Author Archives: uplandaddict

About uplandaddict

I have chased upland birds and many other critters since before I can remember. I don't remember the first time I went hunting. I do know it was around 4 or 5 years old, sans gun. I still hear the stories about how I used to cry when I was told I couldn't go with the guys on any particular outing. However I do remember, vividly, the first rooster I shot. The first duck, the first quail, the first hun. I don't know when this bird hunting thing morphed from a fun hobby into a full blown addiction, but somewhere along the way I had one too many chemical reactions in the brain caused by rapid wing beats and the rush of a feathered target exploding from the cover in front of a dog. At some point the aching legs and sore feet became a welcomed feeling of a productive day. The satisfaction of good dog work out weighed the quest for a heavy game bag and at the same time the quest for a heavy game bag kept pushing me farther and farther. I used to hunt almost everything that had a season. Upland birds, waterfowl, deer, coyotes, and turkey. But somewhere a line was drawn in the sand. The commitments and investments of time and money would be focused on the dogs, birds, and the experiences made in the uplands.

Now and Then

Driving home from a recent hunt I started pondering the differences between the upland hunting scene today and the way I remember it as a child. In a lot of ways the two time frames are still very similar.  We still get excited and dream of banner days afield well before the season opener.  We continue to load up our dogs, both kinds, brag dogs and the “well he is all I got type”, meet with friends and march into the wind.  In some cases, we hunt the same locations that we hunted twenty years prior.  I guess one could say that it hasn’t changed all that much.  However, the term “the good ole days” emerges in nearly conversation between bird hunters.  On the other hand, I look at everything that is so much different from the way it was.

At the age of 14 I was given the opportunity to own my first gun dog.  And she turned out to be a dandy little dog.  She was bred right.  A direct daughter out of my fathers dog and …uh, well we don’t know who her daddy was.  But apparently she was bred well enough because she did in fact turn out to be better than most dogs she shared the field with.  She was trained to highest standard of retriever training that we knew how to train.  Lets just say that triple marks and blind retrieves didn’t happen.  Ever.  All that aside, she handled, hunted for the gun, retrieved everything from quail to geese and she never offered to quit.  Today, I wouldn’t consider owning a hunting dog that didn’t come from reputable blood.  But back then, several of the men I hunted with had dogs that had less than stellar paperwork.  I eventually switched to pointing breeds, when I moved away to quail country.  My father and the men we hunted with still run labs, but now they cost more and somewhere along the way everyone learned how to train them.  Cooper in Montana

Now days we run up and down the Interstates and highways on hunting trips to places we have never been, for birds we have never hunted.  Our pickups loaded to the hilt with dog boxes, coolers, extra guns, and what ever else we think we might need.  Back then, a big hunting trip was a few counties over.  Maybe it was an invite from a family member or friend of a friend to hunt at their place.  And dog boxes,.. they were plastic crates or maybe a homemade wooden box with half the door frame chewed off.  And that is If, there was a dog box at all.  Although I am currently between fancy and expensive dog containment options, in recent years I have had a large diamond plate two hole box, an additional three hole box, a homemade 4 hole trailer and a used but still more than sufficient 6 hole trailer.  None of which suited me quite well enough to want to keep.  The last two years I have went back to the old ways.  Plastic crates.   Honey holes were kept secret much easier in those days.  You didn’t have to worry about some soon to be former hunting partner “hotspotting” and giving away the gps coordinates to your best covers.  Nor was it hard to get access to new farms to hunt.  Knocking on doors and having a five minute conversation was all that was usually needed. Today we (or at least I, and many others based on my gathering from the internet) can’t help but to give into the wander lust that resides in us.  Bird hunting trips halfway across the country are now accepted as part of a normal hunting season for the average joe.  Before I was married, I had hunted in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma during the same season.  Partly because there are no birds here and partly because, why not.  If you want to hunt birds in any large number, you have to travel for it.  Or go to one of those God awful hunting preserves.  I suppose I was lucky growing up in a game rich environment and had the realistic opportunity to shoot a limit of roosters and a few bonus quail,  every time I went out.  I didn’t realize just how fortunate I was.

Luke's First Pheasant

I can remember in vivid detail a conversation that I had with my Dad as we approached the end of a large CRP field that bordered another property.  Across the dirt road there were two guys getting geared up to hunt.  We could see them from two miles away with all the blaze orange they had donned.  When we had moved a bit closer it was apparent that everything they were wearing appeared to be new.  “Cabelas Cowboys;  Wanna make a bet those boys are from Colorado?”  It was not a bet I wanted to take.  (Us locals were not very fond of anyone, who wanted to hunt “our” birds and fish “our” lake, that had green tags on their truck.)  Dad was right.  We later drove by and the plates were green.  I said, “Well they sure look the part”.  He replied, “No, I don’t think they look anything like us”.  His point being, we had tattered and torn chaps, old sweatshirts, and bird hunting vest and coat that were held together with denim patches.  None of which was orange.  We damn sure weren’t worried about how we looked.  Fact is, Dad didn’t wan’t to wear anything but drab colors, for the simple reason he didn’t want to be visible to anyone passing by.  His theory was that if others see us hunting there, they will think its a good spot and they would hunt it too.  And he didn’t like sharing.   I still wear chaps that should probably be thrown away, but I have fallen into the marketing trap set by many a outdoor clothing company.  And I not only wear at least some blaze orange I encourage everyone that hunts with me to wear some as well. I suppose some changes aren’t all bad.


