The Brothers

John and I were able to leave the kids and the chickens and the ducks and the geese and the cats with a number of extremely wonderful friends and family (particularly John’s mom who watched the girls for a whole week!) and take a trip, just the two of us, to North Dakota.

It was fantastic.

But, in planning a trip to North Dakota with five full days of hunting, we looked at our two dogs, the completely fantastic one and John’s too. And knew we would need more dog power if we wanted to spend all our days in the field.Storm and Trip

Fortunately, when my immediately family gets together, we come trailing ten dogs. So we started the debating and the discussing the pros and cons, ages and attitudes of various dogs that we might be able to borrow.  John decided to take my Dad’s dog Buzz, who he’s been able to bring on many hunting trips before, and I decided to take my brother’s dog Sunday, litter mate to Trip.

“You want Weasel?!?” came out of more than one person’s mouth.

(Weasel is his other name, trust me, it’s fitting.)

Yes, I did want the Weasel. He wasn’t in the camp of old dogs that can only hunt part days and then needs pain meds for arthritis. He’s got drive that exceeds his common sense. And when he’s on… he’s amazing.

Of course Sunday and Trip are also the puppies that fought as 12-week old puppies – Cain and Able style. Now that they are grown they mostly circle and growl but, as remarked on the last hunting trip after they were ripped apart, “They don’t start fights anymore but they sure will finish them.” Even when Sunday is having an amazing day he requires a whistle and a shock collar at the ready- just for a reminder that he’s hunting with you. And when he’s not having an amazing day…. he looks like a remorseless eggbeater churning up the field and driving away birds far in front of you.

But I still wanted Sunday.

And so for a week I hunted with the two brothers. Swapping them in and out to rest them, letting John hunt with Sunday when he needed to. Learning more of my dog’s habits and tells, and learning Sunday’s anew.

Trip doesn’t have quite the drive of Sunday but he has enough. Enough that no matter how pathetic he walks while loading up into the vehicle, he runs like it’s the first time out once his nose hits the field.  And Trip is also a high maintenance dog, happy to listen to whistle commands, perhaps happier still if you left your whistle and home and just let him fly through the field at will.Trip

But after that their hunting styles diverge. Trip has subtlety.  The pheasants we were after run on the ground while they have cover before being forced to fly. Trip would stop on a soft point, get his sneak on and move up, either stopping on his own or when I told him to wait for me to catch up.  Then he’d be off sneaking down the field after the bird again until it would either hold still or more often, flush up in front of us. One day Trip and I followed a hen pheasant a half mile through a four-foot wide strip of grass to have her flush wild on the far side. He was sneaky, he was subtle, he whoa’ed and listened, he was awesome (of course he was, he’s my dog). There is the little detail about honoring points (Honoring is when a dog stops when they see another dog on point.) Trip … ummm… doesn’t.  But he’s my dog, so he’s still awesome – just ask me.Trip

On the other hand we have Sunday. Sunday has yet to learn the definition of subtle. Sunday runs through the field like a dog on fire. When he catches birds scent that little wiry body you thought was completely wound up, winds tighter.  If the pheasant was sitting still Sunday would lock on a beautiful point. But, these were pheasants, they don’t like holding still. With his nose or eyes on a pheasant running through the grass ahead of him, Sunday would go into crazy egg beater mode; whipping around in circles, bounding through the tall grass, determined to scare the bird into the air or perhaps accidentally jump on it and squash it. On a good day, I could keep him near me and often that thrashing he gave the field would effectively trap the bird between us and I’d get a shot. On a bad day he’d be off and the frenzy would start out of range. Then he would come back, tongue out, laughing saying “DID YOU SEE THAT! Wasn’t that great how I just flushed 67 birds on the far side of this field, there were so many it was amazing!!!” In those fields his name turned from Weasel into something less kind. But even when he’s being rotten, Weasel honors another dog’s point like a champ.Sunday

And if you were to be so unlucky as to hit a pheasant that hits the ground running both these brothers will run it down, no matter how far it goes, and bring it back.Sunday

I started hunting because I love to watch the dogs do what they were born and bred to do. While I could have chosen to hunt with a pair of dogs that were a little easier to hunt with, the exuberance with which these two brothers ran through all the fields couldn’t help but make me smile and walk a little faster myself.  The dogs never held it against me that I whistled them back when they got too far (only when I missed another shot) they’d just swing by me for a quick drink of water and go again, noses to the wind to run some more.

