Interested in a little Drent podcast? The Drent/Two Gun was featured on the 14 Dec 20 episode of Pure Dog Talk! Thanks so much to Laura Reeves for having us on the show! Pure Dog Talk is THE podcast for all things purebred dog and more to include excellent interviews with top breeders, judges, veterinarians, and more. Check it out by clicking the image below.
Doesn’t necessarily have to stay in Oregon. I recently joked with my gun broker about recent changes in Oregon and our trip to hunt Chukar and Quail. He said, “Guns and Methamphetamine together at last”. I replied, “Be still my beating heart” and chuckled as I walked out the door new 28-gauge side by side in hand.
The next day Jenna and I were saddled up and rolling, headed for the South East-Central region of Oregon. A desolate and remote place with a special austere beauty. For the record, the scenic by-way really isn’t the most scenic route to take. To be honest it is rather anticlimactic if not the most direct way to get to our designated accommodations.
When we drive, we drive. We care for our dogs, yes. After that everything else suffers to some degree. We had secured lodging with a regionally historic spot, and I was kinda looking forward to staying there. After a long haul we were immensely proud to have arrived in time to have been able to order a hot dinner, at least according to their electronic presence, only to be told – no dice. At least he was friendly about it as he nodded to the store, we were being welcomed to explore. I chose a bag of Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips and a Chocolate Porter produced in state. Jenna selected a potpourri of sweets. She may have chosen more wisely as my tongue was still tainted by the chips in the morning… but you aren’t here to read about this kind of stuff, or are you?
How can I describe Chukar hunting? Well in many places it can be a profoundly serious event. Like life or death serious for you and or your dog – I have a story or two I could use to highlight this for you, if you cared to hear them. This is after all part of the mystic of Chukar hunting. At its simplest terrain is your primary antagonist. Everything else is, well, optional. We signed in, and then opened our gate and headed up.
The trail was oft off camber and slippery, but no match for the Power Wagon or my resolve. Slowly we wound our way to where seemed like a reasonable place to stop and disembark on our Oregon Chukar adventure. We prepped Tule and Powder, then set off, uphill. So up we went. Going up isn’t something you to take for granted. Be it a step, or a hundred. You feel each one. Each and every step. Our objective was a high alpine meadow, nestled in a craggy bowl high up. Schlepping higher. I arrived behind the girls, slightly out of breath. Jenna is still climbing, dogs are on scent – of course they are. No rest for the weary, I trudge on. Powder is on point a hundred yards out. Tule is exploring space fifty yards to the North of her, the ground is now like walking on a large Twinkie covered in thick grass. Tule joins Powder. No mistakes are made, the second dog was too much, and the Chukar begin boiling out and across to where Tule was investigating. Yes! This never happens. The girls begin working the birds again. It takes little and they are out and up. S.O.B. Like a fool I pursue them to no avail.
We allowed ourselves to be taunted by the Chukar’s call to reconvene. Stalking one here and there only to be made to feel a fool, again. Chukar hunting, it gets personal quick. After getting our fill, we opted to hunt down and around. Possibly we could get into more chukar, but I had hunted here before, and there was a veritable army of quail living amongst the spring seeps dotting the mountainside. Surely, that would pay a dividend.
We looped around, the girls got birdy, and like many times in bird hunting you have a choice to do this or that. Literally a 50/50 shot at doing the right thing. Invariably I choose the wrong ‘50’. Powder was on them, the point indicator was right, she wasn’t lost and figuring her life out – she was on point. The birds flushed overhead to drive the point home – Jeeebuz. Where were these damn quail anyway? We zigzagged down, spring by spring. Nothing. Not a damn thing. What. The. F?! There was one much lower, but I called it. Jenna’s foot was sore and to hit the last one, we’d be all but on the valley floor – I did that last year, walking back up on cooked pasta for legs – yeah, it wasn’t so exciting. I was willing to give the quail a pass if they were there. You win, this time.
