Serenickity Part II – the incredible true story behind how we came to own Who-Dey Nick, an English Setter


Nick holds tight to a bird that’s buried in the grass.

This is an extended version of Serenickity. It includes the full, hard-to-believe-but-totally-true, background on Who-Dey Nick.

Bob was an avid field trialer. He kept a kennel of about 5-6 English Setters at his farm, only few miles down the road from my place, but we never met. Like a lot of field trialers he trained his dogs and sold them to other field trailers or hunters. The the hunters got the ok dogs, trialers got the good dogs, and Bob kept the great dogs for himself. Bob was a serious trainer and trained his dogs well. But Bob was having some marital issues. He and his wife each had reciprocal restraining orders against each other. According to police reports there was history of domestic disturbances at their farm. They were getting a divorce and it was messy. He had moved out of his house and was living in an old hospital that had been converted into apartments and happened to be just down the street from my parent’s house. A person would have to be pretty desperate to live there, each apartment used to be a wing of patient rooms and rent was paid by the week. There wasn’t a creepier place to live in town, but it was cheap and available when he needed it. Consequently Bob had no place to keep his dogs, so he adopted them out to his buddies. One of the dog’s, Nick, ended up with Frank, who told Bob he would watch him until Sid found a found a better place to stay and got through with the divorce. Bob’s wife had apparently threatened to shoot all of his dogs on multiple occasions. Bob’s farm, where she was living, was not a safe place for the dogs.

Six months went by and one brisk spring day Bob’s wife showed up and knocked on his apartment door, apparently wanting to make up. The details of what happened next we will never know, but the outcome we can be certain of. Bob ended up lying in the parking lot with bullet in his head. His soon to be ex-wife shot him the face with a .38 special. After the shooting she got in her mini-van and drove to the next town over. She pulled into a gas station and went inside. There she reportedly told the clerk what happened, walked out and got back in her minivan, but didn’t drive away. She sat there and stared out the window. She was, no doubt, pondering her future, for those brief moments. The clerk called the police. The police arrived at the gas station and Bob’s soon to be ex-wife sat as still as a statue in the locked minivan. They knocked on the window and tried to talk her out of the car, but she just sat there. She ended her own life there in the parking lot, in front of the police officers. Nick and the other dogs were orphaned in their foster homes.

Meanwhile, our 13 year old yellow Labra-mutt Lucy had been on the decline in recent years, and things were looking bleak for her. My wife and I had been discussing what we might do when the time came, and since we have two young children we thought a puppy would only increase the level of maddness in our little household. A puppy was out of the question until our own little pups became a little more self sufficient. My heart was set on deutsch drahthaar because my experience was that they have the versatility to handle all the kinds of things I love to do. Drahthaars are the perfect combination of traits, and on top of the that the breeding and testing regime required to be a registered drahthaar means that the bloodlines don’t get all mucked up with show dog and back yard breeding. So we were leaning in the drahthaar direction.

Over the last few seasons, however, I had the chance to hunt with a spectacular English setter named Tippy. For some reason I couldn’t get her little spotty tail out of my mind. She pointed birds at twenty to thirty feet. Found them in record time. Held point like a statue and had the cheerful demeanor of a Tuesday night at the local pub. She was quiet, enjoyable, friendly, and somehow — comfortable. After hunting with Tippy, those sharp all-too-serious drathaars just didn’t seem like my kind of dogs anymore. I was thinking maybe a Setter was the right choice, when the time came.

Unfortunately “the time” for my old Lucy girl came faster than we were thinking. I entered my vet’s office with the notion that maybe I could have them patch her back together. I was hoping they would tell me that they could buy her a couple more months, perhaps even a whole summer.

