Sunday, October 22, 2023

A True Story



The old dog and I put out on a day that was cool, as the sun was about an hour above the Montana horizon.  This was a special spot.  Last year, he and I moved 16 coveys of Huns and Sharptails in the alfalfa fields, along the creek and below the hills that rose up from the north edge of the water.  He moved slower now, but still watched me and bounced around, and woofed at me to hurry up.  All he needed was for me to take a step in the direction I wanted to go, and he would move out, nose up, quartering in the wind, searching for the scent of whatever game-bird this particular piece of country had to offer. Ten seasons, almost forty trips, tens of thousands of miles driven, added up to a wise, old bird dog that had seen and done it all.   


As a young dog, he was blazing fast.  He never out-ran his nose, and he was all business.  In NSTRA trials, he would make an initial cast and loop back around to me as I left the start line.  Many was the time the judge would make the mistake of staying with me, instead of going after the brown blur off the line.  After a minute, with him still gone, I would tell him, "You'd better go find him.  If he's not back by now, he's on point."  Sure enough, I'd watch the judge head out and eventually raise his hand, "Point!", he'd yell, and I'd hustle to get to my big Brittany.  Now, he wasn't so fast, but the heart was just as big, the desire to please me just as intense.   


We left the truck, and the howling dogs still in their kennels, and I stepped into the knee-deep alfalfa, watching the old dog work the wind.  It didn't take long before the head came up, the movement became precise and calculated to put that nose right in the middle of the scent cone.  A few minor adjustments and he froze.  The point lacked the quivering intensity of past years and, perhaps, some of the style, but the nose was deadly and the knowledge of how to treat these birds was still spot-on.  A single bird got up, and the old boy watched it fall and put it in my hand.  A stroke on the side of the head, a drink of water, and a "Good boy!" and he was off again, quartering the wind, checking objectives and glancing at me (so quickly, it was hard to catch) to stay in front.   


After a half-mile of this and another bird in the bag, I gave him a long wail on the whistle to call him in  and we took a break on the top of a levee.  We shared some water, and he allowed as to how I was shooting pretty good today.  I accepted the praise gracefully, knowing he's seen quite the opposite many, many times.  I took off my beat-up hat and thanked God for this old dog and the time I was allowed to hunt with him.  We are reminded, in the Book, that life is nothing more than a vapor in strong wind and is over in a flash.  How much stronger is the wind regarding the lives of our hunting dogs! It’s a terribly cruel joke, I think, to love something so much and have it last but a minute. I struggle to my feet, leaning on the old double gun as the dog took off into the wind once more.   


He slowed up considerably and limped constantly, now. But, he knew where he wanted to go to find the birds.  It pained me to watch him with the swollen elbow and lack of the grace he had in abundance as a younger dog.  Almost to the truck, at the end of the last field, he turned and locked up once again. Breathing hard, I could see he was tiring.  The thought crossed my mind, this might be his last hunt. I quickly discarded that notion, "No.  Surely he has a few years left in him!", and quickly walked to where he showed me the bird was hiding.  The big Sharpie got up and I unloaded both barrels at him, managing to hit him but not knock him down,  He glided down through some trees and in to the field below as I lost sight of him.  Ace watched him, too, and looked back at me before trotting down the hill, through the trees and out in to the next field.  I quickly followed, not willing to be chastised again by the old campaigner for not keeping up.  His nose picked up the scent and he went straight to the bird.  He brought it to me and, this time, he set it on the ground and dropped down next to it.  It was the last bird he would retrieve.  

Photo by Gary Thompson


He faded fastThree weeks laterwe took him to the local University Vet School to see if there was anything to bedone. Later that same daythe doctor called and said there was no hope.  The cancer was too far gone.  I said make himcomfortableI'm coming to take him home.  They let him walk out from the back.  He saw me, and his tail startedwagging.  He staggered a little bit walking to me.  “Where’ve you been, Boss?” He and I drove home in our usual spotsme driving and him curled up in the passenger seat. 


Three days later, he walked into my den and lay down at the foot of my desk.  The drug patch for pain meds wason his side and his shaved leg and bandaged other front leg were all a testament to his last day in the hospital.  He was in his spot, I was in mine. I sat down next to him and took his head in my lap.  He gave me a huge sigh,  “I’m so tired“, he said, “Are you going to be OK, Boss?“   “I’ll be OK, Ace.”  It was the only time I ever lied to him 

For more bird hunting and dog stories check out my two books on Amazon, Endless October and Endless October Season 2.  Endless October (Finishing October) out soon.  


A cruel joke, indeed.    


Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Texas. Quail Mecca.



