Thursday, November 14, 2019

South Dakota- Sharptails, Prairie Chickens, and Ditch Birds


October and November are great times to be in the Dakotas! We made two hunts, this year, to South Dakota to chase the Sharptail and Prairie Chicken.  Our first outing was the week before the "Opener", to which anyone with a clue about bird hunting in South Dakota means the Pheasant Season Opening Day.

My wife, BJ, and me on a balmy day.
We were just in time for the first blizzard of the year.  They don't last long, but for a few days the cold and wind made us bundle up!

We hunted public land as well as Hunter-Walk-In-Area (private land that anyone can hunt).

BJ watching the dogs work.

Blue, my pup, with his first Prairie Chicken.

Sarah Gomes, BJ, Shelby Puckett

Shelby watching Cap and Ruby hit some Chickens

Shelby and Blue

Matthew and Banjo

Shack, me, Pearl and a Chicken

Cap and Chicken retrieve

Blue and another Chicken

Pearl pointing with Ruby as back up.

Gigi, Cap and an unlucky Pheasant

Prairie Rainbow

Matthew

Me and a couple Sharps and Chickens

Jon, his two puppies, and a Sharp and Chicken

Cap standing in frozen Grits

Ruby, me, Pearl on a rare pointed double on Chickens!

Some prairie love on my little girl, Pearl!
It was a great hunt with great people.  We went through two blizzards, rain, temperatures up to 71 degs, and constant wind.  Good trips are worth the adversity. All the dogs showed me good work.  Of all my dogs, Pearl really came alive and stepped up.  One day, she pointed 3 separate coveys, but the rascals got up before we could get there each time.  She looked so good, standing tall in the grass! 

Gary and his son, Tristan.  Tristan's first wild bird!

On the last day of the hunt, Gary T., from Wyoming came up to hunt, with his son, Tristan.  I took them to a nice HWIA I knew about from years past.  We were standing on a stock dam, taking a breather, when a Sharptail jumped up at our feet.  "Shoot, shoot!" I yelled.  Tristan immediately pulled up and loosed a load of 6's at the retreating bird.  Miss!  He calmly let the bird get out another few heartbeats, then dropped it with the second shot.  Very deliberate and calm, he reacted like a much older and more experienced bird hunter, and put his first wild bird in his game bag.  It was a pleasure hunting with him.  I'm encouraged to see the younger generation coming along!  (Mom, notice the orange hat and the orange on his vest!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Pup Grows Up

Blue was slow to develop.  After Cap, Shack, Ruby,and Pearl all developing into accomplished bird dogs by 1 year, I was approaching Blue's second anniversary, and he was still in that puppy phase of life.  He was big.  He didn't weigh more than Shack, at 43#, but he stood taller.  He was solid, too.  A rock.  But, he was still a happy-go-lucky guy that really would rather stick his nose down a mouse hole.  And, there are plenty of mouse holes on the prairie.  While my other dogs, at his age, would turn "all business" when I dropped the tailgate, Blue would smile and start looking for interesting smells. 

Bird dogs bird hunting
Blue and his first Prairie Chicken

I began to worry a little.  I'd never had a dog that wasn't a bit precocious, at least not in recent times.  I worked him on pen-raised birds at home.  I ran him and worked on obedience.  I played with him all the time, and worked on retrieving.  I kept it fun, and light.  He was great. But, when the time came to do the real job, he wasn't focused.  I really liked his attitude, though.  I saw something in the big boy.  It was hard to put my finger on it, but there was something there that said, "I'm your guy, Boss. Just give me some time." 

We were towards the end of the South Dakota hunt for Sharptails and Prairie Chickens.  All the dogs were doing well.  The older two, Ruby and Cap, at 9+ years, easily parlayed that wisdom into birds in the bag (or at least opportunities).  The middle two, Shack and Pearl, were strong and smart, as well.  Blue was a follower, and after a bit, he became more interested in mouse and badger holes than looking for grouse. Once again, I wondered if he really had what it took. 