We had recently purchased a house with quite a lovely backyard, and Lucy had not yet, in my opinion, fulfilled her duties of patrolling the perimeter and dispatching invasive vermin. However the good doctor told me that the procedures required to restore the old girl, to her old self, were out of reach and past due. The fair thing to do was let her go and end her suffering. We’ve all seen Old Yeller and Marley and Me right? We know how the story ends. We know that the dogs life is 7 times faster than ours. Yet we string ourselves along with the notion that modern health care can defy the laws of the natural world and buy us another summer with a friend. But it was not to be. My hopes were dashed, the fair option was to end her suffering. Its only fair. They lack the ability to comprehend. They know not why they suffer. We string them along, helping them, when nature would have long ago seized the opportunity to reclaim the nutrients locked inside their flesh. In the wild she would have been coyote bait years ago, and yet, here she was, needing us to make it a clean exit. We made the tough choice. It wasn’t easy. It never is.

I was in the vets office on the phone with my wife when we made the decision. I told her I would see her later and was about to hang up, when call waiting rang in. It was a friend of mine who is an avid bird hunter, fly fisherman, etc. He usually sends me photos of trophy fish or a bag full of birds while I’m at work and he’s out doing the good stuff. I wasn’t sure this was the best time to talk about any of that but for some reason I decided to answer.

“What’gs going on,” he said.

“My dog is going to be put down man, I’m at the vets right now”, my voice cracked trying not to sound like a blubbering idiot but failing miserably.

He went on to tell me that his Dad was at a different vet and heard about someone with an almost finished English Setter with championship quality, field trial bloodlines, needing to be adopted. His name is Nick. He gave me the contact information for Walt Nick’s now permanent foster owner and we set up a time to see Nick that Saturday. Lucy was buried by the old grape arbor, near the hole where the raccoons used to sneak in thorough the fence. Now she can guard it forever.

Frank, Nick’s foster owner, was walking Nick on the road when we pulled up to his house. I stepped out of my Jeep and Nick came running over wagging his entire body. Nick seemed very excited to see us. He promptly sat down and waited for me to reach out and pet his head. When I did, his proud English Setter posture with upright head beamed with confidence as he wore a calm gentleman’s smirk. We were off to a good start.

At about that same time as Bob’s death Frank started having some serious trouble with his knees and joints. He said couldn’t hunt like he used to, some days he had trouble getting out of bed. Frank said Nick was four years old and needed a more active home, he needs to run, a lot. Like many of us Frank’s passion was for the greatest of all game birds, the ruffed grouse. He hunted primarily in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Nick had accompanied him to the UP many times. Frank’s other setter was ten years old, and hunted at a slower pace which accommodated Frank’s condition better. Frank said Nick needed to go to a more active home. Nick is a dragster, he goes as fast as he can, right out of the gate. He can really cover ground. His nose is sharp, and he locks up on point from a dead run. It didn’t take long to figure out that Nick and I would get along great.

Fortunately Bob gave all the appropriate paper work for the dogs to their adoptive homes. Nick’s registration in the Field Dog Stud book remained un-filed and Frank had it all ready to go. We went home that Saturday to ready the house and picked Nick up the next day. He and I have hunted together one complete season and while we both are learning from each other I think I will learn more from him than he will from me. He is everything advertised and more. He is still a fairly young and very active dog, but he is a great fit for our little corner of the world. Our house was without a dog for a grand total of about 4 days and nights, but those were four long days and nights. To some this might not seem like long enough to grieve.

To some it might seem cavalier and frought with indifference towards our recently departed dear friend. But the void in our house without old Lucy-girl was cavernous.  I wasn’t sure how it would ever be filled. I doubt it ever will be filled entirely. But sometimes things just fall into place. Some may call it divine intervention or mysterious ways. Some may call it dumb luck or coincidence, but I’ve come up with a new name for it — sereNICKity.

Ocular Histoplasmosis, if you are a bird hunter, you should read this.

So it’s been a little weird around here lately. The SmithFly stuff is taking off and getting crazy in a good way. That’s awesome, 2012 looks GREAT, thanks for all the support. Most of my stuff is now SOLD OUT which is a good thing. I’ve been working some crazy overtime at my day job, no complaints.

