Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Montana Opener 2018

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Sharptail and Hun cover
The Opener!  Every year, at the end of summer, I'm ready to go.  There's a little boy hope in me that, perhaps, it won't be so hot this year.  Maybe a cold front will swoop through and give us a week of perfect hunting weather before the 90's come back.  It was not to be.  The weather was seasonally hot.  Since I  judged, and competed at a NSTRA field trial in Great Falls the first three days of September, I was well aware the local weather would be cool at night and warm to hot during the day. 

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Shack getting some love for his work.

The trial served as a warmup for the dogs.  They use Chukar for the trial, and it's always fun to see the first few finds from the various dogs.  The older one's will roll into the point with practiced nonchalance, "Here he is, Boss.  Pretty much smells like a Chukar.".  The younger guys may stutter a bit, but will recover well as they lock up, "Crap, Boss!  This one smells pretty good!  It smells big.  I hope you're ready!"  Either way, they some transition work off off pen-raised birds to something a little more exotic.  Overall, my dogs (I only ran Shack and Cap, the two males, in the field trail) did very well.  I was very pleased with the results (3 Firsts, 2 Fourths) over the two days they competed, but I was more pleased with the non-tangibles of obedience, style and headwork.  

Cap backing Shack backing Scout (not shown)
We moved north and hit the ground early the next day.  As predicted, it was a cool morning, but heated up fast. The hunting was on Block Management land, Open Fields for Upland Birds land, and State and BLM land.  If you go to Montana without a way to identify all these types of land, you'll be hurting yourself.  Sometimes, you'll be heading to a nice piece of Block Management when you'll see some really nice habitat.  Checking the map, you notice it's State Trust Land, and open for hunting.  It might be the next great honeyhole.  

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Pearl on two Sharptails
In the old days, books mailed from the state and maps from the BLM office littered the front seat of the truck with notes scribbled in margins with phone numbers, directions, names, etc. and with circled areas to hunt and others to avoid.  In the modern era, I still have the paper, BUT I also use GPS technology.  There are several apps out there for iOS and Android that will make your hunt way more enjoyable.  I have evaluated two and you can read about them here.  
Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Pearl's bird.

The routine varied little over the next few weeks.  Up before light, on the road after coffee, in the field as the sun came over the hills, break at noon, nap in the shade, back in the field around 5 for a few more hours, back to the camper after dark.  I, personally, saw no snakes.  My hunting partner saw a few and had one Prairie Rattler strike at one of his dogs with no contact.  We usually see a few every year, but this year I never saw even one.  I did have one medical emergency with Pearl.  She had a discharge and seemed to be feeling poorly, so I took her to the local vet.  Pyometra was diagnosed and she was spayed the next morning.  Diagnosis was confirmed, and my vet and the local vet agreed that we probably saved her life.  "Don't let the sun go down on Pyometra!" was what my home vet told me.  When we opened her up, I saw why.  Google it.  Don't mess around with it.  

Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby and her 2.
So, for the 2018 season, here are my impressions of the sharptail (and Hun) season in Montana.  It's a very poor year, statewide.  You'll see pictures of dead sharpies and Huns here.  The total number of birds I harvested for nine days on the ground, hunting hard, was 8 Sharps and 2 Huns. I felt lucky to have bagged those.
 
Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Cap and Shack had a good morning. 4 Sharps and 1 Hun.
We hunted west, north to Canada, and east to the Dakota line.  I talked to landowners, ranchers, vets, and even a FedEx driver- conditions are perfect, the bird numbers are very poor.  I'd even hazard a guess that they are worse than last year.  Just to be clear, I feel confident that I know how to hunt these birds, and I know where to go.  There are "pockets" of birds, where you might see several large coveys. But, overall, you'll see much fewer than normal.  I wish it were different, but it is what it is. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Early Season Cooling

