My Early Morning Spring Routine

4:30 to 4:45 am. It’s still dark but not pitch black. The house is cool, usually less than 55 degrees. Not a fan of the cold, I pull comfy clothes on quickly and make my way to the living room. Open the damper to let air into the wood stove, open the door to wake the coals up with the poker, and leave the door open an inch. Early morning is the only time I’ll tend the fire; it’s warm enough outside this time of year to keep the house from cooling down quickly.

Off to the kitchen to make coffee. The water coming out of the well is 44 degrees so I fill a gallon pitcher while the hot water makes its way from the on-demand heater in the cellar to the tap. Coffee grounds go to the composting worms or into a container to be used in the garden.

I’m done side stepping and stumbling over the dogstacle course that has made its way to the kitchen to be pet, and let them out. I step out to the back porch in my wool-socked feet, no jacket, and check the temperature. Now early April, I can stand out there for a few minutes instead of dashing back to the kitchen door.  The birds start singing before sunrise now. I take a deep breath and spend a moment being grateful to have survived winter. This year “survive” seems to be an appropriate word; we had five more weeks of winter than usual.

The roosters rose with the “sun,” which is really the kitchen light, and are crowing. There are no turkeys gobbling within hearing range; that’s disappointing. Back into the house I go, the old dogs on my heels. Ava is on patrol around two and a half acres she calls hers. She sniffs around the hen house to be sure nothing has bothered the birds during the night.

The gallon of cold water goes into a pan on the wood stove to keep moisture in the air. I poke at the coals again to spread them out a bit, now red and ready to go. Add a few pieces of cedar kindling and close the door, leaving the damper open. I feed the goldfish, the dogs, and the cats while the coffee perks.

Dishes from the counter and sink get washed or moved to the dish washer while the coffee does its thing. Dishes done, I return to the wood stove to load it. The fire roar will soon, taking the chill out of the house and making it cozy and warm. Ava woofs at the door, ready to come in. If I’m not there to open the door soon enough her woof turns to a demanding bark.

I pour a cup of coffee, have a seat at my desk, and write a few words in my journal or get to work on “the book.” “The book” gets most of my writing effort these days, and the blog gets neglected. Winter and surgery put a damper on doing things worthy of writing about.

Opening Day of Fly-Fishing in Grand Lake Stream

At the boat landing and parking lot in Grand Lake Stream:
IFW signDedication. And passion. It takes dedication and passion to go out into two feet of snow, wind blowing, 26*, and cast a line into roaring water. It was the opening day of fly-fishing and approximately two dozen fly-fishermen braved the April Fool’s Day weather to fish in Grand Lake Stream. They went through two feet of snow to get to the high, fast moving water.

Grand Lake Stream, opening day of fly fishing

The water was high and fast

“Don’t bother to cast a line until the first duck flies,” was the advice I was given this  morning. I’ll remember that in case I learn to fly fish well enough this year to be among the fishermen next spring. It’s good advice. I’m told the first salmon of the season was caught right after the first duck of the morning flew. I listened to the Maine master guide as he spoke and watched intently as he demonstrated proper technique, imagining that he really had a rod in hand and that the line was floating back and forth. It was a morning of watching and day dreaming.

The first fisherman started just after midnight, or so I was told. I’m not sure if that’s a fish tale or truth. Others started fishing at 4:30 am and 6 am, and the rest soon after.

Fly-fishermen on the opening day of fly fishing in Grand Lake StreamStanding on the dam upstream from the fishermen, I was envious. I wanted to be down there. I really wanted to be down there with them, in my the waders I don’t yet own, with the net I don’t have, in the vest that doesn’t exist. I have the pole; it’s a start. The wind blew in hard across the lake. My hair blew into my face, making it hard to see. Dammit. Why hadn’t I thought to pull it up? I made a mental note to have it up before opening day next year because if I can make it happen, I’ll be down there casting my line. The lines didn’t seem to be blowing astray. I assume being downstream, behind the dam, there’s a bit of shelter from the wind.

Fly-fishermen on the opening day of fly fishing in Grand Lake Stream

Got one!

As fishermen passed me on the dam on their way to their vehicles they cupped their hands and blew warm air into them. Cold hands…they didn’t act like they had cold hands while they fished. I wondered if they noticed how their hands might ache from being wet in the 26 degree air, or if they were so caught up in the moment it was unnoticed until they were done fishing. I shoved my fists further into my pockets as though that would help them warm their hands. Some wore gloves with their fingers exposed from the first knuckle to fingertip while others were barehanded.

Grand Lake Stream is known world wide for its excellent landlocked salmon fishing. Several fish were caught while I watched. There’s a one fish per day limit and all but one I saw being caught were released. Will I keep the first salmon I catch? Release it without taking it from the water? I don’t know. Time will tell.

They say that once you step into Grand Lake Stream you’re hooked. I didn’t need to step in. I’m ready to hire a guide and learn to fly-fish well. I did catch one fish last year. I was so excited – so proud – then I saw what I’d caught. A chub. That isn’t what I’d have wanted to claim as my first catch but it’s better than the birch and alder I caught first.

