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Posts Tagged ‘upland bird hunting’

For me, it's all in the dogs. How about you?

For me, it’s all in the dogs. How about you?

… about bird hunting?

Yep, we talk a good game about the wonders of the natural world, cycle of life, camaraderie, miracles large and small performed by our dogs. But if you had to narrow it down to a single, specific item that would stop you from hunting any more if it were absent … what would it be?

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No matter the language, we can all relate to this.

No matter the language, we can all relate to this.

Howdy. Buongiorno. Hola’

I was digging around on my Facebook page’s “Insights” and was struck by the number – and variety – of fans from around the world. From Iraq to Indonesia, Iran to Brazil, Canada, the U.K., Italy, Mexico and Pakistan we are talking daily to fellows-of-the-scattergun via the miracle of the Internet. These are people who you would likely get along with despite language differences should you encounter them in the field.

After all, they love the same things you do. We do. I do. Wide skies, rambunctious dogs, wild birds and primordial environs.

We might pursue different species (chukars in Paki, exotic pheasants in Indonesia), but the pursuit is universal. Our passion bridges language and social divides. To a degree, we have our friends across the miles to thank. After all, hunting was born in many of these places millennia ago … chronicled in stone, tapestries and ancient song. The descendants of those ancient hunters are our brothers and sisters, sharing the bond of chase and smell of blood. Their hearts race too, when a dog’s tail stiffens and the thunder of wings breaks the silence.

Some use antique firearms, others stones and sticks, a few point army surplus shotguns at their prey. They dwell in the famed valleys where artistry in steel and walnut are practiced, and in dusty villages. Their birds are driven, or pass-shot, or flushed by village kids and mongrel dogs.

But at the end of the day, we all celebrate the same thing: fellowship of like-minded people, the dogs that honor us with their hard work, and the feast that celebrates the conclusion of our days afield.

To you all, wherever you are, صيد جيدة, buena caza, berburu baik, and “good hunting.”

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Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

Here I am trying to explain to Buddy why not finding any birds is okay, once in a while.

My Little League team lost every game one season. I know a bit about being skunked. So when not a single primer burns, no feather clouds drift with the breeze … well, that’s when you dig deep for something – anything – to justify your trip.

And that’s before the spouse greets you at the door with a snarky “You went all that way and didn’t shoot anything?”

That’s your cue to tote up the balance sheet, hoping for um, balance. Sometimes it’s easy. Other times, you gotta get creative, gin up a rationale out of the irrational.

Or do you?

I’m a firm believer in the “less is more” philosophy when there’s nothing in the ice chest. Maybe you too. We can focus on the other things, often as (or more) important than obtaining free-range protein.

Pro’s: the dog still got some exercise; it was a beautiful spot; I still got some exercise; the birds will be there “for seed;” I found an owl skull; time spent with new (or old) friends; no ammo was harmed in the making of the hunt (cha-ching!); it wasn’t raining; no birds to clean; I can cross that spot off the list; no gun to clean … well, you get the idea.

Con’s: no birds to clean.

Yep, it’s a pretty short “con” list. Or am I missing something?

When nothing flies, the adrenaline stays firmly in its glandular garage, and the game bag is empty, what do you put on your mental balance sheet?

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us mapFlorida, Georgia, Alabama, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, California, Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Oregon.

That’s 20 states I’ve hunted, many more than once and several, dozens of times. It is a daunting list, not just because of the road and air miles invested but because so many of these states are full of wonderful people and places I’d like to visit more often.

In all of them, I’ve made new friends. I’ve shared truck cabs and wall tents with good old friends. My dogs have banked enough windshield time to get a driver’s license.

What have I learned from so many border crossings, time zones and area codes? Where to start?

Keep things ship-shape in the vehicle. Everything in its place, every time. When you stop for gas, check the oil, diesel exhaust fluid, and clean the windshield because next stop, it might be cold or raining.

Feed the dogs on schedule. It’s one of the few constants they have on a road trip. Bring extra batteries and owner’s manuals for everything.

Cram in as many warm clothes as you can. Bring extra rain gear for someone else. Carry a bottle of something old and brown and leave it with your hosts. Save your back, invest in those fabric fold-up dog kennels for pet friendly hotels.

Call ahead and stop to visit friends along the way, even if you don’t think you have the time. Send thank you notes. When you stop, water the dogs first. Find off-the-beaten-track places to park so dogs are safe and unstressed. I like high school athletic fields and county fairgrounds. Bring tie-out stakes.

Carry water for your dogs and yourself. Refill at every opportunity. Same for your fuel tank; there are a lot of empty spaces on the map. Bring bowls for your dogs.

Eat at local joints instead of chains. Be nice to wait staff. Carry a thermos. Buy your groceries close to your destination – in many communities you are economic development. Learn a little bit about the place you’re visiting. Pronounce place names correctly. Visit with kitchen staff at the lodge.

Find something to compliment: your buddy’s dog, good shot, a well-managed covert, fine booze, special dinner.

None of this will help you shoot more birds or make your dogs steadier. But in the long run, you will be enriched by the memories you make, the friendships forged. The journey will rise a notch or two on your life list.

Whether your trip is across the county or the country you will be a better hunter. And person.

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Good boy!

Good boy!

Whirrrrrrr! A long, dry slog down canyon went from relaxed camaraderie to high alert as four valley quail flushed wild on both sides of us. Manny’s attention was seized, he arrived at the scene of the crime quickly, snuffling the lingering scent like a starving man picks crumbs to ensure there were no stragglers.

The remainder of the downhill stroll was like a night patrol in a Vietnam jungle, eyes and ears wide open for every peep and rustle in the pungent sage. Our Texas visitor thought birds had hooked left, so we sidehilled in that direction a hundred feet above the swampy creek bottom, sometimes on hands and knees. Then, barely perceptible, a rustle in the juniper preceded the bird’s fleeting escape, downhill and over the cattail swamp at the bottom of the ravine.

One shot, bird down. Right in the middle of a football-field-sized tangle of mud, creek, beaver dams, cattails and berry vines … the sharp, thorny kind. The graveyard of forever-lost quail, I thought. The shooter marked the bird and stayed put, eyes glued on the spot where the bird had fallen.

Hmmmm. This looks familiar. A classic NAVHDA duck search, sans duck. Manny and I slid to the bottom and I sent him into the mess with a “dead bird – fetch!” He was daunted by the head-high stalks that fought back, mud that sucked at his feet and berry canes that tore his hide. A few minutes and he emerged, dirty, wet, birdless. But he stood calmly facing the web of vegetation, waiting for direction. I sent him again.

It was then I remembered training advice from an Idaho trip. I scrambled to the canyon wall before finding throwing-sized rocks, whose plunks and plonks tempted Manny farther and farther into the mire. We all listened, intent, to brush rattling, panting dog, mucky footfalls. Sometimes he was so deep in the vegetation all we saw was the faint quivering of cattail tops marking his route.

Then, nothing.

Stillness.

Rustle of stalks, splash of feet, but no panting … but I soon breathed easier. A long two minutes later Manny emerged with – I swear – the most humble look on his fuzzy face I’ve ever seen on a dog. Maybe because he was gently holding the quail in his mouth.

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