Do Spaniels POINT?

An illustration from the Quadrupedum Omnium Bisulcorum Historia by Ulisse Aldrovandi, published in 1621.
The writing on the left reads: Canis Hispanicus auribus demissis, Espagneulx Gallis, Can Limier Gesnero
 “Spanish dog with hanging (or drooping) ears, Gallic (i.e.: French) Spaniel, Lymer type dog”

Like the term “braque”, the word épagneul can be a tough nut to crack. For English speakers, an approximate pronunciation would be Ay- (rhymes with “say”) Pan- (rhymes with “dan”) YUL (rhymes with “pull”). Ay-Pan-YUL. The origin of the word is unclear. Gaston Phébus wrote in Le Livre de la Chasse 1388 that:
There is another type of dog that we call chiens d’oysel and espaignolz, because this type comes from Spain, even though there are some in other countries.
Chiens d'oysels from Le Livre de la Chasse
From this and other lines in Le Livre de la Chasse, many have concluded that épagneul means “from Spain”. It is also considered by many to be synonymous with chien d’oysel (dog of the bird) and to refer only to long-haired pointing dogs. But not all authorities agree on these points. Jean Castaing wrote an excruciatingly detailed analysis of the word épagneul in his monumental book, Les Chiens d'Arrêt. He suggests that épagneul may not mean “from Spain” since épagneul-type dogs probably developed somewhere further north. He presents a fairly good argument that is supported, in part, by other authors, that épagneul could have come from the Old French espanir which means to “spread out”. In any case, getting to the bottom of the word’s origin does not really help us with the main problem that it presents today: Spaniels don’t point, but épagneuls do!

Épagneul type dogs on a cart. They could be Brittanies,
but are more likely "épagneuls du pays" (country spaniels)
of mixed/unknown ancestry
In English, when it comes to sporting breed nomenclature, the word “spaniel” is used almost exclusively for breeds that flush game and never for breeds that point game. So when the name of a pointing breed such as the Épagneul Breton is translated as “Brittany Spaniel”, it causes all kinds of confusion. In fact, the “spaniel” part of the Brittany’s name was such an irritant to many English speakers that it was dropped altogether by national breed clubs in the US and UK. Today, most English speakers just call it the Brittany. 

Pont-Audemer Spaniel with Ruffed Grouse
(Manitoba, Canada)

To add to the confusion, none of the other épagneul breeds from France—the French, Picardy, Blue Picardy, Pont-Audemer and Saint-Usuge—have dropped the “spaniel” part of their names in English. English speakers who own and breed them, use the term spaniel — and soon get used to explaining that yes, the dogs point, and no, not all "spaniels" are flushing dogs. And that's not all! In French, just about any breed of pointing dog with long hair can be called an Épagneul. So to many French hunters, a Small Munsterlander is a Petit Épagneul de Munster, a Drenthe Patrijshond is an Épagneul de Drenthe and the German Longhaired Pointer is an Épagneul Allemand (or sometimes even a chien d'oysel!)

Épagneul Breton at full gallop, Picardy, France

Small Munsterlander with a nice rooster, South Dakota, USA.
In France, the breed is known as the Petit Épagneul de Munster.

And finally, there is one more curious linguistic twist. The French do not translate the English names of the flushing spaniel breeds. They call them by their English names, often with a thick French accent. So in France, you will hear French hunters call Springer Spaniels is a "Spreenn-gairz”, Cocker Spaniels is a “Coke-air Span-yellz” and Irish Water Spaniels "Eereesh Vat'air Span-yellz". 

German Longhaired Pointer in the Netherlands
In France, the breed is known as the Épagneul Allemand or Chien d'oysel.
Here is the list of the various French "épagneul" breeds still being bred in France (and elsewhere) today. 

Épagneul Français (French Spaniel)
Épagneul Picard (Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul Bleu de Picardie (Blue Picardy Spaniel)
Épagneul de Pont-Audemer (Pont Audemer Spaniel)
Épagneul Breton (Brittany [Spaniel])
Épagneul de Saint Usuge (Saint Usuge Spaniel)

Épagneul Français (French Spaniel) in Québec.
In my view, the most elegant of all the épagneul breeds.

