Thursday, February 11, 2016

Late Season Bobs



Shack and Me

A few weeks after returning from New Mexico, I was ready to head somewhere with the dogs.  They were at the top of their game, totally fit and ready to load up.  Over dinner after a movie, I casually mentioned to the BandC that quail season was still open in parts of the west.  In moment of weakness, she allowed as how she'd be OK with my absence for a few days. 'Nuff said!  I was out the door at 0400 the next morning headed to Oklahoma!

Shack on a covey.


Why Oklahoma?  I missed the opener, due to the heat and really not wanting to drive 12 hours from North Dakota (hunting pheasant) just to go shoulder to shoulder with every other birdhunter from the South.  It was hot that weekend, so I turned West and went back to Montana for some Sharptails and Huns.  Now, here I am in the last few weeks of a banner year, hunting public land and easily finding large coveys.  Yes, they've been flushed numerous times and they are a bit "wild",  but my boys really did well with them and put me in shooting range a lot over the next 5 days.

Pearl on her own covey.

I hunted public land.   Oklahoma has several large 10,000+ acre Wildlife Management Areas around the state that are managed for birds (quail, dove, etc.).  Of course, they get a lot of pressure throughout the year, especially in a year like this one, with a bumper crop of quail. One of my past favorites was Cooper WMA, near Woodward, OK.  Rolling sand hills, with mesquite and plenty of ragweed and sunflowers and water tanks, give Cooper a perfect habitat for Bobwhites.  Fort Supply WMA (across the street from Cooper) is another great spot.  There are many listed in the "Where to Hunt" section of the state website.  Each has a listing for  a resident biologist or manager and they are most helpful with your questions.  ("Where are the most coveys?" questions might not get answered. Really? Do some scouting.)  For example, at Packsaddle WMA, the resident manager advised me to "get a mile away from a road or parking area since 99% of hunters make a mile loop".  I thought about it, and he's right.  I do the same thing.  Black Kettle WMA is located in the Black Kettle Grasslands and it's spread around in separate tracts.  But, maps are available and the tracts are large and easy to find, well marked.  Caution!!!!  Some (not all) of the WMA's close for hunting at 4:30 PM. You need to check (closely) the regs for each area to see which ones.  The rumor I heard was that a prominent bird hunter from the Idaho area suggested this rule to protect the Bobs when they start coveying up for the night.  Whether that's true (I think it is), or not, don't be on the receiving end of a $200 fine. 

Habitat.


I started out at Black Kettle WMA and had some initial success.  We hit a few spots and found a few coveys.  Lots of hunters were in the area. There were four groups with dog trailers at my motel, some had been there more than a week.  I had some trouble locating areas that were not "claimed", by the time I found a nice one.  (Interestingly, I saw plates from Kansas, South Carolina, and Oklahoma.) So, I packed up and moved to another WMA further North.  Few hunters, sandy, hilly terrain and a great population of Bobwhites met me the next day.  The first afternoon, in 2 hours, I found 4 coveys and never got farther than 400 yards from the truck! The dogs, fresh from working the running SOB's in New Mexico, were loving life on these tight-holding Bobs.  I'm still smiling!

Cap with Pearl backing. (She's hard to see.)


The good thing about very late season hunting is the corporate information available on bird numbers, habitat and locations.  Of course, the bad thing is the fact that the birds have been shot into for the last 3-4 months.  This year, that didn't touch the numbers.  The numbers of hunters, of course, was way down, as well. And, to me, that is a great thing.  To have thousands of acres to roam and hear nothing but quail whistling and the wind in the trees and grass, that is a special day- a day to drive a thousand miles to experience!


End of a great hunt. 


Heading home. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chasing the Blues

Cap holding a covey.




