Thursday, March 5, 2015

National Shoot to Retrieve Field Trial Assoc. (NSTRA)- Extending the season.

 When hunting ends in the South, the field trials start up.  I usually limit trialing during hunting season and look forward to working my dogs at field trials after all the states shut down their seasons.  Typically, this means February or March.
Scott/Chip and Cap/me in the blind. 

I like the NSTRA format of field trials since it more closely replicates bird hunting.  Shotguns are used and birds are shot and retrieved.  I've witnessed long and passionate debates about different venues and formats for field trials- many times the words heat up!  Boys and girls, it's  not worth the effort.  My choice is NSTRA.  

Cap waiting to run. 
Judges and bird planter conferring. 

Basically, two handlers and their dogs sit in a blind while birds (most usually quail, but other gamebird species can be used) are hidden in a large (approx. 40 ac.) field.  The dogs are called out and turned loose to find the birds.  Judges follow each dog and score them on the Find, Retrieve, Back (or, Honor), Ground Coverage, and Obedience.  Each "brace" of two dogs runs for 30 min.  

Bird Planter filling up!

Unwanted intruder- Eastern Diamondback. 

Of course, volumes can be filled discussing the nuances and other rules, but that is it in a nutshell.  Like my Daddy used to say, "It ain't rocket science!"  I've been associated with NSTRA since 1992, or 1991, I'm not sure, it was so long ago.  I've had great dogs, good dogs and others.  The nice thing about this is, on any given day, an average dog can turn it on and beat the tar out of a National Champion.  After all, these are dogs, not machines.  Heck, I know of a dog, probably the best on the ground right now, who was beaten by a bench, show Setter- long hair and all! (We still chuckle about that one!)
Cap and I are getting ready for another run. 

When the scores are totaled, the placements are awarded first, second and third.  Points are given for the placements, and when the totals are high enough, a NSTRA Championship is awarded.

Whichever format you choose, keep the dog in the field.  He will love you all the more for it.

Heading to the Line. 

Start Line Action

I put this video in because I love it! Mearns Quail flush- AZ 2014

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Day in the Life of a (Blue) Quail Hunter

The rains came on time and in quantity.  SE New Mexico was awash in grass, Cowpen Daisy, Sunflowers, mesquite, shin-oak and, now, Blue Quail.  According to the harvest we took throughout the week, I can say there was more than one hatch, as well.  Some birds we took were very small. Multiple hatches would explain the significant increase in bird numbers.
Dropping off the cap into great habitat.

Driving the local roads in the oil patch, I dropped off the cap down into some of the nicest looking habitat I'd seen all week.  The day was cool and clear- you could see all the way in to next week.  Cowpen Daisy, Sunflower, mesquite, grass, sand all combined to make this a quail heaven.  Quickly, I pulled in to a pump-jack location and grabbed Ruby to boot her up.  I parked and walked around to the back of the truck, dropped the tailgate and, immediately, out of a mesquite bush fifty feet from the truck, 30 blues flushed out and flew 50 yards to another bush.  Many more ran out of the bush following the initial, flying crowd.  Trying to put boots on a dog in a hurry is problematic, at best.  Hurrying to boot a dog that's seen 30 birds flush 50 feet away is pretty close to impossible!  They can move their legs, feet, bodies in ways I'd never thought possible! 

Finally, we got it done, and Ruby and I started West toward the flushed covey.  Almost immediately, she locked down, smelling the covey remains. I honored her point and kicked around a bit, reached over to her, tapped her on the head and said, "OK, girl, let's go find 'em."

