Saturday, December 10, 2016

DUCKS AND CHUKS


    The sunrise is always one of my favorite parts of the day. I think I prefer it to the sunset, because the sunrise represents the beginning of a day full of possibilities, where the sunset is simply the beautiful close to the day. Today however there would be no sunrise. A heavy snowstorm was sitting on top of Tic and I as it started to get light. Instead of black and white slowly sharpening to color with the glowing eastern sky the snow flakes just got whiter and the silhouettes of my seven decoys became visible. It's early December and even though the duck hunt has been open since the first Saturday of October this felt like opening day for me. For a variety of reasons I have not really started hunting waterfowl until after Thanksgiving in recent years. I tried to hunt last weekend but the ducks weren’t using this place just yet. Today was different. We had a hard freeze last week and I was really confident that they would be here now. As it started to get light I could hear the distant calls of hen
mallards off in the distance reassuring my confidence. I always giggle when I hear them going off. The sound of a mallard hen is one of my favorite sounds in the world. There was no wind, but with the storm system running by I was hopeful to have a great duck hunt.

I saw exactly zero ducks for the first 45 minutes of shooting time, and I have to admit it was a little
discouraging. I was just starting to think that it wasn’t going to work out at all when the wind kickedup and it started snowing even harder. Like someone flipped a switch I saw the washed out pattern of black specs slowly turn into the silhouettes of ducks in the snowy sky almost immediately. It was a big flock of maybe 20 birds. I wondered if the small stream I was set up on could even hold that many. I picked one of the louder calls on my lanyard and started filling the air with duck, but it didn’t take much. They made one pass downwind then turned and cupped. As they approached I was feeling so alive. It had been a while since I landed a big flock of greenheads. They took forever to close the last 50 yards, but I waited patiently. I shot the last drake in as he was about to land then quickly tried
to find another. I know there were a bunch of drakes but my dang gun kept finding hens as they were escaping. At the last second I found another drake and shot him just as they caught the wind and disappeared like ghosts in the snow. By the time Tic returned with the second duck the snow had stopped but the bitter cold wind had not. I normally hate wind. It ruins or makes difficult almost all outdoor activities, but it makes a duck hunt. I will take wind over any other element when hunting ducks. It makes everything easier. It wouldn’t be long before I heard a group of chattering mallard ducks flying behind me. I froze still but I could see that Tic had them spotted.
When they circled down wind I then could see them.
 There were 12 or so mallards. I
hit them with one big old boss hen, and they ate it up hook line and sinker. Again I waited and shot the last drake in. This time my gun found drakes quick and each shot fired brought another crashing down. As Tic went to work cleaning up I thought I’m shooting this new Winchester SX3 pretty well. Of course the shots were “give-me shots”, but just last week in the chukar hills you would have though I had been shooting blanks. lol As old Tic trotted in with the last duck a pair circled out in front I said “WHOA!” to Tic and he stopped, still holding the last duck. While he stood still there in his snow camo out in the open

holding that duck those two dropped in. I shot the drake and watched the hen fly away. Tic dropped his prize to trade up and retrieve the other. This is happening fast I thought 6 already. In no time at all we decoyed another small group of 8 and I was able to shoot the last duck of our seven mallard limit with my seventh shot, believe it or not. We were back and the truck by 9:00.

My hunt is never over at nine. I had the whole day to spend, but I knew what to do. Why not hunt chukar? Sadly my favorite spot out that way has been grazed by sheep, or “meadow maggots” as we call them. There would be no birds there this year. I called a friend and discussed some other options hoping he would be able to join me for the rest of the day. He couldn’t but he helped me figure a good place to go, and an hour later I was standing at the bottom looking up at the mountain.

