Sunday, December 10, 2017


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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Double Barreled Shotgun
Dad's 1953 Browning Superposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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