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Meet Ida

Ida and Wing

I’ve always found the haphazard naming of dogs intriguing. I’ve wondered if a puppy grows into the name, filling the shape of some predetermined vessel? I like original names, probably because I have irrational hopes for my bird dogs to be uniquely exceptional. But then names different for different’s sake grind on me. People names often give me chuckle; I like a good blue collar Sam or Maggie, but find it funny when a dog and person share the same space and name. I say this having a Wyatt dog in a time when Wyatt boys seem to be making a resurgence.

A few puppies ago I decided there must be a better way to name a dog, a set of rules that would prevent the naming pitfalls that I’ve conjured: original but not too original, not based on puppy appearance destined to change over time, not so long as to create a tongue-twister or too short to be harsh on ears. The dog’s name is something that I’ll say and hear tens of thousands of times over the next decade.

It became apparent this season that I needed to start working on a new name. Time is catching my Wyatt dog. If you followed our adventures over the last season you may have seen references to his health, though I’m finding it hard to acknowledge directly. But having to carry a 75-pound hunting partner from the field on multiple occasions makes it tough to ignore. He’s still got some birds left in him which is exactly why now is the time to find his new apprentice. Because we’re not breeders, there’s no chance for our dogs’ traits to be passed down genetically. The best we can do is hope skill and knowledge from thousands of days afield can transfer from old to young.

We now name puppies for their place of origin. That can be anything from a street near their kennel, to a lake or river, or even a historic event that happened in the area. This naming convention negated the irrational stress I felt of selecting arbitrary call signs lacking significance.

Which brings us to Ida.

After making the decision to expand our pack and finding a breeding program that fit our needs, I began researching the area: looking at maps, mountains, historical references, famous residents.

The German origin of the name Ida is from the word id, meaning “labor” or “work.” Also rooted in Norse mythology Iðunn (Idun) is the goddess of youth. Apparently Ida is a popular girls’ name in Nordic countries today, but waned in the U.S. at the turn of the century. It’s a name that has history and I like that. And I’ll hope for lots of work and eternal youth from this bird dog. But of course this new edition hails from the great state of Idaho.

Her education will begin as we make our way back across the country. We’ll be hiking and camping in National Forests and exploring wild places. Hopefully she’ll be soaking up lessons from Wyatt, who I’m sure is just thrilled at the prospect of unrelenting youthful torment.


Socialization of puppies is key to their future intelligence and success. For the next 30 days Ultimate Upland will donate $1 to Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership for every individual Ida meets – people and dogs. Follow our journey as we share the progress, photos and videos of these introductions on our social feeds using the hashtags #meetida and #publiclandpup

Check out all of Ida’s latest friends on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Picking THE Puppy, or are we just kidding ourselves

Yellow Lab in Pool

Last time I chose a puppy I was fresh out of school, only a dim view of the years ahead and a bank account teetering on empty. At the time it seemed like a great idea, introduce a young dog into chaos and hope for the best.

I knew little about training, obedience, nutrition, genetics, breeding programs……… it’s pretty difficult to recall anything I actually did know. But I knew I wanted a puppy and was able to find a litter within a couple hour’s drive. Off I went with a friend to pick the biggest pup in the bunch.

We shuffled into the breeder’s basement where he released the hounds. Looking back, he had a decent breeding program but these weren’t hunting labs by any standard. No matter, that became a lost notion once those fur balls came rambling across that cement floor.

After tussling and eyeing this group for 15 minutes, my buddy and I narrowed the selection to two of the bigger puppies. Then we watched to see which one showed the least amount of fear and took the least guff from litter mates. That was the entire science behind the pick.

I handed over my last dollars and walked out the door with a male yellow lab pup. After wrestling to exhaustion he curled up in the passenger-side floor and slept for the return trip. That may have been the final peaceful moment I had for the next decade. Of course we picked the alpha male in the litter and I was woefully unprepared for what that meant or how to deal with it.

It was trial by toothy destruction. For the next six years this lab grew, ate the bulk of my furniture, destroyed a couple apartments, challenged any and all authority, and proved to have no interest in hunting. To be fair, he also was a great companion, great with kids, protective of the properties he destroyed and people he knew. And he was one helluva a swimmer and retriever — if only I had the skill set to channel that back then.

