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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.

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

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

New Year, Success Found

As the calendar turned its last page on 2015 our dismal success took a needed swing in the right direction.  The first two months of this year’s bird season was a struggle at best and had me shaking my head and my fists more than I want to admit.  Dog work was a spotty mix of good and bad and my shooting prowess was at an all time low.   We did have some pretty good hunts early on, considering it always seemed to be 70 degrees and windy.  But we could never quite put it all together.  For the majority of the dogs on this years team it was to be their first year hunting wild birds.  As the dogs struggled with poor scenting conditions and learning not to crowd birds, I failed to be disciplined enough to pass up shots on mishandled birds.  To make it worse, I struggled to connect the little dots on the birds that were handled correctly.  It was shaping up to be the worst season I have ever had.

How can things change so abruptly, I haven’t a clue.  I am still having issues with being cross eye dominant and my shooting still isn’t what anyone would call good, but things have taken a turn for the better and I am not complaining.  I have come to the conclusion that my expectations were too high and I was hinging my perceived success and failures on bar that was set too high.  I vowed to “just go have some fun” for the remainder of the season and see how things worked out.  Essentially I took the pressure off, both myself and the dogs.  I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care if I missed that easy straight away shot and that if didn’t matter if the dogs bumped, knocked, ran over, or totally missed a covey of birds.  Of course I did care, but I had to pretend it didn’t matter.  And in the end it really didn’t.  I lowered my standards and both my performance and the dogs started to get better.

I had a few short, local hunts at the end of the year and they were good for both the dogs and I.  We didn’t find a lot of birds but we did get some birds pointed and a few tumbled.  The biggest success was releasing the tension.  “It was the start of a new season,” I told myself.  Let the dogs make mistakes and learn from them.  Let the birds to the teaching. And for God’s sake, don’t shoot at mishandled birds.  It doesn’t matter if the only covey we see the entire day gets a free pass.


Rock Bottom?

Is this rock bottom?

I feel my season is turning into a full blown disaster.  I imagine it is like a drug addict stuck in a revolving cycle. Perpetually moving and still going nowhere. There are times when the euphoria sets in and times when I want to shoot the dog. Of course I didn’t and never will, but you get the point. And just like an addict stuck in that predictable cycle, I know I cause most of the problems, and I just can’t help myself. I can’t stop.

So, what is my problem exactly? I…. I …. I shoot at birds that aren’t handled correctly. There I said it. I can’t make myself stop. I do not have the discipline to choose good dog work over shooting at a bird. Even though I so desperately want great dog work. And then, I get extremely frustrated at the dogs (and myself) for continuing to mishandle birds. WTF? Even I don’t get it. Even I know it doesn’t make sense. If you want the dog to learn to handle birds correctly, don’t reward the dog and shoot, or often in my case shoot at, mishandled birds.

So on top of one of the poorest shooting exhibitions I have ever put on, I now am rewarding the dogs for bad habits and flat out knocking. The shooting, has its own set of obstacles. I used to be a good to better than good wingshooter. That is back in the day, when I lived in bird country and hunted every chance I had. That was before marriage, and children, and work obligations.  When I was in a target rich environment. Sure I hunted hard and had to work for the birds but I had a lot of real life practice. I have slowly gotten progressively worse in the shooting department. So what gives? My eyes. I am one of the minority it seems as I am no longer right eye dominant. So, I am currently shooting right handed and am left eye dominant. So either I close one eye or I need to learn to shoot lefty.  Or can this be fixed with more focus and practice.  We will see how this plays out…

Eye dominance test: Look at a object in the distance. Make a triangle with your hands and center the object in the triangle.  Then close your shooting eye (dominant) eye.  Do you still see the object?

eye test

Now back to the dogs. I can’t say that all is lost. There have been some bright rays of sunshine that have shone through, even in the gloomiest of storms.  For the most part the dogs are doing there job well enough.  Certainly better than the average dog.  They hunt hard and handle well, and that is better than a lot of other dogs I have hunted behind.  Ironhide has had some outstanding pieces of birdwork, and is learning to play the game with ditch chickens quite well. He still stops to flush and has stayed broke several times. Bella, who is a wild bird rookie this year, is starting to find and point her own birds, and she is hunting dead very well, even though she points the dead birds rather than retrieve them to hand. And Luke, the pup that doesn’t know anything, has had the instinctual fire stoked by having a few coveys flush in his face, during some evening road training sessions. But Magic… The most experienced dog on the crew, the oldest dog, has decided that she needs to see every bird she smells. See em’ on the ground, see em’ in the air. She doesn’t care anymore. And what have I done to stop this. Nothing. Nope, I shot, which just rewarded her. But at least she is still does a great job retrieving.  Like I said, I have created most of my own problems.   I have to hunt her alone now, until we fix this issue.

