Friday, May 4, 2018

A Very Sweet Chukar Hunt



It was my day off in January. You know, right after the holidays. I usually go hunting on days that I don't have to work in January but I had not made any plans to go. I didn't have anything in mind or even the thought of a good place to go. I woke up trying to think of something good to do. I did have a new gun to try out. Though I was feeling a little bit lazy and lacking motivation I loaded Sunnie, some basic gear, and the new Browning A5 Sweet 16 that I had recently acquired in the truck and sat in the driveway trying to think of someplace close to go. The word close made me laugh as the thought rolled through my mind. I haven't hunted close to home all season. I laughed, as I started the truck, backed out of the driveway, filled up at the gas station, grabbed a breakfast burrito and some Cliff bars, and started the 3 hour plus drive to a place I had only hunted once before. On that day earlier in the season we saw a lot of birds but the circumstances were always against us. They got above us on the hill, the wind always seemed to be wrong, and numerous other things really limited our success.

After the grueling drive, I was excited to see that there were no tire tracks in the snow on the little two-track that led to the mountain. I was confident if it had not been pressured we would do well. Several minutes later Sunnie and I were into our climb. The wind was in our face. Normally every dog guy likes working into the breeze but the wind was blowing down the hill. Chukar run like daemon spawn from holy water if they are above you and that is just what happened. Sunnie did her best and I can see no wrong in her work but the birds were above us. She got them pointed but I watched them run out of her point right to the top of the hill and flush back over my head too high for the gun. Often they will fly a short distance and land in sight but these were late season birds that had acquired wisdom from experience and continued until I could no longer see them. They could have landed anywhere in that desert maze of mountains.

It was still early and I had no quit in me. Sunnie was fresh and ready to go so we continued several miles until we topped the highest peak. The view from the top was incredible. The 10:00 AM sun was bouncing light off of the snow crystals that were on the north facing slopes. I paused to take it in but Sunnie had other plans. I had taken my eye off of her what seemed like only an instant and she was gone. I looked at the tracker it showed that she was 345 yards away downhill on the wrong side of the truck. Of course, she was headed someplace I had no intention of going. Just then the point alarm went off. Both irritated that I had to lose elevation and excited at the same time I lost several hundred yards of very steep elevation that I would have to regain later. All that went away as I closed the distance and she was standing as beautiful as ever. Now I was just pleased that she had done so well. By the time I got to her she had loosened up and was giving me that "I don't know where they went" look.
Trusting my dog, I released her she ran 75 yards along the side hill and locked up again. I hustled trying to close the distance but with 40 yards still to cover the birds got nervous and flushed. I watched 20 birds glide around the corner and out of sight. One late flusher made the mistake of not following the covey. He flushed back in my direction. My new Sweet Sixteen Browning was lightning fast to my shoulder. I swung through the bird and missed the first shot but made up for it with the second. It folded up and disappeared into the depths of the canyon. Sunnie started into the abyss on a recovery mission. And minutes late carried the dead bird back up the hill and delivered to hand.

The value of a pointing dog that retrieves to hand has never been greater than when hunting chukar. I was thinking about this as I struggled to gain back the elevation I had lost in order to get back to the east side of the mountain range where I was parked. It would have been really tough if I had to go clear to the bottom of the west side to recover my dead bird.

I was huffing and puffing when I got back to the crest. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer in my chest. Sunnie didn't seem bothered by any of it she went on hunting. Finally, I was back on the right side of the mountain. There was a long ridge that extended to the east and had several little side ridges and draws with rock outcroppings that came off of it. That is what I had planned on hunting when I left the truck. I had wasted a lot of time on that other side It was almost 1:30. I needed to cover ground if I was going to hunt it all and make it to the truck by dark.

Moving quickly down the gentle slope I covered ground as quickly as I could encouraging Sunnie to stretch out. She was a searching machine covering mile after mile but without a bird contact. With an hour of daylight left, we were getting close to the end of the main ridge-line. I was tired and had just about given up on finding any birds. The breeze had changed direction at some point and was now blowing gently up the hill. Even the always optimistic Sunnie looked a little discouraged when she ran by to check in.