After the hunt in December was such a success, I knew another trip to New Mexico was in the cards.  This time, however, Ruby was with her litter and it would be only Cap, Shack and Pearl.  With only the three, I would need to be very careful about who ran when and also ensure their food and  nutrition was top-notch (as I do every time).  First, I needed to drop off one of my pups, to his owner in Nebraska, from training here in Georgia.  You know, on the map, it doesn't look like much, but that was a long drive.  The dog got delivered and the Brits and I found ourselves in Southeast NM, once again.  
Bob, me, Terry

I met up with Bob, Robert and Terry, all seasoned Blues hunters, and we hit the caliche roads looking for coveys.  After hunting the area for 10 years, I pretty well knew where to go and I was very comfortable searching for new areas. 
Great Habitat
Roost
I was most interested in getting my two pups, Shack and Pearl (M/F Brits- 2.5 yo) time on these birds, as they are known to be very difficult for a dog.  It takes a solid, intelligent dog to handle these running devils consistently.   I wanted my pups to get a lot of time on against them.  It's  a great year for that. 
Shack (B/M)

Not once did we put dogs on the ground that we not rewarded with at least one covey, usually many more!  There is nothing that trains a new bird dog faster than wild birds. 
Shack with a nice retrieve!

A good afternoon for Shack.
The terrain is hilly, sandy and full of mesquite and sand burrs.  We kept the dogs in boots all the time.  Especially with so few dogs for a week + hunting, I couldn't take the risk at having one of them come up lame due to foot problems.  In addition, I always pay very close attention to their nutrition and sleeping arrangements.  So, my experiment using motorcycle inner tubes (see previous post) worked very well.  I encountered no difficulties with the dog's feet.  They are easy to put on and take off and I used the same four boots on all the dogs they entire time.  During that trip I lost two boots to tears- both due to my removing the tape from the boots. There were no losses due to the terrain.  I had no  foot problems due to trapped sand, etc.  In short, I can heartily endorse the use of the inner tubes for protection against sand burrs, etc., in the Southwest. (http://www.abirdhuntersthoughts.com/2015/06/dog-boots-need-them-or-not-which-brand.html)

Hunting the Dunes!
Siesta Time!
Another item I'm very involved in is the nutrition of my athlete dogs!  I not only feed them a quality kibble (for me it is Royal Canin Adult Medium.  I'm not going to get involved in the dog food debate, there are many good ones out there!), but, when we are on the road competing or hunting, I also supplement their kibble with glycogen supplements, etc.  Back in the day, one or the other of my dogs would "go off their feed" after a week or so and I would be scrambling trying to get them to eat.  That's what led me to dog food research and Royal Canin, etc.  Now, after a hard exertion, I give them a supplemental product called Glycocharge.    I most heartily endorse this product and I've seen the effects over time.  Of course, all my observations have been subjective and not scientific, but, in my opinion, this stuff works.  On another note:  Another product was recommended to me, which I used on this trip and during a 3 day field trial, is Elements Nutrition.  They have products for recovery (similar to glycocharge), hydration, joint care, and an energy supplement.  I used all of them this trip, especially the joint care, recovery and energy supplement.  I believe them to be beneficial and will use them extensively for the next few months' field trials.  I believe they are very much worth a look, if you are considering a supplement for your dog(s).
Heading out.
The outfit.
In all, this was a great last trip of the year.  The weather was perfect, not too hot or cold, and the birds were plentiful.  I'm back home now, playing with my 3.5 week old puppies and imagining their futures as I smell the puppy breath.
Cap and his haul- 6 covey points.
Me, last day.
Last light.
Driving out view.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cap and Ruby pups! SOLD! Thank you!

Email me to get the Pedigrees.
(Use the link to the right.)

2 Females and 4 Males




Cap on Chukar Idaho- 2 years old.
Ruby and Cap. MT 2014
This is a breeding I was really looking forward to.  Cap is a 2-time NSTRA Champion, Runner Up Georgia Region 2015 Champion and 2014 NSTRA UKC Endurance Trial 4th Runner Up and he's an awesome bird dog on every species of upland game I hunt.  Ruby is a 1-time NSTRA Champion, 5th in 2015 Georgia Region Championships, a direct daughter of Nolan's Last Bullet, and a great wild bird dog, as well. This litter was whelped on 28 Dec.  So far, they've had their tails docked, dew claws removed and will get their puppy shots at the appropriate time.  The females are sold.  4 males are available.  770-584-5085.  Males are $500. Email: rbjfarm@gmail.com.  
Cap in NM. Dec 2015




Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Random pictures of December in AZ and NM

Male and Female Mearn's Quail.  S. AZ

One mornings bounty.

