Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I was looking up at the hill as we put our gear on, and thinking to myself “this doesn’t look too bad, as Chukar country goes. It is basically a gentle slope.” Then I laughed to myself a little. I had been in much worse and really this was just average Chukar country. It was not especially rugged or treacherous for Chukar, just average. Before having time to reconsider our plan we were geared up and starting into our ascent. Bret said “sometimes we see a covey or two on the way up, but not always.” The rest of us just kept walking up, up, and up. We would ascend to the first peak only to have another exposed behind it. We would hike up to that one to see yet another, and on, and on it went. Until finally Bret raised his hand. I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly, and I couldn't see much. I hadn’t seen my dog in a few and before I could even wonder what was up guns were blazing. I was last in the line of four and never even raised my gun. One bird fell and before Brett's dog Cash could finish the retrieve a small fox jumped from his hide and sprinted back behind us staying just out of gun range. His coat was beautiful rusty red in the early morning sun. I think he was hunting Chukar too, and was probably pretty unhappy with us for ruining his plans. Once the action was over and the bird was collected we were back to our main activity of walking up, up and up. Just as we got to what would turn out to be the highest peak we looked up to see my dog Sunnie, and Cash locked
up solid. As we got closer Cash broke and went on like he was trailing up the ridge as though the birds had run over the top. We all assumed he was right, but as I approached where Sunnie was still standing I could see by the look in her eye that she thought the birds were just off the edge from her. I was just about to say something when they exploded downhill tucking and rocketing down the slopes like tiny fighter jets. Guns went off and two birds fell tumbling down the steep hill. Once birds were collected we all had a laugh. It was funny that only one of the six of us had the birds right. We stood on the top and planned the next step.

The plan was for Brett, Cash, and his long time friend George to take the south ridge. George's son, Cody, Sunnie and I would take the north ridge. Cody had hunted here before and he seemed pleased that we would get the north. I was happy to split into a smaller group. I am always happiest hunting in smaller groups or even alone. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. With Sunnie running out front I was feeling really good about our chances to get good opportunities on pointed birds.

For the first time that morning I started feeling relaxed and was able to take it all in. The view from that ridge was just breathtaking. There is a magic walking these mountains that are so vast, barren, and dry that very little can survive on them. It is brutally hot in the summer and the only shade is that of the very sparse Pinyon Juniper trees. Water is a rare commodity and it is amazing to me that wildlife finds a way to get moisture here in the summer let alone enough water to survive, even thrive. In winter the cold is bitter and the wind relentless blowing icy snow that stings faces. The north facing hillsides freeze solid and the footing becomes nonexistent. It is country of extremes for sure. However, there is beauty in all things if you look for it, and in these mountains it abounds. The depth, textures, and contrasts are like no where else. You can see forever, and the clear sky is as blue as I can imagine possible. The yellow cheat grass, contrasts against rock and and the steep hillsides offer a visual depth that is difficult to describe. The howls of coyotes, and the occasional screech of a hawk can be heard in the wind, but the relentless vocal mockery of the Chukar is maddening, and beautiful at the same time.

As I was daydreaming about all of these things I was suddenly shaken awake by the gun fire that was obviously coming from Brett and George. I said “it sounds like they found some.” We walked on and on with Sunnie still searching high and low, and hearing the constant pops coming from Brett and George started to weigh on us. Cody jokingly said “I think ol' Brett sent us this way on purpose.”
We chuckled a bit and walked on. Just when we were getting discouraged Sunnie's body language suddenly changed and she was very excited and interested. She ran bigger and bigger trying to turn the bird scent into birds. When she finally locked up 200 yards down the ridge we started to her, but before we got there birds went everywhere from all around us, and then from where she was at birds went every direction. We didn’t do well with the guns and they all flew away. I was a little sad because Sunnie had not done as well as I thought she should have, and we had not done a thing to help make up for it. I was certain we had seen all the birds on the mountain, but we went on anyway.
When she locked up again she would be true to her word and Cody and I would do better also. We walked in to flush and by the time we had birds collected we could hear the devil's red legged friends mocking us from every direction. All of the sudden they were everywhere. From that moment on
Sunnie and the birds put on quite a show. There was constant slightly evil mockery from those that we could not find. I can't begin to describe how many birds were seemingly everywhere. We had many points and flushed many birds. At one point someone shot and the whole hillside across the canyon came alive with flushing chukar. It was among the most amazing things I have witnessed in my bird hunting life. My day came to an end, and almost too soon with Sunnie on point in the bottom of a narrow canyon. Cody and I had gotten separated so I walked in alone. When the birds flushed my bottom barrel connected with one and then my top met
another to finish my daily limit. It took only a short time for Cody to finish his and we were on our way back to the top. Yes, it was uphill both ways. You've heard the stories.

