Sportsman’s Corner: Old dogs and glossy buckthorn

  • French Brittanys Dinah and Laney team up to point a spring woodcock for their owner, Mike Roche in March. PHOTO/MIKE ROCHE

  • MIKE ROCHE

Published: 10/14/2021 1:50:25 PM
Modified: 10/14/2021 1:50:32 PM

By MIKE ROCHE

This writer has watched three bird dogs grow old.

The Irish setter we got after being married for a year was a good hunting dog and pet. Patty was a handful in our first apartment, but she became a good house pet, except for that tail! When she was happy, she could clear a table before you could react. My best memories of her were heading off to New Hampshire on a Saturday morning to hunt woodcock and grouse and then hunt Massachusetts covers for woodcock when the bag limit in both state was five birds. That would be capped off with a visit to Birch Hill MWA for a pheasant or two after the crowd had left and we would hunt the back covers with excellent success. She got ill at age 11 but hung on for a couple years and hunted right up to the end. Her last pheasant was pointed where Walmart stands today. Her end came after she suffered a stroke.

Then came the first French Brittany, Lily. She became a great grouse and woodcock dog and will be hard for any dog to top. She “pointed dead” instead of retrieving to hand but that was my bad training and it worked fine for both of us. She passed quickly after being diagnosed with mammary cancer and along came Dinah, over 13 years ago. Dinah always impressed those who hunted over her with her “athleticism” as more than one person commented. She worked in front of a lot of different hunters as she was my dog when my guiding work in New York began. She was a bird producer and over 500 woodcock, grouse and pheasant have been taken over her steady points.

The guiding, however, brings with it some baggage. Dogs get better than good with perennial training and my mentor, Gig Darey was a proponent of never rewarding bad behavior. If a dog “busted” a bird without a point or “crept” up and flushed a bird he would not shoot. Nor would he shoot “wild flushes” when a bird took off away from the dog after being flushed by a hunter. Those rules were always followed by me when hunting alone but it is hard to tell someone who is paying you a lot of money to hunt that they can’t shoot. So, Dinah became a bit more independent and the last couple of years would, on occasion, do things that I swear were to tick me off. But then she would flash that great style and staunchness, and all would be forgiven.

Two weeks ago, Dinah gave me a scare when she exhibited stroke symptoms that were later diagnosed at idiomatic vestibular disease which is also called “old dog’s disease.” Dr. Temple at Adams Animal Hospital was spot on with his diagnosis. On my return trip to Vermont, Dinah stayed behind, and she exhibited some worrisome behaviors that resulted in another trip to the vet. That later became even more disconcerting and her lethargy and difficulty moving had me thinking the worse.

She soon proved us wrong, and this week had recovered to the point that she joined me hunting local covers that were small and open. The deafness she has developed is an issue, however, and she sometimes goes exactly in the opposite direction and creates great stress for her handler! We will see how the next couple of trips go!

Unfortunately, those trips to local covers have been very disappointing. It is not for the lack of birds but a combination of factors.

First, this year the Oct. 1 start for woodcock is the earliest ever. The unseasonably warm temperatures, when paired with understory thicker than usual from the wet summer and nothing close to a killing frost make the covers a challenge.

Fighting through thick brush is never fun but this has ridiculous! However, the most disturbing thing has been the incredible surge in an invasive shrub, glossy buckthorn. After following this invasive for years (the importation, distribution, trade, and sale of glossy buckthorn have been banned in Massachusetts since Jan. 1, 2009) it is suddenly dominating a number of the bird covers that we have enjoyed for years.

You will find if you research glossy buckthorn that it grows to 20 feet in height and the seeds are spread far and wide by birds. It prospers in wetlands and has out competed the native alders that are beneficial to so many species including woodcock and grouse.

The plant has a number of characteristics that make it very undesirable, and it is not easy to control but you will find a number of methods to eliminate it from your land that include treatments in spring, summer, fall and winter that all can produce good results. If you look it up and see you have it, take action now before it overruns your property!

My October is certainly not off to a good start but if things trend as they have in recent years the upland hunting should go into November. Hopefully, Dinah will continue to improve but at least Laney will start getting more work as we begin putting miles on our boots and pads.

The Massachusetts Youth Deer Hunt was held recently and the Petersham Gun Club once again hosted young hunters after the hunt. Six young hunters enjoyed hot dogs, wings donated by Topsy’s and s’mores and everyone left with a prize. The real prize was a day of hunting and although only one deer was sighted everyone had fun. One bear was also seen by a young hunter and that was a thrill.

Congratulations to Jared Currier who was able to bag a spike buck on youth day. Way to go!

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involve in conservation his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 has served as advisor to the MaharFish’N Game Club, Director of the Massachusetts Junior Conservation Camp, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor for over forty years and is a New York hunting guide. He lives in Orange and can be reached at mikeroche3@msn.com.


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