Wally and Stormy

Me with a Scaled (Blue) Quail - SE NM

Perfect Blue Quail habitat

More Perfect Blue Quail Habitat


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, I wish you a very blessed and merry Christmas.  Remember to take a part of the day and thank God for your blessings and for sending his Son, over 2000 years ago. He didn't come with armies, or fleets, or riding a big horse.  He was born in a cave, surrounded  by the lowest in society.  Take just a minute, before you head out to hunt, and thank Him for that.  Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Quail Valley, New Mexico






The caliche road was beating up my truck, jarring the dogs and rocking me to sleep. I didn't have any supplies, except some water and a few flour tortillas in the cooler (some planning!), so I knocked off about 1 and cracked an emergency MRE.  Some kind of chicken and noodle concoction. I split it with Shack, who did a good job today.  So, now I've got MRE's in my belly and the road rocking me to sleep, when I notice a tiny little two-track sneaking off to the right. I backed up to look at it and figured "what the heck, if I get stuck, I can grill Brittany until they find me" and started up the trail. Two-wheel drive turned to four-wheel drive turned to "uh oh" turned to OMG!  Up, up, around, up, 15 deg sideways, sand, up and more up. Finally, with a last dash to the top, I'm looking down a valley a mile long by half mile wide. It's torn up in sunflowers, daisy, ragweed, mesquite bushes and sand. I realize now, it's a place I've seen from the other end for many years and didn't know how to access. Hoopty Do, this boy's in Quail Valley!  Ruby and I covered half of it before the sun got too low and found 5 separate coveys of blues. They held for the point, which tells me no one's been here hunting.   We didn't hunt the singles, just kept on truckin'.  Ruby was awesome. The day was awesome.  Merry Christmas, my friends.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bird Dog and Fly Fishing for Charity



This is a great calendar, available for purchase through our friends at Gun Dog Supply. All proceeds will go towards youth events at Pheasant Forever and Quail Forever. The photos are a result of a photo contest on the 'Bird Dogs and Fly Fishing' Facebook group. BDFF, as it is known, is a closed group of dedicated bird hunters and fly fisherman who share experiences, ideas, stories and wisdom.  We especially thank Steve Snell, of Gun Dog Supply, for his generous contribution in the making, printing of the calendar- at no cost to us or benefit to him- to support a worthy charity.  

This is a limited run of calendars. Order yours while they are available. I suspect they will sell out quickly and will be a prestigious addition to any bird hunter or fly fisherman's collection. 





Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Fence


In Germany (“Between neighbor’s gardens a fence is good”), fences are a good thing. They keep cattle in and bad things out. Robert Frost's Poem "Mending Wall" (
http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html) really brought the old saying "Strong fences make good neighbors."   They define land ownership. They look good. I hate them. 

I have two nice scars on my right leg. One is a long and jagged on the inside of my knee - from Texas. My dog was on point and I needed across a barbed wire fence in a hurry. It was a new and substantial fence and going over, I stumbled and felt some pain, but ithe fence let go, and I made it across in good order. I kicked up the covey and got a double, as I recall (do we ever "recall" anything else?). A few minutes later, my right boot got wet and squishy. "Odd!" I thought,"I haven't been through any creeks!"  A quick check revealed a nice gash about 3" long and, by now, 1/2" wide.  That night, I put some EMT Gel in the wound and wrapped it up. A couple of weeks later, I was good as new.  The second one is from Nebraska and a similar, though less gory, situation. 

Crossing a barbed wire fence is always problematic. Most can be stepped over by pushing down on the top wire. Failing that, rolling under the bottom wire may work. Or, stepping up the wire, near a post, like a ladder. All of these choices have their own special danger. Straddling barbed wire, while expedient, puts tender parts of male (and female) anatomy close to sharp metal spikes. Rolling under puts the bird hunter down in the dirt with sandspurs. And, climbing wire over a metal post just sounds dangerous. (It is, and I have another scar on my stomach to prove it!). 

This old fence has become part of the tree! Or, the other way around. 