Tic is not the best chukar dog, but he usually gets it done. So I had high hopes that the chukar hunt would be as successful as our duck hunt. I changed Tic's collar from the SportDOG 1825 training collar to the TEK 2.0 Tracker/Trainer and traded the SX3 for my favorite and ever reliable Browning O/U that I affectionately refer to as Cindy. We worked our way up the hill, and as we reached the top Tic looked a little bit birdy just over the edge, and then turned and locked up hard. I hurried to him, but before I got there the little turd broke point and raced in flushing chukars in every direction. My jaw must have hit the floor as I stood there with my mouth open watching birds fly away. I was so shocked and so mad at him. He has been a different dog since his thyroid has been bad, but he has never done anything like this. He is 7 years old, I thought why would he start this crap now? "Well maybe its a one time thing," I thought. I tried to put it behind me and we continued hunting until he found a single and pointed it, again the little turd broke point, ripped the bird and I had to let it fly away. I ran to him and set him back saying whoa as sternly as he has ever heard. He knew how displease I was with him. As the day went on he kept doing it. In total I had to let six opportunities in a row fly because he kept breaking point. I have to admit I was really frustrated. I thought about retiring him. I thought about starting a new pointer pup. The one that the Mr Wiggins keeps offering me. For the first time in his life I had zero faith in Tic. I was just about ready to walk off the mountain and call it a day when he locked up on point again. Finally, this time he held, and I walked in flushed a single
and killed it with my first barrel. (That's 8 shots in a row for those keeping score at home.) I guess I must have made my point because he retrieved like always and his point was fine from that moment on. Bird dogs? They boggle the mind sometimes.

As Tic got his mojo back my shooting would go the other direction. He started getting birds pointed but they were jumping a little bit longer than I would have liked. Probably because we had chased them all over the mountain already. I can normally make those 35-40 yard shots with ease, but I was really struggling now. I lost track of how many misses came in a row but it was more than eight before I finally scratched one down. Then true to form I would shoot my last four chukar with five shots the last of which came over Tic's best point of the day. He was just gorgeous standing at the base of a rock slide. He held strong for a long time. When the birds flushed I shot the
first one that jumped and we were headed home to plan the next adventure. I walked off the hill confident in him again after being ready to retire him only hours before. Tic is a character both good and bad, and he is the strangest dog I have ever owned. I love him, and he is my best bud quirks and all. I wonder if he was ready to retire me when I started missing just as he started holding point again. Probably not. Dogs are more forgiving than we are. When he is gone and I look back on him I’m willing to bet it will be the memory of his little quirks that I cherish the most. Tic is his own dog and God bless him for it.



I'm so hot and cold as a shooter. My gosh I would like to find a nice shade of constancy. There is something about a limit of mallard drakes and a limit of chukar on the same day that is a special combination to me. I can smell the gumbo cooking.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Just Another Chukar Adventure

Driving out to the desert in the darkness the conversation was of all things bird dog. I had just returned from the National Bird Dog and Field Trial Museum in Grand Junction TN so I had plenty to say. Lol My good friend Cade Allen had brought along a 1 year old pup that he was excited to test on wild chukar this morning. Of course I was excited to put our four year old dog Sunnie back on chukar too. After months of grouse, pheasant, huns and every other game bird that westerners are blessed with I was excited to see her in the open country on her favorite game bird. She is probably at her best on chukar, and when she is really on there are fireworks in the chukar hills. I always wait until after Thanksgiving to start chasing chukar. In Utah we have so much time in the winter to pursue them, and so many other birds to hunt early that it seems natural to put it off until the other hunts slow down. So for me, the uplands in December and January are all about chukar. We drove to a spot I had hunted a couple times and prepared our dogs and gear.

Cade and I had never hunted chukar together so I think both of us were excited to share the day. I looked up at the mountain and humbly said “this looks steeper than where I was yesterday.” As always in Utah's Chukar land We started by gaining elevation. Before we had topped the first bluff my SportDOG Tek 2.0 was going off telling us Sunnie was on point up over the top. We broke ourselves trying to get to her. When we got there sweat was dripping down my neck, and she was standing tall and as pretty as I have ever seen her.

Annie, Cade's pup, went in and to our surprise backed Sunnie. The back was only temporary though. She being a puppy left her back and went on searching. Cade and I stomped around but couldn’t produce anything or even find tracks. I released Sunnie and she covered the hillside working the wind in the deliberate manner she always does until....Boom! She hit point again 40 yards to our right. Annie again backed for a few seconds and then broke only this time she ran straight into the wind and pointed. Sunnie did as she should and held her point. We walked out in front of Annie and sure
enough a small group of chukar escaped to the west while we filled the air with our shot patterns. Cade and I looked at each other in disgust. He said “I didn’t see anything fall. Did You?” I said “no, we suck.” We chatted for a minute about how bad our shooting was and how many birds we should have. You cant help but laugh. We talked about what we thought just happened with Sunnie and the puppy and everything that just went on. With the wind blowing up the hill I'm certain Sunnie winded those birds from way up high. She was blessed with a better nose than most, and we have been blessed with her. Spend enough time with her you will see something incredible.