I am eternally grateful to the persons who invented and developed today’s e-collar technology.  I sure did enjoy taking a break from trudging through the semi flooded creek bottom  and plopping down on a sunny hillside to rest our legs.  I would have enjoyed it even more if we weren’t waiting for a dog to give up chasing that deer.  Today my dogs seem to understand deer aren’t worth chasing, and neither are jackrabbits for that matter. What a tool the modern day collar has become.  I can call my dogs back to me without blowing a whistle or hollering at all.  I just have to hit the tone button and they have been trained to come back and check in.  I don’t have to wonder where they are or what they are doing.  I just have to glance down at my little gizmo and then I can make a handling decision.  I don’t have to listen to an obnoxious and unnatural beeper constantly going off to keep track of a rangy dog.  And I don’t even want to start to think about the old ways of making training corrections.  We certainly weren’t abusive towards our dogs, but we weren’t always gentle either.   Now making a correction is simple, timely, and easier on all parties involved.  Our dogs have certainly risen to a higher level of performance and I believe the proper use of an e-collar has help most of us get them there.  For all the times I curse technology, I have to remind myself that it ain’t all bad.


I could write all day and night about differences, now and then.  There are many times when I wish it was now,  like it used to be in the good old days.  I certainly killed more birds back then, but on the other hand it is pretty damn cool to watch my dogs perform at a high level on birds that inhabit a landscape a thousand miles from home.

50 Shades of Blues and Bobs

A few photos from the last few hunts of the year.  We were lucky enough to manage to find several coveys of both Bobs and Blues.  We kind of like those cottontops!

It wasn’t easy and we had to work for every bird, but it was sure worth it.

We turned the dogs loose, chased some birds and made some friends along the way.

The end of a great year!  Lets hope that 2017 is even better!


Dad’s old whistle

In a world where new hunting gear advertisements flow through our media streams on a minute by minute basis, and we fall into the trap of buying every new gadget for the hunt, I find myself wanting nothing more than Dad’s old whistle.  The plastic yellow whistle, of brand I don’t recall was nothing special in and of itself.  It was from a time before ecollars, garmins and diamond plate dog boxes.  It wasn’t attached to a stylish and durable lanyard made of woven leather strips, nor was it accompanied by a compass or a flush counter.  It was strung up with a stained white sneaker shoelace.  Unfashionably tied in a knot at the ends.  It was functional and not pretty.  It did match his old bird hunting coat though, with its drab shades of brown, rips, tears, blood stains and denim patches that covered nearly every pocket.  He hated wearing orange.  Dad doesn’t hunt with that whistle anymore and for all I know it was lost long ago.  He wears a nicer, orange vest now, with less rips and tears.  It has been replaced with a pair of newer Roy Gonia’s that hang on a fancy woven lanyard. Probably one of the cheap Christmas gifts I had given him.

When I think about that whistle, I remember the dogs it commanded.  Magic, Cassie, Dusty, Cooper, and Remmy.  Tilly and Wylie weren’t whelped yet. If I ever found that old whistle, I doubt I would ever use it.  I don’t even know why I want it.  I would just hang it on the wall next to an old rooster mount in the living room.  I might make a shadow box with a rooster hanging from a fence post, a box of Winchesters with the words Duck & Pheasant printed on the front, and a few purple shells.  I always thought I would covet that old 16 gauge wingmaster the most, but nearly every hunt I can remember as a boy started with that whistle coming out of the closet.

The Announcement

The clubhouse buzzed with excitement as Joe passed through the open door.  He met the eyes of friends and foe with a blank gaze.  His emotions were running high but he didn’t want to give the crowd any more fuel for the fire.  He took a seat next to a long-time friend, training partner and fellow field trialer, David Howe.  David full well knew what a win today meant for Joe and his four year old pointer Jack.  If Jack, officially known as Rebels Captain Jack , was to be named champion or runner up champion, he would be qualified for the National Championship.  Often referred to as the super bowl for bird dogs, the National Championship trial at the Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tennessee was and still is, one of the most prestigious all age trials in the country.  Only dogs that have competed and won multiple times at the highest level are eligible for entry.  Qualifying is a feat to be proud of in and of itself.

David put a hand on Joe’s shoulder and whispered low and quiet, “Ol’ Jackie put on a show today.  The way I see it, they’ve got him as champion and that little setter bitch that Tommy ran as runner up.”

“I don’t know,” replied Joe, “we’ll find out soon enough.”

David knew well, what Joe was worried about.  One of the two judges for this stake was a setter man himself and was none too fond of Joe Williams.  The two dog men had a colorful history that spanned the better part of two decades.  From their first meeting in the fall of ’02 they had never seen eye to eye.  In fact the dislike seemed to grow more every season that passed.  It ran so deep the Joe had considered staying home and saving his entry fees when he learned Mark Enlow was listed as a judge.  Being an amateur in a pro’s world was hard enough.  One didn’t need to play against a stacked deck.   The entire room seemed to sense Joe’s tension as they gave him silent nods and watched him as they visited amongst themselves and tapped into the beer in the clubhouse refrigerator.  For they knew too, the situation between the two dogmen. On this day, one a judge, the other a handler.  It’s a tricky thing, judging, in this great sport of chasing bird dogs; the men that run against you the week before just might be the judge this week.  Now of course, all judgements are supposed to be fair and without bias of men or canine contestants.  However infallible a man may be, this is hard to do.  But after multiple days in the saddle and watching forty or more dogs place their bid, the cream, as they say, rises to the top.  On the all age circuit trials, the dog that runs the biggest and most far flung race, while staying completely focused on finding and pointing birds with style and polished manners is ultimately the winner.