When we got back to our point of separation Brett contacted us to say they had finished their day and were headed back our way. When they met back with us we all exchanged stories of the days events and full bags. It was great that everyone had such an amazing time. We wandered downhill now everyone enjoying the walk back to the trucks. Sunnie and Cash treated us to a point each, and we all enjoyed watching the masked devils fly away. Only when you have spent countless hours, boot leather, blood, sweat, and blisters working really hard for a bird or two can you truly enjoy watching birds fly away out of a point with full game bags.

There might be sweeter hunts than this one, but I have never been on one. A fantastic day, with fantastic people, in a fantastic place, chasing a great game bird. Perfect!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Driving in the darkness the eastern sky opened up to pastel blue and the silhouette of the Wasatch mountains were exposed. Old Hank was moaning the blues on the radio, Tic was in a crate in the back of the truck and I was full of anticipation for the first weekend of the 2015 bird season. Ruffed grouse would be the our target species in the morning and I had been hearing rumors of bountiful hatches. Driving through my old haunts I couldn’t help being reminded of long gone experiences that are only in my memories and in the spirits of old dogs that have long since left us. It was good to be be alone and think of the past. I smiled as I thought, you know Tic and I share a few experiences now too. By the time we arrived at one of my favorite early season canyons it was just light enough to see clearly. It was to be a dry, hot and dusty Utah day in September so we wanted to get our dog work in early. Tic is now 6 years old, but you would think it was his first bird season when I let him out of the truck. He was fired up like a six month old puppy on bird scent. I was so amused by his enthusiasm I couldn't keep the grin from my face as we started into the canyon that has been so good to me for such a long time.

We were about 10 minutes into our hike when a bird flushed at my feet while Tic was exploring a likely spot out to my left. I snapped a shot at the bird as it disappeared behind a pine. Tic now a seasoned old veteran bird dog came running to my aid. Bless is heart for assuming that I had connected. I gave the dead command not knowing if I had a bird down or not. Tic slammed into a half point and then scooped up the dying bird and brought it to hand as he has so many times by now. I am proud of the dog he has grown into I thought. I thought that finding a bird so early was a good sign so we walked on with enthusiasm and Tic settled into his typical hunting gate. Six hours later a now very tired and hot Tic would stop to flush as another bird flushed. I couldn’t see it clearly but I went over in that direction to investigate as Tic stood. As I got to the spot of the flush another bird got up and I could see this one clearly as it gave me a rare
dream of a shot. A grouse flying straight away through a clearing is indeed rare and this one would find out why as it tumbled to the ground a victim of my first barrel. Tic retrieved and that was to be our only grouse action for the day.

We would head back to the truck with the temps getting into the upper 80s I was no longer enjoying
my walk and dog work was not to be had Tic was working but his tongue was hanging pretty good. It was not the epic morning of young dumb brood flushes we were expecting but it was just fine for a start, and It did provide a delicious dinner for us later that evening. I have been very tired of flavorless store bought chicken breast.

We drove off to a favorite water hole for afternoon doves and that was to be much better. It was a classic decoy shoot and was just a lot of fun. Tic enjoyed cooling off in the water and retrieved my birds for me. I shot fairly well and we were able to take our share. What a fun little bird Mourning doves are, and they really were the cap on a wonderful day alone with the dog. Tic and I love to be alone like that once in a while. Its going to be a great year!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The First Round

    I listen with respect and admiration as my heart pounds stronger, faster, and louder in my chest. My mouth is so dry and I can barely swallow as I wait. Thoughts are going through my head. Doubts. Worries. I quickly force them out so as not to harbor them…. I think…Wow his Comeback was really good…..Focus Bret, Focus…. Just short of Panic my heart is beating so loud I wonder if the guy on stage can hear it. I think about what I have struggled with in my routine during preparation, and what was good while I try to focus on the mental notes from practice. Remember… big breath here… little breath there and it will be alright. The whole time the admiring what the guy before me is doing. I hear him finish and the MC say “caller four to the stage”. My heart races as fear is trying to take hold. Leaning forward I force myself to take the first step toward the stage. I dig deep for courage and tell myself boldly, “attack the stage”. I force myself quickly on to the stage shaking with nervous energy. I hear the MC say “would you like a warm up?” I nervously nod. I look down at my call trying to ignore the crowd. I look down the barrel at the insert and straighten it, then bring it to my mouth. The flood of light fades in my vision to a tunnel and then to black. As the call reaches my lips fear changes to intensity. Quacks I think Quacks….. then… find ring….Right There! That’s it… I nod to the MC. The MC says this is for score and I’m into my hale. Each step of the routine plays out as I try to focus on the details trying not to dwell on anything that wasn’t quite right. My mind is on controlling breaths and air as I have done a zillion times in practice. Then just like that, with three quacks and a strong duck I’m done. I pull the call apart to see if the tone board is wet as I walk off. Nope Dry like always…. Walking off the rush of adrenaline washes over me, and I tremble again only now it is different. There is no fear only the post release calm. I hear the next caller warming up as I walk back to the group waiting their turn. Who knows with a little luck maybe I will get to go through the whole thing again in the second round.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: Haunted In The Snow: The snow was falling steady when my dog, Bo locked up at the edge where sage became wheat lava fields of northern Utah stubble. I...

