Tuesday, December 16, 2014


     I came to conscientiousness lying flat on my back staring straight up into the blinding sun. My whole head was throbbing in pain, the nose of my old Brittany dog, Bo was an inch from mine. His eyes gazed directly into mine. He looked as though he thought I was sleeping on the job. I sat up feeling groggy and disoriented. I wasn’t sure where I was, or how I got there. The star bursts in my vision reminded me of an old stooge short I had watched. For a minute my inner clown surfaced and I thought “ Hey Moe, look at the pretty birds”, but that was short lived as I started to realize the predicament I was in. My shotgun was laying beside me sort of half resting against my leg. I was laying out in the middle of a big frozen pond. The sky was the most beautiful shade of blue, and the reflection of the sun on the frozen pond that I was somehow now sitting in the middle of was making my vision very painful. I was in my stocking foot waders, but somehow I was wearing no boots. “Where the heck are my boots”, I said out loud. Bo was now standing over a dead Canada goose that I had apparently shot and he had retrieved. My gun had two empty shells in the chambers, and I was so confused. It would take a long time for me to put together the happenings that led to that moment on the ice. I sat for the longest time trying to think with a concussed brain. I hurt, I was lost and why in the world would I have come out here with no boots.
Though it was all really fuzzy at the time things have cleared up considerably, and I remember fairly well what happened. Like any hunting day Bo and I rose early in the the morning. With my best pal on the passengers seat I pointed the truck toward the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge just west of Brigham City, Utah with the hopes of having the marsh all to myself. It was Christmas day, and I knew I shouldn’t be hunting. If my mother had known she would have thrown a fit. I was in my rowdy early 20's and I didn’t much care what she, or anyone else thought or said. In fact I suppose a part of me sort have enjoyed the fact that it would make someone angry. We arrived an hour or so before day break and walked off into an area of the marsh that I knew very well. Looking back it is amazing that I never even took a flashlight with me, but never once lost my way without one. My good side had me thinking of returning home early to be with family and celebrate Christmas so I took only a few decoys. December in Utah is always cold and most years the flat, still waters will be very locked up with ice. We walked out across frozen marsh to a place where current always kept a little bit of water open. We set up, and waited.
The magic of the morning marsh always leaves me breathless. It started with the deafening songs of thousands of ducks, geese and swans in the distance tingling my ears. Soon the silhouettes of ducks could be seen rocketing into and then out of sight. Finally the sun peaked over the hill and bounced off the ice crystals on the bulrush, the mostly frozen pond and other vegetation. Yes, it was truly magnificent. I remember feeling sorry for those that were in bed, or opening presents. They did not see, and hear the magic of this Christmas morning the way I did. As the sun rose a little higher it became obvious I was no where near the place the ducks wanted to be. I picked up my decoys and left them in the cattails to be picked up on the way out, and walk off in search of a better place to hunt the next day.
I crossed several canals in the direction of the birds I had been listening to all morning until I was in sight of them. There were a ton of birds sitting on a patch of open water out in the middle of a huge pond. They were in a situation that I was not equip to hunt in those days. Disappointed, I sat and watched them hopelessly for several minutes when I noticed a few waves of geese getting up to the north me and flying low to the east. They would get up a few minutes apart and each wave followed about the same path. I knew if I could put myself in that flight path I might get a shot at a “Christmas” goose. There were so many birds in the big flock on the water I just hoped they would continue to do what they were doing. As I got closer the difficulty in getting to that flight path without disturbing every bird on the pond became obvious. The ice had a crunchy layer on top that cracked and echoed off the frozen pond with every step I took like it was electronically amplified. There were some small islands of Cattails that I could use for cover but it would be tricky. Wondering if I would regret the move, I took my boots off leaving them on the ice and tried as hard as I could not to crunch the ice in my stocking foot waders. With my careful footsteps now muffled, and belly crawling in places I was able to get very close to where I wanted to be. I had one more big patch of open ice to sneak across to get to the patch of cover that I figured would be the best place to hide and wait. There was only one patch of cattails that I could put between the big group of birds on the water and I. The real trick would be to not get busted by a flock in the air already. I sat and waited for a flock to get up and fly off. When they passed, I hustled to try to get to that cover quickly while still being as quiet as I could. I got right in the middle of the open pond when a group got up. And flew straight at me. I dropped down flat on my stomach and pulled Bo in close to lay down beside me. With my face down against the ice, and hood over my head I could not see the birds. I could hear them, and I could see Bo's eyes getting more intense as they approached. When Bo was looking out of the very top of his eyes I blindly stood up and picked out a bird. They flared, the first barrel connected and a goose fell from the flock. I picked another bird just as they were getting over top out of my range of motion, and I pulled the trigger. I had gotten a little off balance, and Ice had formed on the bottom of my stocking feet and as my gun fired, and recoiled my feet slipped out from under me. My head slammed into the ice, and that was where I found myself.
Putting these events all together took some time. I was finally able to figure out where I was, and put
enough together to start walking back. I did have some question as to where I had put my boots. Bo helped me find them and we were off in the direction where I ad parked the truck. Later that night my head was still throbbing as I was eating Christmas dinner with my family. I suppose everyone has there own beliefs and feelings about a higher power. I usually choose to keep mine private, but I will tell you that I have never hunted on Christmas since.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Quirky Dogs