Joe had been in a similar situation 4 years prior, with Lucy.  He was fixated on that memory.   Lucy was a stunning specimen of a bird dog.  A clean white pointer with and evenly marked orange mask, rippling muscles and a burning fire to find birds for her boss.  That uncharacteristically cool morning on the South Dakota prairie, Joe’s hopes collided with a disappointing fate.  Lucy had been drawn to run in the last brace of the All-American Chicken Championship and the weather was making a turn for the better.  All week, the temperatures peaked out in the mid-nineties, and winds blew hard.  Too hard, to give any good dog a reasonable chance to scent a bird.  It was the first morning that actually felt cool enough to need a jacket and the winds had laid down to a gentle breeze.  “For once,” Joe thought, “things were falling into place.”  At the judges, “Turn em’ loose.”   The scouts turned Lucy and her bracemate loose and they were off to the races.  Covering ground faster and wider than any other dog had all week long, Lucy had all who watch sitting tall in the saddle.  At the forty five minute mark she stood tall and motionless indicating that there were birds in front of her.  It was her third find and she looked even better than she had on the first two.  Joe couldn’t help but to admire her as he dismounted his horse and walked in front of his charge to flush her birds.  Her intensity rising as he approached.  Her eyes peered forward as if she could see through the grass to the bird hunkered down fifteen yards straight ahead.  Her tail stood poker straight at twelve o’clock and her hide stretched across taunt muscle and pulsed with pent up energy.  Joe had walked a big arc out in front of her and the sharp-tailed grouse, simply called a chicken by the fraternity of field trailers, flushed from the grass and sailed away as he fired the shot from his blank pistol.  He calmly walked back to Lucy, who hadn’t even flinched throughout the ordeal and grabber her collar and led her away.  The scout, another trailer who is asked to help assist the handler, brought Joe’s horse over and helped water Lucy.  Joe knew he was in the money with this last find.  No other dog that had run previously had more than one find during their hour on the ground, and Lucy’s race was bigger, more powerful, and fancier than theirs as well.  He checked his watch and after working this bird and watering her, he just needed to show the judges a strong finish.  Judges like to see a strong finish that showcases a dog’s endurance and drive.  Joe was knelt down by Lucy and soaked her belly with water from the repurposed laundry soap bottle that hung from his scout’s saddle.  As quietly and as calmly as he could, he whispered to his scout,

“all we need is a solid finish, we don’t need any more bird work today… and whatever you do, don’t lose her.”

Joe gave control of Lucy’s collar to his scout and climbed back up on his Tennessee Walking Horse and nodded and nonchalantly said, “Alllrigghht”.  He had stalled, and used up as much time as he could without it being obvious.

With this the scout let go of Lucy’s collar and she blasted off showing no signs of fatigue.  She bolted straight ahead in a dead sprint for one hundred and fifty yards before she settled into a just slightly slower and more animated hunting pace.  Joe assumed the front positon of pack as sole handler, as Lucy’s bracemate had been picked up for a breach of manners at the ten minute mark.  Following behind him were the two judges, then his scout and the gallery of riders.  Most of whom were other participants who wanted to see all the dogs run, along with a few folks that just liked to ride and enjoyed the fellowship the trialing community brings to the prairie every summer.  Lucy had made a nice cast to the left coursing across the hillside, and sifting through any scent she could find.  Joe knew that they didn’t need to score on another bird, but Lucy did not.  She had a one track mind.  She was relentless in her pursuit.  After showing well on a series of hills to the left, she veered back to the dead front at about seven hundred yards and crossed over the horizon and out of sight.  Joe was not worried at all.  He checked his watch and there were 8 minutes left.  That would be just enough time to get over the rise and point her out to the judges, before they called time.  Then he could ride hard to the front, get her reined in and put a rope on her.  He couldn’t help but to think that he had this thing won hard.  Or rather, she had it won hard.

As he topped over the ridge, he peered deep into the grassy swales but couldn’t spy her anywhere.  Joe stayed calm and without panic in his voice, hollered back down the hill to the judges trudging towards him, “toppin’ that ridge right there.”  Joe knew the judges couldn’t see anything from their vantage point and he also knew that there could only be seconds left.  In his mind, confidently calling out the dog charging over the next rise was a hell of a lot better than sitting up there looking as if he couldn’t find her.  The call of “pick em’ up” came literally just seconds after he made the false claim.  Joe tapped his heals against his horses ribs and picked up speed as fast as he could.  He was followed only by his scout to assist in getting the ol’ gal picked up.  The judges stopped at the crest of the ridge and watched intently for the dog and kept an eye on the clock.  Trials have guidelines that state a dog must not be out of judgement for more than one third of the allotted time they are running.  In this case Lucy, although running a monster of a race, had not been out of view for any considerable continued amount of time, and thus should have nearly all of the twenty minutes if it took Joe that long to gather her up.

Joe was an experienced handler and he knew his dog well.  He didn’t have a doubt in his mind that she wouldn’t be found to the front.  He urged his horse on up the hill that lay in front of them.  The hill was steep and rose nearly higher than all that surrounded.  He knew Lucy hadn’t likely ran up and over the top of this hill but rather stayed down in the draw just to the west.  However, the top of this ridge would give him the best vantage point to spot her and that was the first order of business.  He reached the top of the rise and squalled on his dog, ordering her to come back to him, as if he had seen her just down the draw on the other side.  This field trialing business is every bit as much showmanship as is it the test of dog flesh, and Joe knew this all too well.  He kept his horse moving forward over the ridge, making it look as if he was riding directly after her.  He never let up on the squalling and his horse never thought about slowing down either.  The horses that play this game, at least the good ones, know exactly what is going on and they seem to thoroughly enjoy running dogs down.  When Joe had descended the opposite side of the ridge far enough to surely be out of the judges sight, he slowed his horse down to a fast walk and his head swung from side to side as if it were on a swivel.  He still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Lucy.  His scout caught up soon after and Joe sent him to search the draw to the right, and he took the search to the draw to their left.  Picking up speed again he raced across the pasture with a lump growing in his throat with every minute that passed.

He rounded a small knoll to his immediate right and saw his scout cantering towards him with a white and orange pointer in a roading harness.  She pulled in the harness as if she was ready to go again.  Joe spun his horse around and they started back to the judges to show that they had her.  Joe checked his watch not once but twice and felt confident when it read just 12 minutes past the hour mark.  Both men had big smiles on their faces and the brims from their sweat stained cowboy hats couldn’t contain their excitement.  There was no doubts in their minds or on their faces that Lucy had just turned in the winning performance.  Not only a winning performance but one that everyone would remember for many years to come.

