Friday, May 26, 2023

Graduation Day

Today was the day. JD and I headed out to the barn. Graduation day! I put her in the with the big dogs while I eased out to the bird pen with a couple of mesh bird cages in my hand. The big dogs knew exactly what was coming, and they started making a ruckus. The fur-missile just sat at the gate and watched me.


I grabbed two quail and headed out to the fresh cut pasture. I put the two birds down quite a ways apart, then returned for JD. I took her to the edge of the pasture, told her "bird in here!" and turned her loose. It's fun to watch a young dog just torn up with bird finding! 


She hit the first one a lttle loose, then locked up. I waited a bit, then stepped on the edge of the cage. The bird flushed, but low. Too low to shoot, so I let her chase and then yelled "leave it" and watched her pull away and return. "Let's go. Bird in here, JD!" I said. Off she went. It didn't take long at all for her to wind the second bird and point. This time the bird got up high enough to shoot. It dropped and she was on it, and flipped over on her back, then came back to pick it up. It was right to hand. 


That was the first killed bird over her for a retrieve. It's been about 2 months since I started her on the training table. At this point, she is showing a great deal of promise. September is coming.....


JD One year old, today.

JD One year old, today.



New Podcast with snake expert Jason Clark!

What to do, and more important, what NOT to do when your dog is bitten by a snake! Click the link below to listen to the podcast.  

 SNAKE Bite!

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Whatever Happened to Antonio?

Whatever Happened to Antonio?


Mearns Quail are special.  Many years ago, through a friend of a friend of a friend, I was introduced to Wally. “Hey”, he said, “if you are going to Arizona, why don’t you call my buddy, Wally, down there?  He’s a specialist hunting those Mearns Quail in the mountains south of Tucson.”  I rang him up, and he agreed to shepherd us along to see if we could find a few coveys of the elusive birds.  It was a serendipitous introduction.  

Male Mearns Quail


Wally and I had nearly identical military careers, with a few major exceptions, one being that no one, that I know of, ever tried to shoot me down.  The other major difference was that he was an Air Force pilot, while I was a Naval Aviator who proudly wore “wings of gold”.  Wally never hesitated to remind me the Air Force had standards and required its pilots to read and write and use cutlery at the dinner table.  I would retort loudly that the Navy required the parents of aviators to be married.  And so it went as we scoured the hills and mountains of southern Arizona for quail.    


Our first meeting was at an exit off the local interstate.  “Don’t be late.  We have a long way to go,” he said over the phone.  The four of us in our party were waiting for him when he drove up before sunrise.   Right away I could see he was serious about his bird hunting- one Brittany face peered out the passenger side with two more in kennels in the back.  “Let’s go!” he said.  What followed was more akin to a motocross race over smooth pavement, then rough pavement, then smooth gravel, then rough gravel, then 4-wheel-drive-holy-crap-hang-on, Manzanita paint-scouring two-track.  Ninety minutes later with queasy stomachs, wide-eyed dogs, and thoughts of undercarriage damage to the Beast, I exited the truck to an amazing place.  Rolling hills, brown grass, low spreading oaks, and blue sky from horizon to horizon.  I’d seen a place like this on the other side of the world- in Spain. I was captivated. 


That first trip, my main dogs were Ace (Brit/M) and Bo (Setter/M).   Ruby (Brit/F) and Cap (Brit/M) were along, but barely 6 mos. old. Ace and Bo did their thing for three days, and I learned a lot about the Mexican Quail. We were at the northern limit of the Mearns habitat.  Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have populations of Mearns quail in the high, grassy areas in the mountains.  Their range extends south into Mexico, and I have Spanish-speaking friends who fly to Mexico yearly to hunt huge coveys of them.  But, for us, this is Mearns Quail central.  What looked like gentle, grassy slopes revealed themselves, many times, as rock-strewn ankle-breaking areas leading down into broad, smooth, easy bottoms between the hills.  The bottoms all sloped gently south, to Mexico.  


