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Archive for the ‘bird hunting’ Category

Find great tethers in the hardware store's key department.

Find great tethers in the hardware store’s key department.

If you’re hunting along that ridge … you know, where the dead cow has been reduced to a bone pile … alongside the only gravel state highway, in that big boulder field and just south of that town, population 9 … well, watch for my e-collar transmitter. I left it there after taking a couple photos of me and my buddy on a chukar hunt.

That transmitter was the proverbial final straw and my camel’s back broke on that desolate desert slope. Like a compass, a whistle, and (almost) the camera I used for those pictures, so much of my gear is small and unnaturally mobile when it shouldn’t be. Maybe yours is too. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose any more of it.

Now I tie everything to me or my hunting vest. Loops, belts, D-rings, zipper pulls, there are plenty of anchor points. And these days, lanyards, cord and retractors of all sorts are available … often free for the asking if you’re willing to sport someone’s logo.

You’d be surprised how often in the heat of the hunt you literally drop everything. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I do. Every third or fourth training session, I’ll be walking along and something will bump against my leg. Sometimes, it’s a loyal dog, checking in. More often it’s a collar transmitter hanging from its lifeline … which is way better than buried in some clump of brush, lost to the ages.

At a recent training day I spent almost an hour searching the tall grass for a bird launcher control. On a grouse hunt, a GPS grew legs and escaped until a friend stepped on it. Once, one of my dogs actually sniffed up a pair of shooting glasses that had tumbled from my vest pocket.

Now, the glasses are leashed around my neck every time I lace up my boots. My training pistol has a line that goes through a belt loop. Whistles dangle around my neck, and water bottles are held fast by  a carabiner.

Yes, at times I can look like the receiving end of one of those old-time telephone switchboards, cords sprouting all over me. But most are easily managed, slack tucked into pockets until that tool is utilized. A couple hunts and you’ll work out the logistics too.

Maybe your mother told you what mine told me: you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on. Tether it, and she’ll be happier and so will you.  And you won’t spend the better part of a morning on your hands and knees when you should be roaming the hills or prairie behind your dog.

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Uneventful ... or was it?

Uneventful … or was it?

Well, how was your closing day? And don’t tell me how many dead birds ended up in your vest.

How did you feel … about that final day in the field, entire season, your hunting partners and dog? What went through your mind as you turned, opened your gun, and headed for the truck as shadows grew long and your thirst grew strong?

What did you learn?

My season was notable for many new friends. An open mind (and calendar) were the keys. Being “at large” means you’re available for opportunities. Serendipity. Kismet. Add a dog, a little blaze orange, and the odds are good someone will strike up a conversation. Where it leads is up to you.

People are generally pretty good in bird-hunting country. Anyone who likes dogs can’t be all bad, and if they like hunting dogs, they’re a lead-pipe cinch.

I think it was Kevin Bacon who first opined that we are all just six degrees separated from each other. Play who-do-you-know with a guy in a Pheasants Forever cap and it could be three degrees. A dog box is a platonic Match.com.

Oh yeah, back to closing day: fog as thick as a Sherlock Holmes mystery on the moors, I could barely make out the parking lot at the spot I wanted to explore. I counted the ghosts of five trucks in the soggy mist, contemplated losing my dog in the pea soup, then drove downhill to a favorite desert river. At least the breaks were below the fog line.

I parked at the mouth of a canyon that had shared valley quail with me when Manny was a pup. The level ground had no gifts for us this day, head-high sage silent but for the tinkling of the stream and clink of collar tags. There was nowhere to go but up – chukar country. We’d hunt until our water ran out.

Two thousand one hundred feet later, level ground again at the top of a promontory with a million-dollar view. A motivated wirehair coursed the bunchgrass and lava rock, glad to be traveling horizontally instead of vertically. His owner too.

A pause here, hesitation there. Head up, tail vibrating. Then, on again. A nose-down track through blackened sage trunks led to a point on a cottontail, but no feathers. On a plateau of broken lava, one night roost, long abandoned. Elevated hopes for a moment, then more searching.

The river, so far below, was always in view, like a recurring musical theme running through your mind. Memories of big trout and bigger steelhead filled the quietest times, not a bad thing. Sandwiched between rollicking whitewater and a ceiling of cloud, we were walking ground few had trod in recent times. No barbed wire, no rusted cans or cow patties.

And no birds.

We called it a day and began the arduous descent. Tiny waterfalls framed by emerald moss lightened our journey, we scaling rock faces and sliding down scree slopes to the accompaniment of gurgling streamlet. The mountain mahogany slapped and scratched, boulders rolled underfoot, moist ground slid underfoot and reminded us how far we were from civilization.

We made it back to the truck a minute just in time to get home for a shower and a movie. The drive allowed for reflection on the day – gratitude for safe returns (dog and human), a last visit to a favorite spot, and a season of fellowship. Maybe it was the best way to end a season.

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Later in the day, head there.

Later in the day, head there.

As the day goes on and ground heats up, warm air rises from the bottom of draws, valleys, river canyons, creating an uphill or upstream breeze almost everywhere.

