Saturday, December 22, 2018

Reaching for the Slam

Southern AZ Mearns Country
Each time I load up and head to Arizona, I'm already smiling.  It's a hard two days, sometimes two and a half days, to get to Tucson, but the country is so stark and honest, I think it's beautiful. This December (2018) was no exception.  I dragged my camper to NM and dropped it with a friend who kindly put in hookups near his barn.  Since it was raining hard in Mearns country, I stayed for a few days and hunted Blue (Scaled) Quail.  

New Mexico never disappoints.  Good years, bad years, cold years, hot years, it's what you expect.  Over the years, I've been rained on, hailed on, snowed on, blown over, sunburned, frozen, and everything in between- that's New Mexico! The birds are just as hardy. Having a drought?  OK, the covey sizes are small...but, there still are coveys.  Having a banner year?  OK, you can walk in any direction, and you will find a covey within 200 yards.  Blues are fast, tough, and will run like the wind until you force them to fly. Many bird hunters will not hunt them, because they don't typically hold like a bobwhite. I think they are missing out.  It takes some thinking, scheming, and good dog work to really be successful.  Although, I know several guys that hunt them without dogs and do quite well.  
Blue (Scaled) Quail
Pearl and I put out at a place I call "Quail Valley" from past years hunting the area. Right away, she was birdy, running through the mesquite with purpose, nose on the ground, then, nose up in the air.  She kept working up to the side of the bowl shaped depression, and I kept trying to get her back down in the grass, where there was at least some cover for the birds.  There weren't going to be any birds up on the sides where the cover was very sparse.  Mumbling under my breath, I was marching through the sand, when she locked up about 50 yards from me.  I picked up the pace, by now, and swung around her by 10 yards, aiming for a point 20-30 yards in front.  A single popped up and headed for safety, but the Ithaca Model 100 SKB 20 ga. dropped him easily.  Pearl  made a nice retrieve to hand and she headed out again along the side of the bowl. I was marveling at how these birds can disappear in almost NO cover, when one flushed from almost underfoot and sped away.  Then, I understood, I we were in the midst of a feeding covey. Pearl pointed again- another single in the bag.  Once more she pointed, and the single blasted away, but a double from behind her went the other direction.  I dropped the single and swung on the double, but it was a sucker shot since I had to swing almost 180 degrees to even find the retreating gray blurs.  

Pearl and 3 of her 4 Blues that cast.
We eventually moved out of that covey and started working back to the truck. As I called her to me and took the picture, I noticed she kept looking to her left as I was setting things up.  Just as I released her, she tore off to her left, S-turned a few times and locked up about 75 yards away!  On the rise of about 20 birds, I dropped another one and she put it in my hand.  A few yards later, she pointed, and as I was walking in on her, the bird blew up behind me, from a mesquite bush.  I heard more than saw it, so I let it go.  It was a good afternoon in the desert. 

The next day, it was time to continue on to Arizona and a date with the Mearns in the southern Arizona mountains (elev. approx 5500').

Male Mearns Quail
I love the Mearns Quail.  Hunting them is like trout fishing.  They don't live in ugly places, so it's a pleasure to walk the gullies and ridgelines, even if it is challenging staying upright over the volcanic rock, at times.  Another added benefit to Mearns hunting, is that my dogs do not need to be booted like they need to be in the desert.  Overall, hunting in Mearns country is beautiful, and pretty easy.  this year, the numbers are down, but better than last year, for sure.

After two days of Mearns, I turned to the north and went searching for some Gambels Quail in the desert.

The Beast parked in typical Gambels habitat.
We were back to boots, once more, as we navigated the rough, rocky roads north of Tucson.  4 or 5 different types of cactus covered the ground.  The birds use the cactus for food and for protection. I've written about boots before: click here to view the video about the boots-