Some days the birds would be in the bottoms, some days on the slopes in the rocks.  One characteristic I noticed immediately was how tight they would hold.  Over the years, it was not uncommon to see the coveys before the flush.  One day, watching Wally’s new puppy hesitate for a bit before moving on, I was commenting that it would be nice if she would have had a covey. I looked down to watch my step and stepped into the center of a covey of 8.  It was not uncommon to turn around to locate a dog and find them pointed behind you on a covey less than ten feet from your track. The birds would much rather you walk on by than flush.  Mearns Quail eat mainly tubers growing under the oak trees.  They have an extended claw to dig for the tubers, and we know to look for the little holes around the base of the oaks indicating a close-by covey.  They are smallish compared to their desert cousins, the Gambel’s and Blue Quail, and males are marked by a unique pattern of black chest covered with white spots.  How in the world they can disappear into a brown rock-strewn world, I don’t know.  But they do. Ten to fifteen coveys in a hard day’s hunt was not unusual for many years, but those are the “good old days” now.  Recently, I had a 7-covey morning before rain cut our day short.  It was my best in many years.  


Wally and I parked at the base of a draw, not far from the border fence.  The fence itself was a barbed-wire affair mainly designed to keep cattle from straying.  We started uphill, north from the trucks, passing a large stock tank covered in mossy slime.  One of Wally’s girls struck first and pointed out of sight on top of a cut out riverbank.   Wally climbed up and over.  Not long afterwards, I had several high passing shots as the birds flew over me, at speed, to escape to the opposite hillside. We compared notes and birds while standing in the shade of one of the small, spreading oaks.  A little farther up the draw, the canyon split, and so did we, agreeing to meet in about an hour.  I had my little puppy Ruby down.  Mearns, to me, are the absolute best birds for very young dogs.  They hold tight, don’t run, and are in beautiful country.  I never hesitate to work my young dogs on them.  (A close second would be Sharptail Grouse in the Montana grass.)


Ruby worked well, crossed the canyon from one side to the other, then she ran up one side wall about halfway before she stopped to locate me and dropped back down.  It was fun to watch her and think of things to come.  I was following a trail in the bottom of the canyon, it was most likely a cow path, but it occurred to me it might have been a smuggling trail coming up from the border.  Throughout the area, backpacks, shoes, blankets, and water jugs littered the ground.  Some were so old, they were falling apart.  Some were shiny and new.  All the years hunting the area and I never saw an illegal immigrant, and I was unconcerned.  Ruby suddenly spun around and pointed in the center of the canyon, nearly under a huge fallen log.  Her first covey of quail.  I managed to drop one, and she retrieved it to me with no drama, just the workman-like, “Here’s your bird, boss!” attitude she would display for the rest of her life.  It was a monumental moment for me, so I took a minute and loved on her while I sat in the grass.  Then, we went back to business, and I climbed over one side of the canyon to drop down and meet Wally in the parallel wash.  I heard gunshots earlier, and I recognized his 20 ga. semi-auto.  I looked forward to the stories as we shared our bird encounters.

Wally and Antonio check the map.

We turned and started back downhill to the trucks.  Another hunting friend of ours left the trucks and hunted south towards the border, and we wondered if he found any birds.  We usually didn’t hunt together, since he used pointing Labs, and he didn’t want our dogs messing up his.  Wally and I chatted as we approached the trucks parked in the shade in a washout near a corral.  I saw Vince (our Lab friend) sitting under a tree not far from the trucks.  Jokingly, I held up my shotgun and yelled, “Hold it right there, pardner!  Explain yourself!”  It was then I realized “Vince” wasn’t Vince!  The man sitting in the shade jumped up and raised his hands.  I quickly lowered my shotgun and laughed, although I don’t think the man saw much humor in the situation.   I noticed he was Hispanic, dressed warmly, and didn’t appear to be injured.  He was also very attentive to the crazy gringo with the shotgun.  

