Posts Tagged ‘upland bird hunting’

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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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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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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Pay attention; you'll learn something.

Pay attention; you’ll learn something.

Shut up. Listen carefully. Trust your dog. Live in the moment. These are lessons it took a ruffed grouse and woodcock hunt to remind me why we go hunting.

Is is relevant to any bird hunter? Hell yes.

Your dog is your best hunting partner. When he’s virtually invisible in the trees, you’ve got to know he’s working for you. If not, head back to the yard for more training.

When pup – or your partners – are working (or for that matter, out of sight or right next to you), pay attention. You’ll hear new sounds, learn from the woods, and you might see a pileated woodpecker. It’s how you find your dog, too.

But most important is the low-level adrenaline rush that starts when you leave the truck and only ends when your head hits the pillow that night: Where are the dogs? What was that roar – a flush? Is pup on point? Where? Where am I? Woodcock or grouse? The anticipation preceding every step, every stumble, branch cracks and leaf crunches is inestimable.

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Ho ho ho.

Ho ho ho.

Before New Year’s Day, there’s another holiday. We hope, we wish, we make lists and check them twice, and it all culminates with the requisite gift-giving and receiving.

But as we discussed a while ago, our hunting life – and mental calendar – marches to a different drummer.  So if we’re going to make hunting-season new year’s resolutions, we might also make a “Christmas” list. It’s not very long around here, but it is full of important items …

A functional tether for my collar transmitter and GPS. Wicking underwear that doesn’t stink after a couple washings.

A good hatch. No more forest fires. Healthy dogs. Friends I haven’t met yet but will, in a diner somewhere in pheasant country. Cool weather when the dogs are on the ground,  but warm enough to hang around a campfire at night.

That’s the extent of it. What’s on your list?

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