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Posts Tagged ‘Manny’

The goal.

The goal.

It figures: just when you start feeling cocky, things are sure to come off the rails. Manny’s steadiness on live birds in the field was a series of small victories. Excellent finds, solid points at 30-35 yards, and a patient observing look from the little guy as I kicked brush and flew birds. Cap gun, blank pistol, multiple shots, a statue watched me dance in front of him.

Then I uncased the shotgun.

Manny launched from his point like a marble from a slingshot. By sheer chance, I was between him and the birds so he came to a screeching halt after a few steps. And we went back to Square One.

A few days with the gut hitch, and we’d clawed our way back to the moment of truth. We’d reached the summit: flush-bang-still, even as the pigeon fluttered to earth.

That little win propelled us to the next level and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, we are making progress. A “covey rise” of two pigeons was laid out for Manny’s olfactory pleasure. Quivering muscles and flaring nostrils, the gut hitch was a mere formality, loosely wrapped. Birds up! Dog stock-still. Add a shotgun blast, one anchored dog. Three times the charm, and it was a wrap.

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Not ready for retrieves yet - this is from last season. But soon, soon enough.

Not ready for retrieves yet – this is from last season. But soon, soon enough.

One step at a time, the saying goes, and the steps are encouraging. Despite two TV seasons of breaking at the shot, Manny is making progress on his steadiness to wing, shot, and fall.

We had a few setbacks without it, so we are back to using Bob Farris’ “gut hitch,” a variation on the Smith cousin’s flank half-hitch (thanks to all of you). It is the defining factor. That little tug on Manny’s waist may as well be an anchor chain for as solid as he stands the bird. A whiff of pigeon and he’s staunch, foot up and tail twitching into a straight and high twelve o’clock posture.

Then the gut hitch goes on, I mutter a quick reminder of “whoa,” and move in for the flush. Boom goes the blank pistol (we’ve graduated), and a wirehaired statue watches the pigeon fly toward the desert, disappearing through the trees and out of Manny’s sight – and mind. A wiggle in the tail as the bird vanishes, but four feet remain firmly planted on the sandy soil. Ten more repetitions and I’ll take off the hitch.

So, how’s your training going? What are your goals for this spring and summer?

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Like this, only better. I was there.

Like this, only better. I was there.

It was like we’d left off our hard work yesterday, not five months ago when we hit the road to make this season’s Wingshooting USA. Now that I’m home writing TV shows instead of in the field making them, Manny’s path to the NAVHDA Utility Test is front-and-center again.

We re-aquainted ourselves with my pigeons a couple days ago, flying them from my hand while reminding us both that the sight, smell, and sound of a bird means “whoa.” Yesterday, a point and flush … steady. Today, a point from 15 yards and steady. I tapped his flank (thanks Bob Farris and Ronnie Smith), strode birdward and popped the cap gun once-twice-three times.

Brrr! Startling us both, the bird erupted from the sage. I pulled the trigger while locking eyes with the dog, ignoring the escaping bird. Four wirehaired paws were anchored on volcanic soil. I jinked so Manny could watch the flight: up, away, then circling farther and farther until the bird was a speck, vanishing in the distant trees. Head swiveling, Manny held his ground.

Sure, it was just a pigeon. And I only shot a cap gun. But after a long count to 20 and several deep breaths we heeled away, headed for home with a spring in our steps … six feet barely touching the ground.

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Still “all man,” just a few ounces lighter.

“Feisty” is not just an adjective. According to most definitions, a feist is a “small mongrel dog, especially one that is ill-tempered; cur; mutt.” The less-perjorative definition includes some squirrel or small-varmint hunting acumen.

And Manny is becoming feisty in the light of his less-active condition.

You see, he got neutered last week. It’s a long story but not worth the re-telling, except to say things are going fine in the recovery dept. The incision is healing well and he doesn’t seem any the worse for wear, except for the boredom that comes from ten days of relative inactivity as requested by the veterinarian.

There is a bright side: We are working on obedience skills (again), and there’s no prohibition on standing steady to wing-shot-fall. But no running means a less-than-happy two-year-old wirehair. No amount of chew toy destruction can substitute for the balls-to-the-wall (pardon the pun) joy of full-out sprints in the desert beyond our back gate.

So, Manny’s inner feist is coming to the fore as he tracks and trees fresh squirrel scent among the pines in our yard. And he does that well.

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Uncle Buddy is the example: now, to approach strategically so he holds still on the flush.

Some things just make sense, whether you hunt with dogs or not. This is one of them.

If your goal is to have a steady dog that holds his point even while a bird rattles into the sky, this might help.

Dogs seem to be curious creatures. Unlike cats, curiosity probably won’t kill the dog, but it could cause him to break on a flushing bird if he feels like he’s being squeezed out of the action. On top of the others I’ve mentioned, here’s another good reason to be strategic about approaching a pointed bird: obscuring his view of the action could encourage him to move so he can watch the proceedings … even when you want him to stand sill.

This was driven home to me in a training situation just yesterday. I’d set up the bird in a launcher so it was hidden by tall sage. I brought Manny in crosswind, and he stopped at the first whiff of pigeon, front leg lifted in anticipation of the joy to come. Unfortunately, he was pointing scent that had wafted through yet another tall sage, so when the bird lifted he couldn’t see it. At the flush, he jumped left as if on springs, back on point when he landed. From his new vantage point, he could see the arc of the flying bird.

There was no intent to break point, or chase the bird. He simply needed a vector on it so when time came to retrieve he’d know where to go.

Yesterday it was a sagebrush. On other days, it’s been me. And there’s the lesson. By marching straight in on a bird, we are effectively blocking our dog’s line of sight. Holding a point with adrenaline flowing and guns blazing is hard enough. It’s understandable that any smart dog would want to know where the flying bird is headed – after all, if things go well, you’ll be asking him to “fetch it up.”

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