Magic makes the retrieve.


Why is it that I can’t hold off, when I know I shouldn’t shoot? Why can’t I force myself to be disciplined? Am I so amped about shooting birds this year because I didn’t get to hunt much at all last year?  Actually I haven’t hunted much for about 5 years as I had been almost exclusivley training and trialing. Are the dogs pressuring birds too much because I have over worked them on throw downs? Will more exposure on wild birds straighten this out? I can admit that I am puting pressure on myself to kill a lot of birds this year. Why, I don’t know.  Its not like I will starve if I return home with an empty game bag.  I think it impacts both my lack of discipline and my poor shooting. I just find it so damn frustrating that I used to kill so many birds with my old lab/mutt and now I am struggling to scratch a few birds down.

Cooper with Huns and Sharpies.  I miss this dog!

Cooper in Montana

Cooper Huns and Sharptail

A good friend and mentor of mine that has decades more experience than I do told me this, “What you are going through is what we all have to go through at some point. We have to make a decision. We have to decide whether good birdwork is more important, or is killing more important.” My response would be that of course good birdwork is more important, but I know deep down I am a killer. My first 15 years of bird hunting didn’t require all this discipline. If a legal bird got up within range you tried to kill it. End of story. I feel as though it is ingrained in me. Kill any bird that offers a safe shot. It is a real problem for me. I want to stop, but it’s so damned hard.

I have to make the decision now. What do I want more? I want the good work! I am going to have to force myself to walk with an unloaded gun and only shoot properly pointed and handled birds. That is the only way I can do it. But can I even do that? Can I pass up birds that I walk up? Birds that the dogs had nothing to do with. Will I be able to overcome the need to shoot a bird? Will I be happy if I don’t shoot another bird all season? I can’t answer that. It would be disappointing to say the least. But I have made the decision. The dogwork must take precedence.  We shall see if I can stay on the wagon.

There is still hope. There is still time and still some hunts to come. One of which I am looking forward to more than others. Texas. On a ranch where the birds haven’t been hunted for years.

Like I said, “It hasn’t all been bad.”  For the remainder of the season, I think its time to focus on quality work and not the quantity of dead birds.

Ironhide on Point

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Opening weekend.  The anticipation build up is usually more spectacular that the hunting itself.  This year was probably not going to be any different.  I had been trying to gather as much field intel as I could in the months leading up to November.  I was watching for birds while traveling for work and occasionally running dogs to spot check a few areas.  What I was gathering, was that this year had the makings of a good one.  But, unlike most years, this opener actually held up, at least the bird numbers did.

I have been struggling to get out of bed early for a while now.  I would say this condition has been effecting me for about the last 30 years or so.  But when the morning of the opener comes, it always seems to be a little easier to rise. In fact I think I was awake for an hour before the first chime of the alarm went off.   The plan was to get parked near where I wanted to hunt before sunrise and listen for birds to give away there locations.  As soon as I shut off the ignition and poured steaming coffee out of the thermos, with the windows down, listening, I heard the unmistakable, Bob-White,….Bob-White, whistle.  Not only was I the audience for one choir, I heard several whistlers in different directions.  I was as happy as fat kid in an ice cream parlor.

After collaring the dogs and gearing up, making sure I was carrying enough water.  We set out straight for the covey that I thought was closest.  It didn’t take long and Hide had stopped dead in his tracks. Head and tail held high. Eyes staring forward with a piercing glare.  Now this is the kind of start to a season we dream about.  Just after sunrise, cold, crisp air, and a staunch pointer with birds in front of him.  I circled around him on his right and motioned for my wife to move in from the left.  The little setter, who was, at the time, doing her own thing, decided to come by as if on cue and backed nicely.  As I paralleled him he started to slowly creep.  We were in a little bowl of crp grass.  The covey didn’t have woody cover to duck into so I picked up the pace and moved in front to flush.  Two birds got up and flew directly at my wife.  No shots offered.  Then another step and another bird was up, quartering away.  Easy shot and a clean miss.  %$&(!  At the shot the rest of covey took to flight in every direction.  I emptied the second barrel…. And then I cussed again.

