Words and Images from Ed Felker

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Winslow’s First ‘Real’ Blood Tracking Attempt to Recover a Deer

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Winslow had tracked a deer to a known location on a training run before, but he got his first bona fide recovery call this evening, as my buddy Matt shot a buck with a bow. The deer ran across a big field and stopped at a fenceline not far from Matt’s truck. When he returned to the truck, the deer stood up and jumped over the fence into a patch of moderately dense woods. The track was four hours old when we got there.

We started Winslow at the bed spot at the fence line, handed him over the fence and he started on a line more or less perpendicular to the fence. Pretty thick stuff. After a while he seemed to lose it and doubled back to where we started. Then he almost ran parallel to the fence until we reached a stone wall and another fence. Jumped that and he took off parallel to that fence, so he’s now literally going in 180 degree the opposite direction that he started in, but he seems on a mission so I go with it. For like 500 yards. By the way I’ve only seen a little blood at the fence line bed spot, nothing since. I think maybe I see some deer tracks in a cow pie but at this point I think maybe he thinks we’re just going for a cool walk.

We start getting near a herd of cows and the whole thing doesn’t seem right to me, so we turn back. Matt has to go trick or treating but I really want to find this deer so I stay, and start over, this time from an earlier known spot where Matt had left his arrow, bloodied, where he saw the deer cross a path cut through the field.

Winslow smells the arrow and takes off in the opposite direction from the known fence line spot, and I think, well maybe he’s tracking it backwards to the hit spot. Which would be cool too, at least I’d know he was on the trail. Still, mind you, I have seen no blood but for the known bed.

He accelerates, excited, as we enter the woods. He’s now traveling parallel to the cow pasture track he was on earlier, only about 30 feet away on the other side of the fence/wall. But he’s not really sniffing or tracking. I’m starting to wonder again if he’s just on a walk. I ask him, “Buddy, does this seem right? This doesn’t seem right.” But then he says, “Hold my beer,” cuts left, thirty yards, then left again and kicks up a vulture feeding on the deer he’s been after the whole time.

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It’s not the deer we were after, I’m afraid. And maybe it’s not such a grand accomplishment to scent track a deer in the woods that a vulture probably found from two miles away. But I feel vindicated that he was so far off track for a reason. Vultures and flies already had a good start on this poor boy, who was either poached or ran a good distance from wherever else he was shot. But he is not our deer. Still, it’s the first deer Winslow has ever found on his own, and I thank Matt for letting me take these antlers as a little trophy for him.

We’ve really walked a long way already, but I really wanted that deer. So we went back to the arrow and I pointed Winslow in the right direction. Again, he moved with purpose, confidence and speed, on a path of suspiciously, conveniently short grass to be our deer. I mean, wounded deer don’t want to trudge through four foot tall grass, but dachshunds sure as hell don’t want to either. As we approached the original fence line bed, he turned right and had tracked, with 100% accuracy, directly to my truck.

We watered down and thought about leaving, but I wasn’t ready to give up. I brought him back to the fence bed and found a specific leaf with a specific spot of blood on it and pointed to it. He seemed utterly uninterested, either because he was already aware of that bloody leaf, or he was just done. But I put him over the fence and crawl over myself, and try again.

He takes off, more methodically this time, but along the same line he originally tracked. I don’t know if he’s smelling his own track, or me, or Matt, or the deer, but I put all those in descending order of likelihood.

Low branches, brambles, thorns of course, every yard takes half a minute. We had gone maybe twenty yards and I’m about to call it and I’ll be damned if he didn’t track directly over the first bright red blood spot I’ve seen all day. But that’s it. Just one drop.

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Then he just starts walking up a tree. I’m like, “Well now you’re just fucking with me.” But blood trackers do say “Trust your dog” a lot, so I do actually look into the tree for the deer. He is not there.

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So for the severalth time, I declare we are done searching. Then he puts his nose down and goes again. Ten more minutes, twenty more yards, I’m pulling him back and about to text Matt that we’re done and he finds another spot. It’s on again. He’s speeding up now, and blood is visible in larger quantities and more frequently.