I determined to put him on the ground by himself that afternoon.  I drove to an area I'd hunted earlier in the week.  I pulled off the road on a two-track, visually checked the area I wanted to hunt (a large grassy area bordering a sunflower field), and leaned back to take a short nap.  The sun was in my face, the wind was light, and lunch was not long ago.  I'm sure my snoring flushed several coveys of chickens. 

My nap was interrupted by several shotgun blasts a few hundred yards from my open window.  I grabbed my binoculars and watched two hunters (with no dogs) sweep an area on the other side of the sunflower field.  They were hunting more in the manner of pheasant hunters than sharptail or chicken hunters.  It was interesting to watch, all the more so since I'd seen them driving down the main road a while back and execute a rapid U-turn to go back the way they came.  I didn't think anything of it at the time, but they must have seen a covey of chickens flush off the road as they passed by.  

I watched as they swept the grassy field.  If they got to the end and swung around to the other side, they would cover exactly the area Blue and I were headed towards.  The expression "You snooze, you lose!" came to mind just then.  Here I was snoozing away, while a couple of guys (with no dogs!) had a great time shooting chickens right in front of me. I suppose I could have just driven to the other side of the sunflowers and put out.  But, I've had people jump in front of me before, and it kind of rankled me, to be honest.  I determined to let them hunt all around the sunflower field, if that was their plan.  After all, I was snoozing, and I was losing...

With great interest, I watched as they approached the end of the sunflower field, and the road leading back to their truck.  First one, then the other, walked up onto the gravel surface and turned back.  Perfect!  I let them get about halfway back, then I cranked the Beast and drove down my two-track towards the main gravel road and the other side of the sunflowers.  They had their chance, I wasn't going to give them another one.  I pulled off the road and called Blue's name.  He pawed the door on his kennel.  He knew it was his time.  

I slipped the TT-15 around his neck, checked the Alpha, marked the truck, and turned him loose. He hit the grass at full speed.  Something was different.  His head was up, rather than close to the ground. He stayed in front, and he checked my location.  He hunted objectives, shrubs, clumps of grass, and spots of thin grass.  About a 100 yards in, with the sunflowers on the left, and a strong wind blowing right to left, we were working pretty close to the crops.  Blue has a great nose, and I knew he was clearing a huge area upwind of him as we worked along the edge. 

He spun and locked up into the wind.  I walked to a point 15 yards in front of him, ready for the flush.  Nothing moved.  I looked back at him- still staunch on point.  His eyes were looking right at me.  "OK!" I said.  He released and started the back and forth, full speed, tracking scent, excited "birds-are-here" motion that's fun to watch.  I knew the birds were there, or had been recently.  Blue made one short cast crosswind, then another. On his third cast, he spun around again.  Hard! He was about 50 yards away, and I hustled over, checking my gun, the sun, the road.   Just as I got close to the area. 20 Prairie Chickens flushed up and headed for the sunflowers. I dropped one, and swung to another.  I hit him and he wobbled, but kept flying.  I was trying to reload as he flew within 10 yards of me, reaching for the safety of the sunflowers.  Reloaded, I swung back to him, but, in the wind, he was a football field away and looking none the worse for wear. 

Blue broke on the flush and was coming back to me, once again learning these guys cannot be caught.  I called him in and told him "Dead bird, Fetch it up!".  His nose went down and he ran to the area I indicated. After a few short loops, he snapped to a point, and I knew he was on the dead bird.  "Fetch it!" I commanded, and he stepped in to pick up the Prairie Chicken.  

He was one proud bird dog, coming across that prairie grass with the chicken in his mouth! I managed to snap a picture of him before he put it in my hand.  I was (and am) proud of my guy.  My Bird Dog.  

