Friday, June 7, 2024

The Doldrums

The Doldrums


I don’t have any use for summer.  Except for an hour after sunrise, it’s too hot and humid to train dogs.  The pasture grass is too high, and the ticks and fleas are nasty. Unfortunately, we have plenty of summer here in Georgia. The dogs get a few months off.  Shaded kennels and a huge shop fan keep them happy and cool.  On really sweltering days, they have “The Condo”, an insulated room with air conditioning and a dog door. But I think that may have been a waste of effort.  They really don’t use it much, and prefer to lie on top of their DogDens, in the shade, and keep an eye out for renegade squirrels.  


A few years ago, our old house started feeling like a prison with the brutal heat and humidity outside.  We decided to take a camper trip out west.  We wanted to try fly fishing, so I bought an outrageously expensive fly-fishing outfit from Bass Pro.  It even had a little tube to put the flimsy pole in.  I was impressed. Rod, reel, and line set me back close to a hundred dollars.  Then, I had to buy fake bait.  I drew the line at waders, boots, vest and all that stuff.  


We headed west and I made a phone call to a guy I met at a few NSTRA trials over the years.  Gary lived in Ennis, MT.  He and Martha were both fly fishermen, I remembered.  Gary said come on by.  He said he’d be glad to take us fishing.  We showed up with the camper, parked it, and stayed in his guest house.  The next two days, he rowed us down the Madison in his drift boat.  We learned so much about fishing!  Gary was the consummate host as he gently instructed us on casting and attaching the flies, etc. At one point, my wife’s Bass Pro Shop reel self-destructed.  Martha took it off and went to the local fly shop.  “I hope they can fix it,” I said.  She looked at me, bemused, and said, “Randy, I’ll get her a nice one, don’t worry. This one can’t be fixed.”  That is when I learned about good equipment.  It’s just like a nice shotgun, or bird dog.  It’s not cheap. About halfway through our stay, I noticed we were using their rods, reels, and flies.  I fell in love with one of Gary’s setups.  I can’t remember the name of the rod (Wilson?), but I do remember it effortlessly put the fly just where I was looking - every time. 


We left our amazing hosts and drove down to the park.  We saw bears, Elk, deer, geysers, steam and amazingly beautiful scenery.  We also saw some awesome rivers.  Fishing rivers. Yellowstone NP has a lot of great fishing.   I noticed, and it appeared I was hooked (pun intended). We drove to meet another Gary who lives in Wyoming.  I met him through a Facebook Group friend of a friend.  My wife calls these meet ups “facebook dates”.  This Gary is also an expert fly fisherman.  He met us at our camp in the mountains and arranged to take us down the Big Horn River in his drift boat.  Again, I noticed he gently took my wife aside to get her a nice Cutthroat using his own setup.  I thought I would get excited when I had a big fish on the line. My wife got even more excited.  Gary knew exactly what he was doing. It helps that he is a licensed fishing guide and a pro. 

BJ with her Cutthroat Trout


Since that trip, we make time to break up the summer with a trip out west.  The Madison, Gallatin, Big Horn, and Missouri Rivers, and numerous smaller trout streams were destinations.  The equipment, of course, got a huge upgrade.  I ran into trout bums from all over the country.  Some that even made their own rods from bamboo.  One year, my wife and I flew out to fish Yellowstone N.P.  We found a wide stream meandering through a broad meadow and put out on the trail that ran along side.  She was very concerned about bears and was uncomfortable about fishing there.  She took two cans of bear spray and settled in not far from the car, while I eased up the stream for a short distance.  I met two old men walking out toting bamboo rods and worn-out fishing vests.  They said the fishing was great. I cautioned them not to act like a bear up around the bend in the trail or they’d get two cans of bear spray in the face.  We all laughed, but I noticed them looking where I was pointing.  A short distance up that very stream is where I stalked and landed my first wild Rainbow trout.  Later, my wife said she heard me whoop!


My first solo Rainbow

Years after those first few trips, I am still a novice fly fisherman but with nicer equipment. And, while the tug to fish might not be as all-consuming as the yearning to be in the field with my bird dog, I will use the heat of summer and fishing as a great excuse get out west again.  After all, I don’t know who said it first, but “Trout don’t live in ugly places.”  It’s true. 



Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Some pretty good dogs I have known. By Scott Linden (Guest)


Some pretty good dogs I have known


By Scott Linden


I am the luckiest guy on the planet. I get to hang around bird dogs. Some are mutts, others are refined canines of the highest order, with pedigrees boasting an alphabet’s-worth of capital letters.