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He moves faster and faster and now I’m starting to think, maybe we’re going to find this thing! We get to another fence with a smear of blood and what looks like a small tuft of white fur on the barbed wire. He definitely passed through this space. It’s a cool thing, to have no idea where this deer went, and then work really hard to get to one very specific place where he absolutely has been.

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But we cross over and all traces vanish. Not a single drop on the far side of the fence. We really looked, but unfortunately finally had to call the search.

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But I’m thankful to my friend who gave us a chance. And I’m proud of my boy who found a deer we didn’t know was missing, and after walking four miles on short little legs, and after having lost interest long since, continued to find traces of blood along this track that were very few and far between.

Black Water, White Dogs and Timberdoodles

If you give me a week in late October, a few tanks of gas and a friend (and his dog) to pass the drive time with, I will point the truck North every time. On this occasion, the passengers were my friend Douglas Dear and his pointer, Vic, and our destination was the north woods of upper New Hampshire, not far from Maine. We met our dear friend Ed Nicholson and his pointers Stella and Ruby for a few days of hunting the odd and challenging American Woodcock, known in some circles as the Timberdoodle. I’m told that people also hunt grouse, but while we did see or hear several in two days of hunting, I can’t imagine how it’s possible to shoot one. In any event, to follow are my favorite photos from my trip, which took a detour after bird hunting to do a little fly fishing in the Adirondacks before I headed south, leaving Douglas and Ed to more birds in Maine…

Douglas gearing Vic up for his first shift afield.

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This custom Aya side-by-side Douglas shoots was a favorite photographic subject of the week. Absolutely stunning.

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The first reports echoing through the dense New Hampshire cover were intended for a woodcock who escaped this volley, and gave me a look at just how challenging these birds, and this cover, would prove to be.

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Conditions have been very warm and dry for many weeks in this area, making for tough scenting conditions for the dogs.

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Ed bagged the first woodcock here, and the biggest of the week.

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Here Vic is on point on a bird I shot first with my Nikon, then with my Winchester.

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Douglas also shot at this bird, and if you’ve ever been around hunters before, you can imagine how much discussion there was about whose pellets brought the bird down. I have shipped the bird and ammunition samples to a forensics lab to settle the matter decisively, but since it’s my blog I’m going to call this my first woodcock.

I love my 1950s Winchester Model 12 16-gauge, but the juxtaposition alongside the masterpiece Douglas shoots is almost comical. Still, they both will kill birds, plus I get a third shot with mine!

The next morning I rushed outside the Mahoosuc Inn where we stayed to try to capture this sky.

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Our guide, Craig Doherty of Wild Apple Kennel, brought some of his fine pointers as well. With unseasonably warm temperatures, it was important to keep the dogs fresh.

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Ed, Douglas and Craig heading back to a nice tailgate lunch.

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Douglas picked up a hitchhiker along the way.

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Another look at this gorgeous shotgun. That is his boy Vic depicted in the engraving.

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As with any other type of hunting, gathering around a tailgate recounting the day with a beverage is always a highlight. Even if you’re just drinking cough syrup, like Ed is here.

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We enjoyed cold beer, hot food and warm hospitality at the home of Craig and his wife on the evening of our second day of hunting. Ed fried up some of his famous breaded woodcock breasts as an appetizer, and they were cooked to perfection and just delicious.

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Tim, another guide and dog trainer, demonstrates that just because you have very serious bird dogs, doesn’t mean they have to work all the time. At one point in the evening there were six or seven dogs in the kitchen.

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The next day I left my friends and their dogs behind for some relaxation in the Adirondacks. Many years ago I drove through Lake Placid up to Saranac Lake in the peak of fall and just fell in love with the area. Getting there and finding a decent meal were the only things on my agenda for the whole day, so I took my time and stopped at interesting spots along the way. I toured the Cabot cheese factory, photographed a couple of covered bridges, and stopped at a fish hatchery on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain. It’s fun being a tourist with a whole day to burn.

