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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

Pheasant Hunters Unlimited Association Competition

Sun, February 10, 2013

Last Thursday night I found myself reading the rules for an upcoming dog trial.  I’d been asked to judge a Pheasant Hunters Unlimited competition on Saturday morning that I quite honestly had never even seen in person.  I’d heard many stories of these events from various dog trialing and testing friends of mine over the years and now it was my turn to not only see it, but see it up close and personal.  I was just hoping not to anger any competitors!  That meant I was nervous and I don’t like being unprepared for anything.  I’m a man who likes as much order in his life as possible, which doesn’t always bode well for dog trialing.  After competing in well over a dozen different trials and/or tests I still like to think I know what is going on and have a plan.  That’s about the time that your dog decides he has a different plan in mind.

This particular competition was to take place at Lick Creek Game Preserve in Pekin, IL.  Lick Creek’s grounds are second to none, especially late in the season when many other clubs are hurting for remaining cover.  They accomplish this by planting and maintaining nearly 100 acres of native prairie grass, mostly in Big Bluestem and Indian Grass. Nothing beats natives for holding up to harsh winter temperatures, snow, and ice.  Jeff Yergler runs Lick Creek along with his boys and his good friend, Don Grandy.  They know how to put on a first class hunting experience and Jeff knows how to cook wild game.  Lick Creek also offers fishing memberships and excellent deer hunting on their nearly 1,000 acre private property.  Check them out at www.lickcreek.com.  This was also Lick Creek’s first dealing with PHU and they were ready for the challenge.
PHU events consist of single and double hunt ‘runs’ in which a hunter (or two) are given a field filled with a set number of birds.  Pointers and flushers are allowed, although in separate competition and under separate ruling.  They are then given 20 minutes and their one dog to find and harvest each of these birds with as few shells used as possible and in as little time.  A judge (or two) accompanies each hunt to record shells used, points (or flushes) and retrieves made, birds bagged, and time.  Competitors cannot run in the field and they must start in the same spot before each run.
I was judging doubles.  The morning was clear and cold with a biting southeast wind.  Actually some pretty good conditions for a pointing dog trial.  Each set of hunters and dogs I judged were different with differing hunting styles and ideas on how to hunt each field most efficiently.  Some hunters talked to their dogs a lot, some a little.  Some hunters never missed a shot—others missed more than once.  Some hunters were relaxed, others up tight.  Dogs differed somewhat as well—although all the dogs I judged moved at a good clip.  This day I judged English Pointers and German Shorthair Pointers.  It’s always a joy watching a good pointer with tons of drive and natural ability pick apart a field.  We hunted two different fields and each field was a bit different.  The second field was much thicker and the dogs had a tougher time picking out birds.  By the time it was all said and done, the hunters with the most relaxed demeanors and a darn good English Pointer won the doubles competition with a time of 4 birds in the bag in about 10 minutes. Singles had a winner with three birds in under 3 minutes!  Oh, and did I say these events are for money?  Yea—and when there are a good number of entries it can be in the thousands of dollars.  If you make it to nationals, we’re talking tens of thousands . Entry fees start around $300 or so.  Competitors are vying for money and the awards for their dogs that might give credit to their breeding lines.  I could definitely see this being addictive—gambling with your hunting dog in a way!

What a blast I (and everyone) had and I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that “Brahms and I can do that”.  Of course, every proud hunting dog owner thinks the same, but the honest truth is that many of these dogs run about twice as fast as my dog does in the field.  I suppose age and experience can potentially beat flat out speed, but most of these dogs have seen thousands of birds at a very young age.

To top it all off, Jeff prepared his famous deer hash and biscuits for all participants, judges, and bird planters alike as scores were read.  Everyone left happy and with a full belly.  I sure look forward to seeing (or competing in??) the next PHU event.

For more information about the organization and/or future events, take a look at phuhunt.com.

Bob and Kory with Lady-Doubles Winners!


Training and Testing Blood Tracking Dogs

Mon, January 21, 2013

Last year, about this time, I ran my Deutsch Drahthaar, Brahms through a Verein Deutsch Drahthaar (VDD) 20 hour blood track test.  This test involves dabbing eight ounces of blood over 1,000 meters.  These lines are prepared 20 hours in advance of running a dog.  The dabbing method typically involves using a stick or specialized wand with a small sponge on the end every other step or so.  As you can imagine, 8 ounces over 1,000 meters (over half a mile) is not a lot of blood.  Within that 1,000 meters there are typically three 90-degree turns, six one-inch cubes of lung and two simulated wound beds (small blood pools and scuffed ground).  Depending on where the blood tracks are laid the dogs may encounter hills, streams, fences, as well as the scent of deer, coyotes, raccoons and other game that can throw them off the blood trail.  The dogs are allowed to come off the trail more than 80-100 meters twice during the test.  They are then “called back” to the last place the handler called out seeing blood on the ground.  The handler can also stop the dog at any time and look for blood on the ground.  After 20 hours, blood can be difficult to see on the ground.  Did I mention that rain will not typically stop the test either?  Snow however is a show stopper, because handlers can see the blood on the snow and thus, influence the direction of the dog.  There is typically not a time allowed for this event, but scores are given for the performance and a dog that is influenced inappropriately by its handler may not pass at all, let alone get a prize I, II, or III. 