Cade and I decided to split up and take separate ridges up in order to give our dogs a chance to work independently. I sent Sunnie up the hill to the left and he sent Annie up to the right. We would meet at the top.

Its no secret I like to be alone in the field. Everything becomes my observation of it and the world can really be seen in its clear nakedness without the concerns that fog my mind when hunting with a partner. As we separated I started to really see the hill for the first time today. The dog floating effortlessly up, down, and sideways working the wind as it swirls up the canyons. I could see the expression of true bliss on her face as she did what she was born to do. She knows this is her purpose. I could feel the wind on my face nipping my ears. It almost hurt. The small rocks on the partially frozen nearly vertical ground slipping beneath my boots making every step difficult yet adding to the experience of the mountain. I noticed there were lots of little tracks in the snow. “Hey! Those are chukar tracks dummy!” My inner voice shouted waking me from my moment of clarity. The only bad thing is that they were going straight up the hill. Sometimes I hate chukars. Sunnie had slipped out of sight while I was daydreaming and I was just thinking of checking my Tracker when it vibrated. I looked at it and sure enough It was showing the stop sign indicating that she was on point. I decided to try shooting a video while I followed the tracker to the standing dog. Its my first attempt. I’m glad I shoot a gun a little better than a video camera. lol So you can watch this and we can pick up at its conclusion.
                


There were probably 8 or 10 birds in that covey. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for getting a double on the covey rise and had forgotten all about the poor shooting 45 minutes earlier. I went on my way but didn't see any more birds until after Cade and I met up.

At the top, Cade came stumbling across the snow covered loose rock and we talked about our time apart. He had managed to get a single pointed and shot. It was nice that we both had dog work, and got birds. I explained to him the route I thought we should take he agreed and we worked our way along the highest ridge toward the long south facing slope that we had planned to hunt down. Sunnie dropped off the back side and started working an open hillside that she liked. She was 250 yards down the steep hill. I told Cade there is almost never birds on that face. I whistled for her to check back but she blew me off and kept hunting. I gave her stimulation from the collar and she still ignored me. If she blows off the collar there is a reason. “I don’t want to go clear down there.” I said Complaining. Cade didn’t want to either, it almost was straight down. Cade laughed and said “well there it is.” as she locked up and pointed. I Grumbled a bit and said “are you coming with me?” Cade foolishly agreed to come along and we started half sliding half walking down the hill. I grumbled the
whole way down about how much I hated chukars and everything about them. I kept saying this better not be a false point. By the time we got down there the birds had moved on her and for a few seconds we thought we had walked all the way down there for nothing. I relocated Sunnie, and as I did Annie pointed. Sunnie not seeing Annie on point found scent and pointed on the other side of the small gulley and we were in business. The cheat grass erupted with about 15 birds flushing. Cade and I somehow managed to shoot the same bird.... twice. No matter how much you talk about shooting your lanes sometimes this just happens. We got two out of it, twice. We each took one and were happy even though we could have done better. We would now have to walk clear back up to the top. We had lost almost all of our gained elevation. Somehow the climb didn’t seem so bad as we had good dog work and a nice covey flush at the bottom. I still hate chukars though.

We got to the top fatigued and breathing heavy. I said “we sure are stupid.” I say that at some point about just about every time I hunt these evil little birds. We paused for a minute to catch our breath and then started our decent. We were finally hunting the south face that we had planned to hunt all along. It wouldn’t take long to find birds either. Sunnie ran straight down and I lost her over a rise a minute later the tracker was going off . She was 324 yards down hill on point. We started to her when Cades tracker went off with Annie on point at 54 yards so we went to Annie first. Two birds flushed , and Cade connected on one. I didn’t have a shot. Quickly, I hurried toward Sunnie, who was still on point 300 yards away while Cade looked for his bird. I got within sight at 200 yards from her when the birds got fidgety and flushed. Sometimes they just don’t wait. Fortunately I saw where they went and we got them pointed again. We had several other pieces of dog work and by the time we were taking pictures we were talking about how promising Annie looked and how good Sunnie had been.
Chukar are an amazing game bird. They live in the most challenging terrain. They hold wonderfully for a pointing dog, and because it is such open and elevated country where they live the images are breathtaking. The dogs love them even though they are always bloody by the end of the day from the brutally steep and abrasive terrain. Every time I hunt them it is an amazing day of experiences and challenges.