Get The Lead Out

Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in the much of the world for decades, yet it still poses a risk to many species of birds. A new study takes a looks at the impact of lead from ammunition and fishing tackle on population levels of birds in the US (spoiler alert, it's not good!) and then explores ways of reducing that impact (spoiler alert: hunters can play a key role in getting the lead out of bird populations).

I've embedded the study below. It is a fascinating read!

Many thanks to Richard Sojda for bringing the study to my attention and to Susan Haig, the main author of the study for allowing me to share it on my blog.  

Skinny Puppy?

Yesterday, I posted an article about the new laws for e-collars in Quebec. As usual, I shared the link to the article on various social media platforms and discussion forums. Overall, the article was well received. I got some positive feedback and many 'thanks!' for explaining the nuances of the laws.

But, surprisingly, I also got some very negative feedback about the photo (below) that I posted to illustrate the article. 

The photos is of my dog Henri on an intense point in the middle of the hunting season. It is from a burst of shots that I took machine-gun style as he pointed a covey of nervous sharp-tailed grouse. When I got home and looked at the series, the one I finally chose was the frame of Henri inhaling deeply, taking in a huge gulp of scent. I felt that the shot really showed Henri's muscles, his lean, fit build and the intensity of the point. I then did more than my usual amount of post-processing to the shot, increasing the contrast, clarity, sharpness etc. to add drama and definition to Henri's physique. 

I've used the photo before in other contexts and I've received a lot of compliments on it from people who are used to seeing super-fit field trial dogs or hard core hunting dogs on a super intense point, sucking in scent. But when I posted it yesterday, it seems that some folks only saw a dog that, to them, looked like it was 'starving', 'ill',' or 'abused'.  

And that is fine. I believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion. If they feel that they are able to judge the weight and fitness of a dog in a single photo, then so be it. But basing an opinion on a single photo is almost never a good idea. And if the opinion is backed up by nothing more than a profound lack of knowledge about how hard-core, high-performance dogs actually look when they are doing what they are bred to do in the field or how photos can be 'tweaked' to exaggerate a certain look, maybe that opinion should remain private. Just sayin'

But post they did. Some folks made comments suggesting that I should immediately double or triple my dog's daily food ration to 'put some weight on him'. Others thought I should never hunt a dog in such 'poor' shape. So I thanked them for their concern (sincerely, I am sure they mean well and only want to help) and then I proceeded to explain why they were wrong:

First of all, as mentioned, the image is part of a series of about 15-20 shots taken over the course of maybe 5 seconds, as Henri was pointing a nervous covey of sharp-tailed grouse. Whenever I shoot a series like that, I weed through them after the shoot, deleting the less-than-great shots and only keeping the 'keepers'.

Here is a shot of Henri taken on the same day. To my eye, he looks anything but 'starving'. 

And here are some photos of Henri taken just minutes before I took the series of photos of him on point. 

But the one I kept, tweaked and them posted was this frame taken as Henri inhaled deeply, drinking in a huge gulp of scent. Here it is before any real 'tweaking' in Lightroom and Photoshop:

And here is the shot that was taken half a second later as Henri exhaled. Note how the muscles all look the same, but the ribs are less prominent. 
Obviously not a 'keeper'!

But that is not the only reason the ribs in the posted photo are so obvious. By adjusting the contrast, clarity and other things in the image, all the lines of the physique are enhanced. Here is a comparison on the 'inhale' shot, before (top) and after Lightroom and Photoshop tweaks (bottom):

So another step in the process made the ribs even more apparent. Personally, I like the look...but maybe it is because I like my dogs to look like Georges Saint Pierre (and my wife wishes I looked like Georges...)

But I can understand why some folks might look at the shot and think WOW, what a skinny dog! Maybe they are just not very familiar with the kind of athletic build many of us prefer, and maybe they are not aware of just how much a photo can exaggerate things. 

