Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Dog Art

Many times, when you want to thank someone for being helpful, the appropriate gift just leaps to mind.  In this case, a friend in New Mexico, invited me into his circle and opened up vast swaths of territory for me to hunt.  Although, I could miss and swear at plenty of Blue Quail in my old haunts, it was really nice to walk new land.  He converted a horse barn next to the house into a "man cave", and installed 50 amp service and water for my camper next to it. (Don't you wish you had friends like this?)  I noticed in January, while relaxing after a long day cussing scalies, that in among the deer heads, flying duck mounts, pronghorn antlers, Bass jumping, Geese flying, and big screen TV hung on the wall, there was no metal art!  An idea began to take shape.  Out in that part of the country, there are many homes with metal art signs out by the road.  I thought, perhaps, my friends could use a metal sign.  

The investigation started.  I knew what I wanted, but I rapidly learned it would need to be a "custom" piece.  The pre-cut art I was seeing just didn't catch what I had in mind.  I called several businesses, from all over the country, and could not find what I needed.  Finally, a friend of mine posted on Facebook a metal art sign she was gifted by a friend of hers for her new business.  Bingo!  I gave her a call, got a number for the metal art business, made another call and found what I was looking for.  

Chris Weber,, answered the phone (720) 448-4927, and with her help the idea began to take shape.  From the shape of the birds, the terrain in the background, to the "trees" (as they call the mesquite bushes out in New Mexico), and the GSP bird dog shape (copyrighted), it was all custom designed by Chris with input from me.  I came close to making the dog a Brit- specifically, MY Brit, since I had the profile already digitized from my logo.  But, I knew my friend was looking at obtaining his first bird dog, a German Shorthair Pointer.  Chris suggested I use her (Copyrighted) artwork, and it looked perfect. This was a complicated project, mainly due to the mesquite trees, but the finished result was perfect.  More to the point, my friends are ecstatic!  It will be on the wall of the man cave soon.  

There are times when I like to highlight other people or businesses loosely related to bird dogs or bird hunting.  This is one of those times.  (I received no compensation, in any form, from anyone, concerning this post.)   Chris had an excellent grasp of what I wanted and made it happen. I encourage you to give Chris and Cimmaron Dog Art a call, or visit online, to handle that metal artwork you've always wanted hanging out front. #abirdhuntersthoughts, #gearthatworks, #abirdhunterthoughts

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Middle Aged Bird Dogs

Where is the point in time in which the young, powerful, confident campaigner turns middle-aged?  Then old?  A sadness creeps in occasionally, as I watch my dog, Cap.  His name is 3X NSTRA CH FlyBoy Ace's Delta Captain.  He is a product of my best-ever male, Ace, and my best-ever Brittany female, Ruby, a direct daughter of Nolan's Last Bullet. I chose him out of a litter of 11 pups.  He was a terror.  He would walk across the other pups to attack the second largest puppy, and they would roll around growling and making puppy-mean sounds, scattering the other pups or rolling over them.
Young Cap on Gambles Quail.  Arizona.

He was precocious in his ability. I showed him one time what I wanted in backing.  After that, he absolutely froze with lightening speed in a classic pose to "honor" his hunting partner, whether it be in a field trial or just in the field.  The same with pointing, retrieving, quartering.  He is a natural.  One good thing: he doesn't carry any aggression in him at all. Occasionally, another dog will ease over and try to dominate.  Cap will stand his ground, but I never see his back up.  He is the "nice guy" in the pack. 

Cap and me.  Arizona 2019
His skills are classic and perfect.  I like his build.  From the big chest, with room for a big, blood pumping heart to the stubby little tail with a white tip, over the solid motor, he's built for running all day, over all terrain.  A few years ago, in the southern Arizona Mearns Quail mountains, Wally and I  stopped to take a breather. His two dogs were close by, and my Pearlie was close, too.  I checked the GPS to see where Cap was.  He was about 400 years to the north working a long ridge line, it said. I glanced up, just in time to see him cross over the top of the ridge, heading down the other side.  I quickly gave him a blast in the whistle and a "tone" from the GPS. I watched his distance-out reading for a bit (I keep it at 2.5 second update) to make sure he got the message, then turned my attention back to Wally.  In less than a minute, Cap came rolling in wondering what the hold up was, and ready to get back to his job immediately.