Haunted In The Snow

The snow was falling steady when my dog, Bo locked up at the edge where sage became wheat
lava fields of northern Utah
stubble. I hustled to try to get to the point but before I got there huns erupted like hornets from a hive rushing to defend their home, faded away, and disappeared into the dense snowfall. Bo gave chase as he did but soon returned. With my heart hanging low at the missed opportunity we struggled off the direction in which they flew. As we worked our way in the silent snow fall under the shadow of the steep lava rock covered hills an eerie feeling came over me. You know the one that is as if you are being watched? I paid it little attention as my mind was set on finding those little gray buggers that seem to consistently elude me. Just as I started thinking I wonder if I have gone too far I heard them flush from behind me. UGH!!! You tricky little devils I thought in frustration as I watched them again disappear into the blinding snow. “Bo, what the heck is wrong with you” I said out loud. “you sure missed those”. He just gave me his cocky “I know everything” look and went off about to prove himself. Again we went off in the direction to which they flew. This time we had a light breeze in our favor. Sweating and weaving our way through the lava boulders in the deep snow that feeling came over me again. I stopped and looked around but there was nothing but lava and snow to be seen. The silence was deafening, and was only broken by the crunch of my boots breaking through the under layer of snow. Creepy I thought as I noticed Bo had stopped in front of a boulder off to my right. There they are I thought as I picked up my step. This time I got close enough and they were not quite so organized. This was to be one of those moments in bird hunting when everything comes together. A small group flushed to the right my gun flew to my shoulder and shattered that creepy silence as I was able to connect with each barrel. I broke my gun open to reload as another small group escaped to the left and then bent right. As I got my gun closed a late flusher screeched as he flushed I was able to get him. Bo did his best to bring in the dead birds, one to hand, and then another until they were all picked up. My heart was beating heavy and fast in my chest from all of the excitement as I placed the last one carefully in my game bag. “That is why huns are so much fun” I said to my faithful brittany as he looked up at me with enthusiasm.

It would be dark soon, and though I wanted to go after that broken covey I knew I had better get back. It was still snowing hard. So I started on my way back to the truck.