I pulled my coat up higher around my neck to help block the wind. Why hadn’t I thought to wear a scarf?

“Are you cold,” the guide asked. I regret not remembering his name.

“Not yet, but I don’t want to be. What I want is to be down there with them. I’m going to learn.” I scanned the line of fishermen. “I’m going to learn this year so I can be here next year. Maybe not on opening day but one day next year I want to be standing in that stream with the water rushing against my legs, casting my line and catching my own salmon.”

“You will,” he said. “Learn and practice.” And that’s what I’m going to do. I have time to learn how to do this right, to build muscle memory, and to practice. Just like I did as a child learning to cast my Snoopy pole 45 years ago, I’ll practice in the backyard.

The one downside of the morning lay on the ice on the lake side of the dam. A deer, half in, half out of the water.  It wasn’t being used a coyote bait. Coyote kill? Winter kill? It warmed up that afternoon and I’m sure that deer was pushed up against the dam before the end of the day. It was mostly unnoticed in the excitement of opening day.

Deer carcass on ice

Deer carcass on ice

Recipe: No Bake Energy Bites

This is a quick and simple to make high protein energy bar. If you’re taking it with you during outdoors activities you should keep it cool.

I’ve been trying a lot of new recipes lately. Being sleeved means having a tiny stomach that holds one-third cup of food at a time right now. I can’t eat a lot, nor do I want to anymore, so I do want to thoroughly enjoy what I do eat. These high protein energy bars are delicious! This is a combination of several recipes.

No Bake Energy Bites Recipe

No Bake Energy Bites

1 cup almond butter (peanut butter is also good)
1/4 cup Agave
1/2 cup coconut oil

Place the butter, Agave and coconut oil in a pan and melt. Turn heat off just before the coconut oil finishes melting. Stir in the following ingredients:

1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp salt (skip this if the seeds or almonds are salted)
1/2 tsp vanilla or maple extract

Line an 8″ x 8″ or similar sized pan with parchment, pour the warm mixture into the pan, and smooth out.  Refrigerate until solid. Keep refrigerated.

Getting Organized Might Drive Me Over the Edge

I recently guest blogged at Oh, Honestly! about that to do list of mine. Remember the organizer I bought?

Two thousand and fourteen. It’s the year of getting organized. Again. I have these years now and then. Just like every other year I’ve vowed to get too much done, this time I mean business. I’m getting organized. I bought an organizer notebook and made a list of approximately 65 things I need to do this year. Sixty-five should be written in flashing neon colors. That’s an awful lot but I really think I can get it all done as long as I get organized.

So who am I trying to convince? Myself or you? Maybe both of us.

I love lists!

I love lists!

A lot of the items on my list, like “pull up the fence around the old duck pen,” have to wait on spring’s arrival. As what I do on the homestead changes the layout of the garden and the poultry and livestock pens changes. Tear down the duck fence, erect the fence for the new pigs I’ll be raising this year. Some items are beyond my capabilities. “Dismantle greenhouse, recycle lumber to make drying shed for firewood.” I can’t even picture what the finished shed might look like but I’m certain there’s a way to make this work. Obviously I’ll need help.

One way or another, Baby, this list is going down!

It’s easy to say this on a 20*, sunny day in late February. I’ll still be gung ho and buzzing along at the end of March. I thrive on deadlines so as soon as I know I’m running out of time to work on the indoor projects I’ll work harder and faster. When I can start ticking off the outdoors list I’ll work hard and fast at first, then it will get hot, and I hate the heat. I’ll want to go fishing, to camp or hiking on weekends. Reality is starting to set in already.

In previous years I vowed early in the year to work through weekends, and did. We got late starts to visiting my parents at camp and missed out on a lot of fun. It wasn’t worth it. We got things done but we never got through the To Do list no matter how hard we work. Seems like I should have learned to pare down the list by now. Seems like I could have been more realistic years ago.

This year is different. I accept that everything won’t be done, and that I’ll probably have to give up some of the things I’ve already been waiting years to do. I’m not being ridiculously stubborn about it this year. We’ll probably hire help. The biggest difference is my acceptance of a new reality – it just doesn’t matter as much anymore. The hens won’t stop laying eggs if I don’t paint the hen house this year. I can buy a new bookshelf rather than ruin a lot of wood and possibly a few fingers by building one myself. We won’t starve if I don’t make 42 jars of strawberry rhubarb jam.

This To Do list is out of control. I keep thinking of more to do. There are now 72 items. I’m sure I put them there; it’s my handwriting. It’s time to prioritize. The idea of writing everything down is to get it organized and out of my head. I can’t remember everything…or half of everything on the list, and I don’t want to clutter my mind trying. Before I start working on the laundry room/pantry I’ll have the list organized. I have no intention of deleting anything yet. That won’t happen until late September or early October when I have to admit defeat.

So yeah Baby! The list is going down…as in some of this list is going to be written down in next year’s list.