The first hunt in the Fall, for the traveling bird hunter, is a joy unto itself.  All the grass cutting, hedge trimming, house repairing, dog training, trout fishing, whining, and coveting new equipment has been focused on the day the Beast heads north by west.  It's an exciting time for a bird hunter! There are very few drawbacks to this time of year, but there is one.  It's still hotter than four Hells in a lot of the country, and that includes all of the South. I have searched and researched for a cooling method for my dogs, who will reside in individual crates (Intermediate-sized Ruff Tough Kennels) in the covered bed of my truck. I tried the "open all the windows and drive fast technique", but I don't care how fast you drive,  you can't drive fast enough to cool off 95 deg. air at 90% humidity! I tried the fans- same issue.  I tried the cooler that uses ice water.  It was expensive, loud, and just didn't put out the volume for the back of the truck.  I used PVC pipe to send the AC air from the front to the back.  That worked better, but still was cumbersome and took up too much room in the back seat.  Finally, I discovered the "noogle".

Noogle laying out
Attached to Vent


The Noogle attaches to the a FRONT vent and winds its way to the back window in to the bed area.  Because it attaches to the a large front vent, the volume is much greater.

Noogle passing through into bed and splitter.
I attached a home made splitter using PVC plumbing supplies from a large, box store, reducing the flow from 2" noogle to 1 1/2' pool cleaning hose.

Noogle into splitter


Splitter with hoses through back window into dog deck.
Once that was done. I enlarged a hole on the side of the Ruff Tough Kennel and simply stuck the hose end in.  I elected to have the air come in at face level for a dog lying down. I think improvements can be made to the distribution of air in the kennel, but it seems satisfactory, for now.

Hose hole enlarged a small amount.
Same for the other rear kennel
Rear kennels with cooling hoses attached.
The test came when I inserted a thermometer in to a box (front, left) on an 88-90 degree, high humidity,  sunny day, and went for a drive.  Of course, when I started, the temp in the kennels was 90 degrees.  Once I cranked up and put the AC full cold with the air coming out of the dashboard, the temp dropped to 76 degrees in the back forward kennel, after about 15 minutes of driving.  The outside temperature stayed pretty close to 88.  It's important to keep the back windows closed.  Small airleaks will allow the shell to act as a venturi and "suck" cold air from the cabin, through the small connecting window to augment the cool air from the tubing.

I am happy with this setup, and I know I'll rest better knowing my guys are staying at least 10-15 deg. cooler back there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Guest article: GPS Tips

Top tips every hunter must know about using a GPS
Author Bio: I am John Lewis, a blogger, survivalist and outdoor enthusiast. You can follow me over at Epic Wilderness.

INTRO
A GPS is one of the most complex hunting tool which every hunter would get, especially if they like to explore different varieties of terrain or hunt deep in the woods. A GPS would can help you to stop worrying about getting lost, and it can do much more if you follow the tips below! 
This device provides a lot of benefits including helping you to find direct routes to your hunting spots or helping you to mark new signs in different seasons. However, you can boost the effectiveness in using a GPS by following the tips below! 

Tip 1: Being able to distinguish between public land and private land 
You can use a GPS to determine whether you are on safe hunting ground. Basically, a GPS can update you on whether you are on public or private lands. Hence, it is important to ensure that the GPS provider had updated their maps, allowing you to have a new collection of hunting data on the availability of a place to hunt. 
The mapping resources include boundaries such as color-coded land ownership, hunting management zones and counties. For public land, the GPS can tell you which management it is under. However, for private land, it may show you the exact boundary and provide information concerning the landowner. 
For example, Gaia GPS gives comprehensive data where you can explore different areas of mixed land ownership, which includes wildlife refuges, national and state forests, conservation lands and parks. Understanding how to use this information would give you a huge advantage in determining the best place to hunt!  