Take a look at this photo of an all-age Pointer. I took it during a field trial in Manitoba. Does his food ration need to be doubled? Or is he fit to run in the national championship? (the answer is the latter!). 

And take a look at this historical photo of a Weimaraner in Germany. Is it 'starving' or just really, really fit?

And if you want to see what Henri looks like in action on sharp-tails and snipe, and also see the effect that sucking in scent has on the appearance of the rib cage, take a look at this video. It was taken a day or two before the photo of Henri on point. Watch as he breaths in, you will see the ribs appear..and disappear.

And finally, here is a shot of the actual covey of birds Henri was pointing that day. SHARP-TAILS!!

E-collars in Quebec


 Les lois inutiles affaiblissent les lois nécessaires.  

Extrait de L’Esprit des lois

Note: The following article covers certain nuances of provincial law in Quebec. I am not a lawyer, so please take what you read here with a hefty chunk of salt. It is also about e-collars which can be a hot-button issue among dog owners and trainers. I may post something in the future to further clarify my personal views on them, but for now, I will try to keep the article focused mainly on the legal issues surrounding the use of e-collars on hunting dogs in Quebec.

If you type the words "electronic collar" and "Quebec" into a goole search, you'll probably get dozens of links to articles about e-collars (and prong collars) being 'banned' in the Canadian province. Fortunately, for dog owners who support the proper use of e-collars, the articles are wrong. E-collars are NOT banned in Quebec. So what happened? Where did the misinformation come from?

Paved With Good Intentions.

The province of Quebec has long been considered the puppy mill capital of Canada. The province's vaguely worded and poorly enforced animal protection laws meant that unscrupulous breeders could keep and breed domestic cats and dogs in horrible conditions. But in 2013, after significant public pressure, the ruling party finally introduced new legislation designed to strengthen the Quebec Animal Health Protection Act. Soon after, a detailed application guide was published in an effort to help people understand the new laws and how they should be interpreted and applied by the courts. And while much of the information in the guide can be helpful, none of it is actual legislation. The guide is meant to explain the laws, not add to them or amend them in any way. 

But that is exactly what the La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs claimed was done when it came to legislation regarding dog and cat collars. In the official act, the following line is found: "The animal's collar must not hamper the animal's breathing, or cause it pain or injury.

Notice that there is no mention of any specific kind of collar. As written, the law basically says that ANY collar you put on a dog or a cat "... must not hamper the animal's breathing, or cause it pain or injury".  And who would disagree with that? Nothing you put on your dog — collar, sweater, boots, a Halloween costume or goggles — should hamper its breathing or cause it pain or injury. So the problem is not the actual law as it is written. The problem is the way the application guide tried to explain the law.

Unlike the actual law, the application guide did in fact mention specific types of collars.  Here is a screen shot from the first edition of the guide published in late 2013.  

Translation: Non-acceptable types of collars.
Electronic collars, anti-bark or for training. These collars do not meet
the requirements of the law since they can cause pain and injury to the animal.

Photos of an electronic bark collar and a prong collar were placed under the heading "Non-acceptable types of collars". The text next to each type of collar reads: "These collars do not meet the requirements of the law since they can cause pain and injury to the animal."

La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs takes action

Realizing that the wording in the application guide would have a huge impact on gundog owners and trainers, members of the La Fédération québécoise des chasseurs et pêcheurs asked the provincial government to consider changes to some of the language in the guide. A memorandum issued by the Fédération argued that
"....the Application Guide, despite what it written in its own introduction, adds constraints and parameters that are not in the law, for the sole purpose of prohibiting training tools that are misunderstood due to unfounded prejudice. Moreover, it implies that people who uses these tools do so with the intention of hurting or injuring the animal, something that is absolutely contrary to the true intentions of anyone concerned with the healthy development of the animals with which they work."
Just like the men and women who wrote the law, Federation members understand that ANY kind of collar can hamper breathing and cause pain or injury if it is improperly used. So they were not asking for a change in the wording of the law, they were simply asking that the application guide stick to its mandate and not add "constraints and parameters that are not in the law". Why were e-collars and prong collars singled out in the guide? Why were users of such devices automatically assumed to have evil intentions?