The truck wasn’t so far away. But it was so much higher. The Mandalorian could be there in a moment. I could be there in maybe an hour if I pushed. Jenna wasn’t having fun, so it was going to be a trudge. So we trudged. And in trudging one is given time for self-reflection. I came to understand. I am a good person, like many with some misgivings, but a good person nonetheless. Existentialism. Self-Exploration. F*@#king Chucker hunting. The truck was close – thank God.
The girls had been getting birdy off and on. Pushing here and there. Pulling back, searching. But the truck. It was close, right? Bing, bang, bong. Powder was on point, wait, Tule was too, just over there. The girls are juking and jiving. Point, move, point. One loses it and returns, then the other…
Holy shit it’s steep, but I can’t lose contact, or it’ll be another lost opportunity. The wind, what is going on? I can barely take a step. Tule on my right, Powder to my left, maybe at most 10 yards apart. The hail came. Punch, push, point. Finally, I found the energy and steeped through – the bastards flushed. Pop! I had one. The hail stung so badly. The chukar, shot on it’s left, went spinning to the floor. Tule went one way, Powder the other. I went straight ahead to where the bird should have hit – nothing. Shit. Tule cruised by happy as a lark, without a bird. Where was Powder? She materialized up the insanely steep slope with a very lively bird in her mouth. Yes!
About 15 feet out she was met by Tule who lowered and turned her head. Powder, slowed, and gently lowered the very much alive bird to the ground and opened her mouth slightly, but kept it penned on the ground and allowed Tule to pick the bird up. She walked side by side with her, as Tule brought the bird to me. Who are you kidding, these dogs are Super Pro! Now, please make the hail stop.
It’s been said many times already but please indulge me, just one last time. We had one heck of a busy summer. Tule and Powder have not just timed their heat cycles together, but they have taken it to a level we think few would believe. Their cycles are not the same duration, and they ovulate at different times in their cycles. Starting their heat cycles on the same day, well, that’s for rookies. These girls started when they needed to start to begin their ovulations within twelve hours of one another! Yeah, it’s like that around here. They also gave birth barely eighteen hours apart. It was very generous of them to allow us some rest and the threat of getting some sleep. But within short order we had a baker’s dozen of gorgeous pups to attend to. You can visit their litter pages HERE & HERE to see and read about these glorious pups. These litters came a bit later in the summer than we would have preferred, but it’s not like we get a vote…and as we were gearing up to receive our clients for pick-up week, others were hitting the field and getting into birds.
We had been kicking around plans to hunt Eastern Idaho since last winter, but when it came time, we heard the call of the Montana Hi-Line. We had never hunted the region, and it had been a full decade since I had hunted Sharptailed grouse – I no longer had a dog with experience on the species. As we juggled client communications and care for the pups, Jenna did what she does best and hatched a travel plan. With just a tiny bit of input from me she lined out an excellent itinerary – holy crap, we were going!
Like crazy people, the last pup left and the next day we were on the road, hoping that our newly installed and minimally tested sprinkler timers would not disappoint. We started our journey exhausted, but it was fueled by the hope of being like those we saw on the various Facebook groups we are members of.
Montana’s system of block management is quite frankly a wonderful example I feel more states should try to emulate. Landowner recruitment is good across the state and in some areas nothing short of amazing. Better yet, the properties enrolled in the program, generally speaking, are pretty darn good, or in many cases downright amazing – quite unlike what we have here in Eastern Washington…
For our first hunt, we had selected a place where three large parcels converged, one Bureau of Land Management (BLM), one state owned, and the other a beautiful piece of block management land. We stopped to look over the map to locate the sign-in box and to our surprise, we were gifted with an enormous covey of Sharptail crossing the road. From the private block management property to the BLM property – no sign-in required, have a nice day.
We took our time and put both Powder and Fowler down and within moments, they were on the birds – but the birds had really covered some ground in these few minutes. As you might expect, Team Double Dutch worked them perfectly and I was able to pull two Sharpies from the first covey rise. One for each dog. How about that?