Tip 2: Place hunting stands without problems
Usually, a hunter would only camp at a place or put up hunting stands after getting sufficient clues that there would potentially be a place frequented by animals. A GPS would be capable of helping us to decide which stand to use for hunting in a particular day.
For example, if you have 4 stands, the position you take on one stand could potentially be better than another depending on the direction the wind is blowing. Usually, it is better that we take the stand with the north wind, because it will ensure that our shot is as accurate as possible. 
Handheld GPS are especially useful when it comes to marking important waypoints to navigate to different tree stands especially in the dark. Since you are navigating without using a flashlight, you would not need to give out your location to other hunters. 
Furthermore, a note can be made in different waypoints so that you would remember which stand you should use at a particular time of a day. 

Tip 3: Utilize other navigation methods
Most GPS would be capable of giving several navigation methods. For example, touching on the location of a map, having a Point of Interest and having your own saved waypoints. Most of these methods are easily available on your GPS, and you can refer to you owner’s manual for extra information. 
By using different navigation methods, you can see which of the navigation styles you are most comfortable with in different situations. When you want to find hunting spots, it may be your preference to navigate by touching the location on a map. However, when you are on foot, you may only be interested in following the Point of Interest that you have saved. 

Tip 4: Ability to do Scouting 
A hunter would employ several ways to understand their terrain better, and this includes scouting. Basically, scouting means using maps on computers to familiarize and understand the landscape better. You can be sure that there are a lot of resources in the internet such as Google Earth or Garmin’s Base Camp software
Scouting would also include the process of using computer maps of the topography or even aerial views just to get an idea of how the landscape look like. Later, you have to mark these locations on your computer and transfer the waypoints to your GPS. 
To ensure that you can do scouting efficiently, you need to get a GPS with a larger amount of memory. This memory can be used to store waypoints of promising locations Later, you can use these waypoints as references when you scout on foot.

Tip 5: Making sure you have enough memory and backup power
After doing scouting, you need to bring all the information into the field with you. This is possible because most Hunting GPS Maps can integrate with other compatible GPS units. You should ensure that your GPS can put micro SD cards so that all that information can fit in. 
A GPS can only help you to get back to familiar terrain only when there is juice left. You should make sure that you have backup power with you, and you have compatible wires to connect your GPS to the power source. You can explore different portable power options to keep your device charged. 
When you choose a portable power for your hunting trip, be sure to consider how much power output you need, how long you plan to hunt, what is the location you are planning to go and how compatible is it with your device. If you are hunting long-term, you can look into different options such as gas-powered alternatives or solar powered alternatives. 

Conclusion 
These tips would definitely help you to plan your hunt! After scouting or planning how you should place your hunting stands, you can significantly increase your hunting success rate. Moreover, it helps you to avoid trouble by notifying you whether you are on public land or private land. 
Remember, your tool would only be as effective as how you are able to use it. Keep these tips in mind to help you navigate through the woods effectively. If you have any tips you would like to share, feel free to share in the comment box below!

For more evaluation of GPS Hunting Apps, click HERE
To purchase the GAIA GPS hunting app at 20% off, click HERE.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bird Dog Bragging- The Follow Up to the Dead Chicken Incident

A few years ago, while hunting in Michigan for Ruffs, my best bird dog had a walkabout.  I chronicled the incident with the BLOG post: http://www.abirdhuntersthoughts.com/2016/10/why-i-never-brag-about-my-bird-dog_19.html.  Last year, I was passing through  Michigan, and I had a little time to kill.  I decided to attempt to contact the owners and explain what happened.

Cap
In essence, my perfect bird dog got turned around, and I found him a mile or so away, in the front yard of a house with a dead chicken in his mouth.  Needless to say, I was pretty much mortified!   At the time, I knocked on several doors in the tiny enclave and no one was home.  With a sigh of relief.  I drove off on the way to meet a friend farther up the road.  This year, on the way to meet the same friend, I found myself with a little time on my hands, so I decided it was time to make things right.  It was the Day of Reckoning.  It was time to 'fess up and do the right thing- albeit, somewhat late.  