Cap and First Sharptail Grouse.  Montana
 Until recently, he wasn't the pack leader.  Ace was.  When Ace died, Cap stepped up.  Shack and Blue, younger males, tried to push him around in the GP (what we call the large, fenced-in play yard).  He would always stand his ground and de-fuse the situation.  Once or twice, I would find a little blood on the nose or ear of him and one of the bigger males- usually when one of the females was in heat.  But, they settled it themselves, and Cap was still in charge. He would push the bigger dogs out of the way, and his "stare down" was very effective.

Cap and me in the blind.  NSTRA Field Trial.
His style and class make him a natural for field trials.  He is successful at them, and just plain fun to trial behind.  We have fun- win  or lose.  The confidence factor, knowing I can turn him, stop him, and that he is solid in all areas, makes for an enjoyable time- even if we are beaten.

A few months ago, January 2020, I was in Arizona a second time hunting Mearns Quail.  I was introducing some friends to the area.  I took them to a spot I had my best day ever, just a month prior.  Josh put his dog on the ground and I put Cap out.  As usual, Cap took off, heading out for scent.  I didn't see him much, after that.   I just walk along planning my route and wait for his pager (GPS) to go off.  When he gets thirsty, or needs some positive reinforcement, he will swing by.  Occasionally, he will get to higher ground to check my location, then he'll move out again.  (I can watch all this on my GPS.) What was bird heaven a month prior was now a wasteland.  The Mearns moved off.  I imagine that ridge was hit hard after we left, the month prior.  It's hard to hide gunshots that opening week of Mearns Quail season.  The temptation to "march to the sound of the guns" is too great, I suppose, for those not having much success.

Whatever the reason, we did a lot of walking, talking, and hoping, and not much shooting.  At the turn, high on the mountain, where several ridges come together, we sat and commiserated.  Suddenly, my pager went off and I checked that Cap was on point 150 yards away, over the top and down the other side of the ridge we were on.  I knew exactly where he was.  He pointed this very same covey the month before. They are down a steep embankment, in thick trees, at the bottom of a gully.  They will flush when they hear you coming down the steep slope to them.  Over the top and down we went, toward Cap and the covey.  Sure enough, just when we could see him down below us, through the trees, we heard the flush.  Birds went everywhere, but mainly down and up the draw, through the thick stand of trees.  We threw some lead, but they were untouched....again.  These are darn worthy opponents!

Rather than climb the steep slope back up the ridge, we decided to go with the flow and go down to the bottom, then follow the drainage back to the main road and the truck.  Cap was working well, although the hills were steep.  He checked in often, as we made our way back.  Then, Josh looked up and said, "Holy sh$t!  Look at that!", (or words to that effect) and pointed to a shear rock face to our left.  I looked up the cliff  just as Cap got about halfway down, and looked like he might make it.  But then, he got airborne, flipped around, and landed on his left side on a bunch of smooth river rocks in the drainage.  I held my breath, as he got up, looked at me at trotted off.  He was holding his back left leg off the ground, too. Over the next few hours, as we made our way back, he pointed a few birds, on three legs, but showed no signs of quitting.  He is tough one.

Here we are, in my den.  The hunt is long over.  XRays, etc. are long done.  He's still limping, but is putting weight on the front and back legs. He will run the Georgia Championships in two weeks, then he will have the long, hot summer off.  He will be 10 years old in May (less than two months).  But, even though he's reached middle age for a bird dog- even though he limps on his front and back left legs- even though his right eye is opaque due to 3 eye surgeries- even through all that, he is my best dog.  Not that he's just the best one I have in the pack, he is my BEST dog- or one of my Best Ever.  I look froward to another 3 years on the field with him, and a few more after that.  His fall did him no favors, but then, who am I to criticize about limping, slow recovery, and poor eyesight.  I'm right there with him. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