But the other day I went to the eye doctor for a random check-up, I hadn’t been in over ten years. My eyes and my vision were fine, or so I thought.

Upon closer inspection the Optometrist noticed what she called a “swollen optic nerve”. She was cagey about what that might mean, but Google is brutal and revealed a list of causes that ranged from BAD to REALLY REALLY BAD! Needless to say the Smith house was a little freaked out.

The optometrist referred me right away to a specialist called a neuro-opthamologist, any time you have to go see someone with “neuro” in the title it isn’t fun right?

So with trepidation I went this Tuesday morning to see the  neuro-opthamologist. After a tense few minutes in his office he revealed that it was NOT in-fact a swollen optic nerve, it was ocular  histoplasmosis.

Histoplasmosis is a disease caused when airborne spores of the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum are inhaled into the lungs, the primary infection site. This microscopic fungus, which is found throughout the world in river valleys and soil where bird or bat droppings accumulate, is released into the air when soil is disturbed by plowing fields, sweeping chicken coops, or digging holes.

Histoplasmosis is often so mild that it produces no apparent symptoms. Any symptoms that might occur are often similar to those from a common cold. In fact, if you had histoplasmosis symptoms, you might dismiss them as those from a cold or flu, since the body’s immune system normally overcomes the infection in a few days without treatment.

Ok so now that we have the technical crap out of the way basically at some point in my life, who knows when, I’ve been infected with the histoplasmosis spore and it moved to my eyes creating scarring. The mold and spore that causes histoplasmosis is endemic to the area I live. They call it the histo-belt, as its basically a belt around the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. However it also happens to be present in bird droppings. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you might have seen some posts about the birds that I’ve bought over the past few years to train my lovely English Setter Nick. I cleaned up a lot of poop, from quail and chukars over the past few years.

The Doctors all agreed that there is no way to tell if my infection was recent or from a while ago, aka if it was from the birds or just growing up around here. The mold just lives int the dirt. So just playing around and getting into stuff can give you this issue.

Anyway, if you buy birds, or if you shoot birds, or you raise birds, be careful with the poop and handling of the birds, it might make you sick and permanently hurt your vision. And if you are a bird hunter like me, get your eyes checked sooner rather than later. The docs can catch it and they can save your vision.

Apparently Histoplasmosis is the leading cause of blindness in 20-40 year olds in this country. For the rest of my life I’m going to have to have laser scans of my retinas to make sure new blood vessels aren’t growing behind my scar tissue and threatening my ability to see.

For now my sight remains 20-20 and I don’t need glasses, but we’ll be watching it closely.

Shoot straight and wear mask if you’re cleaning up poop.

You shot MY bird!

The day after the pheasant opener this year I headed up to a tolerable spot for such things. Its big enough that even on busy bird hunting day like the day after the opener, you have a few fields to yourself.

Driving along in the pre-dawn haze nearing my destination I noticed a dog with a beeper collar on running along the road. I slowed down to a near crawl and he darted right out in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and nearly threw my dog for a loop in the back. I avoided calamity, but only barely. I looked out my passenger’s side window to the adjacent grass field. The owner gave me a thank you wave. I chuckled and thought yeah, mine would probably do the same thing, your welcome.

After searching for a spot a bit, we found a likely looking pull off without a truck in it. The dog was visibly excited, if not down right loony, to get out there and track some birds. As soon as I set foot out of the Jeep I heard a rooster cackle in the field across the road. So thats right where we headed.

We hunted that entire field and found nothing. We had some hot spots, some likely looking almost points, some birdy looking turns, but nothing to write home about. We hunted back across to the thicket next to the road and headed towards the car to get some water and rest. We were no more than 50 yards from the road and I heard gun shots right on the road not too far away. What the?

I step out onto the road and there’s a couple of guys parked on the side it. I leashed the dog up and slowly made my way over to them. They told me they were driving down the road and  a rooster ran right out of the thicket. They pulled over, got out of their truck and shot it. They shot my bird, those bastards.

