All posts by October Setters

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What’s All This About Wild Birds?

Wild birds, wild birds, wild birds, wild birds…”Our dogs handle wild birds”…”We prove our dogs on wild birds”…etc etc. We’ve all heard it before but what does it really mean? Does it really matter? Is it just an advertising tactic? In short, yes it really matters. But why and how it makes a difference is another story.

Simply hunting a dog on wild birds is not, in and of itself, the critical factor. It’s having the experience and knowledge to see and evaluate a dog’s ability to handle those birds. Making a point or two on birds he blunders into doesn’t make him a great dog. It’s the almost intangibles that make a dog great and, as a result, more likely to pass on greatness to his offspring. Only they’re not quite intangible. Is he thinking about where the birds might be? Does he evaluate cover? Learn where different species of birds live? Know how to use wind? Know when he’s following running birds? Learn what they’re going to do to try to evade him? And on and on. How many people actually think about these things while hunting? How many would recognize that these things are happening? I guess I don’t know the answer to that but I do know this. If you don’t hunt you can’t know what it takes, much less if your dog has it. And even if you do hunt you might not have noticed any of this.

Let me back up and start from the beginning, my beginning that is. My first setter was very good at finding and pointing grouse. She had plenty of faults but she was a really good grouse dog right out of the box. I was clueless and had no idea what set her apart so I decided I should try to learn what I could from her while I had the chance. The very next hunt I took her on provided an Ahah! moment for me. I was walking a logging trail as she ran ahead of me on the road. I watched her swivel her head as she ran, looking side to side at the cover on both sides of the road. She locked onto a patch of dogwoods, veered off the road, and swung around the downwind side of the birdy looking cover, slowing down to check for scent as she passed by. The exact place I thought might produce a grouse. I remember stopping dead in my tracks, mouth agape, and thinking “Holy $&*?, she’s looking at the cover!” I was amazed. Prior to this I guess I had assumed dogs just ran around searching randomly for scent. In hindsight it seems kind of dumb to not have realized she learned which types of cover grouse were likely to be found in. Of course she did and that was part of what made her so good at pointing them.

Hunting Chukar in Idaho
Hunting Chukar in Idaho

That observation led to 25 years of studying dogs’ performance and evaluating the way they search for and locate birds. What they learn and when they learn it. There have been plenty more of those Ahah! moments along the way. I remember taking Comet out for Huns when has was about 1 1/2 years old. Birds were sparse that year and he’d never seen a Hun but he hunted like an experienced dog, hitting the places I expected to find them. He only had a couple hunts under his belt with no contacts but he knew where to find them? How?

Fast forward to 2015. Iris is nine months old and has never seen a bird in the three hunts I’ve taken her on. Chukars and Huns were difficult to impossible to find that year but I’ve watched her slow to investigate likely locations over and over again. On her fourth hunt she’s swinging downwind of each likely location, checking for scent as she passes by. She was checking roost locations in brushy draws, feeding areas on steep ridges, loafing areas around rock outcroppings, etc. She was an experienced dog but with no bird contacts. How? By then I knew how and when she swung over to check out a feeding area, caught scent, then turned and worked forty yards to where she pointed a pair of Huns you’d think she’d done it many times. This is a dog that showed me she had the intelligence to figure out where to find a bird she’d never seen before. And she did so at only nine months of age. Made her first retrieve on one of those Huns too. Yes it takes birds to make a bird dog but this girl didn’t even need to find them to figure them out. She showed me more on a few hunts with zero bird contacts than you could ever learn about her with planted birds.

Those are the kinds of things that set the great dogs apart from the rest of the pack and you can’t begin to understand them unless you’ve hunted those birds where they live. If you aren’t familiar with the birds and their habits yourself, how can you recognize when, or how, your dog figures them out? You can’t.

So when I say my dogs handle wild birds this is what I mean. Not that a dog made a point or saw a few birds, they really know how to handle them. Have learned where they live and how to locate and point them. Follow/relocate if they run off. Anticipate where they will run. Then find and point them. It’s a beautiful thing…

Cliff Weisse

2017 Gathering and Hunt

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.

Mark Alteman walking in on double point by Autumn and Briar

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.

Cliff and Lisa

2016 Grouse and Woodcock Hunt

We are recently home from our annual Wisconsin Grouse and Woodcock hunt.

Woodcock Moon? Stopped for the night on the way in North Dakota.
Woodcock Moon? Stopped for the night on the way in North Dakota.

