Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tick Season

It shocks me every spring how quickly the ticks emerge.  Actually it's more like late winter. The bloodsuckers crawl out of their winter hovels and seek out hosts as soon as the first bare ground comes to light.  When a patch of matted grass appeared in early March on a south-facing slope in our yard, of course Fergus and Jenkins moved in to sniff it out.  They came inside covered with dozens of ticks, hoping for a free meal of blood.  We had nearly 40 days of sub-zero temperatures this past winter, but the cold of a hard winter didn't appear to deter this year's crop whatsoever.  

And so begins tick season -- my war against all ticks, particularly Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick. Two of our setters have had tick-borne illnesses.  Fergus contracted the anaplasmosis four years ago last November, and six years ago Ox died of a complication of diseases at age 13, including Lyme.  I, too, have had a bout with anaplasmosis, so for me this is personal.

My war is mostly a defensive battle.  We have used Frontline on our dogs, but recently switched to Vectra, which seems to work better.  A thorough tick check, however, before the ticks have a chance to bite and anchor in is the best defense.  I usually press the ticks I pull off the dogs onto a piece of duct tape, and when I have filled the tape with writhing ticks, I ball it up and throw it in the trash.  If the woodstove is going and I'm feeling childishly vindictive, I drop a few onto the hot surface, roasting them alive.  Straight to tick hell.

I recently learned chipmunks are the unwitting allies/hosts of ticks after reading a 2007 article in Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071129183745.htm). With a half dozen rock walls and terraces, our one acre is ideal chipmunk habitat -- and thus ideal tick habitat.  I know chipmunks are cute little critters, but we are infested with them.  I always hope the resident fox keep the population in check or a red-tailed hawk drifting by takes out a few, and this past February I spotted a white ermine skulking around our woodshed.  Hopefully, he helps me out with some population control.

Chipmunks raid our garden, eating or destroying peppers, sunflowers, squash and whatever suits their pallet.  It's then I take matters into my own hands, matters in this case being my pellet gun. Fergus and Jenkins love to point chipmunks and will hold point until the chipmunk blinks and bolts. Then it's usually a mad dash to the nearest tree.  They have yet to catch one, but they tree chipmunks for me like seasoned bear hounds, which makes my job easier.

Shooting chipmunks is not sport, it is not fun.  It's about survival and defending my own. Forgive me if I think my food supply or my dogs are more important.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What Kind of Dog is That?

We get asked this question occasionally, especially when walking our dogs on leads in the city. My favorite question so far: "Is that a long-haired Dalmatian?"  Once is a while, people who know setters will ask what kind of setters we have?  Llewellin?  I usually answer bird dog setters.

English setters have evolved in the past 150 years in many directions, the AKC and American Field distinction between show and field setters the most obvious break.  A peek in the classified section at back of a gun dog magazine reveals many ES field lines: Llewellin, Old Hemlock, Twombley and Ryman among others.

My setter bias leans in the Ryman direction.  According to The Real Ryman Setter, written by Walt Lesser and Lisa Weisse, an excellent history of George Ryman's line of setters by the way, Ryman set out to breed bird dogs, more specifically a grouse and woodcock dog,  Since that's what we hunt in northern Wisconsin, Ryman seems the obvious choice for us.

When I see any English setter out in public, though, I'm drawn to it like a bee to honey.  I walk up to the owner like a yokel and ask, "Can I pet your dog?"  I can't help myself.  I love setters, like other dog owners love their labs, their chows, their poodles.  Sometimes we cannot even articulate why we prefer a certain breed.  Years ago we threw our lot in with English setters, and we have yet to regret our decision because we wanted calm and gentle gun dogs we could share our home with.  AKC, American Field, Llewellin, Ryman -- they're all English setters, they're all dogs.  And really it's the dog I love.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bird Dog Photography Workshop

If you want to improve the photos you take of your favorite flushing or pointing dog, or any dog for that matter, I can't think of a much better way than attending this workshop led by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson (http://stonehousephotoblog.com/2015/02/bird-dog-photography-workshop-at-pineridge-grouse-camp/).  The workshop, hosted by Pineridge Grouse Camp in northern Minnesota, takes place May 28-31 and features a private session with Hannah.