The Meat Grocery List

Khaki Campbell Ducks

Khaki Campbell ducks

I’m working on my long-term grocery list today. Here’s what I have so far:

  • 15 Khaki Campbell ducks. Eggs and meat. Assuming I’ll get 50/50 male/female, I’ll keep two drakes (two in case one dies) and all or most of the hens, and eat the other drakes. I’ll have plenty of eggs to barter.
  • 40 Cornish Rock Cross chickens. Meat. I’m raising 10-15 to barter with a friend. She’s getting the chickens and a half a pig in exchange for beef.
  • 15 Broad Breasted White turkeys.  Sadly, disappointingly…off the list. I will be away for a week in July and have no one to take care of three week old poults. I’m very unhappy about this change of plans.

I ordered the two piglets. They’ll be coming to the homestead in July. I’ve forgotten what cross of breeds they are so I can’t tell you that now, but I’ll tell you all about them when they arrive. I’ll have things to write about as we get ready for them such as where they’ll live, how they’ll be raised and what they’ll eat. Since it’s later than originally planned (sow didn’t get pregnant on the first go ’round) I’ll have them butchered in December rather than October. November is deer season and the butcher can’t have wild game with livestock so December it is. We’re not going to do it ourselves. We could, but I don’t want to. Clayton is better equipped to do the work for us. I’m hoping to have a smoke house built so I can cure the hams and bacon. I’ll also cure some cheese and maybe a turkey.

We have pork, beef, chicken and duck on the grocery list.

On being a choosy bear hunter

Seeing a bear while hunting does *not* mean a hunter is going to shoot it. One hundred percent of the bears I’ve seen while hunting have walked away. We know what we’re looking for. Some hunters are willing to deal with tougher, stronger meat in exchange for a big bear. A family of two might not want or need as much meat as a family of five, and the hunter is willing to take a smaller bear. It’s a lot like choosing a roast in the meat counter at the grocery – you know what you want, the size you need, and what you’ll do with it when you get home.

Here’s a hunter who passed on a bear he could have easily shot. There’s much more to hunting than killing.

Give the deer and moose a break – delay shed hunting

Over the last three months I haven’t seen many deer or deer signs. They’ve had a hard winter with deep snow starting in December and continuing into April. Parts of Maine have had four or more ice storms, two of them significant.

I drove to Grand Lake Stream on Tuesday and Houlton on Wednesday, and saw deer both days. About a third of them look terrible. They are thin, their coats are ragged, and they appear to be listless. It’s a sad sight. Moose are dying this time of year to heavy winter (moose) tick infestations. I read about a man who found four young moose dead and covered in ticks in one day last weekend.

Deer shed

Deer and moose shed their antlers in early winter. This deer shed was found in 2012.

A sign at Old Town Trading Post last week offered $10 a pound for sheds. Sheds, in case you don’t know, are antlers shed by deer and moose. They’re found by following deer trails and visiting yards where deer  and moose congregate in December and January, the time when most antlers are shed. Shed hunting is a hobby that’s picked up a lot of interest lately.

I have a suggestion for this year. Considering how long and hard winter has been, how much snow we still have on the ground (30″ in my backyard), and how long it’s going to be until the deer have greens to eat, please hold off on shed hunting. Give the deer a break. Don’t make them burn more calories by running away from you. The antlers will still be there when the snow melts. They might be a little more chewed on by rodents but for the most part they’ll still be nice.

The deer and moose need a break this year. Let’s give it to them.

Bear!

April 1, 2014

I expected to today to be quiet in spite of it being a big day. It’s my birthday. I’m going to Grand Lake Stream to take a few photos of the opening day of fly fishing. That was my big plan for the entire day.

Steve left for work bright and early. I planned to hit the road with the cameras. Showered, Jeep loaded with drinks, lunch, jacket, boots, cameras and memory cards, I set out to do one last thing – turn the poultry out into their pen for the day.

I made a quick side trip to see if any of the seeds in the high tunnels have germinated in this cold (they have not). A vole running along the side of a raised bed had to be dealt with. Voles are small farmers and my biggest pest. They harvest leaves from the greens and store them away for a later meal. I sprinted down the path, leaping over a bucket of hand tools, and stomped the vole like I was in the midst of a Saturday night hoedown. I picked it up, intending to toss it into the compost pile on my way to the Jeep.

Something caught my eye half way between the high tunnels and barn. It was a black bear. We don’t usually see them until the boars start roaming in search of a mate in mid-May. I stopped, stunned by what I was looking at. We’ve had three days of snow, sleet and freezing rain and still have more than two feet of snow on the ground. There isn’t anything for a bear to eat right now other than my chickens and ducks. He, and I say “he” only because the bear is so big, not because I know its gender, was big and lean.

The dogs were in the house. I didn’t know whether to be thankful that they wouldn’t tangle with the bear, or wish they were there to chase it away.

I stood still, barely breathing when it turned to look at me. They don’t see that well. Pantene shampoo and conditioner, rosemary scented soap, and laundry detergent gave me away. His nose went into the air briefly…and then he charged me, break through the crusty snow. I screamed “no” but the only thing slowing him down was the snow.

My mother’s warning from childhood ran through my mind. “Don’t run if you see a bear.”