Later I was feeling done in and contemplating what the shortest route back to the truck was when my tracker vibrated. "Was that the point alarm?" I thought as I glanced quickly at the screen. It said she was standing 125 yards away. It looked like she might be out on the very point of the ridge. My tired legs were given new life as I hurried to find her. My hopes were crushed when I finally got a visual. She was standing there looking down the hill but her tail was down and she wasn't on point. I wondered what in the heck was going on. When I got to where she was standing she broke loose and went 150 yards straight down the hill with serious focus and stopped again with the same look. I wasn't sure what to do or exactly why she was behaving in this way.

Down was the way to the truck and the path of least resistance so I went to her again without much thought. This
time she looked up at me as if to say, "this way dummy.” She took off running another 100 yards straight into the wind and stopped again. Only this time her tail was high and her intensity was through the roof. A smile ran across my face. "Had she really known there were birds here from the top of the hill?” I thought. I walked out in front of the dog and wandered around but nothing flushed so I returned to her. I tapped her on the head and gave her the release command. Again, she went straight into the wind 80 yards and locked up tight. Now she was right at the edge of the final bench the birds had to be on the steep hill below her. I moved out in front of her and onto the hillside with the Sweet Sixteen I had almost forgotten that I was carrying at the ready. I carefully found the safety with my finger and kept it there as I walked in. Suddenly a single chukar flushed at my feet. The little gun found it and brought it to the ground without me thinking. With the shot, the earth around me exploded with flushing chukar. They were everywhere. I missed one and then the Sweet found one and then another, birds were still flushing. Another bird jumped at my feet the sixteen found that one too. I was doing math in my head and any way I added it up that was a five-bird limit counting the one from the other side and we still had a half hour of daylight to spare.

Sunnie was still recovering birds and delivering them to me when the thought ran through my head, "The shooting part was almost too easy" I have carried an O/U most of my life, usually a Citori. So to have that much firepower and to have been that efficient with a new semiautomatic was a little shocking. The gun carries like a dream. It weighs almost nothing and loaded with 1 1/8 oz of federal #6s through a modified choke it was deadly. I shot five for eight with it that day. Which is pretty darn good for me. If you have never taken a walk with one I highly recommend it. The new Browning A5 Sweet Sixteen is truly a sweet gun. I hunted with it four or five times before the season ended. I shot well on each of those hunts. Maybe it makes the shooting part a little too easy. I can't wait to hunt ducks with it next season!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CONSERVATION SEASON IN UTAH



On public land in Utah, I hustled trying to get closer to the visible white setter tail that I could see standing over the yellow grass one hundred yards in front of me. “Tic really has this one nailed for sure!” I thought as I got closer. Sure enough, Tic was standing confident and true as I approached. His tail was straight in the air, his nostrils flaring as they inhaled the intoxicating scent. He was frozen in time as I tried to match my intensity to his. With each step, the anticipation grew causing my hands to grip my gun tighter. Tic has done his part for me. Now it was time for me to do mine for him. Suddenly, a rooster pheasant exploded from the cover cackling like an old witch as it attempted to put distance between us. My trusty old Browning flew to my shoulder and tracked the escaping bird. Just as my bead passed the old bird’s beak I let a load of # 3 steel go from the bottom barrel and with a puff of feathers the cock crashed to the ground. At the report of the gun, another bird flushed. This rooster was even bigger than the first. Again I tracked the bird before letting go of the second barrel. He too crashed to the ground. Birds were still jumping and flying away in every direction as I yelled, “Fetch!”. Just as Tic was about to deliver the first bird to hand I woke from my daydream with Utah DWR’s Rich Hansen standing in front of me explaining the plan for the habitat project that he had planned for that day on Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management area in Northern Utah. Dang it! It was only a dream but for the first time
in a very long time, I felt like it might actually come true.