I drove to the area, found the house, and knocked on the door again.  Once again, no one was home.  Once again, I was a little relieved, but in an effort to get this behind me, I drove down the dirt road looking for anyone I could find.  Two houses down a man was sitting on his porch.  As I pulled up to his house, I was wondering just how I was going to explain this.  I introduced myself and we made some small talk about the weather, hunting Ruffs, bird dogs, etc.  Finally, I just came out with it, and explained the situation.  I told him about Cap (who was peering out the passenger side window- undoubtedly scanning for chickens), about hunting in the area, chasing the dog down, finding him in the neighbor's yard with a chicken in his mouth. He was chuckling the whole time.  I told him I was glad someone found it funny, but would he mind telling the neighbor (who was a mailman and never home during the day) I came back to face the music and explain the situation.  By this time, his chuckling had turned to outright laughter.  I offered to pay whatever the going rate was for yard chickens, if he would pass it along to his neighbor.  With tears rolling down his face, he said I could keep my money.  It was worth it, having provided entertainment for the past year among the 4 or 5 houses clustered along the river.  He told me the story of the neighbor finding the dead chicken on the door stoop and asking around as to the means of its demise.  No one would confess, so it was generally agreed the local Black Lab (who wandered in from across the road) was the culprit. Poor old Bob was in hot water for a week or so, he said.  But, life got back to normal, and the "dead chicken incident" passed into the lore of the community.  

I was relieved there were no other problems among the neighbors due to me and my bird dog. We talked a while longer (he was a Navy Vet, as well) and it was time for me and my chicken-killing Brittany to move along.  I told him thanks and headed for my truck.  Wait a minute, he yelled, you'd better apologize to Old Bob before you leave!  I did just that.  I walked to the dog, curled up under a pine tree, gave him a treat, and told him I was sorry for framing him for the killing of the chicken.  And Cap was sorry, too! Old Bob just devoured the treat and rolled over for a tummy rub.  I guess that was about as forgiven as I was going to get.  I was happy to get it.  All in all, we can learn a lot from our dogs. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lost Dog! (What a sickening feeling.)

Shack and me in NM on Blues
Sometimes, no matter what you do, dogs are going to do dog things (thanks to Kerri Gebler for that phrase).  This knucklehead, FlyBoy Ace's Bullseye (Shack), decided to go on a walkabout one afternoon last week.  When time is short and the dogs need some exercise, I'll let them all out, and I'll take off on the Kawasaki Mule.  As a group, they'll follow me and pass me as we circumnavigate the pasture- about a 1 mile run.  They get to stretch their legs and get a little aerobic exercise, and I get to watch them and do a little appraisal.  This time, when I pulled in to the barn, Ruby and Cap were already there, in the big water trough cooling off, and Pearl and Blue followed them into the trough. Shack was still out there, but I wasn't concerned. Sometimes, the males are a little bolder and will range a little farther afield, but they will show up within a few minutes hot and thirsty.

Shack on a Sharptail in South Dakota
One minute stretched to five then twenty. I drove the pasture, calling and whistling with my hunting whistle. I checked for tracks down by the creek and found one of his as he hit the bridge crossing to the South side (away from the house).  I checked the sun, and figured I had about 2-3 hours of daylight left, and then checked the overnight lows (40 deg.).  I grabbed my boots, whistle, and GPS and headed for the large tract of land behind the house, hoping he was still on my part of it.  Just as the sun was setting, I called my wife to pick me up as I emerged from the other side of the tract  onto a dirt road. By that point,  the temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was picking up, . From experience, I know a healthy dog can survive much lower temperatures and much higher winds, as long as they can find a place out of the wind.  Shack was no rookie bird dog, at 5 years old, he'd  hunted all over the U.S..  And, while he'd never been "turned around" this long before, I was confident he could find some cover and hunker down for the night.  I would resume the search in the morning.  In the back of my head, I figured he'd end up straggling into the barn in the middle of the night, worn out and hungry.