Both Joe and his scout, with Lucy still pulling them along, moved hurriedly up the hill to the judges.  Slowing down to a flat walk, Joe eased up to both men, still mounted, who had their note pads out, to retrieve his Garmin GPS unit, and the scout steered clear and headed toward the dog wagon.  Joe tried mightily hard to control his excitement but it was evident to even the gallery who were gathered some 30 yards away.  When he reached the judge holding his Garmin, he thanked them both for “lookin’ at his dog.”  He took his hand held tracking unit from the mounted judge nearest him.  The second judge, looked him square in the eye and said, “Can’t use your dog.  Ran out a’ time, bout’ two minutes before you popped back over that hill.”  And Mark Enlow turned his horse and started riding back to camp.


To be continued…

It Has Commenced

As the opening weekend grew closer my mind wandered further and further.  I found myself daydreaming about the great hunts from the past and hopes for even better hunts still to come.  I spend almost every night reading at least one Havilah Babcock story.   Even though the days were still unseasonably warm, the evenings were getting cooler and the fall air was starting to creep in.  I wanted to get the dogs out more often. Although, work and other engagements kept getting in the way.  Despite this we did manage a few preseason outings to find our legs and reacquaint ourselves with the hedgerows, waterways and the fields that were littered with ragweed.

A week before season officially opened I started dragging out the gear I would eventually load into the pickup.  All the collars were charged.  The remnant feathers, sand, a few spent hulls and a couple of water bottles from last season were dumped out of the vest.  I started piling up my hunting pants, chaps and the 15-year-old orange hoodie in a pile in the corner of the dining room.  I have a need to know where all this stuff is.  I can’t put it away in the closet or dresser, for fear of it being moved by an unknown being.  The loose shells in the garage, the two vests, and the shell bag were all sorted and repackaged.  I don’t think I have ever shot a full box of shells before getting into another box.  How can I have this many loose shells randomly stashed everywhere?  I finally decide anything bigger than a 7 1/2 would be stuffed into one box and labeled “pheasant” to save space.  I reload the shell/gear bag after emptying everything it contained on the kitchen table, much to my wife’s disapproval.  The season of random feathers in the house is now upon us.

I was on the road most of the week, returning home on Thursday evening in time to see the 3rd grade Veterans Day program.  The kids and teachers did a great job and it was a vivid reminder that everything we are allowed to freely do in this country is a gift from those who have served.  And to all the veterans, I thank you.  That night we loaded up the pickup and drove for 5 hours.  I had a full day of business appointments on Friday and then it was another few hours to the stomping grounds.  We made it with just enough time to get the dog chores done and relax a little bit.  I knew I wouldn’t sleep.  I never do the night before.

The alarm finally sounded although it wasn’t needed.  The slamming motel and pickup doors already had me awake.  I slipped into my clothes and dawned a jacket, let the dogs out to stretch and relieve themselves.  Stopping only to get a cup of coffee, I headed out-of-town in the predawn.  It was a beautiful and crystal clear morning.  The bank sign read 32 degrees.  The faint breeze was barely enough to move the condensation in my breath.


As I collared Hide, my 6 yr old pointer, and Belle, my 3 1/2 yr old setter, I noticed I had the place all to myself.  This made it all the better.  I like hunting with others and enjoy the camaraderie in the field but there is rarely a more special hunt than one with a man alone with his dogs.  I took a photo of the sun rising above the horizon and took my time enjoying the scenery while I started my walk.  Fifteen minutes had not passed when I heard wings beating my heart into the ground.  I jerked around to the front and see Hide standing with the wind drifting away from his nose.  He stumbled into a covey on the wrong side but he had excellent manners and stood rigid while they flushed in three waves.  I watched the birds filter down in the cover below the bench I was on, and then go straight to Hide to flush just in case.  All tenants had vacated and I stroked his side before releasing him.  I gathered up both dogs  and we headed after the singles.  I bumped one and missed as it flew straight away.  Seconds later Hide stuck one and as I moved in, two quail rocketed up putting a tree between us and giving me no shot.


We moved through the area and bumped a few more birds, with no shots.  It became apparent that the lack of a nice breeze wasn’t necessarily helping us. One about hit me in the face when it vaulted from the ground.  I spun around and whiffed with both barrels.  Belle cut across right in front of me and froze.  I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture that would never make a magazine cover.  They can’t always point em’ high on both ends. I flushed that bird right in front of her face and she cussed me when I failed to hold up my end of the deal.  I chuckled at myself for the ridiculous display of shotgunning.  …It’s..Back….


I had enough and made the decision to move on, look for another bevy and calm myself down.  We searched for a while before we hit paydirt again.  This time it was Belle that had a stop to flush.  As frustrating as it was, I didn’t get upset with this situation.  She did the same thing Hide did.  Popped over a little rise and into a feeding covey with the wind at her back.  She stood as 5 or 6 birds busted from the sage.  I walked in front to flush and couldn’t produce a bird so I went back and released her.  She dropped back down the hill and I stayed up top, walked another 30 yards and stumbled into the rest of the birds.  The status quo didn’t change.  I gathered both dogs and gave them a good drink.  This time they worked the singles with a little less charge and they put on a show.  I didn’t do my part with either the 20 gauge or the camera.  On top of missing more times than I want to admit, these birds outwitted us.  I had to pass on multiple shots as these little rockets skirted the ground low and put the dogs in between me and them along with using the brush as a shield.  I can’t shoot, the dogs probably hate me, it’s getting hot and we’re out of water.  They win.