Here you go, Boss!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Hunting Meals


Great tasting, Keto, light, nutritious, filling.  I eat these for lunch in the field. They make great tailgate lunches (or breakfast/dinners, too.). 
Next Mile Meals





Friday, September 20, 2019

The Blooming


We parked where we always park.  A mile from the ranch house, across the dirt road, in a little flat, grassy spot with a short tree line on the east side, and grassy hills on the west side. We had shelter from the wind on west, and shelter from the morning sun on the east.  To the south, across a barbed wire fence, a small valley ran south for a while then split up once, twice, then petered out on the hills.  I am a creature of habit.  If something works, I don't try to fix it.  This spot worked.  It had for 10+ years.  I was good with it.

I let the dogs out, one at a time, to avoid the classic goat-rope.  Finally, after 4 disappointed looks and borderline insubordination from the big boys as I crated them, I let Pearl out of her box.  She looked at me, the land, the crated dogs and her chest poked out, her ears opened, her little brown stubby tail stuck straight up, and she looked me in the eye.  "I'll find them, if they're here, Boss!  Just put the GPS on me, because I might be out of sight a bit in those hills.  You can count on me, because I'm the best you got!"  (The modesty gene was apparently omitted in this breeding.)

Pearl (Brit/F)

I instrumented her on the tailgate, gave her some water, checked her paws, and said "OK!"- off she went.  I grabbed my gun and headed to the  south and the little valley where we'd found hundreds of Sharpies and Huns over the years.  I crossed the fence, and took a peek to see if she was in sight.  Gone already, but that was to be expected.  Her pager went off.  That wasn't expected! I grabbed the handheld expecting her ahead of me a few hundred yards.  What?  She was back by the truck- maybe 30 yards west, in the grass leading up to a big hill.  I turned around and looked for her, and saw her stubby little tail standing tall in the light brown grass. suddenly she moved and worked her way towards the road, then down along the road out of sight around the hill.

I jumped the fence and hurried after her, just as the pager went off again.  I rounded the hill and saw her locked up on a big patch of sage, in the tall brown grass, about 30 yards off the road. Good spot.  Birds  like to come down to get gravel, and then roost in shrubs by the road.  This would be good! She was solid.  Intense. She sure had my motor running.  I kicked the shrubs and got nothing.  Her eyes came up to mine, and I told her, "OK".

Top of the Hill.  Dead on!




Her head went down, her motion was quick, short bursts and her body followed her head followed her nose.  The scent wasn't that old, almost surely this morning.  The birds were here.  The birds are here.  She worked her way away from the road, up the hill side, slowing on concentrations of scent, but discerning that the birds had moved on. Over the top she went, and my tired legs worked their way to the top.  Once again, the pager went off.  As I crested the hill, she was facing me, about 40 yards away.  We had them trapped between us.  I grabbed my camera and took a photo, stored it, and got ready.  I strode right at her as a single Sharpie got up about 10 yards in front of her.  I fired and rocked it.  I knew it was hit, but it flew like it wasn't.  Pearl broke on the shot, and went after the bird.  The bird flew out of sight, across the fence, along the road with a brown little dot chasing along behind.  I knew she'd be back soon, so I grabbed my camera again, and waited for her.  A minute or so later, I saw her headed down then up a coulee, on her way back to me.  Direct line.  Also, she had that funny gate dogs get when they have a bird in their mouth.  It was too far away to see the bird, but I was sure she had it.  I started the video rolling to get this.  Sure enough, she put a dead sharpie in my hand, then laid down to catch her breath.

Another one, Boss!  Having fun yet?


A long drink from the water bottles, and she was off again, this time with long, fast, swooping runs crossing in front of me as I walked in to the wind.  She dropped off into a small, brush choked ditch and didn't come out the other side.  Her pager started beeping, and I hustled to the edge of the ditch.  I took a couple steps down to the brushy bottom, when a bird blew out and got a taste of 6's from my everyday SKB Model 100 20 ga.  The retrieve was perfect to hand, and I complimented her.

