The temperature has come down, and so it's back to Sunday digging on the dogs.
The weather was just about perfect, and we hit the fields at about 9 am after piddling around at a general store getting ice, taping up collars, and generally doing all the stuff we should have sorted out the night before.
Chris had Moxie with him -- her first time out with me since March, when she had a major wreck on a groundhog. She has healed up, but some of her lip on both sides is permanently gone. On the upside, Chris says she has changed the way she works and is baying now. A hard lesson, and a reminder of two things: 1) You cannot completely control a dog underground, you can only hope they learn a sensible working style quickly, and; 2) anyone who says they value a hard dog is an idiot and probably a pretender.
We decided to stay away from the creek to avoid the undiggable hole in that one trunk we hit last month, and instead headed uphill to see what a small woody hedge in the middle of an alfalfa field held. The answer: a lot of trash.
There were at least three old refrigerators, an old chicken coop, old plastic barrels, wire fencing and God knows what else in this hedge -- not quite what I wanted, but about the habitat you would expect to find a possum in.
And sure enough, there was one. Moxie got in on it, and we tied up the other dogs and let her work it. This was a good soft catch for her, and about perfect for me as I wanted to see her working style a bit before we let her get in on a hog. She bayed a bit, and then gripped as she should, while Chris dug down and located a tail to pull a not-too-large possum, which was humanely dispatched.
While Chris was digging, I took out a minute to watch what I think was a Cooper's Hawk and a Crow battle it out in a mid-air dogfight. It was pretty intense, with the hawk initially on the attack, and then the crow coming back on his own terms, and with enough intimidation to rout the hawk. In the end, it was a draw, but if there had been a camera crew standing by, it would have made for a good National Geographic moment.
Moxie is not quite finished with this very dead possum.
The next hole was right along the fence line, with a huge eat-out in the soybeans in front of it. Pearl got in and bayed it up well. I barred the ground in front of her, and when I thought I was just behind the groundhog I dug down. In fact, I was right on top of the groundhog, and tailed it out without too much trouble and gave it a quick dispatch. Pearl came out of the hole with a small ding in the middle of her forehead, which had the odd effect of making her look like a devout bindi-wearing Brahman. This was a pretty nice groundhog that tipped the scales at 13 pounds (Pearl weighs a shade less than 10 pounds).
Pearl and her first groundhog of the day.
The next sette was just up the field and was a bit of a fortress, as the groundhog had dug his den right next to an enormous push-pile of brush. Pearl was in on it, and she stayed and bayed until we got down to her. We pulled Pearl and opened up the pipe a bit. We thought the groundhog was quite a bit farther on than where she had been baying, but in fact it turned out to be right there. There was no explaining why it had not gone back farther up the pipe (there appeared to be room), but it had not. It certainly could not dig away; the ground was like stone at the level she had esconced herself.
Due to the location of the brush pile, there was going to be no getting this groundhog out if it decided to back up the pipe, so we pulled Pearl and tied her up, and set Chris up with a pole snare. I then climbed on top of the brush pile and began slamming the bar into the ground behind where I though the groundhog was located.
I was down about three feet, and rattling the bar good, when the groundhog decided the noise behind him sounded worse than the silence in front of him, and he came forward just enough for Chris to snare a leg with the pole snare. Another quick dispatch, and we had a very fat pot-bellied 14-pounder accounted for.
The dogs slid in to another sette on the way back to the truck, but it was under an undiggable push pile of brush, and we left Mountain underground and walked away with the other two dogs. We were three-quarters of the way back to the truck when she came running down the field. Mountain knows I will not dig in every location, and if I am not digging after 20 minutes or so, she will generally come out to see what's up unless it's a fox or raccoon which seems to get her jazzed up a little more. We have a partnership, and by now we more-or-less understand how each other think ... or at least I think that is happening.
Chris and I loaded up on cold drinks at the truck, and decided to hit the creek but avoid the impossible tree sette we had gotten stuck in last month.
In short order, we got into two settes, Chris working solo with Moxie, and Mountain in on another sette farther back up the creek.
Moxie bolted her groundhog straight into Chris, who managed to dispatched it with quick footwork, a little luck, and one more assist from Moxie. Not a huge groundhog, but a nice no-dig bit of work from a dog learning (thankfully) to bay. This was a good-experience day for Moxie.
Chris and Moxie with her groundhog.
Mountain was in on a five-eyed sette, and though we had a pack over one of the possible bolt holes, the groundhog pushed past it and flashed off into the high weeds and thicket of the creek. Count one for Mother Nature. It did not help us humans, or the dogs, that there was a nest of ground bees in this sette.
With three groundhogs and a possum accounted for, and a fourth groundhog bolted, we decided to call it a day. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon, but there's no need to bleed a farm white, and every reason not to. There are still large parts of this new farm that remain unexplored, and I look forward to working it for several more years.
This day ended with all the dogs healthy and my muscles reasonably sore. Nothing more can be asked for; a perfect day in the field.