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Posts Tagged ‘hunting gear’

I have a confession to make. I am not a gun geek. To me, they are tools. I live for bird dogs, so if it’s history, heritage, performance or aesthetics, that’s where I make the emotional and financial investment.

That said, guns are an integral part of my chasing-after-dogs-and-birds life. If after a tail-stiffening point, I don’t shoot a cackling pheasant as it towers skyward, I’m disappointed and my dogs are devastated. Guns are the ticket to a wild ride that gets better every day.

Shotguns become currency in my world, and while not at the level of Bill Gates, I am lucky enough to be able to give some away in hopes of cultivating the love of hunting in others. My first “real” gun went to a down-on-his-luck printing press operator whose only firearm had finally shaken to pieces. When we next talked hunting, his downcast eyes said it all: it was over for him. I hope he’s still jump-shooting ducks off that river we both love, with the shotgun that had gathered dust in my safe.

My brother was a reluctant co-star on one of my TV show episodes and at the end of that day, I gifted him the over-under he’d borrowed. Thousands of sporting clays rounds, my first pheasant, and two loyal dogs were like deep scratches on the stock of that sleek American-made beauty … memories that will never be erased. We will reunite next fall in the field, is my promise to my brother and that shotgun.

At a shooting clinic, a young high schooler was missing more than hitting, surprising for a “natural,” as I’d been told. She was trying hard to learn from a master, shoot better and represent her school proudly, but was hampered by an ill-fitting and malfunctioning shotgun. I lost sleep that night, thinking about her long soul-searching drive home, the after-action report to her coach and teammates, and her slackened hopes for competition in the coming school year.

I sent her one of mine. An elegant Italian over-under that deserved better than I could ever offer. Intricate engraving, the lines of a sports car, I hope it served her well; asked her to pay it forward when she got her next one and give it away – again.

Shotguns from television sponsors have become prizes in my ongoing effort to recruit newcomers to our sport. Often, they’re lent to youngsters on their first hunt. Each helped tell a story, about mothers and sons, rekindled childhood memories, of brothers and friends, teens and middle-aged beginners. I’m hoping those firearms are helping create life-long hunters and conservationists – who then recruit their own new hunters.

I have visitation rights to the only shotgun that I might regret having given away: a Spanish side-by-side that served me well for almost a decade. Functional like a Ford F-150, no bells or whistles it was built by craftsman to be “workmanlike.” I carried it up countless draws in chukar country, dinged it chasing quail, Huns, pheasants and ducks. It suffered indignity after indignity, including a failed attempt to learn to shoot left-handed when a friend and I bent the stock.

Light and whippy, it was the gun I learned to really shoot with, one lesson tallied 1,000 rounds in a day. I hit more than I missed that day, and was indebted to that sublime example of Basque metalworking for many birds pointed, then retrieved, by four different dogs.

But I’d moved on, was using “better” guns by the time my hunting buddy asked about it while we caught our breath on a desolate mountain top. Sure, it was in the truck. It was the third string on that hunt, should my two “good” guns fail. The look in his eye, the longing he had for a gun that had been his companion as much as mine in those scabby hills, well, that said it all. And he was left-handed.

Twice a season, we meet again on some scabby piece of the West. I re-acquaint myself with that example of simple elegance, usually as the gun, me, and my friend are huffing and puffing up another volcanic slope in pursuit of chukars. He shoots it much better than I ever did, which I guess is proof it is now in the hands of its rightful owner.

Taking good care of my guns, even if they’re only a means to an end, makes sense. They are then ready, willing, and able to serve their higher purpose: helping others in their own pursuit of birds and beautiful places in the company of good friends and family.

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Find great tethers in the hardware store's key department.

Find great tethers in the hardware store’s key department.

If you’re hunting along that ridge … you know, where the dead cow has been reduced to a bone pile … alongside the only gravel state highway, in that big boulder field and just south of that town, population 9 … well, watch for my e-collar transmitter. I left it there after taking a couple photos of me and my buddy on a chukar hunt.

That transmitter was the proverbial final straw and my camel’s back broke on that desolate desert slope. Like a compass, a whistle, and (almost) the camera I used for those pictures, so much of my gear is small and unnaturally mobile when it shouldn’t be. Maybe yours is too. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose any more of it.

Now I tie everything to me or my hunting vest. Loops, belts, D-rings, zipper pulls, there are plenty of anchor points. And these days, lanyards, cord and retractors of all sorts are available … often free for the asking if you’re willing to sport someone’s logo.