Ruby, me, Shack on Prairie Chickens in Nebraska
As an afterthought, I posted on our local Lost/Found county Facebook page, that he was missing, the area I last saw him, date, time and a picture.  Also, the info that my name and numbers were on his collar, he was micro chipped, and he needed medication. Then, I went to bed. Just as I was drifting off, my wife nudged me and said, "You should check FB one last time.  You never know who may have seen him."  I opened the page, and there must have been 20 comments tracking the bonehead as people saw him running along the roads around the county! One guy said, "I knew he wasn't a stray.  He looked too fit and sure was pretty.  I figured he was one of my neighbor's dogs."  Another lady wrote, "I wish I'd seen this 5 minutes ago!  I just saw him in the parking lot of New Hope Church!"  That post was about 10 minutes old.  New Hope Church was about 5 miles from me on roads that went every different direction, except direct.  I jumped out of bed grabbed some pants, shoes, shirt and jacket, cranked up the Beast and tore down the driveway.  I made it to New Hope Church faster than I care to put in print, pulled into the parking lot, got out and started calling....nothing.  I slowly turned, using my headlights as I scanned the graveyard and surrounding pasture.  My phone rang, and it was a guy who said he saw Shack on the road about a half mile from the church.  "On my way", I said..."Thanks, neighbor!" As I pulled to the side of the road, he came out around one of the old houses and looked at the truck.  "C'mere, boy!  It's good to see you!"  That knotheaded Brit came in the driver's side and just curled up in my lap.  All 50 pounds of him was on me- and he would not move.  He was absolutely scared to death, and mighty glad to be with me.  I guess I was a little glad to see him, too.   Dogs doing dog things!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It once was lost, but now is found! Happy Day!

Ruger Bearcat
In 1959, in Anchorage, Alaska, (before digital anything, ballpoint pens, computers, seat belts, radial tires, color TV) my mom and dad entered a jitterbug contest (It's a dance.).  First Place was this pistol.  The next year, on my 10th birthday, my parents gave me the pistol, and the holster my dad hand-stitched for it.  We used it to finish moose, goat, caribou, squirrels, rabbits, monsters, lions, tigers, and bears. A few years ago, I took it to the Georgia Region NSTRA Ironman Trial in Sparta, GA.  It was the last I saw of it.  As much as I loved that pistol, I had to remind myself, "It was only a tool.  A tool attached to my past and my parents, but only a tool."

Yesterday, in a burst of energy, I was registering for the Veteran's Administration. They really didn't require any documentation (they said they'd verify everything), but I wanted to send along my DD-214 and whatever else I could find.  That meant rooting through file drawers and closets.  Lo and behold!  In one of the file drawers, I found this little beauty!  Cleaned, oiled and ready to go!  I think it would be impossible to be more surprised!  And delighted! My little Ruger Bearcat .22 was home!  Of course, it was home all the time, and my "age-appropriate" memory degeneration meant I lost it, then found it again. 

I looked up the Ruger website to try and ascertain the age of the pistol.  The Serial Number is N033. I think this is the 33rd pistol manufactured from 1958-1976.  I'm not positive about that, but it sure looks that way!  I sent off for a verification from Ruger.  That would be a nice way to remember my jitterbugging parents from "back in the day"

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Boomers! Prairie Chickens on the Booming Grounds (Lek)

Last Fall, as I was preparing to hunt the Nebraska Sandhills for the first time, I went through my usual routine of calling the DNR (or equivalent for that state) and asking for any assistance they might feel like providing. As usual, it took three phone calls to get to the right guy, but he was perfect. Bill is the resident expert in Prairie Chickens in Nebraska.  We talked for a while on the phone, and I made it a point to stop by in person when I got to the area.  As I was leaving to begin the chase, I asked about the mating rituals and leks.  Bill said, "Why don't you come back in April, and I can put you up close and personal with the birds?"  By the beginning of March, I was ready for a road trip.  I made the call to Bill.  "C'mon up." he said,  "It's almost a perfect time."  Two weeks later, I turned the Beast northwest and let her rip.  

bird dogs and bird hunting abirdhuntersthoughts.com
Prairie Chicken
bird dogs and bird hunting abirdhuntersthoughts.com
Top Dog staring down a Contender


Not on my Lek. Not today.  Not ever!