That follows here was a series of poor decisions on our part. We had assumed Ila was ready to hunt in a brace, and that running her with Tule, our other Higgins dog, would be fine… yeah, about that. They weren’t ready to be run together and the experience was an unmitigated disaster. Each dog caused the other to make an error, and those errors only created more energy management problems, and errors. It was like a hurricane made of fire. Ila was running around like a total lunatic, chasing every bird, and not heeding any input from either of us – so far from her norm. The disaster culminated in her putting up a large covey of Sage Grouse, and promptly running them off the block of BLM. Finally, she regained control of herself and was returned to the truck. It was a quiet, tense, eternally long walk. At least for me that is.
We took Tule back out and as we did a new covey of Sharptail came over from the block management property to the BLM and landed about one hundred and fifty yards in front of us. Can you believe this? Tule had also regained her self-control during the intermission, so she was allowed to hunt these birds. She over pressured her first contact and they flushed. She remained steady. We caught up to her and set her out again. This time much more careful, but more or less the same result, too much pressure. The birds were spread out now, so it was all about remaining calm and allowing her to work. Then, bam. We had a point. The birds were running, so Tule carefully began tracking the bird(s). Point. Stalk. Point. And so on. She was being very careful now and then it happened. We had The Point. She had one dead to rights. I moved into position and released her to flush. She did so and I did my job for her and took the bird. Once it was down, Tule was released for the retrieve. Tule did a great job working the rest of the birds, and just like that we had a limit of Sharptail in a matter of no time.
Now to let us fast forward to Ila’s redemption. We had explored nearly the full expanse of Greater Middle of Nowhere, Montana. Some places more productive than others and some much less so, but that’s hunting for you and to be expected when you don’t have any honey holes mapped out. Ila and I came to a nice-looking piece of block management filled with a lush carpet of prairie grasses. Two of its edges were bordered by cut wheat fields – promising. Just as I was finishing up my sign-in card a local pulled in. Geez, I thought to myself, “It’s not that big, you saw from a mile away I was here…really”? He seemed just as off put by being beaten to the spot, yet he went and signed in. He opened the conversation sheepishly asking how I had intended to hunt the property. I basically stated I was planning to try to keep my pup into the wind as much as I could by doing a rather large counterclockwise loop in the large rectangle set before us. He offered to go to the far end and hunt the fence bordering one of the cut fields. I said, “sure”. In hindsight I’m positive it came out quite curtly, much more so than intended, but in the moment, I thought I had done a good job of sounding out a compromise. Ila and I set out, and he drove off.
I have been blessed with some really nice hunting dogs. However, no matter how good your dog is you have to get through their puppy and juvenile phases. Ila is cresting her juvenile phase and so is subject to some young Drentisms. Said quirks can be outright comical most times, but in the same breath can be so frustrating when the timing isn’t optimal. All my Drents have enjoyed pointing field mice and working up a few meadow larks as a pup, some more so than others. Then there is Ila. She has taken the art of hunting mice and larks to a rather elevated level, really, I should just call it what it is – fine art. Few have seen such exquisite work from any dog! I have a friend who regularly produces National Field Trail Champion German Shorthairs – Terry, who has seen countless dogs work in the field would have his spine shiver to see her work (on field mice).
With that said, yes, the first thirty minutes were filled with this ‘great dog work’ on field mice. My soul slowly filling with despair. I was thankful that Jenna, my beloved, wasn’t with us for the first time ever – she would have been spitting red hot nails. Yet Ila went from mouse nest to nest, working each one with such great care, then mounting such dramatic and stylish points as ever recorded in Drent history. Each time, my excitement was like a veritable tidal wave. Rising. Climbing far above the ocean floor. Rolling. Growing. Climbing. Cresting…then crashing into oblivion. We walked on. Ila happy as a lark. Hunting for whatever may be possible.
