, hunting, or conformation activities (although we may get that last Barn Hunt leg next year and possibly I may show her in the Veterans class at the next Specialty), so the training she does is in the living room, just for fun.

Tooey spent many days in the car and motel rooms traveling this year — Montana for hunting training and hunting, southern California to accompany Carlin to his hunt test, Colorado for a visit to family and day of hunting. She’s a very good traveler. Her only request is to go swimming whenever we’re near a river or pond. That was totally doable on day trips to the Willamette River or the Pacific ocean, in the Missouri and Marias Rivers on the trip to Montana, and in the ponds in southern California. But it’s not so fine when the Colorado River is many yards down a steep bank and behind a fence.

Tooey and Trice

She’s still our best hunter, finding birds in the field with no help from us and retrieving to hand the ones we bring down. She got birds in Montana this year, adding a new state to her list (California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, plus British Columbia). And along those lines, since she’s ever the beautiful photo model, another photo of Tooey (and Cooper) was published in December, just after her last birthday. The photo accompanied an article written by Russ (and translated into German) about hunting with spaniels in North America.

First page in the article about hunting with spaniels in North America

First page in the article about hunting with spaniels in North America

For 5 minutes every morning, before I get out of bed, we cuddle, her lying on my chest licking my face, me trying to breathe and stroking her head. She loves her daily walks and trips to the park, which for her are mostly sniffing and critter-finding expeditions — I mean, why rush? Mostly her day is spent keeping Carlin in line and playing with him when she feels like it (which is not that often now that he’s bigger and stronger).

It’s also been a tough year for Tooey. She lost Cooper, a constant source of adoration and the friend who loved her more than anything (except possibly the opportunity to retrieve). She was sad about that for many weeks. And she had surgery to removed a mammary gland for a biopsy of what we were afraid was cancer. (It wasn’t.)

But even so, life is good, and we’re looking forward to many more happy years with Tooey.

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On this so called “Black Friday”, Russ, Russ’ nephew Galen, the dogs, and I spent the afternoon outdoors, first in snow, then in bright sunshine, and then again in dark clouds and snow. We were at 5000 feet on Reeder Mesa, on the Broken Spoke Ranch, in western Colorado. Russ and I hoped to give the dogs something feathered to flush and retrieve, and Galen came along to observe and take the photos for this blog post.

We got Tooey out first. She’d missed out on the hunting in Montana, and she wasn’t entered in the hunt test in California, so the girl was past due for some bird action. She didn’t disappoint. She found her first bird right off, using her usual, methodical, back and forth quartering. She flushed the rooster, but before it could be brought down, it glided into a neighboring pasture on the other side of a barbed wire fence.

Tooey's first flush

Tooey’s first flush. Photo by Galen Dodd

After Russ helped her through, she flushed it again right toward Russ, who brought it down about 50 yards away. Russ could have retrieved that bird himself, but Tooey, stuck on the other side of the barbed wire, was jumping up and down, trying to leap over the fence so she could get that retrieve herself.

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The first pheasant of the day. Photo by Galen Dodd

Once Russ helped her back through the fence, she dashed directly to her bird, grabbed it up, and delivered it to hand.

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Here you go, Dad. Can we go get another one? Photo by Galen Dodd

Tooey then quartered the field, looking for more birds. After a search through some Russian Olive trees, she flushed another rooster, which Russ missed. Both Russ and Tooey watched it glide away about 200 yards into some heavy, boggy cover. Tooey correctly identified the landing zone, found the rooster, and flushed it again, this time in Russ’s direction.

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A twice-flushed pheasant. Photo by Galen Dodd

That made this one a much easier shot.

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The snow is lightening up. Photo by Galen Dodd

And Tooey delivered that one to hand, too.

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I’m a real hunting dog, right? Photo by Galen Dodd

All in all, Tooey found, flushed, and delivered a total of four pheasants. That was her quota for the day, so then it was Carlin’s turn.

Our goal was to see whether Carlin could do an extended hunt, where there weren’t other (girl) dogs around to distract him. We know that he can do a short 4 minutes in the field at a hunt test, but can he do an hour? Unlike Tooey, Carlin is not moderately paced. His style is to range out farther and much faster. We ended up having to whistle him back in closer to us many a time, and remind him to actually quarter across a field, rather than just run out in front.

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Carlin’s first of five flushes. Photo by Galen Dodd

But even with these challenges, Carlin scored better than the gunners, finding and flushing five pheasants, only three of which he got to retrieve to hand. Clearly, he can do the work, find and flush the birds, and deliver them to hand. We just need to continue to tune up his style.

