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!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Snake Aversion Training- Cheap Insurance

Timber Rattler (Range throughout GA)
Snake Aversion Training, also known as Snake Broke, is mandatory for my dogs.  We hunt Montana in September and usually see several Prairie Rattlers every year.  Then the weather cools for Wyoming, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Arizona, New Mexico and snakes aren't so much a factor.  However, January in New Mexico can have some pretty warm days and the Prairie Rattlers will come out of their holes to sun.  At least they are a little sluggish that time of year.  Snake Aversion Training is another tool in the box to keep our dogs safe when operating in snake habitat.  Along with the training, I give my dogs the Red Rocks Biologics snake vaccine with a booster every year.  Veterinarians in the West seem to be divided as to the efficacy of the vaccine.  However, I've decided in favor of using it, based on subjective stories from guys whose dogs have been struck by venomous snakes.  They think the recovery was shorter and the damage less after giving the vaccine.  My question is:  How would they know? That aside,  I've chosen to use it.  

Likely Candidate and her Lab
We hired a professional in the local area.  He is a certified reptile rescuer with the Georgia DNR. He travelled to Arizona one year to learn the technique from a Western Snake guy.  I have no doubt his method works, I've had occasion to see it in action.  Three years ago, in Montana on a hot day, I was hunting Pearl, my youngest female Brittany.  As usual, we were moving through the grass looking for Sharptails and Hungarian Partridge (Huns).  Pearl had just come in for some water and was moving away from me at an angle.  She made a quick move to the left then right and continued on her way.  As I approached the spot, I was still pondering the move, wondering what caused it- just as I stepped over a 5' Prairie Rattler! These dogs aren't taught to find snakes.  Like the name says, they are taught to avoid snakes.  Pearl did just that.  She was just over a year old at the time. 

The empty crate.  Not all crates have snakes- some do. You need to smell them. 
After a quick explanation of the routine, I ran my 4 Brits through the course.  This was a refresher for them.  I was pleased to find that they knew what to do.  They remembered their training from 3 years ago.  I couldn't get any of my dogs close enough to the snakes to warrant a correction.  Reinforcement was what I was looking for, and peace of mind for me.  God only knows how many snakes they avoid up in Montana every September. 
Correction to a dog that was inquisitive about the Timber Rattler.
After the dog shows he understands that snakes are to be avoided, a Rat Snake is released in the grass.  The handler is told to walk close to the snake and not to alert (simulating not seeing the snake).   This is the graduation to see if the dog really "got it".  Successful completion will have the dog avoiding the snake by a large margin- just like my little girl did in Montana a few years ago.
Completed Course.  Rescue dog a little more prepared.
This aversion training works.  It's more than just shocking a dog after finding a few snakes.  I most highly recommend the training from a qualified, experienced specialist.  After all is said and done, it won't make the dog bite proof, but it may be that one extra thing that saves his life.

Jason Clark's company.  Located between Atlanta and Macon, GA

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Watson and Ruby Puppies at 5 weeks

bird dogs and bird hunting
The 6 Boys

bird dogs and bird hunting
The 5 Girls

bird dogs and bird hunting
Fun picture of the Girls

This is shameless bragging and showing baby pictures! This litter was whelped 8 June 2017. Ruby did a great job with 11 pups!  All lived and are thriving.  We are at 5.5 weeks now, and they are close to being totally weaned.  Personalities are developing rapidly as I watch closely to pick a male from the group.  All these pups are sold, at this point.  The potential is there for them to be excellent field trial and hunting dogs. There were a few times I shook my head and thought, "What were you thinking?", but, overall, these critters are worth the effort. 

Many hunters and dog men from the past recommend getting a new pup when your youngest dog is 5 years old.  It is sound advice.  I'm only about 6 months early. This boy will take me well into my 70's.  I'm already looking forward to putting into him everything I've learned about training bird dogs! Even better, I know, without a doubt, I've improved the breed with this letter, as well. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Off Season Fun- Don't Let Them Forget and Get Fat

Pearl has a covey of Huns locked!
Montana Sharptails

Georgia NSTRA 2016 State Champion- Ruby
Top 4 2016 GA NSTRA

Hunting and Field Trialing your bird dog in the Fall is a payoff for what you do in the heat of the summer.  Too many times we let our best hunting buddy lie around the house, or kennel, soaking up the sunshine (or the biscuits) and figure it's time off and a reward for great hunt last year.  While that may be true, these animals are working animals, with the emphasis on "working".  