I was in a pretty good mood now so my step was a little quicker than it had been. Suddenly I had that stupid, someone is watching me feeling again. I was kind of mad that my imagination would kill my bird buzz like that. The fact that day was turning to dusk made the feeling even worse. I was contemplating this feeling when I saw a bird track in the snow. It was larger than a hun track. It could have been a sharptail or perhaps even a hen pheasant, but I followed it for a few and two other sets joined the first. Out of curiosity I carefully stayed on those tracks. They were getting hard to see in the fading light when they split up. I stayed on one set feeling really weird-ed out for some reason. The track went under a patch of sage brush that was too thick to walk through so I walked around to the other side to see where it would have come out, but there were no tracks exiting. When I got back to where I had last seen the tracks and looked under the brush to see where they were going I saw something very strange. It was a rock but there was something very peculiar about it. I bent over and stuck my head out to look closer with that weird feeling stronger than ever. I was really feeling a bit spooked when that dang bird flushed from about two feet away from me and giggled away. My heart jumped out of my chest, I just about swallowed my tongue, and almost sat down in the snow as I lost my balance. Sharptail, I thought as I tried to keep my bowels from releasing. I had to laugh at my reaction and that got me feeling a little better about things when that rock caught my attention again. I couldn’t look away. I set my gun against the brush and crawled under the brush through the snow to get a better look. There was something carved in that rock. It was partially covered in snow and ice and I struggled to get it turned over, but I somehow managed to drag it out to where I could look at it. Time stood still as I removed the snow and tried to wrap my head around what I was looking at. The rock was about the size of a Volleyball jagged but round with a flat side. On the flat side was a carving of what looked to be a buffalo, and some other stuff that had broken off so I couldn’t tell what it was. It was beautiful, but the feeling of being watched was so strong now I that I was getting kind of scared. Shaking a little bit I sat in the snow studying this beautiful piece of art that had probably never been seen by a white man before. It was getting dark, and I was cold but I could not leave it. I just stared at it. Where did it come from? I looked up at the towering lava rock mountain above me. It must have been up there. I bet it came down in one of the earthquakes that I have heard about in the early 1900's or perhaps an even earlier event I thought. At that time the whole thing hit me in the chest like a religious awakening of some kind.
I had hunted this ground for most of my life like it was my own, but I realized at that moment that it is much much bigger than me. I am not the first man to hunt this land, nor will I be the last. This has been going on in some form for as long as time has been. I hope it continues on for as long as time is. I am not the first man to stand in awe at the beauty of nature before my eyes and wish to record it. Someone had loved hunting buffalo and had loved the animal enough that he had taken the time to carve out this scene in the side of a cave, or the wall of a cliff to honor it. Maybe for the same reasons we take pictures, or artists like Ross Young paint hunting scenes today. I can not accurately describe the feelings that washed over me, but they were undeniable and nearly paralyzing.
I was wet and cold, and it was very dark when I finally got the courage to walk away. I set the rock face down under some brush, and marked it well in a place where I was sure I could visit it again. I made my way back to the truck. The creepy feeling was gone and I was feeling more awe struck than anything. The rock consumed my thoughts for weeks after, and changed the way I look at the natural world around me, but it was never to be seen again. It snowed several feet soon after that and I would not make it back until the next fall. I went to where I had marked it I looked everywhere but couldn’t find it. It has been more than 20 years now and I still look for it once in a while, but I haven’t seen it since. Maybe someone else found it. Maybe the brush grew around it. I'm just not sure, but I am grateful for the incredible experience on that snowy evening.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

I hate summer.... Well almost.

Ive been largely uninspired write anything lately. It's mid summer and 95 degree temps have me
homesick for fall. Looking through pictures of hunts past can help some but the reality is September is still a ways out. It is terrible. The lawnmower and weedeater dominates weekends. The freezer has store bought meat in it and my favorite Over and Under stinks of cleaning solvent instead of burned powder. Summer has a few positives but you can keep them. My soul needs the therapeutic jingle of the dogs tags as he runs by desperately searching for a nose full of the intoxicating scent of bird that inspires his very being. The view of an open mountain valley first coming into view as I top the ridge breathing hard and reaching deep to have made it to the top of yet another peak. To spot that Setter tail standing white and tall over the brush letting me know it was all worth while, and the sense of accomplishment that comes over me every time my dog does well. I need the thrust of wings escaping the cover. The jet like noises of mallards breaking the sky descending in response to my calling and the site of my spread. The smell of pond mud at daybreak. I need cold mornings and frost on my boots. I need sunsets full of duck silhouettes. I want chukar teasing me with that relentless giggle from above....chuk chuk chuk chuk. I will find you red legged devil! I need a heavy dose of cackling roosters, screeching huns, and giggling sharptails. A whole season full of new old experiences, and I need it sooner rather than later. I guess fishing might be a patch, but my soul wont be completely healthy until fall

I guess I can make it through the summer but it isn't easy.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Changing Of The Seasons