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The moose population has been decimated in recent years, our bird guide told us, largely from tick infestations. While we saw plenty of moose sign in the woods, and even some fairly recent scat, we didn’t spot any actual moose. I did stop at a house near our Inn that had a sign in the driveway advertising moose antlers for sale. The man selling the shed antlers (yes, I bought a small one) told me the same story of drastically reduced numbers of moose in the region.

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I got to the Wilmington/Lake Placid area in time to scout the West Branch of the Ausable River a bit before dark, and returned to this spot the next morning. What struck me most about this place the first time I passed through it was the black water reflecting autumn scenery like a mirror. Standing in this river for the first time I can tell you it is strikingly beautiful. And a huge pain in the ass to wade. What it lacks in accessibility, it makes up for in treacherous footing once you get there. But I spent the day exploring, slipping, turning various ankles and knees, and going back and forth between cursing the place and standing in awe at its raw, rugged beauty. Those who have fished with me know that while I prefer to catch at least one fish, I am content to be in a pretty place, watching things like this cloud plume hugging the contour of a mountain on the horizon.

Another place I found while looking for trout that morning seemed a perfect spot to return to with lunch. I found a gourmet sandwich shop in Lake Placid and did just that. As delightful a nonproductive fishing morning as I’ve ever had.

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Late that afternoon the skunk was extracted, kicking and screaming, from the boat, as they say. Nymphing from a steep bank into a deep hole, this pretty little brown fell for my antics. Anxious to secure photographic proof of the thing, I scrambled down and almost slipped into the chilly Ausable. This fish, by the way, was the only one I got to the net. Whenever I work hard for a long time and catch a single fish, I always feel kind of sorry for it. The future can’t be bright for the only trout dumb enough to be caught by me when I am so obviously doing all the wrong things.

The next morning was beautiful but windy. Fly fishermen: Ever have one of these days? Wanting to get a fresh start, I stood at my tailgate and painstakingly re-rigged everything, making sure knots were secure. I decided to go with a double nymph setup to give me a better chance at attracting another idiot trout or two. The first nymph is tied on, then I cut another length of tippet for the second nymph, tied that to the first, then tied the second, smaller nymph to the end. I picked up my rod and somehow while I was doing all that, with my rod lying on the tailgate, the first nymph had become irrevocably tangled around the rod. Hopeless. I struggled for a while and then had to cut both of them free and start over. I should have quit right then, but I subjected myself to several more hours of aggravation before I decided to just do some sightseeing. I went to the Lake Placid ski jumps and saw them up close, but this view from the golf course just at the edge of town was by far my favorite.

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Finally, after an absolutely lovely lunch and a couple delicious regional beers at a place called the Pickled Pig, I walked across the street to the Olympic Center, home of the Herb Brooks Arena, where there was a kids hockey tournament going on. I asked at the gate if I could go in and see in person the 1980 rink, where the United States team of amateurs beat the Soviet team in the Miracle on Ice. (Although I wonder why the game was never nicknamed ‘The Cold War.” Just me?) There is a real weight to the place, you can feel it still. I very much appreciated the opportunity to see where the magic happened up close.

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So it’s been a great, long week. I drove 1,500 miles, and after stretching six days of clothes into a seven day trip, still got an enthusiastic welcome from my wife and all the dogs. I love trips like this, but I’m always, always, glad to be home.

Nine.

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At some point between her last birthday and today, according to the dog to human years conversion charts, Winnie passed me in age. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years. I can still remember when her puppy feet smelled like Frito’s and her sweet breath on my face was my favorite thing. Nine years later, I love her to death but it’s not very often that any aroma originating from Winnie brings me unbridled joy like those puppy months so long ago.

I can’t remember a time when she didn’t understand exactly what I expected of her. I have very little memory of training her, actually, but she ended up smart and incredibly obedient. It’s odd, I think of her not as a very well trained dog, but more just like a friend who ‘gets’ me.

Over the years she’s gotten more set in her ways, more quirky I guess. She likes to play, but rarely, and can’t be enticed into it. If she’s in the mood, she’ll bat Winslow or Petey around until they chase her. Otherwise, she wants to be left alone. She’s more like me than any other dog in my life, past or present.