I’d like to hunt Texas more. The reason I don’t is simple.  I can’t afford it. That’s not a reflection on the folks in Texas, it’s just the reality.  Compared to most western states, Texas has an insignificant amount of public land.   They have some huge, well-managed Wildlife Management Areas, but the hunting pressure is overwhelming in good years.  Western Texas does have BLM and State land available hunt. To really enjoy the bird hunting in Texas, a lease or a day-hunting fee on private land is the way to go for me.  Leases can be affordable, and the day hunter fee is usually not prohibitive, but I end up saving my nickels and driving to states where public hunting lands are plentiful.  One notable exception happened back in the early2000’s. 

I wanted to hunt the wide-open west. 

It was a great year for Bobwhites, and all the publications were touting the advantages of Texas.  I read all the information I could find, and finally settled on the Panhandle as a likely location. Most places offered up leases and/or day hunting fees.  I didn’t want to get locked into laying out several thousands of dollars to hunt one area, so. I explored the day hunting idea.  At the time, $100/gun/day was the average going rate.  (Dirt cheap by today’s standards.). I finally called a few places for more information and found them to be full up.  Finally, I decided to call the Chamber of Commerce of a good-sized town and asked about “day hunting” a ranch.  “You need to call Will,” she said.  She gave me the number.  No last name- just Will. 


Will answered the phone and was friendly and likeable.  He told me the family had around 9000 ac. just outside of town.  It had a few cows on it, and a few pumpjacks, and a lot of quail.  He was not a bird hunter, he explained.  He guided on the place for deer and Pronghorn. No one lived there. “Meet me at the gate at eight in the morning, and I’ll let you guys in,” he said.  The next morning, Will took us on a tour and said he’d be back before dark, and drove off.  That was it. 


We parked on a hilltop and put our dogs out at 10 am.  It was near the end of the season, cold and windy, but there was water in the stock tanks and the grass was tall.  By the end of the day with two guys walking with two dogs on the ground, we had 17 pointed coveys.  I didn’t keep track of the singles.  It was getting dark, the wind was picking up, and the temperature was dropping. On the walk back to the truck, we had to leash the dogs, or they would point more birds.  


Will was waiting for us at the trucks.  For not being a bird hunter, he enjoyed the tales of the day as much as we enjoyed telling them.  Finally, he said, “Well, I got no idea how much to charge you guys.  What do you think is fair?”   Questions like that are enough to tempt a bird hunting Baptist Preacher.  “Will, this was an amazing day.  Honestly, I think the going rate might be up to $200/gun/day in parts of Texas this year,” I said.  “OK,” he said, “why don’t we call it $100/gun/day?  Here’s my address.  When you get done, make sure the gate is locked, and send me a check.”  We shook hands and that was the last time we saw him, although we hunted that patch for a few more years.  “You might want to check out our other place by Amarillo.  It’s 32,000 ac., and it has plenty of quail, too, but they are a different kind.,” he said on a phone call later.  “Talk to the Ranch Manager.  I’ll call him.  Same deal for money.  Good luck you guys,” he said as he hung up the phone.  


 I was driving out after a frustrating day hunting Blue Quail in the Texas Panhandle near Amarillo. A drought gripped Texas, and I was thinking about moving up to South Dakota, when I saw a bird flush to my left close to the truck. I stopped, grabbed my gun, my dog, Ace, a handful of shells, and stepped off the graded sand road of the ranch. The world exploded when 30 Blues Quail got up all around me.  I stepped into the middle of them, and more ran off into the brush.  Ace stopped to the flush, and I watched as they scattered out along a stretch of flat, brushy, sandy, grazed-over pasture. The sun was at my back, the breeze was in my face, it was 30 deg., and I wore a big grin as we set out to some of the most fun shooting I ever had.   It was cold out, and the ranch picked up a little dusting of snow that day. After the birds landed, I could see their tracks running into clumps of grass or cactus. I laughed when I saw a set of tracks run into a clump of grass and not come out.  Ace locked up time after time pointing two or three of the little buzz bombs before they erupted out of the pointed cactus, shin-oak, or grass patch. We took our time, easing along and hitting all the cover, ditches, and vegetation. After what seemed like 5 minutes (an hour plus), I grabbed for more shells and came up empty. Ace was pointed, the sun was low on the horizon and the temperature was dropping like a stone. I had one shell left in the A.H. Fox 20 ga. double and was one bird shy of the limit here in TX. (Limits never held much fascination for me. I rarely got close enough to worry about them on quail. But today it would be nice to round it out.)  Ace pointed the base of a cactus as I eased on up alongside him. I glanced at his face, and it was set in that stony look bird dogs get when they are dead center of the scent cone, mesmerized by the smell. I kicked at the shrub and 5 gray blurs came out of that cactus heading to all points of the compass. As a lefty, I locked down on the one heading from my left to right, checked his location down the barrels and pulled the trigger to a satisfying little “whump” when he hit the trace of snow-covered sand.  Ace brought the bird up and put him in my hand.  “It was a pretty good day, after all, Boss,” he said.  We headed to the truck on the horizon. 


