Last week, after we said goodbye to our sweet Souris-Manon, we headed south to the endless prairies of South Dakota to take some time to heal. For 5 incredible days we shared memories of Souris while hunting pheasant, sharptailed grouse and the greatest of all prairie birds, prairie chicken with Uma, Léo and Bella.
With Souris hunting beside us in spirit our pursuit of game was successful. We bagged what is probably the very first prairie-bird 'trifecta' over a Pont Audemer Spaniel. In less than an hour, our 13 year old Uma helped us take a plump sharptailed grouse, a splendid rooster pheasant and a stunning prairie chicken! I also bagged a left-right double of prairie chickens over Bella and we got 4 pheasants over Léo's points.
We also felt our hearts begin to mend, just a bit. We're picking up Souris' ashes today and will shed more tears I'm sure. But the healing has begun thanks to time spent under the big blue sky of South Dakota.
For the last 20 years, we’ve headed south to North Dakota (yes, we live NORTH of North Dakota…) to chase wild pheasants in the beautiful wilds of the western prairies. And no matter what the birds numbers are (they tend to be boom and bust in the area we hunt) we always have a fantastic time. This year was no exception. There were enough birds to make it interesting, but not enough to make it easy. We and the dogs had to work hard most of the day to get our birds, but returned every evening with big smiles on our faces.
Uma got the biggest rooster of the trip. It had huge spurs and a super long tail. At 13 years old she’s lost a step or two but can still hunt for about an hour at a time. And while she hunts she still has a huge smile on her face and the eyes of a dog possessed!
Leo is only 10 months old but he is absolutely rocking it out here now! We shot 4 roosters over his points today, all rock solid. He handled running birds in stubble and tight sitting birds in cat tails like a pro and retrieved all to hand. We like to think that our dearly departed Henri put in a good word for us when we needed a new pup. In fact we very often call Leo 'Henri' by mistake…or even 'Felix' sometimes. It is probably just creeping middle age….and/or gin.
Bella, Leo‘s little half-sister is a lot like Leo was at the same age. She has tons of desire and wheels galore…. but her puppy brain gets overloaded around a bunch of birds. So this trip for her is more about being a 6-month old pup who loves to run, bump and chase… and not a serious put-meat-on-the-table mission from Dog. That said, we did get two roosters with her.
To recap: chasing roosters rules! Chasing them with your best friend/wife and 3 French dogs is basically the Best. Thing. Ever.
On our way home from North Dakota we stopped by to visit some new friends in the wilds of Saskatchewan. On the one hand, they are typical Saskatchewanians, super-friendly, salt-of-the-earth kinda guys that you can set your watch to. On the other hand, they are a bit…odd. They have FRENCH dogs! Blue Picardy Spaniels to be exact. And that is like finding a group of hunters in France that were fans of the Sasktachewan Rough Riders football team (go Riders, go!).
Barry, the handsome fellow in the first photo below would like to get a Picardy to hunt with the Blue Picardy he already has. So he asked us to stop by so he could meet Leo and Bella since he and his friends had never seen the breed. We ran Leo for him in some great pheasant cover (not long enough to find any birds unfortunately) and let him have some cuddle time with wiggly Bella. And when it was all over, he was sold. He’s put in an order for a pup next spring.
We also got the chance to hunt briefly over an 8-month old Blue Picardy recently imported from France. Her very happy owner managed to bag a pheasant over her point and I managed to get some photos and even a short video of her retrieve.
Léo's half-sister has been visiting with us for just over a month now but it only took about 5 minutes for her to wiggle her way into our hearts. Bella is from the vom Wietesch kennel in Germany and spent her first few months in North America with our good friend Cortney Schaefer. Since she's been here, she's hunted grouse, ducks, geese, pheasants and prairie chickens. In the field, she is really coming along nicely showing good range, speed and drive. In the house, she is a cuddle bunny that loves nothing better than snuggling on our laps.
There are big plans in the works for Bella right now, so stay tuned!
We were in the right spot at the right time this morning and bagged some geese. One of the large Canada geese (Branta canadensis) weighed over 5 kilograms! As I sent him for the retrieve, I wondered if Léo was up to the task. He’s a strong dog and loves to fetch, but this was the first goose he would ever encounter close up. Long story, short: Léo made a bee-line to the downed bird, spent about 10 seconds trying to figure out where the best handle was on it… wing? neck? butt? and then realized the secret to carrying a giant honker is by the back! Later on, he also got the chance to retrieve a few Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens).