Then he says, “are you the guy in that Jeep parked back up there?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Oh, well your the one that my dog ran out in front of earlier. Thanks for not running over him,” he said with and air of apology. “Oh and sorry we shot your bird.”

Not a problem, Thats the way it goes I suppose.

But I am a taxpayer, and it was MY bird.

Uncle Ted is in trouble again.


The Nuge headed out to chase ditch chickens for the camera.


According to the Rapid City Journal the always bombastic Ted Nugent might be in hot water again, this time in South Dakota. Apparently it is unclear if his license was suspended in California earlier this year for supposedly…

…hunting deer in a baited area and failing to get an authorized signature on a deer tag. Other misdemeanor charges were dropped in a plea bargain with prosecutors there.

I don’t understand how it could be so hard to figure out that his license was suspended or revoked. It either was or wasn’t. It shouldn’t require an “investigation.” Probably just a phone call? But “investigation” sounds so much more interesting and news worthy.

Now I understand that we have laws and rules that need to followed, and they exist for a reason. But one of my complaints about our system is that it makes it SO complex to participate in these activities that it discourages people from participating. Hammering people for technicalities like these just seems ridiculous and when it makes headlines like this, it gives people the wrong impression, that the game wardens are out there waiting for you to slip up so they can bust. Ph wait a lot of times they are.

Not only that, but I’m not sure why you even need a lisence to hunt on a preserve that is private property with pen raised birds at your own expense? If you want to shoot someone’s pet birds out in the fields they own you shouldn’t have to pay the state for a license to do that.

I understand that license fees generate revenue for habitat, access and all that stuff. I get that, and its totally necessary, and I support it fully. If you are going make use of those elements and hunt on public land and shoot wild birds or released birds, raised by the state, then yeah you should be required to have a license. But if I own a bunch of land and raise a bunch of birds and want to charge people to come hunt them, what does that have to do with the state? I just don’t get it.

Now mind you, I’m not standing up for old Uncle Ted. If you’ve broken the law you need to own up to it, as he did and face the consequences. And if your license is suspended or revoked you need to pay attention to where you can and can’t hunt, its part of the deal.

But I do think that this sends a message to the general public that if someone as informed about the issues and dedicated to the sport as he is, can flub up like this, then maybe they could too. SO maybe he doing a diservice to the community by being an idiot? Yah think?

Then again, maybe most people will just think he is a yahoo and move on with life? You make the call! Why am I even devoting time to this stupidity anyway… who knows?

How not to find Woodcock


A little satellite recon would have saved my sinuses.


Yesterday I went in search of Woodcock at what is said to be a good place to find them Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. Now mind you, I had number of things working against me. Todays’ media would seieze this opportunity to use a favorite buzzword, “perfect storm” but I hate that phrase and think its overused, so I’ll just say that I had a few things working against me.

1. I took my 5 year old son. Caveat Emptor right? He actually kept up pretty well and except for one fall where he skinned his knee on a log, he didn’t whine once. That by itself, is a WIN! His official capacity was billed as “photographer” and he fulfilled his duties without exception.

2 . I got there later than I wanted to, so it was dry and windy. Not good scenting conditions for the dog.

3 . This is only my second “hunt” with my new “to me” dog Nick. For first hunt with Nick, see Dove post a few weeks back.

4. The place is north of a GIANT chicken poop farm, and the winds were not working in my favor.

After an hour or so of pounding around in the woods we decided to head to the truck for lunch, but apparently Nick didn’t want to so he stayed out. Where he was I will never know, hopefully not on point, because I gave him a couple good jolts with the E-collar to remind him to catch up, but he didn’t oblige.

After a phone call to a friend and some fretting at the car, I decided we needed to go back where we last saw him. On the way I remembered his enthusiasm for all things that go bang, and let off a couple of shots with my firearm.

