Thursday, May 27, 2010
Above is the entire team sponsored by Rancho Caracol in Mexico. To the right is the award for our second place finish. The team is Kieth McDill, Jared Roberts, Donald Roberts, and Randy Schultz. The guy who drafted us and set all this up is David Healan, of Rancho Caracol, Mexico.
A special Thank You to Rancho Caracol, a wild dove and quail wing shooting plantation in Mexico, an Orvis endorsed plantation!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Bo was already ten years old when I turned him out in Wisconsin one fine September morning.......
Dances with Wolves
Of the many species of grouse, the Ruffed Grouse is king. They are, arguably, the most difficult to even get in a position to shoot. Then, based on my amateur calculations, you have about a half second after the flush to get a load of shot on the way! With their range throughout the country, the best hunting, to my mind, is in Wisconsin. The populations are large, the terrain is flat and the available hunting land is plentiful and managed for grouse. I've been a guest of the Northwoods for close to 15 years, now. Every October, definitely, and every September, if I can, I load up the dogs for the annual trek to match wits with the finest game bird on the planet. A good, experienced grouse dog is a rare thing indeed. When I first began hunting in north central Wisconsin, I had Rocket, a Brittany male, and Ruby, a setter female. Both were dead broke dogs and took to the thick cover and trails of the Chequamegon National Forest with ease. They always checked in, never disappeared, rarely busted up the birds and were a real pleasure to hunt behind. Over the years, those dogs passed on and my follow on dogs were led by Julia’s Bocephus (Bo). Bo was a Southern Quail Dog, bred and trained to "get on out there", locate coveys of quail and hold on them until I got there to flush and shoot. That kind of hunting is diametrically opposed to what a dog needed to do in Wisconsin. If a dog gets 50 yards from the hunter in the Wisconsin grouse woods (considered way too close for a quail dog), he was lost and of no use to a grouse hunter- the cover was simply too thick and the birds too skittish and too quick to flush. Bo managed to do the job, but I was never at ease with him, even though I used a beeper collar to keep track of him and alert me to when he was on point. I used to dread watching him head down into an alder swamp- and sure enough, his beeper would go off and I'd bust through the brush and muck to get to him in time before the bird flushed. Many was the time, I would push my way through alders and briers and hemlock and fir trees for 50-60 yards and finally see Bo standing rock solid on point; only to hear the roar of the grouse wings just yards away and maybe get a glimpse of the gray ghost through the trees. I tried for years to get Bo back into a comfortable grouse range, but I had trouble with the idea of really bearing down on him to get him to alter his basic range. I know some dogs that will adjust automatically- I owned one, my setter, Ruby for one- and they are such a pleasure. But, I have what I have and Bo and I came to a mutual understanding. He would work as close as he could, but I'd have to accept a little more effort on my part in the woods.
The limit to how many grouse can be harvested in one day is very liberal in Wisconsin. On a good year, a sojourn through the woods could get you numerous flushes in front, either side, or sometimes behind you; I counted those flushes but would not shoot. I made it a policy to not shoot at a bird unless it was over my pointed dog. (I know, I'm an idiot, my friends tell me.) Getting a limit was never the goal. Working with my dogs to get that perfect series of point, flush, shot and retrieve was the goal, and when I got several of those events in one day, I was completely satisfied. However, Bo and I did happen to bump into the limit one time.