In my mind I had resigned. Partially a good thing. Being detached can be quite amazing for your energy management and how that may potentially affect your dog. Her search was arrested abruptly. She geared down and was for a moment channeling her grandfather, Booker. A panther, stalking in the grass. God it was beautiful. This wasn’t a field mouse; it was something special. “Jesus”, I thought, “It’s happening”. She carefully stalked and gently eased into a point. I still had ground to cover forty yards at least to even consider being in range. Her point only magnified. Intensified. Did she grow in size? This was it. I carefully positioned myself. She differed to me and a moment later I gave her the queue to flush. She launched herself into the grass with abandon and a hen pheasant erupted. She remained steady without any encouragement from me, and we watched her fly away. I went and knelt by her side, stroked her up, and told her what a good girl she was. Was this it? It was time to hit the part closer to the road, where the local was to theoretically have hunted.
Within a few minutes I was able to see, he never came to our field, but instead hunted the coulee bisecting the other cut wheat field which ran up to the road. Soon after Ila began a ‘wiggly butt’ march. Clearly a sign of being birdy, but not with the level of self-control I wanted from her. I handled her away and watered her. No matter once released she resumed the behavior within moments. Then without warning they flushed – Sharptail! She stood and watched. I shot at one like a fool. We regrouped, shared a snack and a drink then set back out. Just like before, the wiggly butt started again. She was tracking Sharptail. But was she being too aggressive? One flushed wild. She stood, and I let it go. Inside I was like, damnit. Our chances are near done, if not… But we did still have a long walk back to the truck.
Again, her body language was telling. She had bird. This time she was more controlled. More calculating. Still, far out of range, but I know if it’s going to work out, it will. If she gets the point, it doesn’t matter how far out she is. She trailed the birds, I trailed her. This game of ‘cat and mouse’ went on for some time. It was intoxicating. Then suddenly it happened. Her point. She was nearly two hundred yards out. The exhaustion of the sleepless nights and never-ending work of the puppies, these days of relentless hunting and driving from sunup to sunset, washed away. It felt as if I floated through the thick as molasses prairie grass. Still she stood, as if hewn from granite. I drew closer. She stood. I started think, it’s going to work, she has them. She stood. I closed ground. She stood. I realized I took a line which veered me left of her by a fair distance. Floating or not, the grasses where dense and high. Making a bee line just wasn’t practical for me. As I drew abreast of her still a good twenty yards away. She differed to me. I paused wondering what the right answer was. It was then the covey flushed from between us! I looked to Ila; she was statuesque. I picked out a bird and shot – it fell. I looked back to her, still standing, motionless, watching the birds. I looked back, and thought, I can take another. So, I did. It was soft hit and did quite a dramatic ‘danza de los Muertos’ for our benefit. Still, she stood. Watching the covey vanish from sight. I came to my senses and released her to retrieve. Still she stood – LoL. I released her again and stepped off, she followed suit and there is it. A covey rise double on Sharptail over my fifteen month old pup.
Yes, there was much, much more to this trip than this brief excerpt. We had a grand time, met up with a former client, and fellow DPCNA Board member and now friend. We also had several Sharptail hunts ruined by hundreds to pheasants… We were also left wondering why we had not been doing this every year.
Would you consider your gundog a valued member of the family? Or maybe even your buddy? Then maybe you should take some time to hear me out, because there is a better way to get a high-drive dog to perform like a rock star in the field than what is commonly accepted. The Higgins Method will help you to capitalize on the relationship you have with your dog, and only make it better by bringing you closer by building you and your dog as a team.
But before I get to that, I’d like to help frame up my personal experience and how I’ve come to this conclusion. I’ve trained dogs for about forty years now and to be honest, I still feel I have much to learn and improve upon. I acknowledge this and actively take active steps towards educating myself and developing my skill set. Done so by reading dozens of books, watching countless hours of videos, and seeking out hands-on training for myself. Part of this ‘mission’ of mine has led me to train with the best trainers and groups I could work myself into. Since I became serious about gundogs, and the training of gundogs, I have only redoubled my efforts in this arena. So, while the number of gundogs I have trained outright is not exactly an impressive number, I have learned by watching others and participating in the training of hundreds of dogs.
One of my gifts, or curses if you will, is to notice patterns where they don’t seem to exist. It happens most when I am at peace yet fully engaged. Suddenly the connections begin to appear. When it occurs, these connections help me to rather quickly rule out or rule in information, what is effective and what is not, identify trendlines, and so on. It is a quality of mine people have both loved and despised in my previous professional life…but that is a story for another day.
