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.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Contemplating What's Important....

Randy Schultz's photo.
Watering Cap

So, I'm sitting here browsing through hunting pictures thinking about my last hunt and wondering about driving distance versus hunting time in the field. Then, I started thinking about hunting time in the field versus quality of life. Then, I pondered quality of life versus longevity of life. Finally, I came to the conclusion that to live a long and happy life, I need to go back to New Mexico in January. I love philosophy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blue Quail in New Mexico- Hunting the running Devils! (A Photo Album.)

Cap on a covey. 

Ace has them pinned down.

Watering the hard working dogs! Notice he lost one boot. 
Cap and Zella team up.

Shack is coming in to his own! 

Tracking the covey. 

Nice bird! 

Pearl riding and resting on the way home.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Desert Quail in New Mexico

"Good morning, Mr, Scaled Quail!" Ace isn't so fast anymore. He limps a lot and sleeps a lot. But, he has 10 seasons of pointing birds from Idaho to Florida. Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to preserve even a small amount of that experience and knowledge?

Ace has a covey of Blue Quail pointed. 

Here's a little Scaled Quail track star! 

I've been averaging 6 coveys per day. The cover is good and boots are mandatory to protect the dog's feet from sand spurs. 

Here, Ruby and Pearl model their high fashion new footwear. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Arizona Mearns Quail

I had a great time hunting the Arizona mountains for America's rarest quail. This year, some parts of the high, grassy country got 20" of rain!  Perfect for the grass the Mearns needs. The grassy, savanna the bird requires, spotted with oaks, is very reminiscent of Spain. It's beautiful country and not what I  would expect of Arizona.

Male Mearns Quail. 

These birds hold tight- real tight! They are perfect for young dogs. My two puppies each had several covey points. The birds politely held until I arrived and, after the flush, they flew straight line and didn't go far, at all.  With cool weather, the singles would be easy to pick up. 

My friend Wally and his fine, young Brit, Spirit. 

My puppy, Shack, and the day's take. 

Vince got a true double with his 28 ga.!

I met Vince, who hunts over pointing Labs. He let me tag along on an afternoon cast. His dogs, Fargo and Bullet, worked  close and found 5 coveys for us in the warmth of the afternoon. It's not my cup of tea, but they are fine bird dogs and the results are just as good as the traditional pointing dogs. 

Over all, I'm honored to have been able to hunt this fine bird with these folks. I hunted with a retired Air Force fighter pilot, a retired attorney and s retired collegiate All/American and NFL football player. None were under 70. It was a pleasure. Mearns hunters are a special breed of bird hunter, a little like the dedicated Chukar hunter. It was good to meet a few of them and see their excellent bird dogs in action.  It gives me a picture of my future. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Update:The Garmin Tracking Collar

I reviewed the Garmin Astro 320 and DC-50 collar a while back (  and recommended a BUY.  Since then, prior to my first trip in September, I ordered the Garmin Alpha and two TT-15 collars. 

Before I ordered the unit, I called several friends that use the Alpha.  They gave me their honest opinions, good and bad.  Frankly, there were very few bad comments- but I'll cover them in a bit. 

I've used my units hard for the last several months.  The terrain has been open prairie, thick Wisconsin woods, rolling sand hills in Oklahoma, mixed hardwood bottoms in Nebraska and grassy plains in South Dakota.  Through it all, I never had an issue with my dogs losing contact.  I did have a few 1.5 mile casts involved and several times one of my pups decided to head out 600+ yards. You cannot imagine how good it feels to be able to track a bird dog who gets an occasional boneheaded idea to go exploring! I say that to say my dogs are not the "stay within gun range" type of bird dog.  They are bred to be hard-charging, bird-finding athletes and, for Brittanies, they do an exceptional job.  They put a lot of wear and tear on a unit.  
Pearl with Nebraska Pheasant (B/F/14 mos.)

