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Cooper, on task in a sea of oats

Cooper, on task in a sea of oats

Cooper is a remarkable dog in many ways. Sure, he has a collection of titles and a wall of ribbons, but this weekend he raised the bar for dogs and community service.

Once again, Cooper volunteered his services to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) as a working field dog in two days of pheasant hunting workshops for new hunters. Now this may not seem like a difficult task for a great bird dog, but just like last year, weather conspired to make this really hard work. With temperatures pushing 90 degrees and blazing sun, this was easily 60 degrees too hot for ideal pheasant hunting conditions. Dogs overheat, scent is hard to find, and the vegetation is at its summer peak, which means it is thick, harsh, and with billions of seeds and all things velcro.

This workshop was held on the ODFW managed wildlife area of Sauvie Island in the Columbia River, where the crops are planted exclusively for wildlife food. The pheasants had lots of cover, from corn, millet, and oats, plus all the native grasses and cattails around the sloughs running through the area. Cooper took a half dozen novice hunters out with him for several hours each day trying to locate, flush, and retrieve birds.

On Friday, the one bird that was successfully shot by a new hunter, went down in heavy cover and disappeared. This is the second bird in Cooper’s 5 years of hunting that he could not locate. (It may have run fast and far after it hit the ground). But with high temperatures, low humidity, and one hot dog, I will cut him some slack on his stellar record. On Saturday, the flushed birds eluded the hunters’ aim, so no retrieves were in order.

I managed Cooper’s temperature by soaking his coat, frequent breaks, numerous swims in the sloughs, and plenty of cold water drinks. Each hunter in Cooper’s group carried a quart of cold water for him, and he happily consumed most of it.

Cooper with his students, taking a mid-day break in the shade

Cooper with his students, taking a mid-day break in the shade

Several volunteer dogs and their handlers had cancelled at the last minute, rather than work these fields under these conditions. So Cooper had to really step up and fill the void for the workshop participants. Chafed foot pads, sore muscles, a scratched face, and a couple of hours of grooming the seeds out of his coat was the cost of doing business. But Cooper and his hunting buddy, Scarlett, did what they could to encourage new hunters to the world hunting over a dog.

So not only did Cooper help new hunters explore the world of pheasant hunting, he was able to contribute significant financial support for the program. Because Oregon state hunting activities are funded exclusively through hunting license fees and nothing from the Oregon general fund, the only other available money is through matching federal grants. And because volunteer work is considered a contribution on the state’s part, Cooper was able to secure a tidy bit of federal funding for this program by donating his time and skill (pro-rated at $25 an hour!). Outstanding performance by this bird dog!

Cooper, Outstanding in his field of oats.

Cooper, Outstanding in his field of oats

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For the last two weekends, Cooper and his hunting partner Scarlett have been helping the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) with training new pheasant hunters. The ODFW has an Adult Pheasant Hunt for new hunters that is run near Portland at the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area. For a very modest fee, people interested in learning how to hunt pheasants over dogs can spend the day being trained how to handle and shoot a shotgun safely, practice with clay targets, and then have an afternoon chasing pheasants with the assistance of trained bird dogs and their handlers. Cooper and Scarlett (plus Norm and myself) helped new hunters understand the techniques of working with bird dogs and strategies of pheasant hunting. For a mere $42 one gets the opportunity to learn to shoot, have lunch, work with a spaniel, and possibly take home some fresh pheasant.

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Scarlett and Cooper waiting for the new hunters to get their orientation

The first success of this past Friday afternoon was when Scarlett put up a nice rooster pheasant, and one of the new hunters dropped it on his very first shot. (He is hooked now.) Scarlett moved out about 80 yards in the cover to locate the bird and brought it back to Norm.

Scarlett brings in the first rooster pheasant

Scarlett brings in the first rooster pheasant

All the crops you see in the above photos are to support wildlife habitat and will be left in the fields and flooded over the next month. Thousands of ducks and geese will eat themselves fat on their way to California. (This is where the money goes from hunting licenses.) But for the next few weeks, the cover is nice for upland birds such as early season pheasant. On Friday, it was a bit too hot for the dogs to work for long stretches, and they consumed lots of water while looking for birds. But it was a great practice session for the dogs before Norm and I head out after our own birds later this this Fall when the season opens and the weather turns cool.

Cooper did not locate any birds in the crops, but one rooster was spotted walking along a canal. So I sent Cooper in pursuit and he tracked it down in the cover and got a nice flush. The new hunter working behind Cooper waited until the low flying pheasant was high enough to safely shoot over Cooper’s head, but by that time, the bird was just a bit too far for the new hunter to successfully drop. Cooper was steady to the flush and shot, but sitting on the bank of a canal might have influenced his decision to not chase a bird.

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

Cooper and Scarlett were great ambassadors to a group of novice hunters. Even those who didn’t succeed in bringing home some fresh pheasant will have some good memories of working over an Irish Water Spaniel and a Boykin Spaniel.

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