Wally approached him as I went to the trucks to load Ruby and stow my shotgun.  I heard Wally ask where he was going.  He said his name was Antonio.  He spoke a fair amount of English, and I overheard him tell Wally he was lost, had been there a week, had no charge on his cell phone (none of our chargers would work), was out of food, and didn’t want to drink from the stock tanks (smart!).  His group left him after telling him to go to Tucson (50 miles in a different direction).  It was just before Christmas, and he wanted to go home.  I walked up then and told him to walk up on any of those roads and Border Patrol would pick him up and take him to the border, but strangely he wasn’t interested in that.  I also thanked him for not disturbing our trucks.  His response was interesting to me.  He said, “No, SeƱor, those are very expensive trucks!”   We gave him a gallon of fresh water, an awesome ham sandwich I made that morning, a can of Red Bull, and Wally pointed him to the border fence.  He headed on his way, thankful and relieved, but not before I commented, “So, let me get this straight.  You want to break into Mexico?” We all chuckled for a minute, but I noticed he kept an eye on me the entire time (Hey, the gun thing was a joke!).  


It wasn’t until after Antonio was long gone, I realized I should have asked for a home cell number and given his wife a call to tell her Antonio was on his way home for Christmas. Meet him at the fence.  I can only imagine how that phone call would have gone.  I often wonder about Antonio, and I wish I had his number to check on him. I think we could have been friends. I think he loved his family enough to risk his life to better theirs.  I wonder if he ever thinks about that meeting in the Arizona mountains with the crazy gringo and his awesome ham sandwich. 







Thursday, February 23, 2023

$43. Learning about neighbors.


The Ring-necked Pheasant is a noble bird. In 1881 at Port Townsend, OR, birds were imported from China, by Owen N. Denny, and releases were made that year and subsequent years in the Willamette Valley and along the Columbia River. Laws were passed to prohibit harvesting them until they sustained a huntable population, and by 1892, in Oregon, the first “Opener” reportedly bagged 50,000 birds. Black-Necked pheasant, from England, were introduced as far back at the late 1700’s, in the eastern states, but were not successful. Interestingly, it’s said the Iowa population originated in 1900 from an escape of several thousand birds from a game farm. Today, South Dakota is arguably the epicenter of pheasant hunting, with millions of the birds, or at least they have a better PR department.

For many years, I would travel to North Dakota to hunt pheasant. A lack of posted signs, hunters, and plenty of squawking roosters always made the trip fun. Over the years, I made friends with numerous farmers, particularly Leroy and Barb. One cool, early November day, I was chatting with Barb, before heading out to walk the tree rows and ditches on their property. She mentioned the neighbor’s property that we could hunt that day, as well. Thankful, we departed for some new hunting land.

We were within sight of Barb and Leroy’s house as we walked along a marshy creek into the tree lines around the neighbor’s abandoned house. The birds were there, and it was a fun time watching the dogs, Ruby, Cap, and Bo, as they worked the tall grass and cut wheat. After an hour or so, we stopped for a drink and a sandwich. I called the dogs in, and we sat on the side of the road enjoying the day.

“Hey, what are you guys doing?” yelled a man walking down the two track. Never a good opening to a conversation, I knew it was time to sort out a misunderstanding. But, first I had to find out what the problem was. “We’re hunting pheasant with our dogs. I hope our shooting hasn’t disturbed you!” I said. (I glanced at the next farmhouse a half mile away.) “Well, you are on private land. My land. You are trespassing! I lease this land to hunters, and here you are shooting my birds! Who said you could hunt here? I should call the Sheriff!” he yelled. Since this was pre-GPS, my policy was to grab my map, start with the truth and stick to it. “Well, sir, I thought this was part of the Johnson property, and I have permission to hunt it. But, if I made a mistake and got turned around, I apologize, and I’ll head out of here right away! I’m from Georgia and sometimes these wide-open spaces can get me turned around. Could you show me on the map I have here where we are and where your lines are, so I don’t have this issue again?” I said. “What about the birds you killed?” he said. I noticed the volume decreased somewhat. “Well, if you show me I’m on your land, you can have them, or I’ll pay you for them. They would be your birds,” I suggested. “I get $50/per day to hunt on my land” he said. I noticed my suggestion of him showing me my location on a map never came up again. “How about I pay you for these birds, then, and we will leave the area?” I said. I reached into my pocket and pulled out $43.

