Wednesday, March 26, 2014

National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Association

After the Beast is cleaned out, the photos are collated, the truck vault is re-organized and the weather begins to moderate, I usually look around and notice all the seasons are closed!  Year after year, it takes me by surprise. At that point, I will retreat to my fall back position and enter field trials. My venue of choice is NSTRA, for many reasons, but mainly because that's what I started doing in 1992, and that's what I know. There are other formats out there. One of them is right for you. 
Cap, me, Ace
Waiting for the Final Six Draw

Georgia Region Championships

Gold and Grass Farms
Ball Ground, GA

March 22-23, 2014

On the site of the largest gold mining operation in Georgia, not far from the Old Federal Road and the Trail of Tears, the Gold and Grass Farm of the Garrett family is perfectly situated for hosting a NSTRA field trial.  Two good sized fields and one large field for the final hour were in excellent condition.  The final hour field was un-touched, with no dogs or practice allowed.

R.B. and Gary Garrett (the President and VP of the Region) graciously opened their farm to the Region a few years ago for a field trial.  And, like poor relatives, we haven’t left yet. Once we saw the setup, we shamelessly begged and pleaded for more amenities. Gary built a clubhouse, hookups, and gallery warm-up areas.  He drew the line at the swimming pool, restaurant and theater- much to the grumbling of the Setter crowd.  No matter, as they soon forgot that issue in an argument over which Pinot Grigio complemented which Brie!

Roll call produced 36 eligible dogs for Saturday’s cut.  With plenty of daylight to play with, we opted for an 18 brace, one field event.  Judges Steve Jaspering (Mid-South Region) andWesley Downs (Alabama Region) with Bird Planter Chuck Tash(Mid-South Region) did an excellent job!  They kept us on the straight and narrow.  Bodie Ray as the Field Marshal briefed every brace in the blind.  The weather was cool to warm to downright hot, for a bit, on Saturday as the field was whittled down to only 16 dogs.  There were some notable cuts that Saturday and some head scratching as the results came in.  Dogs that performed so well all year long had a bad run, or a tough break.  But, that’s trialing.  

Saturday night, over thick, grilled steaks and lots of laughs, we got down to some serious business as we hoodwinked,  I meanelectedmore people to serve as officers of the Region.  R.B. and Gary agreed to stay as Pres. and VP. Brenda Keck will take over as Sec/Treasurer and Gerald Pannel will be our new webmaster (after a 20 year stint by Randy Schultz).  

The High Point Dog was Buddy/ R.B. Garrett, High Point Female Dog- Skeeter/Keith Koon, Rookie of the Year- Bryan Wynn, Sportsman of the Year- Dale Aldrich, Judge of the Year- Bodie Ray, Scott Clark Award-Angela Healan, and the Pearl J. Koon Award-Smoke/Gunnyon.

Sunday started with rain and cool wind, what a contrast to Saturday! We began with 8 braces and cut down to the top 6 dogs. At the end of that, the top 6 were: Sadie/Howard, Hawk/Thornton, Snicker Pritchett, Skeeter/Koon, Ace/Schultz,Abby/Harrell.  Once more, we ran three more braces to determine the top 2 dogs by points.

At the end of that run, the standings on points were: Snicker/Pritchett, Sadie/Howard, Hawk/Thornton, Abby/Harrell, Ace/Schultz, and Skeeter/Koon.

Snicker/Pritchett and Sadie/Howard went in to the Final Hour after a short rest.  There was a lot of experience in both dogs and handlers here. Gene Pritchett, sometimes known as the Gator Man, has been all over NSTRA with Snicker winning and making friends.  Keith Howard’s been winning in NSTRA for over 20 years with many dogs, including several Georgia Region Championships.  This wasn’t the first rodeo for either one of these handlers and we settled in for some great action.  The field sloped up from the gallery, so we could see a majority of it.  The trucks were lined up in front of an old building (built around thetime of the war of northern aggression) that served as a Post Office, hotel and office for the gold mine whose shafts ran underneath the field in front of us. The skies were clear and the cool wind made for a comfortable day.