I decided to leave the camera in the truck during then next walk.  I seriously needed to make some changes in my shooting or this was going to be the worst opener ever.  It was getting warmer and I had moved several miles to a new area where I had found some scaled quail in the past.  I turned Nelly loose, (4 yr old pointer) and Luke (1 yr old pointer) the newbie.  We covered a lot of ground and Nell got birdy a few times and finally pointed.  By the time I got to her I couldn’t produce any birds for the gun.  We wasted a lot of time trying to find them again and never did get it done.  On the way back to the truck I bumped a covey of bobs and I watched them down.  Nelly found the birds in short order.  Luke came and backed her with a little encouragement on my part.  I walked in to flush where I just knew the birds were and I was wrong.  They flushed behind me and to the right.  I wheeled around and …yeah….

I was licking my wounds and thought I had better let the dogs rest.  By this time the laughing was replaced with something else. I decided to go scout out a place for tomorrow.  As luck would have it I flushed a single scalie as I was driving out.  I hurriedly geared up, put Hide and Nelly down, and marched in the direction the single went.  I worked the hillside hoping to find the others but that didn’t pay off, but we kept chugging along. About 200 yards over the hill, I found Hide standing stiff as a board.  I moved in and flushed a lone bird.  It fell.  Let me repeat that.  It fell.  As in dead.  The monkey is off my back.  Two more birds burst from near the tall cactus.  I air-balled on the back bird.  At the second shot about 40 more erupted.  It was by far the biggest covey rise I have ever witnessed.  We spent the next 45 minutes chasing the shooting blues away.  The dogs did an outstanding job working the singles, pairs and small groups.  It was plenty warm but the wind had picked up enough to help us out.  I finally connected on several shots and both dogs made retrieves.  The dogs were spent and I was tired but smiling again.  I headed back to the truck humbled and grateful.

The next day was more of the same.  My shooting did improve though and I had knocked down close to a limit before noon.  Nelly was the dog of the day with more finds than any mediocre shooter would need.  Luke proved that he might have a little bird dog in him with his very first solo find and retrieve.  I really wish I had the camera with me for his first pointed covey but I had all but given up on trying to shoot and take photos.  I had to wrap up early and head back to the real world.   In the end it was still a great way to spend time in God’s creation.  The lesson from this hunt: Be thankful for the opportunity and enjoy the pursuit.

When I dumped all the empty hulls out of my vest and put them next to the birds, I laughed at my horrible average and almost took a picture.  Almost… because it wasn’t that funny.


Luke, waiting for marching orders.


The tell-tale sign.


A few for later this week.

Keep the passion Stay addicted

The Little Things

She’s standing motionless, Tail erect, Feathers waiving

Looks intense too, Her eyes speak in silence

Close the distance, Quietly, Poised and ready

Expect it, Prepare to be startled

Glance back, She’s still stone, Heartbeats rising

Continue forward, One step then another

You hear it first, The sound unmistakable, Suprisingly loud

Spin to the left, One bird

Frantic wing beats, Quartering across, Feeling rushed

Mount and swing, Slap the trigger

Way behind, The others explode, Chaos

Too many, Can’t choose

That one, Cock bird, See the white

Swing through, Feels right

Dead Bird! Dead Bird!, Start the chant, Keep your mark

She delivers and wags, That-a-girl!

Black bars across a white breast, Beautiful bird, Not a feather out of place

She’s moving again





5 Ways To Ruin A Good Bird Dog

There are countless books out there that can teach us the proper methods to train our canine hunting partners.  Some of them are great and some of them are out dated.  With all the cataloged info out there to help us, why do we often find ourselves dealing with so many problems in the field?  The answer usually lies within us.  Whether or not we can realize our own shortcomings as trainer and handler, is another story.

This list doesn’t take into consideration starting puppies and all that can go wrong there.  Let us assume that we have done a good job at getting the pup started on the right path and we are now into at least season one of their careers.

5.  Constantly telling the dog what to do and where to do it

How many times have we hunted with someone who is always telling their dog to get over here and check over there?  The question that really begs answering is; How many times have we been that guy?  Probably more than we would like to admit and possibly more than we recognize.  We view ourselves as trying to help him find birds.  Now how in the world do we know more about finding birds than the d’rn dog!?  Sure we have a pretty good idea of where we think they should be given the time of day and the area we are in.  But the dog has the nose and hopefully the brains of the operation.  Now I am not telling you to the let them run plumb off the grid.  That’s just self huntin’.  But why do we always feel the need to tell them to get off that hillside and to hunt this one.  Put it this way.  If we let them learn where the birds are, by themselves, they will (if they have any grey matter between the ears) become better at knowing where and learning how to find birds, than we are.  With exception to some of the “Lab guys,” we don’t hunt with robots.  We’ve gotta let em’ learn on their terms.  For some of us, it’s a hard lesson to learn!

I will always remember the field trial judge that I asked for advice.  We were back at the trailers after my brace ran.  I told him I was new and asked him what I could improve on.  Without answering me, he walked 20 ft to his trailer and brought back a roll of duct tape.  He smiled and said, “Next time you run that dog, put this over your mouth.  He doesn’t need all that help, you keep offerin’ him.”

4.  Over training on pen raised birds

preseason 15

Out side of those that live in the glorious west, many of us overzealous dog trainer wannabees just don’t have access to wild birds all the time.  But discouraged be, we will not!  We are going to outsmart the system and go buy some birds.  Stinky, nasty, already looking for a place to die, pen raised birds.  What could go wrong?

First off, if all you hunt is preserves, train on libbies all you want.  But if you are like me and almost exclusively hunt wild birds only, tread with caution.

The most common disaster that I have found, is that the training birds will take more pressure from a dog and even let a quick dog close enough to catch them.  I experience the repercussions of this first hand a few seasons ago.  The first two or three coveys that each dog faced,  graced us with a lesson on manners.  None of my four-legged guides wanted to give the birds any respect.  And as expected, they ditched us and didn’t even leave a forwarding address.  A few more contacts and we were back to playing par golf but damn the frustration!  “Worst part is,”  I told a friend.  “I know I caused this.”   The next year, I did absolutely  zero training on pen raised birds and as a result the opening morning re-learning curve was shortened exponentially.

