Sunday, January 27, 2019

For The New Bird Hunter/Bird-Dogger

Snaps
Bringing up a young pointing dog that is expected to grow into a wild bird dog can be challenging. The first and most important ingredient is a supply of wild birds. Unless you live in the middle of one of this worlds remaining wild bird paradises, this is going to be a problem. If you have spent your life hunting game birds you might be fortunate to know of a few spots that are within driving distance of your house that can be of use to get that young dog into the necessary wild birds.

What if this is your first dog and you are just starting out in the wonderful world of upland bird hunting? You likely lack the necessary knowledge to find good wild-bird locations as well as the understanding of dog training that will be required. You knew the dog was an essential part of upland bird hunting, so you bought a young pup. Maybe you had a young dog, and the bird hunting was an afterthought. Or if you are lucky, you have had a mentor that got you interested and will share his or her knowledge to help get you going. Even if you are that fortunate, you have still have the cards stacked against you as a first-time bird dog owner and rookie hunter.

I was fortunate to have been introduced to many beautiful and wild places as a boy by my father and stepfather. Having lived in the same area my entire life I've been able to learn those areas and like others continually explore new spots piling up a mental database of areas that hold wild birds of different types. These areas have become crucial for the development of every young dog I have brought up since I was a teenager. I hope I can give you some ideas on how to get your young dog into birds and maybe find a great hunting area or two in the process. The best thing I can tell about wild birds, in general, is spend some time, don’t be afraid to drive, and don’t be hesitant to go for a walk. Look for birds when you drive always.  When you walk, look for sign. Droppings are a sure sign there are or have been birds in the area. The morning after a fresh snow is an excellent time for exploring. You can see tracks, sometimes even while driving down a two-track dirt road, and maybe just maybe you can even track your young pup into a bird contact. Once you do find birds remember everything you can about the situation. And try to answer as many questions as you can. Finding consistent bird areas is the goal. This is going to take time, but once you have a few go-to places, everything else will be easier for bringing up the pup.

7-month-old Sunnie, pointing wild chukar on the knoll
One of these go-to places that have helped me bring up dogs for as long as I can remember is a little knoll of public property that is stuck right in the middle of miles and miles of private land. It is about an hour drive from my house. When I was 12 years old, I was with my brother, my Stepdad, and his brother Chad, we stopped there to hunt rabbits on the way to their family's farm. I don’t think they had any idea there were birds there, I certainly didn’t. When I was first old enough to drive, I had a young shorthair pup, and I went there to have a place go for a walk and run her. That is when I discovered there were chukars on that little knoll that no one associates
1-year-old Tic pointing chukar on the Knoll
with chukar habitat. As I matured and gained a better understanding of how to be successful in bird hunting, I learned the importance of the wheres, whens, whats, and whys. There are many questions that aren’t always easily answered like, what are the birds eating? Where are they getting water? What are they doing here? Why are there birds in an area sometimes but not others? The answer to the last question for this particular little knoll is what made me understand it. It is a wintering area. It is the best chukar habitat containing a south-facing slope in the area. So naturally, some birds from a nearby mountain range congregate there after snow falls and the south-facing slopes burn off. Gaining this knowledge has meant I have a consistent place to take a puppy in the winter time, where I know there are birds, and I know within close proximity where they will be every time. It is invaluable knowledge.
Year old Tic getting some mentoring from
Jimmy and Molly on the Knoll

I've never seen another footprint on the knoll, and the birds like to stay on the hill so I can follow them around with the pup getting lots of reps. It's a big advantage to be able to let the young dog make mistakes and learn from them in this environment. If I am careful not to overpressure and the weather is permitting, I can take a puppy back all through the winter giving pup that crucial exposure. Over the years Bo, Jimmy, Molly, Tic, Sunnie and now Snaps have all gotten a great start here. This is a place I can shoot birds for the dogs during hunting season, but I have to be careful to manage my covey. There is only one. If there are 30 birds in the covey, I can shoot 5 only so many times before the covey numbers get low enough that I have to stop. Some years there are only 15. Maybe I just shoot one or two sometimes when the pup shows exceptional work on them. It not necessary to kill every bird the pup points for him. The finding and pointing is the work I am interested in. These places are rare but if you look, ask yourself a lot of questions when you do find birds, and can come up with answers you just might find such a place. This has been a gem of a spot. It all started when I found birds there because I went for a walk.