Some have entrenched themselves in my memory, become the stuff of campfire stories or inspire subtle smiles during business meetings. I’ll bet you have sigh-inducing recollections of dogs that shared a field with you. Maybe they’re like mine …


Missy was a mutt, half Lab, half Brittany. A pint-sized bundle, she never ran fast or far. But her tiny body contained a gigantic heart. The quail covers we hunted were peppered with blackberry thickets, and the flushing half of her DNA would propel her to their darkest, prickliest corners. She would emerge, ears bloodied, just long enough to retrieve quail we’d shot. Her owner still carries her memories on every hunt and so do I.



Scratch the shorthair is a walking (okay, running) miracle. You would never guess one front leg had been crushed and skinned by a jeep wheel. He pants and slobbers through quail covers at fever pace, outward evidence of his demonic obsession with birds. Owner Nancy Anisfield deserves a medal for channeling it. Considerable effort with numerous setbacks finally resulted in this inspiring dog earning a Versatile Champion title at the recent NAVHDA Invitational. 


Duke, also a shorthair, is an introvert. A mid-season replacement at a Montana hunting lodge, he gazed right through me when we met, searching for – what? – universal truth? The meaning of life? His thousand-yard stare drew me like a magnet, finally intrigued enough that I asked if we could hunt him the next day.



He wasn’t “finished” by any means, but he employed every skill, all his natural abilities, all the tools he’d learned in his short life toward serving us. He found birds. Pointed. Okay, he flushed some. He retrieved, even honored another dog’s point, sort of. All with a workmanlike style (if you could call it that) I would love to see in my employees. He’d shown us everything a young dog should, in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs, ultimately defining whatever word is the opposite of “flash.” Poise?


Someone shouted “point” and two TV cameras, two shooters and a guide scrambled toward Duke’s trembling form. Bird up! Bang! Bird rolling downhill, and Duke watching, staunch. “Fetch” shouted by his excited new owner, and soon the bird was delivered softly to hand. Cool, calm, unfazed. If he could talk, he’d have said “all in a day’s work.”



Baron is a Deutsch Drahthaar, and his noble demeanor reflects both his name and Teutonic heritage. He methodically works the wind, moving with a minimum of wasted effort toward his ultimate goal – a bird in the air. When I want to know we’ve covered a field from corner stake to corner stake, I ask for Baron. Being German, he would probably show up on time, too. At home he will survey his domain from a porch bench – you’d think. But he’s really watching out for his human while she gardens, intently scanning the horizon for danger. Or birds. 



Harry’s coat was black as coal on a moonless night, the young cocker’s eyes shone like the only two stars in the galaxy. His unbridled joy at hunting infected all of us, and enchanted the 16-year-old we had invited for her first hunt. 



He is the protons and neutrons of a highly-charge atom, orbiting a nucleus of even more energy. He vibrated. Stub tail a blur, he would wriggle under palmetto branches to put birds in the air, then retrieve with an ecstatic yip, launching himself into his handler’s outstretched arms to thank him for being allowed to GO HUNTING. 


Just 35 pounds of over-caffeinated elegance, a little setter in California would slam into the scent cone as if it were a brick wall, quivering until a shot was loosed. She would never be a trial dog, streaking away at the flush. But she was as earnest as any I’ve met, concentrated dog-ness bursting from her tiny body. Even her “drive-by” retrieve manifested the extra measure of hunt in her; she barely slowed while dropping the bird at her handler’s feet. At the end of the day, she slept the sleep of the righteous – knowing that no dog could give more than she had.


You have your own list, misty recollections of long-gone dogs. Go ahead, take a moment and look back on them. I’ll wait.


Dog memories make long hot days of summer go faster. Misty at first, becoming more clear as leaves turn russet and gold. There might be a genetic connection to your current dog, or that pup you’ve been eyeballing. You might be reminded of a long-lost hunting buddy. Whatever the link, it is often sweet, sometimes bitter, but always worth another look.



Randy:  I've known Scott for many years.  Initially, only by his media and online presence, but that changed one rainy day in Idaho.  I heard he was at a sports store in Boise, doing a whatever it is he does.  I was tired of slogging through mud and the dogs needed a rest, as well.  I drove to Boise, went to the store, and introduced myself.  We had a long chat and connected as bird dog friends with a promise to hunt one day.  So far, we haven't made that happen.   I think mainly because trying to get a retired, traveling bird hunter together with a famous author, blogger, and TV personality is much harder than it would seem. I've been on his podcast twice and we chat every year to catch up.  One day, I'll trap him and we will have a day or so together that we can lie about.  Until then, I stay up to date by connecting to his amazing BLOG "Scott Linden Outdoors".  

Monday, April 22, 2024

Hunting Trucks, Mud, Sand, and Snow


It’s the eternal problem of bird hunters all over the country from September to February.  Not only can you not expect good roads, you should plan on mud, snow, sand, and rocks. 

Let’s go over some items I carry and a few things that are just part of the truck. 