The second problem with pen raised birds, in my opinion of course, is unless released correctly, they don’t teach the dog to hunt.  They teach the dog to run down a mowed strip and point when it gets within five feet.  The only way I have seen pen-raised birds teach a dog to hunt is when they are released in coveys in natural cover, a week or more before training on them.  This is time-consuming and expensive.  The other drawback, it takes a lot of birds.  There will be plenty of death loss.  The upside of doing things this; things play out on a more natural stage.

Pen raised birds are an often times necessity in some areas, but let’s try to keep it to a minimum.  I think they’re fine for puppies, and as a once in a while substitute.  Just don’t over do it.

3. Being inconsistent

How can we expect our dogs to become masters at their craft, if we don’t have the same set of rules every time we let them out of the truck?  Now this especially pertains to young dogs and pups,  and possibly a started dog that was recently acquired.  It’s just common sense to keep obedience and other commands to a set standard and stick to it.  We already know that, but what about some of the other moving parts of this machine.  For example my biggest struggle is not shooting.  Not shooting at birds that were mishandled by a dog for some reason or another.  I fall so short in this pit of doom.  I have to force myself to walk with an empty gun when I have  a young charge on the ground.  The old dogs are pretty much set in their ways I figure.  But for the pupils, it’s a different course.  We should in theory, only shoot properly handled birds.  By doing so we are positively reinforcing the pups work, and the opposite is true as well.  We are ignoring and negatively reinforcing the pup when he charges in and knocks the birds.  I still have yet to pass this course.

2.  Being overly harsh and critical

Now I’m not talking about physically being overly harsh, as we all understand that to be bad medicine.  What I am discussing here is our personal critiques of our own dogs. *Notice* I said, “our own dogs”.  Those are the key words.  I don’t want to give anyone the impression that its okay to say anything of ill manner about someone else’s dogs.  They may take the insult to heart and retaliate by depositing an ounce of #6 shot in your posterior, or worse.  They could give you an honest opinion about your dogs!

Let’s face it.  Our dogs aren’t perfect and they never will be. Hell, I have seen a multiple time Field Champion, that has run in the National Championship numerous years, precisely locate and stick a covey of slinking birds and then RUN THROUGH THEM like a puppy full of piss and vinegar.  All this took place on center stage, with the whole gallery watching.  Dogs will be dogs.

Have you ever noticed that the dogs that get all the praise and love are same ones that don’t meet your standards?  His owner just loves him to death but you wouldn’t feed the mutt!  Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfection is in the eye of the handler.  I have hunted with many another that were just tickled pink with their dog’s performance and I wondered if the dog even points birds!  But hey!  He did retrieve two birds and he never got more than 20 yards away. (Roll my eyes..)  And if that makes his owner happy; that’s what he should do.  And who am I to think differently.

Bird dogs in general are for optimistic souls.  For those like me that suffer spells of pessimism, don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you are judging the negative, you will end up with a long list.   I am constantly chastised by my wife because I am overly critical about a canine performance.  I have to be reminded time and time again, to focus on the good things they did.   “You have to be the only person I know, that gets back to the truck after a two hour walk with 4 coveys found and 5 birds in the bag and bitchin’ about one of the dogs because, she accidentally bumped a single.” she exclaims.

I guess its time to revisit #5.

1. Bragging on a dog before a hunt.

They say its in bad taste to claim every bird that falls.  Even if you did shoot them all.  Well in that camp lets just say this.  Its flat stupid to brag on your dogs before a hunt!  I don’t care what they did last week or last season, or what award they won or how many dogs they bested at the trial.  The minute you tell your hunting partner how great your fireball is, clock starts ticking.  It’s like a time bomb in a Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.  The best laid plan is going to blow up in your face.  This is especially true if your gunning partner is a new acquaintance.  Your old feather chasin’ friends are too smart to hear it and they likely know your dog as well as you do.

Not that we ever needed help, but ours dogs have the ability to make us look stupid at will. And sometimes I think they understand this!

I love to visit with new bird hunters and dog owners.  They have that spark of enthusiasm, the drive to conquer and the will to overcome.  And because they say some dumb stuff.  Who can blame them, we all were once just like them… and I still am.

“My dog has never lost a bird!”  Yeah,.. you need to hunt more.

“I can hunt my dog all day, she never slows down!”  Well,.. some never get started.

“she would never mess with a porcupine, she doesn’t have any fur drive”  NO Comment.

“He has never bumped birds”  yeah… okay…

And finally, “I don’t need one of those tracking collars, my dogs aren’t run offs”

I consider myself lucky, to have had several good ones that I hope I didn’t screw up too bad.


Blogs, Podcasts and Random Thoughts

I have finally decided to try to write something again.  I meant to stay with it all year but, well…

So I decided to write this because I don’t have anything interesting to write about and it gives me something to do other than sit at the computer and research old shotguns that I can’t afford.

September:  The time of year that I start compulsively daydreaming about hunting birds.  The mornings almost feels like fall but the mid south mornings turn from cool to hot way to early.  This is the most frustrating time of the year, as half the country have opened up seasons and I am forced to either wait until the middle of October or drive north.  Now lets get something clear from the beginning.  Driving north for a bird hunt is a great idea, it just isn’t always an option.  Unfortunately, real life things like family, work, and bills can bust up that plan like a young pointer knocking every bird in a half mile radius.  After spending a season chasing huns in Big Sky Country and falling in love with “the quail on steroids”,  I have been fortunate enough to take a few early fall trips to revive the soul.  But this year, it just isn’t in the cards.

So what should I do?  Its still too hot to enjoy running dogs.  I don’t really want to do much work on throw down birds.  Read and listen. That is what I do in September.  I dust off all the blogs and podcasts that get my mind ready to get back into this healthy addiction.

