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The reason we go

The reason we go

Protein is not the prime objective for Wingshooting USA TV viewers when they take to the uplands in search of pheasant, quail and grouse. That’s one revelation in show host Scott Linden’s fourth annual “Upland Nation Index,” a national survey of his viewers. The languishing economy might prompt big-game hunters and waterfowlers to make meat for the pot a priority; in fact, a recent more general survey identified a rising trend among hunters going afield primarily to supplement their pantries. But Linden says for upland bird hunters, food isn’t their primary objective.

“Watching my dog work” is the main reason Linden’s fans go hunting, according to his survey. With over 33 percent of Wingshooting USA viewers owning two or more dogs, that shouldn’t be surprising. And while that may be a full house for some, 28 percent of Linden’s fans are planning to buy another dog soon, say respondents.

“Being with friends and family” is the number two reason viewers hunt, being in natural surroundings ranks third, and “bringing home food” ranks dead last among choices in the Index. Speaking of priorities, Wingshooting USA TV fans live, eat and breathe shotgunning and bird dogs. When they’re not hunting, their principal free-time activities are dog training and clay target shooting (42 percent each).

Where are they going in pursuit of their passions? Forty-five percent hunt public land almost exclusively. Forty-two percent hunt private land via one of the landowner access programs or by asking permission, and the remaining 13 percent hunt primarily on preserves.

Linden’s fans are a restless lot too. Fifty-six percent plan to hunt outside their home state, with South Dakota the prime destination (25 percent of all out-of-state trips) and Kansas capturing the interest of another 17 percent.

The Upland Nation Index surveyed 1,700 viewers of the Wingshooting USA television program in January, 2013. The margin for error is plus or minus five percent. Wingshooting USA is the most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., airing on seven networks including a debut on Discovery Channel’s Destination America this summer. It is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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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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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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Oh yeah.

Oh yeah.

Social animals, dogs touch for any number of reasons. In the litter, a mother’s touch means warmth, food, safety, life itself. Littermates snuggle, introductions start with noses to butts. Even my guys will nuzzle, spoon, or lay back to back.

It’s only natural that touch would become a form of communication between our dogs and us. As this is written, Buddy is getting a scratch at that spot on the front of his ear hole … that magic place where the right pressure will make his head will sink lower and lower until it’s on the ground. But his repertoire goes well beyond that.

Scratches, rubs, strokes, nudges are like cocaine to a dog. They will do almost anything for some finger action behind their ear, a palm rubbed on the chest, a squeeze on the sweet spot at the base of the tail. Fingers applied to flank equals leg twitch equals ahhhh.

But don’t dogs get as much from touching as being touched?

A nudge urges movement, attention, or warning. I used to think it was a German dog thing, but most bird dogs get a quiet thrill from simply leaning against a leg. It is often accompanied by a deep, satisfied sigh … from both of us. A cold nose brushed against the back of our hand reminds us that the hunting relationship involves two beings.

A paw on your arm asks forbearance, or assures that someone loves you. Chin on thigh signals admiration, or maybe tolerance.

A dog’s touch feels good, physically. It feeds the psyche, too.

I may be anthropomorphizing, possibly reading more into it than I should. Real dog experts might pooh-pooh my ideas. And that’s fine. Maybe they’ve never had a need for the tangible, tactile communication in which dogs excel. But I do. Maybe you, too.

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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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R.I.P. Sheriff Taylor/Andy Griffith. An insightful look at Mayberry’s best dog trainer.

Okay smartypants, think you know duck stamps? Read. Learn. Tell others.

Finally, something coherent from a local “journalist.”Is hunting your ow n dinner an “ethical” way to eat?

Commentary on the recent California ban on hound hunting.

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It’s that time of year! My new “What the Dogs Taught Me” seminar hits the road, and you’re invited. Several variations and a diverse set of locations should make it easy for you and your friends to join me somewhere and learn more about your dog, while improving your hunting skills.

In addition, you'll get behind-the-camera stories - at least the clean ones!

The new seminar is based on the book I’m writing for Skyhorse Publishing, so you’ll be getting a sneak preview. Hunting with over 200 dogs while hosting and producing Wingshooting USA, I’ve learned a thing or three and hope to share them with you. And while newcomers will benefit most, even upland veterans will have their “a-ha” moments discovering helpful hints that make their days afield more productive. The seminar and book can best be described as a ‘201-level’ handbook for bird hunters with dogs.

I’ve learned so much simply by observing dogs. Not necessarily about training them, in fact just the opposite. The seminar and book will be like hunting with an experienced friend, observing his and his dog’s habits, the nuances and myriad little things that subconsciously become part of an uplander’s repertoire.

This year, I’m offering a two-day in-field version of the seminar. Visit the lodge, listen to me during meals, and we’re out in the field applying those lessons throughout the day. I’ll visit with every hunter individually in the field and offer individualized coaching and suggestions.

I fully expect to learn as much from you and your dogs, as you do from me and mine! Here’s the schedule so far:

June 22-24 Gun Dog Expo, Holiday Inn Portland Airport – Columbia Conference Center, Portland Oregon. (This is the one-hour version of the seminar.) I’ll set up “chukar camp” in the show – stop by and play a game, win a prize. More information.

Saturday, July 28, Filson retail store, Portland Oregon. Starts 11 a.m. and runs to 1 p.m. Limited space – make your reservations now: rsvp@filson.com and tell us how many friends you’ll be bringing. (This is always a good time – new merchandise will be unveiled at the event, and we always have a drawing for great gear.)

August 10-12 and August 17-19: Game Fair, Anoka Minn. My first visit to this incredible event! Stop by my “chukar camp” and try some of the new gear I’ve designed, take in the seminar and enjoy a full day of “our” kind of fun. (This is the one-hour version of the seminar.) More information.

In between Game Fair weekends, I’ll visit Minnesota Horse & Hunt Club, doing my two-hour seminar on Aug. 16at 4 p.m. This is an incredible facility, so if you can’t get to Anoka, come down to Prior Lake.

September 27-28, Castle Valley Outdoors, near Emory Utah. This two-day version gets you into the field as well as hearing the entire two-hour seminar during meal times. Limited space! More information.

Come meet my wirehairs Buddy and Manny, bring your son or daughter and let’s have some fun while we learn something.

Thanks to my sponsors for their support – they make this seminar series possible:

         

[I have a couple more openings in late summer. If you have a club or lodge that would like to book a seminar, I’d appreciate hearing from you!]

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