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By Scott Linden, Wingshooting USA TV

You’re a dedicated hunter. Or field trialer. For all I know, you do agility too. Maybe, all of them … plus a bench show once every while. When you need a boost, it’s easy to guzzle a Red Bull, or stop at Starbucks. Maybe it’s a Snickers bar. And if you’re smart, you’ve been going to the gym regularly.

But your dog can’t do any of those. And on the second day of a hunt or at call-up time in a field trial he needs a boost. But none of your go-to solutions will help, and may even hurt, your dog’s performance.

I hunt chukars for fun and have learned the hard way. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, you and your dog are on your own.

Of course, good physical conditioning is first. You are developing an elite athlete. Get him in shape and he’ll hunt longer and better. But when “go time” comes, what you put into him – and when – is critical.

Out there in the field, you both are at the mercy of your physical fitness and fuel. It’s too late for the former, but as for the latter, here’s what I do. It might just help you and your dog, too.

  1. In the bowl

Alright, what do you feed your dog?Any two hunting dog owners will probably offer three opinions on the subject. With the dog food industry constantly changing along with their products, it pays to stay on top of things. Ingredients, formulas, additives, all are worth a long look. Consider some things I’ve learned:

Hunting dogs need protein. At least 30 percent. In most high protein dog food formulations, fat will usually run in the 20-22 percent range and it’s critical for energy (they use fat much like we use carbohydrates – more on this later). Some of us feed higher ratios of each, but a discussion with your vet, and careful monitoring of your dog’s waistline are in order before you go much above those ratios.

Grain, or grain-free? Hunters have been feeding corn and wheat-based food for decades to good effect. Talk to your vet if you’re concerned about grain. There are plenty of other carbohydrate sources, from potatoes to rice and most food will have one or more that fit your dog’s needs.

If you plan to ramp up the fat and protein pre-season, start feeding the good stuff at least 60 days prior to the first hunt so all the nutrients have time to positively affect muscles, skin and bone.

Good protein sources include the various fresh meat or fish meals, “real” meat, fish, or eggs. Lower-quality and less-digestible (more waste) versions include meat and chicken byproducts, bone meal, corn and other grain products. If you find your dog has frequent ear infections, rash, or is constantly scratching, consult a vet and look at food allergies (often, a protein source or grain) as well as the other causes.

  1. When to feed

Just as important as what you feed is when you feed. There are simple mechanical reasons not to feed your dog the morning of a hunt. An empty gastrointestinal tract has nothing 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 by it’s top and toe, 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. Jump a fence or two. All that weight will make the sock swing, bounce up and down, and possibly even twist. Veterinarians call it gastro volvulus and it is often fatal.

Your dog’s athletic performance is another concern. Studies by Purina and others 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. Run a marathon after gobbling a pizza, and you’ll get the idea.

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

  1. During the hunt

No guilt trips here, because 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,” which is really called “hunting dog hypoglycemia.” The symptoms are disorientation, weakness, and, in some cases, seizures taking place generally after one or two hours of vigorous exercise and usually avoidable by limiting feeding in the morning, and offering protein during the hunt.

Because dogs get their version of instant energy from fat, if you can’t resist giving Gunner something during the hunt, offer a high-fat snack that won’t fill his belly (minimizing the risk of stomach twist). You can make your own, or simply offer him the innards of your sandwich. The problem is, even the greasiest corned-beef sandwich only has 19% fat. (If you’re reading this, you know there is a much better solution – my Dog Energy Bar.) The key is low volume, high fat to keep the belly as empty as possible.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with offering water frequently – it keeps a dog cool as well as hydrated, facilitating blood flow to the muscles where it replenishes red cells and maximizes stamina. 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.

  1. After the hunt

What dog food brand you feed, I’ll leave to those who inhabit the online chat rooms. It’s the other stuff you put in your dog’s belly at the end of the day that might be the difference between a boot-polisher and a superstar the next day.

A number of studies (on sled dogs and bird dogs) and some long discussions with research vets and field trialers have convinced me that what you do at the end of the hunt day is critical if you want maximum performance from your dog the next day, and the next.

Unlike during the hunt when fat is critical, your objective at the end of the day is to give your dog’s muscles the cell-repairing glycogen (a carbohydrate) they need. Done right, research shows your dog’s muscle cells can achieve up to a 95% recovery rate overnight. Based on current science and practical experience, here’s a strategy:

  1. Immediately after your dog is done hunting (within 15 minutes) provide water mixed with maltodextrin (see package directions for dosage). Maltodextrin is a tasteless white powder (a derivative of corn) that a dog’s body converts to glycogen. One brand I like is “Glycocharge.” It’s liver flavored and quite palatable to a dog, I’m told – no, I didn’t taste-test it!
  2. Do not add it to food. The fat in dog food inhibits the uptake of the nutrients in the maltodextrin. Waiting to feed also minimizes risk of stomach twist.
  3. Feed your regular dog food 90 minutes after the water/maltodextrin is ingested.
  4. I’ll feed another dog-food snack just before bed to make up for some of the calorie loss from skipping breakfast. That gives a dog a good eight hours to process a bellyful and as you know well, empty the leftovers first thing in the morning. He’s ready to go without extra “baggage.”
  5. Want a superstar on four legs the next day? Bed him down in a warm crate on a thick, soft mattress or plenty of grass hay that prevents bones and joints from contact with hard surfaces. How would you hunt if you slept on the floor the night before?

