Lessons learned as a bird hunting dog turns 10
I grew up in a family with Brittanys, while my wife grew up in a Lab household. After hours of newlywed debate, Meredith and I settled on German shorthairs as the breed “compromise” between Brits and Labs. A decade later, we’ve hunted 11 states in search of eight different game birds and have learned a lot along the way.
This love story begins in Iowa
On April 16, 2007, a litter of German short-haired pointer puppies were born in the backyard of Steve and Jodie Ries, proprietors of Top Gun Kennels. Eight weeks later, on the lawn next to that kennel, a female puppy followed Meredith and I away from the litter to play. Like so many similar stories of a family meeting a litter of pups, “Trammell” had selected us for her new pack.
Trammell’s first hunt in da U.P., eh?
Many people meet the name “Trammell” with a perplexed look. To Michiganders, it’s a clear homage to my childhood idol, Alan Trammell, a legendary Detroit Tigers shortstop. Fitting for her name, Trammell’s first hunt took place in the grouse woods of my “Yooper” roots. I’d love to wax poetically about Tram’s first hunt under golden leaves and staunch points at 5 months of age, but nothing of the kind occurred that September day. I was happy enough to be walking the logging trails with my mom and dad where I grew up behind my very own bird dog.
Missing my way to a Minnesota limit
One month after that first U.P. grouse hunt, I entered a Minnesota waterfowl production area in west-central Minnesota on opening day with Trammell at my heel. That year, 2007, was near the high point for CRP acres in the country, and the pheasant numbers were on their way to generational-highs. To say that I was amped with anticipation would be a massive understatement. I entered the field that day after months of dedicated training, while Trammell had lived up to her end of the bargain as an honor roll student ready for the prime time.
“Today,” I told myself, “I was going to bag a wild opening-day rooster over my pup’s very first point. It was going to be magical.” Ten minutes into that first walk, Tram locked up as scripted. I approached and two roosters flushed to the sky for a fairytale double. But the fairytale was not to be. I missed both shots. Didn’t even pull a feather. I looked at Trammell with dejection. Her tail wagged and she jumped back into the grass to find some fresh scent.
I missed seven shots that morning before I finally connected. Yes, seven straight misses over Trammell’s first wild pheasant points. To Tram, we were together in a field having fun with no boundaries on our adventure. It was one of the greatest lessons in humility and hunting in my life. I have returned to that very same WPA for the first pheasant hunts with each of my subsequent two German shorthairs, Izzy and Esky, for a refresher on that lesson.
Canoeing for roosters
Perhaps our most memorable adventure together came as we floated the Missouri River in Montana. Under the tutelage of a local bird hunter, we’d beach the canoe on the shore of grassy islands, hunting our way downstream. With water rushing all around, roosters flushed toward the canyon walls of the river’s banks. It was a hunt fit for a scene from Legends of the Fall.
Rooster road-tripping through the Great Plains
The inaugural year of Rooster Road Trip was 2010, and Trammell was a spry 3-year old. For our “five states in five days” public lands hunting adventure, Trammell logged every mile in the field that year across North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas. Perhaps the best hunt of her life came on the fourth day of that trip when Anthony, Andrew, and I walked into a Nebraska CRP-MAP field together and left an hour later with six roosters that Trammell had pointed and retrieved with cameras rolling.
Pheasants in the mist
As you’d imagine, Trammell and I have spent a lot of time in South Dakota over the years. A prairie grouse hunt in the Fort Pierre Grasslands rates high in my memories. But at the top of our SoDak adventures was a hunt two autumns ago in a dense fog with Meredith carrying the camera. I’ve hunted under robin’s-egg blue skies, in gale-force winds, through snowy blizzards, and pounding rain, but never in a beautifully ominous fog like that day. Together, our family navigated away from the truck into the fields as the roosters held tight and my shooting held true.
The next adventure
As Trammell begins her 11th year, the gray has taken over her muzzle and stiffness slows her gait. Nevertheless, she is in good health and our vet has given her high marks for her physical condition as a “senior” dog. While her days of logging every mile on the trail each day are over, my fingers remain crossed for sharing a few more adventures in the fields and forests together. Maybe even a new state too.
Note: Trammell is a Pheasants Forever Dog Life Member. If you’d like to help ensure your bird dog buddy has places to roam each autumn, consider making a lifetime commitment with a Dog Life Membership. Your contribution will earn you a SportDOG brand SportHunter 1225 and a chance at a SportDOG brand TEK 2.0.
Trammell’s life lists
States Trammell has hunted
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
Upland birds Trammell has pointed & retrieved
- Ruffed grouse
- Sharp-tailed grouse
- Hungarian partridge
- Greater prairie chickens
- Bobwhite quail
- Scaled quail