    My dog was working a large island of uncultivated cover out in the middle of a plowed field that consisted of some large trees, sage brush, vines and every other sort of nasty entangled brush one can
Our Old Hunting Grounds
imagine. Out of sight I could only hear his struggle through the thick brush. Suddenly the sound of motion fell to silence. I waited with anticipation knowing he had to be standing point close by. Suddenly the brush erupted and a large cackling rooster pheasant exploded toward me. The old bird shot over my right shoulder like a rocket. I spun one hundred and eighty degrees shouldering my gun, and sliding  my thumb safety forward in a sort of controlled panic. I drew on the bird and let the first barrel go before it had caught up to the bird. ugh! Don’t blow it I thought as I caught my calm, followed the bird, and confidently let the second barrel go. The old rooster crashed to the ground with a thud. He quickly gathered himself, and started into his best roadrunner impersonation sprinting across the plowed field toward the nearest cover. Without thought I gave chase with my gun now broke in one hand, I yelled “Dead Bird ! Dead Bird! Come on Rocks!” Expecting my old faithful Brittany to pass me at any time and run that rooster down like he had always done. As the words left my mouth I realized what a senseless thing I was doing. My old reliable and ever present pal had passed on the year before. I guess I just yelled out of habit, or maybe the rush of adrenalin had pushed me beyond my senses for a moment, but this really troubled me as I ran. My old dog's successor a young setter I called Jimmy joined me in my pursuit Just as the rooster ducked into some thin CRP grass to be gone forever. I slowed to a stop and stood gasping for air at the edge of the field. Jim had not been around long enough to understand what was going on, and had a confused look on his face trying to figure out what all the commotion was about. I gave Jim the dead bird command, and he searched but that old bird was in the next county by then. I sat down in that thin grass on the hill with Jim by my side, and tried to fight back the tears, but somehow one got out of my eye and rolled down my face. With blurred vision I looked out over the valley that I had hunted all 13 seasons of my old friend Bo’s life with him by my side. Every fence row, tree line, brush pile, slough, and ravine held memories only he and I shared. It was the place where 12 years earlier I had given him the nickname “Rocks” because as a young dog he convinced me that rocks were the only matter between his ears. Over the years it became a term of endearment that I only used when we were hunting. This was my first season without him. It was difficult, but I realized he would always be there with me in some way. As one hundred memories popped up like a slide show in my head I gathered myself, set Jim to hunting, and walked on with a stone face daydreaming about my old friend.
Because I often hunt alone, I find myself with only a dog, my thoughts, and observations of the alternate reality that the field is to me. I often get so lost in what I am doing every stress of reality floats away on the breeze and I am left with the blissful sounds of nature interrupted only by the jingle of the tags on the dogs collar, and the sound of my footsteps. This day would not be stress relief so much as a brutal slap of reality. I decided to walk over to where Bo and I had last hunted together, and I would spend the rest of the day lost in thoughts of the past.

I remember that last hunt well because though he had become quite senile, for that one afternoon he seemed sharp of mind again. Like all of us as an old dog he was a product of his past. He had been hit by a truck when he was eight years old. He dislocated his front shoulder and was in really bad shape. He barely survived, but he never again would be able to run with gait. He could get after it for a short distance, but that was about it. On top of that he got testicular cancer, and had been neutered because of it. I could never keep the weight off of him after that. All things considered you would think he wouldn’t be up to much, but he was a smart old dog. He had learned to hunt in a completely different way than when he was a young athletic dog. I am not so sure that he wasn’t a better pheasant dog in his old age. He had become a trailing dog of sorts, and he was almost automatic. I would put him in the grass and just try to keep up as he sort of trotted with semi-stiff legs. He would eventually cross a fresh scent put his nose down and follow slow and patient. If he lost it he would methodically go back to the last place he smelled it and search until he found it again. If he got out in front of me a little bit too far he would wait for me without command. When I caught up he would resume. It might take a half hour or longer for him to trail a bird out, but boy was he fun to watch. He was so methodical about everything he did. He was truly a master of his craft. I must admit I struggled with faith in following him sometimes. We all know pheasants don’t run in straight geometric patterns and they can run a long way in the thin CRP of norther Utah and southern Idaho. He would get on a bird, turn and go uphill, then make a sharp right turn, then a left turn, and slowly trail over hither and yon into the next county sometimes. Occasionally I would get tired of following him around and think he was leading me on some sort of wild goose chase and stop. On that last hunt I had done just that. I was fatigued both mentally and physically having hunted all morning with a very young Jim dog without producing a bird. I put Jim up, and put Bo on the ground for the last three hours of daylight on my last day to hunt for the season. He was old and I knew this could be the last chance we had to hunt together. Ever reliable, before long he found scent and trailed a bird for a half hour or so when I lost faith and stopped to rest. I knew better, and was thinking just that as he got way out in front of me and the rooster flushed out in front of him. He trotted back with that all knowing smile he always had painted all over his face in this situation. I always thought it was his way of saying, I told you so. I am grateful that he always let my inferior hunting skills slide, and would just hunt on trying to make up for my mistake. I was kicking myself pretty hard, but at the same time enjoying the work and companionship of my old friend. That afternoon he trailed out and pointed two more roosters to fill my two bird limit. He then found and pointed two more on the way back to the truck in a place I had hunted all morning with Jim. From the morning you could have easily concluded there wasn’t a rooster left in the world.

Popping in and out of daydream to reality, Jim and I approached the field where Bo’s last stroke of brilliance had taken place, and began to pick out a path to use the wind to our advantage. The wind had picked up and I could feel the sting of winter approaching as my thoughts began to wander again.