CAUTION: Unlike humans, dogs shouldn’t “carbo load.” High-carbohydrate diets can contribute to a condition called “exertional rhabdomyolysis,” or “tying up,” which causes muscle pain and cramping, watery stool and dehydration. Feed a dog food that is “complete and balanced,” little if any junk food, and you shouldn’t have that problem.

Do you have more questions about the Dog Energy Bar? Nutrition information, how it works, and why, are all available at www.dogenergybar.com.

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A visit to my friends at Columbia Overland paid off with a bunch of goodies er, important offroad tools, to fit out the rig. And just in time for the Gun Dog Expo this weekend in Albany, Oregon! Stop by and visit, meet Buddy, play the Real Bird Bumper BRAWL and win a prize. Oh yeah, I’ll be doing my Bird Hunting Boot Camp too, so bring a pencil and your sense of humor.

A better reason to attend: My good friend Dez Young and his Llewellin Setter Dash will be speaking too! (Actually, Dez will do most of the talking.) See you at the Linn County Fairgrounds starting Friday.

Now, take a look at the newest gear:

Real, battle-tested NATO jerry cans on the Baja Rack ... by the way, finding a nozzle for these suckers is tough - go onlline.

Ready for anything, with shovel & ax, as Shane preps the Foxwing mounts.

Foxwing, fully deployed and ready for bird season!

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Shorthair, Griffon, Clumber … a United Nations of dogdom. That was the opportunity in Omaha this weekend.

And unlike the U.N., founded with the highest hopes only to wallow in corruption and petty bickering, I found reason for optimism among the disparate dog breed aficionados displaying their canine wares for visitors to ogle, cuddle, andsavor the puppy breath.

If they can, why can't we all get along?

When it comes to our sport, we are all of one mind … I call it the Upland Nation … supporting conservation and the wildlife we love. And while there are many “critter groups” out there, including our weekend hosts Pheasants Forever, we seem to forget the one thing that binds us, bonds us, wraps us and ties us, that we can all consider common ground: dogs.

My seminars this weekend were based on a single philosophy: in dogs we trust. Many of us simply use hunting as an excuse to play with dogs. We respect our canine hunting companions as much or more than our human ones. There is unbridled affection for the long-nosed pursuers of prey with whom we share a field.

But nobody has seized on this as a uniting force. Yet.

I didn’t learn much from my (insert expletive here) father before he left for what he thought were greener pastures. But I did figure out he was a master communicator, crossing gender, societal and economic borders as if he had a diplomatic passport … no lines, no waiting, no boundaries or barriers to his ability to talk with anyone about anything. His secret? He knew enough about many things to find common ground, something of interest to his new friend or business associate. A word or two in someone’s native language.  Sports score, or musical trivia.

We already have all of that. Approach someone wearing blaze orange, ask what dog breed they love, and you’ve found a new friend. Go ahead, make a joke about “swamp collies.” Argue the merits of ditch parrots versus the noble ruffed grouse. We may not share the same political party, morals or values, likely not even the same Zip Code, but we have more in common than most folks united in common cause.

That common cause is the protection of habitat and our right to use it lawfully to find literal and figurative sustenance.

Next time you disparage retriever owners for their goofy hand signals, or spaniel guys for funny whistles, instead inventory your shared priorities. Learn. Enjoy. Transfer that warm fuzzy feeling to houndsmen. And bowhunters. Tweedy fly fishers and face-painted duck hunters.

For as Benjamin Franklin said: “Surely we must hang together or we will all hang separately.”

And what did you learn?

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(In the interest of diversity, fairness and as part of his new contract, Buddy will be writing his own blog post once in a while. Here is his first submission.)

The Boss let me have the laptop tonight, sez he’s tired after our hunt today. Him tired? I was doing all the running, up to the top of the peaks for those running things that go “chuk-chuk.” I slide over the snow, jump over boulders and scrape my pads on the scree, just to watch them streak off the cliff, and not even toward my human!

The author, with his nephew/apprentice, relaxing between hunts

My feet are killing me! And I have twice as many as The Boss. But it was worth it to help my nephew grow as a hunter. The Pup’s got potential, if he’ll just pay attention to The Boss … and me! Sure, I’m “older” but can still teach him a few new tricks, like that last bird today. He thinks the job is over when his tail goes up and he raises his front paw. The Boss gets all happy, saying the good-boy words while he puts his boom stick together.

Then the birdy goes brrrrrr and gets away (they always do, so I don’t bother trying to catch them), but The Boss’ stick goes boom and it falls in a big bush by the cold wet splashy stuff. The Pup tried to poke his nose and head between the sticky sticks but they were sharp! Boss asked me – nicely for a change – to help and I could smell those sweet, delicious feathers once or twice. But then he talked loud just before I jumped off the cliff to look down there for the smell.