Ruby and Cap on Leroy's Farm

“This is all I have on me, $43. Will that be enough?” He allowed as that would be OK, so I thanked him for his consideration, called the dogs, and turned around to leave.

Just then, a human tornado rocketed past me headed for the neighbor. “What in God’s name are you doing, Earl? This ain’t your land, and you know it! This man has permission to be here, from me, and here you are taking his money!” said Leroy’s voice, while steadily advancing towards his neighbor. Being the forgotten man in this conversation, I listened closely and kept my mouth shut. “By George, you give that money back, or I will whip your ass right here! You’re a sorry neighbor, and I feed your cows all winter, so they don’t starve to death. I’m ready to give you what you need right here!” Leroy growled. Earl pulled the $43 from his pocket, stepped around Leroy, by a large margin, and quick-trotted over to me holding the money in his outstretched hand. “Here’s your money” he said. His eyes opened wide when I said, “No, that’s for the birds I shot you said were yours. I won’t take it back.” Earl went white as a sheet. Leroy yelled, “You’d better hand it to him right now, Earl! I’ve had it with you!” Leroy is not a large man, but right then he looked 7’ tall and imposing. He was becoming more enraged all the time.

I figured out, at this point, that Earl was sort of an opportunist. I wasn’t on his land, but he saw a way to take a few bucks off the flatlander. Normally, it would work, but he didn’t reckon with Leroy. And my refusal to take the money back had him in a real pickle. I also realized that I wasn’t the issue. This confrontation went back many frustrating years between neighbors.

Finally, I said, “Earl, I’ll take the money back. Leroy, I’m sorry I came between neighbors. I won’t hunt here again. I’ll take my dogs and leave.” Earl couldn’t get the money in my hand fast enough. His relief was obvious as he turned and (almost) ran away.

It was then I learned about the years the neighboring farms took care of Earl’s livestock all winter to keep them alive, and other things, as well. The situation reinforced a lesson about ensuring I was on the right land. (I was.) I learned that no matter where you are, someone is watching you. I learned no matter how far apart the houses, neighbors know each other’s business. And, I learned about how large a short North Dakota farmer can get when he’s full of righteous indignation and keeps on coming.

God Bless the American farmer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Sole Oak Supply- a Small Business Worthy of Support!

As I shop online for products I can use while bird hunting or trialing, I lean toward the small operations.  This is the new marketplace.   Many times, these are side industries, with excellent customer service and products perfect for what I need.  Eric, of Sole Oak Supply, is a field  trialer and bird hunter.  See the links below to check out his products and services!  

We offer Special orders of Silencers, Firearms, Optics, Ammo, and Accessories, Firearm Transfers, Complete Rifle Systems, and Premium Sporting Dog Leashes. (Click this link.)

Purple Medium Handlers Leash

Leads for hunting and trialing dogs. (click this link) 

Monday, January 30, 2023


If you are a business owner and your business is related to bird hunting and bird dogs, and you want your business to receive some great targeted exposure, contact me @

This BLOG has received over a million hits.  Put your business on the top, right hand of the home page!  

Your business must be related to the subject matter, because if I endorse a product, I use that product.  

Email me today and let's get your business on the front page! 

Mearns Quail and my dog BLUE. A covey rise!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Dress for Success- Hunting the Cold

My wife and me.  South Dakota.