I have owned bird dogs for most all of my life. I have had several breeds. Some were back yard bred and some were of really strong trial blood. I am not a professional trainer, but I do get a little bit better with each dog. In spite of my imperfections I have been the proud owner of some really nice dogs. All of my dogs have become serviceable bird dogs, but some have taken a lot more work than others. This is often because of my mistakes but not always. One thing I don’t think I will ever understand is how inconsistent some of them can be. Just when you think you really have them sharp.... you don't.
I left the house one morning with the thought of getting Sunnie our two year old setter some experience on chukar. She has had lots of bird experience for a two year old, and some chukar experience, but it had been a year or more since she saw consistent wild chukar. I have always felt like she had the run and style of a big country chukar dog. I wanted to see her start to realize that potential, and I was dreaming of her standing birds as I drove to the desert. When we arrived, I put her on the ground, and she went to work. She was doing what she does eating up big hills and rock fields with that silky smooth gate that she was born with and then boom, she slammed into a point

150 yards below me. As I stumbled to closed the distance in the difficult terrain I could not take my eyes off of her. She was standing beautifully just like I had imagined on the drive up. She held point like she has all of her life even though the wind was blowing briskly. I walked in and about 20 birds exploded from the hillside. My gun tracked one, and then another, and both fell dead. Sunnie retrieved like clockwork and I was in my happy place. I watched the escaping birds and saw exactly where they landed. I was thinking we were about to have a really fun morning. Everyone knows if you give them the hill they will run over the top and leave you standing gasping for air while they flush off the other side. There is no choice you have to get above them to hold them on the hill. So we climbed straight up the steep hill to get above and around on them. When we were on top of them we started our descent. They were right where I thought they would be. When Sunnie got downwind I saw her nose cue into the wind she then accelerated right through the whole covey and chased up every bird in the flock. I was so shocked I did not know what to do. She has been stopping to flush every time for 6 months and pointed strong all her life. After got my jaw to close, and I came to my senses I stopped her with the whoa command, and set her back making her stand while I walked around hopping a straggler would flush. I had no such luck. Thinking this was some sort of fluke I released her and we hunted over the hill in the direction some of the birds went. As we got to the top she cued on scent again turned into the wind and flushed another bird. I was more on my toes this time and hit her with the collar, and this time she at least stopped. I set her back again and went through the motions before I released her, and we hunted on. The same scenario played out one more time. I had seen enough. It was time to pick her up and go back to the drawing board with her.
This kind of thing has happened in one form or another to me for as long as I have tried to train a better dog. I try to assume it is due to my short comings as a trainer/handler. It is best for me to feel this way as it prevents me from getting angry at the dog. Maybe I am even correcting it wrong. I do the best that I can with the knowledge and experience I have. Many of my Facebook friends say they have noticed this behavior when a dog is in or coming in to season. Maybe she will show in the next few days. Some say dogs just have bad days. Maybe the strong breeze was a factor on this day. Maybe dogs are just as quirky as we are and there is no real explanation. The only thing I know for sure is we will get her straight one way or another.

Have you had any experiences like this with your dogs? How did you handle it?