Not many years ago, when Bo had some age on him and his legs started getting a little heavier, he stayed a lot closer. We were hitting trails we'd never seen before and exploring a little. One trail I remember in particular. A little northeast of Phillips, WI, we discovered a little dashed line on the map and put out to take a look. Bo worked out about thirty yards on either side of the trail that morning. I remember watching him and recalling other times and other trails and CRP fields- daydreaming on the pleasant walk through the forest. (Some days, when the sun is beating down on a warm September day, grouse hunting consists of a pleasant, thoughtful saunter in the forest interrupted, occasionally, by a roaring freight train as a grouse flushes three feet from your ear!) My thoughts were broken by his beeper of to my left. This time I could actually see him when I looked through the alders and pines! He rarely false pointed, so I got excited when I moved quickly off the trail to a spot 10 yards in front of him. Two grouse blew out of the leafy, green grass and headed to Mexico. My old Fox 20 ga. hit my shoulder and I dropped the one to the left and Bo took off after it. Right at that instant, 4 more birds flushed in a roar of wings to my right! I swung, saw the closest gray blur and let loose my second, and last, load of 7 1/2's. The bird flew behind a fir tree just as I shot, but I cocked an ear and was rewarded with a dull thud as I heard the dead bird hit the forest floor. Amazing! Six grouse on one point! Bo brought the first bird back and I sent him for the second one. He located it with no help from me and put it in my hand. What a great start to the day! We managed to bag another single a little further up the old railroad bed. Further on, I heard the noise from heavy machinery as we approached the old logging road where I was parked. I discovered that my little "two track" was being widened by the Forest Service. We popped out of the woods right in front of the biggest bulldozer I've ever seen! Bo and I were both impressed. The driver must have been impressed with us, too, because he cut the engine and climbed down to chat. Wonderful, friendly people are up there in Wisconsin and he was no exception. While we talked, I was in the middle of describing the six bird find Bo had earlier, when I noticed a curious look on his face as he glanced over my shoulder. "You might want to take a look at your dog!" he said and pointed behind me. There was Bo, standing on the dirt berm thrown in to the woods by that monster machine. He was on point! I whispered, "Gotta go" and jogged over to Bo, up the berm and down the other side- right into a flushing bird! Four birds in the bag on one trail. That is a good day! On the way to the truck, perhaps a mile down the newly widened road, I found one more and we had our limit. I hunt alone a lot, but this is one time I really wanted to have a hunting partner so I could gloat a little bit. So, in lieu of that, the Old Knucklehead and I sat in the ferns by the truck and had a little love fest. I told him how good he was and he allowed as to how I was trainable.
Last year, I was introducing some friends to the Northwoods. I would point to a trail head for them to hunt in the morning, tell them where I was going to be, wish them luck and agree to meet for lunch, or, failing that, dinner back at the motel. As luck would have it, the warm fall day started turning dark a little early, and it was almost black by noon. The rain started as a sprinkle and then gradually got worse. We put out on a trail that produced a lot of birds over the years. I was the only one on it and I determined that a little rain wasn't going to interfere with a grouse hunt. I did swap my guns out, though, and the little Fox went back into the case, replaced by a 20-ga. SKB Model 100, I used for weather like this. Bo and I started down the trail with him running ahead to veer off to one side. And that was that. He was gone. I walked and whistled and listened for his beeper for about an hour. The rain was heavy at times but merely a downpour at others. He could have been 20 yards out in the thick growth, on point, and I would not have heard or seen him. Finally, I returned to the truck, dried off, cleaned, dried and oiled and cased the gun, put on some dry clothes and headed out to find my dog. The trail was about 3 miles long-6 miles out and back. It was getting darker now and I was getting a little more concerned about the old boy. The good thing was the temperature was quite warm-in the 60's. If he did have to spend the night in the woods, I was sure he would be able find a dry spot and stay warm.