NSTRA: Working a Stubborn Bird

Scott Townsend and Jimmy working at finding a buried up bird.  It takes a staunch dog and a savvy handler to make it all work out. In this case, it all worked according to plan.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Dressing For Success

The title is really a misnomer. Well dressed to the eastern grouse hunter means something entirely different to the Chukar hunter of Idaho.  Old pictures of the southern quail hunting gentleman show breeches, high lace-up leather boots, corduroy jacket, button-up shirt with a tie, broad brim hat, and a light double gun.  The dress for an Arizona desert quail hunter may include snake chaps, jeans, short-sleeved shirt, strap vest, and broad brim hat.  A South Dakota pheasant hunter's dress might be what's called functional- what works to stay warm, or cool at the Opener, and a gun big enough to drop a wily rooster at 40 yards.  That being said, I fall into the middle somewhere.

2001 at a Field Trial
It's hard to beat jeans.  They are cool when it's hot, warm when it's cool, and comfortable all the time.  Bo and I were at a field trial in the warm weather.  No briars, no sticky things at all. It was dry and the walking was easy.  Jeans and a t-shirt and ball cap were perfect for the day.  Notice the leather gloves.  I'm addicted to leather gloves.  A certain kind- made from deer hide.  They seem to last about a season or two, deflect briars, and allow me to hold the gun tightly in all types of weather.  Once, In New Mexico, I took a Blue Quail, shot by a friend of mine,  from my dog, and I tossed it to him.  He reached out to grab it, glove-less, and dropped it like a hot potato.  He swore, "Dang! Check those things for sand spurs before you toss them!"  "Sorry!" I said, "I couldn't tell it rolled in sand spurs!"  Gloves are an everyday item for me.

Mearns hunting on the Opener 2019 Warm Weather
Jeans, gloves, t-shirt (the wicking kind), good sunglasses, broad-brim hat (it keeps the dermatologist happy), solid vest (WingWorks), and double gun make the Mearns hills and draws in Arizona much more comfortable.

Shelby and me South Dakota. Temps 20's to 40's
Moving into the mid temperature range, it seems I'm always where the wind blows, as well.  Shelby and I are in South Dakota with temperatures in the 20's to 40's, and windy all the time.  She, and her husband Matthew, are proponents of the slip-on chaps.  When I would hunt the briar-filled draws of my Georgia clear-cut lease, back in the early 90's, I wore a pair of Double Tin chaps by Filson.  I still have them and they are perfectly functional (with a little duct tape around the bottoms to allay the shredding caused by briars.), but these days I forgo the chaps for functional pants to lessen weight and binding while walking.  I found a company in Oregon (Kuhl) that makes the perfect mid-weight hunting pants.  They are not water proof (They do have a waterproof variety.), but they don't reach out and suck up dampness like jeans, they can take a fair amount of cold wind, and will deflect a moderate amount of briars and New Mexico vegetation. They make shorts out of the same fabric.  I wear them all summer long, and will field trial in them on those hot afternoons when I'm questioning the wisdom of wandering around in the heat.

Shack and me. Kuhl down jacket. 

A windproof, light jacket with layers underneath is a must.  I have an Orvis jacket (above) with a cotton shirt and wool pullover sweater underneath.  My normal leather gloves were replaced with gloves my kids got me for wet, cold weather- Gore Tex lined shooting gloves.  I was trying them out- loved 'em. A friend gave me a Gamehide upland jacket and it works as well as the Orvis jacket, and has big pockets, game bag, etc.  Broad-brim hat, sunglasses, and vest, of course.

I had to go to the "big hat" theme when they started cutting pre-cancerous stuff off me.  Most old men that have had an outdoor life will understand. (Young bucks! Wear a big hat, sunscreen, and ear protection.  Don't be an idiot.)  I've worn one for many years- different types, shapes, and fabrics.  My current fav is a crushable, felt hat that will take a lot of abuse and still look pretty good after I shake it out. Typically, it will travel rolled up in my backpack on the plane heading out to fish, but fill out immediately when I pull it out.