Thanks for the wonderful day, Cade!

Cade with Some birds

Sunnie and I with our birds



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Four Tough Days

    
   It all started as a duck hunt. While on vacation hunting pheasants for nearly two weeks I had watched these mallards do the same thing every day I was in the area. They would come of the roost at about 9:00 in the morning and trickle into this slough until about 11:00. There were lots of them. It was a couple miles out to where they were. All on foot of course. I had been sort of saving the shoot for when I had time. I only get a short time to hunt pheasants so I figured as long as the weather held those ducks would probably wait. Well I was wrong. With my pheasant itch scratched I finally decided to walk out to the little slough. Having seen the ducks go in there the day before I was sure to have a quick shoot and be on my way to more upland adventures. Well waterfowl being what they are at 10:00 I had seen zero ducks. Not even a single bird. At 10:30 I decided to walk out and go check the roost. Sure enough the roost was empty. They had moved out the night before ahead of the cold front that was coming. I should have known. I thought I would have one more day before the front got there. I was a little frustrated with myself for not hunting them when they were there, but I knew putting it off could result in this. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I regrouped and went about the rest of the day chasing long tails.
    The grass grew high and thick this year in Utah, and Southern Idaho from the rare rains that fell last spring. We aren’t used to these conditions here and my family and friends have all shared their struggles in the unusually thick cover. It isn’t as fun. You don’t get to watch your dog as much. You cant see him most of the time, and for me that is a big part of the magic of the hunt. Don't get me wrong the sun still rises and sets over the same breathtaking landscape, but without visibility of the dog something is lost. Multiple times I myself have had dogs on point, followed the tracker to them, worked the flush only to see the bird squirt away on foot through their secret network of little trails under the heavy growth. It is frustrating to dogs and hunters alike. This isn’t South Dakota. The fields aren’t full of birds. There are only a few birds, and they are tough to find on normal years. Getting them out this year has proven difficult and at times mentally defeating. A flushing dog would be a better choice maybe. (Don't tell anyone I said that.) We have somehow made the best of it, and have been walking back to the truck with tail feathers protruding from our game bags more times than not.
It is late season now and Tic was rested so I put my old friend on the ground, and sent him on a cast to enjoy the cool afternoon. It has been a warm fall. It was so nice to walk without sweating. Tic had more energy too and was really working his guts out for me. It is no secret that Tic has a thyroid problem and is on medication for life to treat it. He is not the same dog he was before the health issues, but he gives me a good days work and is still a bird finding fool. It isn’t as refined as it once was, and he gets in his own head sometimes, but he is still my best bud, and I trust him completely with the hunt. As I would expect he did a great job covering every inch of ground until he found point. He would point several times, but he was color blind this day. Though I enjoyed watching him work hens we were still looking for that elusive rooster when the sun sank behind the mountains. Tomorrow would be a new day and I was confident we would find roosters.
    