This is a slide show and Video of sunnie's first 6 months

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Pa'tridge... well I've heard that some people call them that. To me they are Ruffed Grouse. I chose to pursue them today. They are a somewhat overlooked resource here in Utah, especially after about the end of September. Many people hunt them early ,but a lot of folks forget the season runs through dec. these days. They are way more fun to hunt in November when the weather permits than in September. It is winter in the high country, but the birds are just beautiful right now.  I ran Tic today with the thought of steadying him up a little on them. Pheasants really loosen him up every year. It is a consequence I am willing to deal with because I love hunting them. It worked, but I had to let the first two birds go because he crowded them. He and I came to an understanding, and it didn't take long for him to remember the way I like him to do things. We had 5 really nice points before all was said and done. I would have posted more pictures of points, but with the snow in the high country, and Tic being white they looked bad so I only posted this one. I think you will see what I mean. Find Tic.lol It was nice to connect on four of the five birds he pointed. One of them is a brown phase, that is always cool to see. They do get up and get out this time of year. Shooting is still difficult on these forest dwelling buggers, but it is so much easier with the leaves off of the trees. Hunting forest grouse has been a nice break up from the prairie birds. Sunie on Blues then Tic on Ruffs.
Some say the Ruffed grouse is the king of upland game birds, while others say the pheasant is. Im not sure if either crowd is right because I cant live without either. Thank goodness for the terrific variety of game birds in the west.
It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Tic showing off

My niece with her favorite bird dog
My fascination with bird dogs started when I was a boy. I remember the first time I saw a dog point as clearly as the rooster Sunnie nailed last Thursday. My father raised German Shorthairs, and though he wasn't big on training he did run the dogs on wild pheasants occasionally. On one of these outings I saw a dog point for the first time. Through the eyes of a child it unbelievable to me that the dog wouldn't try to catch the bird. I also remember how startled I was when the bird flushed. Dads Shorthairs were beautiful dogs that stood solid for a long time when on point with little or no training. They lived in kennels and lacked the manners of a house dog, and were more bird hunting machine than companion. I was a little boy and they would sometimes knock me down but it was only because of their uncontrollable
Having grown up and had a few dogs of my own as well as helped many others with theirs the fact that they point on their own is still a wonder to me.
Sunnie, a ten week old puppy showing point.
energy and never of vicious intent. When he had a litter of puppies I would play with them and try to teach them things even though I didn't know the first thing about training a dog. I would watch them romp around and play, it was so much fun. Sometimes one would show his potential by pointing a grasshopper, butterfly, or a sparrow, and I really thought it was cool that a young puppy would point on his own without being taught. I also wondered if I could use one to find grasshoppers for me to catch as fish bait, but that dream never became reality. I guess its not to late.
   A bird dog is an interesting creature. He can be as close to perfect some days and on others look as if he has never seen the field. Each one is an individual, even within the same breed each is as different from the next as you and I. He is born to do his job. If only I could work with half of the enthusiasm of a 2 year old setter pup I might just be in the Whitehouse. He lives for his purpose and for you and me, but expects nothing in return. He might be expected to learn how to handle many different birds that live in very different terrain. He must learn to hunt closer in heavy cover for Ruffed grouse yet be able to run big in the open chukar hills. He is expected to handle running birds one day and then nervous flighty birds the next. He may even be asked to run in a field trial with different rules all together. It is amazing to me that they can and do learn all this. All in all his ultimate satisfaction is just to please us. To please us! Think about that. What other animal lives with so much love and admiration for another? It blows my mind.
Tic on pont in a field trial
We are the beneficiaries of 100's of years of selective breeding. In this day and age you can buy a dog that not only pleases your eye, but specializes in the terrain and species you hunt. If you do some research within the blood lines of just the English Setter you can buy dogs that naturally range at what ever distance you please, and that grow to nearly any size that you please. This is not to mention the many other breeds available. Short hair, long hair, short tail, long tail, big, small, medium, dogs that don't point at all but flush its all for you to choose from. Even then amongst the dogs that specialize in one thing or another there are the jack of all trade types that are bred to do everything. They will point your birds, retrieve your ducks, trail a fox, and even follow a blood trail to help you track down your wounded big game animal. It is amazing to me that they can and do learn all this. Bird dogs are simply amazing!

   I understand that bird dogs aren’t for everyone, and that owning one is a very real lifestyle choice.
Especially so for those of us who have them in the house. I still cant help but wish that everyone could know what it is like to work with such a fine animal together as a team. The bond between hunter and an old dog he has spent so much time with is difficult to explain yet everyone that has
experienced it knows exactly what I am talking about.