BJ, my wife, and me.  South Dakota
Moving in to cold weather hunting, the key is layering.  The broad brim hat is gone because the wind was 20+ mph all day- replaced by a wool hat (actually TWO wool hats.  It was that cold.) I switched to the Gamehide jacket with layers- Merino wool pullover, cotton long sleeve polo, wool, Gore-Tex- lined, pullover sweater, and windproof shooting vest, all under the jacket.  The good thing about layering is being able to selectively shed garments as the day unfolds.  BJ is layered top to bottom in a similar fashion. Boots to chin, she's all Orvis for women. That black thing around our necks might be the single best cold weather piece of gear. Neck Gators. Up in Pierre, SD (pronounced “peer”, not a Frenchman’s name.) at Running's, they have an entire wall of these things. They are the bomb for staying warm in cold, windy conditions. They are also good for the occasional bank robbery.

Ruby, Shack, me in Nebraska with Prairie Chicken and Sharptail (Kuhl hunting pants)
South Dakota 2017 (LLBean wool pants)
Layering and wool solve a lot of dilemmas.  Wool sweater, wool and cotton underneath, wool pants (make sure you're not likely to be in briars all day), and you can see I've already shed my jacket (tied it on the back of my vest.). The ubiquitous leather gloves and sunglasses.

Sunglasses:  Back when my vision hovered around 20/15, and I thought I was bullet proof, I wouldn't wear sunglasses.  Now, my vision is NOT 20/15, and, in fact, to sharpen near and far vision, I wear bi-focals when I hunt.  It’s not a show-stopper during the day, to not wear sunglasses, but it sure sharpens things in the field.  I finally chose WileyX.  They are, literally, bullet-proof (well, close. They will stop a pellet to the eye.), they have all the UVA protections, are light, and stay in place.  (And the old Ball-and-Chain likes the way they look.)  Note: Be sure to get some yellow lenses for low light, cloudy days.  They really lighten everything up.  As I said, mine are prescription lenses.  None of them are cheap, but I like my eyes, and seeing is a good thing.

Boots: I've been all over the charts with boots. Rubber, leather, combination. Hiking, bird-hunting boots, Kangaroo leather, hand-made, custom fit, smooth bottom, aggressive tread, straight last, curved last, lace-up, zip up, slide in.  I learned one thing.  If they work for you, wear them.  I buy hiking boots.  I've found that most "bird hunting" boots fit some guy's idea of what we should encounter walking around a southern quail plantation to shoot, then climbing back on the mule-drawn wagon back to the "big house" for a finger or two of good Bourbon before lunch. In other words, they can't handle a season of hunting 4 or 5 different landscapes around the country.  My favorites for years were Danner Pronghorns, but I'd go through a a pair a year.  Lately, I’m currently wearing a pair of "Crispi" boots I got at Scheels.  Once again, they aren't cheap, but they won't make you rob a bank, either.

Does any of my fashion advice make me a better bird hunter?  My dogs think so, but you can't listen to them. They think everything I say is wise and wonderful.  (We gotta love them.) Clothing doesn't make the bird hunter. Whatever you feel comfortable wearing that will keep you cool in the warm fall weather and warm in the winter wind will work.  Nobody that's been doing this for any length of time cares what anyone else is wearing- they only care about what keeps them ready for the flush, is light enough to wear all day, and warm enough to keep them alert and not thinking about how cold and uncomfortable it is. So, the proper clothing will enhance your hunting, while on the other hand, poor clothing choices will make for a  miserable experience.
An old grouse hunter told me, "Randy, when you meet a guy in the woods, look at his gloves, boots, and pants. If his gloves are well-used and cared for, his boots are scarred, but in good shape, and his pants are clean, patched and well-worn, you are most likely looking at a guy that knows what he's doing, and what he's talking about."  Like most advice coming from an old guy peeling an apple with a pocket knife, I thought it was worth passing on.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