    I try to rest my dogs every other day when I can so Sunnie would get the call on day two. She is by far the better of the two these days.(don’t tell Tic, or Angie I said that) I have so much confidence with her out front. Her beauty and grace as she floats over the landscape is second to none. I try to hunt her in shorter cover for that reason. I love to watch her work the wind, and every now and then she does something really amazing. This was not now or then but after two hours of watching her work everything from grass to sage and even cattails she finally stopped. She had crawled into some cattails and went on point. As I started in to her a rooster jumped and shot out behind me. I turned and stumbled but found my feet quick enough to put the pattern on him. At the report of the gun three more roosters and two hens went. All the roosters were out of range. I hustled to where my rooster had fallen. The ground was nearly bare but he was nowhere to be seen. My heart sunk in my chest as Sunnie searched relentlessly for the downed bird. I had seen this before. The thing I hate worst about hunting is losing a wounded animal. It is a fact if you hunt long enough, even while trying to do everything right, you will at some point lose one. I hate it! After an hour of circling we gave up. My heart was heavy and not only had we lost a nice bird but I was sure we had seen every rooster in the state just fly away. I am nothing if not determined. I convinced myself that time had taught me to just keep covering ground and eventually the luck will change. “Hunt like you know they are there” I kept telling myself. Around noon my belly started growling so we started back to the truck to get some lunch. As we were walking down an old Agricultural access two track road I saw a rooster flying. He landed 50 yards in front of us, and as we came around the bend in the road I could see him standing on the road looking at me. I thought “Wow, this one is dumb, Finally!” The wind was at my back so I backtracked to where he couldn’t see me deciding to get the wind right so Sunnie could have some of this. We went around where the bird had been and worked back to it with the wind in our face. Sure enough Sunnie locked up as confident and beautiful as ever. As I walked in I could see part of the bird's tail sticking out from under the edge of some cattails. I thought how has this bird lived this long. He is dumb. He was in a thin band of cattails just off of the two track with a pond on the other side. I wanted to avoid the water retrieve if possible so I tried to work in between the bird and the water to flush in a better direction, and I was about to find out how he had lived this long. As I took my last step I slipped a little and the bird took that opportunity to run behind me. When I tried to turn myself around he flushed. My feet got tangled in the cattails and I tripped and fell down twisting my knee as he flew to safety. Sunnie gave me the look. I have never been more grateful that dogs cant talk. I was injured enough without her giving me the business. My knee seemed okay but my Ego was a little bit injured. Age might be catching me a little. I have always had great feet, and could turn and shift them as well as anyone, but now I was starting to question myself. After lunch we went on about hunting. I tried hard not to get discouraged. Sunnie kept the tempo up and helped make it easy to keep going. At about 4:00 she hit the brakes and stood in the middle of a grove of Russian Olive
trees. This is another trick I have seen before, but more times than not I am able t get the rooster flying through the trees. As I got close the bird flushed. It was a nice rooster. He put a tree trunk between he and I and never gave me a shot. FRUSTRATED! At this point only one thing could save the day. I went back to the truck and drove straight to the closest Ice cream vendor. I got a thick Caramel Cashew Malt on my way home. It is a well known fact that you cant eat a Caramel Cashew malt and be sad. It helped some, but I was already thinking about tomorrow.

    Day 3, Tic on the ground. My knee was a little stiff but with the help of Ibuprofen I was able to walk. I had gotten with a friend to hunt some public land close to home. Yes, it had come to this. Pen raised roosters. Certainly I could get an easy two over Tic and stop this streak of bad luck. I had some adulting to take care of in the afternoon but certainly we could get our birds by noon and be on our way. I will keep this part short. My friend, Maureen saw one rooster that caught her sleeping and she didn’t get a shot off. I saw one rooster at about 100 yards flying. That's it. I was a responsible adult and went home to take care of business.

     Day 4! Sunnie on the ground. Again! I was really frustrated now. Anybody that knows me well will tell you the harder it gets the more determined I get, and it was only this determination that pushed me forward to hunt again on day 4. I went to my favorite spot in Idaho, and vowed not to return to the truck until we had a bird down. Sunnie was fresh, sharp and looked like a million bucks. She hit point after point, again and again only to see a hen or two flush away to safety. She seemed as determined as I and her search was fast, thorough, and relentless. She had covered 21.4 miles and I had 8.2 miles according to the SportDOG Tek 2.0 GPS before our luck would change. She was working the scent of a running bird in medium grass when by chance the bird took a wrong turn and nearly ran into me. Both he and I were shocked and surprised. He had no choice but to flush at my feet. Somehow I managed to get my feet set, the safety off, gun to my shoulder, get down on the gun and track the bird all on autopilot. The bird crashed to the ground a victim of my bottom barrel and Sunnie dove on it within seconds. I think she knew how desperate this situation had become. She brought the bird to hand and we rolled around in the grass together while I said good girl over and over. As hunting is we would go on to get two more roosters in the next 45 minutes both pointed and both flushing behind me. I was singing all the way home, and the world seemed normal again. Maybe I’m not old just yet.





Sunday, October 9, 2016

Crusted Blues

As Tic and I started our descent I could see there was a crust of snow in the shadows of the pines on the southeast side of My Hell Hole this morning. I had not been up there for several weeks so I was excited to see mother natures frosty October breath starting to take its toll. The aspen leaves were yellow and falling, and the under-brush was almost bare. One of the most valuable assets of this wonderful place is that dusky grouse seem to gather here as the season goes on. It just gets better and better with the declining weather. The only way in to this place is down and the only way out is up. It is like hunting chukar in thick brush. It is brutal, and I love this place.