We worked up to the next shrub.  Up the dunes, over the top, and out in to the flat loaded with Daisies and grass.  What a perfect place, I thought!  For 20 minutes, Ruby hunted hard and came up with nothing.  I started South, thinking they might have run toward some bigger dunes.  Ruby picked up on my idea and dropped into the dune bottoms.  She spun around just as the covey flushed up and over the top, heading West.  We watered and conspired and commiserated for a few minutes- finally, I turned her loose again and up over the dune she went after the covey.
Taking a break. 
Humping sand dunes is a great aerobic exercise, by the way.  I got to the top and looked out on a flat area with mesquite bushes and lots of grass.  Also, I saw a dog on point.  Ruby was locked up on a mesquite bush about 100 yds away!  I moved as fast as I could to get to her, but about 40 years away, the covey flushed again- going farther West.  I saw some of them land on the top of another dune about 100 yards away, and some more cross a fence and dive in to a mesquite bush about the same distance from me.   Ruby took off after them, as I trudged through the sand and shin-oak, gun ready, looking for singles.  Deciding to cross the fence and trap the mesquite bush crowd, I found a low area in the substantial fence, and stepped over the top.  I hurried to Ruby, again on point, at the mesquite! "Gotcha now, you little buggars!" I thought!  Lots of tracks and a locked down bird dog will get me excited any day, but they eluded us again.  I began to think these sly, desert runners had seen a dog before!
Boots are mandatory! 

I turned her loose, once again, and we started working the area making long loops through the grass and mesquite. We would go way downwind and turn back into the wind and crisscross along looking for scent.   Finally, we got back to the fence and bush.  I called her in and we headed to the dune where half the covey landed.  Another dry hole.  (The birds were whistling and gathering up again and heading back to the truck where we flushed them originally.  A little known tactic of the desert quail.)  Ruby was dry and I was out of water, by this time, and getting a little weary.  "C'mon, girl" I said, "Let's head back and find another covey."  I came to the fence.  It was a new, tight fence with good wire and there was no way I could step over it. I stepped on the bottom strand, right up against the metal fencepost, and started to heave myself over when the fence link broke, and I slid down on top of the post.  I had a lot of gear on and that probably protected me, but the top of that post hit me in the stomach and slid up my chest. I jumped back, took off my glove and felt the area to see if I was bleeding.  Even though it hurt, no blood showed.  Good to go! Finally, I dug a hole in the sand and braved sand-spurs by rolling under that blasted fence, came up the other side and walked off after my dog.
Where, oh Where, are you guys?
Ruby came up for a drink, and I put my gun down and took out every bottle I had to give her the last few drops.  We were about a mile from the truck, had 4 covey flushes (3 pointed) and no birds/no shots.  We chatted a bit and then I sent her on, put on my gloves, picked up my gun and looked ahead to where we were going- thinking about the wind direction, truck location, etc.  I walked directly into a four-foot high Cholla bush! You know, Cholla cactus is bad when you know it's in the area.  It is incredibly painful when you have no idea it's around and it hits your leg from ankle to belt! Of course, I wasn't wearing chaps that day.  Yowee!  I put my gun down, took off my vest and dropped my pants, right there in front of God and all the coyotes!  I commenced to pulling spines from my leg and thigh until I couldn't feel anymore sticking out.  As long as I was half naked, I checked out my fence-post scrape and it wasn't too bad- no gashes, at any rate.  I looked around and noticed there was ONE Cholla bush in the entire SE NM area, and it was 3 feet from me- I've always been lucky like that. Just then, Ruby's collar went off- she was on point 256 yards from me in a mesquite mound area.  

I made it to her in time for another covey rise, and I finally downed 2 birds for good retrieves.  One bird went down a hole.  By the time I got there, Ruby was up to her shoulders with sand flying everywhere and she came out with the bird in her mouth! We worked singles for about 30 minutes, generally heading to the truck. I dropped a few more.  Finally, I reached for some shells and came up dry.  I had two shells in my gun, the sun was getting low, the temp was dropping, we were out of water and the truck wasn't too far away.  "Here, Ruby, let's get back to the truck.  Good girl!"  She worked ahead of me into a flat grassy area and locked up again on a patch of grass.  Two birds got up and flew directly in to the lowering sun!  Boom, boom! - I thought I could see the one well enough, but, somehow, it kept on going, apparently unhurt!  (I know.  I'm as amazed as you.)  Worse, I was out of shells with an empty gun.  And, for the next 10 minutes, Ruby would point a clump of grass, and I would kick a few birds in the air to watch them fly off.  Laughing, I scratched her and loved on her as we headed to the truck.  "Ruby, " I told her, "we are going to need to get our stories together.  This is a tale no one would believe!  Just let me do the talking and you swear to it!  Nice job, girl!" 