Walking, whistling, listening and bouncing between anger and concern as I walked down the trail, I rounded a bend as the trail dropped off sharply. I stood for a minute listening and staring down the trail. Suddenly, a big, gray shape stepped out on the trail about 50 yards away. He was looking down the trail, away from me. After a second or two, I recognized him as a Gray Wolf. Instantly, I realized he and I were looking for the same thing. I was looking for my old bird hunting companion. This big, gray boy was looking for dinner, and it downright pissed me off! "Hey" I yelled, "Get out of here!" (Or words to that effect and edited for content.) I expected him to jump and run like the coyotes I'd encountered numerous times out West. His reaction was quite a bit different than I anticipated. That huge, majestic canine slowly turned his head to the right and looked me right in the eye. Then, he slowly turned back to the left and trotted down the center of the trail without so much as backward glance. Even now, I'm impressed with him. He was huge-easily three times the size of my bird dogs, which would make him over 100 pounds! And as he trotted off, in the direction of my lost dog, he more glided that ran. Just then, I came to the realization that I was completely unarmed! It was one of the few times in my life I really did want a gun in my hands-and it was resting, dry and well oiled, in my truck over a mile away. Not thinking all that clearly and remembering the literature I'd read about wolves not bothering humans (yeah, except for the thousands of years of history and stories about wolves devouring little kids and old men ... the big, bad, wolf, and on and on ....) I pressed on down the trail calling and keeping a careful eye behind me. An hour or more later, at the end of the trail, I turned and headed back to the truck. Concern now was for my ability to make it back before dark. I picked up the pace. Head down in the rain and moving along pretty quick, I rounded a bend and there he was. A 35 pound bundle of shaking, wet Setter! I'm not sure who was happier to see the other, but I got down on my knees and hugged that mutt and thanked Jesus for the one more time he answered my prayers. We didn't stay long on that trail in the rain, and I put him on a lead and headed out. He was so tired he tried to lay down a few times and, finally, I had to pick him up and throw him over my shoulders. We needed to get out of those woods-now! The sun was long gone behind thick clouds and darkness was settling in. The GPS said we had more than a mile of up and down to go. I remembered that song from the '60's-"He ain't heavy, he's my brother...." as I carried him up and down hills, slipping on the up slope with rain dripping down my neck and wet dog scent in my nose. Song or not, don’t believe it, he got heavy as this old man got close to the road. I put him down and we finished side by side-both of us limping and panting hard. Back at the motel, I checked the old campaigner over for cuts, bruises and ticks. It was then I noticed blood on my hands when I ran them over his haunches. I turned him around and gave him a closer inspection. On his right rear leg, just below the tail, was the perfectly round hole of a canine tooth! Bo wasn’t talking, but to this day I think he encountered my big, gray friend, too. I think we were being watched during our little reunion on the trail, in the rain, in the Wisconsin grouse woods.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
To all my hunting and bird dog friends: How many folks do you know that have the bird dogs, money and time to hunt, but are really a little apprehensive about making that first foray into the "wild"? Pen-raised birds on a plantation are much more predictable, no doubt. But, so is flying a Cessna 150 on a nice day- compared to launching a fully loaded Navy Attack jet off the front end of an Aircraft Carrier in the North Atlantic at night in a gale! Both are flying an airplane, but one is REALLY flying! Or driving the family truckster, compared to a NASCAR ride around Atlanta Motor Speedway. Both are driving, but one is DRIVING! How do we get people INTO the field? Would you or anyone you know like to know the "ins and outs" of taking your hunting dog hunting? How about a get together to talk about logistics, navigation, electronics, dog care and all the cool stuff. All designed to let you feel better about taking your bird dog into the field. After all, "paws on the ground and birds in the bag" are what it's all about- right?
Friday, May 21, 2010
Only one male is not spoken for. Not sure which actual puppy that will be at this point. They are all great looking liver and white pups. Fat and very happy! Ace (grandson of Nolan's Last bullet), the daddy did good in this litter. I will keep one male and one other one is spoken for. The remaining male is available. I'm not trying too hard right now, since I'll keep him, too, if no one steps forward. I would love to keep all of them. They'll have a life of hunting around the country- what's not to like about that! 770-584-5085.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Bocephus made his mark trialing, but he was first, foremost and always, a bird dog. Intense, determined, smart and driven to find birds, he could be a handful at times. Just keeping track of him was problematic some days. I’ve seen him get birdy and follow scent for half a mile before finally locking down- “Here they are, boss!” Normally, I would teach my dogs to keep me in sight and hunt for me. Bo pretty much considered that backwards- I was there to shoot for him. First, many times, I had to find him to do my job. It gave the term “hunting dog” new meaning. That’s what I was doing some days- just hunting for my dog. He could disappear off a trail in Wisconsin in the blink of an eye. I would be sure he was just around the corner and I would hear his beeper soon. Thirty agonizing minutes later, I’d hear the faintest sound of his beeper- either on point or returning through the forest. Usually, he’d show up, admonish me for getting lost and warn me to keep up. The grouse woods were the worst. Thick and vast, a dog that liked to “get out there” would disappear fast. Every year, I would see posters for lost dogs at the local vet and hung in the entrance at local cafes and bars. I also heard of many happy endings, but, many times, only a collar and fur would be found. The grouse woods are no place for an untrained dog. Bo, on the other hand, was far from untrained. To his mind, scent meant birds and when he hit scent it was time to find the birds- no matter where or how far. Bo’s bullfight didn’t occur in the woods of Wisconsin or Minnesota, but in the rolling hills of Nebraska- a place I thought, for sure, I’d be able to keep him in sight.