Tic was running below me searching a group of pines just below the top when birds flushed all around him they rocketed down the canyon gaining speed with gravity's help. I was just out of range and chose not to take the chance of crippling one. Tic stopped to flush and as I walked in another dusky flushed and quickly put a pine tree between he and I to aid his escape. I chuckled a
little as I thought about my old dog and I having been made fools by this first group of birds. Tic didn’t look as amused as I was and I think he was blaming me. Never the less when I released him he went right back to work. I wasn’t sure why he didn’t get them pointed but as I walked I began to realize the crusty snow was making our movements very loud. It might be a tough day. These late season birds are not the “fool hens” that my grandfather would talk about. They get up and get gone! We walked on and the crusty snow would make it tough to get close to anything telegraphing our location and path constantly. I heard several birds flushed far away from me and Tic we didn’t get within 60 yards of them. I was getting a little bit frustrated when my Sportdog Tek 2.0 tracker went off telling me that Tic was on point. I quickly started in his direction, but again birds started flushing before I
could get into sight of him. My luck would change this time however. Two birds flushed late as I got to Tic. I missed the first one but connected with the second and it tumbled down the steep hill with Tic in Pursuit. Tic was on the retrieve, and I was able to admire my old dog for just a moment as he struggled up the hill with the huge bird. That was just the medicine we needed. Both of us felt better with the little bit of success. The rest of our morning would be more of the same. We had points with birds flushing early and behind trees. We had wild flushing birds and even a nice point on a ruffed grouse that played his game rather than mine putting the only tree around between us. Sometimes things go perfectly and other times it seems impossible to get a shot. This was the latter. We would come home with only two birds, but I think it was the most fun we have had so far this season. There were lots and lots of smart grouse and it is fun to get worked by them every now and then. I learned through the years to respect the Duskys that live in My Hell Hole. Though they seem like fools at times if the cards are stacked in their favor it can be a very long day. What great birds!


Friday, September 2, 2016

Early September Grouse First hunt of the year


A little rain fell last night so I was feeling very hopeful while driving to one of my favorite early season grouse spots this morning. I had a brand new tracking collar that I was excited to try out. Its a sportdog Tek 2.0 and with a dog that runs like Sunnie I knew it would come in handy.

It was just before sunrise when I slipped two 1 1/8 oz number six's in the chambers of my 525 and we started up the hill. Sunnie and Tic were all wound up. It always makes me giggle when seasoned dogs get so excited about a new hunting season. I was excited to see my dogs now veteran dogs work together doing what they specialize in. I never get tired of watching a fine dog work scent and hit point. With a slight breeze in our face I was feeling really good about the possibility of getting some good dog work.
The first to show off some skills was now 7 year old Tic. He found a nice ruffed grouse tucked tight in some dead fall. I could barely see the tip of his tail through the heavy cover, but the tracker got me there. The bird shot like a rocket, barely visible flashing through the green leaves of the early
Look hard maybe you can find Tic in there.
September aspens. I swung quickly and shot as the bird disappeared behind a tree. I had to laugh while I thought to myself just because you get them pointed doesn’t mean you get a great opportunity. I did not connect and though I wanted the first bird in hand It was still fun to see Tic with a full tail of hair get the first point of the season. He has been so solid for me for a long time. He always give his all.