So, yes I did take Weasel on our hunting trip.  And next time I can find a way to do it I’d happily take these two brothers, whistles, shock collars, growls and all out with me again.

Because by the end of a long day of hunting we were all so tired and happy that when those soft, half-hearted growls would rumble between them…Sunday…those brothers didn’t even bother opening their eyes.




Old Coot books by Jerry Johnson

Father’s day is coming. I can tell because advertisements everywhere have been telling me how I should get the fathers in my life a bit of golfing paraphernalia, a new watch and a jersey from their favorite sports team.  Or in some cases, terrible combinations of the three.

I don’t know about the dads in your life but if I gave mine any of the above items there would be some serious raised eyebrows and they’d probably preemptively cancel Christmas.

If the fathers in your life are anything like the ones in mine –

The kind who would rather hike through fields and woods all day than play a round of golf.

The kind who you’ve heard argue the merits of their choice of hunting rifle far more often than defend their favorite sports team.

The kind that are more likely to wear a beat up orange outfit as they follow their dog through the field than strap on a fancy watch.

– Then I’m here to save your Father’s Day.

Jerry Johnson (a self proclaimed Old Coot and curmudgeon) blogs at Dispatch from a Northern Town and has collected many of his essays on hunting, bird dogs and commentary on life in the North Country into a series of Old Coot books.

Of course, if your father is a father like the described father, there is a chance that he’s got his own Old Coot stubborn curmudgeonly ways and would balk when presented with a single random essay from this collection.

Don’t let that stop you, if he’s not the kind of dad to be interested in the Science and Art of Rifelry (Old Coots Never Forget) maybe he’s the type who would enjoy an essay on snowshoeing (Crazy Old Coot).
Jerry won my readership with an essay on the difference between hunters and shooters (Old Coots Never Forget) and his dog stories, that often leave me in tears, like Molly’s Grouse (Coot Stews.)  Perhaps the effects of Ethanol on the country side (Coot Stews) will get your Dad excited or maybe he would rather appreciate the joys of making firewood (Crazy Old Coot).

And everyone, who’s ever hunted over a dog (and quite a few of those who never have) will love the story of a Bad Day at Crane Creek (Old Coots Never Forget).

Would I recommend these?  These are not the books to give your golf loving, tv watching, man cave living dad. Save these books for those of us who love to follow a dog through the field and live part of our life in the outdoors.  We are the ones who will appreciate them.

Many of the essays can be read right on Dispatches from A Northern Town and I encourage you to go read a few and see what you think before you go pick up a book (or three) for your favorite outdoor dad (or mom, or uncle, or son, or yourself…).  Sure, you could read online or get a copy for your Kindle… but buy a book. Those of us who are slowly making our way to Old Coot status aren’t quite ready to give up the feel of a good book in the hand.










On the last hunt of the season, Trip and I waited at the top of a hill for the rest of the group.


You may now make admiring comments on how handsome my dog is and reflect on his fantastic behavior that he was actually waiting with me at the top of a hill.

Don’t worry, there’s time to let all the beauty of it sink it,  plenty of time to expounded on his greatness. We’ve months of waiting before it’s time to walk the fields again.