Guess where we are heading tomorrow? Yup. Same spot. This time we hope to give Bella the chance to get her goose on.
Last year my friends Steven and Susan, along with their three children, welcomed a Braque du Bourbonnais pup into their family. His name is Kolbi and I posted a gallery of photos taken during his first few months with them here. This year, while Kolbi’s owners were out of town, Lisa and I were asked if we could take care of him in their absence. Of course we jumped at the opportunity, especially since it is hunting season!
Kolbi has now been here for nearly two weeks and during that time he has really come of age as a hunting dog. He’s found and pointed woodcock, ruffed grouse and sharptailed grouse for us. And we’ve even managed to bag a few for him! Yesterday my friend Cortney and I headed to the woods for a grouse and photo shoot with Kolbi. Here are some of the images. Enjoy!
Léo’s half sister Bella is now with us for the hunting season and at just 6 months old, she is doing very well in the field and forest. And just like Léo, Bella is a super friendly, happy-go-lucky dog that loves to run and LOVES to fetch! Here are some photos of ‘firsts’ for Bella; her first woodcock, first ruffed grouse and first sharptailed grouse.
The only thing better than days afield with your dog is sharing those days with good friends and their dogs. This week, we’ve been having all sorts of fun with our friends Cortney and Erin and our combined pack of bird dogs made up of Kolbi the Braque du Bourbonnais, Bella and Leo the Picardy Spaniels, Kaylee the Deutsch Langhaar, Mia the Pointer, and Uma the Pont Audemer Spaniel. We also spent a great day chasing grouse and woodcock with our friend Grant and his lovely French Spaniel “Sula”.
Leo pointed his first ruffy yesterday! And since I made a decent shot, Ruffed Grouse is what’s for supper! Oh, and Léo also discovered the “joys“ of porcupines. He was working some really thick cover and must have found the strange beast, sniffed it bit too close wondering what it was and ended up with about 10 quills in the lip and the tip of his nose. They came out easily. He found and pointed the ruffy about 10 minutes later.
We had a couple of excellent days in the field and forest with Léo, Uma and Souris. Léo stood in for Uma in the following photos since Uma decided that a nice mud bath was a great way to finish her run.
The first day‘s bag was: 2 snipe and 2 woodcock in hand. It could have been slightly bigger, but I missed a shot on a ruffed grouse and Lisa cut a tree in half shooting at, and missing, a woodcock.
On the second day, we hit the field early in the morning to beat the heat forecast for later in the day. But it didn‘t matter…Leo was on FIRE! He ran like a champ, nailed a couple of points and I managed to reward his hard work with a decent shot.
Tonight we will enjoy a nice supper of Wild Rice and Ginger Teriyaki Sharptail Stirfry (for 2)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup wild rice
1 sharptail breast, cut into pieces about the size of your thumb
1 tsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tsp maple syrup
1 fat garlic clove, chopped
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp roasted peanuts roughly chopped
2 green onions
Handful of sugar snap peas, baby corn, watercress or whatever veggies you have on hand.
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the stock and wild rice. Cover and cook until tender, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Mix the meat, ginger, teriyaki sauce, chopped garlic and maple syrup and marinate for at least 60 minutes. Heat the oil to just under the smoking point (160°C 320°F) and add the meat. Stir-fry over a high heat for 1 min until the meat is rare on the inside and just browned on the outside.
Add sugar snap peas, baby corn and half of the chopped green onions. Stir-fry for 1 min more. Garnish with remaining green onions and peanuts and serve over wild rice.
After a nice day of upland hunting with Leo (saw a few grouse, unfortunately none ended up in the game bag), Lisa, CJ and I decided to go for a late evening goose hunt. We only had about 45 minutes of shooting light left, but it wasn‘t long before I knocked one down and CJ got another one. Both of us then missed a bunch of others. Lisa didn‘t get any opportunities until just before the end of legal shooting light. A flock of about 15 birds came towards us at a decent height and set their wings. Just as CJ and I were about to shoot, Lisa took her shot and…
TWO GEESE crumpled to the field! Lisa‘s very first ever goose was actually TWO geese in one shot!! CJ and I were so gob-smacked that we didn‘t even shoot. All 3 of us stood there, stunned. It was 1 minute before the end of legal shooting light. And Lisa pulled off a scotch double on giant honkers…with a 20 Gauge!!!!