I was initially concerned about the long, whip antenna on the collar.  In fact, I called Garmin asking about it and if they had any complaints about the antenna cracking or becoming damaged in any way.  I had that happen on one of their older DC-40 collars and it was a bugger to figure out why the range dropped suddenly. You can see in the picture above, the braided steel antenna in relation to the dog.  I've had no problems at all with the mechanical aspect of the collars. I'm glad they put the GPS receiver on the top of the collar, again. (Duh!)  These collars not only use the US GPS system but the Russian Glonass system, as well.  This enables them to lock on faster and stay locked on, the book tells us.  They have a 9 mile range and a "rescue" mode that will drop the updates to the handheld to every 2 minutes (regardless of the setting) if the battery gets below 25% of full charge.  That will extend the battery life to enable you to find your dog.  Also, when the dog goes out of range, a "waypoint" is marked, so you can go to that point and, perhaps, pick him up again.  The collar also has an integral LED beacon light, which might be useful in low light conditions (such as returning from the 4 miles you worked chasing those Chukar right at sunset!).  Of course, it's waterproof unless Fido decides dive deeper than 33 ft. 

Cap (top) and Ruby after a Montana cast for Huns and Sharpies
The handheld is really the heart of the system.  It is a touchscreen.  You can track your dog and it incorporates the Garmin Trashbreaker technology in to it, as well.  The three programmable mechanical buttons at the top of the unit will activated the ecollar. I set mine up as Tone Only, Continuous 2 and Continuous 4.  I use the tone for recall.  You can also program in Vibration as a command which might have an application when you want to be really stealthy.  The system is amazingly versatile and I won't touch on everything.  Here's some Cool Stuff: Put your dogs and your partners dogs on the screen.  Also, put your partner on the screen.  Send him messages (pre-loaded) like "go on with out me" or "HELP".  Comes with a good TOPO map installed and you can load "birdseye" imagery on the screen.  There is a chip holder under the battery that will hold other hunting maps, such as Hunting GPS Maps (  The battery is charged up using a USB port and comes with wall prongs and 12V adapter.  The collars charge the same way through another adapter.  No more disposable batteries.  I've found the collars to last several days and the handheld to last a few days as well.  If you are like me, you will charge them in the truck at the end of the day and have them fully charged the next day.  It's all waterproof. 

OK, now for the "not so good".  This is a touchscreen and it may be glove-friendly, but several times I needed to know what my dog was doing right then and was fumbling with the screen and my gloves trying to change screens.  I ended up pulling my glove off, selecting the screen I wanted, putting the glove back on, etc.  It happened enough to be annoying.  The screen will work with gloves, but without the flexibility you would normally expect.  Another item I think you should be aware of is that the stimulation buttons may change settings by being bumped or having the screen touched inadvertently.  There is a way to Lock the screen (by pressing the power button once- this is how you check the battery level, too!- and selecting the lock icon.) and then you can assure yourself the proper simulations are set.  I got in to the habit of checking visually what the setting was before pressing the stimulation buttons.  Only once, in the hundreds of hours I used the units, could it have been a problem, and I caught it by looking first.  Also, these things are not cheap!  It took me pretty close to $1200 to open the boxes.  

Overall, my recommendation is this is a great unit with tremendous potential.  I do not use it to train.  I have a Tritronics unit for that.  This is a tracking collar with the capability to remind Bowser to pay attention.  And, it removes one more item off his neck!  If this fits your style of hunting, the unit is a great machine- A BUY!  To be honest, I will NOT put one of my dogs on the ground without some type of tracking collar.  This is top-of-the-line.
Shack (B/M/14 mos.) on a NE Pheasant

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How do you dress for hunting?

If your trip consists of days like those above, with mornings in the 30's and afternoons in the 50's, any old bird hunting outfit will do.  Filson, Orvis, etc will gladly sell you some topnotch stuff.  A nice wool sweater over a t-shirt, all under a nice jacket coupled with brier pants or jeans and chaps and some comfortable boots will do the job.  This trip to Oklahoma was just such weather.  The habitat was perfect and the birds were there. (In the picture above, just up the gully to the right, was a huge covey of Bobwhites that we took a few out of.)
Shack and some of the 4 coveys he pointed.

I hunted the puppies, Shack and Pearl, a lot.  It was pretty benign territory with the only downside being the sand spurs.  When they got thick, I booted the dogs and we were good to go! They got a lot of work on big coveys of Bobs and made some really nice points and retrieves.  
Pearl and her first wild Bob.

