For The Calgary Herald
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Hunting Guide Keeps His Brittanies Busy
In more than 50 years hunting upland birds, I can’t recall ever knowing anyone who spent more time at it than Dave Brown of Calgary and Fernie, B.C., does now.
Dave and his six Brittanies make their home in Calgary. The dogs’ summer home is at Maple Creek with a superb trainer in good bird country while Dave is away running The Elk River Angler, his guide service and trout shop in Fernie. As fishing seasons wane and hunting seasons wax, Dave and dogs start guiding combination “cast and blast” trips for anglers who also like to hunt upland game with pointing dogs.
This fall Dave will be guiding and outfitting at least one train tour of Alberta’s choice venues for ardent upland hunters. This trip was such a success last fall that the first train for this year is already full and booking another is a possibility. When all that simmers down, Brown hunts his A and B teams of Brittanies nearly every legal day of the remaining season in Alberta.
When the seasons close in Alberta Brown and Brittanies snowbird south, generally to hunt quail in Arizona. But last winter he and his dogs guided hunters for a big ranch hunting operation in Oklahoma.
Notwithstanding all that dog work, Brown is a firm believer in spring training and conditioning. “The biggest mistake some hunting dog owners make is to take their dog out on opening day for the first time,” Brown says. “Then they wonder why the dog isn’t in shape and doesn’t seem to know what birds are.”
So when Brown reported to me about mid-March that the Hungarian partridges were paired up in his favourite spring training fields and giving better pointing chances for a young dog than when they are in big, many-eyed coveys in the fall, I wangled a try-out contract for me and my new eight-month-old Brittany, Beau.
Next best thing to a brain transplant to a new pup when the good old dog dies, is being able to run a pup on birds with an experienced dog. That was easy for me to accomplish back in the days when I had two kennels and two Brits about five years apart, so I could get a new pup immediately after the older dog died and let the five-six year old do much of the training. The pup learns mostly good things, from the older dog, particularly the purpose in all that tearing around Wild Rose Country and to do what comes naturally — point — when a certain gamey perfume becomes hypnotic.
So, semi-bright and very early on two consecutive Sundays, we loaded Beau into his crate in my rig and drove down to meet Brown in bird country near Calgary. Here wheat stubble overflows every horizon and the fields are slashed with the odd brushy draw: ideal Hun habitat, but with the odd pheasant and sharptail grouse in the mix.
Dave was down to only five dogs, one having to remain home watching TV while he recuperates from a knee operation. He wired his three on the A team, including the alpha female, Roxy, and also my Beau with beeper collars, plus a 20-foot red check cord for Beau, and off they raced into the whole wide springtime world, sounding like the backing competition at a truck rodeo.
They beep while the dog is running, but when he stops to point or poop, the beep changes to a hawk’s scream so you know where to look for your dog. Quickly we got four hawk’s cries. One of Brown’s dogs was pointing a pair of Huns and the other three were standing still, backing, or honouring the point, including Beau, who has never had a lesson in his life.
If both of a pair of Huns did not flush there was always the second for the dogs to find and point. Beau found one of his own and was so excited that he became bored with backing and bored in when another dog was on point, so Brown and I tried walking him in on the check cord and steadying him when another dog was pointing.
Then Dave retired the A-team and turned out the two young males of the B-team, including an engaging tri-color (white, black and brown) French Brittany, Quincy, with a short tail so waggy it tells a long tale about how much fun he is having. By this time Beau, who still has the short endurance of a puppy, was through for the day and staying slow and close to his happy human.
No matter, I already had an expert opinion from Brown that Beau is going to be a bird dog and how he purely loves to see the dimmer switch turning a pup on. Then we retreated to a couple of excellent hostelries where we bemudded refugees from that great spring outdoors cathedral brunched with the church crowd and discussed where a budding bird dog might get one of those two-tone beepers.
© The Calgary Herald 2004