As I pull off the gravel road and onto the driveway, I slow-roll past a familiar mailbox and a smile creeps over my face. I continue on by an “English Setter Crossing” sign and I like to think Hartley, my two-year old setter, is also smiling behind me in his crate. I follow the driveway that separates a beautiful piece of forested bird cover on my left to the open grassy training fields on my right. Eventually the truck is parked and we have arrived, this is Pineridge Grouse Camp.
Pineridge grouse camp, owned and operated by Jerry Havel, in central Minnesota is the real deal. It’s truly a year-round venue, dog kennel, and a fun place to be in general, but it’s called Pineridge Grouse Camp for a reason. Later this week when the Minnesota ruffed grouse season opens up, Pineridge will become the ultimate destination for names and faces from all over the country and even some from overseas. People come to Pineridge for many reasons, but mainly for the premier grouse and woodcock hunting we have here in Minnesota, as well as the unique and authentic atmosphere provided by Jerry and the cast of characters he hangs out with. I consider myself fortunate to call Jerry a friend as well as the rest of the Pineridge crew. At Pineridge you will find a great group of seasoned hunting guides that hunt with even better dogs, which leads me to the purpose of my visit to Pineridge grouse camp. To develop a good grouse and woodcock dog, we must train the dog.
As I enter the 2016 upland bird season I will be doing the bulk of my hunting over my two-year old English setter, Hartley. He will be entering his third fall season and expectations have been set accordingly. Over the first two years of his life, Hartley has received an ample amount of time in wild bird cover and he has the bird contacts to prove it. His pointing and hunting instincts have continually progressed to where he is today. I could not be more excited to start hunting over him this fall.
For the first two years, I let Hartley’s natural instincts do most of the work, other than basic obedience around the house, Hartley’s formal training has been limited. We have developed a very good rapport with each other and I’m very comfortable with his range, check-ins and the fact that he appears to be hunting “with” or “for” me a high percentage of the time as opposed to hunting for himself. His work on wild birds has had its ups and downs of course but again, he has always shown continual improvement. I should remind readers that Hartley is my first bird dog so this has been a learning process for me as well. In general, I think I’ve played things on the safe side when it came to shooting birds over the last two years. I hesitated and passed up many shots when he appeared to bump a bird or intentionally rip one out. Whether this has helped, hurt or made no difference so far I’m not really sure. That being said, Hartley appears to be a bold and confident dog, he loves to hunt, he loves birds and the gun excites him so I think we are headed in the right direction.
This summer I was excited to take Hartley’s formal training to the next level by working him on some pen-raised birds utilizing remote launchers and controlled scenarios. Well the summer is over and now I’m looking back and assessing what we were able to accomplish. My story is probably like many of you as I’m not a professional trainer and things like work, weekends at the lake, and other summer activities get in the way. Still, I was able to work Hartley on pigeons a handful of times this summer and the results were significant. My point here is that you shouldn’t let the fact that you’re not a professional deter you from training. If you can’t commit to 1-3 times per week, try once a month, heck try once a summer, anything is better than nothing.
For Hartley and I, our schedule included a couple of sessions in late May followed by a long break over the heart of summer and wrapped up with 3 different sessions in late August and early September. Supplemented with a good dose of yard work throughout the summer, plenty of exercise and conditioning and some wild bird runs late in the summer, I think Hartley and I have put together a decent body of work for an amateur duo! Hartley has shown progress in just about every area of his training, he’s in good shape and we’ve been on some wild birds lately. We are ready to go!
Will there be some speed bumps early season? Absolutely! But sooner or later the dog and I will be in mid-season form and I’ll feel better knowing that Hartley and I did what we could in the off-season to make the most of this precious time of year.
Once again we have the pleasure of ringing in another fall season. Not to be taken for granted, another year has come and gone, and the dog and I are healthy, capable and excited to get out in the woods. We hope you are too and we invite you along to share in our adventures and tell stories of your own. In just over a week Hartley and I will be meeting up with the rest of the Northwoods’R crew, Garrett and his two GSP’s (Surly & Stella), as we head east to Michigan. We’re super excited to join up with Jay Dowd (@upland_lowlife), Sam Glasbergen (@the_royal_flush), A.J. DeRosa (@project_upland), The Orvis Company (@orvis) and likely a host of others as we embark on a week of grouse and woodcock shooting, cold beverages and tall tales around camp fires at Jay’s grouse camp in Michigan. We’ll be sure to keep you posted along the way, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to receive all of our updates.
For now, fall has arrived my friends! Safe hunting and great memories to all of you and we’ll leave you with some words to keep in mind as you take to the field this fall:
“Soak it up, go into it softly and thoughtfully, with love and understanding, for another year must pass before you can come this way again.” – GENE HILL
Northwoods’R: Nick Larson