Keith Howard and Sadie (L)
Gene Pritchett and Snicker (R)
In The Blind

                                                   Off the line, the dogs were primed and ready to go.  In 30 minutes, 8 birds were on the card.  In 45 minutes, 9 birds.  When time was called, Snicker had 5/5 and Sadie 4/4.  A careful check of the records indicated Snicker did not have a back during the trial!  A “backing situation” was carefully setup as the tension mounted.  Snicker is an outstanding dog.  He is not known as an outstanding backing dog.  But, that day, on top of an old, flooded gold mine in north Georgia, the 10 year old GSP eased himself in to a back that was not pretty- but, it was good enough, nonetheless.  

The 2014 Georgia Region Champion is 4-Time NSTRA Champion, 3-Time Georgia Region Champion Snicker/Gene Pritchett.  Runner up, Sadie/Keith Howard, 3rd- Hawk/Gene Thornton, Jr., 4th-Abbey/Harrell, 5th-Ace/Randy Schultz, 6th- Skeeter/Keith Koon.  

Snicker, Sadie, Hawk, Abby
Georgia Region Championships 2014 
We give a special “Thank You” to R.B. and Gary Garrett for the use of their historic farm, for the cooks and helpers and all the people who worked behind the scenes to make this great event happen.  Thanks, especially to Purina, Garmin and Owens for their continued support of our favorite sport.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What Makes a Bird Hunter?

(This guy's not a counter...he's sick like me)

I learned from my wife, over lunch, that a friend I hunted with years ago has "given up bird dogs and bird hunting altogether" and now plays golf.  GOLF?! Really?  Immediately, I wondered if I could ever give up my dogs and bird hunting...there is no way this side of heaven I would willingly do that! Then, I began to ponder the question, What makes the bird hunter?  Or, more specifically, what makes the REAL bird hunter.  I guess I would need to define what that is (and that's the fly in the ointment).  I know what it isn't. 

Me in Montana with Sage Grouse

It's not about the killing.  I've never had an unsuccessful day in the field.  Not once in over 24 years of traveling and hunting birds in this country have I been less than successful when the boots hit the ground.  If that phrase confuses you, think about it.  What defines success for you?  Birds in the bag?  Is that the measure? Killing birds as an end result of working with my dogs as a team makes for a great finish.  But that is by no way the measure of success!  Watching a pup quarter and think and work with me as a teammate in the heat or snow or thick woods, even without a point- that's success.  Having two mature, bird finding machines work their hearts out in cactus and scree chasing Gambels with no luck, but refusing to quit- that's a good day! And, please don't misunderstand, walking with one dog and pointing 16 coveys in 6 hours for a limit of Bobs in the hilly Texas panhandle land is a successful day as well.  

Cap and Me in NM.  It was a very good quail year! 

The guys I see quit and walk away would only ever talk about the 16 covey day.  They are "counters", I call them.  It is still a competition to them. They are the guys that want to know "How many did you kill?" when they see me after a trip. It doesn't surprise me when I hear these individuals are now hunting the fairways....

I've read so much really good stuff over the years.  Classics that we all have on our shelves, and I have my favorites along with everyone else.  There are new guys writing now- real writers- guys that can turn a phrase and make it dance.  I've blogged about a few.  Their stories are the kind that stick with you and come back over and again.  The pictures from the stories are vivid, which is a neat trick, since there were no pictures in the books.  These authors are bird hunters.  They aren't counters.  I think they absorb the day, weather, the sun, the wind.....the vibes...and they can morph that in to words and manage to string it into a coherent sentence.  Something I will never do.  Doug Deats' book left me pondering more than once in that regard, just as an example. I thought about writing once.  But, I had a serendipitous encounter with a real author and wordsmith.  What I gained from that was a sense of perspective.  I'll stick to the storytelling.  