Beyond the hunt a bird dog is always there for you. Always.

Monday, November 3, 2014

One More Apple

As I walk through the landscape that I have spent early November in for 23 consecutive years I can't help but notice the changes that have taken place. The view is still a breathtaking image of an upland landscape. It isn't the glory days when pheasants could be heard cackling in every direction before shooting time on opening day, but there are still a few birds to find. It is funny how I hardly noticed just how beautiful it is when I was younger. Now I look over it with different eyes. As I walk I am haunted by images of old dogs, friends, family, experiences, and events that have taken place there. Every bush, tree, ditch bank, and field is a slideshow of pheasant hunts passed. There is a single apple tree I have picked an apple from every single year. Except for the year there wasn't enough water for the tree to produce any apples. The apples are small, but it is the most delicious apple I eat in any given year. These days many of those fields of memory have lost their beautiful pale yellow grass to the plow. The bird habitat gets more narrow and less dynamic every year. You can't blame the farmer. He is simply trying to scrape a living from the land. I am very worried about the future of this place. Having grown up on the edge of agricultural land I have watched all the farm land near my parent's home turn to subdivisions, mini malls, and box stores. That is what pushed me to find new hunting grounds 25 years ago. Now we face the same thing again in a completely different way. I keep telling myself it isn't as bad as development. It is much more likely a wheat field could be turned back to CRP than a house. I am still saddened by it all, and it is completely out of my control.
So this year as I walk, and I look over the classic fall colors. I see the silhouette of a man, a boy, and a dog walking through the grass below me. I see the light in a young dog's eyes turned on by the first encounter with the intoxicating scent of a wild bird. I see an old rooster cackling from the cover after being bested by an old dog's nose, and brain. I see that old dog living up to his bloodline doing what ever fiber of his being tells him he was born to do. If only we had such purpose. I see the faces of people spending time outside doing something they love. And a thousand other images that I want permanently etched in my mind. I don't want to think of a world without these things. Lastly, I am going to walk over to that apple tree and eat the best apple of the year, and hope it isn’t the last one I eat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Best Kind Of Tired

A trip to Montana

Sunnie backing her mother
Two years ago we had one of our beloved k-9 hunting and couch companions get sick and pass away before her time. My wife Angie, and I were in desperate need of a good setter puppy and after a few phone calls and text messages I was hooked up with Tim Powell (Long Hollow Setters)and Later Don Olsen(Ashuelot Sunset Setters). Don owned a lovely female setter out of blood lines I liked and had bred to Tim's setter dog that was out of lines I also thought highly of. The best news was that the pups were already born. After convincing myself and my wife that this was the litter we put money down on a pup. I did not know what a great friend I would make in Don, or what a great little dog Sunnie would be at the time. In the time since Don and I have emailed back and forth, talked on the phone many times, and Angie and I have visited he and his wife once. I send him pictures of Sunnie's progress and he sends me pictures of his pup from that same litter. It has been fun for both of us to watch littermates grow up, and develop.
    I had never driven eight hours to hunt birds before. My hunts are mostly less than two hours from my door, but hunting is getting tougher and tougher in my world. It is especially tough for one of my favorite birds to target the ring neck pheasant. So this year when Don invited my wife and I to hunt pheasants with him at his home in Montana we happily loaded dogs in the truck and made the drive. We arrived in town in the early evening, made plans with Don to meet up in the morning, and tried desperately to get some sleep. I don't travel well. I almost never sleep the first night in a strange place. We woke up to big sky country like this.
     In the morning we were greeted at Don's house by the welcoming smile of his lovely wife Marian. Don was off running an errand of some kind, but returned just as we settled in with a cup of the hazel nut coffee that I remembered at first taste from the last time we visited Don and Marion. We had never hunted with Don before, but Angie and I were both excited to start the day. We were joined by Mick a long time friend of Don's and former collegiate football coach. We dressed and prepared to go for our first walk. I was excited to see Don's two setters work. Sadie was his oldest. She was our dog Sunnie's mother. He also had a litter mate of Sunnie's that they had named Skye. We had our dog Tic, and Sunnie with us as well. I was also excited for him to see our dogs in action, and I was really hopping they would look good for him.
Don walking in on his dog Sadie's point
Don is a fairly tall gentleman with a pleasant smile and even more pleasant disposition, and he was proud, and eager to share with us the Montana pheasant hunting that had loved all of his life. I couldn't help but noticed he was holding a shotgun that was as old as I am, and maybe a bit wiser in the way of birds. It was an old 20 gauge savage pump that was probably made around 1970(so was I). The bluing was warn off, and it had little blemishes of rust up and down the barrel. The finish on the stock was thin and even nonexistent in most places from years of following dogs in search of long-tails. There was a small crack in the stock where wood met metal just above the pistol grip, but it only added character to the old gun. The gun is nothing special in the world of firearms, but when paired with his hands it looked like a work of art to me. I asked him how it was choked, and with a smile he said that he wasn't sure he had just always shot it that way. I left it at that. By now I was feeling a little awkward about my beautiful shiny Browning over and under and it's now seemingly overkill 12 gauge bore, but I pulled it from its case anyway, we put dogs on the ground and we were off into Don's world.