April weather is normally pretty settled, but snowstorm after snowstorm still plagued the Sandhills.  One day was sunny and cool- the next it was snow and 20 degrees.  We happened to hit the area the day after a violent front and snowstorm came through.  Not to be deterred, we drove out to the blind an hour before sunrise with the thermometer reading 0 degrees.  Later, we found out it set a record low temperature for the area! 

bird dogs and bird hunting
The blind.  A snug fit.
A little before daylight, we saw dark shapes flying in from all points of the compass.  In one's and two's, they flew  to the area and started walking to the Lek.  The Lek is the name of the breeding area- a generic term.  For Prairie Chickens, it is called a Booming Ground because of the low tone emitted by the males.  It can be heard for up to 1.5 miles away, and it's a great way to locate leks.  (Sharptail Grouse, on the other hand, have Dancing Grounds.  Often in the same general area.)  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Bad Boy
For the next two hours, the males strutted, fought, talked trash, boomed, rested, attacked, and retreated.  All of them tried for the high ground.  Bad Boy (above) kept them all in check.  Once, they all flushed away, but in less than 5 minutes, they all returned.  Like Bill said, "These birds are here for a reason.  Breeding.  It will take a lot to interrupt their courtship rituals."  We counted nearly 20 males on this lek.  Bill told us, in this area, there were 5 or 6 leks.  The males stay pretty close to their leks throughout the year, even though they may fly 20 miles to grab some nice grain, they'll come back to the local area.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Facing Off on the High Ground




This lek is on a private 20,000 ac. ranch in the Sandhills.  Bill works with the local landowners to increase understanding of the Greater Prairie Chicken and, perhaps, slow or stop the reduction of their range. After almost 3 hours of the coldest shivering I've experienced in 67 years, the birds, as if on cue, flushed up and away.  This time for the rest of the day.  We came out of the blind, and I attempted to regain feeling in my feet and hands.  It took a while, but the recovery was complete. 

bird dogs and bird hunting
Keeping an eye out for danger or the females.  

All this display is for the females to pick a winner.  Then, all of them will breed to one male.  This display is critically important to the males for this reason.

Hey!  You wanna piece of me?

I learned a tremendous amount about Greater Prairie Chickens in one day with this visit. When we left the blind, we drove to where I hunted them last Fall.  We got out of the truck and made a loop around a stock tank, and I saw some tracks.  "Gotcha, boys!  I"ll see you in November!"  But, between now and then, I have a puppy to train, grass to cut, and fish to catch. 


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Old Dogs

Final Six in the Blind

Recently, I judged a NSTRA Trial (National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial).  It was one of the more important trials, a Regional Championship.  It was in a nice, warm location, which was great, because March is such a bipolar month with thunderstorms in the South, Nor'easter's in Yankee-land, blizzards in the West, and heat in the Southwest.  So, I was quite content to ride my ATV in the warm sun and watch excellent dog work.  

