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Thankful for: genetics and something magic.

Thankful for: genetics and something magic.

It’s easy to get maudlin this time of year – family far away (or too close), the frantic shopping scene, lousy weather, not enough field time … the list goes on and on.

But seriously, as the Dalai Lama (I think) said, “keep a diamond in your mind,” and you can see the beauty in almost everything. Read this, then find the diamonds in your own memory, then tell us all about them at my Facebook page.

Mine include …

A sympathetic spouse who understands that I am feeding a raw, primitive hunger when I hunt. It’s a need that isn’t met in a grocery meat department or at the skeet range. Ortega y Gassett put it best: One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted.

Sympathetic dogs that honor me simply by allowing me to hunt with them, despite their superior abilities. Dogs that embody the entire Scout Oath (trustworthy, loyal, etc.) in their too-short lives.

Loyal friends who put up with my bad shooting and worse cooking in camp. Buddies who share the same values: dogs rule, dirt is a cleanser when worn on clothes and under fingernails, in hunting is truth.

An incredible career serving you, helping you become better hunters and dog owners through television, blogging, magazine articles and my new book (feel free to buy two copies).

Co-workers who make me look smarter and thinner on TV than I deserve. Even they can’t do much about my bad shooting.

The incredible resource we have available. Millions of acres of public land that we own and access, plus friendly private landowners who let us on their property. I am also thankful for the care you take when using our precious lands.

New friends, that I’ve introduced to our sport. The wonder and awe they express after following a dog or enjoying a chukar dinner remind me that there is often more joy in taking someone else than in going alone.

The magical moments we experience in the field. A magazine-cover point, the conundrum of how DNA can be so exquisitely manifested. The willingness of our dogs to break ice, brave thorns, pant through the heat to serve us. The deep, primal connection we get when we team with our dogs to seek prey – literal and emotional sustenance for us both.

The small miracles we witness that non-hunters don’t: pear trees in the desert, arrowheads and petroglyphs, crystal-clear water burbling from lava rock, bobcat kittens tumbling among boulders, a blanket of stars that shrink us to the specks we are in this vast universe, friends that don’t mind if we walk without talking for a whole day.

Who needs jewelry?

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When is fall here … for you?

What is it that undeniably, indisputably signals fall for you? Is it a quality of the air in the mornings, or that first golden-yellow leaf sailing ground-

For me, when we get this shot, I know fall has finally arrived. Our favorite spot. Every dog I've owned has his picture taken with this mountain in the background.

For me, when we get this shot, I know fall has finally arrived. Our favorite spot. Every dog I’ve owned has his picture taken with this mountain in the background.

ward? Do our dogs sense it? Maybe that’s what seals the deal: their first amped-up field trip full of vim and vigor they recognize in their subconscious as beyond summertime conditioning sessions. I wonder if it’s the subtly increased pace of their run or that lilt in their step as they

jet from objective to objective.

Some critters stir, others hunker. All change their routine and we notice it. Days get shorter and we change our own routine. Kids head back to school, like-minded friends speak in hushed tones about favorite places and opening day strategies.

More mundane omens push us to another look at the calendar: the Cabela’s fall sale, the distant “crumpf” of big-game hunters sighting in rifles, the smell of old canvas filling our nostrils as tents are unfolded.

But for each of us there is a personal harbinger that our time is almost here. For me, it is that first intake of breath on a morning with temperatures below freezing. The smell and feel of icy atmosphere, bracing lungs physically and hearts psychically.

What’s your signal?

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What, if anything, do you say now?

What, if anything, do you say now?

I’m pretty well whoa-trained. When telling a dog to stop, I slam on the brakes too. It’s one of the funny things about that word that got me wondering how differently we think – and act – about the whoa command than we do about other commands.

Along with the barrel, gut hitch, place board, half-hitch, training table, pinch collar, e-collar on the flank or whatever strategy you use, something often gets lost – our ability to speak. If you subscribe to the belief that once a dog scents a bird “whoa” is an obedience command, why do we clam up once the dog obeys?