   The grounds Don hunts on are not much different than the ones I grew up on. Lots of ditch banks
of heavy grass, some cattail bottoms, and a few grass pastures that have managed to avoid being grazed at least until this point in pheasant season. We saw quite a few birds that first day. The dog work was good but not great, and everyone had a good time. We were able to take plenty of roosters, and a couple of Huns between the four of us. Angie and I were happy. I think Don had a nice time too, but I could tell he was disappointed in the bird numbers. Compared to what I was used to there seemed to be plenty. I understood what he was feeling though. Whenever I invite someone to hunt with me I want to show them a great time with plenty of game, and that just doesn't always happen. To me bird hunting isn't about how many birds are taken. Its about dog work. Its about long walks pondering this simplest of things or the most complex of things while basking in the warmth of breathtaking landscapes, and watching a graceful dog glide over the grounds. Its about the people you meet and getting to know them in a place of common interest. I hope I was able to get my thoughts through to him on this. Angie and I were feeling happy and blessed just to be here, and to do this.
Tic standing point over a rooster pheasant
    On the second day we saw fewer birds. We had opted to rest the young dogs, in favor of the older more experienced dogs. Don's dog Sadie and my pal Tic put on a veteran dog show of class and beauty pointing and backing each other many times. On one occasion Sadie turned in to obvious scent in a hay field and followed it 150 yards out to slam a point. Angie walked to it only to have a nice covey of Hungarian partridge explode from the alfalfa. She was able to connect on one. It was fun for Don and I to watch from afar. I was proud of Tic's work too, he has grown to be a great little bird dog. Tic always gives me eye candy. He is five years old already.
Angie holding up a nice rooster
  The third and final hunting day of our trip was another fairly tough day. We walked a long way before we found both of Don's dogs standing point in some heavy, thick, green grass that was bordered by some tall trees on one side. As we walked in Sunnie honored and it was a classic scene. A hen exploded as we got close and flew to safety. One or two more steps later everything came to life as roosters, and hens went in every direction. We each did our best to take what we could, and everyone got at least one. That would be our only chance of the day for pheasants, and it turned out to be the most exciting moment of the trip.
    Don had other commitments later that day so we returned to the hotel with tired legs and minds in the early afternoon. Angie had some sore feet, and I sat in a chair thinking about the last three days. Then it occurred to me, “I'm in Montana. My 3 day license isn’t expired yet. What the heck am I doing sitting here?” I got on the laptop and quickly found a piece of block management land that was open to public hunting. Twenty-five minutes later I had dogs on the ground.

Sunnie and Tic

    It was so nice to be alone in my element. As I walked and watched the tired dogs keep hunting out of love for the game I felt that bond that I hope we all feel with our bird dogs. I like to think that they were feeling it too. I was proud of them and was really enjoying watching them when Sunnie froze into a point on the edge of a hay field. She was so beautiful standing there. Tic saw her and backed, and I just watched in admiration. After a long pause I walked in. A young rooster jumped and flew straight at a the only house in the area. It was okay that I couldn’t shoot. It didn't bother me in the least to let him go and released the dogs. With a smile on my face and a new spring in my step I followed the dogs for another two hours. We found a several coveys of Hungarian partridge and the dogs really did a nice job. We harvested enough for a nice meal, and went back to the truck finally leaving well enough alone.

   Sitting in the hotel room later that night with a full belly, and my feet up I was so relaxed and content. I was exhausted from travel and hunting, but it felt great. I decided that this feeling is the best kind of tired.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Early October.

