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.

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, conservations 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 standsespecially 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 BaseCampsoftware
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 microSD 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. 

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!

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:  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.

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
Prairie Chicken
bird dogs and bird hunting
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. ( 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.  

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.  

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. 

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. 

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. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

South Dakota Grasslands for Prairie Chickens

Every other year, for me, South Dakota had been a pheasant destination.   After my trip in October  to the Nebraska Sandhills, I've been fascinated with the Prairie Chicken.  The Grasslands have an abundant supply of Chickens, more chickens than Sharptails, in fact.  For an overall rating of the trip, it was great for chickens, very poor for pheasant.  The reason for the pheasant decline is long and somewhat complicated, but just think '100-year drought' in the region.  That pretty much explains things. But, it seems, the native birds weathered the drought very well, and the chickens have thrived. 
Shack, me, Cap
I've never given the grasslands a thought.  They seemed too vast and with a minimum of objectives. In fact, the problem was me.  Once I learned what to look for and took the advice of a few other hunters, it was a rare cast that didn't see some chickens. This time of year, they are beginning to move into larger flocks for protection from the harsh winters.  While we did see many singles and small groups, we also saw flocks of 50 that would flush 100-200 yards away from us.
Shack on point
Ethan Puckett and his second-ever chicken.
We wore out some boots cruising through the grass. 1-2 hour casts were commonplace.  Thankfully, the weather turned cool (downright cold at times) and that made the walking somewhat easier.  I was shooting a 20 ga. with #6 shot, and that was a good load for the big bird.
19 degrees and ice fog on the last day.
Would I go back? Absolutely! Chickens are fun to hunt.  They are big birds and hold fairly tight, if you can find a few young ones.  The young to old ratio this year is .9- meaning of 20 birds 9 are this year's birds and 11 are last year or older (roughly).  That means there were a lot of experienced, wizened, older chickens out there and were not likely to hang around for a lot of noise.  That's why we saw so many getting up out of range.  In addition, when they do get up, they leave.  I mean, they leave the area.  They aren't likely to set down anywhere you'll be able to get to them again. In contrast, the young to old ratio for Sharptails is 1.9- almost 2-1.  You would be more likely to get sharps to hold, because they are younger and less experienced.
Grilled Walleye at Spring Creek Resort
I stayed at a friend's lodge, north of Pierre.  He had comfortable cabins and a great restaurant. Spring Creek Resort has guided hunts for pheasant, etc., but I just needed a room and dinner.  The rooms are as nice as in town, and comparable in price. 
Matthew Puckett, me, Ethan Puckett
The hunting party consisted of a bunch of young bucks....and me. I confess, my legs were a little tight at the end of the day.
Pearl resting up on the way home.
So, even though this is a down year for pheasant, the chickens provided a tremendous challenge.  It was a rewarding trip, outside the normal species.  I may have found a new favorite.....naw, Blue Quail are still at the top.  Next month, New Mexico Blues and Arizona Mearns!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Magic Skunk Recipe!

skunk smell removal recipe stink hunting wash scent skunked
Odiferous Skunkus
If you've put any time at all hunting the plains, you've probably been skunked, or known of someone who has.  Personally, my dogs have been skunked several times, especially one boy, my Ace dog.  He was big running and seem curious about skunks. About the third time he got nailed, one Montana hunt, I washed him with whatever I could find in the store, and, of course, it had no effect.  I loaded him in the Jones trailer and headed out for the second destination- Wisconsin.  When I arrived, which was no secret since the smell arrived 10 minutes ahead of me, a friend of mine told me about a scientific approach to eliminating the skunk smell.  He mixed it up in a gallon jug, told me what to do, and,  voila!, skunk odor gone! In fact, I put him in the front seat after that. 
skunk smell removal recipe stink hunting wash scent skunked
Here's the recipe for skunk stink removal and why it works. There are others. Some commercial applications, as well. I thought it was interesting the science behind the recipe. I've personally verified this works:

Next go to a drug store and get the following, if needed: (Note: I carry this in my truck.)
• 1 quart (or liter) of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide, H2O2.
Use fresh (unopened) hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Hydrogen pe
roxide eventually turns into water (H2O).
• 1/4 cup (50 ml.) of Baking Soda
• 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) of Liquid Soap (I use at least a Tablespoon!)

• 1 pair of plastic or latex gloves
To Use
• Bathe the dog outside or, if it's too dark or cold, in the bathroom with the door closed and window opened.
• Combine the ingredients in an open container (do not store in a sealed bottle--it will explode).
• Using gloves, wash your dog with lukewarm water and the mixture while the mixture is bubbling. Work the mixture well into the fur.
• Be sure to concentrate on the area that was sprayed.
• Keep mixture away from your dog's face and eyes (it's a harsh solution). (If your dog has been sprayed in the face, try Tricotine Liquid Douche Concentrate or any over-the-counter douche.)
• Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes or so before rinsing off.
• Rinse the dog with lukewarm tap water. Don't wash the mixture into your dog's eyes (use a washcloth to cover the eyes if you're rinsing the head).
• After bathing, check your dog's eyes. If they are red and watering, your dog may have taken a direct hit in the face. Skunk spray won't blind the dog, but it's very painful. Contact a vet.