Click here to read the BLOG post-

Texas Boots from motorcycle inner tubes.
I put my other girl on the ground, Ruby.  She made a methodical cast and found two coveys.  I harvested one bird from the first covey, but the second covey was a little wiser. They flushed out the other side of a mesquite bush, from the thick grass.  I heard them go, but only saw gray dots on the horizon.  Next, I moved to an area I hunted several years in the past.  It was way back in, down a stream bed, over a rocky trail, and through a gate that's seen better days.  We pulled up to a dry water tank surrounded by a substantial corral.  I booted my 18 month old pup, Blue.  He came off the tailgate and immediately went into hot scent mode. His body was crouched, tail moving like a buzz saw, running with sharp turns, and barely controlled enthusiasm.  After 5 minutes of this, he spun and locked down hard on a clump of grass. I kicked but it was empty.  I reached and tapped him on the head, and off he went, again.  Twenty yards away, he spun and locked up again!  This time, the bird blasted out, and I dropped him on the second shot.  Blue released at the shot and chased the falling bird.  Unfortunately, he ran right into a large patch of cactus. He yelped and jumped back into a cholla cactus, yelped again and finally stopped to bite at the pieces of cactus stuck in him.  I grabbed my comb I carry for such an event, grabbed his collar, calmed him down, and flicked the cactus off with the comb.  Then, I told him to "Fetch it up!"  He moved with quite a bit more intention this time, avoiding the cactus and moving to where the bird dropped.  A retrieve to hand finished the work.  It was his first wild quail- a Gambels!  

Blue and his first bird.
The next day, we traveled back to New Mexico to spend a few days trying to find some bobwhite quail.  I've been into them before, but haven't been successful in the past few years. If I could get one in the bag, I would have harvested all four species of Southwest Quail. 

On the ranch.
We were invited to a ranch right up against the Texas line.  It had not been hunted, and it held bobwhites.  Let's go!, I said.  At only 100,000+ ac., I'm not sure we would have enough to hunt, but we decided to give it a shot, anyway.  

Perfect habitat!
We searched all over that ranch, but only found 4 coveys of Blues. The attempt at the SLAM was over. For the second time, I was stymied by the Bobwhite- of all the species!  Ironically, I kill probably500+ bobs every year working dogs and field trials.   I guess it's only right. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

One Cast (Of Many) in the Grasslands

Point and 2 Backs

One afternoon, we put out on a large patch of Hunter Walk-in Area near Pierre.  Mainly flat with a little roll, the land was a sea of grass.  It was obviously an old alfalfa field, as we could see the stalks and plants pushing up through the grass, providing food and cover for the Prairie Chickens and Sharptail Grouse. I started with Cap (Brit/M/8) and Shack (Brit/M/5) on the ground- my most productive team.  Hunting partners, Matthew and Shelby Puckett, had 11 year old Abby (GSP/F) down.  

Shelby and Shack

Abby struck first with a very nice point!  Cap and Shack strolled in, from two different directions, and backed her.  We all knew we had something waiting for us, and Matthew did his best to flush them, but either they ran out from under the dogs or this was old scent. We moved on through the grass. About 40 yards later, the grass parted and a chicken blasted up, right at my feet!  Instinct took over as the 5.8# AHFox 20 qa. hit my shoulder and a load of 6’s went his way. Sweet shot!  And the bird pitched forward into the grass.  An instant later, the blast of another set of wings, to my left, sent another Prairie Chicken up and away! He made a fatal turn to follow the the first bird, and the Fox barked one more time, followed by a tumbling bird into the grass.  A Double!  My first on Chickens. 


Shelby and Matthew and Shack  and Abby moved off to the south as Cap and I covered another section of the area. Thinking we may have left a bird or two back at the tree line near the trucks, I swung around and headed back.  Cap was on his game (he’s rarely not) and with 8 years’ experience, I knew, if they were there, he’d find them.  Sure enough, he slammed a point just outside the stand of trees, in the cut alfalfa. It’s always amazing to me how these birds can disappear in no cover.  As I approached, this guy gave me no chance. He blasted out before I could get closer that 50 yards. No shot there, but Cap was still birdy, and I was anxious to limit. A minute later, Cap, tongue lolling and working slowly and carefully along the edge of a drainage ditch, eased into a point.  There wasn’t a cupful of grass right in front of his nose. But, I knew my dog, and I always honored his point.  Besides, I’d just scored a double!  Two fat chickens in the bird bag would soon be joined by a third. Then, I could return to the truck (“Yeah, I’m back a little early, but, then, I limited, you know. Let me tell you all about it....”).

Cap and 3 Chickens

Needless to say, this bird was already in the bird bag.  I glanced around to clear the area, and I noticed Matthew and Shelby coming in from the south. Also, Sarah and Jesse were standing by the trucks.  Perfect. Witnesses!  (What pilot doesn’t like an audience?).  Talking to Cap and easing around him, on his left so he could see me closing in (he lost the lens in his right eye), I moved to the tuft of grass. No more than two steps away, the grass blew apart and a laughing  Sharptail blew up and straight away!  The Fox hit my shoulder, as I envisioned easing the bird into the crowded bird-bag.  The old 20 ga. barked twice and a shocked silence surrounded an embarrassed, overconfident, 68 year old, traveling bird hunter as the sharpie chuckled away into the distance.  Laughing, I thought, “Thank you Lord for, once again, showing me my misplaced pride.  But, did it need to be in front of so many witnesses?” He was silent on that one.