I think it is necessary to shoot some birds for the pup.  However, I believe the repetitions finding and pointing birds are the most important. Most of us live in the suburbs. Here in Utah and I would expect many other places as well. On the edges of town, there are industrial parks and undeveloped land that is just sitting full of weeds and overgrowth that we call bird habitat. These areas are in city limits, and it would be illegal to shoot there. There is nothing wrong with running a dog as long as the situation is safe for that. Some places might require permission from the landowner to do so, but in my experience, it's easier to get permission to train a dog on land than hunt there. If you ask respectfully and let it be known you are training a young dog that will be under control, I think you may be surprised. This gives you a place to put the dog on wild nonpressured birds out of nesting season often times close to home. It is a very inexpensive approach and one I have used all my life to get a young dog on wild birds. Here in Utah, it is most often Pheasant and California(valley) quail that live in these areas on the edge of town or on remaining isolated habitat in the city. Once you have had enough reps on wild, you can always go out of town and shoot a few pen-raised birds to keep the pup going in the right direction.
Snaps carries a pen raised chukar

So what if you are failing entirely on the wild bird approach and need another answer? Liberated birds are the next best thing. By liberated, I mean pen raised birds that have been out for a while. A recall pen or Johnny house is an excellent tool for this. However, most of us don’t have a situation where we can have a recall pen sitting on 30 acres of ground that would give us access to liberated quail. So we have to find other ways. One approach that I have had success with is by developing a relationship with someone that runs a bird club. These put and take facilities release a bunch of birds over the course of a season, many of which get away from the party hunting them. These birds often end up on the fringes of the property and can offer a dog trainer opportunity. The trick is to get that opportunity opened up to you. You might have to buy a few birds or pay for property access. See if you can make a deal to run the dog without shooting anything for a few bucks without interfering with business. I am not a fan of hunting a young dog on set birds right out of the pen at these places. A guy has minimal control in this situation, and a pup that decides to break and catch a bird finds his behavior instantly and positively reinforced by the bird in its mouth. This can cause you a ton of work later when the dog no longer wants to point. If this is your first dog, it's work you don’t yet know how to do. If you must use set game birds buy them and set them yourself so you know where the bird is and can set up a situation where you have more control with a lead a barrier or something. Having the ability to give your pup exposure on these escapees can be a wonderful resource if you can make it happen. Don't give up if you fail at the first club. It may take some work to make it happen.

This brings us to pen raised birds. Why don’t we just bring our future wild-bird dog up on set pen raised birds? Well, many folks do, and pen raised birds are better than no birds at all. Dogs that have been brought up this way often struggle when asked to hunt wild birds for several reasons and that is our a goal, a serviceable wild-bird dog. Pen-raised birds allow a dog to pressure. So as the pup tests his limitations, he learns he can get very close. I’ve seen dogs put their nose right on the bird when they point. Most species if not all wild birds will not stand for this and will be gone the second the dog gets too close so when a dog learns on wild-birds, his limitations are kept in check.  Pen-reared birds are expensive they are either shot, caught, or fly away usually after one or two uses. They are a costly way to get a pup reps and offer more opportunity for a puppy to start down a wrong path than do wild birds. I don’t in any way think they are useless. I use pen raised birds a lot. And I use them to enhance the training that my pup has basically given itself from wild birds. I also use homing pigeons for certain things along the way. Wild birds are still the single most important tool in raising a wild bird dog. Many well-bred dogs become very serviceable bird dogs with nothing more than exposure to wild birds.
Tic mentoring young Sunnie at the knoll Ducks and Chuks


Now and then there are huns on the knoll

Young Tic and Moll

Jimmy and Young Molly at the knoll. Ducks and chuks!

Friday, November 2, 2018

SNAPS VERSUS EVIL




It was just time. Snaps had just turned five months old. I wanted to put him on wild chukar, and it just so happened that I had a day to do it.  I made the drive to the desert with only him crated in the back. Sunnie and Tic would have to sit this one out, and they were not happy about it. No matter, it was a day for Snaps. He had been on a dozen or so pen raised chukar and had pointed wild Ruffed grouse, Sharptail Grouse, Huns, and a couple wild hen pheasants previously so I was reasonably confident if I got him around birds nature would take over.

