Sportsman’s Corner: My search for the perfect dog food

  • Jim and Jimmy Carmichael of Conway pose with Laney and two woodcock taken this past weekend in New York. Photo/Mike Roche

  • Dinah, left, and Laney wear their protective vests as they get ready to take to the cover in search of grouse and woodcock in New York. Photo/Mike Roche

Published: 10/15/2020 6:08:48 PM
Modified: 10/15/2020 6:08:41 PM

This writer is sequestered in a remote hunting cabin in the middle of what many consider the finest upland bird hunting cover in the country.

There is certainly ample data and anecdotal evidence to support that claim. It has been my pleasure to travel the 250 miles northeast to this “promised land” for over 20 years and with three different French Brittanys. For me, it all about the dog work. Nothing excites me more than following a pointing dog around in the woods and it has been a joy to do that since I was 6 years old and begged my father to let me join him and his friend, Gig Darey, as they chased grouse and woodcock after they got home from teaching at the newly opened Mahar Regional School in 1957. In those days, the dog was one of a string of Irish setters, all named Judy.

Nowadays, everything is driven by science. Gig, who became my friend and mentor, did a lot of research and found the best dog food, from a nutritional aspect, he could find and fed it to his excellent Brittanys starting a month before the season. Twenty-five years ago, yours truly met Purina’s Bob West, a legendary figure in the world of canine nutrition, in Minnesota at the annual meeting of the Outdoor Writers of America and he offered me a chance to participate in a test of dog food using my father’s Brittany, Jude. Purina offered me free food, in the new and evolving world of high quality dog food, in exchange for my chronicling the impact I observed. It seemed to add to Jude’s endurance and got me started thinking about what actually was in the dog’s food. A big lesson was observing what came out after the food went in. Compact stools mean that the dog is utilizing most of the food. Copious, loose stools indicate that a lot of the ingredients just pass through and are not digested and used to provide energy. Who says that this writer does not know sh##?!

Fast forward to 2020. We, the dogs and I always confer on important matters, decided to use Purina Pro Plan as it listed the highest percentage of protein. That is important to both dogs. Laney, because she is a dynamo that just keeps on going and Dinah because, at 13, she is actually at a stage where she will use up muscle mass if she does not get enough protein. Last Saturday afternoon, during some cabin time forced by a string of very strong thunderstorms with 60-mile-per-hour winds and driving rain, I checked out the Purina website and had an online chat with one of the Purina staff, Barie, who responded to my inquiry about protein content on the Purina dry foods. She provided product info that indicated the Pro Plan line had the highest with 27 percent to 30 percent protein. No matter what brand you choose, you will not find much better protein content. It was reassuring to know that the girls were getting the best possible food. In addition, a raw egg has been added to the food in each bowl. A raw egg contains 6.28 grams of protein, so it is a boost on top of the ingredients in the food.

After two weeks of running these two hard-working dogs in challenging conditions that included thick understory and very warm temperatures, all that I can say is that both dogs have answered the bell every time and hunted hard and effectively. They sleep well at night. Given that the app on my phone says that I walk an average of five miles each day, it is reasonable to assume they probably cover considerably more ground and have to penetrate the cover. If my nutrition research has given them a little more energy and staying power, it is well worth it! There was one moment last Friday, when I ran the two dogs together. That is something I rarely do because Dinah’s hearing loss makes running her a challenge. In an overgrown orchard, Dinah froze on a solid point and Laney moved in from behind and locked up as well, perfectly “backing” the older dog. They held long enough for me to get out my phone and take a picture, put the phone back and move in make the shot. It was what I live the rest of the year to experience!

This weekend, we will be taking part as one of the huntsmen for the Ruffed Grouse Society New York Grouse and Woodcock Hunt. With all possible social distancing and Covid-19 protocols in place, 30 hunters will participate. My research while here has indicated that grouse numbers are up from the past couple of years and native woodcock appear to be about the average. This is the ninth year and Dinah and I have been part of the previous eight. It should be another great hunt for a real important conservation cause.

The “take home” lesson should be that despite heavy hunting pressure every year by very good hunters, the grouse and woodcock population remains strong in the covers managed actively using science to sure that covers have periodic planned cuttings to insure that the habitat includes plenty of early successional growth that is a boon to all wildlife. Songbirds, deer, turkeys, and varying hare are all found in abundance as well as the grouse and woodcock. Scientific management works! When older forests prevail, like is found in much of the rest of the northeast, wildlife populations are suppressed.

At some point, my Thoreau-like experience here in the cabin will end and it will be back to Massachusetts. We will just have to focus on local coverts and hope the woodcock flights are on schedule!

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