Texas will always hold a soft spot in my heart.  Wide open, rugged, with a ton of quail.  




Monday, October 16, 2023

Tent Camping in the Mountains for Old Men

It's been over a half-century since this boy spent any time in a tent.  This hunting trip, I decided to revert to the basics in order to save a little money on the ridiculously sky high diesel prices across the country and use a tent versus my camper.  In light of the fact I would drive over 6000 miles, a little saved at the pump could be significant.  Waterproofing, ease of setup, comfort, and cost were all factors in my choice of tent.  I found several I thought would be perfect, but they would take two people to erect. I ended up with this tent by Magellan.  Not only was it amazingly easy to erect by myself, but it allowed me to stand up inside, it came with LED lighting, it had plenty of openings for air flow, came with a separate rain cover, and appeared durable with heavy duty zippers and substantial ground spikes and tie lines. I took the liberty of sealing all the seams with a spray waterproofing sealant, and I bought a ground tarp and cut it to fit.  Set up was fast and easy.  The tent, when properly staked, seemed to be able to take a substantial wind, although I did not encounter anything over a stiff breeze.  I did have a rain event the third night that dropped an inch of rain in the mountains.  I noticed a small drip at the base of one of the zippered windows- nearly insignificant. 

It packs up into its own canvas bag (first picture), weighs 20-30#, and is approx 6' long.  It fits perfectly in the back of my truck.  It's not for backpackers.  Two adults with cots would have an easy time of it.  For just me, it was like a room in the woods.  I would have liked a tarp over the entrance, especially during the rain event.  

In retrospect, I'm really amazed at how comfortable I was.  With the rain, sun, breeze, and temps in the 30's-40's at night, I had a blast.  Made by Magellan, I bought it at Academy Sports.  I think next time, I will ditch the Tent Cot, for a regular cot.  I will put a tarp over the door, and bring my (super quiet) generator for a small heater and coffee maker.  I probably just went from camping to glamping with those additions, but that's fine with me. 


bird dogs and bird hunting

bird dogs and bird hunting
Finished in 10 minutes

 Note:  I'm not compensated in any way by Magellan or Academy Sports. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Product Review: Lick Sleeve- an alternative to the 'Cone of Shame'

Unfortunately,  Blue tore his CCL a few months ago.  One month before we were due to leave for Wyoming and Montana. Throughout the process of diagnosis, surgery, $$$$, etc., one bright point was when the vet told us about the Lick Sleeve.  It replaced the Cone to keep the dog from licking the incision site. What a great product! It's so simple, and works so well, I'm amazed I'm only hearing about it now. 

Blue out of TPLO surgery.  The incision is inside the knee. 

Blue with the sleeve on- no cone!

It's made from a slick and tough fabric that discourages dogs from tearing it off.  And they can't reach the wound to lick it.  So simple!  Washable and fits either rear leg.  They have one that fits the front legs, as well. Only one snap.  It isn't available on Amazon, but I went to their website (Lick Sleeve) and ordered.  It arrived in 2 days. 

Most highly recommended!

Note:  I'm not endorsed or compensated by this product.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Awesome Open to the 2023-2024 Hunting Season

I loaded the dogs and drove to meet friends, first in Wyoming, then in Montana. I waited a little later in September to try and avoid the stifling heat.  To a large extent, I succeeded.  The first week I camped up in the mountains at 7500', hunting for Blue Grouse.  We were very successful, and I learned all over about camping in the cold! Then we drove to meet 5 other friends for Sage Grouse, Chukar and Hungarian Partridge.  The hunting was exceptional, but best part of this portion of the trip was the food! With at least three "foodies" in the party, we cooked our birds in tasty and creative ways every night.  After a week, I said my goodbyes and drove to Montana to chase Sharptail Grouse and Hungarian Partridge.  The weather was excellent and all the dogs did well on the Sharps and Huns.  Overall, it was a tremendous way to kick off the season! 

Shack and me after Blue Grouse

JD and 3 Blue Grouse

Marker Cairn

2 Sage Grouse

JD Retreiving BlueGrouse

Lunch Break on the Prairie

Double on Hungarian Partridge

Out on the Prairie

Rest Break