When I finally parked the truck and dropped the tailgate Snaps was wound up tight. He was running all around and clowning about like usual. I laughed as I thought, “Boy, any chukar that dies today because of this clown is a shame to his covey.” Grinning, I put two purple shells in my Citori and started up the hill with more questions in my mind than anything else.

At first, Snaps seemed to enjoy this new playground of thin grass, steep hills, and rocks to play on. He was running bigger than usual and to my surprise pushed out to about 150 yards. Until then he
had not shown enough confidence to get that far away from me. I was pleased with this new run. After about a half hour he stopped on the hill as if to look it over. I think he might have thought, “What's this strange place the boss has taken me to now?” He calls me the boss. Angie doesn't need to know. After a moment to ponder things he burst into his usual run of 45 yards to the left and 45 yards to the right. For now, I will take this. I know the wheels will come later.

He had made a little cast off to my right and disappeared behind the curvature of the hill. The next time I saw him, he looked serious and appeared ready to fight something. He was walking on a frozen rope straight into the wind. His nose was high in the air, and the hair on the back of his neck was sticking straight up as if the scent of something inherently evil was on the
wind. His eyes were intensely focused and huge. He continued moving over the crest of the hill, ran 30 yards or so, and hit point. He was not in a perfect pose. He actually looked a little nervous as I walked a big arc around him and moved down below. It was indeed the scent of something evil, and two chukars flushed out of range. Snaps took a dozen steps and pointed again. I took a step and ten or more flushed from below him. I picked one out swung the gun and dropped it. Little Snaps chased it down the hill and pounced on it only to lose footing in the steep terrain and tumble passed the bird. He came to his feet looking a little surprised by his fall, but the young fella quickly recovered and began plucking feathers from the body of the expired chukar. I yelled, “fetch!” He looked up at me defiantly with a mouth full of feathers. “Fetch!” I screamed again. He eventually picked
it up and carried it halfway back before he got bored with it and left it to begin looking for that evil scent again.

“I'll take that too,” I thought as I stumbled down the hill to pick up the bird. I pocketed my first chukar of the season, and we were back to the search. We side-hilled and stumbled for another 30 minutes until my puppy started acting excited. He searched and searched but could not find the birds. They flushed 50 yards above us. I was able to see where they went and came up with a plan to get on top of them. In 15 or 20 minutes we were dropping down the hill where I had watched the covey land. The wind was coming up the mountain nicely, and Snaps soon found scent. He pointed and then moved forward, and all the birds flushed. I had to let them fly away, and this time I couldn’t see where they went. It didn’t matter, this is what I had signed up for, and I was enjoying watching the little guy learn. The question on my mind was, would he learn from it.

As we continued our hike. I was thinking of my favorite chukar dog, Sunnie, and how much ground she covers as I watched this little guy cover what he could. I could also see he was starting to get tired. I was about to turn around and start back when he suddenly got birdie again. He was hesitant this time to go into that scent. I'm not sure why exactly, but when I started to move in his direction of interest all fear was lost. He ran down the hill until he pointed awkwardly. This time he did not move anything but his eyes. My heart raced with excitement as I moved out in front. The covey exploded. About twenty birds flushed. I picked the easiest shot and pulled the trigger. Then ten more flushed. Then three went, followed by a pair, and then one final late flusher. Snaps was caught up in the excitement and did not even notice that one bird had fallen at my shot. I called him back after he settled down and gave him the dead bird command. He searched as we had practiced and quickly recovered my injured bird. To my surprise, he retrieved to hand like he had been doing it forever. “That went well.” I couldn’t have been more pleased. He had done really well there. I elected to turn around and head back to the truck on that positive note.
out from under him.

Snaps got to have his first “burned cedar” picture taken when we got back to the truck. Someday soon there will be a five-bird limit on the tree next to him. He grew a little today. I could watch his understanding of what we were doing improve right before my eyes. For those wondering I elected to shoot only one bird at a time to prevent chaos and possible lost birds. He is still just a baby. I like to keep it simple when they are small.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Snaps! The Luckiest Pup Ever!


I found myself back at the truck. It had been a long morning. My plans had fallen through, and I had spontaneously gone grouse hunting. I had forgotten my GPS collars, and though I’ve hunted most of my life without such contraptions, I now find myself a slave to the technology. Without a bell or jingle to his collar, I struggled to keep track of Tic while he struggled to get birds pointed. We saw plenty, but I didn’t get any shooting. Everything was just off.