I looked at the faces that made up the small group that had gathered around Rich to take in his instructions. I saw friends that I had known for years along with men, women, and children that I had never met before. There were people from a variety of conservation groups, dedicated hunters, and some people just trying to make a difference on their own, all cooperating toward the common goal of bettering our public lands for wildlife. Volunteer hours matched with funds obtained through the Pitman-Robertson act allowed us to plant around 1500 trees and shrubs that day that will offer a multitude of benefits to wintering pheasants, quail, and other wildlife. 
(In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, authorized that excise tax revenue from the sale of firearms and ammunition products be apportioned to State Fish and Game Agencies on a variety of projects related to wildlife, conservation efforts and shooting programs. I have always wondered where that money went and now I know.)

This was just one such project. The week before volunteers from the Great Salt Lake Chapter of Pheasants Forever planted nearly 500 bushes and trees out west of Kaysville, Utah all on public lands. I am hearing of similar projects happening in several other areas of the state also.


It is wonderful to see so many folks coming together to work on habitat for wildlife. It is especially heartwarming to me when it happens for the benefit of upland game birds. Pheasant hunting is still very popular here in the great state of Utah. Sadly, habitat has been continually gobbled up by suburban development to satisfy our state’s insatiable need for economic and population growth resulting in declining pheasant populations and hunter opportunity for about as long as anyone can remember. I believe pheasant hunting to be very valuable as not only a fun recreational activity but as a gateway to the many other bird hunting opportunities that our state has to offer.

These projects have their critics and not everyone loves the pheasant like I do. I don’t think anyone thinks these projects are going to make Utah the next South Dakota. We acknowledge that we are never going to be a great pheasant state and our backs are against the wall in many ways. However, I for one know that we can do a better job to maximize the pheasant populations in today’s available habitat. I think these projects go some distance to at least begin to recognize that.

Tic and I may never experience the fruition of these projects in the way that the first paragraph of this article is written but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the children who are working as volunteers on these projects could. I want them to have that experience. I think we owe it to them and ourselves to try.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO...

SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO...: I could hardly control my excitement as I unzipped the case and pulled it out slowly like a sword being drawn from a sheath, ...

UTAH CHUKAR VERSUS A 1918 WINCHESTER AND A GUY WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE IT.




I could hardly control my excitement as I unzipped the case and pulled it out slowly like a sword being drawn from a sheath, and stood admiring it. I put my hand on the ringed forearm, pushed the release and slid the smooth action open making a familiar “chick” sound. A chill ran down my spine as I could feel the spirit of the old gun. Built-in 1918 it was nearly one hundred years old but it was new to me. This gun was not some museum piece with fancy checkering, engraving, and inlay that had never been used. This was a blue-collar gun. A working man's gun that was built right at the end of WWI, A gun built in America that was made out of American steel with American sweat that had seen plenty of use in the field. I tried to imagine what the scene would have looked like when it was unsheathed for the very first time. Was it driven to a hunting spot in an Old Model T? Maybe the man or woman simply walked out the back door to hunt ducks down on the creek below the pasture with his brand new Winchester Model 12. I wondered who owned it. Maybe a WWI soldier bought it on his return from the war. Maybe it was a gift from a father to a son. The truth is that I will never know the story behind each scratch, dent, and ding in the stock. I will never know why it was carelessly cased wet causing the slight pitting on the action side of the gun but all of this gave me plenty to think about. What I do know is that this gun has more soul than ten modern plastic stocked guns and I
was about to give it new life by hunting with it again.