Frozen Fingers and Wide Smiles

My shoulders sag as the heat seeps in and the tension flows out. Then, just as I sigh with relief my teeth clench and eyes squint against the pain as feeling comes back to my numb fingers. I hold them in the bucket of hot water until the pain subsides and they are warm again. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Half in pain, half in sympathy with my cousin who is doing the same in a bucket of her own. Giggles mix in with the “Ows,” and we remove our dripping fingers wiping them dry as we bounce around trying to feel our toes. I can only feel two of the ten I know should be down there. So I jump up and down on the cold cement floor and laugh and tease until the next half-frozen hunk of meat lands on my cutting board.

I dive back in, trimming and cutting, turning a leg of deer into a roast, stew meat, hamburger, with a bit of suet set aside for the birds. I listen to recipe ideas from my uncle, tease my mother, catch up with my aunt and dive for the bucket of hot water every few minutes when I can no longer feel my thumbs. In the rays of sun that feel like they almost warm the garage, we compare fingers to see whose are whit-er, blue-er, cold-er and I laugh and work alongside my cousins and husband. I run to the house for more hot water and bring back one of the kids to learn to cut strips of meat for the grinder, label a package of hamburger and the importance of bringing candy and hot drinks to the workers.

The hours pass and the cold seeps deep into us, just as pervasive as the ever-present smiles on our faces, until finally, the job is done for the year. Freezer ready packages are loaded into cars as hugs are given all around. Back in the warm house, Grandpa tells us we must have sisu to have been working in the cold so long.


I think about it on the long drive home with the kids sleeping in the back and the heater blaring in the front. I think about it now, hours later when my fingers are still burning from the freeze/thaw cycles they endured.  But my cheeks still hurt from smiling too. It might be sisu that keeps us out there in the cold, but only because it runs in the family.



My Dad’s side of the family is Finnish and sisu is one of those non-translatable words.  I went searching online and liked how Finlandia University defined it:

“Sisu (pronounced – see’-soo) is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.”

Black and White Sunday: Day’s End

My brother and I sat on the tailgate of the truck as we waited for our parents to hike out of their field. Laughing and talking, sharing a drink and pulling burrs out of the dogs. Enjoying the day’s end as the sun sank until everything glowed in it’s own halo of light.
Trip black and white

Discerning readers may notice I shared this picture once before, in color, but as one of my favorites from the Montana trip I couldn’t resist fiddling with it again.

I think it’s better in black and white, how about you?


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Not A Duck

I have an uncle who likes to classify birds in one of two ways.


Not a duck.

Duck, clearly, being the preferred type.

Storm seems to be taking after him. She duck hunts with John and she upland hunts with both of us. But after today, I think her preference is falling heavily toward duck.Mom pheasant hunting


On another beautiful, blue sky, fall day my mom and I went out pheasant hunting. We started out with a bang. Trip had a perfect point and retrieve for me and then my Mom and her dog got a bird. (It was probably just as perfect but I didn’t witness it.  So for the purposes of this post my dog wins the Most Perfect Dog award). Just after that Storm held a point for me for ages. Ages, because that’s how long it took me to realize she was missing, search her out in the long grass, find her locked on point, come up next to her and finally flush the pheasant. It was a great point and, fortunately, I was shooting straight that day. The bird went down and Storm ran off after it only to return with a slightly damp pheasant. Which was odd, but there was a bit of water around so I didn’t think too much of it.

I should have.

Apparently Storm was looking for ducks.

Mom shot the last bird of the day and I watched as Storm took off after it for the retrieve. She picked it up, ran directly to a very large, muddy puddle and dunked the pheasant in the middle of it. For those of you unfamiliar with how bird hunting with dogs work, let’s be kind to John’s dog (remember that fantastic point!) and just say that’s… not the ideal retrieve. After the pheasant’s initial dunking I believe she looked at it and was still un-satisfied with it’s not-a-duck appearance. So Storm, nosed it and mouthed it, repeatedly rolling it over and over in the giant mud puddle until it was a dark, soggy, mass of feathers.