Me and Ben O. Williams

What makes a Bird Hunter?  I guess I know when I see one.  I hunt with a bunch of them.  I can guarantee you they won't sell off their dogs and go play golf.  They may sell off their kids, but not their dogs! (I still don't get the golf thing!  Golf?  I don't even like pastels!) I know these guys will be at it long after their legs have given up and the lungs are shot.  The most heartbreaking moment for any of them will be when they realize they won't be able to take the old boy out this year (I almost couldn't type that one!).  Shades of Jenny Willow.   

Well, that time isn't here for me.  And, God willing, it won't be here for a long while.  Keep your eyes open for the real Bird Hunters out there.  Raise the young ones up to be ethical men and women in the field.  Start a new pup when your youngest hits 5.  Leave the gates like you found them.  And, try to be the man (or woman) your dog thinks you are.  

Ruby, me, and Ace in NM

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dog Porn. What gets a bird hunter breathing hard and fast with a faraway look and a dreamy smile?

Yes. I said the "P" word. Right here on the family channel.  We bird hunters can look at pictures like this and get excited about next year, this year, dogs we have, dogs we had, dogs, we want and dogs we wish we could afford.  We see thickets with bobs and woods with Ruffs, ditches with Roosters, rock faces with red legged devils and sage brush with chuckling grouse.  Dogs that work close and dogs that work the ridges, but always dogs that work as long as we let them and always want just a little bit more. 

By Bob Bertram

There aren't many that can catch the look in a dog's eyes like Bob.  If you've had a dog like this one, you know what he's thinking.  You would bet whatever you are driving and whatever your are shooting there are birds in front of that nose.  It doesn't lie.  How do you catch that attitude in a two dimensional medium?  I guess that's why I'm the traveling bird hunter, and Bob's the artist!  I have his stuff on the wall of my den.  I'll be getting more in the future. Take look at what he has.  Someday, my dogs will be on list for him to paint....someday.  Facebook "The Art of Bob Bertram".  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Singing the Blues in New Mexico

We opened the back of the Beast and it became readily apparent the drought hit the area very hard!  Still in the throes of a hot summer and little rain, the vegetation was only a distant memory of what it once was. We wondered if there were any birds to be had at all in the area. 

Cap, Ruby, Ace and Bandit hunted hard and really did a good job with the little running birds!  We actually started seeing quite a few coveys, to my surprise.  This area did get some rain during the summer, at just the right time.  We located a few of these "drinkers" hidden in the local terrain by the local conservation group and also several cow tanks and water holes- many more of those. Wherever there is water, we found tracks and birds.

The sandy soil, rolling hills, shin-oak, sunflowers, grass, sand spurs and pump jacks all made up the local scenery in the South East Corner of New Mexico.  The birds are the Cotton Tops, The Scalies, The Blue Quail.  They run like the wind.  Until the don't.  And then they hold like a dream for your dog!  A busted up covey is as much fun as any bird in the county and a gray blur erupting out of a shin-oak, grassy spot in front of your dog's nose is a challenging shot- even without the 30 mph wind and blowing sand.  We moved 8 coveys on the nastiest weather day we were there.  I have to hope for another wet spring and summer here.  When the birds are plentiful in New Mexico, it's a quail hunters paradise. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Upland Sportsman Sling

I was contacted by the nice folks at Upland Sportsman (  a few months ago and asked to try out their hunting sling.  At the time, I really didn't think it would be for me, but agreed to give it a shot (no pun intended here). One thing led to another and I took it on my latest hunting trip to NE, OK, AZ and NM.  Shown are some pictures my friend took of me while we were preparing to hunt for Bobwhites in Oklahoma. 

One of my concerns was for the gun and if the sling would mar the gunstock.  In fact, I'm shown with the sling attached to my 101 year old A.H. Fox 20 ga..  I can guarantee you it would come no where near that gun if there was any chance the gunstock would be marred, at all. I feel very good about using the sling with my shotguns.  