I had a great time hunting over the last five days. I have watched five beautiful sunrises. I never see a sunrise in my everyday life. I am at work hours before the world wakes up. I hunted two days alone, one day with Angie one day with Thomas, and one day with Kyle. I enjoy hunting with friends as well as hunting alone. I only hunted one day for ducks. I will wait until the mosquitoes die and it isn't too hot to walk out to the places I like to hunt before I hunt them again. It is more fun when the ducks are pretty. Right now many of them are still in their ugly eclipse phase. The nice thing about waterfowl in Utah is that there are 107 days. there is plenty of time to get after them.
On our upland hunts Sunnie was consistent throughout. She makes a few rookie mistakes at times and still bumps more birds than I am happy with but she gets a little better each time out. She is solid with stop to flush and solid and beautiful on point. I am very proud of Angie's two year old. She is going to have a great season.
Tic started rough, and acted as though it was his first season. He was bumping birds it is like he couldn't smell anything. He is like that every year. True to form, he woke up the last two days and was spectacular. He had dead to rights points on multiple Chukar, Huns, and Sharptails. I must admit I was starting to lose faith. I am glad I stuck with him and gave him a bunch of one on one time. I was tempted to leave him in the crate for the other dog many times. I'm glad I did I'm excited for the rest of the season over my now five year old friend.
I is great to be back in my world for the first time this season, and I am grateful for the opportunities that are afforded to me. I am seeing many more birds than last season at this time. It is going to be a great year!

Sunday, October 5, 2014


       The First Time
Jan, 2014
     Aside from ducks quacking in the distance, my paddle dipping in the water was the only sound. The moon was so big it seemed like something out of a cartoon. I remember thinking, so this is what they mean by a harvest moon. It was all I had to light my way and it was plenty bright. I had left my light in the truck. I knew I would not need it. I knew I would not see anyone else. My young dog that I called Bo was my only companion. Like usual he was standing up with his front paws on the bow of my two seat canoe style kayak and was making sure I was taking us to the right place. The small boat cut the shallow water in silence. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was meant to be here, meant to see this, to feel this, to be this, and right now. I thought of my duck hunter grandfather that I was never able to share a blind with before he died. I wondered if he had ever experienced the emotion that I was feeling. I jumped out as my boat slid into the alkali bulrush on the edge of a pond somewhere in the middle of Harold S. Crane WMA., and went to work quickly setting my 80 or so decoys leaving a hole in the middle. I had read somewhere that this was the way to get them to set where you wanted them to. I had never seen anyone use a spread this big so I figured I was really outdoing everyone. Lol I set Bo in the weeds where he was well hidden, smeared mud on my face, and was content to sit and watch the world wake up around me. As expected we were the only ones in the marsh. I watched wave after wave of Mallards, Gadwal and Pintail get up and fly to the north. I had no idea why at the time. I wouldn’t figure all that out until much later. I tried calling a little but nothing would respond. I soon got frustrated and sat silent as they flew over out of gun range. At around 9:30 I hadn’t fired a shot, and with nothing flying I was tempted to leave. After waffling back and forth for a while I thought about how much work it would be to pick up and paddle out. I finally decided to make a day of it, and so we sat, and sat. At around 11:30 a single drake Mallard appeared from no where and was checking us out. Trying to stay as still as possible I gave a timid faint quack on my duck call. To my surprise he changed direction.. I could feel the excitement fill my body and had to concentrate to try and calm myself. He flew past us and I gave a faint 'quack quack quack quack' greeting thing that I had practiced on my Lohman Bill Harper Pro-Model duck call until ill. I couldn’t believe he bought it, banked right into the hole I had left in the middle of my spread. In excitement I stood up too early and fired both barrels of my O/U somewhere in his general direction only managing to scare him away. I yelled something at the top of my lungs, then sat down feeling ill. I had not even thought of what I would do if it had worked. Lol. That was the first duck I had ever called in, and I had missed him, choked and blew it. Fortunately, my shame and anguish would be short lived. I would kill my four (4) duck limit that day with ducks I had beat with the call. A hen and two (2) drake Mallards and one (1) Gadwal if memory serves. Life has never been the same. I was hooked on working ducks with the call. That has been the only way I have wanted to hunt ducks since.
Me in 1993 Sadly, I don't have any photos of the actual hunt