How it works- Skunk Stink Removal

First a quote from Dr. Caceci of Texas A&M University:
Forget what you have heard about tomato juice--it doesn't work. Skunk spray is mainly composed of low molecular weight thiol compounds. ("Thiols" are compounds with the "-SH radical" attached to a carbon atom.) In industrial applications, alkaline hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used for scrubbing similar compounds from waste gas streams.
Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, when combined, become a "chemical engine" for churning out oxygen. That's why it has to be used immediately after mixing. The soap breaks up the oils in the skunk spray, allowing the other ingredients to do their work.
• Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society, 18 October 1994. The formula is in a CNE report.
• "Chemist has the Power to Tame Skunk's Spray", Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1994. Article about Paul Krebaum, the inventor of the deodorizing formula mentioned above in CNE.
• Paul Krebaum sent me a link to his skunk page, which seems pretty thorough. It's at

Skunk Stink Removal

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Sandhills! Nebraska Prairie Chickens

The Sandhills-
The Nebraska National Forest (Really!)

Get this map!  It has the navigation you need.
 What Are They?

The Sandhills are a feature that covers nearly a quarter of Nebraska.  Looked at from a satellite, by Google Earth, they look like waves on the ocean- a vast ocean of sand.  Grass covers the hills now, but not far underneath is a fine sand as nice as that on many beaches.  The road pictured above is from the Nebraska National Forest.....if you want shade out here, bring your own tree! The roads up in the McKelvie National Forest aren't nearly so nice.  They are just two tracks through the sand.  I didn't have any trouble navigating either area in 4 wheel drive and good tires, but it's not for the faint-hearted. 
Plenty of water in the Sandhills
Where Are They?
If you find Valentine, NE on the map and look to the south, you'll see the area of the Sandhills.  I'm sure the area is actually much larger, but the public land huntable area is between Valentine and Thedford, NE, about 80 miles to the south. Most is private land, but the two National Forests and The Valentine Game Refuge are located in that area.  In addition, there are several Wildlife Management Areas by the State of Nebraska scattered throughout. 
The Sandhills
Prairie Chickens and Sharptail Grouse thrive in these grass hills.  The Chicken was on my bucket list and I was eager to find an area that had a decent huntable population.  They are all throughout this area.  It didn't take long, on the first day on the ground, for my Pearl to lockup on a brace of Chickens.  I dropped one and pulled to the other just as it rolled right and dropped below the crest of the grass covered dune.  Pearl made a great retrieve and put my first Prairie Chicken in my hand!
Pearl and Cap and my first, ever Prairie Chicken
We found that the two species were interspersed throughout the areas.  As a result, our bag pretty much was split between the two.
Sharptail and Prairie Chicken (and Pearl)
Shack taking a breather in a small pond.
Now, I'm no expert on PC or Sharps, but I used a 20 ga. 2 3/4" #6's and did fine.
3 of the 4 are ready to go (Cap, Pearl, Shack).  Ruby was up front and afraid to leave her seat for the picture!

The areas are huge and laid out in pastures for grazing.  The bad news is there's grazing, the good news is there are windmills everywhere.  In fact, I rarely used the water bottles I carried in my WingWorks vest.  I would plan a hunt from the truck by looking for the next windmill and working my way around the area in that fashion.  The map of the National Forest has all the mills on it, the fences, roads, etc.  Each mill is numbered, on the north side, and that's a huge help for when you aren't where you think you are (It happened to a friend- just sayin'.).  One could read the number on the mill and correlate to the map and find themselves- what a delightful conclusion!  Also, the roads are somewhat fluid (it being a sea of sand, and all) and I ended up completely missing a turn, checking the mill number, and getting back on track (two-track) that way.  I still do not know where I missed that turn.  When I go back, I'll find out.
Cap had 7 Chickens pointed. Ruby backing. 
The result. 2 more in the bag.
Historical Marker in Thedford, NE
I stayed in a motel in Valentine, NE.  There are few motels, generally, in the area.  Some in Valentine, Thedford and maybe a few other places.  There is camper parking in the area, as well, and that may be a good way to stay close to the areas.  There are some National Forest Campgrounds, too. 
Another Sharp and Prairie Chicken on the same cast.
I had a great time hunting the Sandhills. I'm already planning to stop again on the way back from South Dakota, in November!   Plan on looking for good grass and walking a long ways.  One cast, I walked 4 miles (the dogs ran 20) and found 7 chickens within 100' of the truck when I got back!  They are where you find them, I guess.  But, don't be dismayed.  They are there!