None of those challenges were that dog’s fault. That lays squarely on the limited knowledge and resources of the idiot who raised him.

And that was the last puppy I picked.

The opportunity for new bird dogs happens fairly infrequently for us, once or twice every six years. I’d guess that to be pretty standard for most bird hunters without large kennels, breeding programs or infinite space for running and training.

I’ve not had a say in the selection of my last three dogs. All choice has been stripped away for one reason or the other. Finn, the shorthair, was the only female available in the litter.

Wyatt, the lab, had a physical defect and was the last, unchosen puppy in the litter. All of his siblings had already headed to their new homes when we made the decision. We had no intention of breeding him so the fit seemed too good. And the underdog story was too palpable.

Rio, the setter, was again the only available female in the litter. No choice.

There seems a hefty portion of ego involved in picking a puppy from a bird dog litter. One must believe in an ability to predict the future of a puppy’s skill in the field based on their actions when just a few weeks old. That’s a tall order. Just think of going to a daycare, looking at a classroom of toddlers and being able to pick the one who will become the best outdoorsman when they turn 35. Good luck.

But if you have a toddler, take them to the woods with you while they are young. Tell them stories about the mysteries of wild places and wild birds. Teach them to shoot. Take them hunting when they are teens. Let them breathe unfiltered air and feel the rush of flushing birds. There’s a good chance they’ll end up more proficient in the outdoors than many of their peers.

That’s one thing we do know about dogs based on work by psychologist Donald Hebb in the 40’s and expanded by researchers; puppies exposed to stimulating environments change their brain physiology. It can grow larger and develop new neural connections. These brain changes can spark faster learning, better problem solving and less fear in adulthood.

And that’s how I’ve made bird dogs. Take them to the field, expose them to new places and new people. Let them fail. Watch as they adapt and learn to hunt alongside us.

We’ve been really fortunate to pick good breeders, pick good genetics, pick hunting lines…..all things that can certainly hedge bets on aspiring bird dogs. But not having the pick of the litter and then molding the puppy cast upon us by fate has become somewhat defining. It’s made selection seem meaningless.

Until tomorrow. Tomorrow I pick our next bird dog. Let’s hope I can get out of my own way and let providence prevail once again.

Pavlov Didn’t Have Bird Dogs

I’m forced to sneak about my own property like a burglar, held captive by bird dogs trying to secure their place in the truck. Regardless whether the destination is a wild place or the tame grocery, they are not willing to wager their spot.

A few short weeks ago I could announce my exit to the entire house with a slight possibility of one lazy eyelid being raised in acknowledgement. Not now.

I can’t pickup the keys with the slightest jingle; I can’t put on a pair of shoes once worn afield; and I sure as hell can’t put hands on a shotgun without there being a full-blown dog riot.

I have little doubt that there are other signals, the subtlety lost on those not tuned to the hunting calendars. But these two bird dogs are tuned. They have come through months of off-season depression and lethargy interrupted only by bowls of kibble or the occasional visitor bearing new scents. The first cool evenings of late summer and a pause in the drone of air conditioners ushers in an end to hunting-hibernation.

Physiologist Ivan Pavlov believed he had dogs figured out, conditioned reflexes with salivating jowls and running for the dinner bell. But I’ve begun to wonder whether these bird dogs are the ones ringing bells.

I’m now conditioned to tiptoe on wooden floors and sneak down back stairs to reach exits without arousing suspicion. It’s getting more and more difficult to make it to the garage unmolested and slobber free.

I hope I’ve not become the Pavlovian subject of some genius bird dog experiments.

One thing is certain: Our attitudes have changed. Who leads that shift or identifying the catalyst is academic and likely unimportant. I think these bird dogs are smarter than Pavlov’s salivators. Hell, they might be smarter than Pavlov. They are convinced they can prove it if I’d just let them in the damn truck.