It was an awesome day on the prairie with good friends and great dogs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

South Dakota Prairie Chickens (and Sharptail Grouse)

Cap and 3 Prairie Chickens

Normally, in October (the best month, by far, in the calendar), I would be in the Ruffed Grouse woods.  This year, an epic downturn in grouse populations hit the Northwoods.  After an earlier trip to Montana produced lots of walking, driving, and worn out dogs, but few birds, I decided to find somewhere, anywhere, that had good populations of something.  The South Dakota Grasslands fit the bill.  Prairie Chickens were on the menu!  The Grasslands are south of Pierre (pronounced "peer"), SD.  They are a huge,vast sea of grass, and they are managed for Prairie Chickens.  The population this year is high, but don't get the idea it's like hunting pheasant in a good year, where every bunch of cattails has 100 birds. 

Cap backing Shack who has 4 chickens pointed
These are prairie birds.  They've adapted to look out for trouble.  They'll be up on the sides of hills, or even on the top.  Many times, they'll see you coming, and they'll launch off before you get within 200 yards.  That said, with a good population, there were many young birds, and this cruel world is a tough taskmaster.  They hung around a little too long and tried to hide from the dogs- bad mistake.

Matthew approaches a point by Abbie with Cap and Shack backing.
It wasn't all sweetness and light, however.  I managed to get stuck in the South Dakota snot they call wet dirt.....twice!  The first time was on a day that was 30 degrees with 30-40 mph winds.  After almost being blown off the road while crossing a slushy patch west of Pierre, I hightailed it back to town, and decided to hit a spot I know in the Grasslands.  I drove south from Pierre, all the while checking the temperature and watching the wind.  I turned in, crossed the cattle guard, and immediately, both axles sank into the ruts!  I was still moving, but didn't feel right.  I was in 4WD and was moving along pretty good, but I was very concerned about getting back out!  After 1/4 mile, that was all the Beast could take.  She sank down, and we were going nowhere.   I ended up calling a local friend.  I knew the ribbing would be intense- and it was.  He drove in the grass down to me, and pulled me out of the ruts.  Once on the grass, I was good to go.  I was there 4 hours, the day was shot, I was cold and hungry.  So, I took David and Angela Healan of Spring Creek Ventures out to a steakhouse dinner. (

David pulled me out of the track, back on the grass.
The second time, I was following two other trucks down a mushy road.  I was following to close for the "absolutely no braking" conditions.  Ahead of me Jesse and Sarah Gomes slowed to kick off their traction control. The only escape I had was into the ditch.  Actually, it wouldn't count as being stuck at that point, since I had great traction in the ditch and waited for them to get rolling again.  Once clear, I pulled back onto the road.  BUT, I didn't have enough speed to get all the way up out of the ditch and avoid a drainage culvert under the road.  I stopped short with my right front wheel almost hanging in space.  I managed to pull it back a little, but that wheel was too far down to pull out.  Finally, Matthew and Shelby Puckett unhooked their dog trailer and came slip-sliding back to look for me. I told him to go past me, turn around in the ditch, and get close enough to back up and pull me out.  It worked like a charm.  10 min later we were hunting!

Sarah's dog, Dan, discovered the wonderful world of porcupines.
Not long after that, Dan, Sarah's dog, took a shine to a porcupine in a cattail surrounded pond.  He was pitiful while we pulled the quills out.  But, he was back to hunting quickly after that.  Tough dog. I always carry some type of pliers, just for this eventuality.
Cap, Sarah, and Abby and a limit of Chickens
We saw a lot of excellent shooting (some other) and loads of incredible dog work over the 5 days.  In the end, we had worn out dogs, birds in the bag, muddy trucks, and enough memories to last until next year.