There are already laws on the book to address the mistreatment of dogs. If any type of collar is used to hamper breathing and/or cause pain or injury to a dog, the Criminal Code applies. In fact, anyone doing anything with any device or even their own hands that hampers breathing or causes pain or injury to a dog is in violation of the criminal code and should face the consequences. 

Another point the Federation made was that the new laws were about the conditions in which dogs and cats are kept (housed, fed, watered, bred etc.) and NOT about how dogs are trained or used for hunting. So any reference in the application guide to e-collars did not apply to them as training devices or devices used in the field at a distance.

In the end, the powers that be saw the light. The Federation succeeded in convincing them that e-collars, when properly used for the purposes for which they are designed, do not systematically hamper breathing or cause pain or injury to the dog. So they modified the language in the guide (not in the law, the language there was always considered perfectly acceptable). It now says that e-collars and prong collars are 'not recommended'.

Translation: Not recommended.
These collars can cause pain and injury to the animal. 

And that is a spot on compromise in my view. I own and use e-collars. I believe that in the right hands, when used correctly for the purposes for which they are designed, they can be highly effective tools. But I do not recommend them to every guy and girl out there with a shotgun and a gundog. I only recommend them to people who are ready and willing to spend the time and effort to learn how to use them effectively. In the wrong hand, they can cause pain and injury to a dog, just like any collar can.

So I applaud the Federation and the Government of Quebec for agreeing to make a simple change in the language of an application guide that, in the end, makes a huge difference for hunters and their dogs in la belle province. Now, if you choose to use an e-collar in Québec, you are not automatically assumed to be abusing a non-acceptable device, you will not be given a warning to stop using it and you will not face fines if you continue to use it...just like any other collar. 

Special thanks to Martin Gagnon for helping me understand the nuances of the issues and the Fédérations efforts to change the wording in the application guide.

A GPS Solution for the Great White North!

In my previous post I examined the issues surrounding the use of Garmin's Astro and Alpha GPS tracking devices in Canada. Basically, operating them in the great white north is a no-no because the devices broadcast on a radio frequency that cannot be used without a license in Canada.

But I also pointed out that the department in charge of regulating telecommunication frequencies in Canada is interested in compliance, not enforcement. There are no squads of radio-cops lurking behind hay bales on the prairies of Saskatchewan looking for offenders. So I am sure Astros and Alphas have been used in Canada for years by people willing to take the risk of maybe getting some sort of radio-rule ticket from...well, I have no idea who would actually hand them out.

Garmin Astro in action in ...?
Now, however, the latest software updates for Astros and Alphas includes a 'fix' that makes the device automatically turn the dog tracking feature off when it detects that it is outside of the US (being a GPS device, it knows where it is!). So anyone currently running an Astro or Alpha outside of the US is faced with a choice: either update the software and lose the ability to use it anywhere but in the US or leave the old version on the device and risk it quickly becoming quickly obsolete. You would also have to say goodbye to any warranty repairs since sending it in for servicing would almost certainly mean a software update in the repair shop. 

So are hunters and field trialers in Canada out of luck? Will all the fine Americans who come here every year to hunt and participate in field trials be forced to run their dogs without GPS collars (or at the very least, with them automatically turned off via the new software tweak)? 


Fortunately for all of us, there's a GREAT solution!!

"...provides tracking and training versatility like you’ve never had before. The GPS Collar and E-Collar come as separate, compact modules that fit together on a single collar strap. The compact handheld device provides an instant fix on up to 12 dogs’ locations all the way out to 7 miles, lets you set multiple waypoints, and even tells you when a dog is on point or treed. You can keep control of a long chase, keep track of where that chase is going, or have the ability to do both. Whether the game is birds, bears, or anything in between, you’re always in the hunt when you track with the TEK!

Earlier today, I spoke with Darrell Douglas (the handsome fellow in the video above) about using TEK devices in Canada. According to Darrell, there are currently two versions of the popular TEK 1.0 model on the market. There is an American version (product number TEK-V1LT) that uses the MURS band. It is not compatible with Canadian regulations. But there is a Canadian version (product number TEK-V1LT-C). It sends a signal out at 915MHz on the ISM band and is therefore good to go in Canada!!