I met Hannah in October of 2012 when she photographed a grouse and woodcock hunt in northwestern Wisconsin for A Passion for Grouse, a massive grouse book for which I wrote a chapter.  Dennis LaBare set up the hunt and brought along his pack of setters.  It was a foggy morning, and the popple woods Dennis selected was full of flight bird woodcock.  Hannah took some of the finest pictures of birds dogs I have ever seen, but then I'm quite biased as many were of Fergus.  My favorite picture is below, which I like to call "Fergus in Birdland."  
See http://stonehousephoto.zenfolio.com/ for more of Hannah's work.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cheeseheads Finally Agree on Something

A recent poll in Wisconsin showed we overwhelmingly agree on at least one issue -- we value public land.  This principle, supported by about 90% of those polled, cut across class and political boundaries.

The poll, commissioned by the Nature Conservancy and conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (pos.org), came in response to Governor Walker's latest budget proposal that defunds the evidently popular Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.  For the last 25 years through this fund, the Wisconsin DNR has bought land or easements on more than 627,600 acres in the state. 

Walker's budget would shut down state land deals until possibly 2028 and order the state to sell off 10,000 acres.  That's a step in the wrong direction.

Last season, I hunted exclusively on public ground -- for ruffed grouse, woodcock and deer.  But that's not all I do on public land.  I fish, mountain bike, cross country ski, snowshoe, hike, canoe, camp, bird watch, pick berries, scavenge for ramps (wild leeks) and cut firewood.  No doubt I missed a few other activities.

I'm not suggesting we gather in the capitol rotunda and belt out Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land, but if we value public land we should speak loudly about this issue to our representatives and be heard by them.
See http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/wisconsin/newsroom/overwhelming-bipartisan-support-for-public-funding-for-conservation.xml for the full press release of this opinion poll.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Syrup Boys

We have a lot of pet names for our dogs, Setter Boys being among the many nicknames they have. This time of year when Fergus and Jenkins follow me around the yard as I collect sap from our maple trees, I call them the Syrup Boys.  Mostly, they follow me around because they know the squirrels like to lick the sweet sap dripping out of the taps, and any prey is better than no prey.

The syrup season started abruptly this year.  After the sixth coldest February on record in Wisconsin, the second week in March warmed up with a couple of days approaching 60, and the sap started to rise in the maples, particularly in our best trees.  Since the weather has returned to normal -- lows in the 20s and highs near 40, perfect syrup weather -- the other maples around our lot have started to produce as well.  

I tapped nine trees this year, which should yield about two gallons of syrup, unless I get weary of all the boiling.  The sugar to water content is unusually low this year, around 1 to 50, which means more boiling to concentrate the sap.  An exceptional year is one to 20-30 sugar to water ratio.  I've heard some commercial producers around the area are reporting sugar contents as low as 1 to 100.  The syrup I've made so far this year is extremely dark and full of flavor.  My syrup seems to taste and look different every year.

I gave up sugaring a few years back and bought syrup from friends. Last year, after seeing this Kitchen Vignette (http://kitchenvignettes.blogspot.com/2012/04/maple-syrup-pie.html) video on PBS, I was motivated to restart my backyard sugar operation.  I have yet to make the maple pie. Clouk, clouk, clouk.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Give the Irish Their Due

Every dog must have its day, so in honor of St. Patrick's Day, the English Setter Brewing Company (englishsetterbrewing.com) will be known as the Irish Setter Brewing Company.  If I'm ever in Spokane, Washington, I'm stopping here.  It sounds like the brewery has plenty of interesting beers to go along with grilled grouse or woodcock rumaki: Tri-Color Blonde, Llewellyn Porter, Wiggly Butt IPA and Grouse Guinness.  They also serve up a Red Setter Retriever, perfect for St. Paddy's Day.

