A Ruffie for Doc

Doc makes sure I don’t forget him.

I stopped hunting grouse in Inman Creek a few years ago because they drove sheep through the area, and that chased out all the birds. That didn’t seem to be the case a couple of weeks ago when Doc found a number of Ruffed Grouse, so I took him back for another try.

Wild strawberries

The road above the trail head seems to be used mostly by 4-wheelers and hunters these days, and one had already claimed the spot I wanted to hunt. I drove up to another location and we hadn’t hunted for long before I heard a bell clanging somewhere on the hillside and getting louder.

We hunted inside the tree line

A band of sheep were being driven towards us, so I turned around and hightailed it back to the truck. The last thing I wanted was for a bunch of sheep dogs to consider Doc a threat and go after him.

Doc on point

I drove to another location where I’d been told there were Blue Grouse and hunted a canyon where the trees opened onto a creek and sage covered hillsides. By now, the grouse would have gotten their morning water and returned to cover, so we hunted our way up a draw that led from the creek into the trees.

Doc cools off in a small beaver pond

Doc went on a nice point, and I moved in, flushing a pair of Ruffies. Unlike my first bird hunt of the year, my aim was on and I dropped a bird at the foot of a pine tree. Doc did a nice job of finding and retrieving it, although we could still brush up on his retrieving.

We continued on and Doc went birdy. I saw the grouse running through the brush before flushing but was unable to take a shot. Not long after that, Doc went birdy and began working the brush, then went on a nice point. I was unable to flush a bird, so I gave him the “track” command and moved into a small clearing, and waited for him to track the grouse.

Doc with his Ruffed Grouse

Unfortunately, the grouse wasn’t cooperating and flushed through the trees, not allowing me to get a shot. We searched for it, but it must have flown up into one of the pine trees. We continued hunting down the canyon before turning around and hunting our way back to the truck. Doc did a great job and I was hitting my shots, but more importantly, I found a new place to hunt.

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Doc hunts up grouse

After grooming the burrs out of Elettra from her morning hunt, I loaded Doc in the truck and headed for Inman Creek. My plan was to try and catch the grouse during their afternoon watering.

Doc working the brush

I haven’t been to Inman Creek for a few years, primarily due to sheep being driven through the area which chases the birds out. While the road to the trail-head is in great shape, it doesn’t look like the road on up from the trail-head has been maintained and now high-profile vehicles are recommended, trailers are not.The trail along which I like to hunt appears to have seen little use, which was good.

Doc cooling off

In my haste to go hunting, I had forgotten the packs for Doc’s cooling vest, so we stayed near the creek where he could cool off and hydrate. We hadn’t gone very far when Doc hit a scent and began working the brush. I readied myself and waited for him to go on point when two grouse flushed, then a third one. I got a shot on the third bird but missed.

Doc hunting through the trees

We hunted up the trail for a mile or so, diverting up the small streams as we went, without finding anything. I would have continued but it was getting late, so we turned around.

Doc on point where 7 grouse would flush.

We were almost back to the truck, close to where the three grouse flushed, when Doc went on point. I started working into the brush when three grouse flushed. I took a shot and missed. While I was reloading my single-shot 16 ga. two more grouse flushed, then two more after that. I got another shot and once again missed – guess I should have spent some time shooting trap during the summer.

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Elettra inaugurates 2019 hunting season

Wild turkeys

Elettra got the nod for the first hunt of the 2019 season, and we spent the morning hunting ruffed grouse in Wolverine Canyon.

A nice little waterfall

Another hunter had already claimed the spot I wanted to hunt Friday morning, so I drove back down the canyon to another spot that looked promising. My plan was to the climb up out of the canyon to where it would begin leveling off.

The grass was as slick as ice

The brush and steep hillside made it almost impassible, so I eventually gave up and returned to the truck. The other hunter had left by the time I drove back up the canyon – he hadn’t stayed long enough to thoroughly hunt the area, I hadn’t heard any shots, and it didn’t look like he had a dog, so I decided to hunt it.

Elettra hunting

After working our way up to an abandoned road where I usually find grouse, Elettra went on point. I began working my way around her when she repositioned herself and stood on the edge of the road watching a ruffed grouse sneaking through the brush below.

The leaves are already changing color and falling

I tried working the bird into a position where I could flush it and get a shot, but it wasn’t cooperating, and we finally lost it. Continuing up the road short distance, a grouse flushed wild – perhaps the same grouse. In any case, I was not able to take a shot.

Elettra watching the grouse sneak through the brush

We continued up the road for a distance and Elettra went on a solid point. I began working into the brush when a grouse flushed and only flew a few feet. We started down the steep hillside and Elettra was working the scent when it flushed from the direction we had come, and again I was unable to get off a shot.

Elettra on point

Even though I had opportunities and came away empty handed, I was happy with the way Elettra hunted. Although I sprayed her down with Show Sheen, it still took a good hour to brush out the burrs and bathe her.