Jesse and Sarah Gomes, Shelby and Matthew Puckett
Shelby and Matthew with some chickens
Sarah and Rye- one of those "wow" dogs.
Shelby and Shack
We were there the week prior to pheasant season opening.  It was quiet, peaceful, and traffic free around town.  Saturday, the resident-only pheasant season opened.  Prior to that, we never saw another outfit or hunter.  It was a great time to go visit the Grasslands.  Just be sure to carry some needle-nosed pliers in your vest and chains in your truck.  You just never know when you might need them. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Montana Opener 2018

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Sharptail and Hun cover
The Opener!  Every year, at the end of summer, I'm ready to go.  There's a little boy hope in me that, perhaps, it won't be so hot this year.  Maybe a cold front will swoop through and give us a week of perfect hunting weather before the 90's come back.  It was not to be.  The weather was seasonally hot.  Since I  judged, and competed at a NSTRA field trial in Great Falls the first three days of September, I was well aware the local weather would be cool at night and warm to hot during the day. 

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Shack getting some love for his work.

The trial served as a warmup for the dogs.  They use Chukar for the trial, and it's always fun to see the first few finds from the various dogs.  The older one's will roll into the point with practiced nonchalance, "Here he is, Boss.  Pretty much smells like a Chukar.".  The younger guys may stutter a bit, but will recover well as they lock up, "Crap, Boss!  This one smells pretty good!  It smells big.  I hope you're ready!"  Either way, they get to transition from pen-raised birds to something a little more exotic.  Overall, my dogs (I only ran Shack and Cap, the two males, in the field trail) did very well.  I was very pleased with the results (3 Firsts, 2 Fourths) over the two days they competed, but I was more pleased with the non-tangibles of obedience, style and headwork.  

Cap backing Shack backing Scout (not shown)
We moved north and hit the ground early the next day.  As predicted, it was a cool morning, but heated up fast. The hunting was on Block Management land, Open Fields for Upland Birds land, and State and BLM land.  If you go to Montana without a way to identify all these types of land, you'll be hurting yourself.  Sometimes, you'll be heading to a nice piece of Block Management when you'll see some really nice habitat.  Checking the map, you notice it's State Trust Land, and open for hunting.  It might be the next great honeyhole.  

montana hunting bird hunting bird dogs and bird hunting
Pearl on two Sharptails
In the old days, books mailed from the state and maps from the BLM office littered the front seat of the truck with notes scribbled in margins with phone numbers, directions, names, etc. and with circled areas to hunt and others to avoid.  In the modern era, I still have the paper, BUT I also use GPS technology.  There are several apps out there for iOS and Android that will make your hunt way more enjoyable.  I have evaluated two and you can read about them here.  
Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Pearl's bird.

The routine varied little over the next few weeks.  Up before light, on the road after coffee, in the field as the sun came over the hills, break at noon, nap in the shade, back in the field around 5 for a few more hours, back to the camper after dark. I'm always asked about snakes- Prairie Rattlers.   I, personally, saw no snakes.  My hunting partner saw a few and had one Prairie Rattler strike at one of his dogs with no contact.  We usually see a few every year, but this year I never saw even one.  I did, however, have one medical emergency. Pearl had a discharge and seemed to be feeling poorly, so I took her to the local vet.  Pyometra was diagnosed and she was spayed the next morning.  Diagnosis was confirmed, and my vet and the local vet agreed that we probably saved her life.  "Don't let the sun go down on Pyometra!" was what my home vet told me.  When we opened her up, I saw why.  Google it.  Don't mess around with it.  

Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Ruby and her 2.
So, for the 2018 season, here are my impressions of the sharptail (and Hun) season in Montana.  It's a very poor year, statewide.  You'll see pictures of dead sharpies and Huns here.  The total number of birds I harvested for nine days on the ground, hunting hard, was 8 Sharps and 2 Huns. I felt lucky to have bagged those.
Hunt montana bird dogs and bird hunting
Cap and Shack had a good morning. 4 Sharps and 1 Hun.
We hunted west, north to Canada, and east to the Dakota line.  I talked to landowners, ranchers, vets, and even a FedEx driver- conditions are perfect, the bird numbers are very poor.  I'd even hazard a guess that they are worse than last year.  Just to be clear, I feel confident that I know how to hunt these birds, and I know where to go.  There are "pockets" of birds, where you might see several large coveys. But, overall, you'll see much fewer than normal.  I wish it were different, but it is what it is. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Early Season Cooling

The first hunt in the Fall, for the traveling bird hunter, is a joy unto itself.  All the grass cutting, hedge trimming, house repairing, dog training, trout fishing, whining, and coveting new equipment has been focused on the day the Beast heads north by west.  It's an exciting time for a bird hunter! There are very few drawbacks to this time of year, but there is one.  It's still hotter than four Hells in a lot of the country, and that includes all of the South. I have searched and researched for a cooling method for my dogs, who will reside in individual crates (Intermediate-sized Ruff Tough Kennels) in the covered bed of my truck. I tried the "open all the windows and drive fast technique", but I don't care how fast you drive,  you can't drive fast enough to cool off 95 deg. air at 90% humidity! I tried the fans- same issue.  I tried the cooler that uses ice water.  It was expensive, loud, and just didn't put out the volume for the back of the truck.  I used PVC pipe to send the AC air from the front to the back.  That worked better, but still was cumbersome and took up too much room in the back seat.  Finally, I discovered the "noogle".