After lunch (after 6 braces), the judges jumped back on the ATV's and another pair (or "brace") of bird dogs left the line.  I was following a Brittany, who I thought was long retired.  He'd been shaved down to better tolerate the heat, and the muscles still flexed along his sides, and his motor (the hamstrings) was as strong as ever.  He took off like a shot, but unlike most dogs that begin quartering immediately, this old campaigner only varied his track enough to get downwind of likely bird cover.  Not only that, but at 11 years old, he still had some "go" in the tank! I watched him closely as he varied his track to take in the palmetto clumps, grass, and trees.  About a quarter-mile off the line, he struck gold.  Head high, tail high, he stood downwind of a tall clump of Palmettos.  I raised my arm, yelled "point", and stood to check the location of the handler.  It would be a few minutes before he could get close, so I sat back down and pondered my friend on point. He was staunch, but I noticed a tremor in his hind end.  It reminded me of an athlete so totally worn out, his legs were shaking. But the old Brit stood there- locked down, doing his duty.  The handler finally arrived, flushed the bird, shot it, and the Brit scooped it up for a retrieve to hand.  Over the course of the 30 minute brace, he did the same for 3 more birds.  The score card showed 4 finds/4 retrieves.  This old dog "made the cut" to the next day.  Only half the dogs did make "the cut". I was wondering if, after 11 years of championships, the Brit had it in him for one more win.  

What makes these athletes compete?  His human counterparts generally retire the gauntlet before they are 70 or so, yet here he is, pushing himself one more time.  I remember how an old friend of mine, we used to run triathlons and marathons, would tell me "There's no way I can do that anymore.  I'm afraid I'll break something!"  Then, I remembered how God gives everyone a gift.  He also "did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and self-discipline."  (2Timothy1:7)  Then it hit me.  I'm seeing that right in front of me.  Cooper's gift was finding birds.  Young, old, wet, dry, it made no difference to him.  He was using his gift right here, today.  Wobbly legs and all else, the old guy was giving 100% to Sam.  He wasn't asking for mercy, or a pat on the head, or air conditioned comfort.  What he wanted more than anything that day was for Sam to shoot straight and be there to take the bird.  God's gifts are given to us all.  The key is to learn what the gift is-  then use it.  And, use it until they put you in the ground.  Like Cooper said to Sam at the start line, "Get out of my way, Boss!  I got this!  This is what I was bred to do."  Old dogs teach me new things all the time. 
Ace  (Photo by Nancy Whitehead)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Gear Review: Gaia GPS. A New and Possibly Better Hunting/Hiking Maps App


A few months ago, I was contacted by the developers of  Gaia GPS. (https://www.gaiagps.com). They offered a 3 month subscription for me to download the app and use it everywhere I hunt.  I snapped it up and used it (hunted with it) in South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Arizona.  In addition, I tested it (called up areas I hunt in these states from the comfort of my living room) in Michigan, Texas, Oregon, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Florida.  

 
best hunting app
Michigan area showing Private and Public (shaded) land

The screen-shot above shows the iPad picture of the app. I use it on an iPhone 7S while hunting. When I get a cell signal, or WiFi, all the data is uploaded across my devices.

Across the top, the first logo shows (when selected) the accuracy of the gps signal, then the ‘take a picture’ icon, expand the screen, layers, more menus, search, find me.  The boxes above the main screen can be personalized to whatever data you want to see.  Below that is the compass heading, selectable between true and magnetic.

Of course, many places I hunt have no cell signal.  In fact, even if there is a cell signal, I will turn my phone to the “airplane” mode to 1) stop all battery killing background operations, and 2) keep the gps running and tracking. If you need the maps while hunting, you can use the available cell system, or download the map ahead of time (like the last spot you know you’ll get service) and use airplane mode and a stored map you create. 

The “layers” icon is the real bonus!  Here is where you’ll find all the cool maps.  

best hunting app
Public Land Layers for Michigan

You can see that I’ve selected Michigan Public land overlay maps. When I hunted there last October, the National Forest maps were readily available. But, there are a gazillion acres of STATE Forest, all huntable, and the maps are not so easily obtainable.  As you can see, it’s all available in the layers. Pretty good cell reception up there, too. (But, don’t plan on it.) 