I watched over The Pup as he raced from sage to wild rose, (they’re so cute at that age) snuffling at old feather smells and dead deer pieces, but you gotta give him credit for trying. Too big for his collar sometimes, but his beard and eyebrows are nice and bushy, so The Mommy likes him.

I ran and ran, ignoring all the dead cow pieces and other fun stuff, putting one foot in front of the other and the other and the other. But that bird in the bush was suddenly worth two in the paw! When The Boss turned us back toward the box-on-wheels that he always yells at, I snuck back into that thicky-sticky bush. He didn’t see me go, but the sticks were bumping me and rattling like two chew toys in a big box at Christmas.

I knew the tweet-tweet thing would soon make me go back to The Boss, so to keep him happy and show The Pup how it’s done, I used both nostrils and zeroed in on the little dead flying thing real quick. Ooh, there is nothing sweeter than holding them, tasting, inhaling, drinking in the feather smell after the stick goes boom and we find them on the ground. Or in this case, caught in the sticky parts of a bush only a Big Dog could reach. You won’t see The Pup doing that … at least for a while!

Yep, it’s a ruff life. But I can handle it.

Signed,

Three Devils Yankee’s Buddy

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How’s your hunting season going? Has it met your pre-season expectations? Exceeded your wildest dreams?

With nut-cutting time around the corner in most states, what is still on your hunting to-do list, gnawing at your psyche, nibbling at the toes of your subconscious? Is it one more 20-inch rooster? Elusive Arizona scaled quail? Or a final, lung-bursting climb to a favorite chukar spot?

Hoping to chase valley quail here, one more time this season. What's still uncrossed on your to-do list?

What about your dog? Had enough bird contact? Of the right kind? I need to work on Manny’s backing Buddy. He’s been sneaking up on his uncle and that needs some attention before it becomes a habit. Buddy could use some encouragement when Manny sticks the bird first – he’s a notorious point-stealer.

As we get down to the dregs of this season, don’t we focus most often, laser-like, on the places we’ve neglected? There’s a sparkling ribbon of stream breaching a rock face I’d like to walk at least once … dancing redband trout under a canopy of venerable alders, massive basalt blocks looming, it’s right out of a Lord of the Rings movie. Manny needs exposure to the diminutive valley quail that dazzle us in the draws tributary to a legendary steelhead stream. And there is a café I’d like to visit way south and east where my arrival changes the population from nine to ten and I’m treated like family, and expected to make the coffee if I take the last mug full.

Do you have places like that on your Blackberry calendar? Where are the red dots on your mental map?

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THANK YOU! THIS QUICK QUIZ IS NOW CLOSED. Visit this post for the next video clip and quiz … and another prize.

Quick Quiz #1

Does Manny’s search produce a bird? Where’s Uncle Buddy? Watch the short video and you might win a prize if you can answer the UPLAND NATION Quick Quiz … at the end of the clip.  This week’s prize: Blaze Buddy Bandanna. Don’t miss a single frame of great bird hunting and gun dog videos and the chance to win … click on the “Join our FREE mailing list” box, in the upper right corner.

This home movie shot at Ravenwood Lodge, Topeka, KS.

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What does a guy do after two weeks on the road hunting in front of television cameras? Um, well, it was opening weekend of chukar and valley quail season, so take a wild guess.

Manny carries the torch: every dog I've owned has posed with this ridge in the background.

Despite viruses (two out of three of us), sweltering weather, traffic jams and honey-do’s, we convened in the usual place for the usual activities. The upshot? Challenging. Fewer birds, scattered from valley floors to rocky peaks and everywhere in between. Young birds (multiple hatches, we hoped) seemed to dematerialize  after vigorous chases. Dry beds where creeks usually provide life-giving fluid to animals great and small. 

The view from chukar camp

Birds flew – virtually always away from me, but Dave and Mike got shots. As the sun climbed, so did we … into the lava rock that seemed to hold vestigial heat from it’s original source. We heard chukars, flew many at a distance, ultimately earning a few long and desperate shots.

The next day, more of the same, Buddy and Manny racing in a doggie pas de deux, sometimes in unison, other times mirror images on opposite sides of the draw. As Mike and I wheezed up a slope Buddy locked solid, uphill from a flat boulder a football field’s length away. We hightailed it, still slower than the rattled nerves of a trio of partridges. They skirted the ridge. We followed, sidehilling over shale and sloppy soil. We flew that bunch twice more, me taking a couple Hail Mary shots to no effect.  

Mystery bug - anyone know what this new one (for us) is called?

When both dogs sought the scant shade of boulders every time we slowed, I knew it was time to head for camp and the creek, and call it a day.  A small rattlesnake reminded me how warm and early it was in the season, standing (slithering?) his ground as I directed dogs away and left him to his quest for a den.

The small pool in the stream was a welcome sight to all parties, dogs slurping and splashing in relief and joy – their human, too.

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