But WAIT, there's more good news. 

An all new TEK 2.0 is coming out this fall. It will have a lot of cool new features including 1:100 topo maps of Canada and the US, but most importantly both American and Canadian versions of the TEK 2.0 will use 915MHz on the ISM band. That means no matter where you purchase it*, a TEK 2.0 device will be compatible with regulations on both sides of the border! And that is GREAT news for hunters, field trialers and their dogs in Canada and the US. 

Henri wants a TEK 2.0!!

(*In order to get full warranty coverage and a bilingual manual and packaging, Canadians must purchase their units in Canada or from a Canadian reseller).

Lost and Found in Canada

Back in 2009, I wrote about one of the best inventions since fire and the wheel, Garmin's Astro GPS tracking collar for dogs. Back then, I explained that the device was not authorized for use in Canada, but would (should, could) be authorized in 2014. So today, realizing that we are half way through 2014, I called Industry Canada, the department that oversees such things to see if GPS tracking collars for dogs are now approved for use in Canada. 

Unfortunately, it's not good news:
Since release of Industry Canada’s 2009 policy decision, uncertainties have been raised regarding potential uptake of MURS devices in Canada, and the relative merits of proceeding with MURS implementation in light of potential negative impacts to incumbent licensees. As a result, the Department does not feel that the introduction of MURS devices in Canada is warranted at this time, and has decided to defer the introduction of MURS devices in Canada until a clearer indication of actual need is provided by Canadian MURS advocates and/or stakeholders. Manufacturers, importers, retailers, current licensed users, and all other stakeholders are asked to take note of this provision.

So, what the hell happened? Is Canada now run by a tyrannical cabal of radio frequency Nazis? How DARE they tread on my dog-given right to track my pointy hounds via satellite!

Ok, calm down Mr. Tin-Foil Hatington. Radio Nazis aren't in power in Ottawa. The truth is actually quite banal. It boils down to simple differences in how various radio frequencies are allocated in the US and Canada. You see, all kinds devices that emit radio waves (and other kinds of radiation) are regulated by national laws and international agreements. Often devices that are accepted for use in one part of the world may not be operated in other parts due to conflicts with frequency assignments and other standards. 

So back in the day, when Garmin's engineer's designed the Alpha, they had to decide on which set of frequencies they were going to use for communication between the collar and the hand-held GPS device. They could have chosen the same range of frequencies that most e-collar transmitters use. If they did, the devices would be OK to use in Canada and the US. Or they could have also used the Family Radio Service (FRS) both from about 462 to 467MHz and it too, would have been OK. The "General Mobile Radio Service" (GMRS) band however would have only been OK to use in Canada. In the US, you need a license to use it. 

In the end, Garmin chose a range known as the "Multi Use Radio Service" (MURS) found from 151 – 154 MHz.  MURS used to be available only to permit holders for business communication applications in the US and in Canada. But in 2002 the American FCC changed its MURS policy and opened up for public use. Industry Canada did not. 

And therein lays the problem. MURS is open to unlicensed users in the US, but is still not open for non-licensed use in Canada. Industry Canada never did not open up the MURS frequency when the US did. And now, after 5 years of thinking about it (or more likely, 5 years of not  thinking about it), Industry Canada has decided that it will still restrict MURS to licensed users only. Their statement basically admits that changing the rules now would would piss off too many current permit holders. So MURS remains "pay-to-play" territory up here and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. 

