Tuesday, August 18, 2009
STRIDEAWAY - Bill Allen - Odyssey Series and Prairie Blues
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Bill Allen ©2009. All rights reserved.
Back to part-time attendance at field trials, covering them for a daily newspaper, I began to do some grouse hunting in the Nantahala and Chattahoochee National Forests in north Georgia and North Carolina.
Very few people of my immediate acquaintance did this in those days, and it was the last hunting I ever did that was bloodthirsty by nature.
Since two birds in a day’s hunting by two men was a bonanza to celebrate, I did the population no damage.
But I did learn two things. The grouse you hear drumming and that you see pecking around the logging roads left by the Ritter Lumber Co., at the turn of that OTHER century, are not the same ones that we hunted in season.
Those birds that aped my Buff Orpington pet hens were seeking cohabitation or were drunk on fermented grapes.
Never did I own a dog that “quit” in the hunt. But I had one good setter that just lost interest when the third bird he pointed flew ‘way down the cove almost to the creek for the third time.
Looking back on my brisk but close hunting Nemo brittany, I must say that some dogs are just temperamentally equipped to learn grouse hunting and some are not.
How the Texas Traveler, son of ol’ Jimmy, the Texas Ranger won the 1947 Grand National Grouse Championship, is a testament to the fact that Jack Harper’s great dog DID bring brains back to one pointer line.
Grouse hunting takes more brains than I had in those days. What I learned in those mountains is that, hunting ruffed grouse, you must have a truly gifted dog. Use of wind direction, whirling messages in the steep coves, caution in the rhododendron “slicks” are all necessary. And, a bell that stops its noisome trill. Definitely not something a dog or a man can learn in brief exposure.
Continue reading "Bird Dog Odyssey V"
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen, Memoirs at 06:55
Monday, March 2, 2009
Bird Dog Odyssey IV
Bill Allen©2009. All rights reserved.
We left me in my usual state of quandary in those days, caught between Guy Stancil who was thoroughly convinced one could selectively breed a dog that would want to stay in front of a horse galley and Buddy Williamson, who believed that malleability could be selectively bred, but that his fine hand was necessary to “make” a class bird dog.
My next years, stretching from 1948 to 1976, never completely settled that argument in my mind, for I saw many dogs who would not cast behind a gallery. But in the nature/nurture argument of the ages, I never wandered far from the natural view.
Immediately following the above recorded colloquy, I followed these men and others, to the feet of folks who seemed to be sorcerers in disguise. Ches Harris was a giant from Alabama by way of Big Cabin, Oklahoma. Herman Smith was short of stature, huge of heart, a former market hunter from the Virginia Blue Ridge. John S. Gates, who kenneled at Philema, near Albany, Georgia, was originally an Alabamian, now embedded in the Plantation wonderland of southeast Georgia. George Crangle, a New Yorker and a grouse hunter, was now located in Burke County, Georgia, near Waynesboro. A Hoosier, E.A. “Red” Weddle, worked around Dublin, Georgia.
These men had dogs that literally hunted ahead, many times out of sight until they struck scent and located game. In a phrase of those days, they “ran off...but not QUITE!!!”
Continue reading "Bird Dog Odyssey IV"
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen, Memoirs at 16:07
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Bird Dog Odyssey III
Bill Allen©2009. All rights reserved.
(Author’s Note: Our two prior installments were presented in “third person” because much of the material was objective and common to at least the two youths, if not, indeed’ general knowledge collected by many in similar circumstances. The remainder of the Odyssey is much more subjective, personal and grist for debate. Therefore, I have chosen to retreat into a comfortable mythic “first person” style. I can DO that since I am doing the composing. And my comfort is extremely important.)
World War II was over, and strange changes had occurred by 1949 in Georgia and in quail hunting.
In the first place, it was widely and wildly rumored that some fools in south Hall County, angry at nocturnal fox hunters releasing more foxes in the area, had trapped several grey fox, infected them with distemper, (omnipresent in those days) and released them, willy-nilly.
Whether or not this was true, there was a steep diminution of foxes in the Piedmont area I knew.
But...and here I had my first intimation of the “Bounties are Bunk” standard of which I have since been a stalwart bearer...the quail were gone, too.
Most of the fox’s prey were enemies of the upland game bird also. It was all out of kilter. Then, there came the fields of crimson clover and the planting of myriad pine trees. Pastures went all the way into the woods, eliminating “edge”. There was no cotton, and very little corn.