Getting back to it. I’ve had the opportunity to train and befriend some really notable gundog people, several with a presence on the national level. People who I am friends with and hold great respect for to this day. I saw why and where their method worked, the parts of their programs that were money in the bag, their overlaps and similarities; some parts being practically magical and then the parts that just worked be it for whatever reason: force of will is a commonality. And yes, the differences too.
Of particular interest, in dog sport, the ‘positive methodology’ (poorly named, hence it being so poorly understood by many) rules supreme! I mean really, pick a sport from Agility all the way to Tactical dog ‘training’ and just about every point in-between ‘positive’ is The Way, not just a way. With one notable exception, the gundog. The poor gundog, which spends most of its time as a humble family companion, is trained in a brutish old-world way. Why?
I’ll venture this – it’s tradition. Most or all other dog sports are relatively new, and therefore people haven’t been steeped in a particular mindset for a full generation, let alone multiple generations. On the other hand, we humans have been doing the gundog thing for a few hundred years now. The whole hunting over a gundog isn’t just an institution steeped in tradition, it’s been painted, and written about both academically and poetically. Training the gundog has been brought to a state of near mythical proportion. How do you change that?
The old way is centered on the perception that the handler must control the high-drive dog. This control must be absolute. Stop when I say stop, go when I say go, as if the handler knows better in all situations – anything else is disobedience and subject to punishment. That’s assuming the dog even understands why. We can get more into that later if you’d like. The use of force to get what the handler wants when the handler wants it is the easily moved forward backstop. When in doubt, add ‘stim’ seems to a tried and true panacea for all gundog problems. Maybe you even bought videos, books, or into a membership with some organization advocating the use of force. Worse yet, not just advocating the use of force but actively promoting and normalizing it. Some methods are better than others, but at a certain point they all neck down and follow a similar methodology which is wholly dependent on the use of force. How draconian a particular method is seems to be related to how much force the prolific trainer needed to use to generate “success” - then their followers’ line up eager to replicate what they perceived ‘worked’ for so and so. As always there is talk of washouts, dogs that couldn’t hack it, the abuse they don’t want to talk about. Yep, I said it, abuse. That and my sense of pattern-detection has kept me from being able to go all in with all the variations based in this old-world methodology.
Okay, now all the traditionalist out there are looking to burn my house down – that’s fine, it’s insured, its value it tracked appropriately, and we are looking to leave Washington. Just let me get my dogs out first, please. Trust me, I’m not being dramatic, the responses I’ve gotten on a variety of forums has only been met with varying degrees of hostility. One does not threaten tradition casually or make hamburgers from a sacred cow...but my grill is hot!
Okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about the Higgins Method. First and foremost, the Higgins method is entirely Force Free and capitalizes on the intelligence of the dog, the dog's natural desire to be cooperative, and energy management for dog and handler – wait, what!? Yep, that's it in a nutshell. In short, Brad uses a truck load of good flying birds presented to the dog in a way where the dog gains an understanding that in order to be fully successful it needs to cooperate with you, the handler – all without the use of force. Once the dog believes this, the rest is up to you. How long will it take for you to trust your dog and believe it will play its role for you? Once you have achieved the fifth stage of grief, also known as: acceptance, a team is born. Once dog and human are a team, hunting is a relaxing exercise in watching your dog perform. You’ll need to put your constricted chokes away and possibly consider adding spreader loads to your arsenal.
Ila has been brought up this way. We used compatible Force Free techniques to shape every behavior of hers leading up to her Higgins introduction. Afterall, it is hoped that she take over her mother’s role of being my Medical Response Dog at some point in the future. Ila is deeply in tune with me because of this, to the extent that her performance is tied to how true my handling is. If I do my job right, she will do hers right. Not that I look forward to becoming a sloppy handler, but as she continues to mature, her dependance upon my exact handling will lesson. For the record, she has been steady to wing, shot, fall and release since six-months of age – without a single zap. Wouldn’t you like to know what it feels like to bring a Gatling gun to a knife fight? If so, it’s time to ditch the old paradigm and step into the era of modern canine learning and bring this to your beloved gundog. Once you do, you can focus on your tactics, getting your dog get into the best cover, and supporting their effort to find every bird in the area for you. Sounds rough doesn’t it?