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We done good. Photo by Russ Dodd. Birds by Carlin and Tooey

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Here is the summary of my 2015 trip to Montana with Carlin. It is easy to brag on my dogs all the time, and they mostly earn it. But on some occasions it is best to reveal some less than perfect outcomes with our pups.

Last week I trekked off to northern Montana to spend 3 days hunting wild birds with Carlin’s trainer, Richard, of Tuxedo Kennels. This is the same area where we spent a week in August training for hunt tests and hunting. But Carlin’s brain was somewhere else last week, and he was not the stellar bird dog that I was expecting. Here is the blow by blow report.

Northern Montana in late October can have all weather patterns. Being only 50 miles from the Canadian border and uninterrupted high plains, one can expect wind, snow, rain, sun, fog, hot or cold. However, after arriving in a light rain, I won the weather lottery for the next week. Lows in the 30s and highs of mid 60s under full sun. Absolutely perfect weather for hunting birds with a dog. The area where we hunted is dry land farming of wheat (food for birds), mixed with draws and drainages that provided the cover. Not only were these areas the home to a large population of pheasants and sharptail grouse, but also the home to a huge population of burrs that where lying in wait for Carlin.

Big Sky country where bird cover abuts agrigculture

Big Sky country where bird cover abuts agriculture

As reported in an earlier post, Carlin was brought to his knees early in the hunt by burrs of multiple types. After an hour, he was so covered with burrs that he would walk only 20 feet before having to lie down and yank burrs out. Rinse, lather, repeat. While birds were flying, Carlin was self grooming. And while this process was playing out, our hunting party put up a large pheasant rooster an 8th a mile away. As it flew in our direction, it met a with a perfect shot from Richard’s son, Garret, and fell about 30 feet from Carlin. Carlin interrupted his grooming to mark the bird. Retrieve number one.

But Carlin had another problem besides burrs. We were also using a couple of Richard’s dogs to cover the area, and those were females. Carlin’s brain had no capacity for looking for birds, so when he wasn’t pulling out burrs, he was totally preoccupied with tracking the females in the field. After a morning of no flushes, one retrieve, and bazillion burrs, Carlin got to spend the balance of the day in his crate while we continued to hunt. We spent that evening removing burrs.

The next day, it was again apparent the Carlin’s nose was focused on females and not birds. So while the main group of hunters moved to the other side of a large field of cattails, I stayed back with Carlin. As the group moved toward us, a covey of sharptail grouse flew out and generally in our direction. My hunting partner, Norm, managed to knock down 2 with his double gun, while another high flying grouse headed my way. I brought it down where it landed 20 feet behind me. Carlin took 4 quick steps and he had another retrieve.

As a group, we were bringing in a lot of amazing birds, a good mix of pheasants and grouse. But other than the one retrieve, Carlin was there to pull out burrs and chase girls.

The morning's collection of pheasant and grouse

The morning’s collection of pheasant and grouse

Carlin admiring the work of other dogs . . .

Carlin admiring the work of other dogs . . .

The third morning, as the rest of our our group was pushing through cover, Carlin and I waited in a field to block the escape route of any birds. Fortunately a sharptail grouse didn’t get the memo. It blew full speed away from the other dogs in our direction, where I dropped it just 30 feet away with an easy shot. Carlin zoomed unscathed through a barbed wire fence and did another delivery to hand.

A sharptail grouse on its way to my hand

A sharptail grouse on its way to my hand

After a morning hunt in some farm fields, we spent the last afternoon working some draws below a large reservoir. Because it was the perfect environment for burrs, Carlin got to sit that one out while we put lots of birds in the air and few more in our vests.

For our last push of the afternoon through pastures and a cattail patch, Carlin joined me but hung close to my heels. While he showed no interest in finding birds on his own, he was happy to retrieve the last bird of the trip.

Picking up a rooster in tall grass

Picking up a rooster in tall grass

Carlin returning a big Montana rooster

Carlin returning a big Montana rooster

Each night in the motel was a grooming session. By this time Carlin was learning to hide behind the air conditioner and the bed to avoid the scissors and combs. Can’t blame him as it is not pleasant to have burrs cut out everyday.

Even though he didn’t flush a single bird, and picked up only a few retrieves, most of his energy was dissipated walking with me and chasing girls. Add a few hours of grooming and he eventually got tired and had to sleep.

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After a session of burr removal, sleep overcomes the boy

We got home early on Sunday, and after unpacking the car, Patrice and I found and cut out another 100 burrs. Maybe tomorrow’s bath with find and remove the rest.

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Well, Russ reported that the take today is one grouse, one giant rooster pheasant, and about 1000 burrs of at least 6 varieties. The photo below is out of focus, but you can see the lighter colored blobs all throughout his coat — each blob is a burr.