The truck was in sight.  I had a few birds in the bag, and my legs were like rubber.  Age was kind to me, but he was no gentleman.  There was no, “Would you mind if I cut down on your endurance year after year?” or “Please remember to write everything down, or I’ll have you standing in the kitchen wondering what you went there for- just a reminder.”  No, he was no gentleman.  It was the same every year, as I noticed tired legs, stopping to “catch my breath” while walking up hills I would jog up in past years, and forgetting obvious facts and names.  Even more telling, I noticed the young bucks I would hunt with were only making it up the hill about the same speed as me.  It struck me later they were waiting for me, watching out for the old man. Even Shelby, (a friend’s wife, and darned good hunting partner) would stop and gaze out over the land for a bit, ostensibly to check out the habitat, as I caught up.  (Dang twenty-somethings should learn to be a little more circumspect.) 
As I approach 70, I can see the faintest glimmer of the end in sight.  Some days, it’s a mere lightening of the sky and I push the thought from my mind. Other days, it’s a lightning bolt in front of my face.

Ruby (#2), Cap, Ace, and me.  North Dakota

I was close to the truck now, and Pearl, my little Brit female, ran ahead to find the water bucket I always set on the ground before I leave.  I watched her stick her head down and drink greedily, and I was reminded of past dogs, gone many years, who’d done the same thing.  Suddenly, Ace, my male Brittany, was right there.  Lying down in front of the bucket gulping huge chugs of water, too tired to even stand, his big, powerful body was sucking in the fluid.  He owned these Montana hills, year after year.  He was dead 5 years now, barely making it 10 years before the cancer took him.  But, at that moment, I could see him and hear him.  It was pleasant, but not- at the same time.  I forced myself back to the present.  I put a hand to Pearlie’s head, and told her what a good girl she was, and that her dad (Ace) would be very proud of her.  Ghosts.  Ace, and other dogs long-gone, in that spot and in other places in Montana, or Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oklahoma, or Kansas.  Old dogs, good dogs, brag dogs.  They own, forever, patches of land all over the country. 

The New Mexico sand hills region and oil patch is not the prettiest place I hunt every year.  It’s smelly, hot, cold, windy, pokey, dry, slicker than snot, and will tear up a truck and tires.  It is, most years, loaded with sand burrs, requiring a hunter boot the dogs every cast, and every plant or animal out there sticks, pokes, or bites. But, it is one of my favorites,  and it is loaded with Scaled (Blue) Quail.  Hunting it this year, I happened upon an area I remembered from 15 years ago.  On my first-ever trip to New Mexico, Bo, my setter male, ran off.  I combed the country talking to oil field workers, game wardens, even a live talk-show on the radio looking for him. Nothing, so far, but with all that hanging over my head and on my mind, I still put a dog on the ground.  Peaches was a big, white setter female.  With a great nose, and a wonderful personality, she was a pleasure. She hit the sand and grit with a long stride and determination.  We hunted a large circular course around several big pump jacks.  She pointed covey after covey that day.  I swear she was doing her best to take my mind off my lost dog.  My shooting was spectacular (for a rare change), and it took no time to bag a limit that day long ago. (Bo was found after a week. His adventure is the subject of another tale.)  This day, I off-loaded Shack, a big, male Brittany, a litter mate to Pearl.  I turned him loose and, as he made his way over a dune, I remembered Peaches slamming to a point on the top of that very dune, pinning a covey of Blues in the scrub just on the other side.  I smiled as I huffed to the top looking for Shack.  I was, sort of, hoping he’d be locked up on the 7th generation of those Blues Peaches found years ago.  It wasn’t to be, but the thought kept Peaches with us that day, as Shack and I looped around the area.  Her ghost was whipping that tail back and forth, slowing and, finally, locking up- her long, feathered tail straight up at 12 o’clock.  Shack never saw her, but she was with us all day, off and on.  This spot in NM is where she was special.  She’s waiting there for me every year.  Even if I don’t show up in person, I can be there instantly with just a thought.  Peaches.  I smile when I remember driving down to Bronwood, in South Georgia, to get her out of a tremendous litter.  What a nose she had! 