We had two in the bag now.  Four is the limit on Sharps, and I had other dogs to run.  So, I turned her loose and got the camera out, ready for some action.  Once again, she started into the wind with long, swooping casts, as we moved along the top of the hills.  Finally, she turned, her head dropped, her tail started wagging so fast it was a blur, and I knew she had fresh scent.  I watched closely as she moved, corrected, moved again, and finally locked up, tall and proud.  I took a video as I walked to  her.  The covey got up, about 10 birds, and flew down the hill toward the truck. As they got up, she gave chase.  A toot on the whistle and she turned back to me, and some water.

We had ourselves a little love fest in the grass, on top of the hill, as I told her how wonderful she was.  My little Pearlie-girl.  She brings a smile to my face every time.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Markers

As I walk out the side door of the house, down the 4 steps to the sidewalk, I reach up and grab a few bronze muscadines from the arbor covering this portion of the sidewalk.  We planted these vines 23 years ago, when we bought the house.  I planted one vine of traditional black muscadine grapes up one support post of the arbor, and one vine of a hybrid bronze muscadine grape up another post.  They've been competing with each other all that time.  I think the hybrid is winning, which is an unexpected surprise.


I smile as I pop the juicy grape in my mouth.  This is one more milestone, one more marker, on the way to the magic departure date for the first day of bird season.  The markers are all through the year, starting with the daffodils in the Spring, which is technically still during last season- it closes end of February.



They are actually Narcissus. We have two bunches in our front pasture that mark the site of the original home-site here.  They are just far enough from the old hand-dug well I filled in to make room for a rectangular  sharecropper's cabin.  The records from the area mark the family the road is named for all the way to the late 1700's.  I like to think these Narcissus are hundreds of years old. Probably not, but who's to say.  Hunting around here, in the South, the yellow blooms are conspicuous around old home sites, now just tracts of timber company land supporting row upon row of planted pines. They're easy to see in the dull gray woods of February.  I imagine they brightened the day for many a woman to see the bright yellow in the cold February sun.



Then come the Dogwoods!  Bright white blooms that reflect the warm Spring sun with a glare fill the tree!  They don't grow big, but they spread out with their blooms.  Man has engineered a pink color, as well, but I'm not as fond of that.  Dogwood season in Atlanta is the 1st of April.  "C'mon down y'all!"

Forsythia and Azaleas show up just in time for the Masters.  The bright yellow Forsythia blooms show up on dead-looking stalks up against the fence lining the driveway.  Every year, I almost mow down the old stalks. When Spring arrives, I'm glad they survived the blades one more year.  The Azaleas mark the end of Spring.  Summer is coming! Azaleas line the Masters course.  If you need to ask what the Masters is.....




Next is the Pine Pollen.  Great waves of yellow smoke that come off the pollinating pine trees ubiquitous in the South. When I get rich, I will leave the South during pine pollen season.  

The delicious Blackberry Season will arrive in deep summer.  Wild, deadly barbed, snake-harboring, ticky, blackberry vines are anywhere the ground has been disturbed.  Taking a bucket out to the local patch is always a great way to spend a morning or late afternoon, as well as to slash your legs and arms and feet.  No self-respecting Southern blackberry picker will launch out of the kitchen with other than shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.  Hence the medical emergency.



Finally, fishing season arrives.  Since, I decided to learn the manly art of fly-fishing, I practice all Spring at turning up my nose at "bait" fishermen, smirking at 1000mph Bass Boats, and (the WORST!) hooks with barbs!  Actually, the worst is when they message you and ask how that 21" Rainbow tasted!  Finally, July arrives, the snow melts in the Big Horns and Tetons, the blowouts have taken place, and it's time to fly out to the mountains and attempt to find a place to stay, or a car to rent, to enable you stand in a river with hundreds of other elite, upper crust, ethical, intelligentsia and attempt to catch a big trout in the most difficult way possible.  Ah, the ripple of the stream delights, as the black flies drain my blood.  

Then, the Tulip Poplars, tall, spreading trees with tulip like flowers in the Spring, will begin to turn their leaves.  They are the first.  A harbinger of Fall.  Late August and early September, the months of the worst heat and the most anticipation. And then the last marker of all- the step out of the front door to feel the cool air and the barest hint of reduced humidity just after the violent weather cold front blasted through the area over the night.