 I don't mind hunting in the cold....too much.  This year (2022), the day a I arrived in South Dakota, in early November, it was 80 degrees!  Two days later, the high was 45 degrees with gusts to 45 mph.  The next week, the lows were in the low 20's, the wind was consistently stiff, and the hunting was awesome. After a week of bird dogs and fraternization I checked the weather for the next week. The weather app showed a strong blast of rain, ice, snow (6.5") and blasting winds on the way.  I pulled out the day before it arrived.  

Blue, me, Chicken

3 SD Roosters

Prairie Chicken

Hunting in cold weather is usually rewarding.  It localizes the birds, for the most part, and the wind can keep them from hearing the dog's approach from the downwind.  But, there is a limit to what I will tolerate.  Blizzard hunting is out for this septuagenarian.  

The top picture is of my wife and me.  It was below 30 degrees that day, and breezy, but the bright sun helped keep our faces warm.  You can't see it, but, I have 4 layers below the orange, windproof jacket.  Marino wool under-layer, cotton long sleeve t-shirt, wool long-sleeved shirt,  and a long-sleeved, gortex-lined Marino wool zip-up sweater.  My wife was similarly attired- mostly in Orvis products, since they have a great women's line of hunting clothing. 

I don't wear "long johns", but my wife does.  On really cold days, I suppose they would add comfort.  I find they seem heavy and restricting.  They are just not for me. 

The gloves are wind-proof and water-proof.  Good gloves are mandatory!  Wool socks in good boots with good tread, and hats, wool and doubled up, are critical, too.  An adage says, "If your feet are cold, put on a hat."  Truth.  

One piece of cold weather gear in the picture is relatively new to me.  It is the neck gator.  It keeps the neck, front and back, and ears and mouth warm and out of the wind.  I have several of them now.  Mandatory cold weather gear for me! 

With the right gear, cold weather hunting can be fruitful and very enjoyable.  Without the proper gear, it will be a miserable experience.  As a side note, I've been married to this woman for a long time.  I will testify to the truth of the adage, "If momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy."  Trust me when I say, if momma wants a certain piece of clothing to go hunting with you, buy it.  Your day will be so much more enjoyable with a warm, happy significant other alongside.  

Don't forget to mount the gun a few times to get used to the extra thickness of you clothing.  Many a time I've raised the gun to my shoulder, counting on "muscle memory", only to have the gun butt hang up on my hunting coat with no shot at the bird!

Good luck and have some fun this winter.  Most states and seasons close around the New Year, but South Dakota extended pheasant season until the end of January.  (ONLY pheasant season, I might add.  Not Sharps, chickens, or Huns!). If you decide to hunt late season, you'll most likely be pleasantly alone.  Shoot straight! 

I've listed some links below for a few pieces of gear to get you started.  Note: Buying a product off the links helps support the BLOG, at no cost to you.  Thank you! 

Marino Wool Neck Gator:

Gamehide hunting jacket:

Orange Wool Watch Cap:

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Podcast from A Bird Hunters Thoughts- Turn 'em Loose. Picking a Puppy #2

Randy gets to go down to the breeder's farm and pick out the puppy he wants.  He has "pick of the litter" for two litters born a week apart.  Looking for a  liver, female, he has some specific ideas about what is important in picking out a new puppy.  Luckily, he found exactly what he was looking for! Please like, subscribe and share! . #abirdhuntersthoughts. #endlessoctoberbook. #oldmanbirdhunting Don't forget to look on the right side of my home page on my BLOG, click support, and contribute any amount.  It will help.  You guys are awesome!  My wife asked me why I do all this.  The answer is because I wish, when I started bird hunting, I had all this technology available to have an idea what to expect when I turned that dog loose.  Maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to avoid some of the bad stuff, and enjoy more of the good stuff after watching, reading, or listening.  I sincerely hope so! 

FYI:  I bought Jade at this breeder.   I recommend them.  I did not receive any consideration.  They are a first class operation.  

Click Here for the Podcast!

FlyBoy's Brown Shuga Jade (Jade)