As you might expect my 12 Gauge Dog whistle worked like a charm and he was at my feet in a minute.

I then leashed him up and we healed back to the car.

I probably did everything wrong, and we have a lot of work to do Nick and I. But the only way to learn is to get out there and do it right?

One bright spot is, I finally put my Android phone with My Tracks GPS mapping software to work. You can see EXACTLY where I hunted on the public Google map over here. I’m generally against detailed information disclosure of this sort but if ain’t a honey hole, then telling you where it is won’t really matter right? So there you have it.

The collage above shows the placement of the chicken poop factory due south. PEEEE-yew, burning nostrils, I’m sure it smelled heavenly to the dog though 🙂

I will post some photos of our hunt, from the eyes of a child later tonight.

Who Dey Nick, gets on the Doves.

The view of Glenn's Pond.

Well, this is my first season with the legendary Who Dey Nick. We adopted him at the end of February of last year, which is of course about as far away from a bird season as you can get. We missed the end of Grouse season by a few weeks then, and it seemed like September was an eternity away.

Sure, I had him on quail in my little patch of overgrown grass that I call a training ground, but it’s not like full on hunting.

Today I got him out in the field and he ran hard. We walked the fence rows, tree-lines and grassy patches that weren’t planted this year.

Its my wife’s Great Uncle Glenn’s old farm. He is no longer with us but I’m sure he would have loved Nick. His wife Helen met me out there and did some yard work while we hunted. The morning started off slow while we walked the likely places looking for birds. After an hour or so of pounding the brush we got a few shots off and landed a bird smack in the middle of the beans. This is exactly why we have dogs. He found it in no time flat, one bird in the bag.

We headed back to the truck to get some water and a chair. After walking the entire perimeter of the farm we were both looking for a rest. So we each slurped some water down, truck leaned, and headed back out, this time to the pond.

I set the chair up by some tall weeds up around the high bank of the pond and waited. Sure enough we had some Dove action. I missed a few and dropped one on the side of the pond, but it didn’t seem like it was totally down for the count. So we walked over there, Nick decided to take the path that involved him getting shoulder deep in the muck around the pond. The bird jumped up and it took another shot to finish it off. It dropped twenty yards into the field and again Nick came through.

Two birds in the bag.

On the way back to my chair with an empty chamber three flew right over the pond not twenty feet over my head, oh well.

We waited it out for another hour longer, missed a few more birds and decided to head in. We each had a good covering of cockleburs on us, Nick’s of course adorning his ears in thick dreadlock like clumps.

I wasn’t quite sure how the dog would do. You always hear about hunting dogs that are up for adoption having some Shakespearean character flaw, like being gun shy. But not Nick. He is an amazing bird dog and I can’t wait to get into the Grouse woods up north!

Two Doves isn’t exactly what most would call a successful day out, but hey, its makes for a good appetizer right?

Des Moines hosts Pheasant Fest – with bird dog parade.

Cady, an English cocker spaniel owned by Curt Poquette, at the bird dog parade.

From comes news of the Pheasants Forever Pheasant Fest. Sounds like a good event. There is some interesting details about habitat loss to crop production in there as well. Something to think about.

“The relationship a bird hunter has with that dog, it doesn’t exist in deer hunting or fishing,” he said. “It’s the partnership between man and a canine that is almost completely unique to bird hunting.”

About 400 vendors catering to upland hunters, sport dog owners and wildlife habitat conservationists formed the core of the trade show. It also includes seminars and family events with everything from art to shotguns and tractors to puppies.

NY Times article about Field Trialing

My (New to me) English Setter Nick - Not on Point

Interesting article on field trialing in the NY Times.

GRAND JUNCTION, Tenn. — The competitors arrived at the historic Ames Plantation in pickup trucks with built-in dog kennels, pulling gooseneck trailers hauling saddle horses. After a year of crisscrossing the country, the holy grail of their sport was at last in reach for the owners of 39 of the best bird-hunting dogs in North America.