Pavlov Bird Dog

The Lab Knows

Wyatt and Pheasant

Wyatt knows he’s black. He also knows this is the color of night. He’s been able to surmise that humans have terrible night vision. During daylight hours when we take breaks from hunting, he plots. He knows most mischief will not fly in the light of day. Raiding other camps, gnawing a nearby rotting deer carcass, tapping into a hidden trash cache — all plans reserved for the cover of darkness. He’ll execute these plans silently standing right beside you within 10 yards. And he will ignore all calls unless you are lucky enough to shine a flashlight on him, which miraculously restores his ability to hear. Schemer.

I prefer a smart dog.

It’s a requirement for the way I like to hunt. No whistles. No yelling. No beeping collars or hawk calls. I want to hear the wind, the exhale of running dogs, the flush of birds and percussion of burnt powder. My bird dogs get to figure it out. They learn, adapt, become a part of this mongrel team of dog and human working toward a shared goal of bringing feathers to hand. I don’t want the dogs looking to me for direction. I want them fulfilling their purpose, breaking through linear thought to solve equations of wild birds.

Could we kill more birds if I reigned in free-running, free-thinking dogs — maybe. But then I’d sacrifice what I find most amazing; the front row seat to expansion of their consciousness. The times when bird dogs amaze themselves.

But smart dogs are trouble. And this black lab is living proof. Give him leash and he will take it. All.

Wyatt is not an alpha, not untrainable. But he is conniving. He could be broken of such habits, but always in the back of my mind there would be the question: would it break his will to become more, do more. So I don’t discourage it. It’s become an ongoing game of outsmart that we play. And he knows this too.

He has figured out what a camera is. He knows if the camera comes out of my vest there’s likely something of interest that he can put to chase. His head comes up on a swivel watching for the direction the lens will be pointed thereby revealing the coordinates to charge. I even test him sometimes when he’s really worn down, I’ll grab the camera just to see if he’s paying attention or exactly how tired he is.

This lab has grown accustomed to hunting in mixed company with pointing breeds. In general he knows that they have better noses. He realizes that by and large they are faster. But he also knows they do not ground track the way he does, especially on running birds. In open country while he hunts on his own, he always keeps one eye on the high-head, long-running canines. When they freeze he takes it as a cue to break into double time for their point. He is using pointers as a tool.

I noticed his latest evolution earlier this season. In the heavy cover of the Northwoods, seeing pointing dogs at any distance is nearly impossible. Wyatt now listens to hunters who use the command: “Whoa.” He even recognizes alternate instructions such as “go easy,” often used by friends coaching Shorthairs on moving quarry. This alerts him that the other dog might “like” his flushing assist. (Don’t worry pointer purists, I call him off birds unless a flush is wanted).

I guess I’m not shaping my hunting partners to someone else’s vision of perfection. We just hunt. Quarter-mile retrieves in the thickest of cover, out of sight, out of hearing on winged wild running birds – perfection happens, unscripted. And my only role is admiration.

I recently purchased a glowing light to clip to Wyatt’s collar at night in camp. I know he’s plotting how to disable it and return to the subterfuge of darkness.

A Labs First Day Afield

Lincoln the Lab“No, I don’t think you understand, he has NO prior hunting experience…only obedience training.” I wrote to Brian, my new upland hunting buddy. The early morning email asking for my young lab and me to attend an upland hunt had caught me by surprise, putting a nice end to a long workweek.

“Kali, it doesn’t matter. This is a training day. Lincoln is coming.”

I smiled to myself and shook my head. My one-year-old, 107-pound silver Labrador, Lincoln, was about to get his first taste of upland hunting…with no experience afield…at all. “This is going to be embarrassing.” I thought to myself.

Meeting Brian by chance at the SHOT Show in January kicked off a friendship with a fellow Ohio-an, and lover of upland hunting. Founder of ultimateupland.com, Brian was a rare acquaintance to meet, but I knew a good one. I had a lot to learn, and he was my best bet.

Passing on the family tradition, my love for bird hunting came early as my Grandpa had no less than 15 English setters at a time, training them for field trials as I grew up. However, high school sports took up most of my time, leaving me no time to learn the art of training a bird dog before my Grandpa passed during my college years.

Lincoln, the young pup who loved nothing more than squeaky toys, playing fetch, and to jump in any water in site, had the obedience training to be a great hunting dog. I just didn’t know where to start. Brian insisted that a hunt was the best place. I wasn’t so sure.