He stopped abruptly only ten feet from me. He huffed and I trembled. I took one step back on the snowmobile trail that runs between the house, high tunnels and hen house, and watched. He didn’t move. Another step back, then another. His weight shifted to his left front paw as he slapped his right paw into the snow as a warning to me. Step by backward step I made my way to the hen house twenty feet away. I could close myself in and wait for him to leave. Almost there. A few more steps.

He charged again, waving my arms. “No,” I yelled. “No!”

Not here…not in my own backyard on my 50th birthday. The bear stopped, sat down, laughed and said, “April Fool’s! I wasn’t going to hurt you.”

And with that, yes, you’ve been had. It’s April’s Fool’s day and I got you! (I hope I got you!) There was no bear but I I really did go to Grand Lake Stream. ;)

Lifetime Hunting & Fishing Licenses are an investment in kids

Lauren Cormier writes Oh, Honestly! at Bangor Daily News. She guest blogs for me over there today, writing about buying lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for her sons. When her daughter gets a little older she’ll also get her license.

@bdnStop in at Robin’s Outdoors at Bangor Daily News to read Lauren’s story.

The American Bald Eagles of Magurrewock Marsh

The American Bald eagles of Magurrewock Marsh in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baring, Maine can be seen in their nesting area on Rt 1 nearly year round. When I stopped to take these photos on March 21 or 22 neither were on the nest.

American Bald eagles' nest at Magurrewock Marsh in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

American Bald eagles’ nest at Magurrewock Marsh in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

Amerian Bald Eagles' nest on Rt 1 in Baring, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

American Bald Eagles’ nest on Rt 1 in Baring, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

I pushed the lens to its max to get the photos so they’re not good quality but at you can see the nest well. The new material on the nest told me they pair are planning to use it again this year. See the green pine on the right? And the less faded sticks top center? They are new.

One of the pair of American Bald eagles at Magurrewock Marsh in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.

One of the nesting pair of American Bald eagles.

One of them was on the nest when I drove by on Friday. I don’t know if the female is still laying or if they’re incubating eggs. I don’t expect to be back in the area within the next few weeks. If you’re in the area will you please let me know what you see?

 

Only Pretty Girls Need Apply

This is one of the reasons given for women to attend the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta this weekend. This is two screen shots pieced together to get the entire announcement to fit. Want to be a reality show hostess? The first requirement is that you be pretty.

What do you think?

Only pretty girls need apply

Only pretty girls need apply

Pro Staff with The Limb Grip Team

Being 5′ 4″, my rifles are long on me. It’s awkward to climb 15′ or more up the ladder while being careful to not hit the barrel on the safety bar while ducking under it. It’s possible, I do it, but it really isn’t safe. I realized how unsafe this is when I got to use a Limb Grip Bow, Gun and Accessory Hook last year in a friend’s stand. I knew then that I needed to stock up on them for the five stands I use.

The Limb Grip

I met Jenny Brockman from The Limb Grip at a BOW event last fall. I’d heard of Limb Grip then but hadn’t paid too much attention. I thought they were for bow hunters only and hadn’t started hunting with my bow yet. We’ve kept in touch since then, and I’ve learned just how useful this tool is. Limb Grip for guns

 

 

 

 

 

I thought about it for a while before talking to Jenny about applying to become a member of the pro (promotional) team at The Limb Grip.  The Limb Grip is a tool used to bring your bow, gun, pack, camera and other gear safely up to your tree stand. This isn’t just for hunters. If you’re climbing up to seat to observe you’re probably taking gear with you. A pack with pen and paper, a camera, something to drink.

Limb Grip bow

Jenny demonstrates The Limb Grip here.

See how simple this is?

I’m very excited about promoting The Limb Grip, and especially excited to be able to help women who hunt and otherwise enjoy the outdoors be safer while climbing up to their stands.

The Limb Grip is great for gun and bow hunters and anyone else climbing to a tree stand. Camera, gun, bow, back pack and more.

The Limb Grip is great for gun and bow hunters and anyone else climbing to a tree stand. Camera, gun, bow, back pack and more.

Cooper’s Hawk in Charlotte

Being cooped up in the house and inactive because of the icy road and unstable snow is getting to me. Reallllly getting to me. With two feet of snow on the ground, wind chills below 0*, and the idea that it’s (supposed to be) spring (it’s still fricking winter), I needed to get out of the house. We went for a ride to see what we could see. First stop was a tour of the temporary set up to replace wood chips while Fulghum Fiber rebuilds after the fire. It was interesting but when I said “let’s go for a ride” I meant off the pavement, and by “see something” I meant wildlife.

We took a trip through a corner of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge and saw only a pair of wood ducks. We backed up so I could try to take pictures but they didn’t stick around to pose for me.

In Charlotte, something light in color caught my eye. I got out to take a few pictures. This Cooper’s Hawk was too far away for good photos but I took them anyway. It watched a gray squirrel run across the snow but made no moves toward it. I was a little disappointed as the squirrel was much closer and that hunt would have made for some great photos. It was squirrel’s lucky day.