Noogle laying out
Attached to Vent

The Noogle attaches to the a FRONT vent and winds its way to the back window in to the bed area.  Because it attaches to the a large front vent, the volume is much greater.

Noogle passing through into bed and splitter.
I attached a home made splitter using PVC plumbing supplies from a large, box store, reducing the flow from 2" noogle to 1 1/2' pool cleaning hose.

Noogle into splitter

Splitter with hoses through back window into dog deck.
Once that was done. I enlarged a hole on the side of the Ruff Tough Kennel and simply stuck the hose end in.  I elected to have the air come in at face level for a dog lying down. I think improvements can be made to the distribution of air in the kennel, but it seems satisfactory, for now.

Hose hole enlarged a small amount.
Same for the other rear kennel
Rear kennels with cooling hoses attached.
The test came when I inserted a thermometer in to a box (front, left) on an 88-90 degree, high humidity,  sunny day, and went for a drive.  Of course, when I started, the temp in the kennels was 90 degrees.  Once I cranked up and put the AC full cold with the air coming out of the dashboard, the temp dropped to 76 degrees in the back forward kennel, after about 15 minutes of driving.  The outside temperature stayed pretty close to 88.  It's important to keep the back windows closed.  Small airleaks will allow the shell to act as a venturi and "suck" cold air from the cabin, through the small connecting window to augment the cool air from the tubing.

I am happy with this setup, and I know I'll rest better knowing my guys are staying at least 10-15 deg. cooler back there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Guest article: GPS Tips

Top tips every hunter must know about using a GPS
Author Bio: I am John Lewis, a blogger, survivalist and outdoor enthusiast. You can follow me over at Epic Wilderness.

A GPS is one of the most complex hunting tool which every hunter would get, especially if they like to explore different varieties of terrain or hunt deep in the woods. A GPS would can help you to stop worrying about getting lost, and it can do much more if you follow the tips below! 
This device provides a lot of benefits including helping you to find direct routes to your hunting spots or helping you to mark new signs in different seasons. However, you can boost the effectiveness in using a GPS by following the tips below! 

Tip 1: Being able to distinguish between public land and private land 
You can use a GPS to determine whether you are on safe hunting ground. Basically, a GPS can update you on whether you are on public or private lands. Hence, it is important to ensure that the GPS provider had updated their maps, allowing you to have a new collection of hunting data on the availability of a place to hunt. 
The mapping resources include boundaries such as color-coded land ownership, hunting management zones and counties. For public land, the GPS can tell you which management it is under. However, for private land, it may show you the exact boundary and provide information concerning the landowner. 
For example, Gaia GPS gives comprehensive data where you can explore different areas of mixed land ownership, which includes wildlife refuges, national and state forests, conservation lands and parks. Understanding how to use this information would give you a huge advantage in determining the best place to hunt!  

Tip 2: Place hunting stands without problems
Usually, a hunter would only camp at a place or put up hunting stands after getting sufficient clues that there would potentially be a place frequented by animals. A GPS would be capable of helping us to decide which stand to use for hunting in a particular day.
For example, if you have 4 stands, the position you take on one stand could potentially be better than another depending on the direction the wind is blowing. Usually, it is better that we take the stand with the north wind, because it will ensure that our shot is as accurate as possible. 
Handheld GPS are especially useful when it comes to marking important waypoints to navigate to different tree stands especially in the dark. Since you are navigating without using a flashlight, you would not need to give out your location to other hunters. 
Furthermore, a note can be made in different waypoints so that you would remember which stand you should use at a particular time of a day. 

Tip 3: Utilize other navigation methods
Most GPS would be capable of giving several navigation methods. For example, touching on the location of a map, having a Point of Interest and having your own saved waypoints. Most of these methods are easily available on your GPS, and you can refer to you owner’s manual for extra information. 
By using different navigation methods, you can see which of the navigation styles you are most comfortable with in different situations. When you want to find hunting spots, it may be your preference to navigate by touching the location on a map. However, when you are on foot, you may only be interested in following the Point of Interest that you have saved. 