Negative thoughts filled my mind while the truck bounced down the rough mountain road heading toward home. In spite of everything, I wanted to take a short walk with snaps before calling it quits. I live quite a ways from wild birds, and I wanted to expose him to the mountains for an hour by himself with no expectations. This is my preferred way to get a pup going on wild birds. Short walks in areas where pup has a good chance of seeing something. I knew of a deep cool canyon nearby that has been very kind to me in the early afternoons for many years. There is a small waterhole at the bottom, and the birds seem to use that canyon as a route to water after feeding.

I sighed as I parked, got out of the truck, put on my bird vest, dropped the tailgate and let “turbo” out. Snaps hit the ground like a clown working for the crowd. Jumping around and running everywhere. His enthusiasm Immediately knocked the negativity from my mind. I couldn’t keep the smile away as we worked up the small trail into the aspens. Snaps was romping and stomping about when a falling aspen leaf caught his eye. Without hesitation, he chased it down and pounced attacking that leaf without mercy. I was now laughing, and I am still laughing off and on as I write this.

Snaps' assault on the falling yellow leaves would continue for a short time. Not five minutes into our walk I saw what looked like a ruffed grouse standing out in the open. “Odd,” I thought as Snaps ran by within feet of it and pounced on a leaf. The bird just stayed frozen still. I took pause and looked it over suspiciously. “It cant be a grouse. Snaps just about ran it over, and it didn’t even blink. Maybe it's a stick or something.” I thought. I took a few steps toward it while Snaps threw his leaf up in the air and pounced on it again. It was a grouse. There was no doubt about it. Snaps ran by it again, and the foolish bird still did not move. Again Snaps did not notice it. I whistled, and snaps came back to me. “Find the bird I whispered.” I figured if nothing else he would at least scare it and get excited when it flew away. No matter what I did, the dang breeze kept changing he was always in the wrong spot. Snaps was now working back and forth, looking for a pen raised chukar or pigeon I assume because that is all he has really had his nose on previously. Then the breeze shifted and grabbed my young pup by the nose jerking him into a point. It was more comical than beautiful his head was into the breeze, his eyes intense, and his body sort of bent and twisted. His tail was crooked and up but also back and off the side. The grouse suddenly knew that he had been noticed and started to run but to my surprise Snaps stood. The bird ran several steps before flushing. My gun flew to my shoulder, and I pulled feathers with the first barrel, but it continued. I pulled the trigger again, and with a puff of feathers, it crashed to the ground. Snaps romped and stomped to the fallen bird and then pounced on top of it as if it were one of those evil aspen leaves. I was laughing so hard I could hardly get the word fetch out of my mouth.

“The camera! Dang, it. I wish I had a picture of that point.” I thought. Snaps was on top of the bird

plucking feathers and trying to pick it up. Finally, he moved enough that his body weight was no longer holding the bird to the ground. As he picked it up and started back toward me one of the suicidal bird's wings flipped over the young puppies eyes blinding him. Again I was surprised when he brought it straight to my hand.

I was more excited than I have been since Sunnie pointed her first wild bird. Chills ran through my core as I roughed the pup's ears up yelling, "Good boy! Good boy, Snaps! Good boy!" over and over.

I finally put the bird in my vest, and little Snaps raced around the forest searching for more of those birds that like to stand out in the open. He went on to flush two more. Of course, I did not shoot. He was the luckiest pup on the planet to have that opportunity. He could hunt the rest of his life and never see another wild bird that is that ridiculously stupid.

He is still hunting in spurts, returning periodically to walk at my side.  All of that will come with time and maturity. I am proud of how far he has come in such a short time. In fact, you couldn't get the smile off of my face today.  He is not a bird dog just yet, but he is well on his way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

EXCUSE ME WHILE I DISAPPEAR INTO THE MAGIC OF AUTUMN


I could barely distinguish the early morning outline of the Wasatch mountains as I drove toward them. True to myself, I had something unusual playing on the radio. It was an old Sinatra record that I had recently taken an interest in from the '50s. Frank was singing about being heartbroken and feeling lonely in a crowded room full of happy people enjoying themselves. The last line was sung sadly as only Frank can sing it, “Excuse me while I dis-a-ppear.” and the song ends abruptly. This seemed appropriate even if slightly out of context. I was about to disappear into the fall mountains where I am most at home with my favorite sidekick, Tic. I pondered the line over and over in my head, and I even tried to sing it a couple times, only to rediscover that I am still no Frank Sinatra.