Cooper's hawk in winter plumage

Cooper’s hawk in winter plumage

Cooper's hawk in winter plumage

Cooper’s hawk in winter plumageCooper's hawk in winter plumage

Grilled Dirty Maple Shrimp

It was so cold the sap wasn’t running but that didn’t stop Chandler’s Sugar Shack from opening up on Maine Maple Sunday. The sap did run briefly but it was just enough to flush the lines between 3,100 taps. They aren’t too discouraged because it’s going to warm up later this week and when it does, they’ll be boiling and the public is welcome to drop in. If you drive by them on Rt 6 in Kossuth and there’s steam coming out of the vents, stop in. They’ll give you the grand tour.

Maple syrup is one of Maine’s best forest products in my not at all humble opinion. I use it to bake, to sweeten my coffee and of course on pancakes and waffles. Maine Maple Sunday has been a great way to celebrate one of Maine’s best foods.

I used last year’s syrup to whip up a new recipe I call Grilled Dirty Maple Shrimp. It’s a lot tastier than it sounds. Since we don’t have fresh Maine shrimp this year I bought cleaned, uncooked shrimp at the grocery. This recipe makes enough marinade for two pounds of shrimp.

Grilled Dirty Maple Shrimp

2 cups Maine maple syrup
1/8 to 1/4 cup Captain Mowatt’s Dirty Mustard
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil

That’s it. It’s that simple. Mix it together. Add thawed, drained shrimp to the marinade and allow it to sit in the fridge for at least two hours. Longer is better. The shrimp isn’t going to absorb a lot of flavor. The marinade might seem a little too tangy if you try it but won’t be when you cook the shrimp.

Dirty Maple Shrimp cooking on the grill

Dirty Maple Shrimp cooking on the grill

I used a cast iron grill to cook the shrimp. Spread olive oil on the grill and pre-heat. The grill is ready when a drop of the marinade sizzles. Place the shrimp on the grill and leave undisturbed for three minutes. Flip and finish cooking. They brown nicely because of the sugar in the syrup.

Leftover shrimp, if there is such a thing, is just as good for lunch the next day as it was for supper.

Maple Shrimp Recipe

Ruffed grouse (partridge) budding in the trees

A Budding Ruffed Grouse

I’ve been watching for the grouse, curious about how well they’ve managed this winter. Last year’s wet spring during nesting time drowned a lot of nests and chicks. I’ve seen the snow roosts left behind after nights spent in the snow to stay warm, droppings and a few tracks, but so few they’re probably from only one bird.

Ruffed grouse (partridge) budding in the trees

I saw this ruffed grouse fly from the ground to a low branch in an apple tree this afternoon. I was busy and though the camera was sitting within reach, I resisted. When it flew from the apple tree to trees much closer to the road I grabbed the camera, pulled on my boots and scuffled across the icy driveway to the road.

Ruffed grouse (partridge) budding in the treesI didn’t disturb the bird. Surely it saw me standing in the middle of the road, ducking and weaving to find an angle that would allow me a shot through the branches. It continued to bud, paying me no attention. “Budding” is the term for eating the buds off the trees.

Ruffed grouse (partridge) budding in the treesShe (I’m guessing) continued to bud after I came back to the house. It shouldn’t be long before the males start drumming. I’ll be listening, curious to see whether they start on time or later this year. Ruffed grouse (partridge) budding in the trees

Here in Maine, ruffed grouse are commonly called partridge. It’s often said that if you have an inexpensive shotgun and no dog, you hunt partridge. If your shotgun is expensive and so is your bird dog, you hunt grouse. I bounced between the two names. Grouse today, partridge tomorrow. I don’t care what you call them as long as I can eat a few each year. Last year we didn’t shoot any partridge because there were so few.

Choosing a Mountain Feist Puppy

I’ve never met a puppy I didn’t love and these little guys are no exception. I have a soft spot for working dogs and have raised two litters on our farm. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Mountain Feist as much as I have. Thanks to Marc for sharing his information and obvious love for these dogs with us. He made this incredibly easy for me. ~Robin

Part onePart two.

Written by Marcus Gray

Now that you have an idea of how you want a dog to hunt with you, you can really start your homework! I researched lines of Mountain Feist for a year before I went to look at a litter of pups. You would not believe how a litter of pups will result in an impulse buy! I encourage potential pup buyers to check out other lines or otherwise give them incentives to shop around. Be sure of what you want and don’t compromise. All too often someone will settle for the dog down the road because of convenience only to have an incompatible hunting style or physical faults down the road. Hunt with parents, siblings, aunts, uncles – any relatives you can of a particular line or litter of pups you are interested in. Reputable breeders will show you parents (if convenient – don’t ask to see a female while in heat or nursing) of a pup hunting in the timber.

Mountain Feist puppies

2008 Litter out of Gray’s Trigger x SQCH CH Kentucky Jody. Photo courtesy of Marcus Gray

Many people are interested in buying a started or slightly older dog that has begun training. Be wary of this as someone might be trying to sell you their problem! I do understand that time constraints are common these days and a good started dog can give you the ability to harvest squirrels sooner rather than later. I get a great deal of personal satisfaction training pups and starting dogs for people. Do your research and you will come home with a new hunting partner that you will get many years of enjoyment.