Storm in a puddle with Not A Duck

At this point it may have been a good idea to work on some dog training but it’s quite possible that my mom was too busy making indignant comments on the worthiness of John’s dog while I was too busy giggling and taking pictures, so we didn’t. Eventually Storm crawled out of the mud hole with the sodden mass of feathers. It still didn’t look quite like a duck but on the other hand it no longer looked like any pheasant I’ve ever seen retrieved!

I picked it up, heaviest pheasant I’ve ever handled, and stuffed it into my mom’s game vest for her. I think I heard her sloshing a bit on the way back to the truck.

As for Storm? I’m pretty sure that this weekend John needs to take his dog duck hunting.


Sometimes they are fantastic… Trip

…and sometimes not…Mom and Sunday

… but whether they are done for the day…Storm in the box

Trip in the grass… or still on the hunt …Trip running in the sun Trip retrieving sharp-tail

…it wouldn’t be my kind of hunting without them.

This picture is blown out but I had to use it anyway. My first three bird limit with a pile of my favorite dogs- photography be damned it was a good day!

This picture is blown out but I had to use it anyway. My first three bird limit with a pile of my favorite dogs- photography be damned, it was a good day!

The General Manager

This is Turk.Turk

Turk, otherwise known as Turkey, or Mr. Impressive if you want to get all official about it, is my brother’s dog. In the past few years Turk has been joined in the field by his two half brothers. Trip (my dog) and Sunday, a.k.a. Weasel (also my brother’s dog) and the three of them are amazing.Turk, Trip and Sunday

I could wax poetic on how, when they hunt together, they truly hunt together. Working with each other, blocking birds, covering the field all the while looking like the handsomest trio of pups you’ve ever seen. But those of you who are bird hunters with dogs of your own probably won’t believe me (because, obviously, your dogs are better).  And those of you who aren’t won’t fully comprehend the awesomeness that I’m trying to convey so I won’t. I’ll just stick with amazing.

These dogs are amazing.

One field, three awesome dogs and a limit of pheasants for everyone including my mom the picture taker.

One field, three awesome dogs and a limit of pheasants for everyone including my mom the picture taker.

Turk is getting up in years, he’ll be 9 come spring, which means that sadly his experience in the field is getting tempered by his stamina. Fortunately, he has the young boys, four year old litter-mates, that he’s training up. And yes, I say he’s training them up. My brother and I, we try to help, but Turk is the one pulling the real weight.Turk on the kennel box

Early in our week of Montana hunting the three boys would swarm the field together. Often Turk was the steadying presence for the young dogs as they pinned down a bird. But by the end of the week he was tired, trotting rather than running through the grass. Occasionally, stopping and staring into whatever likely cover we were passing by as if to say, “Hey boys! Get in there!”And the youngsters did. He had taken over as general manager of our little pack of dogs.Turk

But Turk wasn’t completely out of gas.  He was just an experienced dog conserving it for when it counted.

Near the end of the week my brother shot a sharp-tailed grouse. Off it flew over the crest of a hill, running out of steam and going down. Right behind it flew the dogs. Sunday, Turk and Trip lined up and running all out for the retrieve. They were, as I have said, a beautiful sight. And then, as we watched, Turk kicked it into high gear. Always the champion of the long distance retrieve, he was not about to be outdone by those young upstarts.  And the dog that had been trotting about lengthened his stride and started gaining on Sunday as they crested the hill and disappeared out of sight.

My brother and I looked at each other and laughed. Turk retrieving sharp-tail.

Of course it was Turk who came back over the hill, mouth full of feathers, with a look in his eye for the youngsters as if  to say, “This is how it’s done.”


Montana Pond

I’m in Montana this week chasing after birds with my dog and taking in the sights along the way…Montana pond

…and what sights they’ve been!

I’ll have more photos then you’ll ever want to see once I get home to my computer and quick internet but until then you can check out Instagram (link in sidebar) for occasional updates!