We planned a late March hunt. It was a cold, dreary day, and rain was in the forecast. Warm coffee, and a greasy burger were paramount before we hit the field. Brian and I would be hunting with Brian’s long time friends, Steve and Brian. The fear of ruining these guys’ hunt loomed over my head. I’m going to be THAT girl and never be invited again.

Vests donned, shotguns loaded and dogs done greeting each other, we hit the high grass. Lincoln, thinking he was on the ultimate field trip of his young, 4-legged life, attempted to keep up with Rio, Brian’s Llewellin setter, and Charlie, Steve’s German Shorthair Pointer—both professional upland hunters.

Although athletically built and muscular, Lincoln was no match for keeping up with the wiry bird dogs, and soon stuck close to me, following closely through the thick grass. Each downed bird had Lincoln running frantically behind Charlie, attempting to win the foot race to get to whatever miracle “ball” had fallen from the sky first.

Even when he did beat Charlie (which was rare) his discovery of the feathered covered “ball” only had him in utter confusion. My attempts to show him a rooster I held in my hands to spark his interest only ended in a few sniffs, and turn of the head. My hopes of my dog being an ultimate upland hunter were diminishing before the lunch hour.

The Ohio weather forecast turned out to be off—nothing new—and the sun was peaking through the blue skies as we hit the field after an afternoon break. Then, as if the sun had awakened his hunting senses, things started turning for Lincoln.

A rooster flushed 10 yards in front of us, giving me clear a view to take him down. Watching the action take place, Lincoln saw the bird fall in a cleared path ahead of us and sprung into action. Thinking he would turn away from the bird once he realized it wasn’t a ball, I lowered my head to reload, only to hear Lincoln’s anxious barks. I looked up to see him attempting to put the bird in his mouth!

A few flops of the wings from the bird had Lincoln jump back in surprise, sparking an ongoing pouncing battle and angry barks that this “ball” wasn’t allowing him to pick it up.

Not wanting to waste this breakthrough, Brian grabbed a previously shot bird from his vest and focused Lincoln’s attention, throwing the bird and calling anxiously for him to “fetch it up.”

It was like a light bulb had turned on, and Lincoln grabbed the bird from the grass. The foreign texture of feathers only fazed him for a moment before the taste of bird had him growling in excitement. A command of “fetch it up” from my mouth is all he needed to bring the bird to his proud “mom.”

Lincoln’s demeanor changed after that, and he wanted more. He followed closely to Brian, attempting to get at the birds he held in his vest. Ears perked, tail up, Lincoln was beginning to understand the command “hunt em’ up” and what would follow if he did just that.

Thinking we had made a huge breakthrough for the day, my fear of Lincoln not being interested in hunting slowly began to fade as I watched his nose hit the ground in search of birds.

And then, it all came together in a flash. Nose in the grass, I could see Lincoln moving left to right, hot on the trail of something. When, like clockwork, Brian yelled “bird, bird, get em’ Lincoln!” and I saw my novice flusher leap in the air in an attempt to grab a bird flying out of the tall grass. His first flush!

But he didn’t stop there! Muscles flared, eyes on the prize, Lincoln took off after the downed bird that made it 25 yards before falling. Screams of excitement from all four of us pushed the young hunter on. This time, he won the foot race to the bird, grabbing it in his jaws like he had been doing it all along, and jogged proudly back to us.

My dog, who had never hunted before, had just flushed AND retrieved a bird at 25 yards on his first trip afield. I was ecstatic to say the least. Tears of joy and pride filled my eyes, and I tried not to let my voice crack as I cheered him on as he brought us his first bird. Tail wagging and ears perked, Lincoln looked at us as if to say “let’s do that again” as we all cheered in excitement at the young dogs accomplishment.

But he didn’t stop there; Lincoln went on to flush three more birds that afternoon, retrieving all but one (Charlie winning that race).

Proud is an understatement for how I felt watching things come together for Lincoln. As we hunted until the sun ducked behind the horizon—Lincoln, Rio and Charlie laid down with exhaustion as we cleaned our birds from the day.