As we walked on up the canyon. I heard a hawk scream a couple times and then saw two blue grouse flush from up on the ridge and fly back over my head down toward where I parked the truck. I have to assume they were frightened by that hawk neither dog had gotten within 100 yards from where they flushed. I was deep in thought about this when a voice from my Tek 2.0 Said soonie is on point 110 yards to the south east. Soonie? I laughed the device always mispronounces Sunnie's name. I turned on my screen and followed it to her. When I got there I couldn’t see her at all but a big blue grouse flushed I tracked it and shot as the barely visible bird flashed through the trees, and again I only got one shot and did not connect. Sunnie came out of the brush looking at me as if to ask, well, where did it fall? She always has a way of making me feel bad for missing. “I'm sorry” I said out loud “No bird”. I'm glad dogs cant speak because she gave me the dirtiest look as she started about her business again.  Another hour would pass before I would hear “soonie is on point” again. This time she was 45 yards away but before I could get to her I heard a bird flush, but never saw it. When I got to her she was still standing but had lost style telling me that the bird had indeed flushed. I have to admit I was getting a little bummed by now. I was a little discouraged as I released her and we started on our way. It wouldn’t be long before Tic would slam point. That point where the dog is running full sped and all of the sudden spins and freezes all in one motion. "WOW! Nice work Tic I had better get a picture of that one." I thought. With camera in hand I tried to get a better angle and whoops..... There went the bird. I didn’t even get a shot. It was
another ruffed grouse. A beautiful red phase bird. I wanted to hit myself with a stick. Now I was really down. “Get a better angle dummy! Maybe shoot the first bird of the year before you worry about stupid stuff like pictures.” “UGH!” What can you do? So I sent the dogs hunting and off we went. Fortunately Tic didn’t make me grumble and moan very long before he was standing over a nice blue grouse. This one would meet my determined side as he tried his escape flashing through the trees. For the third time I quickly tracked the bird and flashed a shot at the last second. This time I heard the bird crash through the underbrush. Tic brought the bird to hand. I was so happy to have been able to finally finish one. Sadly
it was starting to get hot. Both dogs had the look of exhaustion on their faces so we hunted back to the truck not seeing anything on the way back.

It was still a fine day. The Sportdog Tek 2.0 proved to be a useful and effective tool. Even though I had only one bird in the bag I watched some brilliant dog work. Both Sunnie and Tic looked great. I cant wait to do it again in a couple of days!
I just have a feeling its going to be the best year yet!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Art


     I woke in a cold sweat with my Setter, Tic's nose one inch from my face. His terrible breath was a comfort to me as it was the first clue given that I had only been dreaming. I had a nightmare! They had canceled bird season and all I kept thinking was how all the hard work we had done during the off season was to be wasted. What would I do in the fall with no bird hunting? A smile came to my face as I sat up put two feet on the floor and said jokingly, “Cancel bird season?” I had to laugh. I looked down at my little Setter sitting in front of me looking at me like he knew something about today. “yes we are going to hunt birds,” I said quietly. He looked excited to hear me say the words that he had been hoping for, and had heard so many times. I got to my feet, stumbled through my morning routine and It wasn’t long before we were standing at one of our favorite haunts. It was early November and we were really into our bird groove. Ruffed grouse were on my mind, and the thought of a hike through the Wasatch Mountains was sounding really good.
   Standing with my gun broke under my arm looking up at the glory before us I could feel the light breeze blowing the crisp smell of winter down the mountain to sting my face. Soon it would snow, and I was happy to get another hunt or two in before winter in the high country. The wind would be perfect for Tic, and I was excited to see my veteran bird dog perform his version of art in
front of me. The leaves were mostly gone the trees were barren, we were alone, and there wasn’t an unnatural sound to be heard. Perfect! I thought about the terrain I had walked so many times, and quickly came up with a strategy. It would be a long hike along a gentle ridge to the top, and then our best chances at birds would be on the other side. Without another thought I sent Tic to hunting and I started in behind him working up the ridge toward the top. Walking in the forest behind Tic these days is like being with the best old friend I can possibly imagine. It is comfortable and relaxing. There is a feeling of trust and a complete understanding of each other. I don’t have to say anything he just plays his role on our team, and I do my best to fill mine. We are in sync.
    My thoughts blend into the surroundings, Tic moves to my side, and a complete relaxation comes over me as I now find myself standing on the top of the world gazing humbly out over all of creation. The magnitude of what's in front of us leaves me feeling small and insignificant. Tic standing beside me looks as though he is as captivated by the landscape of the world below us as I. We are alone, but stand together motionless, and silent. Only the sound of the wind blowing across, through, and between us separates our being. Without a sound, a gesture or command we start down together in perfect unison working toward a common goal. I feel connected and in sync with him, and I know he feels the same. My eyes follow his movements as he casts across the unbelievable landscape, searching, always searching. He is a picture of life, of beauty, and athleticism against the backdrop that is mountains, canyons, trees, and rock that run from here to eternity. Their beauty is just a Siren's call luring us into the difficult, and relentless terrain that causes struggle, and harbors our reason. We search long and hard until all at once the world stops. He has found a place to stand. His tail straight in the air , his nostrils flaring,
and his mouth is tasting the sweet intoxicating flavor of scent that he lives for. He is motionless before me like in a painting that only I can see. The picture moves me emotionally and just for a second I am hesitant to move in, flush the bird, and shatter the perfect moment. I now have to do my job for him as he has done for me. Carefully I slide in toward the standing dog. Ready, focused and almost frightened with anticipation. I can hear myself breath. Then with the first wing beat silence turns to chaos, and the bird is flashing through the trees. All in one motion my feet shift, the gun to my shoulder, the safety off, the quick swing and the report of the gun brings the bird crashing to a stop. I can hear my breath again, and then Tic's as he returns to me carrying his prize, his head held high with pride. I break my gun and remove the spent shell. I can smell the soothing aroma of burned powder. For just a moment we are content and accomplished before we return to our search.
   That would be the only time we would achieve perfection on the day. This was a beautiful dream that stood in contrast with the nightmare I had woken from in the morning. I never tire of watching a veteran bird dog brush his print in the canvas of the magnificent world we are so bless to be a part of. There is nothing more beautiful.