Once again, The Earth completed a one half rotation around the sun. It took six months, but finally arrived.  Blood quickens, senses sharpen, dogs dust themselves off, shake and pay closer attention as I gather the equipment necessary for the first trek of the year.  Finally, it's here.  Finally.







Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Get Them Ready! Dog Conditioning and First Aid

https://www.onxmaps.com/blog/bird-dog-conditioning-and-first-aid

Shawn Wayment, a Vet and bird hunter, and Brandon Moss, another widely recognized bird dog man, worked together to, in conjunction with OnX Maps, publish this BLOG post about Pre Hunt conditioning and first aid. With their permission, I have the link above.

If you aren’t already working your dogs, getting them ready for the Fall, you’re probably a little behind. I started roading mine one mile 3-4 times a week, and I’ll move that on up to 2-3 miles, 3 times per week, soon. They deserve to be in top notch shape when you drop that tailgate.  Lack of conditioning increases the likelihood of injury, and poor choices on their part.

You, too, should be ready to go!  The treadmill, elliptical, hiking, weights, and a little self-control at the buffet now will increase your enjoyment immensely at the start of the season.  When I was younger, I figured I could get in shape following the dogs the first few days.  Sure, and as the cramps, sore muscles, blisters from the new boots, raw rubs from the new pants slowly healed, I figured the pain was just a part of hunting.  I was stupid. Don’t you be stupid. Walk in the new boots. Wear the new gear out running the dogs. Put on the new gloves, train in the rain, go to the skeet range.  When I was flying in the Navy, we would always, “Train the way you fight!”  That is appropriate for bird hunting, as well.

Make it an awesome opening day!  I’ll see you in Montana 1 Sept!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Scatter My Ashes Where The Power Poles Lean


Long days following bird dogs across the prairie are a delight, a privilege, a claim rarely allowed other places in the world. I make it a point to remember that fact when I can.  Days afield, steadily walking the hills and coulees of Montana, North and South Dakota, Kansas, and Wyoming with no interference, except the occasional four-strand barbed-wire fence.  There is plenty of time to think.


It seems, over the years, and close to a million miles driven, that I usually end up in a part of the world devoid of trees.  Although one of my favorite places is the Great Northwoods, I seem to gravitate to the plains.  The Beast and I will tote the dogs west until the pines are supplanted by deciduous forests, then tall and short grass prairies, finally, the sage and mesquite take over. Along the way, we cross the Big Muddy and the Old Man River, and numerous smaller watercourses.  They were incredible barriers to expansion.  We blast over them now at over a mile a minute, without so much as a passing thought to the men and women with brains and money enough to span a mile of river with a bridge for trains, then cars.

Hunting native prairie grouse (Sharptails, Prairie Chickens, Sage Grouse), and non-native game-birds (Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, Chukar) in the blue sky, open country of the west is worth the drive.  The Dakotas are a gentleman's compromise for a bird hunter.  They are a little less tame than Kansas and Oklahoma, and much more refined than wild Montana or Wyoming.  When asked about traveling to hunt, and destinations, I will normally suggest Kansas.  To my mind, it is the safe start to life-long adventure following bird dogs.  There is not too much in the way of danger to the dog, lots of public land, and lots of birds (in a good year).  But, one may outgrow the training wheels after a few years, and look towards some greater adventure with their hard-working dogs.  The Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho beckon. It's time to expand that comfort zone.  With greater risk is much greater reward.

Hunting the prairie, sometimes, boils down to the basics.  Coffee, driving, putting out, and picking up. When the day is done, and the thoughts turn to feeding, cleaning, fueling, warming, and, finally, sleeping, it usually involves a long, tiring drive back to the motel or camper.  Back down the two-track, then the widened gravel road (past isolated ranch houses and old shut down missile silos), as we look for the pavement and, finally, a smooth ride. The next day will be the same with the biggest decision where to put out, and which dog to run.