“Okay, fine I missed two gimme shots.  Whatever”.  I thought to myself.  Most of the covey went over the hill.  We’ll just find some singles. Bella, my young setter female,  found and pointed a single and it fell after a rushed, but lucky shot.  That made me feel a little better.  This is her first season and I just shot her first wild bird.  Success is sweet.  The retrieve, well that wasn’t so sweet.  She found the little flapping bird in a dense thicket and then proceeded to leave it lay.  She was off to find more, I guess we have a little work to do there.

We never did find anymore singles and opted to just hunt onward for another covey.  We walked for 20 minutes or so and Hide struck gold again.  I found him pointing on the edge of a plum thicket.  As I was walking in his direction, he started to move and then froze and then moved again.  This proved to be too much for the birds and they lifted.  I was still too far out of shotgun range for a shot.  I thought this would make a good training exercise for him anyway.  He needs to learn to stand his birds even when they are moving away from him.  They didn’t go far.  Maybe 70 yards and then plopped down in another thicket.  I hustled over to the where I thought the birds had landed and before the dogs (who didn’t see where they went) got there, I had walked to far and was standing in the middle of the scattered covey.  The first birds to get up, shot up right behind me and after a wonderful attempt at a 180 to eye the bird that flushed and another one 180 to try spy the second bird I heard flush, they got the best of me.  No shots.  Bella showed up and had a stop to flush as she ran over a bird with the wind at her back.   I pulled up and fired… and it kept on keepin on.  As predicted the remainder of the covey exploded when the shot when off.  I picked out the last bird to go, the late riser of the group.  This time I took my time and settled in.  And… missed for the fourth time of the day.  Yes,  I cussed again…. a lot.

We moved on and found another couple of coveys that Hide pointed nicely.  I managed to get a few shots off and scratched down one more bird.  We worked our way back to the vehicle to water and switch dogs.  It had been a pretty good start to the 2015 season.  Well, at least we were finding birds, even if the shooting was horrendous.

The second walk of he morning didn’t produce much.  I was hunting the third wheel of the dog team solo.  The wind had picked up and the temps had risen considerably.  We hunted towards and then around any water source we could find and then finally decided to head back to the truck after one covey, more crappy shooting, and a few pheasants that tried to out maneuver us.  The two roosters succeeded and the hens used their “I’m a girl, don’t shoot” cards.

That afternoon I made the call to spend the early afternoon driving several hours just to check out an area that I thought would be promising.  This was a risky call.  Spending almost 3 hours driving to only hunt for another 2 1/2.  But it was windy and hot, in the middle of the afternoon and scenting conditions would not favor the dogs.  As the sun was setting, I was glad that I had made the call.  The area that I wanted to check out was doin good in the bird department… doin real good.  I ran the point/setter duo again and we moved several coveys in a relatively small area.  My shooting still sucked, but I was a manage to put a few in the vest.  I thought this area would be good and now I had the boots on the ground info.  We will be back.

We drove all the way back to where we started, and called it a night.  The next morning we where at em early again.  With whistling birds singing to us as we drank our morning coffee.  But this day the whistling birds could not be found.  I was dumfounded and a little pissed, that we could find them.  They sounded like they were right there.  I looked everywhere that I thought they could have been.  We hunted on.  Found nothing on this windy morning.  Switched dogs and headed off.  Magic found and busted covey after covey.  Pointing and then knocking.  I have no effin clue what her deal is… or has been.  All I know is that it made me furious.   She did this a few times on training runs as well.

I just rembered…. A few months ago we did a little warm up session with some stupid pen birds.  There was no wind and she pointed one as she basically ran it over.  Pointed it right under her nose.  Right before she caught it.  Is that it?  Did catching one bird in a training session, screw her up this bad.  Maybe.  Every covey she pointed and flushed she likely saw as she was in a thicket.  She probably saw them running and thought she could catch them.  I dunno.. I am still mad about it.  Hopefully I get this think nipped in the butt quick.

After Magic’s showing I was not very happy and  went back to the truck and got Hide out again.  We hunted our butts off in the wind and didn’t find much.  Shot a rooster and pointed a few more hens.  I was tired and left  a little defeated after piss poor dog work from Magic, and my shooting slump from hell.  We  loaded up and head home.

All in all, it was still a good weekend.  We were bird huntin’ after all.  And there are birds this year.