They both matured a lot in those few days.  Mainly, they biggest challenge for me was keeping them hydrated! The WMA's in OK have plenty of water scattered around for the dogs.  
Cap on a nice covey of Bobs

But, then, we moved to Nebraska for a little pheasant hunting.  As we crossed Kansas, we drove in to an arctic front swinging down from Canada.  The wind shifted, the temp dropped and I began to wonder if I carried enough cold weather clothing!
Pearl with her first pheasant retrieve. 
The next morning, near Norfolk, NE, the temperature was 7 deg. and the wind was howling. The windchill was well below zero.  It was colder than a well-diggers hind end and I was scrambling for clothes. A cotton shirt under a wool shirt under a wool sweater under a windproof coat, was the order of the day.  An Elmer Fudd wool hat and two layers of gloves, windproof/waterproof pants from LLBean, wool socks, good boots and gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots rounded out the ensemble.  And still I was cold!
Pearl and her limit of pheasant! 
My biggest problem was my hands.  I wore silk liners under deerskin leather shooting gloves.  My hands would just not warm up!  The first pointed rooster I shot at laughed all the way to the treeline as I pulled the gun up and, with the gun mismounted due to all the clothing, shot three times.  My dog, Ace, an old hand at this, was not amused at all!  But, my hands did warm up and I did adjust my gun mount to clothing and we did manage to take our limit.  My recommendation for cold hands is to buy the chemical heating pads that are commercially available and insert them in the glove. I tried putting them in my palm and that worked fine.  Then I put them on the top of my hand, between the layers of gloves, resting just behind the knuckles.  That location seemed to work best for me.  You get 10 hours of heat out of them and they should help cure the cold hands syndrome. 

Another thing I learned is this: don't leave home without warm hunting gear, regardless of the weather where you live! I really was lucky in that I keep appropriate gear stowed in The Beast for just such an eventuality.  It sure beats an emergency trip to Wally World! 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

There's one in every town.

No matter where you hunt in the West, head to Main St. for breakfast.

Here, in Woodward, OK, the temptation was great to turn south to Wally World and the strip fast food joints. Old town was north and the Beast knew the way. A local cafe is the best breakfast with the most news and is way more fitting to a bird hunting trip. Pull-in parking, booths and a counter with swivel seats, waitresses ('servers taking care of me' need not apply) that have  coffee on the table almost before I get comfy.  She's fast and has no time for "California ordering". Lots of ball caps and old men discussing crops or the football team or politics. 

This is flyover country. Mocked, sneered at (sometimes with a mouth full of food- ironic!), not worth thinking about to many.  This is the oil patch and cattle country. There are lots of hardworking men driving big trucks and cussing  and knocking dust off their jeans before they come in. 

While last year's Miss Oklahoma explains the weather on the TV, conversation is varied and lively as the coffee kicks in. 

I do like the old Cafe. It's survival is assured, as long as there are working men and women in small towns. It's part of the fabric of our country. 
May I recommend the "Thunder Omelette' with daily-made, fresh salsa! 

I'm off to chase Mr. Bob. First up is my main man, Ace. His co-star this morning will be my puppy, Shack. Stay tuned!  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

South Dakota 2014 Opener, Or: Road Hunters, It's a Family Tradition!