Through the years, I've noticed the ubiquitous power poles.  Perhaps due to a friend who recently took a job running a rural electrical company on the plains, I seem to look a little more at the poles and the towers.  I've discovered an interesting fact. My best days on the prairie have been where the power poles lean. Not the big, steel towers that carry a gazillion volts straight line across terrain that would give a Mountain Goat pause.  No, the short, little poles planted back in the day, with the cross bar located near the top, and glass insulators, usually 6 or so, spaced across the bar.  I suppose they brought electrical power to the remote parts of the country around the middle of the last century.  At the time, I imagine they were a technological advancement on a par with the airplane.  Yep, those poles.  30, 40, or 60 years of constant wind will push those poles out of the vertical.  Sometimes, all the way to the ground.

 https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-XceBCS6oxS4/XRDXE-jIKCI/AAAAAAAA1EA/a-yRkEYWVA4V-AXT4Th9cMKLicmW9luewCKgBGAs/s1600/IMG_2567.HEIC

That constant wind, to me, is synonymous with  the outstanding bird hunting for the prairie birds. More and more, I see the remnants of long runs of old poles, leaning with the wind.  Fighting hard and winning a few battles, but losing the war. They, like the Old Roads, are reminders of a bygone era.  But, they mark the land I love to hunt.  Rarely, do I not see them, now that I look.  It's not that all leaning poles mark good hunting. it's that all good hunting is marked by leaning poles.  When the time comes, I think I'd like my ashes to be spread where I was one with the wind, dogs, birds, sun, snow, and rain- in the country where the power poles lean.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Arizona Rains = Arizona Quail

I received this email from an organization in Arizona called Rain Loggers.  There is hope for this year!

"May was another surprisingly cool and wet month for much of Arizona with an active weather pattern dominating the western U.S. Northern Arizona was under the gun much of the month as cool and wet storms moved in off the Pacific in a circulation pattern that looked much more like winter than late spring. Some of these storm systems did touch off thunderstorm activity across southern Arizona, bringing locally heavy rainfall to some locations.

The month started off relatively quiet as a weak and shallow ridge of high pressure tried to build in, but was quickly pushed back south as a broad trough of low pressure set up across the entire western U.S. starting on the 6th and persisting through the 11th. This brought a period of unusually cool and wet weather to Arizona for mid-May. Northern Arizona again saw most of the action during this period, with one RainLogger near the south rim of the Grand Canyon reporting precipitation every day with a total near 2”. RainLoggers from Sierra Vista up through Phoenix reported precipitation during this period, but in much lighter amounts with most observations in the 0.1-0.3” range.

Some lucky RainLoggers received very heavy precipitation amounts on the 11th as the upper level was moving through to the south of Arizona, helping to spark off thunderstorms that day. Southern parts of the Tucson metro area and down into Sahuarita were in the direct path of a slow-moving heavy thunderstorm that dumped almost two inches of rain. One RainLogger near the Tucson International Airport observed 1.8” on May 11th. The Airport received 1.10” of rainfall which was a daily record for May 11th.

Overall May was much below average temperature-wise and average to above-average for precipitation. Far northwest Arizona observed its record wettest and coolest May though, according to the Westwide Drought Tracker. Arizona is almost drought-free with only a small part of northeast Arizona under abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions.

We now turn our attention to the impending monsoon season. The official seasonal outlook issued by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center is concerned that the monsoon might have a late start, but confidence is low in this outlook. A lot of moving parts are at play including the expectation of a busier than normal east Pacific tropical storm season.

Thanks again for your continued support of Rainlog through your participation and donations! Visit https://www.uafoundation.org/NetCommunity/donations/rainlog if you are interested in making a donation to help support maintenance of the site and development of new features.