Everyone has criteria for picking any particular pup: color, temperament, conformation, color of the mouth – you name it. A well-bred, healthy pup should be your goal. If you cover the hunting ability basics in the background of the pup you can be choosy in terms of physical traits like ears, tail, colors, size and more.

From the time you bring your pup home, begin socializing it. Introduce it to children, other pets, livestock (early for things like chickens, a little later for large animals) and strangers. Take your pup with you everywhere you go. The more situations your feist is introduced to, the better adjusted it will be as an adult. Take the pup for short walks in the timber and rides in a vehicle to get accustomed to the sights and sounds associated with the timber and truck. Teach basic obedience like “come”, “sit”, “stay”, “load up” and any other that suits your fancy. Mountain Feist pups are intelligent and learn best from positive reinforcement. I know everyone says that about all dogs but Mountain Feist are very sensitive to correction. There is a fine line between the dog walking all over you and being too harsh. You will ruin a good squirrel dog faster than anything by hitting it. The amount of physical correction you might give a stubborn breed will literally ruin a feist. All that is needed is a stern voice or rolling a pup over on its back and asserting dominance.

Mountain Feist, training with squirrel

Sissy is a female out of Gray’s John Colter x Gray’s Prairie Daisy owned by the Pugh Family in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Marcus Gray

Try teasing a young pup with a squirrel tail attached to the line of a fishing pole. Snatching the squirrel tail away just as the pup is about to catch it as it “scurries” across the ground will get a pup fired up! Remember to let them win every once in a while to keep their interest up. Keep training sessions short (15 – 30 minutes) but do several sessions a day. As the pup progresses (if it’s legal in your area) you can catch a squirrel in a live trap and show it to the pup. Trap a squirrel let your pup cage bark or fight the cage (avoid injury to teeth). Pull the cage up in a tree fairly high in a tree with a rope to discourage jumping at the tree. Walk off. When he barks go back and praise the pup. Make it exciting for the pup. This is how you let your pup know it is doing what you want it to do and it has the correct game. Then walk off again. When it barks repeat your actions. The idea is to send the pup the message that when it barks you will come to him. Warning: Do not do this very many times at once you will burn him out. You run the risk of a pup barking at the cage and not the squirrel. The important thing to remember is to be consistent with your praise. It only takes a couple sessions for the pup to figure all this out generally. If you ever have problems with a young dog not barking up in the future it might be worth revisiting this technique.

This is a critical time for reducing future issues with gun shyness. If you keep your pup in the house (Mountain Feist are very people oriented – some individuals prefer “their own people”) make noise while preparing meals and clank pots and pans while the pup is eating. Be mindful not to visibly scare the pup. This is not license to make it jump or run away squealing with its ears back! Over stimulation will likely have an opposite effect. Just casually drop something in the sink occasionally. Cap guns are good but start out at a good distance away from the pup. After that, you can graduate to a .22 but I always save a shotgun for later. The boom can overwhelm a pup accustomed to the crisp pop of a .22 rifle.

In the timber, especially for the first few months the pup will be just that – a pup. At first, it will hardly be able to keep up. Quarry will consist of butterflies and non-nutritive items like blowing leaves. All of the playing and wrestling and shadowboxing are ways you can tell if a pup has a good prey drive. So, try to keep your cool and smile when your pup roles in a dead possum toward 4 months in age.

Visit the Locust Creek Mountain Feist website for videos of the dogs in action. 

Marcus Gray

Marcus Gray

Marcus Gray has been hunting squirrels basically his whole life (over 20 years) with his dad and other members of the Gray family. He grew up in Central Virginia and has family in North Central Missouri, where he also hunts regularly. His nationally-known line of squirrel dog, Gray’s Mountain Feist is in its 6th generation and has hunters in more than 15 states enjoying the strain. Gray is a 2006 graduate of Unity College in Maine with a Bachelor’s in Wildlife Conservation. In 2009, he completed his Master’s in Wildlife Science at South Dakota State University. Currently, Marc is back in Maine and working to recruit tomorrow’s natural resource managers at Unity College.

Traits of Mountain Feist

Today’s installment mention two things that caught my eye – Mountain Feist can be used for hunting upland game birds, and they catch squirrels. Red squirrels cause problems for us on a regular basis. The first installment is here.

Written by Marcus Gray

There are numerous strains and bloodlines within the Mountain Feist breed umbrella. A variety usually comes to existence to commemorate a notable individual dog, to recognize a long-held family line of dogs or to note the contribution of an influential breeder or kennel. More lines are being developed all the time from parent stock. Some of these varieties (by no means exhaustive) include –

Kentucky: Baldwin, Buckley, Grayson and Cadillac Jack.
Alabama: Sport Model, Lost Creek
Arkansas: Galla Creek, Snowball, Mullins
North Carolina: Thornburg
Tennessee: Barger
Virginia: Gray

Mountain Feist, Squirrel Dog

SQCH CH Kentucky Jody owned by Beth Kintz. Photo courtesy of Marcus Gray.