One of the most wonderful things about hunting chukar in Utah is the seemingly endless public lands on which that they inhabit. Finding new places usually just involves a little help from Google Earth, some time, and a lot of gasoline. After a short three and a half hour drive there I was holding this classic Model 12 that I had never hunted with looking up at the steep hill I had never before walked on. It looked to be picture perfect chukar country covered in cheatgrass and rock outcroppings. The only thing that might be missing was a water source, but I would have to do some hiking to figure that part out. Without haste I slipped one of the stubby looking 2 ½ inch B and P 1 1/8 oz #7s that my friend Doug Helton promised would kill chukar dead, into the chamber of the gun and slid the action home with a healthy “chook” sound before loading two more underneath, putting it on safe, and starting up the hill. I find it interesting that clear back in 1918 these guns were made with a 2 ½ inch chamber instead of the modern 2 ¾ inch that later became standard. I was thinking about this as I threw the gun over my shoulder and started up the hill to experience hunting with this old gun.

One hour later I was still walking. Sunnie was covering the landscape thoroughly but had yet to come up with anything. I had seen no sign of birds and was starting to wonder if there were any on this range when I saw the guzzler way down below me. Yes! There was a water source! A few minutes later my hopes were rising even more as I saw some old chukar droppings on the ground. “There have to be birds here someplace,” I thought. We searched all the places that looked birdy without contact. Two more hours went by and I had lost focus on the hunt. I was thinking about how this gun carried better than most single barreled guns I have carried. “I get why this was such a popular gun for so long,” I thought just as my SportDOG Tek 2.0 GPS vibrated indicating that Sunnie was on point. “Really?” I said out loud. I picked up the handheld and it showed she was standing 230 yards out across a flat on top of the wide ridge we were walking. As I followed it closer I started to doubt. Was she really holding birds in the flat? It isn’t unheard of but certainly uncommon in my experience. I was now within 100 yards but I couldn’t see her. The only thing on that flat that could block my vision was a small group of about 10 cedars and sure enough, she was on point behind them. As I approached she looked confident, intense and staunch. I thought, “Is this real? She is usually right about these things.” I walked around upwind from her but nothing flushed. For some reason, I was feeling anxious about shooting this old gun, and really gripping it tightly.
When I turned to look at her, the birds flushed behind me. I spun and the gun flew to my shoulder in
the controlled panic that is so familiar to bird hunters. Then everything but the birds slowed to a stop for what seemed like an eternity while I searched for the safety that was not under my thumb where I am used to it. All this time the birds were still flushing and increasing their distance. I finally remembered that it was clear out in front of the trigger guard and got it off. Time sped up again and I quickly found a target and with a bang and a big puff of feathers that bird crashed to the ground giving me confidence. A late bird tried to escape. The gun barrel found him quickly and I pulled the trigger twice then three times but nothing happened as time slowed again. That is when it occurred to me that I needed to pump the action in order to have another live shell to fire. DUH!!! Sunnie delivered the bird I had shot and gave me a crusty look as if to say what in the heck is wrong with you as I burst into laughter at my own clumsiness with the gun. I was once pretty good with a pump but as I thought about it I realized that it was nearly 30 years ago that I last hunted with one. I paused to think about it all. “When was the last time a bird was taken with this gun? I wonder what kind of bird it was and where.” Two things were certain, The little 2 ½ inch shell had done its job just as Doug said it would and a full choke back then was really really full. I was proud that I had connected on the first shot with the old model 12. I had been really worried about being able to put a pattern where I wanted to with that gun for some reason. I put the bird in my pouch and began to cover ground again as I giggled every now and then at my inability to use a simple pump action gun.

Another hour had passed before my handheld vibrated again. This time she was only 94 yards away. I quickly followed it to her out on the flat again. “I love this dog,” I thought as a paused to admire her. She was stunning to my eyes standing birds on that high flat with all of God's glory behind her. “It's interesting that they are on the flats today.” I thought as I came back from being caught up in the moment and remembered that I needed to concentrate on this unfamiliar contraption in my hands. This time I put my finger on the safety as I walked in. When the birds flushed I snapped it off, the gun flew to my shoulder without thought and the report brought an escaping chukar's flight to an end. I quickly found another bird with the barrel of the old gun, “Oh yeah...Pump it, dummy.” I thought. The gun went chick-chook then bang but the bird kept flying. I had done better with the gun this time but I wanted another chance to double up. My chance would come in short order as Sunnie had caught wind of some birds down off the edge of the flat. This time when I walked in I did it with confidence. When they flushed without thought I shot one pumped the action and then shot another cleanly. I could have
shot a third but I am really used to only having two shot. The thought that I had another shot came too late as I was celebrating my accomplishment while Sunnie finished her job by retrieving both birds to hand. A few minutes later Sunnie would point a single and I would finish my 5 bird Utah limit with the old Model 12. Though the ratio may have gone down if I could remember to pump it, I  shot better than I would have ever dreamed connecting on 5 of 7 shots, and I'm definitely going to hunt with it again.