We appreciate your feedback, so please share any comments or suggestions about this service.
Thanks for being part of the Rainlog network!
- RainLog.org Administrators"

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Pearl's Chicken

Pearl with Sharptail and Prairie Chicken


Pearl is my little sweetheart.  She’s a liver colored, 35# (soaking wet) female Brit.  She and her litter-mate, Shack (orange/white male Brit) were from an awesome cross of my Ace dog and my Ruby female.  I really bred the litter in order to keep a female, by Ace, to breed in the future.  As luck would have it, Ruby whelped 11 puppies, all healthy and promising to be extremely good gun and trial dogs. With 11 pups on the ground, I chose Pearl as the female I would keep, because she was 1) aggressive and bossy, and 2) her coloration was different, with an all-brown head, I thought looked beautiful.  Also, I had an eye on an orange male, and I eventually kept them both.  As it turned out, I made the right decision. 

This part of the Nebraska Grasslands is a great place to hunt.  It is  a Federal National Forest divided into pastures, each with a windmill on it.  I always thought that was funny, since, if you wanted to get under a tree for shade, you’d better bring one with you.  The water level is just below the surface, and the windmills are plentiful, so water isn’t a factor in this area.  Because cows are grazed in the various pastures, sand spurs are a problem and my dogs need boots every cast.  The rolling hills look just like waves in the ocean when seen from satellite, and that is really what they are- waves of sand driven by the near constant winds in the area.  The history of the area is fascinating.

 
 
Fast forward 5 years to a Prairie Chicken hunt in the Grasslands. We pulled into an area I knew held Prairie Chickens.  It was warm and windy, with a glaring sun.  I decided to hunt Pearl.  It seemed the flashier and bolder dogs always got the call, but today was her day.  We booted up and I took a few steps south from the truck looking toward the top of windmill in the distance, and she took off.  She is a spry and quick dog, and fun to watch.  When she points, it is head high and tail high, a classic pose and very pretty to see.  As I loaded my gun and chose a path through the dunes, she disappeared over a tall dune in the distance.  I saw her run along the crest for a bit, and then dip down into the bottom again. She was in sight perhaps half the time.  Using the GPS tracker, I was unconcerned with her getting lost.  She was a very experienced girl, and I only used the tracker in order to be notified when she went on point.  After 20 minutes, her pager beeped.  She was 250 yards in front, not near a tank (for water), so I knew she was pointed.  I kicked in high gear and had to cross two high dunes to get to her.  Moving fast in the sandy soil is work, and after about half the distance, I was huffing and puffing and beginning to sweat. I kept my eye on the last ridge, hoping to see her pointed on this side, but she was on the other side on the downhill (south-facing) slope.  I glanced at the GPS again, then looked up to see 30 chickens fly off to the west from behind the last dune.  Right on their tail feathers was my little girl- baying like a coon dog!  I gave her the benefit of the doubt, assuming they had flushed on their own and she hadn’t pushed them up.  But, I wasn’t absolutely sure. 

Pearl's First Prairie Chicken
I toned her back into the county, and we took another tack to the west.  We were heading in the general direction of the flushing chickens, but I had no illusions they remained in the area.  She came in for some water, and we had a little chat about steadiness on point.  She rolled her eyes and said I was being overly dramatic.  Just be there next time I point, and you’ll bag one of these bad boys, she said. With that, she headed out again- full throttle, head up, searching for scent.  A short time later, during one of the rare times I actually saw her working, she was covering the near-side of a brush-covered dune, about 150 yards away.  I was admiring her movement and watching as she slowed down and retraced her steps, head down on the ground.  She was birdy.  The wind was in her face.  We were on the downwind side of the dune, and she was about halfway up, working just below a patch of low-growing, woody brush. She’d slowed down to almost a walk.  Her head was pointed up the dune, into the brush.  Suddenly, she froze.  Head high and her little tail sticking straight up.  There were birds in the brush, and I hustled down the face of one dune into the bottom before starting up the dune she was on.  I was walking fast, scanning the brush, looking for movement.  Suddenly motion caught my eye, and I saw that little Brit jump right in the middle of the brush patch! At least 20 Sharptail Grouse blew out of there.  She went after them, barking and baying like a Bassett after a rabbit.  My hand fingered the Alpha controller, as I pondered the best way to address this recent innovation in our bird hunting technique.  I was angry, miffed, concerned, livid, irate, and annoyed, but, above all, experienced enough to know that popping that little witch right now would not solve problem. I toned her back, once again, and headed for the nearest windmill for some water, and to give me some time to cool off.