Nevertheless, Astro, Alpha and other similar divices are not illegal in Canada per se. If you bring one up here, you won't be subject to a cavity search at the border and SWAT teams won't be storming your RV at grouse camp. Garmin Astros and Alphas, just like walkie-talkies, garage door openers, remote car starters, RC model airplanes, heck even remote thermometers or like any other device that emits radio waves, may or may not be approved for use in Canada or the US. It all comes down to whether or not they conform to the FCC and/or Industry Canada allocation of radio frequencies. And even if they do, they could be rendered 'unapproved for use' by doing something as simple as changing the antenna or modifying a circuit. Look what Tri-Tronics has to say about their e-collars:
"Tri-Tronics certifies its products to operate under Part 95  of FCC regulations. Unauthorized modifications to your equipment could result in its not meeting specifications  and thus violating FCC regulations. Adjustments should only be performed by technically qualified personnel authorized by Tri-Tronics. To continue to meet FCC operating specifications, any replacement of circuit components (including antennas) must meet Tri-Tronics manufacturing specifications."
Change the antenna... break the law?
And while you are at it, you might want to cheque the fine print for your walkie-talkies, garage door openers, remote car starters, RC model airplanes, heck even remote thermometers. They may not even be approved for use either! 

Be that as it may, let me conclude by cutting and pasting what I wrote in 2009. Unfortunately, it still applies. If you have an Astro or Alpha and you are hunting in Canada, remember that: Industry Canada is interested in compliance, NOT punishment. And they are not in the business of skulking around hay bails in Saskatchewan with scanners looking for law breaking Yankies with fancy collars on their high falutin dogs. So if you bring an Astro up here and it did happen to interfere with farmer Brown's radio base station and tractor in the field, or with a hydro worker repairing a line, you may be asked to turn it off and to stop interfering with the frequency. No fines, no water-boarding.

However, if you then continued to use it, despite the warning, you could face stiff penalties. But twenty grand and the loss of your car? Nope. Unless your were following fire trucks in downtown Toronto and deliberately screwing with their radios as they tried to save a burning convent and orphanage, I doubt you would get anything more than whatever equivalent of a speeding ticket gets handed out by the radio/tv cops.

Of course, I'm just some guy on the net. I am not a lawyer and I am not a cop. I'm not even coherent most of the time. So take lots of salt with whatever advice I may provide and weigh the risk-to-benefit ratio of whatever action you may take. 

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the latest firmware update, for the Garmin Astro (and Alpha) now has a feature that automatically disables dog tracking when used in countries for which the radio frequencies are not authorized. 

So it seems that Garmin is willing and able to tweak the firmware from time to time in response to local laws and regulations. So why not tweak the firmware (and presumably a circuit or two in the radio) to do respond to owners and potential owners in countries other than the US? Why not update the firmware (and make a hardware update available) that actually makes the units compatible with regs in other countries?

After all, every single one of the e-collars that Garmin now makes (via their purchase of Tri-Tronics) are perfectly compatible with radio regulations in Canada and the US. Heck, even the Garmin Rhino (radio/gps unit) is compatible. Why not the Astro and the Alpha? How hard could it be?

Potential work-around: when in Canada, attach one of these to your dog?

UPDATE #2 Apparently not ALL of the e-collars that Garmin make are compatible with Canadian regulations: Steve Snell from Gundog Supply posted that "The new Pro Trashbreaker also uses MURS" so is therefore not authorized for use in Canada.

But the good news is that "
SportDog has a Canadian version of their GPS and Ecollar combo TEK 1 and the TEK 2 comi
ng out this Fall will also be available in Canada. They work off a legal frequency." 

Thanks for the info Steve!!

VGP, the Master Test

VGP is the tongue-friendly abbreviation for Verbands-Gebrauchsprüfung (say that quickly three times!). Translated, Verbands-Gebrauchsprüfung means "Association utility test" and refers to the extremely difficult master test for pointing dogs in Germany. 

One of my dogs, the Amazing Maisey, ran the VGP a couple of years ago and achieved a prize one despite almost losing an eye earlier in the summer while training. You can read about the drama here. I've also posted some video clips from a special VGP (equivalent) test in Austria that Lisa and I attended in 1999. You can see them here

Recently, I came across a video (in German) that features a young woman and her Drahthaar Laika participating in a VGP test in Germany. The video is featured on the Youtube channel of the German sporting magazine "Deutsche Jagd Zeitung" and is an excellent overview of the test. Even if you don't speak German, it is well worth the viewing.