I thought about a younger version of Bo that had taught me so many lessons about how to hunt wild birds, and how frustrated he left me sometimes when the foolishness of my youth would misunderstand his intentions. I wasn’t the sharpest young man and it took me more than once to learn on many occasions in real life as well as in my hunting world. Bo’s skills started advancing beyond my understanding early on, but I don’t remember at exactly what point he picked up certain things because it took me longer to figure it out than it did him. I recalled when it dawned on me that he had developed a brilliant way of hunting dead. He was about four years old and we had been hunting these same fields. He had found and pointed a rooster. We were blessed with three inches of fresh snow so the birds were holding good. This rooster was a victim of my first barrel, but I had not hit him square. Bo hustled to the spot the bird fell and began to sniff around. I found the tracks and began to follow them. He figured the trail out shortly after I did. He followed a short way and then jumped off the trail and ran out to the left. I was mad! I could see where the bird had gone. I yelled and said some colorful things at the top of my voice but he ignored me. He circled around front quickly and started quartering back. I could see him head off, jump into the air with a “broke winged” rooster and tackle it. He retrieved the bird to hand, and I ate humble pie to the smiling face of that brilliant dog. He had done that sort of thing before but I had always chalked it up to coincidence. After that I let him do his thing and he would come up with the bird more times than not. I saw him use his method many times on Huns, grouse, pheasants, and chukars. I pointed it out to my dad and a couple guys that I hunted with they were as amazed by his method as I was. I have yet to have or see another dog hunt dead in that way, but I bet there is another out there.
My mind turning back to the present it was easy to see that Jim and I weren’t having much luck finding birds as I relived old memories, but it really didn’t matter to me. I was feeling so many conflicting emotions, and was really quite occupied in my thoughts.

Bo had died the day before Thanksgiving the year before. I had a busy thanksgiving weekend, and then life just sort of got in the way. I had to set my feelings aside, and I had never really had a chance to take time to morn the loss of my old friend. I knew this reminiscing was good for my soul. A part of me had died with him and I was just beginning to understand the empty feeling. I didn’t feel that many people would be able to understand the hole his death left in my life so like most guys I kept it to myself for the most part.

The cold wind was now slapping me in the face bringing me back to the present once again. It was pushing the sting of icy snow with it now. We were about an hour from the truck so Jim and I changed our coarse and headed back in that direction. The snow was blowing down the back of my neck and I started to feel the soothing sensation of misery that only hard core duck hunters can truly understand, and I started to think about heart.

To me heart is that something inside that drives a body forward to magnificence when in the face of adversity. I think of the quarterback that drives his team down the field in the last minute to win the game. The linemen finding a way to get him protection in spite of exhaustion, and pain. The receiver holding on to the ball to score the winning touchdown in spite of exhaustion and being drilled in the spine by a defensive back. I think of the bird dog sticking to the hunt in spite of sore pads and exhaustion. Heart, a trait I admire most in people and dogs alike. If heart could be measured in pounds Bo’s would add up to at least twice the sum of the rest of his parts. Having lived with me in the house and having the kind of mind he did he learned to understand a fair amount of English but the word quit he never grasped. I started thinking again about when he was hit by that truck. Of course this happened with hunting season headed into full swing. The pheasant opener was just three weeks away. I didn’t know if he would live let alone be able to hunt again. With some help from my mother we did our best to take good care of him. He was off of his feet for a week, but he soon began to hobble around a little. About two weeks into his recovery we got depressed. It was probably
mostly me, but I felt that he was too. I figured we would both benefit from a long ride. So I grabbed a shotgun, lifted him to his spot on to the passenger seat of my pickup, and started the truck north to one of my favorite Hungarian partridge haunts. I figured we would just drive the two-track roads out
Bo with those huns and swollen shoulder in 1999
there for a while and come home. I didn’t figure to see anything. The goal was just to get out of the house. As I enjoyed the relaxing ride down one of the two tracks with my window half down I looked at Bo. He was trying to get up to look out but I told him no and he relaxed back into the seat. Still I think he was happy to be there, or maybe he was happy to see me happy. All at once a covey of Huns startled from the truck going by and flushed. They flew a short distance and settled down into the sage brush. I quickly parked the truck, grabbed my gun, and told Bo to stay. I jumped out and headed to where I saw them land wondering if I would even find them without the dog. Lets just say I got lucky and they flushed. My first barrel scratched down two and my second barrel found a third. I hurried to where the two had fallen and bent over to pick up the first dead bird. As I stood up there was old Bo on three legs with the second bird in his mouth. That dog had jumped out my half opened window and would have had to have landed on two good legs, one sore leg, and a leg he couldn’t even use to come out and do his job. I felt so bad for having left the window partially open. I took a picture of those Huns with him and his swollen swollen front shoulder.