The breed standards for Mountain Feist and Treeing Feist have considerable overlap depending on the registry in question. The simple description for a feist-type dog is one that is under 18 inches in height at the whither (shoulder) with short hair and at maximum 30 pounds. The National Kennel Club maintains files for Feist, Mountain Feist and Treeing Feist. The United Kennel Club recognizes all feist-type dogs under the singular breed, Treeing Feist. Mountain Feist enthusiasts prefer erect ears but other carriages are acceptable. Traditionally, tails have been docked but a natural bob or full-length tail is permitted. Single breed/line registries and breeders associations do exist but these are in what seems to be a constant flux of creation and disbandment. The Mountain Feist is at a critical point in its existence where strains containing little or no known outside (non-feist) blood deserve careful management. As the majority of Mountain Feist are currently kept for hunting purposes, the working ability of the dogs is paramount to all other considerations. The quarry of choice: squirrels. In addition to bushytails, the breed excels at flushing game birds, jumping rabbits and more!

Similar Breeds

The Rat Terrier and Jack Russell Terrier are the two most commonly cited breeds when people come up to me and ask what kind of dog I have. While there are physical overlaps among small, often predominantly white, slick-coated dogs there are significant behavioral differences. The Mountain Feist is less interested in going to ground than terriers. They are ill-equipped to tunnel or enter small spaces as compared with shorter-legged, flexible terriers. Mountain Feist are built more for quick bursts of speed necessary to catch squirrels on the ground. My dogs catch squirrels quite often. An important way that Mountain Feist differ from other breeds is their “dual personality.” They are just as happy to lounge at your feet all day but when you are ready to hunt or hike all day so are they. In short, Mountain Feist are not hyper or neurotic, spastic destroyers of everything you own like improperly exercised terriers can be. However, Mountain Feist do require exercise as a sporting dog but it just takes them longer to get pent up with energy when compared to terriers. The final trait that, to many, is the most important is the ability to tree climbing game. Mountain Feist are tree dogs although many do not bark as much as most hounds while treeing.

Desirable Traits

A squirrel dog needs to have a certain combination of desirable traits to perform its job successfully. Anything beyond that which causes a dog to excel at a job better than others within the breed is what we mean by “above average squirrel dog.” A dog that is termed a “good reproducer” is one that effectively transmits the highly desirable traits to the next generation, often when crossed with multiple other dogs. So, a male may be termed a good reproducer if he passes his desirable traits to his offspring by more than one female. Otherwise, it might be (and often is) the female that is the good reproducer if she is a wonderful example of the breed.

Mountain Feist, Feist, squirrel dog

Gray’s Prairie Daisy, owned by Marcus Gray. Photo courtesy of Marcus Gray

A good squirrel dog will use its eyes, ears and nose to locate game. Most squirrel dogs are hotter-nosed than hounds which can work an older track. The nature of squirrel behavior dictates that the dog locates where the animal currently is, not where it was located two days ago. Squirrels lay what I would argue is a difficult track for a dog to decipher in the timber, especially a young dog. Squirrels come down from a den, go to the ground, sit on a stump, run a bit, sit and eat, scamper over here and there, vault off of the bases of trees, climb leaning trees or just simply exit a nest and lay out on a limb. The ability to “wind a lay-up” is where a dog is able to smell a squirrel that has not yet come to the ground or has returned to an elevated position to rest or sun itself on a limb. The scenting in this situation is using all suspended scent in the air, similar to a bird dog checking the wind for distant bird scent. The head is raised and sometimes the nose is pointed slightly upwards and you can see the nostrils working. Often, the dog will move its snout ever so slightly back and forth in a kind of “I smell something” wobble. A “hot track” – one that is very fresh – will get a dog visibly excited where its tail will begin frantically wagging (if it has a tail). Again, comparing to bird dogs, this is akin to being “birdie.” A term borrowed from the coonhound world is the “short race” where a dog will be running through the timber with its head up or bounding much like a stotting mule deer or a fox hunting mice while looking for the squirrel. Generally a Mountain Feist pup will progress through stages of development, the timing of which depends on age and exposure to wild squirrels while hunting. Sight-chasing squirrels or listening for squirrels on the ground is followed by ground tracking and eventually figuring out how to wind a lay-up.

Mountain Feist are considered close-working hunting dogs in the scheme of all hunting breeds. However, there is some variation within that continuum and some varieties hunt closer than others. Most people prefer a Mountain Feist to hunt in a circular pattern between 50 and 300 yards. Some lines go deeper than 300 yards so if you love walking great distances between trees or make use of a four wheeler or vehicle to hunt; a deep hunter might be for you! I like a dog that adjusts to the density and behavior of squirrels. If there is a high population of squirrels, the dog hunts closer. It will range out deeper as necessary if squirrels are scarce. The circular hunting pattern is preferred so a dog will not simply run past squirrels in a straight line through the timber and will come back to check in with you every 5 – 15 minutes (unless treed).