I have no idea why I like that smelly, prickly, sandy, hot, cold, windy piece of dirty SE NM.  But I do.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Season Full of Memories

Here are some random pics of me and my hounds from this year/hunting season.  I put 32,000 miles on the Beast, bought licenses in seven states, hunted and harvested nine species of upland bird and loved every single minute.

Cap has a good "off season"- NE
Mearns Quail Country- Southern AZ

Blue, Scaled Quail- NM

Cap (Brit) and Zella on a covey of Blues- NM

Shack (16 months) on covey of Blues- NM

Mearns Quail- AZ

Wally- AZ

Shack and Bobwhites- OK

Pearl and Rooster- NE

Ace and Rooster- SD

Long Walk to the Truck- SD

Is that a Rooster I hear?- SD

Pheasant Amigos- SD

Ruffed Grouse Habitat- WI


Ace and Sharpie- MT

Me Shooting Sharpie over Ace Point- MT

Shack (12 Months)  and Hun Retrieve- MT

Ruby admiring her best buddy (Cap)- MT

Ace and Hun- MT

Shack and his first Sharptail over a point- MT

Pearl and her first Sharptail- MT

Cap backing- MT

Another season comes to a close.  My long-suffering-wife reminded me I promised not to mope around the house after my last trip.  Sorry, Honey, can't comply.  Only 7 months to bird season!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lessons Learned....Or, This happened to a "friend"!

Ace and Sharptail. Montana 2014

One of the benefits of traveling and hunting is the chance to see all types of terrain, species of upland birds, meet all kinds of farmers, ranchers, bird hunters and others.  But, no matter where I am, what state, no matter which dogs are in the back of whatever Beast I'm driving, no matter who I'm with or just by myself, there are some rules to live by.  Some hard won lessons.  Some of these, I committed- some were committed against me.  A wise man said its smart to learn from your mistakes, but it is wise to learn from the mistakes of others! There is no sense in merely remembering and adapting if the only one to benefit is me. So, here are a few items I think are important.  I may or may not explain and illuminate.  Some of these items are self-explanatory, some will need a little background.  All of them will keep you out of trouble.  

Cap with Idaho Chukar. 2013

1.)  Never. Ever. Go back and hunt an area shown to you by someone else without their express, no-doubt consent.  "He knew that's where I was going." or "It's public land, anyone can hunt there!" or "There someone's truck there, let's go!" are no good.  It's a trust between bird hunters.  If he shows you a spot, you are forbidden from going back unless he gives you the OK.  

2.) Leave gates like you found them.  Wide open or secure.  In fact, match the knot on the rope, if you can. 

3.) Always compliment another man's dog. If you denigrate his dog, you just cussed his wife.  Be prepared for the unpleasant consequences.  There is at least one thing every dog is doing well.  Find it and compliment the dog and the hunter.  Also, maybe more important, don't ever touch another man's dog without permission, either. God help you if you strike or kick at a man's dog. 

4.)  If both of you shoot the same bird, assume you missed, tell your buddy, "Nice shot!"  Does it really matter if you got it and he missed?  Really?
Aaron Utz and Remy (the best Vizsla I've ever seen).  Idaho, 2013

5.) Hunting private land?  Tell the owner if he needs help, for any reason, you are there and can lend a hand.  I've unstuck trucks, put in fence posts, rounded up cows and put out fires. 

6.)  Don't shoot over the limit.  Know the rules and stay within them.  Be polite and friendly to Game Wardens and local law enforcement.  They have a tough job.  When I see one, I break down my gun and get my papers out.  I don't wait to be asked.  I think they appreciate it.  Then ask them where the birds are. 

7.)  Eat in local cafes.  Every town has one and every one has a group of local farmers/ranchers that meet around sunrise to drink coffee and solve problems.  They usually are friendly and are wondering what the new yahoo (you) is doing in town. I've met and befriended numerous people by just explaining I drove all the way from Georgia to hunt the local (fill in the blank).  