Lower Bag Limits Won't Save Our Sharptails

Joe Schmutz recently wrote an interesting article about the decline of sharp-tail grouse numbers in his home province of Saskatchewan. Joe was kind enough to give me permission to share it on my blog. Thanks Joe!

In 2013, the Ministry of Environment responded to declining sharp-tail grouse numbers by reducing the daily bag limit from 3 to 2. There was a time when the grouse were so numerous they were taken for subsistence without a bag limit.


Then, in 1985, the existing limit of 5 was reduced to 3; now 2. If this trend continued in a straight line, the limit would be 1 in a dozen years and sharp-tail hunting closed in 2040. What would it take to reverse that trend? When the Ministry announced the reduced bag limit, they called on hunters, naturalists and landowners to report observations. Of course, isolated observations only go so far. What grouse need most is action.

Having hunted sharp-tails, and other upland birds in Saskatchewan for many years, I believe that severe winters and wet and cold weather during early summer brood rearing can cause ups and down in grouse numbers. But, I've also observed loss of habitat that is always a down. I decided in 2013 to respond to the Ministry's call and record number of hours hunted, grouse seen and bagged, GPS locations and food found in the grouse's crops. I have hunted grouse in various parts of parkland edge (northern grain-belt) in the western half of the province. In good years, I've found grouse in decent numbers in small grassland patches such as abandoned farmsteads, shelter belts and sloughs surrounded by cultivation, as long as larger grassland areas were nearby. The large grasslands held grouse more reliably and that is where I went in 2013, to community pastures.

In 14 hunting forays over 7 days and out of 20 hrs hunted with 2-5 dogs, 1 saw 137 flushes, 7 per hr. Twenty of these birds, I figured, had landed and were flushed a second time. This left 117 individuals of which I bagged 12, 10%. I hunted over new areas each time and likely encountered different individuals. The age ratio was 4 adults and 8 juveniles. l used Large Munsterlander dogs, a versatile breed with medium range and speed. I estimated area covered by observing that the dogs covered approximately 150 meters on either side of me. This yielded a density of 9.5 grouse/km2. A more detailed report has been submitted to Nature Saskatchewan's journal, the Bluejay.

As the Ministry's press release rightly states, wide research had been done on sharp-tailed grouse - Saskatchewan's provincial bird. The last detailed studies were by Wayne Pepper and Adam Schmidt decades ago. Surveys done by conservation officers remain largely unanalyzed. My calculated 9.5 grouse/ km2 was among the highest densities I could find anywhere. It proved to me what I suspected all along. When you give the grouse the habitat they need, they do just fine. So, what habitat do they need?

The recently eaten foods found in the crops of grouse also tell the habitat story. By total volume of all crops, 21% was grasshoppers, 59% fruits, 19% wheat & canola, and 1% buds. These foods were taken from late September to early November, and illustrate changes in habitat and food through fall. In summer, grasshoppers and other insects are a high protein favorite. After the first few frosts when grasshoppers disappear, nutritious berries are a staple. Once the young grouse can fly well, the hen leads them to surrounding fields for grains. Through the winter; all available dried and frozen fruits are finished off, and shrub and tree buds become a staple - that's when hunters often see grouse up in trees. This change in food shows the impacts of habitat loss too. When grasslands are cultivated, all or most of the grass and shrub cover disappears. Grasshoppers may be available in crop borders, but if these are sprayed with pesticides they can harm the grouse, especially the young. Grains and weed seeds are nutritious, but when these are covered by deep or crusted snow, the grouse can't reach them. This is when sharp-tails switch to tree-buds; something the introduced grey partridge and pheasants do not. 

