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Sprout and guests at Upland Bird Country

"These dogs arenít like pointers and the birds will not act like pen-raised, either," I explain to my group of hunters.† "Keep your eye on the dog at all times and watch for him to get birdie. Make sure there is nothing but sky between the bird and the dog before you shoot."† And last but not least, "Gentlemen - you can shoot me, you can shoot each other, but donít you dare shoot my dogs!" †

With instructions for the hunt given, I cast Sprout, my three year old male English cocker, toward the cover in front of us.† My clients for today are three business partners from Houston: John, Richard and Jeff.† All three men are fair wing shooters but this morning will be the first time they have ever hunted over a flushing dog of any kind. A stiff winter wind gusts from the North and the shooting skills of these men will be well tested on the quail, chukar and pheasant we are hunting. †

The field I am guiding in consists of everything from mesquite thickets and open pasture land to creek bottoms covered in grapevine tangles.† A pointing dog would have a fit getting into some of this stuff and his handler would find himself just as exercised trying to kick the birds up, once found.† But for a spaniel - man, I can only think, "Perfect!"† †

Within a matter of a couple of leisurely walked minutes, Sprout starts getting birdie off to my left in a large patch of dying sunflowers.† "Watch him guys!† Heís on something!" † I fire off.† A moment later with only the dogís frantic tail visible in the dried weeds, a large, rooster pheasant explodes from his hiding with a loud cackle.† John is closest to the action at ten yards from the bird which is now quickly making his way downhill toward a massive thicket of mesquite trees.†"Boom! Boom!" both shots spent from his double gun and the rooster shudders just slightly.†

"These dogs get into the cover that larger dogs wonít, and that means more birds flushed," comments Steve. "Another thing that these flushing dogs do is force pen-raised quail to get up and fly more like wild birds."

"Heís hit!" I yell, as the bird glides a good seventy yards to the base of the first mesquite tree below. † Sprout sits a few feet from the flush watching the bird hit the ground with itís track shoes on.† "Bring it!" is the only command my thirty pound wild man needs to hear, and heís on his way to the trees far below. †

"Hey, Scott!† Iíll bet you a steak dinner that little dog of yours wonít bring back so much as a feather!" shouts Jeff, who just happens to own a couple of unspecified hunting dogs of his own.† I nod in acceptance of the challenge and watch Sprout sniffing the area where the pheasant had hit the ground running.† My little boy trails the scent into the thicket and immediately disappears.† One minute goes by, then another, then another, and all the while I can see Jeff out of the corner of my right eye, grinning.† And while he grins, Iím thinking, "Ah!† Not so fast my friend." †

Then suddenly, "You canít be serious!" shouts Richard at the sight of Sprout charging out of the woods with a very upset rooster in his mouth.† A couple of moments later, bird in hand, Richard and John stand looking smugly at their friend.† †

"Thatís one fine dog, man.† I would have sure never thought I would lose my bet, but you name the place and dinner is on me." is all Jeff could say to the little dogís performance. † † ††

The story I have just rehearsed happened last year and is by no means an infrequent event in my life as a spaniel owner/trainer and part-time hunting guide.† For the past several years when the weekend arrives, my dogs and I pack into the truck for the hour-long jaunt from Dallas to Corsicana.† Our destination - Upland Bird Country. †

Opened in 1986 by owner Steve Stroube, UBC offers pheasant, chukar and quail hunting on 750 private acres in Corsicana, Texas. It is considered one of the stateís most respected and exciting upland hunting destinations. † Steve cheerfully entertains more than 800 hunters each season and itís a long one at that - beginning in October and running through the end of March.† With this many shooters making their way into the fields, you can only imagine the number of game birds needed to accommodate the demand.† Over the six months of available preserve hunting, the guides and other workers at UBC will release roughly three thousand chukar, six thousand pheasant and seventeen thousand quail.† WOW!
Steve Stroube and his cocker Pete

While the information just related is impressive, let me tell you why it pertains to you, the reader, and me.† Simply put, Steve Stroube is one of us.† Heís a spaniel man, and†not just a spaniel man, but one with a desire to give his every guest the chance to hunt behind a working spaniel.† †

A few years back, Steve and I met through mutual friends and he had a chance to watch one of my dogs work at his place.† He was hooked!† Steve now owns three English cockers of his own: Pete, Maggie and Lucy.† Mr. Stroubeís belief in the breedsí amazing abilities is such that he has purchased spaniels for his full time guides to work in correlation with their pointers.† "These dogs get into the cover that larger dogs wonít, and that means more birds flushed," comments Steve. "Another thing that these flushing dogs do is force pen-raised quail to get up and fly more like wild birds."† †

Speaking for myself, I have found that the opportunity to guide hunters in the field has paid huge dividends for my own dogs.† In guiding, I can put my cockers onto two or three thousand birds in a season and that is exposure for which you just cannot pay!† Statistically, I find that only one in twenty of the hunters that shoot over my dogs have ever experienced a hunt with a flushing dog and most of those were labs. With very rare exception, I have found that guests of Upland Bird Country are blown away by the experience spaniels give in the field.†A day chasing upland birds gives folks the chance to ask more questions and convey more praise about spaniels than I ever thought possible.† One by one, wing shooters in Texas are getting hands-on education about the spaniels we love so much - and that suits me just fine! †

A Few Tips for Guiding With Your Spaniel

First, I submit that if your sole purpose is field training, then I would not even think about taking your dog to guide a hunt.† Simply put, I have doubts that any flushing dog is able to stay steady to wing and shot over sixty to a hundred birds in a day.† I am not so picky about my dogs holding steady to the hit bird, but I do all I can to see that they "hup" on the flush.† If you get the chance to do some guide work, the most important lesson you can instill is safety!† I tell each shooter prior to the guns being loaded what I want and except from them.† Because of the huge difference between flushers and pointers, people must know how to behave with their firearms.† Rules vary a bit, but the prime rule is:† Donít shoot if you canít see sky between the bird and the dog!† If, by chance, someone shows unsafe behavior in the field, I simply request that they unload and sheath their firearm.† I have rarely been faced with this situation, but it only takes one stray pellet to injure or kill a dog.† Thatís what makes it imperative that anyone not exercising stated etiquette is excused. †

In the event that like me, youíre working for a land owner, please be aware that your services will not be retained if you use his guest time to train your spaniel.† Minor corrections during the hunt are to be expected, but a "green" dog has no place in front of paying hunters, much less a "green" handler. †

One final suggestion:† Iím aware that not everyone would want to put their dog in front of strangers in the field or, for that matter, even guide - period.† But there is an alternative.† Invite a trusted friend or two to go hunting.† For yourself, donít even bother taking a shotgun.† Take only your dogs.† This provides the opportunity for you to handle your dogs with no other concerns other than producing birds for the shooters.† You will discover that running your spaniel in this situation will not only help you to see faults and apply correction that may be needed, but it will also give someone the chance to experience what makes the working spaniel so amazingly memorable.

To book a hunt, contact Steve Stroube at Upland Bird Country.

Scott Allen Groff

Scott Allen Groff is a former high school teacher who has been training and hunting with spaniels for the past six years. He was the editor for Beretta's magazine, is a published author and owner of Maximum English Cocker Kennels.

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