We put out on public land. It was nine in the morning and the day was cold, clear and the sky was crystal blue with a heavy frost on the ground. This was day one of a two week odyssey. Since he had seniority, I slipped Bo out of the kennel and notched the beeper around his neck. We had a little talk about staying in sight and he jumped off the tailgate to find some birds. We started down a brushy draw looking for some local pheasant. I’d heard some cackling that morning and knew some birds were in the vicinity. I watched the bonehead work brush along the cornfields, along a tree claim and over a small rise. Suddenly, his beeper went off and I hustled over the hill to find him locked down tight in some tall grass by a small stand of thick brush. The gun was loaded for pheasant when huge covey of quail blew out of there! I dropped one, but the 4’s I had in there for pheasant pretty much made a mess of the poor thing. It was shaping up to be fine day, though. Bo made a good retrieve to hand and we gathered our wits and headed out again. “Good job, old boy!” I thought as I watched that setter tail go over the next rise. And that was the last time I saw him.
As I crested the rise, I saw that the obvious route for him would be down to a small creek bed. It turned in to a ditch, then gully, and finally a pretty deep gorge. I called and whistled and listened for his beeper- nothing. I waited about an hour in the general area. Finally, I headed back to the truck to get another dog. I covered the area several times and worked a mile in every direction throughout the day. No dog, no tracks. Nothing. I wasn’t panicked at that point- I’d seen this act before. We headed for the truck and started driving the roads in the likely direction of travel. I talked to farmers and other hunters. We swapped cell numbers and war stories about lost dogs and they promised to look out for Bo. I got stuck in the mud pretty bad one time and spent hours working to get back on the gravel road. Finally, a tractor as big as a barn showed up and pulled me on to the dry land. It seems he watched me for a while from his barn, until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He had to come down and help the flatlander get moving again! (This was only one of the many times I’ve depended on the largesse of a farmer with a huge tractor.) By now, it was getting late. The last time I saw Bo, it was nine forty five in the morning. It was now five forty five p.m. and getting dark fast. The temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up and I was beginning to go from concerned to really worried. The nights up there can be really bad, especially for a shaggy eared mutt from Georgia with no place to get warm. I drove the roads in the area one more time, hoping to see tracks crossing. I stopped every hundred yards and blew the whistle and listened for the beeper. Nothing. Finally, I turned the truck toward the nearest small town and slowly headed for a local motel. I crested a rise and my cell phone rang. My poor wife yelled “Hey, they found Bo!” “Where?” I yelled back. “I don’t know, but here’s the guy's number.” I pulled to the side of the road, wrote it down and called the number. Sure enough, the young man that answered had Bo. He gave me directions to his place- seven miles away! We kicked the diesel into gear and made good time to the barn and my wayward dog. When we pulled up, the knothead was on the back of a young man’s truck drinking water from a jug. I thanked him profusely while checking Bo over for cuts, scratches or wounds. He was in good shape, so I loaded him in to his dog box and went back to talk to the farmer and thank him again.