There is something special about hunting with these old guns. I guess it's the way they feel in your hands, the way they smell, and the way they look is all part of it, but I think it’s more than that. It's part of our heritage, a part of our history if you will. Very few people are still alive that were alive the day that gun was sold and certainly no one who was old enough to remember it or were involved in making it. Think of the models of cars that have come and gone in 99 years TV wasn't even a thing in 1918 and Yet here is this old gun, used and even abused but still flawlessly functioning as designed and produced by some of the great men from a very different generation. I wonder if the gun you took to the field last weekend will still be functioning 100 years from now and if it is who will be using it?




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE SCREAMING ALARM OF MORTALITY


The first time I heard it was the season after my old dog Bo was hit by a car. He pulled through the accident and he hunted his heart out but no matter how hard I tried to ignore it that alarm kept ringing. He was 8 years old but the accident aged him beyond his years and though his heart was in it he could no longer take long hours day after day in the field. It was just too hard on him. Still, I did not want to believe that my best friend was aging. By the time he was ten I could ignore it no longer and had to face the fact that if I was going to continue this bird hunting lifestyle that I had grown up with and had by then embraced passionately, I had to start a pup.

Since then there have been two days I dread in the life of every dog that I have taken on as my own, the day he passes on, and the day that I start trying to ignore the ringing alarm of mortality. For me my dogs are pets and family members but they are more than that. My favorite form of recreation depends on the dogs. Without them there is no reason or enjoyment in upland bird hunting. The way I hunt with my setters the dog is to find the bird, it is his job to do so. When he does he is to point and hold that bird until his teammate, me gets there with the gun. It is then my job to flush and shoot the bird. The dog is then to deliver it to hand. When that goal is achieved together both hunter and dog feel accomplished together but it is more than this. This working relationship builds a bond that is beyond an ordinary pet owner relationship. I mean in no way to say that hunters love their dogs more than say my mother loves her Schnauzer but It is just different. By the time a bird dog is mature we have countless hours into them. The pup and his human counterpart share together the successes and failures of training not only at home but in the field too. We work through the mistakes and successes together and it always takes both of us to get there. It takes about three years for them to get really good at hunting multiple wild bird species together with a person as their partner. I play trial games with my dogs these days where we compete in competition together as a team again succeeding together and failing together but always together as team strengthening the bond even further.


As I have walked through the fields of this year's pheasant season I see Tic carrying his leg from time to time, and looking really spent at the end of the day and into the next. It's a different look than normal tired. I feel deeply the undeniable pain of that alarm ringing once again. It is not as though his heart isn’t in it. He hunts his guts out and has been fantastic even when tired. His bird work on running pheasants has been undeniably great this year but his body is aging. He has developed a bad shoulder that we continue to treat. Surgery might be necessary after the season and may help extend his career but nothing we do will silence that heartbreaking alarm. We will still hunt him and run him in trials as long as he can. No matter how special he is to me there is no denying the fact father time is and will remain undefeated. Eventually, Tic will retire from the field to live out the comfortable pension plan that all of my dogs receive when they become “my dog.” He has been such a great hunting partner to me and has earned the friendship of so many. He is in sync with me in every way in the field and is by far the most obedient dog I've ever owned. He is my little buddy. We have won two region NSTRA titles, and he has championed 3 times over together with me. This is not the end for he and I not even close but his role is changing. It has to change sadly the clock never stops ticking and for our dogs, it ticks many times faster than it does for us.


