I've been away from the computer but have enjoyed reading all of
the comments concerning the bird situation at Ames. Many of you have
touched on what I feel is a multitude simple to have just one or two
factors that we could alter but the big picture isn't that easy. Allow
me to throw in a few comments! When I first started video taping the
National in 88, my guess would indicate that there were 3 to 4 times
a many birds as there are today. I don't believe anyone denies this.
There were woods coveys and ditch coveys and running coveys even then,
but there also were a number of coveys that behaved much better for the
dogs. When Bud pointed his 10 coveys in 1990, only a couple of those coveys
tried to elude him by running or lifting early and he handled them expertly.
In 89 old Rebel had more running birds and he was a pro at handling them.
The point is that many dogs found the birds that were not masters at escape
and the bird encounter numbers were much higher than today. Unproductives
were also lower in number on a percentage basis. The big question is:
What has happened? The answer is complex yet also somewhat simple in
#1. Avian predators increased by nearly 800%
#2. Ground nesting predators like skunks have also increased though
there isn't hard data to know exactly by how much.
#3. We haven't had a great nesting season for years, weather playing
a big factor.
#4. What we now have learned to be prime habitat was slowly disappearing
from far too much of the plantation. This was gradual and not easily seen,
some of it due to invading species and some related to natural succession.
In 1998 the plantation took aggressive steps to turn this around and have
spent big bucks making great strides.
#5. Wild birds over most of the south were in decline and less people
preparing their dogs for Ames had great places to work their dogs on
wild birds, southern Bobs to be exact. Handling prairie chicken or huns
or chukar isn't the same! A few handlers like Larry Huffman and Tom
Honecker and Robin, Lefty and Rick Furney had more opportunity to do this
"wild bird" training. Guess who has been winning lately?
Now to the question of are there birds still there and what does it
take to find them? I've had a great opportunity to see and video some
things I'd like to share with you all. I probably should put this all
together in some form of tape but I doubt if it would sell well enough
to recover my cost. Before the telemetry studies started we were baffled
why dogs had failed to point most of the birds that had been seen on the
course area right prior to the trial. The assumption was the activity
of the trial, all the people & noise, had driven the birds off the
course and deep into the woods. I believed that! It made sense. So here
is what we did. On the morning course, before the first road crossing
we had only pointed a covey twice during the entire two weeks of running.
We didn't know if it was the same covey or not, they had been located
about 400 yards apart. Keep in mind this is on the breakaway and on the
average only takes the dogs and handlers about 6 to 9 minutes to roll
through this section. It's a loop to the left coming back across Bufford-Ellington
Road and then heading for the Morgan Swamp. The plantation personnel felt
there were four coveys in that section but we had only recorded two finds
in there in two weeks. Since that time the course has been altered to
allow for more time to make that loop. This was an attempt to keep the
dogs in that area longer. They still blow through rather fast but keep
in mind it's part of the breakaway and these are all-age dogs. Now
for the rest of the story in Paul Harvey terms. After the trial on a sunny
warm Sat. morning at 10:00 A.M. we ran an experiment. Keep in mind we
had just completed two weeks of running on Fri. Saturday was very
sunny, blue bird day and supposed to be bad for birds in that area and
it was late in the morning, the ideal time had pasted. We turned two
local meat dogs loose and followed them horseback. Who was there? A local
bird hunter, Chip Pantall, Bubba Spencer, the local Game Warden, Dr. Carlisle,
Kay Carlisle, their two boys, myself and Tina Romine. For all practical
purposes the dogs were not really even handled, we just rode the course
and let them do their thing. It took us nearly a half hour to get to that
first rode crossing because we pointed 5 coveys, one more than Rick thought
was there. One covey was out feeding, four were in the thickets. Why so
long? We shot a bird from each covey to see what they had been eating.
So yes, birds have been shot on Ames! We didn't hurt the population. Each
covey had 12 to 15 birds in it and one covey may have had nearly 20. No,
we weren't running a field trial and the dogs we had down didn't know
how to take an edge and never made a big showy cast to the front. We simply
rode the course and let them alone to do what they had been doing in West
Tn. all season. We went other places on the course that same day with
the same dogs and a few others. Same thing happened except we found fewer
birds in the middle of the day. That was probably when Mr. Ames and his
friend took lunch. Bird finding may not be all that different after all.
It was soon after that day that the telemetry studies began. I've filmed
much of that work after the trials and what is on tape would amaze all
of you. Can birds sit so tight a dog can jump over them before smelling
them? You bet! I can prove it on tape. Can you walk through birds twice
before they flush? Will birds hear people coming and run more than 400 yards
to the middle of a swamp? Will birds go in a hollow log or up under tree
roots? Can we ride within 30 feet of a covey three straight days and never
know they were there? Are some birds more likely to run every time they
are approached? Thanks to the telemetry studies so many of you are against,
we now know answers to these questions. They are all on priceless hours
of video tape. Does any of this mean are dogs are not as good? No way!!
WE HAVE GREAT DOGS AND GREAT HANDLERS! Is finding and handling wild birds
at Ames or Whippoorwill or Cedaroak getting harder? You decide! I have!