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Weekend at Fall Creek

Our camp

We took our Nucamp teardrop trailer to Fall Creek for the weekend and this time, brought along Doc and Elvis.

Elvis and Doc cool off

It was a relaxing weekend of lounging around, fishing, and taking the guys for walks. We did have a young bull moose prowling the campgrounds which a few campers saw, however our wildlife viewing was limited to Ospreys and elk tracks

Chicken and grilled corn on the cob

 

Saturday afternoon was hot, so we loaded Doc and Elvis up and drove to Palisades Reservoir, stopping for ice cream cones on the way back. Let me recommend Grizzly Tracks – huckleberry ice cream with chunks of chocolate cake.

Taking Doc and Elvis for a walk

The fishing report stated that people were doing well on Caddis and Nymphs, so I tied a Nymph Floater and gave it a try. I didn’t do any better with it than I had using a wabler or fly-and-bubble. Another fly fisherman told me that he was having a lot of success using an Adams dry fly, but it was too late to hike back to the camp, tie a fly, and return.

The falls at Fall Creek

After breakfast Sunday, we broke camp and returned home. It was a good thing we returned early, because by afternoon the winds picked up to 35-45 mph.

The boys slept in crates

That would be our last camping trip for the year, but Fall Creek is on the short list of places to return. Hunting season opens this weekend so that now takes priority.

Swan Valley

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The Looking Glass drill illustrated

After working with Elettra last Friday morning, I took Doc and Elvis out for some training. Actually, Elvis who has never enjoyed training, was content to sniff and lay around watching Doc train.

Using a bumper with an attached wing, I ran Doc through the Looking Glass drill both upwind and downwind. As you see, Doc first goes to the poison birds – bumpers – before finding the mark and improves with each iteration of the drill.

For the last iteration, I reduced the distance between the rows of poison birds by half, making Doc run a narrower alley to the mark.

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Retrieving with Elettra

Unfortunately, most people (and trainers) relate force fetching with inducing pain. I oppose that philosophy – it’s one that I never have, nor ever plan on using. I want dogs “wanting” to retrieve rather than “having” to retrieve, and training must be fun for them. This builds their trust, confidence, and reliability.

Elettra checking out an adjacent field

Years ago, a trainer instructed that a versatile dog must be solid on point before introducing retrieving, and that’s the methodology I’ve followed. I hadn’t focused on retrieving back when I was getting Elettra ready for her AKC hunt tests, so until I can get her on some birds, it’s Retrieving 101 – painless force fetch.

Elettra holding a bird wing during our retrieving session

We held our first session Friday morning and using the same method that vets use to open a dog’s mouth, I worked my thumb and finger between her teeth to open her mouth, then inserted a bird wing. I then held her chin up to prevent her from spitting it out.

Elettra holding the bird wing while checking out the scenery

Once Elettra voluntarily held the duck wing, I told her to “drop it” and gave her a treat. We repeated this a few times, then I gave her the wing and walked away. She followed alongside carrying the wing, until I recalled her and took the wing from her – a mini retrieve.

After a ten-minute break to allow her a chance to run and sniff, we returned to force fetching. By the time we ended this session, I was jogging with Elettra at my side, carrying the wing.

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Through the Looking Glass and what Doc found there

We returned to the baseball drill Friday morning and while Doc did very well with his left and right casts, he had a lot of trouble with back casts and taking a line to the bumper. I quickly gave up on baseball and focused on Doc taking a straight line to the bumper.

Doc waits to be cast during the baseball drill

First, I made two piles of bumpers, the second pile about 15 yards behind the first. I sent Doc after them until he had retrieved both piles, just to get his accustomed to taking a line.

Doc retrieving a bumper

After that we did the Looking Glass drill, a drill we haven’t ran since 2016.

The two piles of bumpers aren’t that visible. Doc tries to be efficient by retrieving two bumpers at the same time.

The Looking Glass drill was developed by Mike Gould a number of years ago and involves sending the dog between two rows of bumpers, or poison birds, in order to retrieve the mark.

The Looking Glass drill configuration

I used 8 bumpers as poison birds, placed the bumpers about 5 yards apart and about 10 yards between the rows, using Scott Linden’s Real Bird Bumper (R) as the mark which was about 5 yards beyond the last two poison birds.

Doc is lined up on the mark during the Looking Glass drill.

As I knew Doc would do, he went for the poison birds. I’d tell him “no”, reset the bumper, and send him again. We did this a few times until he took his cast all the way to the mark, and then coming back (the looking glass part of the drill) dropped the mark and picked up a poison bird. He did this a couple of times and I’d tell him “no”, replace the bumpers and send him out again.

The last two iterations of the Looking Glass drill, I back cast Doc to the mark which he ran perfectly.

After his first successful retrieve through the looking glass, he had it down pat and made perfect retrieves from then on. After our last iteration, I sent him out to retrieve each of the poison birds.

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