Once you record a track, you’ll be asked to name it and save it. You can make notes (e.g., shot 4 limits today over Biscuit-eater, or I’ll never hunt with this guy again!)  Then you can view it on the website and your other devices. 

best hunting app
My New Mexico cast with Blue

Here’s a screenshot of a saved track from December 12, 2017.  This is my track (that’s where the phone is), but, in the title, you can see I was running my puppy, Blue.  You can plainly see the roads and that I was on BLM land most of the time and on State Trust Land a portion of the cast. Total distance, time, and climb or descent is also saved. I don’t have it in my notes, but this would be New Mexico.  On the left side of the track is where you’d see notes and any photos I took while on the cast.

I’m not going to hit every detail. I used it on the ground and it worked every time. I’ve only covered 40% of the capabilities.

I could go on and on, but here is the bottom line: I like it better than other apps out there. I just bought another year of Premium Membership ($40). To me this app is the iPhone of the industry- it’s made to work and flow intuitively. If you can’t figure something out, it’s because you’re thinking too hard. It gives me all the layers I need, and plenty of capability.  And, it’s $60 cheaper than other apps!  I know I’ve been a strong proponent of gps apps. This one is in front now and I have it as BUY. Don’t go west without it. 

To purchase the premium app with all the maps for hunting over the entire US at 20% off, 
Click HERE or click the GAIAGPS logo on the BLOG Home Page. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Mearns and Blue Quail Trip


 
My 6 mos. old pup, Flyboy's Navy Blue (Blue)

When I start my season in September in Montana, I'm already dreaming about Blues in NM. These are big, tough birds, and, by December, they've had a chance to mature and put on some weight.  Also, affectionately known as, Cotton-Tops, Scalies, Scaled Quail, and Running B*%&tards, these are very challenging birds.  Using a typical Bobwhite-trained, east coast bird dog out here can be an exercise in frustration. 9 times out of 10, these birds will run out from under a staunch pointer! Young dogs can be set back months as they start looking for the runners and might leave the point to chase. 

bird dogs and bird hunting
Blue Quail

That said, I love them!  Not only are good dogs a help, but a good shot with a fuller choke seems to do well.  Many local folks don't use dogs at all.  Driving the caleche (clay) roads in the morning, the coveys with flush out of the mesquite along the side of the road.  Often, the hunter will jump out of the truck and give chase on foot.  When the birds get up again, the 12 ga. Full Choke will usually drop a few.  While it's a method that works to put quail in the bag, dogwork is what I drove across the country to see.  These birds (and Gambels) may be the most frustrating to work with dogs, and a good dog can make all the difference. 

Blue's introduction to a Blue Quail

bird dogs and bird hunting
Tailgate lunch after the morning hunt.
bird dogs and bird hunting
Amberly with her first Blue Quail, and Pearl.
After a week in the sand hill country, I drove to Arizona to visit my friend Wally, a Tucson resident and Mearns Quail specialist.

bird dogs and bird hunting
Wally taking a breather.
Mearns are typically the opposite of Blues.  They will usually hold so tight you can walk right through the covey!  These birds are perfect for a young dog.  The problem here is, they are a niche bird.  The US is at the very northern tip of their range. The heart of the bird habitat is in Mexico, and extends into portions of TX, NM and AZ.  If you think Chukar hunters and Ruff hunters are close-lipped about where to find their birds, Mearns hunters will put them all to shame.  Nonetheless, they are a blast to hunt, and, in a good year, 10-15 coveys per day are not unusual. Unfortunately, in the area we hunted, it was not a good year.  Even though we had plenty of grass and cover, the bird numbers were down significantly. It was still a fun time with good company, and all the dogs had a good time.  I managed to wear down some shoe leather, myself.  
bird dogs and bird hunting
Male and Female Mearns Quail
bird dogs and bird hunting
Shack (lower) backing Cap on a covey.
It's always bittersweet to hunt these areas. It signals the end of another season that went by way too fast.  Although, I will make one more cast, myself, to NM, in January.  I can't seem to get even with the Blue Quail using my own rigorously applied rules and bird dogs.  Another chance at them.  Look out, Blues, the Beast, loaded with bird dogs with attitude, is heading your way soon.