This is more or less a companion piece to the Higgins Gundogs review I made last year. We are clients of Higgins Gundogs, and receive no preference or benefit from writing anything ‘pro-Higgins’. To that end, Ila is still in pursuit of her Higgins Gundog title. Which will only be earned when she and I can unequivocally demonstrate our mastery of team dynamics. We are hoping to achieve this goal in early 2021.
Yes, I am fully aware I have been derelict in making any type of meaningful blog post in quite some time, no need to point that out. As one might expect, the last month of having a baker's dozen of puppies is a tremendous amount of work and runs from sun up to sun down with a few small breaks interspersed along the way. Just enough to make you think you actually have time... time to do laundry, cook for yourself, mow the lawn and barely keep ahead of a myriad of other domestic chores. Okay, I also realize no one ever comes here to listen to me whinge... So what's up with Hunting Dog Confidential? If you are a serious dog-geek, then you might know of the podcast led by my publisher Craig Koshyk, possibly the most knowledgeable dog historian living on the planet right now! Craig also has a knack for excellence, recognising it, cultivating it, and producing it. Craig has a midas touch for excellence. So it was a bit of a surprise to me when a few months ago, I happened to be driving to Wyoming, while out in the Middle of Nowhere Montana my publisher messaged me to see if I could make some time to take a call from him. Yes, of course! But I needed to get someplace I'd have a stable phone signal... Later that evening when we connected, I was extended an invitation to participate in his new project, the print companion of his popular podcast: the Hunting Dog Confidential. For years I've written. Mostly for my enjoyment; the second edition of my book, the DPCNA, or fodder for my blog, but this time it would be for the Big Time - a national publication, and a dog lovers geekfest at that! The project hits the street here in a few days...the print companion to the podcast: The Hunting Dog Confidential. It's going to be a super cool hunting dog geekfest and yours truly was invited to play! Super excited, super honored! I hope you are too.
Picking a litter theme can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a frustrating adventure...I've flirted with a few Litter Themes over an extended time for this litter. Well to be exact, since this time last year. Coffee was an idea Jenna and I had early on, and I always liked it. She had intended to use the theme for Ember's litter. But with only the one pup, she opted to not use the theme, wanting to 'save it'.
Recently she gifted me the 'rights' to use the theme so I snatched it right up. I've always liked the idea of using coffee for a litter theme. I learned the joys of coffee while living in Europe as a young feller and have been a die-hard drinker of quality black coffee for the past umpteen years... In fact, you could take wine and bourbon away from me, but I'd go to jail over coffee.
So I have 'Two Gun'd' the theme, meshing my fascination with 'the Old West' with a fairly common and somewhat cliché litter theme. I have not just gone coffee, I've gone Cowboy Coffee! Without further adieu, here is the breakdown by birth order, their registered name, and what it means if you were to break out your Cowboy dictionary.
1) Two Gun's Black Medicine Buzz (M)
- Sioux Indian translated word for coffee (Kazuta Sapa/Black Medicine) = Coffee buzz
2) Two Gun's Barefooted Fandango (F)
- Hot black coffee dance
3) Two Gun's Hurricane Deck Triple Shot (M)
- A saddle on a bucking bronco w/ a triple shot of espresso
4) Two Gun's Ace-High Legal Addiction (F)
- First-class coffee
5) Two Gun's Crumb Castle Arbuckle (M)
- Chuck Wagon Coffee = Cowboy coffee
6) Two Gun's Smoke Wagons & Morning Thunder (M)
- Guns & Coffee
7) Two Gun's High Plains Shot in the Dark (M)
- Black coffee with a shot of Whiskey
You can make owning a dog as expensive as you want. Truth be told, to keep a dog, you really don’t need a lot of fancy things and expensive equipment.
I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Fourty some years later this is what you get.