My story continues in a remote part of Arizona, not far from the Mexico border, in the search for Mearn's Quail. My friend, Wally, and I were hunting a hilly, rock strewn area with grass and oaks. The preferred habitat of the Mearn's. My pager (Garmin Alpha) alerted me to my dog, Ruby, pointing a covey about 150 yds away, slightly to the left.  As luck would have it, just across a tight, new barbed wire fence.  Normally, I approach fences in a deliberate manner, searching for low spots, gates, broken top strands, etc. When a dog is pointed on the other side, my thought processes go from thoughtful and deliberate to "get your butt over there!"  I approached the fence, pushed down on the top wire, and swung my left foot over the top. At that point, my shoelace caught the wire as my boot crossed over. I was hung up half-way across!  Attempting to extricate myself, I pulled my boot back over hoping the shoelace would unhook.  (All the while, checking my Alpha to make sure Ruby was still pointed.) the shoelace was stuck fast, wrapped around the barbed wire strand. The situation was this:  I was standing on one leg, holding a shotgun in my left hand, barbed wire fence in my right hand, with my left leg affixed to the fence. And, I began to fall backwards.......  

There are many things a man in my situation could be thinking at this point. I, in my infinite wisdom, was thinking, "I hope Wally isn't seeing this!"  As I began to topple backwards, I raised my left hand to save my old Fox, and gripped the fence tighter with my right to perhaps slow or stop my slide to the rocks under my right foot. I'm still amazed at how fast a body can pick up speed (28 feet per second squared) and how quickly it can stop when it hits Arizona rock! Just as I hit with my vest supplies impacting my lower back, my left foot released and I was sprawled out on my back, left arm up (gun secured), right hand still gripping the fence and stunned. I wanted to laugh, but it hurt.  Just then I heard the covey flush and my hunting partner stay conspicuously silent. 

We never did find the birds, after I managed to cross the fence on the second attempt.  And, much more to my chagrin, my fence crossing abilities were no longer a subject of speculation, but a matter of record. 

Dang, my back hurt. I hate fences. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thought stream of a bird hunter.

Do you listen to yourself in the field?  I've come to realize bird hunting is a constant conversation with myself........

10 minutes in the life of a bird hunter:



She's heading in the right direction. . Can I get over that fence. Where is she Where's the sun Is she in that grass  Boy, my right boot is dirty! This rock is Scorio. Weird name. Like Caliche in New Mexico.  Where is the wind  Where is she  There she is. What time is it? What time is it at home? Where is she? Do I really need to go up that mountain I can go around it. Where is she?  Where's the wind? Grass. Why do cow pies have an indentation in the middle?  My legs burn. I'm thirsty. Where is she? Where's the wind?  The birds should be right over there. Where is the wind? If we go on out and turn left we can come down to the birds upwind.  Where is she?  There she is  She's running easy. My right leg hurts. I hope these boots last rest of the season. Ok, her pager just went off! Straight ahead, 100 yards! There she is Good spot, they should be on the side of that hill. I wish I had four legs to hump this hill like she does.  Wow, she looks good! Pick one bird and shoot at it.  Easy, girl. Easy. Easy. She is swearing to it. Kicking. Kicking. Safety on the top. Where's the wind  What? Gun's on the shoulder -feels good. Pick one bird. Pull the trigger. It's dropping. Where are the other ones? Look up see where they went. Dead bird, dead bird, look in there, dead bird. Give. Good girl! Limit is eight. No way! Come on girl, which way? Where's the wind Where's the sun How much battery is left on her collar? Where's the truck? Wow it's beautiful here. Could I live here? 100 yards, 150 yards, we should get singles.  Where is she? What's for dinner? Where's the sun How much time left today How did she get over there? Am I blacking out?  Did I reload? I guess it's automatic. Man my legs are tired. How far do I walk every day? How far did I walk?  How many feet in a mile? How many steps in a mile? Where is she Chinese sounds good. There is her pager! Here we go! Good girl.  Did she really say I could hunt in December? Sixes big enough for these birds? Or do I just think she said I can hunt in December? Easy girl, easy, easy! Leave it!  Hen. Hen! Good girl. Water? This way, girl. 



And so it goes.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

We sat in the sun, and remembered past Octobers. Ace's last hunt.