The young man explained that he only checks his cows a few times during the week and he was lucky today was one of those days. When he drove up to the barn, there was a ruckus going on inside. He opened the door and saw a bunch of dust flying around the bull’s pen. His huge bull had a dog cornered in the pen and was about one minute away from smashing that white setter in to the dirt. The farmer grabbed a shock stick, backed the bull off, grabbed the dog by the collar and pulled him out of there. It was a near thing, he explained. His bull is a mean, nasty boy when he’s around his cows. It was fortunate he was able to get there in time. Once more, I thanked him for his consideration and we drove out of there. And, once again, I was thankful for the generosity of the American Farmer.
I figured the old dog probably followed the creek, looking for water, for the entire seven or eight miles. It was so cold, the creek was frozen the entire way. Finally, he came upon the barn and the tanks for the cows. As Bo and I chatted about the event, he related as to how I got lost and he went looking for me for a few hours. Finally, he got so thirsty; he went down in to the creek bed and followed it for a bit (!) until he came upon the stock tanks. He was in the tank working on his third lap when some rude, cranky, mean old slab of overgrown hamburger took offense at his joining the party! He allowed as how he was willing to let all this go and be on his way, but a few choice words were tossed about, and Bo said he may or may not have made a few comments as to what the bull’s momma may or may not have done. Well, that was that- the fight was on. Bo told me he was giving as good he got- the bull was mean and big, but Bo was fast, smart and wiry. In fact, Bo was little miffed at the farmer because, “I had that stupid piece of hamburger right where I wanted him, boss- overconfident and right in front of me! I was in the process of telling him I was going to whip his ample butt six ways from midnight and then go service all his cows, when the farmer came in and rescued him! If you ask me, it was that bull’s lucky day.”
Well, now I had a small problem. Who was I going to believe; my best bird dog or the lying eyes of some farmer? The choice was obvious: It was that bull’s lucky day.
On occasion, I have the opportunity to introduce young people to hunting. Of course, at my age, most hunters are young people. But, I wonder if we need to take a more active roll in leading men and women in to the field? Then, the next question I ask myself is, "What is it they need to know to safely and successfully enter the food chain on a dynamic level- that is, harvesting their own game with their dog?" Hey, I used to think everyone knew to carry a compass, a map, matches (at least)- not everyone does. Without someone to tell the novice what to do (or suggest it), most folks will feel overwhelmed, I think. In fact, it's kind of scary out there wandering around looking for quail in the NM desert, WI deep woods, OK brush, SD wheat-fields, etc. If I was a new guy and a little apprehensive about taking my dog out in the first place, and now I had to drive 600 miles and live in a motel, too, I think I'd stay home. Unfortunately, all too many wannabe hunters are doing just that- staying home with perfectly good dogs and money to spend. We are in danger of turning our passion into an elitist activity, enjoyed by a few. That, my good friends, will be the death of our sport. We will be overwhelmed by the PETA's and HSUS's in this fine country of ours. We will be marginalized and legislated out of the woods and fields. SO.....what do we do? My plan is .......well, I'm not sure what that plan is right now. But, it's taking shape with the help of my able HA (hunting assistant, as Glen calls himself. Glen is the last guy I took out for a spin. Now he's got one of my dogs and he's "just sorry" like me during hunting season). I should have a plan soon. What do you think?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
My policy is to have all my valuable dogs chipped- period! As I travel around the country and talk to vets, I always ask them about the microchip technology. It is extremely common around the country now for vets to have the technology to scan for chips. It's even more common for Humane Shelters to have the equipment. My vet today said, as I was getting Ruby chipped at 10 weeks old, the biggest problem is the owner not keeping the contact information up to date. Dudes, the chip won't track YOU down (lol)! My wife asked if this was a gps chip that would track the dog? Actually, I told her, those are probably not far off as an implanted chip- not a bad idea. I use the Home Again chip. I haven't actually lost a chipped dog yet, but they seem to have their ducks all in a row, at this point. I do know that I would leave the implanting to the vet, but that's just me. Most highly recommended!
Sunday, May 2, 2010
My feet are finally up and the Braves are still hangin' on to a one run lead! A few hours from now it's back to the choir and my buddies in the "off key Bass" section of Rock Springs choir. Right now it's time to check for "light leaks" behind these eyelids..........