Here is a list of blogs and podcast that I enjoy when I need to break up the monotony of a long drive or take a break from a home remodeling project.  So, before you lose your temper and throw your hammer through the wall, pull up one of these blogs and take a few minutes to forget about real life.  (Ugh..Ugh,  Not that I would ever get that frustrated during a little remodeling project.)


The Hunting Dog Podcast:  I love this podcast.  Ron Boehme (find Ron or Dancing Duke Kennels on facebook) does a great job puting this show together.  He interviews all kinds of folks who’s life revolve around hunting dogs of all kinds.  It covers hounds, flushers, retrievers, and pointing dogs with the majority of shows going bird hunting of some kind.  I like the fact that this podcast is put together in a kennel rather than a studio.  It may be on the lower end of the production scale but when you hear two or more guys talking bird hunting and dogs and cracking open beers it takes on a kind of authenticity I can really appreciate.

I also follow several blogs.  I used to buy all the bird hunting magazines that I could get my hands on and devour them within the evening.  They had a few good photos and if I was lucky maybe one good article.  They just got so repetitive and monotonous it drove me to look for something new.  Something a little more legit and less focused on sales of ad space.  The magazines are still out there and I still pick one up every now and then, but these blogs seem to do a better job of portraying a real bird hunt.

Most of these bloggers are very talented writers, either telling great stories or giving reviews on gear that has just come out.  I appreciate their work and aspire to write as well as they can.  Most if not all of these blogs focus on wild bird hunting, with a smattering of fly fishing, turkey hunting, big game hunting, outstanding photos and an occasional rant about some hot topic or another.  For some reason I follow a lot of bloggers that are chukar hunters.  I don’t know if chukar hunters make up the bulk of the bird hunting blogging world or if I simply like their stories about continually hiking uphill and sliding down scree slopes, chasing one of the most frustrating game birds in North America, or if I just find a beauty in the country they hunt in.  Either way they are lucky to live where they do and I am lucky they write about it.

Take a break from what ever boring, same old,  deer hunting show you are watching and check out these blogs.  And if you know of more good blogs about chasing wild birds, by all means please share them.

Birdhunter | images from the bird hunting experience

A Bird Hunter’s Road

Upland Ways – Red Letter Days Afield and on Stream

Scaled Quail

Scaled Quail.  My unicorn. The ghost that eludes me.

I’ve had some suspected run-ins with them in the past but I (or the dogs) had never been able to get any of them pinned down.   They always seemed to quietly excuse themselves from a good dog’s point.  Leaving nothing but broken dreams and tracks in the sand.  I never saw or heard them flush.  They just vanished.  They are known for making men and dogs crazy.


This time, they pulled the same ol’ dirty trick.  Two dogs on point, quail tracks everywhere but no birds to flush.  They had vanished. Again.  Dogs relocated and then moved on, but we kept returning back to the scene and hunting in every direction from that point until we finally pushed them to a point where they were forced to fly.  Too many tracks going in every direction to know which way they went.  Several more points and relocations ensued.  I wasn’t actually expecting the flush because I didn’t know the birds were there.  Hide seemed confused as well.  However, I did make the mental note that if we did have birds in front of us, this would be their exit.  The cover went from sparse grass on a sand dune to a broad stretch of dense but fairway slick, native grasses, thanks to the cows that grazed this pasture during summer.

The unmistakable roaring of wings came from my right.  I spun around and began to mount even before I saw them.  I picked out one bird and grassed it.  The second wave rocketed up at the shot.  I picked one, swung, and let the second load of 6’s fly.  Too slow.

I still wasn’t sure if I had just shot my first cottontop.  Everything was rushed and I didn’t know if it was Bobs or Blues.  Hide decided that he was going to retrieve this time. That’s a change of pace!  And it usually results in a bird with far fewer feathers by the time I get my hands on it.  The one time I don’t want him to retrieve!  He scooped it up and brought me our bird.  A retrieve even a lab guy would be happy with.  Not a feather out of place.  I had my first blue!



Scaled quail, aka: Blues, Scalies, Cottontops…runnin’ little devils!



A mixed bag and two tired dogs.  Life is good.

A mixed bag and two tired dogs. Life is good.

I always wanted to get a few blues mounted, as they really are a gorgeous bird, but these are headed to the freezer.  I guess we will have to chase them next year.

Puting It All Together

The New Year dawn slowly lit up the world and my face burned.  The thermometer on the dash read 15 degrees.  I put collars on two dogs as quickly as I could and rushed to get my gloves back on.  The dogs charged the vast landscape with purpose and pose.  I heard a distant whistle of a cock bird from the south and started the march.  Both dogs were covering the ground thoroughly and investigating all the likely places that could possibly harbor a bevy as they started their morning routine.  It wasn’t long into the walk that I started to think that sleeping in would have been an acceptable choice.  The thought quickly left me as I saw what appeared to be fresh tracks in the sand.  With the dogs out front and to each side I walked ahead and haphazardly followed the tracks in the sand.


Its always a good sign to see roosts like this all over the place.

The sun was just above the horizon and I welcomed its warmth.  The blinding rays lit up the frost covered landscape.  The air was still and crisp.  The covey burst from the sage with a deafening blur of wingbeats.  They got up directly in the sun but flew hell bent for election to my left, toward the river.  I hastily swung my 20 and fell a bird with the right barrel.  My second shot was all for show, with nothing to show for it.  I couldn’t believe that both dogs missed this covey.  I didn’t care though.  We gathered up the first bird of the day and headed after the singles.  Before we reached the river bed there were tails in the sky with a Hide standing like a statue and the little setter backing.  “Whoop, Whoop..”  I said to the pointer as I walked in behind him.  I was nearly even with him when he took slow and creeping step and paused, then another.  “Whoa Hide!”  A single bird flushed from the frosty grass and gave me an easy straight away.  I knocked it down and the covey exploded.  I failed to pick out a bird and they sailed away.  A straggler popped and gave me a clear, yet challenging, hard crossing left to right shot.  I swung and slapped the back trigger.  He folded dead in the air.  I picked up the dead bird and called the dogs into hunt dead.  Not their strong suit.  Bella did a good job finding and catching the cripple.  I didn’t see where the covey had flown to, so we kept our course for the river, where we hoped to find some singles from the first covey.