The Grasslands
At the last minute, I loaded up my Jones trailer, which can hold everything I own, hooked it up to the back of the Beast and headed out to Pierre, SD for Opening Day of pheasant season.  I know there are  hunting rituals all over the country- deer opener, grouse opener, and, for the masochistic maniacs, the Chukar Opener.  But, the pheasant Opener in South Dakota is a BIG DEAL.  I found that out when I called to ask about a room at any motel I could find.  The Super 8 in Pierre had rooms and was reasonably priced.  The all-pavement, parking location left something to be desired when dealing with 6 dogs, but, after all, this was a last minute thing. 
Dennis, Rick and me
We arrived Friday (Opener was Saturday) and quickly headed to the National Grasslands south of Pierre to search for Sharptail Grouse and Prairie Chickens.  It's a vast, undulating sea of grass.  The birds are there, but, today so were the hunters.  In fact, we saw several outfits of hunters camping in the Grasslands- who knows how long they'd been there? By the time we arrived, our areas had been hunted several times, I'm sure.  We did get close to a Prairie rattler coming out of a Prairie Dog hole, but that's about all the wildlife we saw that day.
Ace, Cap, Shack Looking for a Cackling Pheasant
The next day, we got up early and headed out of town to some Hunter Walk-in Areas.  We found a few likely areas, parked and proceeded to spend 2 hours waiting for the noon opening time to hunt pheasant.  (After the first week, it changes to 10am for the rest of the season.)  Our chosen area was snuggled in between two huge fields of standing corn.  The day would warm up fast, so we knew the birds would probably stay in the corn all day- there was no reason for the birds to go back in to the CRP grass where we could hunt them. But, we managed to find a few stupid ones still in the grass and we had some success.  In fact, we also saw Prairie Chickens in the same CRP field.
Shack and his first pheasant pointed and retrieved! 
Over the next two days, we jumped around some and ended up on some private land over near Okaton (west of Pierre). We saw a lot more action as the dogs spent some time chasing the ditch chickens and got the idea of how to hold them.  Shack, above, went in some tall grass and his Alpha beeped me.  He was pointed!  I took a few steps and several roosters came out of the tall grass.  Most of them made it to safety.  One dropped back in the grass and I yelled, "Dead bird, Shack!"  I still couldn't see him for the tall grass, but just a few seconds later, he came bounding out of the tall grass with a rooster in is mouth.  It was beating him with wings and trying to spur him.  He sprinted to me and handed the bird over. Then, he headed back out to the grass and more birds. He will be a good one. 
Ace, my main dog, took to a long ditch full of cattails.  He and a Lab hunted up and down along the sides and pushed in to the center a few times.  After about 10 minutes, I noticed the noise stopped from his pushing around in the brush.  Then, I heard the pager from my Garmin Alpha (don't leave home without it!) and checked the direction and range.  I made it to him, pointed into some of the thickest stuff yet.  He was locked solidly with the countenance I know from almost ten years of hunting over him. There was a bird....right there! I kicked and stomped and got nothing, but Ace was staunch, swearing to it.  I kicked and stomped some more and the cattails moved off to Ace's left and finally 2 roosters took off for the standing corn.  I dropped one solidly and Ace took off for the retrieve.  

Ace and Ditch Rooster
He's an old pro and not much gets away from him, anymore.

You know, I hunt all over the country.  And I meet hunters and farmers and just plain folks.  By and large, I enjoy them.  Usually, they live a long ways from anywhere and they are resourceful, independent, honest and a pleasure to be around.  Almost always....

Shack and Rick and I were working a CRP field that bordered a gravel road.  It was about an hour before dark.  Across the road was standing corn.  Most pheasant hunters will see the ideal setup to trap a few roosters in the CRP.  We were working into the wind, as well (what a concept! It seems we are always hunting with the wind up our backs.).  All the planets seemed to have aligned! Shack just found his first bird and made a fantastic retrieve and were were edging down the field anticipating more action ahead of us, along the road. A truck came down the gravel road and passed us.  He got maybe 1/3 mile past us and stomped on the brakes, slid to a stop, and all four doors opened and four individuals with shotguns jumped out, ran in to the CRP field and started shooting! Birds flew and dropped and people ran to pick them up, got in the truck and drove off.  I was a bit chagrined! I mentioned it to my hunting partner and we agreed they were a bunch of jerks.  We kept working the same direction, letting the dog work.  About 10 minutes later, it happened again!  Different truck, same place.  The birds must have been crossing from the corn to the CRP right there. I was, by now, amazed at the lack of ethical behavior by these ....hunters!  We turned back to the truck and talked about other things.
Long Walk to the Truck
A short, but great trip for learning and busting up pheasant.  To drive a day and a half, hunt 3 and half days, then drive a day and a half home, is tough on this old body, anymore. I enjoyed Pierre thoroughly.  The Grasslands need some study, but they are impressive! The public land hunting is adequate, but very crowded on opening weekend.  I think the better time to hit the roosters would be in November or even December.  Don't worry about numbers going down, hunters cannot harvest enough to make significant reduction.  What previous hunters will do, however, is make the birds smarter and more wary....but that's why they call it hunting!