I sure miss him I thought as I noticed Jim and I had walked enough now that I could see the truck. Jim was wet and starting to shiver as we worked the last couple of hills between us and the truck.
I flashed back to that last season one more time. 
     Bo was old, arthritic, over weight, and was only good for short hunts. I had to be careful to use him sparingly as he would hunt until he dropped dead if I would let him. Even after short hunts he would be hobbled up for a couple of days. I would let him rest up. When he could walk again I would hunt him a little. He did ride around in the truck on all hunts that year, and I think he enjoyed that. I thought back to a day I spent with my dad that season. We were hunting pheasants in a southern Idaho marsh that had some real nice salt grass and other upland cover mixed in as well. The night before had been cold and their was a little less than a quarter of an inch of ice on all the skinny water.
After a Duck Hunt in 1993
Dad and I had gotten separated and one of his dogs had put a rooster up and dad had shot it over such water. In his day Bo was quite a duck dog as well a master of the Uplands, and though not very Brittany like he was known for breaking ice to retrieve ducks. We had gotten used to this over the years and I think maybe dad had taken it for granted. When I got to my dad he was standing at the edge feeling bad about shooting that rooster in such a predicament. The rooster had hit and broke the ice where it fell dead 20 yards from the shore in about a foot of water. I had been hunting Jim as I had hunted Bo a little the day before and he was resting in the truck. Jim made a half heart-ed attempt to go get the bird but gave up after a few steps. Dads dogs had also refused. We were both thinking it but my dad was the first to say it. “Do you think Bo would go get that bird?” I told him “he would have two or three years ago, but he is old now. I’m just not sure.” Neither of us wanted to waste that bird nor were we ready to get wet just yet. So I walked back to the truck and helped the old dog out of the truck. Bo walked at heal with me back to where dad was waiting. Right away Bo spotted the bird out in the ice. I don’t remember saying a word to him. He looked at the bird, than at me and started slowly and methodically breaking ice with that old arthritic over weight body. It had to have been painful. My heart was full of pride, admiration, and shame all at the same time. As he got to the bird I said “Fetch him here”. You are a good boy Rocks! He brought the bird back, put it in my hand, shook off and gave his famous sigh. He looked up at me as if to say “lets go”. I just about broke into tears. I didn’t even look up at dad for fear I would. Dad and I walked back to the truck in silence both of us knowing we had seen something Special from an old dog that had become a legend in my group of friends.

Having been worn down by the wind, and snow Jim and I were now approaching the truck. It was now covered in several inches of snow. I toweled Jim off and put him in Bo’s spot on the front seat. Feeling both physically and emotionally exhausted we started home, and I thought about Jim. He was a good young dog, but I felt sort of sorry for him. He had some big shoes to fill that he would never be able to walk in.

Bo at age 13 in 2004

Monday, February 16, 2015

Western Partridge


In the eastern United States the locals call the Ruffed grouse Pah-tridge. The bird is legendary, and is thought of as the king of all game birds by many of the locals. The bird has been written about by many of the most famous outdoor writers, and has been romanticized for ages. The very mention of the bird brings thoughts of a beautiful old school Hemlock setter standing point against the back drop of a hard wood forest. The leaves of the trees in full fall color as a slight breeze gently waves the tail hair of the motionless dog. A gentleman with a classic double moves in to flush the gentle bird from the cover....Blah blah blah

 I love the ruffed grouse, and certainly mean no disrespect for its history, but out west partridge means something just a little different. Out here its about a very different bird, the chukar partridge. He is neither romantic or gentle. He will laugh in mockery while he breaks the guns, dogs, boots, and spirits of many that attempt to casually pursue him. The chukar lives in places god seems to have forgotten. Places in the desert that very few animals can survive. The absolute harshest rattlesnake riddled country with hills so steep a man can rest at times by simply leaning against the hill itself. The grade of the mountains would be tough enough, but when you add in cliffs, and the sharp loose rock sliding under your feet sometimes under the snow in the late season its enough to make the most fit among us stumble, slip and fall. Big rocks and cliffs surrounded by cheat grass provide cover for the bird and dangers to
the dog, and hunter alike. Looking up at Utah chukar country from the bottom one would be hard pressed to find a good reason anyone in their right mind would even attempt to venture up there without a helicopter. It takes a special kind of crazy to want to tackle such terrain in pursuit of a bird that weighs in just over a pound.

You will not see many classic Parker, or Purdey doubles out in the Utah chukar hills. The gun of the die hard chukar man has many dings, dents, and chips out of it from falls that bang both gun and body against rocks in the difficult terrain. Many opt for smaller gauges to keep the weight of the gun down. Every ounce you carry makes a difference in the devils mountains. It takes a special kind of dog too. The die hard chukar dog must be tough and have enough heart to equal or surpass that of the hunter that owns him. This dog will have to endure cut and torn pads, and slips and falls while dealing with the difficult conditions and sometimes several days in a row. Most of all the dog must find birds for the gun and then make long retrieves for birds that have fallen far down the steep slopes.