I spied Bella on point to the front left and made a bee line for her.  As I got just within gun range a bird flushed at my feet.  Startled I through up the gun and shot.  The bird fell but was obviously not dead.  Bella left her point when I shot and headed for the downed bird.  We spend a few minutes looking for the bird I just knocked down.  And in those few minutes we experienced what could only be described as a “Cluster *&%”.  Both dogs were hunting dead, and singles were popping up all around us.  I swung on a long crossing bird and wasted the first barrel.  Then swung on another bird that offered an almost identical shot.  Missed again.  I broke my gun and extracted the two empties, as the bird we were looking for flushed under my nose and fluttered over a small knoll, never to be seen again.  After many more minutes and a few choice words I called the dogs off the search and accepted a lost bird.  I asked Bella if she forgot that she had a bird pointed about 70 yards away and sent both dogs in that direction.  Bella must have remembered as she darted straight over to the same area and resumed her point.  I moved in and flushed.  The open choke from the right barrel grassed the bird and Bella made a decent retrieve.  It was improvement at least.

We followed the wide and dry river bed for a while and the dogs found nothing that peaked their interest.  I walked across a pile of spent 12 gauge hulls and started picking up a mess that was left by what I assumed was a dove hunter.  As I was picking up the empties that lay scattered around  like a dirty sore, the garmin beeped.  Bella was on point.  I started off for her, and Hide took my cue and changed his heading as well.  The garmin said she was only 135 yards away straight ahead but I could not see her.  I kept Hide pretty close as I wanted Bella to have a little alone time with this covey.  I took my time getting there and thought it would be good for her to stand them a while.  The garmin know said I was within 30 yards but I still could not see a setter standing anywhere.  Hide moved ahead and disappeared over a small hill and into the lower part of the river bed.  I heard birds flush and hustle up the same small hill.  I saw both dogs standing and more birds took wing.  I rushed a shot at the last bird in the group and whiffed.  “Hide,… you big asshole!”I declared.  He claimed that he never saw her standing there pointing that covey and from where he dropped in he couldn’t have smelled them.  I told Bella that she had a really nice piece of work and it would have been perfect if Mr. Jekyl hadn’t shown up and crashed the party.  The covey had flown in the opposite direction that we were headed so we just moved on.

The next covey took wing as I was stumbling over a fallen cottonwood branch that the birds were using for hawk protection.  I missed a high percentage shot and then swung on a bird 180 degrees in the opposite direction and blanked again.  I could do nothing more than pocket two empty yellow hulls and take in the beauty of the morning.  As both dogs game cruising up, I asked them how that covey managed to go undetected.  They just stared blankly back at me.  We searched for the singles and Bella slammed a picture perfect point only to come undone when the bird decided to run off.  I lowered the gun and let that bird do some teaching as it flushed and sailed away with out the fear of a load of lead on its tail.  I whoaed Bella and made her stand for a while as I half heartedly flushed around hoping there would be another bird around.  After finding no other birds we moved on.

I was thought I was getting fairly close to the rig and I was daydreaming as I walked along when the garmin sang and then sang again.  I pulled it from my vest and saw that it showed both dogs on point ahead.  I walked around some willow thickets and saw both dogs standing on a little rise adjacent to some prime looking cover.  The pointer up front and the little setter girl backing intently.  I stopped to take a picture with my phone and then moved in for the flush.  I was even with the dogs and surveyed the possible escape routes that would make shooting the toughest.  I had some small cottonwoods to my immediate right that would make shooting that direction nearly impossible.  Birds erupted in every direction. I singled one out that took the left and most obstacle free route and left a cloud of feathers floating in the gentle breeze.  I spun 90 degrees to my right and took a poke at a bird through the trees to no avail.  We took a long time searching for the dead bird I finally let Hide wander off because he had given up the search and I was tired of calling him back to me to hunt dead.  20160101_102011

I had lost track of Hide while the Bella and I continued our search for the dead bird that snuck off leaving us with only a pile of feathers.  My phone beeped and I already knew what the text said.  “HIDE IS ON POINT.”  Apparently we were close enough for my wife, who had decided to sit in the warm vehicle due to the 15 degree thing, to spot a liver and white pointer standing in the weeds.  I kept looking for the bird on the ground as I didn’t want to lose a second.  Finally we gave up and headed for Hide’s point.  He was sure enough standin’ stiff as a board when we showed up.  Bell was off hunting my right but she never looked in his direction.  I finally yelled, “Whoa!” and she skidded to a stop and looked at me and then turned her head towards Hide.  It was beautiful.  As soon as she spied him she styled up into a really nice back to honor his point.  I moved in a flushed four birds in front of Hide. Two of which gave me easy straight away shots.

This was possibly the best two hours of quail hunting that I had ever experienced.  I got some great GoPro footage and am trying to figure out how to edit and post it.  I only with I would have taken more photos.  The afternoon consisted of running the pup and Magic and we only moved a few move coveys and picked up one more bird.  We had dinner with some old bird hunting friends and met some new ones.  All of which were staying at the same motel.  The next day proved to be just as good, if not better.  I hunted the pointer/setter duo again and they continued to make big strides in their wild bird progress.  As the weekend came to a close and we made the tiring drive back home, I finally felt the satisfaction of a great quail hunt.  I won’t forget this one for a long time.


Two tired dogs after a few days of chasing bobs