Archive for the ‘bird hunting’ Category

Actions speak louder than words, and don't spook birds, either.

Actions speak louder than words, and don’t spook birds, either.

At its most fundamental level the idea is to shoot birds over your shorthair’s point or within gun range of your lunging Springer. Maybe it’s putting a sneak on feeding mallards or decoying honkers to your pit. But if you sound like the circus coming to town, you’ll seldom get a decent shot.

Game birds may not be as spooky as whitetails (though late-season sharptailed grouse might get close), but they are still very cognizant of predators and the sounds they make. Just ask yourself why so many game birds roost in the thick, crackly vegetation, or why pheasant hunters don’t slam truck doors. So it behooves we apex predators to “stuff a sock in it,” so to speak.

I’ve snuck within inches of birds by treading more carefully, ghosting my way through brush instead of bulldozing it. I try to make my footfalls more like an elk hunter than a linebacker. Light steps on scree minimize rattling, deliberate wading, delicate paddling … all get you closer to a killing shot.

Even rattling whistles or duck calls, sloshing water bottles, or a ringing cell phone will put the kybosh on a stealthy approach to pressured birds. Reaching for that coffee mug (let alone dropping it) in an aluminum boat can resemble a clanging fire alarm to pintails dabbling around the next bend.

I often go a step further, taking the jingle-jangles off the dog’s collar. One of those riveted identification plates starts to make even more sense in the grouse woods. I own a half-dozen e-collars with beepers and an assortment of bells, but many times I’ll go unplugged.

Spoken, rather than shouted, directions are heard plenty well by most dogs. When possible, use hand commands instead of a voice or whistle. Just like any other skill, retrievers can be taught to sit still and quit whining in a blind. It might take a bag full of treats and many weeks, but all of it pays off when wings cup and landing gear deploy.

Oh, and here’s another good reason: while I like Monday-morning quarterbacking yesterday’s game as much as the next guy, when my mouth is shut, my eyes seem to open wider. I see and enjoy more of the dog work, catch on quicker to his birdiness, savor the scenery … and to me, that’s almost as much fun as nice, close shots.

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The (intensity of) media is the message.

The (intensity of) media is the message.

Your dog is constantly watching you, and learning from your movement, your tone of voice, what you put up with, and what you simply won’t tolerate … whether with him, other dogs, or your first-born kid.

Because he has a limited vocabulary, literally, your actions often speak louder than words. But even words have different meanings to your dog depending on how they are delivered. So why not use your ability to nuance training “language” to influence your dog.

I’m lucky in that I can watch myself on TV a lot (someone has to pump up the Nielsen ratings). I learned to be a teacher the same way – with video. It is a cruel but fair instructor, the small screen. But you don’t need a camera to reflect on your actions and the messages they convey. Just think before you act, adjust your pace, the magnitude of your movements, and your dog will get the message. He does that now, but it’s often to your detriment and you might not even know it.

For instance, move slower and you literally demonstrate to your dog that things are not as exciting (or distracting) as they seem. When you’re winding down an amped-up retrieving training session a short “heel” around the yard in slow motion could cool down your Lab and prepare him for a rest in his crate. A quivering shorthair gulping in pheasant scent while on point might be steadied by a calm, confident and low-key approach to the flush.

Conversely, getting your Springer pumped up for an assault on that blackberry thicket might require an energetic pep talk and gentle pat on his butt. An easily-distracted wirehair might maintain focus during a long retrieve with some loud and animated encouragement from his owner (don’t ask).

When words are the appropriate communication tool, a whisper is often better than a yell. It certainly brings down the adrenaline levels, calming the situation. Like people, dogs will often pay closer attention to you if you make it hard for them to hear what you’re saying. Drop the volume level and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

On the other hand, an icy water retrieve by a young Chessie could merit a boisterous shoreline cheerleading squad. Again, evaluate your desired result and pick the correct arrow out of your quiver.

Even physical praise has degrees. As I write this, I’m scratching my old guy’s neck following a quiet “here” command. It’s a slow, relaxing touch, light and low-key, but a reward nonetheless. He in turn, is lying down, expecting nothing but a chance to be near me as his payback for a small job well done – he showed up. A vigorous, two-hand rib tickle implies something else entirely, higher energy and more excitement. It might be just the ticket to jet-propel a long cast in chukar country by my five-year-old.

That five-year-old Manny simply cannot stand still when he first gets on the training table. I used to yank on his collar, yelling “whoa” at increasingly high volume. Now I speak calmly, slowly, sometimes from a sitting position, stroking his back until he settles – faster than he ever did when I engaged him in a battle of canine (half)wits. Then, we can get on to the important stuff.

So consider expanding your training communications repertoire, usually by dialing down your energy. You might see better results, sooner.

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Your dog can’t say “huh?” or he often would, because when he disobeys it’s likely the owner’s fault, according to author and TV host Scott Linden. He’ll share his ideas with fans on the 3rd annual “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas.”