Walking with the sling is easy.  The weight of the shotgun is carried  on the butt and is transferred to the shoulders making long treks much easier.  Throwing the gun up for the shot is very easy and none of the webbing gets in the way at all.  I am very pleased with the fact it mounting of the gun is very quick and easy.  In fact, you don't even think of the gun, at all.  The boot on the gunstock did not interfere with my shooting nor did I find it a hindrance to the sight picture. 

To be the perfect accessory, I'm wondering if there is a way to have a quick attachment for the barrel to the body to have both hands free- for work with the dogs, or climbing over obstacles, etc.  Hunting with the sling, with dogs, many times necessitates the use of both hands.  It would be great to be able to clip the barrel to the chest, say, just for a short time, use both hands, and then continue on.  I see the use of the sling most adaptable to field trials or to hunting without dogs.  It is a great product, well made and thought out.  I think there are many hunters and field trialers who would be able to use this sling. 

My recommendation for those looking for this type of product is an unqualified BUY.  It is adaptable to left handed (me) or right handed shooters with orange or camo colors.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mearns Quail. Elusive, Unique, Beautiful. Harlequin Quail of The Border.

We moved from the cactus and crushed lava rock down to the southern border with Mexico and in to an altitude band of 4000-5800'. There we found the rarest of the quail in the United States, Mearns Quail.  It so happens, this was a tremendous year for the birds.  Through the grapevine of kindred bird hunters, we heard the population was up and, if we wanted to find a few, now was the time. 

Through friends of friends (of friends..) we found a retired military pilot living in the area who, it seems, prides himself on hunting this bird above all others.  He's an expert concerning them and his dogs (Brits) are top-notch and are Mearns-finding machines.  Aside from the fact that he's 69 years old and walked us in to the ground, he was a real pleasure to hunt with and a fount of knowledge about the birds.

Terry (right), a quail biologist himself, and Wally take a look at what the birds have been eating. This is an effort to learn what to look for when stumbling along, gasping for air, following these two.  Hopefully, if I see some of this type of seed, I'll get them to stop long enough, under the guise of looking for some feeding birds, to catch my breath and grab a drink of water!

My dog, Bandit, found the water trough quickly enough.  It was in the 70's the day we hunted.  We learned from the "old guys", if you have enough time, the best time to hunt is from sunup for a few hours and for a few hours prior to sun down.  The humidity increases enough to help the dogs scent the birds. 

Bandit pointed a covey along the way and we managed to drop a few birds.  These quail are bigger than the Gambels or Blue Quail....and they eat just fine. 

You would think with coloration like this, they would be easy to spot in the brown grass.  Not so!  I'm here to tell you, one can be absolutely LOOKING for these birds and walk right in to a covey unexpectedly.  They are perfectly camouflaged!

Along the way, we found some interesting things.  This is a water hole that comes right out of a rock.  Ace, my Brit, is coming out after getting a drink.  Interestingly, human tracks lead in to the waterhole and the trash around the area indicated perhaps human visitors were common here.  We were VERY close to the border  and Border Patrol trucks were a common sight.

This is one of the most beautiful areas I've seen in Arizona.  Much different than I expected.  I learned that Hollywood discovered this area many years ago, as well.  The Young Guns, The Big Valley, and may other westerns and movies were filmed here.  While much of this is public land, a huge chunk is in a conservancy and a lot is private, too.  No matter.  This is what most of Arizona looked like back in the day- prior to over-grazing (so I'm told).  When the cows eat everything that's edible, only cactus and junk is left.  This area has been preserved through luck and effort. It's truly a sight to see!

This is a part of Arizona I did not know existed. Very nice. The view makes for a pleasant hunt!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gambels Quail in Arizona- Running Devils.

The drive from Oklahoma to Arizona is worth the ticket price!  I loved every minute. Beautiful scenery and good road kept the  trip interesting and was good for the dogs, as well. Smooth roads keep them rested. 