First, 4-wheel drive. I know you could drive all over dirt and gravel from Montana to Arizona in your 2WD vehicle. I’ve done it. I had a 1989 F150 with a positraction rear end that went everywhere. Until it didn’t. I met a nice Georgia farmer with his tractor that day. Every truck I’ve had since then was 4WD. I use it every trip all over the country. Is AWD the same thing? No. I’m not an expert, but I’m assured 4WD is more flexible and locking hubs are important. 

Second, good tires. I have Michelin LTX AT/2E tires on my F250. I have put 60,000 on a set with plenty of tread left over. (They get rotated every oil change ).  I drive 1500 to 2000 miles, one way, to get into birds, it makes sense to have good, solid freeway tires. But, they need some good off-road tread, too. These tires do it for me. I would expect you may find a different set-up. One year, in North Dakota, I was stretching the mileage on my tires, and a farmer drove up, looked at my tires and commented how I’d probably end up in a ditch. He wasn’t wrong. You need good tread. 

Third, tow straps. I have two types. The wide, flat type, and the “snatch rope” type. Both are 30’ long and rated to over 30,000#. I also have an apparatus to hook the strap(s) to my receiver hitch.  I can pull someone, or they can pull me out. Mandatory equipment. 

Fourth, traction devices. I carry two sets of Go Treads.  12' long plastic ramps, basically, that will allow your wheels to have traction and get out of mud hole.  In addition, I carry Track Claws which strap on to the tire to get traction out of mud.  A while back, I bought some plastic chains that are easy to install in snow or mud.  They worked great. I no longer have them for two reasons.  The first is that (and this was my fault) when I was a trying to tow my camper over soft ground, the tires started spinning in the chains and became useless.  I'm positive if it was only my truck, they would have worked as advertised, however.  The second reason is more serious.  They have a shelf life on the compound used for the chains of 4 years.  They aren't cheap.  My first set, when I needed them in South Dakota muck, literally broke while installing them.  Useless to me. They were stored in my truck for 6 years.  I complained to the manufacturer and they sent me two new sets, and that's when I learned about the lifetime limit.  They are awesome, and they work.  For 4 years.  Recently, I've been searching "tire socks" for snow.  They seem to work.  I haven't used them, but I see a few issues.  They don't work in mud. Mud is the medium that is my nemesis.  Second, is they may tear and become useless.  There appears to be a limit on the uses before they need replacement.  Third, they are becoming more expensive and are approaching the cost of a set of chains.  Lastly, there are chains.  They work. A pain to put on and take off, but it's hard to find a problem with them- sometimes they are required, too.  

Fifth, Your Brain!  We all know when it's just plain stupid to drive on the two-track.  I am a classic example of impatience, and I don't want to lose a day in the field.  But, wisdom is creeping in over the years. Take a day off and/or remember that if it's frozen on the way in, it may be impassable on the way out.  Also, don't tear up the farm roads.  You don't have to live with the ruts.  

What am I forgetting? This is what I use, but I'm sure there are other items that would be a good idea to carry, or equip your truck with.  A winch, perhaps?  Leave your comments.  #abirdhuntersthoughts 

I am not sponsored by any of those products listed. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This one is a pistol.

Jade (JD) 10 mos. 

JD and me- AZ Desert

Maybe it's just me, but puppies seem to be getting smarter.  OR, I suppose I'm not. This little demon might just be the end of me.  She is 100% what I asked for from the breeder.  Like an idiot, I said "big runner, on the ragged edge of control, tough, smart".  You know the adage, "Be careful what you pray for, you may get it."  

She is not two years old, yet.  But, she just finished her second season hunting 6 western states.  I put no pressure on her at all.  What she learned was to quarter, stay in the county, and keep me in sight- all good stuff! I did break her to retrieve, and she's really good at that and enjoys it immensely.  Her pointing and steadiness were spotty, however. 

The last two months all that changed.   We are using pen-raised quail, but she hits them like they are Sharptails in the alfalfa.  By the time June rolls around, I'll have a steady little bird dog ready to join in the line up.  There are few feelings of satisfaction more gratifying! 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

One tough SOB

I came across this picture of my Brit, Cap, from NM 4 years ago. We were hunting Gambel’s Quail around an old corral. The initial cast was away from the corral, up in the hills. The whole time, Cap kept slowly working toward the corral, and I would call him back. Eventually, I told my partner I was going to swing down that way. I saw probably 100 quail in several coveys over the next hour. Cap knew where they were. The issue here is that there was plenty of old, low-slung barbed wire in the area. His tracking, pointing, and retrieving took him over and under a lot of it. I did not see when he got hung up, but when I saw his bloody tracks, I called him to me. He had a pretty good slash on his left front leg. Some blood stop, antiseptic, freshwater cleanse, and a staple gun took care of it. He didn't like it, but he took the rest of the day off. He looks like an old boxer after a hard-fought fight. I wish I was as tough as this guy is.

FlyBoy Ace's Delta Captain (Cap)