Most of the quail we found were close to the barns, outbuildings and houses. And their “crops” held less seed and more insects.
Now, we put the dogs in the trunk and went from site to site, “spot-hunting”. In cold weather, they had time to gnaw the wires and we got warned for not having brake lights.
We moved out of the Hills, toward the coastal plain, and we heard about an organized hunting competition called “field trials”. My mixed group of hunting partners were not interested, but I was.
An early influence was a former big track race car enthusiast and Studebaker dealer named Guy Stancil. He had some young pointers he ran in trials. He introduced me to a bachelor gravel-and-rock hustler named R.J. “Buddy Williamson, who lived on what I called “PlumNelly Creek” because it was plumb out of my county (Gwinett) and nearly out of Fulton (Atlanta). He had some good hunting area within his reach on Sopalding Drive.
Guy and Buddy began instructions in field trial dogs, and that magical phrase of Bill Brown’s, “You can have more fun with a live quail than you can with a dead one...”
Next, I subscribed to the American Field magazine.
Continue reading "Bird Dog Odyssey III"
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen, Memoirs at 13:26
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Bird Dog Odyssey II
Bill Allen©2009. Al rights reserved.
Before they parted company, not to hunt together again, Bill and James picked up some hunting habits that were not all bad.
They carried extra socks and fatback in cat head biscuits that would keep well and stick to the ribs, thighs and calves. They carried a slip collar and a short lead in case they needed to “correct” a dog.
On one hunt, Bill took a swipe at the skull of a third party’s pointer bitch running in front of Monk on point. It was in THIS exercise that he learned that a pointer’s occiput is tougher than Circassian walnut gunstocks. His weapon was splintered at the tang by the blow; the bitch did not blink; her owner was excluded from the hunt, and James did some shooting on the way home, allowing Bill two singles.
Consulting with their elders, they learned that a flaring temper has no home in a hunting party. Monk was withdrawn and Bill, disarmed and dogless, spent hours soaking rawhide, punching it with an awl and lacing it around the splintered, separated stock. There was some trimming to do—of rawhide and splinters, but when it dried, the gun was shootable. Barely.
But Bill had to sell a lot of Saturday Evening Post magazines to pay for a new stock. It was NOT Circassian walnut, and had no cheekpiece either.
One of the first things they learned was to never strike a dog with any limbs of one’s own body, bare. Too “personal”. They were reduced to using hunting caps when they were beltless. Both the youths wore overalls with many pockets. Before they went away to college, they both learned that Carhartts turned briars best.
And they were instructed to never assume that because they got all their own correction in the general area of their backsides, they were NOT to direct DOWN on a dog, or strike him on his back. Better correction was achieved by holding the dog up by the collar and..even with a hunting cap or leash...fan UP at the chest.
They never had a dog or a puppy cringe or melt or “go down” on point. The dogs these young men were raised with only crouched when they hit rich scent suddenly or birds flushed in their faces and they crouched and rose. That was where Uncle Pat and Jack were somewhat different...even estranged...from other meat hunters in the area.
They ingrained in the boys, the attitude that quail just tasted better when the dog had something called “class”.
Class was more than standing tall, though. The gait of the dog had to show genuine happiness. Monk got demerits for nosing around on the ground while the setter bitch, Kate was praised for her high-headed, sifting of even the deadest air. It was a sign, the tutors said, that her scenting acuity was “higher on the scale.”
Uncle Pat had his own theory about that. He used what he called the “sound cycle” scale to explain it. Today, he might be enthused to use the entire electromagnetic scale.
The human voice, he said, was limited, unless you were dealing with opera singers like Caruso and Madame Galli Curci, or with Al Jolson and Ethel Merman. They had a different, richer scale. More cycles that 6,000 I think he said.
But we can HEAR them.
Then, comes radio, which is in the double digit thousands of cycles, and we need radio sets to decipher the waves. Even higher in cycles, were the short wave broadcasts that Wendell Power got of Hitler and the British Broadcasting Company. Very special, different decoders, called short wave receivers were used to unravel THOSE waves.
He said scent was the same and that man just cannot “smell” the scent of a rabbit or a coon or a possum or a quail...all of which left what he called “beads” and what we know is a sort of effluvium, peculiar to each specie.
Some dogs decipher scent at a lower threshold than other dogs, and do so under different weather conditions and in different cover.
Sensitivity to meager traces of a specific game bird scent also was a mark of elevated “class” the boys learned.
