No need to fear the title, guys and gals, I won't be showing any of animals that eventually made their way onto our dinner plate.
That said, the past 2 weeks were the first few times Nilla has finally gotten out on a hunt. Last year I didn't get time off coinciding with dad's time off until mid-November, by which time there was snow on the ground and no grouse to be found. Because "someone" (i.e. Dad) forgot to remind me when the season opened, I didn't get up to their place until mid-October and only had 2 weekends with them
The first weekend Nilla, despite retrieving everything
that is thrown or dropped, flat out, pig-headedly, refused to pick up a bird. No way, no how, was she touching it. She just kept giving me a look that said "I ain't touching that thing - it's dead. You go pick it up if you want it so bad", then she'd sit down and look away from me. In all actuality, she never had been presented with a bird before. While I had thrown duck wings for her and dummies, it's not the same as an actual bird, so I couldn't get too mad.
I took her home last week and all week we worked on her retrieving a dummy zip-tied with grouse wings. I did use the training collar, but did not zap her when she refused to pick up the dummy (that's a quick way to teach them that they don't want to pick up the dummy/bird).
Last weekend, I headed up to my parent's house again. On Saturday, while barreling down the main road in the area of bush we were on, I happen to see the quickest glimmer of a large bird with black and white patterns on it. "Grouse!" I yell - and then I brace myself as my nearly 60-year-old dad slams the breaks on. He throws it in reverse and floors it. The bird had flown, but she was still right on the side of the road, in a tree, in plain sight.
"It's a spruce hen," dad remarks. "I don't care what it is - I'll eat it" I say.
Jump ahead to after the poor thing is dispatched. It's laying in the smallest of clearings in a small group of trees, down a 6 ft embankment off the road. I pull Nilla out of the kennel (keeping Maggie, her great-great-aunt inside was a bit hard as Maggie's drive to retrieve is about 10,000 times stronger than Nilla's) and walk her over to about where dad shot from. I give her a line (which is lingo for literally pointing her where I want her to go) but she takes off in the direction the bird HAD been when I had saw it in passing. I blast the whistle; she sits. I give the "over" hand command. She complies. Then she catches smell of it.
Here's the part where both dad and I were thinking "who has the camera?!" because she went right for the bird, nudged it with her nose, grabbed it, then scrambled up the embankment. I was certain she'd drop it (as she will sometimes do in a new environment), but she came straight to me and then spit it out of her mouth with a look that said "Ptew! There, I brought it for you - happy?"
Of course we were! Despite dad's more reserved nature, we both jumped around and laughed and clapped and praised like two idiots on the middle of the road. Mom sat in the truck watching, with a grin.
By the end of the day, Nilla had retrieved another ruffed grouse and, most impressively, a snowshoe hare (which we're not even sure Maggie would have gone to pick up).
The next day, despite being out for 9 hours and going on dozens of roads, we got skunked (that is to say, we didn't see anything). The one bird we did see, spooked when a pop can fell out of the truck while dad, sister and I were arguing about what we were doing in regards to getting video of Nilla retrieving it. And the ducks dad shot at got away safe and sound due to him having to aim beneath them so he didn't injure the ones he didn't want if he ended up hitting the one he did (it's no fun to injure an animal; no hunter likes that feeling).
So, we found a quiet lake and made a campfire. The dogs ran and swam in the lake, the papillon, Zoe, licked mud off the truck (she's not all there) and then we ate roasted hot dogs and burnt marshmallows.
Just as the sun was setting, I placed Nilla in some of the reeds alongside the lake while dad doused the fire and got several good images. This required me to be laying in the mud too (I'm devoted, what can I say?) and despite the fact that the sun blew out the image in parts, I'm quite happy with how it turned out.
These are my two favorite pictures from that set:
, on Flickr
(Full view this one on Flickr, the weird sharpness thing in the reeds sort of goes away).
, on Flickr
If I had shot with her facing away the sun, I would have gotten pictures of dad wetting the fire down; if I had laid nearer to the lake, I would have been in even more mud and got the image of the truck in behind her, so unfortunately, these were the best shots. Both images have been post-processed (quite a bit) though the originals aren't that bad (they're on my Flickr), but the blown out parts do bug me.
Anyway, that's my Nilla Bean - getting all grow'd up on me and turning into a good bird dog.
She's supposed to lose 20 pounds and so far, in 3 weeks, she's lost 3 pounds (almost 5% of her body weight!). How's she doing it? Less food, more exercise. It seems so simple and easy when someone else controls how much you eat and how much you exercise. Why can't I have that?
Thanks for reading this insanely long post.