Linden’s observed and tested his theories on the more than 250 dogs he’s hunted with on his TV show, Wingshooting USA. He says thinking about how dogs process information can elicit better cooperation and performance, in the field and at home.Last year's appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela's was also captured on Tom Brokaw's

Last year’s appearance at the Mitchell, SD Cabela’s was also captured on Tom Brokaw’s “Opening Day” TV special.

He – and his own hunting dogs – will be answering dog- and bird-hunting-related questions, meeting fans and signing books at stops between filming episodes of the show, which airs on NBC Sports, Pursuit Channel and eight other TV networks. The schedule includes:

Sept. 9-11 Produce show from Invitational Hunt Test, North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, Ohio

Sept. 21 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Billings MT 4-6 p.m.

Oct. 16-17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Mitchell, SD Pheasant Classic 10-3 Friday, 8-11 Sat.

Oct. 21-22 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ringneck Retreat, Hitchcock, SD

Oct. 24-25 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Prairie Sky Ranch, Veblen, SD

Oct. 29  Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Rapid City, SD 4-6 p.m.

Nov. 18 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Sidney, NE

Nov. 21 Goodland KS, Governor’s Ringneck Classic (also producing an episode)

Nov. 23 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Carlson’s Choke Tubes, Atwood, KS

Dec. 8 Produce Wingshooting USA episode at Ruggs Ranch, Heppner, OR

Dec. 17 Meet & greet: Cabela’s, Reno, NV

Feb. 19-21 2016 Pheasant Fest, Kansas City, MO

“Communicating with our spouse is much easier. Listening rather than just hearing smoothes the way,” Linden said. With dogs who can’t say “What was that dear?,” body language, behavior, and attitude shows whether they understand their owner’s direction – or not.

On the other hand, er, paw, Linden says the dog’s owner can be more clear in his signals to the dog. That’s usually where – and by whom – the ball is dropped. From easily-confused command words, to conflicting hand signals, he says many dog problems are really “operator error.”

At Cabela’s appearances, the first question is often about the dog on the table with Linden. Bushy eyebrows and beards, and a friendly demeanor make Linden’s German Wirehaired Pointers ideal ambassadors for the sport of upland bird hunting.

The “Cabela’s Awesome Upland Road Trip … destination Kansas,” is Linden’s annual foray into hunting territory to make episodes of the program. Over the years, it’s become a chance for him and his dogs to meet fans who earlier provided input on everything from tires for the official vehicles to Cabela’s dog gear for his hunting partners. Road Trip vehicles are displayed at the stores so fans can see how their ideas have been used.

Available everywhere books are sold (including Cabela’s stores), Linden’s book “What the Dogs Taught Me” covers communication, how dogs think, and offers tips on hunting, shooting, dog training, an extensive glossary and Q&A section. You’d think he’d heard it all, but he says he’s constantly surprised at the variety of questions from fans. “I answer over a thousand every year on the Wingshooting USA Facebook page,” he said, “but there’s always a new one out there.

The most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., Wingshooting USA is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and sponsored by Cabela’s. It is broadcast year-round on up to ten television networks.

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As in life,

As in life, “timing is everything.”

(What say you? Here, I reprise my thoughts on the topic that wouldn’t die.) Just as important as what you feed is when you feed your hunting partner. There are simple mechanical reasons not to feed your dog the morning of a hunt. An empty G.I. tract doesn’t hold anything that could rattle around in there.

Try this experiment: Take off your sock (representing your dog’s stomach and intestinal track), drop your car keys (ersatz “dog food”) into it. Hold it horizontally, and the dog food will settle in the heel. Then jiggle it, swing it back and forth, whip it around a little like a dog on the hunt would. All that weight will make the sock swing, bounce up and down, possibly even twist. Veterinarians call it gastro volvulus and it is often fatal.

Your dog’s athletic performance is another concern. Purina studies have shown than a dog with food in its gut runs slower, is less agile, and has less stamina than one hunting on an empty stomach.

Another good reason: the gut is not using the body’s finite allotment of energy to digest food when it could be fueling active muscles that are chasing birds.

No guilt trips here, your dog’s metabolism is unlike yours. Sending your dog into the field without breakfast will have no ill effects. Unless he’s got other health problems, he won’t develop “low blood sugar,” because dogs get their version of instant energy from fat.

If you can’t resist giving Gunner something during the hunt, give him a high-fat content snack that won’t fill his belly. You can make your own, or simply offer him some of your salami sandwich (just the meat). There are plenty of commercial versions out there in tubes, droppers and blocks. The key is low volume, high fat to keep the belly as empty as possible.

You can’t go wrong offering water frequently – it keeps a dog cool as well as hydrated. Make life simple on both of you by carrying a bota (wine skin) or the modern equivalent. Teach your dog to drink from it just like you, so there is no need to drag a bowl or sacrifice your hat as a substitute.

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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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