Gambels country that we hunt has bed described as land where everything either pokes, stings or bites you. I'm here to confirm that is correct. However, add it is hot(or cold) and dry as a bone and the dirt is volcanic ash that is like running on sandpaper. Over time, it will wear down dog pads leading to worn spots and limping hunters. Local dogs can overcome this with toughened pads, but out of towners, like mine, no matter how well prepared, will need boots and some real care and attention to assure their feet don't become a problem. 

Remember to hydrate yourself, too. It's amazing how much water you can lose and not feel it. If I'm not careful to hydrate well, I'll wake up in the middle of the night craving water, with cramping quads, rolling out of bed holding my leg, usually my right one, and cussing my stupidity for not drinking more water. 

Ruby did some excellent work on singles north of Globe, Arizona. I was so impressed with her this day. Great find and retrieve in very difficult conditions. 

Here's my Cap. He's got the covey nailed and is swearing they are "Right there, Boss!"  They were, indeed, right there and we had some fine shooting for a while until they managed to escape. 

At the end of the day, we really hated to leave Gambels country, but the Mearns were calling. 

We headed farther south, at times only a mile to so north of the border, and went after the most elusive of the  North American Quail- Mearns, or Harlequin quail.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cool Things You See On The Road! Sign Art in Mid-America.

EXACTLY halfway between Chicago and Los Angeles, on old Route 66 (the same one you get your kicks on) is the little town of Adrian, TX. It's a wide spot on the road that used to have a decent cafe, now closed. I know exactly halfway because there is a line painted on the road that says just that. 

Also, all around town, these signs appear in yards, on trees, on buildings. I have no idea who, where or what. Years ago, when I hunted near here (Blue Quail, gobs of them in a good year on a private 32,000 AC. a friend owns) the cafe owner had some information, but my brain memory is full. That particular set of facts got dumped. So, I made up stuff in my head, nine of which is true. 

One thing I truly love about flyover country is that there are still individuals out there. We still have some divergent thinkers, thank God for that!  One lives or lived here. I wonder what his (I do think it is a him) story is?  Actually, the true story would never live up to the one I've made up anyway. This little wide spot in the road, with no cafe or gas station, has some interesting thinking winding throughout the dirt streets. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Oklahoma Late Season Quail

We heard parts of Oklahoma had the rains this year. A quick call to the DNR confirmed the rainfall rumor and the possibility of a triple hatch!  That was the good news. The bad news is that the bird numbers were down so far, it will take several years to get back to the "normal" years of the past. It mattered not to this bird hunted. After Nebraska, to Oklahoma we went. Cooper WMA is where we started. Thousands of acres managed for quail with feed, cover and water, it is a habitat paradise for the bobwhite. 

Unfortunately, the weather turned warn on us. We did find one covey in the the safety zone...rats! Then we found 5 singles scattered out throughout the day, throughout the WMA. Go figure why they weren't in coveys. Got me. 

Lunch on the tailgate was sumptuous, nutritious(?), and cheap. The perfect birdhunter's lunch. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Late Season Pheasant Hunt or Who Needs a Therapist? I Have a Dog!

Champ and Ace have them pinned down 

Scott got one of my puppies, by Ace, and I delivered him, El J, in November. While I was there, we went out and hunted a little bit. His Brittanies are very nice, well conditioned, well mannered in the field and a pleasure to hunt behind. 

Ace on the retrieve. 

I managed to invite myself back a few months later...."Hey, Scott, I'm passing by your place in a few weeks, how about we take the dogs out a bust a few roosters?"  I got there on the heels of the worst arctic blast in 20 years and it was still pretty cold. But the skies had cleared and we set out with our dogs to find some late season survivors. These are the tough, smart ones. 

Scott holding a fine specimen of a harvested rooster. 

Champ makes a nice retrieve. 

They did lead us on a merry chase a few times, I'll concede. In the end, the dog noses and experience put us in a position to harvest some birds. 

It was a cold one. To be sure! 

Scott doesn't miss many!  

Ace and me and the harvest. 

Today the forecast is for snow/rain mix and 10 mph wind from the south. Perfect.