Sometimes when I let all the dogs out of their crates at the end of the day, in the midst of the frenzy of freedom, she prefers to hang out a bit longer in her crate until the others have gone outside. Then at her leisure she’ll wander into the kitchen and say hi, one of many private moments with me that she has learned to sneak when she can.

Her favorite thing to do in the world is to go out with me on the kayak, so for the last several years we’ve been doing that on her birthday, just the two of us. When the realization hits her that she’s coming with me, and nobody else is, she jumps around next to the truck like she’s a puppy again.

When I get to the ramp she is impatient with the process of getting gear ready. “Oh my GOD, just put the boat in the water and let’s GO!” She sits in her spot in the front of the kayak and makes her little Chewbaca noises until the truck is parked and we’re ready to shove off. Then the moment that last bit of concrete ramp slides away from under the boat and we become silently buoyant, I can see every muscle in her body relax. She puts her head down and just watches the water. She’s content for hours.

Today we saw juvenile bald eagles playing or practicing eagle things above our heads. I watched Great Blue Herons wading in the muddy shallows and thought of those ancient, bird-like dinosaurs that left similar tracks so long ago. And when we got back to the ramp, she didn’t want to leave. I packed everything up, fetched the truck and backed it down the ramp, giving her till the last possible minute before she had to turn away from the river.

She rode home doing something else she loves to do, hang her head out the window. Warm air from outside mixed and swirled with air conditioning and that pungent, wet dog smell. And you know what? Yeah, I inhaled a big, full breath of it through my nose, and smiled.

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Connecting with the Past

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About 210 million years ago, toward the end of the Triassic period, a three-toed dinosaur known as a Coelophysis walked through a mud flat. He was most likely searching for food or evading being food, as those were very popular dinosaur activities at the time. The unremarkable tracks of our three-toed friend were forgotten the moment they were formed, destined to dissolve easily with the two things that erase history best: water, and time.

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The continents during the Triassic period were still all part of the supercontinent Pangea. Time trudged on. And on. Tectonic plates shifted imperceptibly over staggering spans of time, and the earth’s land masses began to take the shapes we now recognize. Sediment filled the impressions made that day in the mud, and layers upon layers of earth accumulated and compressed until stone was formed.

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Eons passed. Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid slammed into the planet and precipitated the end of the dinosaur age. By the time humans came along so many millions of years later, the tracks made in the mud flat that day were locked and hidden more than 250 feet beneath the surface in modern day Virginia.

Civilization took hold and grew and the spot that once was a stretch of mud flat in Pangea ended up being a quarry. Layers of stone were blasted loose, crushed for gravel to make roads and hauled away. Deeper and deeper, for decades, the blasting continued. In 1989 a hole was drilled into the rock for explosives that went just an inch or two past the level of the tracks. When the loose rock above it was removed, water remained behind. The company pumped the water out overnight.

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The next morning, April 28th, 1989, Robert Clore, now an affable old-timer with pure white hair, weathered features and the hands of a man who has worked hard for a lifetime, descended the 258 feet to the bottom of the quarry and saw something no human had laid eyes on before. The surface had dried, but water was left behind in the impressions.

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The tracks looked to Clore like giant bird tracks in the stone. He noted the find in the journal entry he made that day, sandwiched between mundane quarry business entries.

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Over the next decades, paleontologists came and studied and classified and removed some of the tracks, which ended up being nearly 2,000 in number – the largest concentration of dinosaur tracks in North and South America. The company sold the land to Luck Stone who continues operations there now, and along with the Museum of Culpeper History, invites the public to see some of the remaining tracks one day a year.

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And so it happened that after an unimaginable journey across time and space, I placed my foot next to the footprint of a long dead animal of a long extinct species in a long forgotten land. And in that moment, my foot in the exact spot, I connected with that animal, with that time. And history – prehistory – came alive.