Yes, many dog and hunter is left exhausted and licking wounds after a day of chasing this demon bird. Perhaps this is why the die-hards have such an obsession with it. Much like a waterfowler has a trait inside him that at least on some level makes dealing with the misery of the elements some sort of joy. The Chukar man longs for the physical and mental challenge of catching up to and conquering his demon. Perhaps this laughing, masked bird just gives him a reason to test himself.

The Pah-tridge of the east is definitely a gentleman’s bird. I’m not sure one can say the same about the partridge I have just described. I certainly have a respect for those that live for the chukar, but I must admit I am not a die-hard chukar man. I am more of a chukar enthusiast that only chases chukar in the late season after the snakes go to sleep. Aside from good dog work the physical challenge might be the most enjoyable part of chukar hunting for me. I am privileged to live in a part of the country that affords me many species of upland birds and waterfowl to pursue, and I enjoy the dog work on more civilized birds too. Chukar are a great bird to hunt and are wonderful on the table as well. Enjoy the pain my friends!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


SETTER TALES AND MALLARD CURLS: IN SEARCH OF THE MISSING MAGIC: In recent years I have been slowly becoming disenchanted with waterfowling. I guess too much time on internet forums reading about everyon...


In recent years I have been slowly becoming disenchanted with waterfowling. I guess too much time on internet forums reading about everyone's complaints and arguments with one another about this or that and the way they think things ought to be have really brought me down. This compounded by the loss of almost every area I have hunted all of my life to the invasive grass species known as frag. I see rudeness and arguing at the boat ramp, while everyone hustles to try to beat the next guy to a spot that he probably doesn’t even know about. Many things have changed. It is enough to sour even my usual optimism, and I have let it. In all of that change the magic had just disappeared for me. When the season started this year I didn't care if I ever hunted ducks again. It troubled me that I had lost it this bad. I have spent my life hunting ducks and learning how to call them, and now I have no interest? What is wrong with me? I had to find a way to rediscover the magic. I searched for it with many questions.
What is the magic of waterfowl that draws us in even to obsession? I don't feel it is piling up ducks and geese, and taking a great glory shot at the end of the day. I don't think it is buying and collecting all the equipment that fills our garages and drives our wives crazy. Though it is true that I haven’t been compelled to buy much lately. I have changed the way I hunt to be able to get away from the crowds on public land. I guess I just don’t use that much equipment these days. Sure its about spending time with family and friends, but there is more, and whatever more is has really been missing. Its not that my hunts have been poor in recent years I have had some great hunts. I have shot some really nice limits of Mallards. Maybe that is my problem. Maybe my obsession with one species of duck has brought me to humdrum. Perhaps I need to go back to a day when I just hunted ducks. Goleneyes, scaups, shovelers, rudys, merganzers, or teal it didn’t matter back then. I would take any legal duck, and I see a lot of guys that get a great thrill out of that. I'm not sure what the answer is, but on a hunt recently I might have scratched the surface.

   In an isolated piece of habitat in the middle of nowhere that few know about and even fewer hunt I sat alone trying to find these things that have been missing. As I sat I realized that this sweet isolation is one of the things I have missed. There was no noise at all save the subtle sounds of nature. No trucks, no highway, no motor boats, not even the sound of a distant airplane could be heard. I could hear a woodpecker doing his thing. I could hear waves of blackbirds breaking the air with so many tiny wings that they make a huge whoosh sound as they go by. Occasionally a fish would splash about and I would wondered if I could catch any in this place if I were to try. At sunset this was all that was going on. I picked up my decoys walked out to the edge of the water and sat down as I started seeing and hearing big groups of ducks coming. I watched those birds pitch in with the backdrop of the setting sun as though it was my first time. I sat there listening to the mallards making all the sounds that I have studied for most of my adult life. Their many voices ringing so effortlessly from all around. I would giggle just a little each time one would make a sound that took me so much effort and time to learn. I sat until the sunset turned black and the ducks fell quiet. I then tip toed out as if to not disturb their sleep. It turns out I still love those ducks, and I guess I always will.

  I'm not sure I discovered the missing magic of waterfowling, but I did rediscover the love of the bird, and the habitat in which it lives. Next year I am going to go on a goose hunt and maybe a diver shoot. It has been many years since I have done those things. Perhaps this will help re-energize me.