The only downside is that her head is too swollen now to fit in the truck.
Version française: Après un bel après-midi à chasser le petit gibier avec notre chien Léo, Lisa et moi pensions rentrer bredouille, mais nous avons décidé, avec notre neveu CJ, de tenter notre chance sur les bernaches en fin de journée. Il ne restait qu‘une petite heure avant la tombée du jour (ici, il faut arrêter de tirer une demi-heure après le coucher du soleil). CJ et moi avons réussi à prendre en quelques minutes une bernache chacun, mais ce n‘est qu‘à la toute fin qu‘une occasion s‘est présentée pour Lisa. Une quinzaine de bernaches volaient vers nous à une hauteur raisonnable et se préparaient à se poser, derrière nous, sur le sol. CJ et moi allions appuyer sur la détente, mais Lisa nous a devancé. Elle a tiré et….
Deux belles grosses bernaches sont tombées comme des roches. Elle a fait coup double! CJ et moi étions si surpris que nous n‘avons même pas tiré. Nous étions tous époustouflés! La toute première bernache que Lisa ait jamais eue était en fait deux bernaches d‘un seul coup! Il ne restait qu‘une minute avant la fin et elle a réussi à faire un coup inimaginable sur des bernaches gigantesques avec son juxtaposé de calibre 20.
Leo is the rookie of our hunting pack, but so far, he’s been a rock star. During a very pleasant hunt yesterday for example, he hunted both upland game and waterfowl. And as he did, we learned two new things about him.
1. He‘s a diver. I knocked a duck down over a small slew and sent him for the retrieve. He leaped in with his patented swan-dive and swam like an otter towards the duck laying still on the surface. But just as he was about to grab it, the duck dove…and so did Leo! Leaving only his butt and back legs above the surface, he rummaged around a bit, came up for air, and then dove under again! A few seconds later, the duck rose to the surface behind him. Leo spun around, grabbed it and brought it to hand.
2. In Germany, he might be rated “Sichtlaut“. After the diving duck episode, we hunted a large field for Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus). We found a total of 4, all singles and all wild flushes (unfortunately, no opportunities for Leo to point). One of the birds I flushed. It took off about 5 yards in front of me and proceeded to fly directly towards Leo who was running across my line, about 50 yards out. When Leo turned near the end of his cast, the bird flew right over his head. Giving in to temptation, and ignoring my stop whistle like the rebel he is, Leo then gave chase like his ass was on fire. And as he ran, he barked! Not a lot, only 3 or 4 whoof whoofs, but maybe enough to get a rating of “Sichtlaut“ in German tests.
You see, In Germany, giving voice in the pursuit of sighted game is considered a good thing. If a dog does it in a test, the judges make a note of “Sichtlaut“ (literally ‘sight-loud‘) in the test score. In some breeds, dogs must be marked as Sichtlaut to be eligible for breeding, that is how important they feel the trait is. In North America, nobody really cares one way or the other. In France I don‘t think they really give a hoot about it either. But I suspect that in proper English hunting circles, a Sicthlaut dog might cause the knotting of more than a few pairs of knickers. Personally, I thought it was kinda cool and believe that Leo may only be a wee bit sichtlaut, barking only on rare occasions of hot pursuit.
The 2106 hunting season marks the 17th (yes 17th!) hunting season for Souris-Manon and the14th for Uma. Having the two old girls still with us makes the time we spend chasing birds this fall all the more special. Hopefully we will get a few more photos and even some video of them.
I sense autumn coming on
The mist has hung low all day
Small birds gather on the wing
Preparing to make their way.
The trees begin to show a trace of brown among the green
Bringing back the memories that only you and I have seen.
I sense autumn coming on
The sun sinking red and deep
The fires burning in the fields
As late summer falls asleep.
The leaves begin to scatter as the North wind calls their name
Folding gently back into the silent earth from which they came.
STRAWBS (HERO AND HEROINE, 1974)