Tip 4: Ability to do Scouting 
A hunter would employ several ways to understand their terrain better, and this includes scouting. Basically, scouting means using maps on computers to familiarize and understand the landscape better. You can be sure that there are a lot of resources in the internet such as Google Earth or Garmin’s Base Camp software
Scouting would also include the process of using computer maps of the topography or even aerial views just to get an idea of how the landscape look like. Later, you have to mark these locations on your computer and transfer the waypoints to your GPS. 
To ensure that you can do scouting efficiently, you need to get a GPS with a larger amount of memory. This memory can be used to store waypoints of promising locations Later, you can use these waypoints as references when you scout on foot.

Tip 5: Making sure you have enough memory and backup power
After doing scouting, you need to bring all the information into the field with you. This is possible because most Hunting GPS Maps can integrate with other compatible GPS units. You should ensure that your GPS can put micro SD cards so that all that information can fit in. 
A GPS can only help you to get back to familiar terrain only when there is juice left. You should make sure that you have backup power with you, and you have compatible wires to connect your GPS to the power source. You can explore different portable power options to keep your device charged. 
When you choose a portable power for your hunting trip, be sure to consider how much power output you need, how long you plan to hunt, what is the location you are planning to go and how compatible is it with your device. If you are hunting long-term, you can look into different options such as gas-powered alternatives or solar powered alternatives. 

These tips would definitely help you to plan your hunt! After scouting or planning how you should place your hunting stands, you can significantly increase your hunting success rate. Moreover, it helps you to avoid trouble by notifying you whether you are on public land or private land. 
Remember, your tool would only be as effective as how you are able to use it. Keep these tips in mind to help you navigate through the woods effectively. If you have any tips you would like to share, feel free to share in the comment box below!

For more evaluation of GPS Hunting Apps, click HERE
To purchase the GAIA GPS hunting app at 20% off, click HERE.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Bird Dog Bragging- The Follow Up to the Dead Chicken Incident

A few years ago, while hunting in Michigan for Ruffs, my best bird dog had a walkabout.  I chronicled the incident with the BLOG post:  Last year, I was passing through  Michigan, and I had a little time to kill.  I decided to attempt to contact the owners and explain what happened.

In essence, my perfect bird dog got turned around, and I found him a mile or so away, in the front yard of a house with a dead chicken in his mouth.  Needless to say, I was pretty much mortified!   At the time, I knocked on several doors in the tiny enclave and no one was home.  With a sigh of relief.  I drove off on the way to meet a friend farther up the road.  This year, on the way to meet the same friend, I found myself with a little time on my hands, so I decided it was time to make things right.  It was the Day of Reckoning.  It was time to 'fess up and do the right thing- albeit, somewhat late.  

I drove to the area, found the house, and knocked on the door again.  Once again, no one was home.  Once again, I was a little relieved, but in an effort to get this behind me, I drove down the dirt road looking for anyone I could find.  Two houses down a man was sitting on his porch.  As I pulled up to his house, I was wondering just how I was going to explain this.  I introduced myself and we made some small talk about the weather, hunting Ruffs, bird dogs, etc.  Finally, I just came out with it, and explained the situation.  I told him about Cap (who was peering out the passenger side window- undoubtedly scanning for chickens), about hunting in the area, chasing the dog down, finding him in the neighbor's yard with a chicken in his mouth. He was chuckling the whole time.  I told him I was glad someone found it funny, but would he mind telling the neighbor (who was a mailman and never home during the day) I came back to face the music and explain the situation.  By this time, his chuckling had turned to outright laughter.  I offered to pay whatever the going rate was for yard chickens, if he would pass it along to his neighbor.  With tears rolling down his face, he said I could keep my money.  It was worth it, having provided entertainment for the past year among the 4 or 5 houses clustered along the river.  He told me the story of the neighbor finding the dead chicken on the door stoop and asking around as to the means of its demise.  No one would confess, so it was generally agreed the local Black Lab (who wandered in from across the road) was the culprit. Poor old Bob was in hot water for a week or so, he said.  But, life got back to normal, and the "dead chicken incident" passed into the lore of the community.  