Check yourself: Fido is coursing a field and slams into a point. If you’re me, you’d also lock up, eventually realizing you’re in charge and need to do something – hopefully while the dog remains staunch. You might skulk toward the dog and bird, or stride purposefully, but how many of us proceed silently, hoping against hope that our dog holds still?

Meanwhile, the dog considers his options: he’s done what comes naturally (point) and wants to do what next comes naturally (pounce). He might have been taught a pounce is verboten, but without feedback, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll get what he wants.

Is that okay with you?

Instead, quit expecting your mouth to “whoa” when he does. After all, Gunner heels in the yard, you praise. Coming back with a bird in his (soft) mouth merits a scratch behind the ears. But that end-swapping point on sketchy bobwhites is met by a silence as heavy as the moment between sermon‘s conclusion and congregation’s “amen.”

To a young dog torn between primitive passion and desire to please you, a word of praise may mean all the difference. I know Manny’s steadiness improved once I began delivering positive feedback instead of zipping my lips.

How about you? Does a cat get your tongue when your dog scents a bird?

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Yum.

Yum.

The 2nd Annual Shot, Caught, Foraged and Handmade potluck is now history. It was notable for culinary variety, of course. But also for more subtle reasons.

Expanding the invitation list to include cooks, gardeners and mushroom hunters resulted in a beautiful menu and fascinating conversations. Strangers became acquaintances, neighbors became friends.

Whether they should or not, anglers and hunters pride themselves on their cooking skills. But wielders of trowels and spatulas, kneaders of dough and chasers of chanterelles add dimension and color to a table and a party.

While the tools of our harvest differed, our motives were similar. We took pride in our work, the skills we acquired to accomplish our task. Practitioners of the myriad arts that stock a table amiably shared stories of pursuit and capture, no matter if the morels weren’t as fleet as the elk. In the telling, we discovered that we are all, fundamentally, locavores.

The buffet groaned under a natural bounty: Alaskan halibut and elk sliders, wild mushroom soup, elk meatballs and garden lasagna (are you salivating yet?). Paper plates bent under mounds of smoked chukar, farm-raised deviled eggs, home baked chocolate-chocolate chip cookies and taco salad with local venison, grilled corn salad (Corn? In this climate?).

(One bottle of von der Linden Brewing Company’s Puppy Pale Ale went home with a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan but don’t tell anybody – it’s a limited edition bottling.)

A hearty stew requires a careful mix of meat and vegetables, spices and seasonings. So does a good party.

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One of the highlights.

One of the highlights.

In medical school, the curriculum is often watch-do-teach. All three create a finely-honed, multi-dimensional learning experience for any skill from surgery to bird dog training. The strategy was driven home again yesterday at an informal gathering of three friends with two goals: find good training water and take each of their dogs’ abilities up a notch.

If I told you where we went, I’d have to kill you. The spot is near a popular trout lake, but off the beaten path just enough. It’s not perfect, but as you know, here in the high desert any water is good water.

We arrived in a cloud of dust with different agendas, wrangling a total of five dogs, buoyed by high hopes. It was an equal opportunity training day, we even had a Lab with us. We ran the gamut: intense duck search, basic water retrieves, a little nose work, some obedience for the Utility Test, and for me the highlight of the day, a young wire that swam willingly for the first time.

With dogs as common ground, our relaxed banter uncovered a wealth of mutual acquaintances, backgrounds, and interests. Fishing, “secret” spots we’ve all visited, towns we’d each lived in … none would have bubbled to the top during a hurried encounter but all became fodder for budding friendships over the course of a day working dogs.

This session was a success not solely because of canine accomplishments. It was a winner because of the humans’ willingness to give and take and desire to pitch in. Sure, we wanted to work our own dogs and capitalize on the volunteer “staff” of training partners. But by the end of the day each had advanced their own dog’s skill level as well as aiding in the education of others’ dogs.

Yes, every quid deserves a quo.

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