I enjoyed a hunt with him today through one of my favorite and timeless pheasant spots for the last time this year. A storm blew in and it carried the familiar winds of change and as the stinging sleet hit the back of my neck I saw Tic run from the cover with his slight limp across a cut alfalfa field. I could almost see the faded shadows of all those old dogs that have long since passed running again with him. I paused to look over my annual playground one last time for the season. As I turned it was fitting that the sleet would sting my face while the reality hit me that next year when I hunt here again things will have changed. There will be a puppy that will have to learn the ropes in the same way that Tic, Sunnie, and all the others before them have had to learn. To me, it's exciting and sad at the same time but the circle must continue.



Sunday, July 30, 2017

DOUBLE BARRELED SHOTGUN

Double Barreled Shotgun
Dad's 1953 Browning Superposed



I don’t remember the first time I saw it. I do remember the long early morning

rides in the back of dad’s 1973 Toyota Landcruiser sitting on one of those sideways seats that I thought were so cool. It was always in a long brown case on the other side. There would be a German Short Haired Pointer, and sometimes two riding with me. The dogs lived outside in a kennel so if they were ever bathed I don’t remember it. They smelled Terrible and after riding with them so did I, but that smell became one I associated with adventures in the field with my father. The journeys were always so different than my everyday life of school, and sports. We would often pick up one of my dad’s friends to go with us. They always had cool nicknames like Swanie, or Oly, and I would listen to them exchange hunting stories in the front seat while I did my job of keeping the dogs company. I wondered if I would ever have that many stories to tell.

Eventually we would arrive at our destination, and go for long walks in the grass and weeds while we watched the dogs run. It wasn’t entirely a pleasant experience for me. I had the gear of a child, and

there were times when I would fall down or struggle to keep my little legs moving long enough and fast enough to keep up. When it was too much for me I would spend part of the day riding on my dad’s shoulders. I always had June-grass in my socks, and one of the larger male dogs once mistook me for a fire hydrant while we rested and peed on my shoulder soaking me to the core. I cried. Even with all of that, I liked being one of the guys and whenever I looked up at my father that gun was always in his hands. My dad’s gun was cooler than a lot of his friend’s guns. He shot what I called at the time a double barreled shotgun, and to me it was better than the single barrel guns carried by his friends. After all it had two barrels those guns had only one.

 It was on one such journey that I saw a dog point for the first time. Dad leaned down and whispered, “Look Bret Duke is on point. See how still he is… Like a statue… He has a bird right there.” He had told me about this quite often. Now seeing it with my own eyes, I guess I expected something else. I thought the dog should hold out a paw and point to where the bird was or something because I could see no bird, and to me pointing was done with a finger. Seeing that dog stand motionless on that ditch bank in the yellow grass with the Russian olive trees behind it was sort of underwhelming to me at first. Duke stood there for a really long time while dad stomped around in the tall thick grass and I started to doubt the dog had a bird at all. I certainly couldn’t see it. It all changed when dad's boot finally disturbed that cackling old rooster pheasant as he finally broke from his hide with those loud thunderous wings making an attempt to escape. It startled me so badly I almost cried. I looked up at my father for confidence, but he was focused elsewhere. Dad had already drawn that cool double barreled shotgun to his shoulder like a cowboy with a six shooter in an old western ready to take down an outlaw. A second or two later while I watched him and the bird at the same time a single loud bang caused me to flinch and brought that bird back to the ground. My father was suddenly excited and yelling “Fetch it here Duke”, and before I knew it the returning dog parted the grass and delivered the bird to dad’s hand. That’s when I understood the magic of the hunt. I had seen the point, the flush, and the retrieve. My father bent down to give me a closer look at the magnificent bird in his hand and I was hooked for life. There could never be anything that compared to the excitement of that experience.