As the sun rises, hunt above and uphill from the best bird hideouts and you’ll help your dog intercept scent as he leads you along a ridgeline or down a draw.

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Easy to carry, keep it in your vest

Easy to carry, keep it in your vest

With the season in full swing, a little reminder:

This little kit won’t take up much weight or space but it could possibly save your dog’s life. Do your best hunting buddy a favor and carry it every time you get far enough from your truck you wouldn’t want to carry him all the way back.

Cotton swabs: clean wounds, remove seeds from eyes

Benadryl or other antihistamine: reduces windpipe swelling from snakebite or insect sting

Duct tape: all-around bandage, emergency boot

Blood-clotting gauze

Triple antibiotic ointment: prevent infection in wound

EMT Gel: stops most bleeding, speeds healing

Hemostats: pull porcupine quills, foreign objects from wounds and nostrils

Phone numbers, open hours and locations of nearest veterinarians

 

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Along with the other things we’re practicing, Manny is now learning that a gun shot means “whoa.” Yep, I sometimes shoot birds that fly wild, nowhere near my dogs, especially on a slow day, the first day, the last day, or any day when adrenaline is flowing faster than wisdom. If and when I actually hit something, I want my dogs to find it.

By stopping to the shot (or a flush, or a command or a whistle) Manny and Buddy might actually see the bird drop. If not, at least they are ready for the fetch command and a hand signal assist to the general area. When a chukar tumbles among the rockfall, I like to think they appreciate the heads-up – literally.

In the NAVHDA Utility Test, there are several instances where a shot-equals-whoa sequence will come in handy: after pointing birds in the field, sure. But also when standing at the duck blind, watching birds fly and hearing shots from several directions. The duck search also includes a shot and a pause prior to sending him to the water.

As an aside, I’ve found many uses for a long whistle as another “whoa” command, much like the retriever guys use. Last night, Manny did me proud – 150 yards from me, he locked up tight when I trilled. Good boy!

Bang, tweet, whirr ... all mean "whoa"

Bang, tweet, whirr … all mean “whoa”

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Go away from your catchline, then come back toward it when the sun sets

Go away from your catchline, then come back toward it when the sun sets

While a GPS can be a lifesaver, map and compass skills will bail you out when batteries fail. At a minimum, know how to find a “catchline” that will lead you back to a known location:

Study, then bring along a copy of a map of the area you will hunt. Make note of a stream, road, ridgeline or other long relatively straight feature in relation to where you park or make camp. That’s your catchline. You will hunt away from that location, and as long as you know which direction you went in relation to the catchline, you’re home free.

Example: I’m camped along a river that runs north-south. I hunt away from camp to the east. When I want to head back, I simply walk west until I reach the river. Camp is either left or right along my catchline. If I’m really smart, I’ve overshot camp on purpose (say, to the north) so I know to walk south when I hit the stream.

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I doubt he knows the difference.

I doubt he knows the difference.

Why do you hunt?

“Being able to watch your young dog come into his own.”

“My Springer Bonnie. It’s not a day in the field without her.”

In my viewer surveys virtually all of you said something similar. Dogs rule, and we hunt so we can watch them perform magic in the field.

So why condemn pen-raised birds?

One reason might be our own biases. I’m not judging your leanings, mine are probably similar. But if we’re honest about the pre-eminence of dog work to our experience, why aren’t well-raised planted birds just as valuable?

Do dogs ignore the scent of a liberated bird, while pointing a wild bird? Show me the evidence. For that matter, can you distinguish a well-raised planted bird from a wild bird without looking at the peeper hole in the beak?

Does your dog’s tail droop when pointing planted birds? At a preserve, does he trot instead of gallop, boot-lick rather than range? When you command “fetch,” does he spit out planters?

“Watching a setter work in a beautiful field on a gorgeous day is always the best day.”

Maybe it’s all in our heads, and I get that. We love wild places, untrammeled ground, off-the-grid coverts. But that’s not what we’re talking about (or is it?). Unless a covert resembles something from a Mad Max movie, I wonder if your dog cares whether it is aesthetically pleasing or simply a bird-holding environment.

But how wild is wild? Beyond the quails and grouses, virtually every upland bird we shoot at was planted at some point. Do you shun chukar hunters because their birds were planted in Nevada in the thirties? Wild pheasants are simply descendants birds Judge Owen Denny “released” on his Oregon farm in the 1880’s, or similar, later efforts in Redfield, South Dakota, etc. Gotta problem with that?

“Wild hatched” might be a better description of the birds some cherish more than their domestically-reared cousins. But why can’t we value a released bird that acts just like its wild counterpart, much as our dogs do.

“Seeing the dogs do what they were born to do.”

We’ve all encountered bad planted birds, bad apples that spoiled entire barrels of good introduced birds. They flounder instead of flushing, our dogs catch them on the ground, and nobody’s happy, especially the birds. But many of us have also encountered released birds that thunder, tower and jink just like wild birds.

My dogs don’t seem to know the difference and truth be told, I’ll bet yours don’t either.

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