It was still before sunrise when I pulled my dusty Tacoma into an old familiar spot, strapped a Tek 2.0 GPS collar on Tic and sang that Sinatra line one more time as we began to disappear into the forest. I enjoy hunting alone even though I know I shouldn’t. Being alone in the wilderness with a good dog is my favorite way to be alone. As my old friend cast out in front of me like he has for so many seasons, I couldn’t help but laugh at him. He was crashing through the cover in a most reckless fashion like he did when he was a pup. I was really enjoying his unbridled enthusiasm when he ran right through a small brood of ruffed grouse. I was no longer amused. He did stop to flush. He had just gotten taken by the moment and who could blame him? It was the first hunt of the year. It's funny how even old men and dogs still get excited about the first hunt of the year.

I released him, and we were on our way. One of the birds he had flushed was perched on a tree limb about fifteen yards in front of me. I stopped and listened as it made that funny little cluck they make. It is somewhere between water dripping in a nearly empty metal tank and a clucking chicken. I started to explain to this bird just how lucky he was but he wouldn't hear of it as he flushed away through the quaking aspens.

My old pal did eventually get it together and start pointing birds, but again and again, the bird would
escape through the trees, but I couldn't see them. I had forgotten just how hard it is to see a flushing grouse before the leaves fall. “This is why I prefer to hunt them later,” I confirmed once again that I totally agree with myself.

Tic and I eventually came to a clearing out on a ridgeline. For some reason, I stopped and turned around to look behind me. What I saw brought a calmness to my heart. “There it is! The magic.” I said out loud as if Tic somehow knew what I was thinking. My eyes found it as I discovered a view behind me that I had almost missed. I could see forever. There were mountains and valleys, all covered with trees, brush, and rock. I could see forever.  A few of the trees had just a hint of orange and red contrasting against the dominant green canopy as a reminder that the seasons are about to change. That magic exists in almost every hunt if you look for it. It is rarely about what is done with the gun. It's more about what happens before after and between what happens with the gun.  It is romantic and beautiful and exists in the breath of the wind as it tickles the treetops. It sparkles in the sunlight as it glances off those fluttering leaves casting shivering shadows on the forest floor. It's in the songs of the birds and the gait of a good dog as he searches for his reason over through on among it all.  It is where you find it, but it can only be seen when the mind slows down enough to feel it, and it's magical. It's the reason I like to disappear and hunt alone with a dog.

I turned away reminding myself that this was only the first day and that it would be hot soon. I felt a smile come to my face as I thought about the possibilities of the season in front of me.

“Did Tic just stop?” I thought just before the point alarm on my GPS went off. Sure enough, he was on birds. I
hustled to get to him as I could hear a bird flush out through the trees. Then it happened. A young ruffed grouse flew straight at me. It was not to be his day. I let a light load of 7 1/2s loose from the A5 Sweet Sixteen I was packing. Feathers flew as the young bird tumbled hitting tree branches on its way to the forest floor. There was another flush at my shot and then another. I lost count. I snapped a shot through the trees at one and missed. Another caught my eye, and I snapped one at him. I wasn’t sure if I hit it or not, but Tic knew and retrieved it to hand. All of this in just a few seconds.

After the moment of excitement, I would have been content to call it a day, but Tic wanted to hunt. He was casting like a young dog just happy to be about his business. I gave him his head and followed in admiration. It didn’t take him long to find the subject of his search. It was a single dusky on the upper edge of some pines. I stood admiring what little I could see of the old dog through the belt of thick Mountain Ash that bordered the pines. Without warning the bird flushed and thundered down the edge of the evergreens. Swinging left, I tracked it with my little sixteen and pulled the trigger just as the barrel caught up to and passed the birds head. The big bird fluttered to the ground before rolling down the steep embankment while its wings thumped against the last breath of life. Tic couldn’t see the bird fall, but old Mr. Reliable raced to toward that familiar sound that meant there was a bird to fetch. It was at least 80 degrees by the time he brought that bird to hand.