This time, there was no mistaking she was in some serious trouble.  Tone of voice, body language, and lack of affection, is as effective on her as a smack on the hindquarters with a pine top. We rested a while.  The whole time, she was trying to squirm her way into my lap, as I sat in the sand in the shade of the stock tank.  I just pushed her away, and regaled her with stories about the way her new owners would probably tie her to a tree in the back yard and feed her Ole Roy. 

After cooling off a bit, we headed north.  She took one last dip in the tank and took off after me, passing by and getting in front.  I watched her as she cut the dunes across the wind, maximizing the effectiveness of her nose.  She seemed a little slower and more methodical, but it was probably my wishful imagination.  I was thoroughly disgusted with her, and me, as well.  I was questioning my training methods, my dog breeding, Pearl’s ability, and generally feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Up ahead, I’d see her come up out of a bottom, cross over a dune and head down the other side.  I was dreading her finding more birds, jumping in and flushing them and reinforcing her poor behavior.  After a while, I was pretty much mentally finished for the day.  I blew the whistle and headed for the truck.  She came in, took some water, and looked up at me with those bright eyes, happy tail wagging, ready to get back to the serious business of bird hunting. “Ok,” I said, “we are going to the truck.  Try to not flush every bird in the area! I still have few dogs that will act like real, pointing bird dogs and not flushers. I’d like to leave one or two birds for them.”

  She took off ahead and dropped out of sight off the top of a dune. As I got to the top, I glanced ahead and saw the silver of the Beast about mile away.  It can’t get here too soon, I thought, just as the pager went off, once again.  I glanced at the screen and noted she was about 200 yards off to my right. Excitement kicked in and I took a hard right and stayed on the crest of the dune, walking as fast as safely possible.  I got to the end of the dune, started down, and saw her halfway up the next dune at the base of another bushy area.  “Oh, no!” I thought, “Here we go again.”  I actually slowed down at that point.  There was no sense in killing myself, just to have that raggedy-eared, stubby-tailed witch bust the birds up before I get there. I looked again, and she was still holding- taut and intense.  I gained some hope and began the ritual of approaching my dog on point- moving out to the left side, scanning the area for danger areas, dogs, hunters, checking my gun was loaded, noting the sun position, wind direction, and watching the area in front of her.  All the tension departed, as I moved into the low (shin high) brush, anticipating the flush.  I was past her now, and she was a brown and white statue- eating scent, eyes glazed over.  One more glance at her, and sensing the wind direction, and I knew where the birds were.  I took several rapid steps to them and two chickens blew out of the brush, heading up the dune.  The Fox was on my shoulder before I could register it, and the left bird dropped. I swung to the right-side bird, just as he banked right and dove over the dune-top and down the other side. (A maneuver I’d used back in the Navy, centuries ago.)  Pearl was on the dead bird like a shot, and brought it down the dune and put it in my hand.  I took it, admired the bird with her, gave her some water, praised her, and told her to go find the other one.  She took off to do just that. She found not only that chicken, but a Sharptail, too- all over solid points, with excellent retrieves.  By the time we made it back to the truck, the sun was close to the horizon, the temperature was dropping rapidly and we were both tired and happy.

My little Pearlie is my girl.  I do love that little dog.  She can be a handful, at times.  But, I’m lucky to have her.  She knows it, too.  I can only imagine what and when our next adventure will be.  When it does happen, I’m sure she’ll keep me guessing, as I promise her I’ll give her away for half a bag of Ole Roy if she doesn’t straighten up and fly right!