In the last installment we’ll learn about choosing a puppy. The best was saved for last. Who can resist puppies, right?

The Squirrel Dogs known as Mountain Feist

Late last fall my daughter Taylor told me someone at Unity College has a breed of dog called Mountain Feist. Squirrel dogs. I had no idea such a breed existed. Hunting squirrels with dogs never occurred to me. I thought you walked through the woods hoping to find squirrels. When I started looking for information on this interesting breed I decided I should share these dogs with you. As though he read my mind, a couple of days before I planned to ask Marcus if I could interview him for this blog he approached me.

I asked Marcus to assume I know nothing, which is fairly accurate, and tell me everything. I thought I’d ask a lot of questions after he gave me the basics but there’s nothing left to ask. Over the next three days I’ll publish his story of the Mountain Feist.

Mountain Feist, Feist, squirrel dog

Gray’s Barefoot Nelly. Photo courtesy of Marcus Gray

Welcome to the world of Mountain Feist. Yes, “feist” is like “deer”, the term is both singular and plural – never “feists.” The origin of the Mountain Feist is somewhat convoluted. No one knows for sure how the various mountain hollows developed their own distinct lines that are now being crossed widely given the advent of advances in communication and transportation. Geographic isolation and personal preference of the owner must have influenced the development of the Mountain Feist. If you study the pedigrees of the notable, nationally known bloodlines out there, you will begin to see many similarities in breeding and common ancestry. What is known is that the breed became greatly reduced in number as rural people abandoned farmsteads to take jobs in towns and larger cities. At the time of this writing (2014) all squirrel dogs are enjoying a rapid increase in popularity (since 2000) due to decreasing property sizes to hunt, busy schedules that prevent big game scouting or nostalgia for small game hunting.

The Mountain Feist is an artifact of the pioneer age that serves as a direct link to a time when many Americans lived off the land. Appalachia is considered to have been the last stronghold of this breed of dog that was once more widespread prior to the Industrial Revolution and the urbanization of the South. Appalachia is now considered the “cradle” or ancestral homeland of the majority of Mountain Feist lines available. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the enthusiasts that kept the breed going – either as family tradition or for the simple love of hunting with the dogs. “Mountain” was added in front of the catch-all term feist to distinguish the dogs originating from the Southern Highlands from those which may have been developed elsewhere by a high degree of outcrossing to other breeds. Depending on where you are and who you are talking to, these other dogs are referred to as “Treeing Feist” commonly. In some sections, the terms are interchangeable much to the chagrin of the mountain breeders.

Early settlers moving through the mountains to the Ozarks and other areas of the Midwest are thought to have taken these valuable dogs with them as they moved to new lands. In addition to hunting small game, the dogs kept vermin off the farm, warned of approaching visitors and even worked livestock. Written accounts of the dogs go back centuries, with several spelling variations seen. Abraham Lincoln wrote about them in a poem, “The Bear Hunt,” spelling feist as fice. Reference to them is included in the diary of George Washington in 1770 in which he wrote, “A small foist looking yellow cur,” and a feist is also featured in William Faulkner‘s, “Go Down Moses” in the line, “a brave fyce dog is killed by a bear,” as well as in his short story “The Bear.” In her 1938 novel The Yearling, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings uses the spelling of feist to refer to this dog. Claude Shumate, who wrote about the feist type dogs for Full Cry magazine, believed that the feist was descended from Native American dogs, mixed with small terriers from Britain, and was kept as early as the 17th century (Full Cry, December, 1987). Mountain Feist played an important role in the development of the Rat Terrier which is descended from feist and toy breeds. Dr. Ralph Stanley’s famous song “Rabbit in a log” has an alternative title noted in an early recording as, “Feast (feist) here tonight.”

However we ended up with the funny, quirky little dogs really doesn’t matter in the end. We are fortunate to have them to enjoy today and as a link to our own shadowy past as a nation. The Mountain Feist will hopefully take a prominent place next to the Bluegrass/Mountain Music, language, soldiers, food and other customs so celebrated when one discusses the contributions of Appalachian people to mainstream America.

Next time we’ll learn about varieties, comparable breeds and the traits of this breed. I’m intrigued. Squirrel hunting, anyone? ~Robin

I’ve a new project!

I have a new project. A while back I mentioned in the blog that maybe I’d take a job if the right thing came along. I wasn’t really looking for work but I wasn’t opposed to it either. Two weeks ago I received an email asking if I was still considering work. I sent back two or three short sentences to the effect of “What do you have in mind.”

After exchanging emails and a 90 minute phone call to be sure we’re a good match (we gabbed like long lost friends), Jerri Bedell, owner of Homesteader’s Supply offered me some freelance work. I’m working as the social media manager, writing the blog, and will be coordinating group projects through the Facebook page. We’re also on Pinterest and Twitter.

Social media wasn’t something that crossed my mind when I was thinking about what I might like to do. During the process of deciding whether or not I could have fun with this I put together a couple of packages to present to Jerri. And honestly, I’m having fun. It’s a little challenging but I do love a challenge.

I’m going to announce our first group project next month. Come hang out with us and join in!