Many years ago, at least in dog years, English and Irish setters had common ancestors.  As did the Gordon setter.  This Louis Aggasiz Fuertes painting from around 1910 shows the three breeds in the field pointing.  Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Search?search=irish+setters&go=Go has a nice entry on Irish setters.

My Uncle Gary (my mom's first cousin actually) hunted over Irish setters some 40 years ago.  I remember he and his dogs stopping at our Calmar, Iowa, home on his way out to the Dakotas to hunt pheasants.

Sadly, the Irish setter isn't used all that much in the field anymore.  Only twice in the last 20 years while grouse hunting have I run into hunters running Irish setters.  They do seem to be making a small comeback, though.  The 2015 Jan./Feb issue of Pointing Dog Journal (pointingdogjournal.com) lists two classified ads for Irish setter kennels in its back pages.   

My brother tells me Uncle Gary shot an L.C. Smith side-by-side over his red setters.  A fine gun for a fine dog.  Happy St. Patrick's Day.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Madness.....Getting a Puppy

I can't ever remember seeing an ugly puppy.  Seeing a puppy makes me want to add another member to the pack, and the internet, with the millions of photos posted on-line, simply fuels this passion, so ....

Here's Fergus as a puppy.

And Jenkins.

And perhaps the best puppy photo I have of the two.

Both dogs are Beirl Setters from Mellen, Wisconsin.  Deb Beirl has a wonderful website (beirlsetters.com) with nine pages of puppy photos of perhaps 200 setters.  Enough to fuel the madness. 



Friday, March 13, 2015

Looking for Woodcock

This spring, I'm hoping to learn how to band woodcock with local expert Tom Goltz.  Tom has been banding woodcock around the Wausau area for many years.  The first step in the process is finding woodcock who migrate back to the area in spring from southern states like Louisiana, so I loaded up Fergus and Jenkins and drove us out to the county forest.   
After a brutally cold February, our March has flip-flopped to unseasonable warm, turning the woods e.e cummings mud-luscious.  The scents from the thawing earth intoxicated the dogs after a winter of locked up scents.  I didn't need to coax them out of the truck, and they literally hit the ground running.

I didn't know what to expect since the woodcock migratory maps posted by the Ruffed Grouse Society (http://www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/Migration-Map-History#.VQMKXI7F-AU) weren't showing much northern movement.  But you never know, and the dogs clearly wanted to find out if the woodcock had returned.

Five minutes into our walk, Fergus's bell went silent, and I followed Jenkins who found Fergus and dutifully backed his point.  As I walked up behind a quivering Fergus, coffee mug in hand, my weapon of choice for the day, a ruffed grouse flushed well ahead of us.  It was a noisy blur in the dense popple woods.  I was expecting woodcock, but was pleasantly surprised.
We put up two more grouse, Fergus pointing another, but nary a woodcock.  We drove home, however, all of us well pleased.  It was only a matter of time before the woodcock returned.  The only tick in the ointment was just that -- the return of the deer ticks.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Welcome to Setter Boys

Welcome to Setter Boys, a blog about living with upland dogs.  I need to start by introducing the main characters, Fergus, top, and Jenkins, bottom.  Fergus is a six-year-old blue belton English setter and Jenkins is a nearly three-year-old tri-colored English setter.  They were named, sort of accidentally, after the Hall of Fame Cubs pitcher, Ferguson Jenkins.  Say their names together quickly and you'll get it.    

These pictures from last fall show them doing what they love most -- hunting grouse and woodcock in northern Wisconsin -- but since the upland season is only a few short months, they spend much of the year doing other activities.

Setter Boys will focus on the day-to-day life and issues of sharing your home and energy with a working gun dog.  I hope you can check in now and then.