8.) When the day is done, the order in which items are completed should conform to the old Cavalry saying:  The horse, the saddle, the man.  Take care of your dog, first and foremost!  Clean his feet and check him for stickers and wounds.  Feed and water him.  Make sure he has warm, dry bedding, etc.  Then, clean your gun, boots, chaps, truck.  Put all your electronics on chargers, write important stuff in your logbook before you forget it.  Check fuel and water on board for tomorrow.  Then, after all that other stuff, take care of yourself. Keep the order in order.  Remember to keep the main thing the main thing!
Me and the Ball and Chain.  North Dakota 2012
9.) Get a puppy when your youngest dog hits five years old.  (If you are a one dog man, that is.) 

10.) Field Trials and Hunt Tests are simulations of the real thing.  Don't look down your nose at the real thing.  Do the real thing every chance you can.  The best dog that ever walked the face of this planet never smelled a pen-raised bird, ran a "course", or was judged.  Get your nose out of the air, suck it up and let your dog fulfill its genetic destiny.  I know, it's scary!  Ask for help.  

11.)  Dogs get hurt, cut, snakebit, lost, quilled, tired, cold, wet, hot, cranky, etc.  Have a plan and a first aid kit on hand.  Carry a multi-tool, tape, blood stop.  Have the local vet number in your phone. 

12.) Keep the dogs warm at night.  Every calorie a dog doesn't use staying warm is a calorie it can use to recover from the day's exertions.  Put a heater in the back of the truck or trailer, or, better yet, let them have their own pillow on the bed!
Ruby on a covey of Bobs.  Georgia 2012. 
13.)  Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.  No need to swear an oath.  

14.) Buy good equipment, learn to use it, take care of it.  Nothing impresses me less than an expensive gun dragged through the briars. It does impress me, actually, but in a way not kindly to the owner.  

15.) Plan, plan, plan.  Call DNR, call people who know people.  Do not expect anyone to hand over hard won information about hunting spots.  They've been driving to and hunting the area for years.  Why should they tell you anything?  If they do, be grateful! You haven't "paid your dues" so don't expect a handout.  

16.)  Put a set of chains in your truck.  You might be able to drive WAY back in on frozen ground.  Coming out on thawed-out snot may be more problematic.  A good set of chains or other traction devices is good to have.  They are like an Allen wrench- when you need one, nothing else will do.  

17.) Take time to get where you are going.  It's better to get there rested than gutting it out and taking two days to recover.  

18.)  Remember why you do this.  Pass along what you know.
Bo and Me in Arizona. Coon Creek.  2004

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I thought I was going to lose him....

Ace is almost 10 now.  He's seen a lot of places and birds.  He's been my main bird dog for most of those years.  When a large lump came up on his side, my vet was not too optimistic.  We got an appointment to the regional vet teaching clinic at Auburn Vet School, and I was in the process of resigning myself to the bad news.  But, another friend of mine said the location and the rapidity of the growth made him suspect a foreign body.  Since we hunt from Wisconsin to Arizona, from September to February, my dogs are exposed to all kinds of nasty awns, seeds, spines and quills. Not intentionally, of course! 

So I started in with the Epsom Salt soaks three times per day.  My reasoning was:
if this was an infection, it may come to a head and burst.  If it was cancer, I was doing no harm.  My appointment at Auburn was not for  another 5 days, so I had plenty of time to try it.

After two days of hot compresses, the bulge doubled in size and became soft in the center.  I was feeling more and more like it was an abscess.  I took him back to my vet and he agreed that this was a different looking swelling and we lanced it. I thought I was pretty immune to what could happen to my dogs, but that was the rankest, nastiest smelling stuff I've ever experienced coming out of that lump.  But, I was thrilled!  This wasn't cancer at all!  

Photo by Nancy Whitehead

We drained, I don't know how much stuff out of that wound, and put him on some strong antibiotics.  When we got him home, we did it some more!  He's in a crate right now, until the drainage stops, and then he'll be an inside dog for a few weeks while he heals up.  Mid-January he'll be going with me back to NM.  I can't leave him behind. He'll be my co-pilot, confidant and best buddy.....again.