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Apparently, after running though multiple patches of burrs, and then jumping into a beaver pond, Carlin managed to collect, and then weave into his coat, more than 1000 burrs, turning it into a single felted, tangled mass. Russ reported that Carlin collected so many burrs that after only an hour of hunting, he couldn’t really even trot more than 20 yards without stopping to try to pull burrs out of his legs.

Somehow, it didn’t cross my mind, before I sent the boys off on their hunting trip, that there would be burrs. It should have. I’ve been told about a Standard Poodle that came back covered in burrs. And there were always burrs in eastern Washington. I was just thinking that it was good that his coat would be long enough to keep him warm. And I was looking forward to showing him in January. Russ didn’t think of the burr problem, either.

But now we know. Carlin should have gone to Montana only after having his coat clipped down to no longer than 1/2″ of coat.

So, this evening, Russ has managed to cut the burrs out from Carlin’s armpits, his inner thighs, and his (formerly) lovely long ears and topknot. There was not nearly enough time or energy to try to work 1000 burrs (and this is no exaggeration) out of his coat. They have to be cut out, and there are many more to go before tomorrow morning, and a new day of hunting. Russ is going to try to scissor his coat short so that the additional burrs Carlin collects tomorrow and the next day can be easily removed.

I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for a patchwork boy upon their return. I have resolved already not to cry and to remember that there will always be another dog show. And that what we really wanted was a hunting dog, so now it’s time to treat him like one.

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After Tooey’s “most perfect failure” at a hunt test a few weeks back, I decided that it is futile and annoying to enter my favorite girl-dog into a venue where she doesn’t really shine. Over the four days of the Labor Day Spaniel hunt tests where Carlin was our star, Ms. Tooey just went along for a ride and quietly waited in the car while gun-shots, dogs, and birds where flying everywhere.

On Saturday, our friend Norm, and Tooey’s hunting partner, the Boykin Spaniel Scarlett, joined us to watch Carlin show his flash in the field. After the tests were done, Norm and I took Tooey and Scarlett for a walk through the fields, and we headed over to the area where the Master and Senior tests had been held. Our two brown dogs, who have often hunted in a brace together, started quartering the field and heavy cover in their distinctive styles. Tooey quietly searched the perimeter and heavy cover while Scarlett quartered through the tall grass, popping up occasionally to check her orientation to Norm.

Even though these fields had been traversed by a couple of dozen hunting dogs earlier in the day, there was still a chance of finding a bird that had successfully eluded the flushing dogs and gunners. Tooey began searching with her methodical, very thorough, and deliberate technique. This is the very style that bounced her from the last hunt test because it doesn’t conform to the written standard “hunting style” of an Irish Water Spaniel.

Unfortunately for the birds, Tooey’s non-standard style is incredibly effective. Within moments of starting out, she flushed a chukar that thought that by flying 50 yards and hiding in a bush, it was safe. Safe from the shotguns maybe, but not Tooey’s eyesight and nose. A bird in the bush is a bird in the hand for my hunting dog. Tooey tracked the flushed chukar into the bush, snatched it, and returned it alive to hand. No sooner than I put the chukar in my vest, Tooey stopped, stepped to the side, and picked up a pheasant that had been shot during the morning’s test but had been unretrieved by the Master or Senior dog that had put it in the air. One more bird for the vest.

As our dogs continued to search more cover, Tooey did a double-take on some dense grass, spun around, and up flew a pair of pheasants. If I had been carrying my shotgun instead of a camera, I could have had my daily limit in one flush. If I had been carrying a whistle, I would not have had to raise my voice and say “No Bird!” My steady girl watched two birds fly away, much to her chagrin.

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As we headed back to the parking lot, Tooey and Scarlett disappeared behind a row of vintage apple trees in a former orchard on the grounds. The next time I saw Tooey was when she shot out from behind the trees, hot on the tail of another pheasant. This time, “No Bird!!!” fell on deaf ears as she headed over to the next field with a speed that kept up with the flying pheasant. I did an about face and followed Tooey to where she had disappeared in her pursuit. About halfway there, a pheasant (probably the same one) came rocketing back overhead, and with Tooey zooming along with intent to deliver. This time “no bird” worked just fine, and Tooey came to heel with a smile on her face and a thought bubble – “How is that for a hunting style?”

My dearest Tooey, sometimes judged a failure, brought me a chukar, a pheasant, and put four more pheasants in the air — all birds that had previously eluded Spaniels with the correct hunting styles.

The very best hunting IWS in North America (based on bird count during real hunting)

One of the very best hunting IWS in North America (based on bird count during real hunting)

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Cooper was accomplished in a number of venues, but the one that provided the most satisfaction for both dog and human, was bird hunting. Take one part pedigree, add another part training, provide the opportunity, and the results are a happy bird dog.