Kate used her olfactory acuity by thrusting her nose into the upwind like a magic wand and locating coveys from as far away as the width of a football field on some days. Monk plodded, his nose close to the cover. He never missed a running single. He could, at times, cut them off, his claim to fame: never flushing a bird.
And, as James went to Annapolis and to the Pacific, and their partnership was sundered, Bill was led to other partners and tutors to delve deeper into these mysteries of “class”.
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen, Memoirs at 12:49
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Bird Dog Odyssey I
Bill Allen©2009, All rights reserved
Red clay crenelated with upthrust ice scrunched underfoot.
Thistles bobbed and broom sedge waved gallantly in the chill northwest wind from the pond.
The punkin-eyed setter and the jug-headed old pointer emptied out and trembled in the early rosy light of a clear January denim sky as the two boys began their first unchaperoned quail hunt together.
The setter, “Jack” was Bill’s. The pointer, “Monk” was a joint project, with fellow feather-fin-and-fur chaser James.
These two throwbacks to 1880 were pledged to a pre-World War II regimen of restricted shooting...at quail, mostly. They were shooters from their earliest days in the woods, beginning with Daisy BB guns and guilty of stubborn destruction of songbirds for too long.
Then, Bill’s Uncle Pat and James’ Dad, Jack opened the secret door of upland bird hunting and that most seductive of all esoterics, the pointing dogs.
Youngsters, whatever else they do, are vulnerable in the area of “secrets”. So, despite the fact James had winged a barn pigeon in flight with a 22 rifle and finished it with a second shot, both young men succumbed to the mystery of the amazing dogs that located bunched up “coveys” of plump Bob Whites with the majesty of an untaken step.
Years later, James, who became an Admiral, confessed his .22 was loaded with rat-shot that scattered like a shotshell when he downed the pigeon. Even so, he was the better shot, always.
These two were never allowed to take the dog for granted. They were guided by their mentors to check the wind and the “glass” as their guides called the barometers on their porches, for threatening “lows”.
Without effort, they just drifted into wood wisdom without realizing it, but about directing and correcting the pointing dogs, they were instructed more by the dogs than by any heavy-handed adult.
So, by the time they set out on that January morning when Jack pointed in the edge of a sedge field, Monk honored with a back, and they each took a cock bird, the two were “boys” in the field no longer. They took two more singles located by Monk and went on toward the Little Mill looking for another bevy.
What morphed these two typically bloodthirsty children into restrained “sportsmen” who chose not to wipe out a covey of quail? It was a sentence Uncle Pat Greer picked up from reading the American Field, words from the great William F. Brown:
“You can have a lot more fun with a live quail than with a dead one...”
So the world took a couple of turns or so, and Bill, who did NOT become an admiral—or much of anything else important —went to work for Bill Brown as a “reporter” for the FIELD.
The pressing theme here is that when a youngster sees and feels the mystery of the pointing dog, and marches to all the myriad nuances of training and presenting a field trial performance, he is never a bloodthirsty killer again.
Field Trialers in the 21st century need to take ownership of this truth and sketch recruitment strategies accordingly.
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen, Memoirs at 16:02
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Bill Allen© 1957.
All rights reserved.
You're rolling in at sunset with a truck of restless dogs
And the whistling wind comes, sounding rather scary.
Unlock and open camp, then light the lanterns and the stove.
And we'll face another summer on the prairie.
Tomorrow we will cull them. And you'll say your string’s the worst,
But, of course, it’s far from extraordinary.
Some mornings on the check-cord and some hunting of young chicks,
And they’ll carry all their days the mark of “Prairie.”
You'll wrench an arm—and bounce—when your brainless nag departs
After dropping you kerplunk—(you were unwary)
A skunk gets you from one side and a porcupine the other
If you dismount haplessly upon the prairie.
Your best dogs point them, too, and there's little you can do
To correct their “varmint finds”—unnecessary.
If hail and twisters lay and you find the birds today,
You may still get something done out on the prairie.
The summer speeds away and you feel you've come to naught.
Then your dogs show form that’s due next January.
When the money trials come up, you don’t place a single pup,
So you fold your camp and vow to shun the prairie.
But, dreaming, longing nightly for the blue flax fields in bloom,
When your Junetime state-side life is sedentary,
You’ll jam the truck with gear and set your wheels for northern roads,
Toward the hopes, dreams—and mirages—of the prairie.
Posted by Strideaway in Bill Allen,
Poetry Corner at 09:31
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