Watching the dogs use their noses to work scents left behind by grouse can help us understand what grouse need for protection. Except for spotting flying grouse or marking a shot grouse fall, dogs use scent to locate the birds, not sight. Mammalian predators likely do the same, while raptors use sight, a grouse that crawls under a dense matt of grass where the wind is still, can be very difficult to find for a dog; or a fox.  This dense grass cover is also important for a hen whose nest she needs to hide for as long as 40 days: 10 days for laying, 22 for incubation and 7-10 more before the grouse chicks can fly short distances to try and escape. Every grouse hen has to count on luck that no weasel, skunk, fox, coyote or farm cat walks by so close that she has to flush and reveal her nest or brood's location. The ranchers use the pasture for summer-to-fall grazing near water sources. The rest of the pasture without standing water becomes their "grass bank" in most years. The ranchers know that in Saskatchewan dry years happen every so often. Instead of buying feed, which is even more expensive in dry years, they store some grass. When this grass is needed they can take water by truck to those areas and let cattle use the native grass that may be old but still has some forage quality in it. This grass-bank grass is mixed with some new growth. Some new grass will grow even in a dry year where the soil has been shaded and dead grass held needed moisture. It is no accident that I found high numbers of grouse here. The grouse know that their survival depends on grass, and so should we.


Eighty percent of the grouse's prairie habitat has been altered for crop production, municipal services, resource extraction, transportation and the like. 

Of the 20% that remains, much is in the southwest, the dry sage grouse country where sharp-tails tend to be less frequent. Also, much of it is used for season-long grazing, if that is what the ranchers prefer to do. The greatest hope for grouse hunters lies with community pastures, the federal and provincial variety that makes up 4% of prairie. Here the ranchers and pasture managers could be the grouse hunters' allies. Sure ranchers know to look after grass and grow cattle, but managing for cattle alone, or cattle and grouse together, are slightly different ways of managing grass. Recently, the PFRA pastures that have been managed for decades to the satisfaction of farmers and hunters have been put up for sale. Were the cattle industry in better shape financially they'd be gone. Other big-money interests have offered to buy them, and they're just waiting. This is the hunters' high time to get involved.

What I'm describing is for that last 4% of prairie to be held in the public trust and used for grazing, but also with a multifunction-arrangement in mind. For this we need to bring key parties to the table, including the provincial government, producers, industry, conservationists and hunters. Jointly we can develop a win-win solution that ensures continued public ownership and sustainable management of our pastures for the benefit of all Saskatchewan residents. It's been the mixed farmer primarily who used community pastures. When the grain operation on the mixed farm got busy, the cattle went to the pasture where the pasture manager looked after them. At the same time, the pasture manager made sure that oil and gas disturbance was kept to a minimum, hunter access was managed, grazing was adjusted to fight back invasive species, and the bulls, fences and windmills were looked after year-round. These guys see things in grass from their horse that goes over most of our heads. These pastures can be the ace in the hole for grouse hunters and naturalists. We can stop the relentless erosion of grouse bag limits, we just need to decide and come together on it. Sure we need to save money where we can, but not trade grouse for an uncertain heritage fund. The pasture manager's salary has come 50% from pasture patrons and 50% from the public purse for public benefits that were estimated by economists to be 2.5 times more than costs.

I'm happy to let some of my taxes and hunting license fees go to paying pasture managers. More importantly, the oil, gas & gravel royalties that come from pastures but go into the government's general coffers are huge. Are we so poor in Saskatchewan that grouse hunting has to go? Will deer be next? 

The so-called pasture transition is not going as smoothly or quickly as was hoped. Conservationists and naturalists have asked some serious questions (e.g. and especially the pasture patrons have asked to be heard (see: Where is our government's leadership? Bag limits  are the environment ministry's responsibility, pastures belong to agriculture. It could be our government's legacy to create a Heritage Rangelands division, or something, to bring the many interests to the table while we still can. The majority of pasture patrons want to keep the pasture managers and we hunters should help them succeed. Even if I personally will be unlikely to hunt grouse in 2040, let's make sure own kids still can.

Happy Birthday HENRI!

Silvershot's Pocket Rocket "Henri" is 6! 

Time to celebrate...

6 years of cuddling



6 years of daily walks



6 years of running 



6 years of playing



6 years of pointing




6 years of backing



6 years of fetching



6 years of chillaxing



6 years of hanging out with buddies


6 years of being a stud-muffin


6 years of crazy eyes (and passing them on to his offspring)


 6 years of kisses 



And 6 years of putting smiles on our faces



Happy Birthday Henri!!!