I looked at my dog lying next to the tailgate. He was covered in mud, his fur matted, and a small sliver of blood could be seen on his snout from a scrape acquired earlier in the day. We made eye contact and I laughed, causing the ever-famous Lincoln head tilt. “I have myself a bird hunter.” I thought.


Kali And Lincoln

Lincoln's First Bird

SHOT Show 2013 – BugBand

Many of you followed along as I hunted the North Woods with Rio the young Jornada llewellin on her first grouse hunt this fall. Prior to that trip I had always thought that Frontline was bullet proof protection from ticks. But even though I had just applied a new dose, after every walk in the woods we’d return to vehicle and I would notice 15-20 deer ticks all migrating towards Rio’s head.

 

We obviously needed something to apply from tip to tail, but that also wouldn’t be harmful if ingested since dogs will obviously lick. None of the local shops in the rural area had any suggestions. They obviously hadn’t heard of BugBand who have a full line of natural products derived from geranium oil.

I’m excited to put these to the test while grouse hunting. Though there are all sorts of guns and gadgets at SHOT, this is truly one of my big finds. Anything that helps protect my hunting dogs from evil disease-ridden ticks is a good thing.

Keeping Weight on Your Bird Dog

When we’re not in the field, my dogs get fed premium dog food twice a day. Normally I don’t even need a clock in the house because they start getting antsy when meal times near. I think this is why it’s so confounding that when we go hunting their interest in food is trumped by their will to hunt. The dedication to birds is admirable. But we hunt hard and often for extended periods of time, so if the dogs don’t eat it impacts their energy level.

Last season when we embarked on our epic 90-day bird hunt across seven states Wyatt was a two-year-old 68 pound lab. When we rolled back into town at the conclusion of the trip he weighed 55 pounds. The weight loss was after free feeding him as much as he would consume and trying all kinds of foods and treats to increase his calorie intake. I tried anything and everything to stimulate his appetite yet he still managed to drop 20% of his body weight during the hunt.

I started doing research in the off-season to figure out how I could better serve the nutrition needs of the dogs when we are afield. There are opinions everywhere with varied and opposing suggestions. Instead of relying on other’s speculation I elected to take a common sense approach based on my own experience.

When we began the hunt this season in Nevada, I tried experimenting with feeding Wyatt at different times of day.  Normal off-season feeding times are once at first light and once around 6 PM.  The issue with feeding at first light when hunting is that he’s so charged up to get in the field that he has very little interest in eating.  And the normal evening feeding time often comes right on the heels of sunset and just as we’re wrapping up hunting. By then Wyatt is so warped from exercising all day that hunger again takes a backseat.

What I found with trying different schedules is that if I made the first hunt of the day somewhat brief, all that nervous energy would be gone and Wyatt would be more willing to eat a full meal at mid-morning. And at the conclusion of the day, if I allowed him to rest and wind down first and move back his feeding time, again he was more likely to eat.

But even with an improved schedule, getting him to consume enough food to replace the calories used was difficult. In the off-season his diet consists of about four cups per day, and he maintains a healthy weight. When hunting he needs about double that. The average premium dog food contains around 400 calories per cup. It’s tough enough to get him to eat four cups per day while hunting, but impossible to make him eat the eight cups and 3,000+ calories per day that I estimate he’s using while working.  Metabolic rate equations are all over the internet which can help you determine the metabolic energy rate of your dog, but this site has a nifty calculator and all you need to know is the dog’s weight and it does the rest of the work for you.

Knowing that I can only get Wyatt to consume a maximum of six cups per day while hunting means our normal dog food will only replace 2,400 calories. Therefore I knew I needed an alternative to “normal” food so I began researching high calorie dietary supplements.  That’s how I came across Blackwood ExPro; It’s a super premium food made with quality ingredients that has 545 calories per cup which is 36% more than our everyday food. Supplementing with ExPro allows me to replace more of the calories that Wyatt was using without doubling the amount he had to eat. And because we mix it with his normal daily food it minimizes the risk of upsetting his digestive system.

