Friday, November 5, 2010

Four-bird Jam: the story of our first Senior Hunter Leg

Nothing in dog training, especially for competition is easy, and I guess, the more challenges we overcome successfully, the greater the sense of accomplishment.  Last Spring, with the Weimaraner Club of America's National Specialty in Gettysburg, PA, along with a hunt test, my goal had been to prepare Jam to run in Senior if she was ready, at our National event.  What better place to showcase your Weims hunting ability then amongst your peers and some of the best dogs in the country. My trainer felt that Jam, not even two years old, was doing extremely well in practice and we decided to enter her in a bunch of hunt tests since she was not only steady to shot, but holding until released and fine on Quail and Chukkar.  In the actual tests, with the excitement of different bracemates and new grounds, Jam was in high drive and although we came close a few times, she just couldn't hold it together to pass - she would take out the bird either before the gunners set up or break before the no Q's...

We put Jam away and trained all summer and early fall with the plan not to enter her until we were confident she was ready. I entered her in the Delaware Valley German Wirehaired Pointer Hunt Test to be held in Weatherly, PA, Halloween weekend, on grounds that we really liked and a judging panel of fair and encouraging judges.  The first day, Saturday, was disappointing as she pointed a bird within minutes of the breakaway and when I had difficulty flushing the bird, Jam broke her point and flushed the bird for me - she just couldn't take it and control herself.  Thank you handler, please pick up your dog...done for the day before we even got started.  After that day's event ended, we were fortunate to be able to work Jam and another dog together and steady them on birds and practicing backing.  A good training session to remind Jam what was expected of her and I got some excellent pointers too.

Halloween morning was a beautiful, crisp fall day and the dogs were fresh and excited to run.  The club had Jam and Savi as the first dogs to run in both Senior and Junior, an impossible feat to run two dogs at once.  They asked me if I would mind running Jam first and as soon as she was done, immediately get Savi and run her; not a problem for me, hey, I'm used to running dogs in different agility rings back to back.  We were in the first Senior brace and braced with a nice, young male German Shorthair Pointer.  My goal was to keep Jam out of trouble in the back course and make it to the bird field.  With three weekends in a row of hunt tests on these grounds, the place was teaming with coveys of quail, that had knocked out even the most seasoned Master dogs.  Remembering to warm Jam up and put her in "work mode,"  I heeled her to the start line and made her "whoa" before the breakaway.  We let the dogs go and they were off, two amazing fast dogs, tearing through down the path and through the brush.  Both of them immediately got to business and started looking for birds.  I was relieved to get past the point where just the day before, had been knocked out.  Well things quickly got busy as we entered the next field, both the GSP and Jam found separate birds, some they had to perform a stop to flush and others, they pointed.
I shot my blank gun on Jam's stop to flush and called her away to prevent a delayed chase.  Then bam, she was on point and there was a bird walking under a tree, I looked to see where it was going to try and flush it and there was a covey of about five birds all gathering on the road we were headed for.  I couldn't flush the bird in the heavy cover, so the judge told me to shoot my blank gun and then heel her away and we would detour around the covey.  Phew...we were halfway to the birdfield.  We entered a more open field and Jam was quartering the area and I just kept her in sight and worked her towards the bird field.  We were ahead of the GSP and when he went on point, the judges called us around to bring Jam in for a back.  She acknowledged the other dog and I collared her. The bird was in thick cover and couldn't be flushed so they shot the blank and sent both dogs on.  We were almost out of the back course when I saw the GSP run down the treeline.  I immediately called Jam around to me so she would not follow him and to give her some water, as I knew from the earlier Master braces that there was trouble in that area.  Seconds later, it was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the GSP bumped up about twenty quail and the sky darkened for an instant as they flew overhead.  The GSP chased the birds, instead of stopping to point, and our bracemate was done for the day.

Luckily, we had gotten the honor out of the way, so now all Jam had to do was find a chukkar, hold steady to shot and complete the retrieve to pass.  Jam entered the birdfield with excitement as she saw the gunners and knew what that meant.  Within a minute, she went on point and I whoa'd her while I looked for the bird.  In the tall grass, I just couldn't locate the bird and Jam was doing great, holding steady.  I always trust her and knew the bird was there but couldn't find it.  The judges asked me if I wanted to relocate her or send her on.  I decided to send her on, thinking that if I relocated her, she'd take out the bird.  I sent her on but she immediately came around and went on an intense point.  I followed her gaze and saw the bird.  I set up my gunners and flushed the chukkar.  Up it went and made a u-turn and flew towards the clubhouse and the judges said "NO shot!"  I then shot my blank gun while Jam held steady and sent her on to find another bird.
Jam pointing Bird #1
 Bird number one gone.  Jam ran about twenty yards and went on point.  Then before we could get there, bird number two, wild flushed and flew away.  I shot my blank gun and sent Jam on.  There was a slight wind and I brought her around to the middle of the field into the wind.  She had no problem finding bird number three.  Beautiful, stylish point.  I set up the gunners for the second time and flushed the bird.  Bam, Bam, both gunners missed!  Jam left at the shot, which is allowed in Senior but would not retrieve the live bird that had flown into the thick cover of pricker bushes.  Well, the judges and gunners had a little conference.  By now, there was a sea of orange, about 20-30 people watching us from the clubhouse.  The judges asked one of the gunners to plant another bird for Jam.  The bird was planted and we were good to go.  I sent Jam on and she easily found the bird and went on point.  I set up the gunners and nudged the bird with my foot.  It didn't make a move to fly so I quickly took my hat off and threw it at the bird and it flew. Bam, bam, and you won't believe it but the gunners missed again!  Jam had broke at the shot and marked the bird as it flew about fifty yards away into the woods.  Jam went into the woods and we lost sight of her.  I anxiously waited for her to reappear and then saw a grey flash emerge.  I heard someone say she had the bird!  I called her to me and she came almost to me, and started to drop the bird.  I encouraged her to hold it and started towards me again.  I took a giant step towards her and grabbed the live bird.  The judge, chuckling, thanked her for recycling their bird.  What a good girl!  I was told that we were done and I could leash my dog.  I was ecstatic and told Jam how proud I was of her as we left the birdfield.
I still didn't know if we had passed but whatever it was, she was just amazing.  I ran up the hill and with no time to spare, had to put Jam in her crate and grab Savi for her Junior run.  Everyone was waiting for us to finish Senior so they could start the Junior braces.  Our bracemate lent me blanks as I didn't even have time at the car to reload my blank pistol, especially since I had used up most of the shots in Senior.  Savi had an exciting run, way too many birds on the Junior course but she did manage to get in a solid point and passed for JH leg #3.  Back to the club house to see Jam's score and hurray, not only was there a shiny orange qualifying ribbon for us, but the score sheet with wonderful scores for Jam of 9's in bird finding and trainability.

We were getting ready to take pictures and the judges approached me and asked if I wanted to run Jam as the bye dog in the last Senior brace,  I was honored and agreed.  We used it as a training session and it was a great opportunity for our friend, Tom Davis, who owns two GraytSky dogs, including Trixie's littermate, Ellie, to get close and take pictures.  He got some terrific shots that I've included.
Jam on point in the back course
On another intense point
Look closely and you can see Jam pointing the quail walking down the road.  There were two and one has made a left turn and was directly in front of her, the other on the road!

 Friends congratulated us and nicknamed her four-bird experience I will never forget.

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