Hunting in the west is typically spending the day in photogenic territory. But this photographer likes to carry the shotgun and not a camera, so photography always was a second tier priority. Not all hunts with Cooper were documented photographically, but all are etched into our memories.

Here is a selection of photos of Cooper in his element.

Cooper sees his first waterfowl

Cooper sees his first waterfowl

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Cooper’s first bird hunt, November, 2009.

Patrice and Cooper heading out to hunt upland game birds

Patrice and Cooper heading out to hunt upland game birds

Mt. Hood and the Irish Water Spaniel

Mt. Hood and the Irish Water Spaniel

Retrieving a chukar

Retrieving a chukar

Cooper, handing off a successful flush and retrieve

Cooper, handing off a successful flush and retrieve

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Cooper and Russ admiring their hunting partner

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Checking out a Washington state pond for some ducks

Stealth Spaniel waiting for ducks

Stealth Spaniel waiting for ducks

Cooper and Matt on Sauvie Island

Cooper and Matt on Sauvie Island

Ready for a pheasant flush

Ready for a pheasant flush

Cooper bringing back the bird

Cooper bringing back the bird

A day of pheasant hunting in Washington

A day of pheasant hunting in Washington

string of lakes

Cooper and his young protegé, Tooey

Southern Oregon pheasants in the rain

Southern Oregon pheasants in the rain

Cooper, taking a break with Mt. Hood in the background

Cooper, taking a break with Mt. Hood in the background

Cooper and Patrice in central Oregon

Cooper and Patrice in central Oregon

With Russ in the duck blind

With Russ in the duck blind

Cooper and a novice hunter scour an oar field for the elusive pheasant

Cooper and a novice hunter scour an oat field for the elusive pheasant

A November hunt in Oregon (2013)

A November hunt in Oregon (2013)

A cold December day, 2013

A cold December day, 2013

Cooper and his mature protegé, Tooey

Cooper and his mature protegé, Tooey

Cooper and his class of new pheasant hunters

Cooper and his class of new pheasant hunters

Cooper on the cover of Rat Tails

Cooper on the cover of Rat Tails

Near Monmouth, Oregon, 2014

Near Monmouth, Oregon, 2014

Cooper with a spring time rooster (his final bird, March, 2015)

Cooper with a spring time rooster (his final bird, March, 2015)

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It’s wonderful to be married to an accomplished photographer — that means we usually have really great photos to remember our activities by. But sometimes I am grateful to be just an amateur snap-shooter. That way, when I come home from hunting with less-than-perfect photos, I can just shrug my shoulders and say, “Better luck next time.” Russ did the vast majority of the shooting on today’s hunting trip. I mostly just carried my shotgun, which lead to fumbling my phone when I wanted to take a picture and hold the shotgun at the same time. We had a good laugh when we got home and examined the photos I’d taken. There were a whole series of photos like the following. I won’t embarrass myself further than publishing just one.

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Why you shouldn’t try to shoulder a shotgun and take a photo at the same time

But… on to the hunting trip

I took a rare day off from work today, and Russ and I accompanied the three dogs out hunting for our last day of the pheasant preserve hunting season. It was much warmer than it should be in March, but the blue skies and fluffy clouds made for a delightful day. We walked up and down the rows of downed corn and new grass, behind a row of conifers, and along the top of a low cliff over the Luckiamute River with Cooper, and then Tooey, sniffing the ground and the air, looking for birds. Cooper got the high total of the day, flushing 4 roosters and 3 hens, while Tooey put up 3 hens and 1 rooster. We were allowed to shoot hens since it was so late in the season, and we came home with 8 cleaned birds for the freezer and eight necks, gizzards, hearts, and livers for the dogs’ dinners.

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Having delivered one bird, Cooper hunts for another

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Tooey and Russ hunt pheasants in the grass

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Bringing one out from behind the trees

Carlin got to do some practice flushing on some hen pheasants that we’d planted. He did a good job finding them, but didn’t quite know how to get one into his mouth. Pheasant skins are loosely attached to their bodies, and so the mass of the bird slides around inside the skin unless the dog has a good solid hold. Carlin hadn’t ever tried to pick up a pheasant before, so we were not surprised to have to help him. But once he got it in his mouth, he did a fine job of holding on to it.

Carlin holding his first pheasant

Carlin holding his first pheasant

He’s going to be a fine hunting dog one day, and soon as he gets it all together in his head and syncs it all with what his body is doing. Perhaps I should say the same thing about my photography — if I can just get my brain and my fingers all synced up…

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