I will be at West Virginia’s Elk Spring’s Resort on May 20, joining authors Tom Carney (“Among the Aspens”) and Bob DeMott (“Angling Days”), along with Fly Fishing Artist, Andrea Larko. This is located on the headwaters of the Elk River during the peak time of year for the popular Sulphur hatch.
We’ve finally settled in at home and got ourselves caught up so we thought we’d post our assessment of the first Ryman Setters .com breeder’s gathering in Kansas back in January. We were quite impressed with the turnout, both in terms of the number of breeders and their dedication/commitment to producing healthy first rate hunting dogs.
We are to the point of wanting to add more outside bloodlines to our breeding program and we’ve been hoping to find something more similar to our current dogs than what we’ve used in the past, albeit successfully. So our objective was to see and evaluate as many of the other breeder’s dogs as we could. Kansas was the perfect venue for this hunt. The open habitat and good numbers of wild Bobwhite Quail made it possible to watch dogs perform in a way that isn’t always possible where visibility is restricted by taller vegetation. It was also an advantage that most of the dogs were not familiar with quail so we could see how quickly they adjusted to a new challenge.
In addition to lots of good dog work it was an opportunity to meet people we’d only corresponded with as well as renew old friendships. It was a real treat to watch this group discuss everything from training to performance to health issues and so much more with the same focus and concern for the future of the Ryman-type setter. We want to thank everyone for their efforts to make that happen and especially Lynn Dee and Mike for arranging the lodging and scouting the hunting in advance of our arrival.
We had good hunting (our first time hunting Bobwhites), good dog work, and good times throughout the week so it’s hard to single out one “highlight” but I can’t resist recapping one hunt that stands out for us. Chuck Robinson (Parker Hollow) brought two pups for their first actual hunts. We followed along as he and friend Brian ran Samson, a five month old that had never seen wild birds. He started out a typical puppy, alternating between hunting and screwing around and not quite sure what he was looking for. Then along a field edge he got a whiff of something and stopped to investigate.
The covey flushed before he pointed but he saw them fly off and now knew what we were looking for. Following up on the covey we eventually came to a large pile of brush and Samson stopped again, testing the wind.
He had them but didn’t realize it yet. As he started around the end of the brush pile three Bobwhites flushed from the other side.
That really got his attention and he was more focused on the task at hand. It was a big covey and we knew there were more birds close by. We didn’t get far before Samson again stopped testing the wind. This time he moved forward a few steps then slammed to a stop.
His first wild bird point! and we even managed a photo before Brian flushed the rest of the covey. We never tire of watching the lights come on for young setters and this was no exception. It’s also a perfect example of what we like to call the “Third time’s the charm” rule. Over and over we’ve seen youngsters put it together after having three bird finds on the same hunt and it always seems to follow the same pattern. They get a snootful and flush some birds – next time they slow down but get too close and bump the bird(s) – third time they point. It’s a beautiful thing to watch every time it happens and ever after that they know how to point without getting too close and bumping birds. Samson is well on his way.
All in all it was a great experience and, at least in our minds, a big leap forward for the future of the Ryman-type setter. We’re already looking forward to next year.
Woodcock are currently returning north from their wintering grounds in the southeast, presenting an ideal opportunity for those of us interested in training or exercising our setters. Working our dogs on returning woodcocks without a gun, practicing a “catch and release” form of hunting, is a great way to get exercise and extend training time of a young dog on wild birds. Woodcocks are usually found in West Virginia lowlands after February 20(weather dependent) while hunters are still pursuing grouse during the last of the season. These are males heading north from their wintering grounds and stop only briefly until reaching their desired breeding grounds. They preform a courtship display each morning and evening from the time they leave their wintering area. This is a display you must witness.
We have the responsibility to make certain we are within legal limits of the law before working our dogs after hunting season. Most states have dog training regulations and some Federal lands prohibit dog training outside the limits of hunting season. A further responsibility of ours is to limit the time we work our setters to avoid woodcock nest disturbance or abandonment. Typically, March is a safe month to work the dogs without interfering with nesting in the primary breeding range – with its southern limit being central West Virginia. I recommend that nesting peak times be avoided. Peak hatching dates for Massachusetts and Maine have been recorded as May 1-7 and May 8-15 respectively. Using an average incubation time of 21 days will give some guide as to when most nesting typically occurs at such latitudes. Note also, nest abandonment is less likely to occur in late periods of incubation.
This year, due to a very mild winter, early nesting may occur. there have been reports of early arrivals (late February) in several northern states and one report that said “woodcock have made an early arrival throughout Pennsylvania, and many never even bothered to leave this winter”.
Another benefit of working our setters on spring woodcocks – it gives us an opportunity to photograph our setters working a wild bird without distraction, and therefore perhaps better photos.
Woodcock nest disturbed and abandoned during egg laying or early incubation on April 9 in northern Vermont
As part of their Project Upland – Bird Hunting series of short films, the Ruffed Grouse Society has released “Walter Lesser – an Upland Icon.” Walt is a Founding Member of RymanSetters.com and co-author of the book, The Real Ryman Setter (2013). A retired wildlife biologist, Walt has owned and bred ryman-type setters under his Alder Run kennel name since 1958 and he lives and hunts with his dogs in the mountains of West Virginia. The RGS film provides some interesting conversations with Walt as well as nice clips of his beautiful Kade on woodcock in WV covers. Thank you Walt for allowing us to share the video here on RS.