    In another time it was a different game altogether. I didn’t know what the term pro-staff meant, some still don’t. I had no clue about mud motors, air boats, motion decoys, spinners or even all the camo patterns we have today. I’m not sure they were even invented at that time. I was just learning to decoy ducks and had been working my tail off to learn how to call a little bit. I had no real teacher,I didn’t know anyone that could call, but I guess a cassette tape was a decent surrogate. There was no internet, I think I had seen a computer or two but couldn’t even imagine that one could be of any use whatsoever. I had been brought up with the philosophy that duck calls were only good for scaring ducks. I believed this until I watched a guy work birds into gun range on a “blue bird” day the year before. We were also of the theory that very few ducks were killed on “blue bird” days at that time. Lol. That man, who I have never met and who doesn’t know me lit a flame in me that would grow into the raging fire of obsession. He changed my world.

I often find myself longing for that simpler time.


My Hell Hole
Aug, 2014

    I'm not much of a traveler, but out of necessity I find myself doing it more and more. It is usually about going to a calling contest or something like that, but I often get home sick and find myself thinking of places I would rather be. I recently found myself at Niagara Falls in upstate New York. I was sent to Rochester for work, but had a chance to ride over to the falls for an evening. I rode on that little boat that travels out in front of the thing and did the whole tourist deal. I was completely blown away by the power of the energy in the form of wind and mist that comes off of that thing. Nature is amazing no matter where you are. Still I long for home, and the world that I love so much. I guess birds of a feather do flock together because I met a very friendly local grouse hunter. We visited only briefly but were able to exchanged a few stories and talk about bird dogs a bit before we went our separate ways. It was really nice to talk with him, but it made me long for mid September and a very special canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

Tom sitting at around mid elevation in the hole.
    It is a place my wife, and friends have affectionately called hell canyon because they feel its evil. Many go with me once but few go a second time. It is only minutes from a major city, and has been a treasure of a hunting spot for many years. My dad first took me there deer hunting when I was a boy, and it is exactly the same today as it was back then. In my life time I have watched most everything change. They call it development, but to me it is simply the loss of another playground. I see houses and roads and stores taking over what was once farm land. Nearly all the places I hunted as a boy are gone to “development”. It can be very depressing, and it seems to happen everywhere. That steep evil little canyon up there is the same as it ever was. Though physically challenging it is my favorite place to hunt forest grouse. They might not be the grouse of lore from the east, but they are the grouse I grew up loving. Usually the bag there consists of both blues, and Ruffed grouse. I have countless memories of dogs and friends in that canyon, but today one is really on my mind.
   was in Tic's yearling season. I had worked very hard to give my young friend every opportunity to find birds on his own. I left the older dogs home often to allow him to really learn and took him out at least twice a week on his own that first season. It was late September or maybe even early October when I started Tic down into that steep canyon for the first time. A fresh skiff of snow was on the ground and I knew from experience that this was good for our chances, but not my footing. The already melting snow made the whole canyon glisten in the morning sunshine. It has the most beautiful stand of deep dark pines on one side and short heavy brush on the other. The bottom of the canyon has a tiny spring running down it and the cover around the water is impenetrable. There are also Aspens, elderberries, some kind of red-orange berry that is common in the Utah mountains, and all types of leaves and buds that often turn up in the craws of a grouse. There is so much habitat that on the best days one finds birds many and often all the way through it from top to bottom. For one reason or another it is a place they congregate when the weather starts to turn. It is so steep that the blue grouse found up high in it only have to flap a few times before diving down the canyon and out of site. It is among the best places to be period.
    It is always interesting to watch a young dog learn about new cover and terrain. He had not seen terrain this steep or brush like this before, and I wondered how he would handle it. He struggled at first but adapted quick and was covering ground well in no time. His first bird encounters of the morning were not the best. He crowded a small group of blues near the top and then another group several hundred yards down from there. It is hard to not pull the trigger and harvest a bird or two like that, but I feel strongly that it is best to shoot only pointed birds for a young dog so I gritted my teeth and watched them fly away down the canyon like they were dropping off of the flat earth. I smiled as I watched Tic all excited and hopped up on bird scent. I found him very entertaining racing all over the place being young full of foolishness, energy, and enthusiasm. I waited for him to settle down a bit after the second birds jumped, and then started back down the canyon. We worked our way down to the upper edge of those dark pines. They have some nice thick brush on the uphill side of them that often holds both blue and ruffs. Tic was hunting that stuff when I stepped around a large pine and saw the tip of his tail still and high in the thick stuff. I was so excited to see my young dog standing like that. I got to where I could see him a little better and stopped to admire his beauty for a few moments. When a took another step birds went everywhere, and I was able to connect on one. It tumbled down the hill as I yelled “fetch Tic fetch” just like we practiced in the yard he brought the ruffed grouse up the hill to my hand. I made a huge deal out of it. We rolled around on the ground while I scratched his ears, roughed him up a bit and told him “good boy!” over and over. I remember
Young Tic on this hunt.
how happy and excited he was that he had pleased me that much. I ended up shooting three birds that day. One ruffed and two blue grouse all pointed by Tic that morning. He had several other bird producing points that I couldn’t get shots at. That was the first time he really looked like he knew what he was doing. I remember thinking Hmm he might just make a bird dog after all.