Grouse numbers were still spotty in the region we hunt, but up a little from last year and maybe a bit more consistent. Not so many covers where you didn’t see any or maybe only saw a couple, and we had some very good hunts once we figured out which areas were better. Woodcock were somewhat scarce compared to what we’re used to. We mainly targeted grouse though, so didn’t spend a lot of time in the  young regrowth and alders that are best for Woodcock.

river-on-grouse
River has 2 grouse, but they went out from behind- both of them on the wrong side of the road! No shots fired.

This year we are having some of the “Terrible Twos” with the younger dogs. Some good performances, but also some hunts with teenagers who are a little too full of themselves. One minute it’s a nice point on a grouse, the next it’s too much excitement and a bumped bird. It’s typical for a dog that was impressing everyone at 8 months with amazing abilities to find and point birds to turn into something of a handful at two years of age. You can either wait it out, knowing that maturity will come, or you can give in and work more on training. They are showing good talent though, and we’re happy with how they are progressing.

blaze-in-camp
Blaze in camp- one of the “Terrible Twos”.

As usual we were very bad about taking photos of hunts, but did manage to take the camera out a little near the end of the trip. Hard to leave the gun behind!

lisa-and-river
Lisa and River

We had a funny, pseudo scary thing happen on the last hunt with River, at least it was scary for River. He crossed a brook coming back to us in kind of a deep spot that had a steep bank below a hill we were on. He couldn’t get up the bank and panicked. All River had to do to get out of it was turn upstream and walk out in shallow water a couple feet away, but he wanted to come straight to us. Took one of us walking down there for him to figure it out. Wish we had a video of that, but we were too busy laughing at the big, supposedly macho boy crying like a baby. BIG relief when he saw the way out.

swamp-grouse
Iris with a grouse she retrieved out of a swamp.Iris is a little less afflicted with the Terrible Twos than some of the others- she went through it more last year.

Last hunt of the trip was with Doc in a cover that produced both Grouse and Woodcock a few days earlier.  This time it was all Woodcock except for one wild flush from a Grouse, and we had some fun with videos.

doc-point
Pointing a Woodcock

It is not unusual for dogs to perform differently on Woodcock than they do on other birds. Pointing or working with a lower head, or hunting more slowly are common. With Doc it’s a lower tail on point, and sometimes a crouching point.

Doc is an example of just waiting out the teenage problems. He had some obedience training, but like most of our dogs that’s about it. His performance developed naturally. In this video Lisa walks in to the front of Doc’s point, and when no bird goes out she moves ahead in case it’s a Grouse. Doc decides to relocate, and re-establishes point closer to the bird. A dog that can re-establish without losing control or bumping the bird is especially valuable on running birds. In this case, with an easy bird like a tight sitting Woodcock, it’s just Doc showing Lisa she’s going the wrong way:-) Of course for the camera it’s a miss. Good excuse though- was a hard spot to get in and flush the bird.

This time a hit!

Doc eventually did retrieve the bird- he’s a little slow to pick up a Woodcock sometimes, but not before the camera battery died. Figures. We finally got a bird falling over a point in a video- something else was bound to go wrong. Maybe next time we’ll get the whole thing.

pike
No Muskies to fill in on rainy days this year, but this pike decided to take the fly.

All in all a great trip that we wish could last a lot longer. Looking forward to Chukars next, and then Kansas Bobwhites.

Preseason Training at October Setters

Getting dogs into wild birds is important to their development so we make an effort to show them as many as possible, whether the season is opened or not.  This morning we had a chance to get out and show some Sage Grouse to Iris prior to the actual season opener.  Iris2 P1050758-e
She handled great and saw several coveys. It was her first exposure to these birds and it was fun seeing her figure it out. After seeing some flush and getting familiar with their scent she knew what she was looking for and slowed when she smelled where birds had flushed. Grouse FlushingLater on she found a single that flushed right in front of her. The change in her attitude was immediate and dramatic; she tore it up for the rest of the morning, searching with purpose and slowing to check scent several times.  P1050774-e

Iris 1She was obviously trying to locate and point so I can’t wait to get her out and give her another chance.

For added excitement we flushed a few birds near a patch of Aspens so I took Iris over to look for stragglers.P1050770-eRight after this shot was taken I heard a funny sounding squeeky call I didn’t immediately figure out.  As I realized it sounded like a calf Elk call I heard hooves stomping the ground way too close for comfort.  Not running away, just stomping the ground, like a cow protecting her calf.  Needless to say I got Iris out of there and beat a hasty retreat.

It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a September morning in Idaho.

Cliff