Thank goodness for bird season.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My first puppy.

 It is the off season. June staring July in the face more inspires lazy hot days, grilling in the backyard, and fishing than it does stories of bird dogs and calling ducks. Today I've been thinking back. Back before I had discovered the English setter. Before I knew how to call, or train a bird dog. Before I had a driver's license. Back to where memories become shadows and a boy wanted a long eared shorthair puppy so bad. It was summer then too I think.
My father was a backyard breeder of German Shorthairs back in the 1970's and 1980's. My parents were divorced so I got to visit my dad on the weekends. Often there were puppies at his house. Oh how I loved it when there would be puppies. Dad would let me play with them and I would try to teach them things in the back yard. I suppose that was the beginning of my desire to train bird dogs. Each week I would see less of them and sometimes a new owner would stop by to buy a new puppy. I don’t remember being overly sad that the puppies slowly disappeared. I did always dream of having one of my own, and often tried to talk my mother into letting me bring one home. We lived on the edge of town and I would try to explain that it would be perfect for me to have a bird dog to run in the fields on the wild pheasants that lived there completely unharnessed by a boy and his dog. It didn’t seem right that those birds should live in such a way. Again and again, year after year I would try to talk her into it and every time in her infinite wisdom she would say no. And then it happened. I went to visit my dad and he broke the news to me. There was a new litter of puppies, and he seemed really pleased with the breeding. There was one pup in that litter that I really had my eye on. She had a lot of white, and a few dark liver spots, with the biggest ears you have ever seen. I thought it was so funny that they got wet every time she drank water. I was so taken by her for who knows what
This is one of only two pictures I have of her
reason, but I knew my mom wouldn’t let me have her. I had even gotten tired of asking, and I am certain she was tired of hearing it. I made an agreement with myself that I would ask one last time. This puppy was worth trying. When she said no I would just never ask again, ever. While my dad drove me home in the car I planned my assault. I would tell her about the puppy and how cute it was, and her big ears, and about those poor pheasants living in piece, and on and on. However when I got home my game plan went out the window, and I could only get the courage up to just ask the question. I knew she would say no so as soon as the words left my mouth I expected to just say okay and turn and walk away. I was into my turn when she blew my mind. It wasn’t a yes, but she said she would have to talk to my stepfather. I was so confused. I thought I had the whole script written. Of course I knew he would say no because he didn’t really care for dogs back then. I went to my room trying to imagine what would make him say yes. I couldn’t really think of anything so I was beginning to give up hope when they came in together most certainly to tell me no. Instead I heard something like this. Blah blah blah... responsibility... blah blah blah ...feed it blah blah blah... clean up after it..... blah blah... yes blah blah blah Wait! Yes? Did they really just say yes? Was I really getting a puppy? They were still blah blahing all over the place but I was almost certain they said yes. And
My mom and Spider
they really did. I called my dad and I'm not sure if he was more excited or I was. That long eared white and brown shorthair pup became my first attempt at training my own bird dog. Never again did those pheasants in those fields have to live without being chased. I named her spider. I don’t remember why. I failed miserably at my first training attempt but she did turn into a bird dog of sorts. If nothing else she was steady on point and absolutely adorable.