Once they are out of shape, it is such a pain to get them hunt ready.  I can remember, one year, when the opening day in South Dakota pheasant, dawned clear and hot.  The temperature made it to over 90 degrees that day, where we hunted! I was near Pierre, SD, and I remember taking great pains to ensure the dogs were in the shade and had plenty of cool, clean water.  Later, it was on the news, one hundred dogs around the state, a majority Labradors, died due to heat stroke! (  So, one of the things I concentrate on in the summer is conditioning and nutrition.  

Keeping them cool!

To keep them from bulking up over the summer I make sure every week to road my guys a few miles at least twice per week.  To make it a little more fun, I'll road two and let two run free. The run-free guys will follow or forge ahead, as suits them.  On hot days, we'll stop near my neighbor's lake and take the path through the woods to a little, cooling off swim. Some days I'll go with them, some I'll just wait at the 4-wheeler and watch the ripples on the lake as they splash into the water, swim around and return.  Usually that, coupled with reduced summer rations, will keep the pack from getting fat.  To reduce the food, I will feed only dry food (Royal Canin- Medium, or Victor Performance) and adjust it downward a little.  The exact amount is based on numerous factors, but I always start at the recommended amount on the package and go up or down depending on the individual dog. 
Cap backing Ace in Montana- Sharptails
Rather than go through the entire litany of training events, I keep the training to the 'skill' events. Backing, retrieving (water and land), and some obedience training.  Just like us, they tend to get rusty, and even lazy, after a while.   So, I will work one dog (or two dogs together) through backing drills and retrieving some shot birds or bumpers.  I will work on "whoa", "leave it", "here", "fetch", etc.  I'll try to keep it fun, short, and pleasant.  I know each dog, so well, that I can tell when they are tired, etc.  Rather than force them through a lesson, in the summer I will end on a positive note and head back to the barn. 
Ace with a Sharptail

Don't let them get soft and lazy, and, when September rolls around, and Montana opens up, it might be a good time to load up the F250, hook up the camper, kiss the wife and head out for some early season Sharptails and Huns.   Or, have the best conditioned dog at the early season field trial!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Totally Random Thought

The Oak

On the east side of my house, a huge oak tree stands sentinel. Hundreds of years old, it looks like the "Tree of Life" one sees portrayed in pictures and on t-shirts. It is strong, vast, perfect in shape- beautiful. I'm of the habit, in the warmer months, to read and study scripture on my deck in the morning. Usually, I'll be outside well before sunrise, coffee in hand, study materials on hand (my electronic pad). 

The natural order and rhythms of life around the farm will start before first light. Slow chirping of the birds, far off crows from the rooster down the road, then nearer chirping and warbling, barking from the dogs and buzzing from the Hummingbirds as they fight aerial duels for the nectar set out by my wife. The entire cacophony rises and swells as the sun peeks over the horizon into the outstretched arms of the old oak. I don't know what kind of oak it is. I know it's not a Live Oak. It may be a Pin Oak. Somehow, to become too familiar with it, to delve into its genetics and dendrology, would be sort of impolite. Not that I would think it needed to be "asked". No, it is not the Creator, nor is it "The Mother". It is part of the Creation. Although it is majestic, solid, protective, growing, alive, it is nothing more than a tree- a plant. 

The Oak

What the old, oak tree does is protect me and my house from the first rays of the sun. Garish, harsh and brilliant, the sun jumps up in the morning and declares the world "Open for Business"! It's hard not to smile when the sun appears. Perhaps rooted in man's basic fear that it might, just maybe, not rise one day, I feel joy in the morning greeting the sun. But, I'm not totally ready for the blast of honesty and truth revealed by the sunlight. The old oak tempers that assault and lets me adjust gradually to the new day. 

Eventually, the rooster crow fades, the birds calm, the dogs curl up and the sun rises above the oak. The day gets on with life. The oak grows one day stronger, bigger, more protective of me and my family- and closer to death. The old sentinel grows seemingly wiser, having seen another morning on the rise on the east side of my house.