I was relieved there were no other problems among the neighbors due to me and my bird dog. We talked a while longer (he was a Navy Vet, as well) and it was time for me and my chicken-killing Brittany to move along.  I told him thanks and headed for my truck.  Wait a minute, he yelled, you'd better apologize to Old Bob before you leave!  I did just that.  I walked to the dog, curled up under a pine tree, gave him a treat, and told him I was sorry for framing him for the killing of the chicken.  And Cap was sorry, too! Old Bob just devoured the treat and rolled over for a tummy rub.  I guess that was about as forgiven as I was going to get.  I was happy to get it.  All in all, we can learn a lot from our dogs. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lost Dog! (What a sickening feeling.)

Shack and me in NM on Blues
Sometimes, no matter what you do, dogs are going to do dog things (thanks to Kerri Gebler for that phrase).  This knucklehead, FlyBoy Ace's Bullseye (Shack), decided to go on a walkabout one afternoon last week.  When time is short and the dogs need some exercise, I'll let them all out, and I'll take off on the Kawasaki Mule.  As a group, they'll follow me and pass me as we circumnavigate the pasture- about a 1 mile run.  They get to stretch their legs and get a little aerobic exercise, and I get to watch them and do a little appraisal.  This time, when I pulled in to the barn, Ruby and Cap were already there, in the big water trough cooling off, and Pearl and Blue followed them into the trough. Shack was still out there, but I wasn't concerned. Sometimes, the males are a little bolder and will range a little farther afield, but they will show up within a few minutes hot and thirsty.

Shack on a Sharptail in South Dakota
One minute stretched to five then twenty. I drove the pasture, calling and whistling with my hunting whistle. I checked for tracks down by the creek and found one of his as he hit the bridge crossing to the South side (away from the house).  I checked the sun, and figured I had about 2-3 hours of daylight left, and then checked the overnight lows (40 deg.).  I grabbed my boots, whistle, and GPS and headed for the large tract of land behind the house, hoping he was still on my part of it.  Just as the sun was setting, I called my wife to pick me up as I emerged from the other side of the tract  onto a dirt road. By that point,  the temperature was dropping rapidly and the wind was picking up, . From experience, I know a healthy dog can survive much lower temperatures and much higher winds, as long as they can find a place out of the wind.  Shack was no rookie bird dog, at 5 years old, he'd  hunted all over the U.S..  And, while he'd never been "turned around" this long before, I was confident he could find some cover and hunker down for the night.  I would resume the search in the morning.  In the back of my head, I figured he'd end up straggling into the barn in the middle of the night, worn out and hungry.

Ruby, me, Shack on Prairie Chickens in Nebraska
As an afterthought, I posted on our local Lost/Found county Facebook page, that he was missing, the area I last saw him, date, time and a picture.  Also, the info that my name and numbers were on his collar, he was micro chipped, and he needed medication. Then, I went to bed. Just as I was drifting off, my wife nudged me and said, "You should check FB one last time.  You never know who may have seen him."  I opened the page, and there must have been 20 comments tracking the bonehead as people saw him running along the roads around the county! One guy said, "I knew he wasn't a stray.  He looked too fit and sure was pretty.  I figured he was one of my neighbor's dogs."  Another lady wrote, "I wish I'd seen this 5 minutes ago!  I just saw him in the parking lot of New Hope Church!"  That post was about 10 minutes old.  New Hope Church was about 5 miles from me on roads that went every different direction, except direct.  I jumped out of bed grabbed some pants, shoes, shirt and jacket, cranked up the Beast and tore down the driveway.  I made it to New Hope Church faster than I care to put in print, pulled into the parking lot, got out and started calling....nothing.  I slowly turned, using my headlights as I scanned the graveyard and surrounding pasture.  My phone rang, and it was a guy who said he saw Shack on the road about a half mile from the church.  "On my way", I said..."Thanks, neighbor!" As I pulled to the side of the road, he came out around one of the old houses and looked at the truck.  "C'mere, boy!  It's good to see you!"  That knotheaded Brit came in the driver's side and just curled up in my lap.  All 50 pounds of him was on me- and he would not move.  He was absolutely scared to death, and mighty glad to be with me.  I guess I was a little glad to see him, too.   Dogs doing dog things!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

It once was lost, but now is found! Happy Day!

Ruger Bearcat
In 1959, in Anchorage, Alaska, (before digital anything, ballpoint pens, computers, seat belts, radial tires, color TV) my mom and dad entered a jitterbug contest (It's a dance.).  First Place was this pistol.  The next year, on my 10th birthday, my parents gave me the pistol, and the holster my dad hand-stitched for it.  We used it to finish moose, goat, caribou, squirrels, rabbits, monsters, lions, tigers, and bears. A few years ago, I took it to the Georgia Region NSTRA Ironman Trial in Sparta, GA.  It was the last I saw of it.  As much as I loved that pistol, I had to remind myself, "It was only a tool.  A tool attached to my past and my parents, but only a tool."