I looked down at my partner standing there staring me in the eye. His mouth was full of feathers, but he seemed proud and accomplished. I too was proud, but enough is enough. After all, we have a whole season ahead of us that will be full of days that I set aside for disappearing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Excitement, The Anticipation, And The Puppy


The wait was finally over! I was in a pickup driving north to meet my new puppy. Yes, mine. I felt a little like the little boy in The Biscuit Eater when Mr. Ames gave him the runt of the litter for his very own. If you haven’t seen this 1939 movie show, you should. I was more excited than a middle-aged man should be. It had been a long road. There was a planned litter that was absorbed, a flood, and an exhausting search that occupied my mind for weeks, but finally, of all the available English setter puppies in the world, I had made my choice. After making my decision, I had to wait through three of the longest weeks imaginable for him to get old enough to come home. Finally, he was of age.

The three-hour drive seemingly lasted for days as the truck crept up the freeway like it was in a school zone. The speedometer said 80 MPH, but it felt like 15. Eventually, we ended up in the town of Pocatello, Idaho where we were to intercept a truck that had come from Montana on its way to Boise carrying the cargo that I was waiting for. It took forever to get there, but somehow we were two hours early. UGH!

We had to eat, so we killed a week or two at this Mexican place as a little over an hour passed. Then we walked through the Chubbuck mall for a few minutes. I hate malls. I bought pants. Finally, my phone rang. It was the guy in the truck. He said we were to meet him at Walmart. I just realized my pup came from Walmart, but I digress. It was exciting, and it felt a little like we were meeting the secret underground puppy cartel in a shady parking lot on the bad side of Pocatello. If there is such a thing as the bad side of Pocatello.

The guy in the truck opened the crate to show us the goods. I looked in there carefully. Always inspect the goods. What I saw was four of the tiniest little setter eyes staring back at me. We were to pick up a pup for a friend also. The puppies were so small. I didn't remember them being so little.

Angie was instantly in love. So we piled back in the truck, her with not one but two bundles of energy on her lap. The crate was in the back seat, empty. The drive home went by quickly, and our friend Todd was waiting at the house to pick up his wife's pup. In a few minutes, we were in the house at home with our new puppy that I had named Snaps on the way home.

 I was tired. After all, that day had lasted several weeks. We elected to stay up for a little while and play with the pup. After a time he appeared tired, so we let him outside, put him in his crate for the night and went to bed.

My heavy head hit the pillow, and my bed was more comfortable than ever. I
only had a few hours before I had to get up for work, but they would be good hours. Wrong! Just as my eyes closed, they were opened again by a screaming demon from hell that had apparently broken into the room where we had left our puppy. I rushed in to combat the evil beast before he did something to junior, but there was nothing there but cute little Snaps looking at me quietly with a very sad “let me out?” look in his eyes.

“I am not going to let you out,” I said knowing that I had to stand my ground and I returned to my bed. The silence was so sweet, but no sooner did my head hit the pillow and the demon spawn had risen again in the other room. It was screeching and screaming noises from another dimension that I couldn't remember hearing before. I looked at Angie,” It will only be a few nights. If I remember correctly, Sunnie was only like this for a week or so, and she was way worse than Tic.” I said. She agreed.

By day seven I was convinced I had invited some sort of sleep preventing daemon into our home. Somehow his level of screams and tones had increased in volume and variety. He was actually getting better at preventing us from sleeping. My eyes were bloodshot, and I had dark circles under them. Angie looked beautiful as usual. (I know to avoid digging holes, and she is in the other room cooking our dinner as I write this.)

I did catch 15 minutes of sleep right after work one day only to wake up to Snaps chewing on my slipper. I loved those slippers. In my red-eyed sleep-deprived state, all I could think about was how badly I had wanted this puppy and how excited I was to bring him home. This cute evil being that had taken over the house. Tic was eyeballing me constantly, Sunnie was looking at me as if I had destroyed her home, and Angie was patient after all Snaps was cute.

I was at my wit's end. How could I have wanted to go through this again? Why would anyone go through this, ever?

Then I was sitting on the couch, and I had lost track of where he was. I yelled, "Snaps. here!" He rounded the corner going full speed and tumbled three times. The enthusiasm in his eyes made me laugh as he came to his feet running straight for me. He hit the couch and somehow made it up onto my lap. He dug his puppy soft face into my neck and held still while I could hear him breathe and smell his slightly skunky breath.


I love Snaps.


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.