Three judges follow the handler through the track.  The dogs are usually ran with a specialized blood tracking collar that it larger in width and usually made of leather.  A 20 foot lead is then attached to the collar, which is made of a material that can easily slip through brush and other undergrowth without getting tangled.  There are, however other options for running dogs through this test.  Dogs can be taught to lead the handler to the carcass at the end of the trail by first finding the carcass, and then returning to the handler with a leather tassle in its mouth that is attached to its collar.  There is also a way to train the dog to bay once it reaches the carcass at the end of the trail.  In Illinois, it is actually illegal to run dogs without a 20 foot lead, so these other options are not allowed here.  Training a dog in the other methods is more time-consuming and not all dogs can learn to bay at the end of the trail.  Up until recent years, hunters were not even allowed to use dogs to find deer in Illinois.  Hunters in several states are still fighting to make it legal to use a dog to retrieve deer.  Hard to believe, I know.  I suppose the argument against involves confusion over running deer in order to actually harvest deer.  I suppose it’s just one of those issues that involves lawmaker education in order for them to fully understand the utility of a good blood tracking dog. 

Good blood tracking dogs are very capable of completing this task, even if it may seem impossible after reading the above. So, what happened during our test?  Well, as with most dog trials or tests, I was ridiculously nervous to start, despite nearly perfect scenting conditions.  The morning was cold, crisp, and with a perfect amount of frost thawing in the woods.  I laid Brahms down at the start and looked for sign.  After seeing a drop of blood and being told the general direction the deer ran after being “hit” we were off.  Brahms doesn’t waste any time on a blood track, so he was moving at a good enough clip that I was walking quickly.  His nose to the ground, I was dropping white cotton swabs whenever I saw blood.  Along the way, I stopped him several times, went down and up several ravines and stopped to pick up a shed antler that I promptly handed to the judges!  We also crossed a fence line and a small stream.  All told, I probably laid Brahms down 6 times to look for blood, but he was always right on the track.  I was not doing him any favors by stopping him, but even with my rookie mistakes, he nailed the track and we were at the carcass in a hurry.  It may have taken us 15 minutes, but honestly I’m not sure because I had no concept of time while we were in the moment. I was sure proud of that dog.  We had one other handler run a dog that day and both of us received a Prize I score. 

I’ve recovered several deer with Brahms over the years, but we’ve not found even more.  These are blood tracking dogs, after all, and aren’t necessarily able to find wounded animals just by their scent alone, although some breeds are capable of following specific scents.  I’ve turned down numerous chances to recover deer because the hunter didn’t do a good job of explaining how well the deer was hit (which leads me to believe that it wasn’t hit good at all), or the hunter had already trampled all over the woods (thereby effectively contaminating much of the woods with blood on his boots), or I simply didn’t have the time. 

A good blood tracking dog needs to have a good nose and a temperament that allows it to stay focused on the track.  There are many ways to train dogs to blood track.  The use of a tracking collar and lead ONLY when tracking and the use of hot dog pieces along the trail when training are a good start. 

If you’ve ever thought about training a dog to blood track there are several resources available to you.  I’d say to first start with learning about breeds.  Perhaps one of the most popular blood tracking dogs is the wirehaired dachshund believe it or not!  German lines are especially well-bred.  A good book to start with is “Tracking Dogs For Finding Wounded Deer” by John Jeanneny. You can also check out the website born-to-track.com and unitedbloodtrackers.org for more information.   


Toughest Bird to Decoy

Sun, December 16, 2012

You never know what is going to come up in the duck blind on any given day.  Some things cannot be mentioned here—others can.  Included in that category would be a question that came up this past Saturday at a private club near Spring Bay we were hunting.  Which waterfowl species is the toughest to decoy?  Mallards, pintails, specklebellies, and snows came to mind.  I’ve had personal experiences with all of them and was interested in what Heartland readers thought and perhaps some tips on getting them to finish.

I recall late season mallards in Arkansas that would only finish with a constant barrage of calling.  Stop calling and they wanted nothing to do with you.  The local guides were much better at getting them to finish and we were hunting with folks who had 20 years of duck hunting experience.  The guides, some of which were younger than us, finished these mallards better hands down.  They seemed to give those birds just what they wanted to hear.

Or mallards this year in the corn. . . .  We tried everything to no avail.  Moved decoys, moved spinners, pulled spinners, called more, called less. . . .  Perhaps the birds were a bit stale and had seen it all before.  Perhaps there was something that we should have been doing differently. 

Anyone with some experience has recalled the sights and sounds of northern pintails circling, circling, circling, and never finishing. . . . . Time and time again.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve killed our share.  But I’ve seen more not finish then finish. 

Don’t get me started on the specks and snows.  400 silosock snow decoys and still no finishing.  . . ugh.  Makes a guy want to hang it up for awhile.  Anyone know how to figure out the specks?  Let us all in on the secrets if so.  You’re well ahead of the majority of local hunters I know.  .  .