This year after returning from the largest part of our upland season I took Wyatt to the vet to update some vaccines. He weighed in at 64 pounds. Our new feeding system obviously works. Now we’ve instituted the new schedule for Rio as well with great success, though she’s a younger dog and extremely active so her resting metabolic rate is fairly high. I’ve adjusted quantities to account for her estimated calorie use too.

I encourage you to experiment with feeding time and foods to find the equation that works best for your dogs. Once you know how many calories they use per day you can work backwards to try and get the best consumption that matches that output. Better energy levels will surely improve the dog’s performance over the course of the season and should improve your hunting success as well.

You can order Blackwood ExPro online if you’d like to benefit from the results we’ve found over the course of the season.

The Ancient Beginnings of the Bird Dog?

It truly is amazing what modern science can deduce from fossils. For those of you who grew up as dino fans as I did, I had to share this interesting article and accompanying rendering of bird hunting raptors. They may be a bit hard to train, but apparently shotgun would not be required either.

Checkout the writeup by Charles Choi. 

Gut contents of the dinosaur Sinocalliopteryx gigas suggest the predator chowed on cat-size feathered dinosaurs

Gut contents of the dinosaur Sinocalliopteryx gigas suggest the predator chowed on cat-size feathered dinosaurs called Sinornithosaurus (illustrated in left panel), as well as crow-size birds known as Confuciusornis (right). (Images: Cheung Chungtat/PLoS One)

Why We Hunt With Dogs

This morning I took my lab Wyatt out for a weekend stomp on public ground. Yesterday while in the field at first light I saw several other trucks with hunters trying to hunt the same field which we beat them to that day.

Needless to say, the public options close to population centers here in Nebraska gets lots of attention. And I think that can get a bit discouraging for some.

But I find it helps to look at this concentration of hunters as a challenge. There are smart birds in these fields that hunters and dogs walk past. I’ve always believed that for every bird you see there are at least two that you never lay eyes on.

We got up and out at first light again because the only public field you can guarantee that has not been hunted in a day is the first one.

Wyatt worked well all morning and we finally were coming to the area I suspected would be holding the birds. Of course one rooster got up long and cackled as it made a safe escape. But out of the corner of my eye, in the opposite direction, I saw another bird flying low and silent. This was the old bird we look for. Smart birds don’t cackle when they take off. This one  flew about 100 yards upwind of us into a hillside with light cover. Now that is strange and something I hadn’t seen from many roosters. Normally their policy is the thicker the better.

I got Wyatt headed in the right direction and I figured we had this old bird dead to rights. It was strange that when we made it to the area that I had marked him down, Wyatt picked up some trace but not the typical hot scent of a recent bird. And now I know, that bird flew to light cover because 1) in light cover he wouldn’t drag across nearly the amount of grass and weeds thereby leaving a smaller scent trail and 2) he could run more freely in the light stuff.

We circled around a couple times and though Wyatt was acting birdy, he never indicated that a flush was imminent.

We turned back toward the heavy cover and I wrote off this rooster as smarter than us. I stopped to look around  just to speculate exactly to where he had disappeared. And with this pause, five feet to my left the old bird jumped skyward from a small tuft of weeds amongst a hill of ankle-high prairie grass.

A bit startled, I fumbled with the safety and the mount but the shot was true and the bird crashed. Wyatt was only a couple seconds behind for a routine retrieve. But the bird was gone.

I had crushed this pheasant. There was no doubt in my mind that I had hit him with nearly every pellet of the ounce-and-quarter 6s.  And yet somehow he had managed to shake it off and strap on his running shoes.  Wyatt was on the trail but that bird headed right into some of the thickest, nastiest cover and dry creek bed that we’ve hunted in this state. I put a glove on one of the weeds where the bird hit the ground to mark the spot, then just stood there and listened as Wyatt thrashed through the rough stuff. After about five minutes, the brush busting ceased around 75 yards from my marker glove.

I suspected my little buddy had found the bird and was now just adding a bit of drama. So I shouted for him to bring it up and I beeped his collar a couple times to break the silence. Lo and behold he pushed his way from a brush filled creek bottom with that old super bird in his jaws. I was smiling ear to ear and the folks in the neighboring county could probably hear my praises. A bird that was lost is now destined for pheasant alfredo.

And that’s why I hunt with dogs.

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