Yesterday, in a burst of energy, I was registering for the Veteran's Administration. They really didn't require any documentation (they said they'd verify everything), but I wanted to send along my DD-214 and whatever else I could find.  That meant rooting through file drawers and closets.  Lo and behold!  In one of the file drawers, I found this little beauty!  Cleaned, oiled and ready to go!  I think it would be impossible to be more surprised!  And delighted! My little Ruger Bearcat .22 was home!  Of course, it was home all the time, and my "age-appropriate" memory degeneration meant I lost it, then found it again. 

I looked up the Ruger website to try and ascertain the age of the pistol.  The Serial Number is N033. I think this is the 33rd pistol manufactured from 1958-1976.  I'm not positive about that, but it sure looks that way!  I sent off for a verification from Ruger.  That would be a nice way to remember my jitterbugging parents from "back in the day"

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Boomers! Prairie Chickens on the Booming Grounds (Lek)

Last Fall, as I was preparing to hunt the Nebraska Sandhills for the first time, I went through my usual routine of calling the DNR (or equivalent for that state) and asking for any assistance they might feel like providing. As usual, it took three phone calls to get to the right guy, but he was perfect. Bill is the resident expert in Prairie Chickens in Nebraska.  We talked for a while on the phone, and I made it a point to stop by in person when I got to the area.  As I was leaving to begin the chase, I asked about the mating rituals and leks.  Bill said, "Why don't you come back in April, and I can put you up close and personal with the birds?"  By the beginning of March, I was ready for a road trip.  I made the call to Bill.  "C'mon up." he said,  "It's almost a perfect time."  Two weeks later, I turned the Beast northwest and let her rip.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Prairie Chicken
bird dogs and bird hunting
Top Dog staring down a Contender

Not on my Lek. Not today.  Not ever!

April weather is normally pretty settled, but snowstorm after snowstorm still plagued the Sandhills.  One day was sunny and cool- the next it was snow and 20 degrees.  We happened to hit the area the day after a violent front and snowstorm came through.  Not to be deterred, we drove out to the blind an hour before sunrise with the thermometer reading 0 degrees.  Later, we found out it set a record low temperature for the area! 

bird dogs and bird hunting
The blind.  A snug fit.
A little before daylight, we saw dark shapes flying in from all points of the compass.  In one's and two's, they flew  to the area and started walking to the Lek.  The Lek is the name of the breeding area- a generic term.  For Prairie Chickens, it is called a Booming Ground because of the low tone emitted by the males.  It can be heard for up to 1.5 miles away, and it's a great way to locate leks.  (Sharptail Grouse, on the other hand, have Dancing Grounds.  Often in the same general area.)  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Bad Boy
For the next two hours, the males strutted, fought, talked trash, boomed, rested, attacked, and retreated.  All of them tried for the high ground.  Bad Boy (above) kept them all in check.  Once, they all flushed away, but in less than 5 minutes, they all returned.  Like Bill said, "These birds are here for a reason.  Breeding.  It will take a lot to interrupt their courtship rituals."  We counted nearly 20 males on this lek.  Bill told us, in this area, there were 5 or 6 leks.  The males stay pretty close to their leks throughout the year, even though they may fly 20 miles to grab some nice grain, they'll come back to the local area.  

bird dogs and bird hunting
Facing Off on the High Ground

This lek is on a private 20,000 ac. ranch in the Sandhills.  Bill works with the local landowners to increase understanding of the Greater Prairie Chicken and, perhaps, slow or stop the reduction of their range. After almost 3 hours of the coldest shivering I've experienced in 67 years, the birds, as if on cue, flushed up and away.  This time for the rest of the day.  We came out of the blind, and I attempted to regain feeling in my feet and hands.  It took a while, but the recovery was complete. 

bird dogs and bird hunting
Keeping an eye out for danger or the females.  

All this display is for the females to pick a winner.  Then, all of them will breed to one male.  This display is critically important to the males for this reason.

Hey!  You wanna piece of me?

I learned a tremendous amount about Greater Prairie Chickens in one day with this visit. When we left the blind, we drove to where I hunted them last Fall.  We got out of the truck and made a loop around a stock tank, and I saw some tracks.  "Gotcha, boys!  I"ll see you in November!"  But, between now and then, I have a puppy to train, grass to cut, and fish to catch.