As is normal with each year I got a little older, a little bigger, and the dogs seemed to get a little
smaller. My days of getting peed on by a big dog were over at least for now, and it wasn’t long before

I was carrying a gun of my own on those adventures with my father. My gun was inferior to my dad’s though. Not only was it not as efficient at killing roosters, but unlike his mine only had the one barrel. I loved the adventures even more now that I was a more active participant. In the field my eyes always wandered to dad’s gun. I can still see it resting against a fence post as we took a break or broken over his shoulder while he walked. I had by now learned that it was not just an ordinary double barreled shotgun it was a 1953 Browning Superposed.

Later when I first entered the work force and had an income of my own I started visiting sporting goods stores admiring the Browning Citori shotguns that they had on display wondering if I would ever have the $1000 it would take to have a gun with the two barrels that the child within me had always dreamed of. The company that I worked for was doing very well at the time, and management happily shared the profits with the employees in several ways including a cash bonus at the end of the year. The first full bonus I received was, you guessed it $1000. I went straight to the bank to cash that check and then broke the speed limit getting to Sportsman’s Warehouse. I made the poor guy at the counter pull every Citori they had in stock out of the back so I could pick out the prettiest one. That day I left the store after dropping $1034.96 with my first “Double Barreled shotgun” like dad’s.

As an adult I guess I took bird hunting and bird dogs far beyond anything my father ever imagined. I got into blowing Duck calls in competitions and running bird dogs in trials.  We still had our adventures in the fall but not as often. He eventually had an accident with a horse that took off the top half of the thumb on his right hand. He could no longer work the thumb safety on the old browning, and was forced to leave it home in favor of one of those single barreled guns with a safety behind the trigger. Now my gun had two barrels and his only one. Mine was also as efficient at killing roosters as his was now and I’m certain it had everything to do with the number of barrels on my gun. I sure missed seeing that old gun every fall.



Recently with me in my late 40’s and dad is closing in on 70 he drove out to visit me. We went to lunch and to the John M. Browning and Union Pacific Railroad Museum that is just a few miles from my house in Ogden, Utah. Later at my house after spending the day together dad told me that he was getting older and with his missing half thumb he could no longer use that old Browning Superposed and that from here on out it would be mine. Truth be told, I’ve become a pretty emotional and sentimental man as I’ve gotten older. When he pulled that old double barreled shotgun out of the case
and I saw it for the first time in at least fifteen years I felt like that small boy again standing on a ditch bank next to that German shorthair watching my dad shoot a rooster. The childhood hunting memories had clouded some but they shot through me one after another until I was overcome with emotion that I didn’t want dad to see. I quickly went into the other room “to get a rag to wipe it down”, but it was really to gather myself. I was somehow able to get it together by the time I returned. We looked it over together. The gun had aged some and now had a few problems. The stock was partially broken at the wrist. Dad was the second owner and the lady that owned it before him had cut the stock short to fit her. A gunsmith had added spacers so dad could shoot it, but it was still too short for me. The biggest problem in my eyes was the small bulge near the end of the bottom barrel.

Some of my friends said I should put it up and save it as a keep-sake. The more I tried the more I just couldn’t come around to that way of thinking. The gun had walked too many miles with my father for too many years. This gun was not a gun to be retired. This gun was and should again be a rooster killer. I had to try to get it back in the field. After talking to several experts on gun restoration as well as experts on Browning Superposed shotguns I learned about my options and what they would cost me. It could have been really expensive. I lucked out and found a used stock that came off of a 1951 Superposed of the same model. That saved me a lot of money. I then sent the gun to a great guy in Arizona who went through it, fitted the new-used stock and fixed the bulging barrel. The gun came back to me tight and ready to shoot. In the tradition of my father it will again be put to life as the fine tool John Mosses and Val Browning designed it to be.



This year when autumn is upon me and I slide in on a high tailed point offered to me by one of my beloved bird dogs I will be holding that old double barreled shotgun in my hands. I just hope I can make it look as cool as dad did. 

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 as two others 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 consistency. 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.