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Winslow Loves Loudoun

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Inexplicably, I have not yet written a blog post here on Dispatches about Winslow, my special little wirehaired dachshund. Winslow (admittedly with my incessant promotion) has become a local celebrity of sorts here in Loudoun County, Virginia. His arrival was marked nationally with an introduction on the Orvis Dog Blog. Locally his gift for promoting local businesses was tapped as Loudoun County Economic Development featured him in their Takeover Tuesday campaign, where he took charge of their Instagram account for a day. He was then featured in the Loudoun Times-Mirror in a must-read piece about his performance as the youngest participant in our town of Lovettsville’s Oktoberfest Weiner Dog Races.

Visit Loudoun, the voice for our county’s tourism, recently launched a #loveloudoun campaign wherein prominent residents would share things they love about our great county. Winslow was interviewed for the project, and his episode of the series on social media was extremely popular, quickly gathering well over a thousand Likes on Facebook.

But due to space limitations, Winslow’s endearing interview could not be shared in its entirety. So with Visit Loudoun’s (and Winslow’s) permission, the full text of the interview is shared below. Enjoy!

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Visit Loudoun: How long have you lived in Loudoun?
Winslow: I was born in Hungary but moved to Loudoun when I was 8 weeks old. I’m almost a year old now, so… well I can’t do the math but I’ve lived here almost my whole life.

VL: What was your first impression of Loudoun?
W: Well, like everyone I assume, I notice smells more than anything. And wherever we go, there are so many wonderful smells, from woods and fields and creeks and animals, to the amazing smells coming from delicious restaurants and backyard cookouts.

VL: What do you like to do in Loudoun your free time?
W: Dig. I dig a lot. The soil here, I don’t know, there’s just something about it. Can’t get enough. In fact, can we cut this short? I’d kinda like to get back to it.

VL: Describe a perfect spring or summer day in Loudoun.
W: Oh that’s easy. Wake up early. REALLY early. Make sure everyone is up. Then I like to have a big bowl of breakfast and go for a long walk in the woods with my canine sister and brothers. After that, I love to go to those places where there are happy people and other happy dogs and they make beer. I get a lot of attention, which if I’m being honest, is pretty neat.  But being out at a place makes me tired, so even though it’s fun, I’m most happy when it’s time to go home and rest on the couch. I can get on the couch by myself now, by the way, I’m pretty proud of that if you want to include that in your story.

VL: What’s your best Loudoun memory?
W: My best Loudoun memory was my first Wienerdog Race at the Lovettsville Oktoberfest! There were SO many people there and they chanted my name! I won the race and everyone was so happy for me even though I lost the next one. But if I never win another race in my life, I will never forget that special day when it felt like the entire town loved me.

VL: What is your favorite place in Loudoun and why?
W: Well I’m not gonna lie, I love all the beer making places that allow me on the patio. Everyone is so cheerful, some of them make dog cookies out of their beer making stuff, some have fires when it gets chilly out, and they all put fresh water bowls out (I’m not old enough to drink beer yet). But my absolute favorite place is home. I’m the youngest in a five-dog household, and we all get along great. We run around a lot, dig of course, and when we ruin a toy, a brand new better toy just shows up the next day! But my Mom and Dad love living here, and they make it a wonderful place for us dogs.

VL: What would you consider to be Loudoun’s best kept secret?
W: Gosh I don’t know what’s a secret. Did you know there’s a river, like right there? And there’s a great big hike called Loudoun Heights but let me warn you, if you have short legs like me there are some awful big rocks to go over. And did you know if you peek your head up so the lady at the drive thru at the bank in Lovettsville can see you, she’ll send a cookie through the wall?

VL: What do you like most about the people who live here?
W: When we go to a crowded place I notice that people here seem to be kind and happy and very welcoming to me. I don’t know if they even know I’m from another country but they don’t seem to care. And sometimes people I’ve never met before recognize me from seeing me on the computer! That’s the best. They say stuff like, “Oh my God is that Winslow??” And my Dad gets so proud and says, “It sure is!”

VL: If you moved away, what would be the one thing you would miss?
W: I would miss our home, but homes with long driveways and birds to chase and holes to dig can be found elsewhere I suppose. I’ve made friends here that I know love me as much as I love them, though. That’s what I would miss most. I even have girlfriends! My Dad says you aren’t supposed to have more than one so don’t tell Sarah and Kellie about that if you don’t mind.

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