It's Good Just To Get Out
JAN, 2013
As a young hunter I remember being confused listening older hunters talking about hunts they had considered successful. Often they didn’t shoot much and I sort of figured when they said things like, “It was good just to get out”, or “you don’t need to shoot a bunch of birds to have a good time” that was just an excuse for being bad at hunting. This crazy notion that you didn't need to shoot birds just didn’t make much sense to me because after all we are there in the pursuit of birds. The ultimate goal is of course to harvest some for the table, and harvesting those birds is what makes the hunt fun and offers the reward of satisfaction. So in bird hunting shooting a bunch of birds is the very definition of success. Right?
Thirty years later I am one of three friends sitting on the banks of an Idaho stream in mid January. Blissfully unplugged, unchained, and out of cell service for a time lapse series that will become the last day of duck season 2014.
The bitter temps at or near zero kept our toes and noses cold in the early hours. The only thing that resembled movement was each of us taking turns periodically to go on short walks to warm up a little. There was no action. It was a little boring and cold. Not many words were spoken, but even in such conditions each of us seamed content with the situation. Experience had taught us that often good things would happen if we waited patiently and put in our time.
When the sun finally peaked down into the canyon our spirits were lifted with it's warmth on our faces, and the Goldeneye that had started to whistle by from time to time. A few made the mistake of trying to make friends with our fakes, and though I chose not to shoot, it was fun watching the the other guys harvest a few.
After lunch a bald eagle soared down the the canyon gliding close over the top of our hide with the brilliant back drop that only Idaho can provide. The very symbol of our country, it made me think of how lucky I really am to have been born here. To be able to sit with two friends in the sunshine under a blue sky just doing what we love. It is a great thing.
A flock of rarely seen Trumpeter swans flew by. We marveled at their beauty and song.
We had many hours of pleasant conversation talking philosophy on everything from food and hunting to family and life in general. I think all hunters become philosophers after a time.
Late in the day a few mallards started moving. It was exciting to think we would finally get some action. When the ducks flared we noticed what we thought were two hunters walking toward us. As they got closer we could see they had no guns. We took pause as we realize one of them had a fishing rod, and appeared to be a pretty girl. You just don’t see that every day in a duck blind. She worked her way up stream as her boyfriend crossed to the other side. It became obvious he was working a trap line. She was so sneaky getting close enough to pull out her phone and take pictures of the birds sitting on the water. They did not frighten or fly away from her. She took several wonderful shots of our decoys. We got a really good laugh at her expense when we casually stood up and said hello. She was so embarrassed. She could do nothing but laugh with us. We were entertained enough that it wasn’t a big deal that there were for the first time all day mallards in the air and we could do nothing about it. I don’t think she really knew what to do so she just stood there twenty yards outside our spread for what to us seamed like the longest time. After a while the boyfriend crossed back over and they wandered off the direction they came from.
At sunset it was getting cold fast so we picked up and got back to the truck as quickly as possible. The young couple we had seen earlier stopped by as we were loading to apologized for messing up our hunt. We had another good laugh about it all. She was really a good sport about the whole thing.

We were getting really hungry so we got back in the truck and headed in to town for some dinner. Entering the restaurant a young man who had noticed how we were dressed said “Did you have a good hunt?”. I didn't know what to say. As my friend answered I laughed to myself thinking I guess it really was good just to get out.