Most of my days, now, hunting in North Dakota and Eastern Montana are spent behind my Brittanys.  But, in the early years, my male setter, Bo, was my go-to dog.  This year, I put Blue, a 2 year old Brittany, on the ground in a large Block Management area in Eastern Montana. As I looked up the gently sloping alfalfa field, it was easy to visualize old Bo cutting the field into manageable chunks and scanning the areas with his nose.  He was not a beautiful setter.  He had a tail with a bend over his back, but it never got high enough on point anyway.  When he hit scent, he froze. Instantly!  He would be twisted, front or rear low, head turned- an instant marble statue.  It’s not hard to feel the excitement, seeing him twisted like a pretzel, and knowing he doesn’t make mistakes.  This day, Blue hunted his heart out, running big and fast, with the energy only a 2 year old can muster.  He never saw his older brother working right alongside him, coaching, suggesting, and leading him to the back of the field and a covey of Sage Grouse that stayed close to their lek just off the plowed area.  The day, many years prior, when Bo first pointed them, he was 150 yards away, a white dot in the green.  When I got to him, 5 huge birds lumbered into the air.  I let them go, not sure what they were.  They were the first Sage Grouse I’d ever seen.  Later, I found out just how heavy they can be in the bird bag.  Good, old Bo. My only “cover dog” and National Champion. I drive past that field almost every year, Bo long since gone, while glancing at the hills hoping to glimpse a flash of white roaming the hills around that special spot. 

Me loving on Bo.  Montana

I don’t know if I’ll be able to return to several areas of the Wisconsin Grouse woods.  Not because I physically can’t, but because the memories are still too real.  Ruby, my first and best Setter, was an amazing dog.  Almost all white, with a little orange around her eyes, she was so classically beautiful on point, it took my breath away.  I bought her because I wanted a dog with a little more range than the Brittany male I started bird hunting with.  At 7 weeks old, driving back from Wade’s farm in Tennessee with her curled up in my lap, how could I know I was holding the best bird dog I might ever have? She was perfect every day.  When I decided to try hunting Wisconsin Ruffed Grouse, Ruby was there- ready to go. I would open the crate door and ask her, “Ready for another day, girl?”  Of course, she was always ready.  Years later, I took Shack and Cap, both accomplished male Brits, to the grouse woods.  I stayed in the usual motel, drove the usual roads, and let out at an intersection of roads and trails deep in the National Forest.  Both boys worked well.  I had no complaints about them- just that they weren’t Ruby.  Her memory came on strong as I was walking the hunter trails.  Her beeper (pre-GPS days) would go off, and I learned you’d better not hesitate getting to your dog in the thick woods, as the Ruffs would walk away, right from under a pointed dog, and then flush when they felt comfortable. I got my first double on Ruffed Grouse over her, and I re-lived it when I saw Cap moving through that same area.  He’s no slouch as a bird dog, but, if he could have seen her moving through the woods with him, like I did, he would have known he was watching perfection.  That little patch of clear cut is totally grown up now, but it will forever hold the memory of my all-white, perfect girl locked up on 6 Ruffs under a dead-fall, just off the gravel road, deep in the Wisconsin North Woods.


At least 18 states hold bits of dogs long gone but seared into my memory.  I load up the dogs and ponder which of them will leave their ghost behind to haunt me in this particular part of the country. Perhaps none of them, but I know in my heart that won’t be the case.  These dogs are as accomplished as my earlier dogs ever were, and they’ll have their good days, stellar days, and leave their mark in the wheat fields, alder swamps, Arizona Mountains, alfalfa fields, or field trial grounds- just like the past dogs.  I realize that one day, as age creeps in, all I will have is the memories.  The body will give out and I will be forced to hang up the lead.  I reach to my right, as I drive off, to stroke the head of whichever dog earned front seat privileges that day, and I hope, one last time, to see a flash of white through the trees around the bend in the gravel road.  

(If you enjoyed this story, check out my book on Amazon-Click HERE.)