(Photo by Nancy Whitehead)
We made a pretty good team, the old boy and me. 

The old dog and I put out on a day that was cool, as the sun was about an hour above the Montana horizon.  This was a special spot.  Last year, he and I moved 16 coveys of Huns and Sharptails in the Alfalfa fields, along the creek and below the hills that rose up out of the creek bottom.  He moved slower now, but still watched me and bounced around, and woofed at me to hurry up.  All he needed was for me to take a step in the direction I wanted to go, and he would move out, nose up, quartering in the wind, searching for the scent of whatever game-bird this particular piece of country had to offer. Ten seasons, almost forty trips, over a hundred thousand miles driven, added up to a wise, old bird dog that had seen and done it all.  

Young boy and a MT Sharpie.


As a young dog, he was blazing fast.  He never out-ran his nose, and he was all business.  In NSTRA trials, he would make an initial cast and loop back around to me as I left the start line.  Many was the time the judge would make the mistake of staying with me, instead of going after the brown blur off the line.  After a minute, with Ace still gone, I would tell him, "You'd better go find him.  If he's not back by now, he's on point."  Sure enough, I'd watch the judge head out and eventually raise his hand, "Point!", he'd yell, and I'd hustle to get to my big Brittany.  Now, he wasn't so fast, but the heart was just as big, the desire to please me just as intense.  

Ace in NE with a pheasant locked down! That incredible nose didn't miss much.


We left the truck, and the howling dogs still in their kennels, and I stepped into the knee-deep alfalfa, watching the old dog work the wind.  It didn't take long before the head came up, the movement became precise and calculated to put that nose right in the middle of the scent cone.  A few minor adjustments and he froze.  The point lacked the quivering intensity of past years and, perhaps, some of the style, but the nose was deadly and the knowledge of how to treat these birds was still spot-on.  A single bird got up, and the old boy watched it fall and put it in my hand.  A stroke on the side of the head, a drink of water, and a "Good boy!" and he was off again, quartering the wind, checking objectives and glancing at me (so quickly, it was hard to catch) to stay in front.  

Here they are, Boss!


After a half-mile of this and another bird in the bag, I gave him a long wail on the whistle to call him in  and we took a break on the top of levee.  We shared some water, and he allowed as to how I was shooting pretty good today.  I accepted the praise gracefully, knowing he's seen quite the opposite many, many times.  I took off my beat-up hat and thanked God for this old dog and the time I was allowed to hunt with him.  We are reminded, in the Book, that life is nothing more than a vapor in strong wind and is over in a flash.  How much stronger is the wind regarding the lives of our hunting dogs! A cruel joke, I think, while I struggle to my feet, leaning on the old double gun as the dog takes off into the wind once more.  

Ace and his last Sharptail.

He slowed up considerably and limped constantly, now. But, he knew where he wanted to go to find the birds.  It pained me to watch him with the swollen elbow and lack of the grace he had in abundance as a younger dog.  Almost to the truck, at the end of the last field, he turned and locked up once again. Breathing hard, I could see he was tiring.  The thought crossed my mind, this might be his last hunt. I quickly discarded that notion, "No.  Surely he has a few years left in him!", and quickly walked to where he showed me the bird was hiding.  The big Sharpie got up and I unloaded both barrels at him, managing to hit him but not knock him down,  He glided down through some trees and in to the field below as I lost sight of him.  Ace watched him, too, and looked back at me before trotting down the hill, through the trees and out in to the next field.  I quickly followed, not willing to be chastised again by the old campaigner for not keeping up.  His nose picked up the scent and he went straight to the bird.  He brought it to me and, this time, he set it on the ground and dropped down next to it.  It was the last bird he would retrieve.  

Last Retrieve- Montana September 2015


He's fading fast now, three weeks later. As I wrote this, he walked into my den and lay down at the foot of my desk.  The drug patch for pain meds is on his side and his one shaved leg and one bandaged leg both a testament to his last day in the hospital.  The doctors called and said there was no hope. I said make him comfortable, I'm coming to take him home.  A cruel joke, indeed.

 NSTRA Champion Julia's Flyboy Ace (Ace)
March 10, 2005- October 7, 2015