You’d be surprised how often in the heat of the hunt you literally drop everything. Okay, maybe you don’t, but I do. Every third or fourth training session, I’ll be walking along and something will bump against my leg. Sometimes, it’s a loyal dog, checking in. More often it’s a collar transmitter hanging from its lifeline … which is way better than buried in some clump of brush, lost to the ages.

At a recent training day I spent almost an hour searching the tall grass for a bird launcher control. On a grouse hunt, a GPS grew legs and escaped until a friend stepped on it. Once, one of my dogs actually sniffed up a pair of shooting glasses that had tumbled from my vest pocket.

Now, the glasses are leashed around my neck every time I lace up my boots. My training pistol has a line that goes through a belt loop. Whistles dangle around my neck, and water bottles are held fast by  a carabiner.

Yes, at times I can look like the receiving end of one of those old-time telephone switchboards, cords sprouting all over me. But most are easily managed, slack tucked into pockets until that tool is utilized. A couple hunts and you’ll work out the logistics too.

Maybe your mother told you what mine told me: you’d lose your head if it wasn’t screwed on. Tether it, and she’ll be happier and so will you.  And you won’t spend the better part of a morning on your hands and knees when you should be roaming the hills or prairie behind your dog.

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Double on Huns ... now that's an indelible memory, boots or not.

Double on Montana Huns … now that’s an indelible memory, boots or not.

I don’t know what you have on your end-of-season to do list, but it seems like mine gets longer every year. One of the topmost chores is saddle-soaping my hunting boots. Today was the first spring-like day here: blue skies, last week’s rain rising from the ground to weight the atmosphere, and a blazing sun … ideal boot cleaning conditions.

With brush, water, saddle soap arrayed on the porch, out marched the footwear, pair after pair after muddy pair lined up like so many recruits awaiting their first day of basic training. Scrub, wipe, array in the sunshine to dry … assuringly familiar, this routine, a note of finality with each pair dispatched.

The tall boots rekindled memories of a hell-bent stream crossing after valley quail, alone but for my dogs. The mountaineering boots proudly wore scars from jagged lava rock, abrasions suffered in pursuit of chukars with a college chum. A cushy, “civilized” pair were worn only once this season, on a memorable bobwhite hunt with some real Yankees from Vermont, quite at home in Alabama, also quite genteel. Each boot brought another memory bubbling up from the subconscious, as vivid as the video footage you’ll eventually see on the show.

Last week, gun cleaning. This week, boot cleaning. Next week, I’m sure something else will find it’s way onto the list. Until then, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and relive my time in the hills and prairies, reminiscences now written onto the soles of each boot.

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Sweeeeeet. Or should I say “dolce?”

That’s what everyone said down at the Nosler Shooter’s Pro Shop when I took delivery on the next item to trick my

The Fausti sisters ... grazie!

truck, a Fausti Stefano DEA SL 20 ga. side by side. In a nutshell, this gun is a very clear reflection of the Fausti sisters: Giovanna, Barbara and Elena … lithe and elegant.

Well-balanced and light at 5-1/2 pounds, it’s a perfect chukar gun, if I’m willing to risk it. Case-colored receiver with gold accents (for maximum TV exposure!), the wood has lots of horizontal grain, then a stunning series of vertical striations that capture the eye long after you’ve put it in the case. I’ll be hunting with this gun on the show starting in the fall and you’ll see it on Wingshooting USA as soon as September. Then, stay tuned and learn how to win it … once I’ve broken it in, that is. I promise to be careful.

Get more information and specs here. (By the way, “DEA” is Italian for “goddess.” And this gun handles like one.)

Leave it to the Italians to make the case as stylish as the gun – streamlined and very Euro. Here are a few photos.

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Safer, and legaler, but how necessary in some circumstances?

Thanks, and alright already! Seen and noted – your emphatic insistence that I wear more blaze orange on the TV show. For the record, the first season had virtually none. This  second season, more. And believe me, the stuff we shot this fall will reek with the color despite my director Tad Newberry’s tantrums.

Why I wear more now: Trying to be a good example. It’s required in some states, some times and I need to “stay legal.” I DO sometimes worry about my safety – and my dog’s, especially in a crowd.

Why I didn’t: Wreaks havoc with high definition cameras. I plumb forgot. Clashes with my Gucci loafers.

Which begs these questions:

1. When you’re hunting alone, or with a small group of trusted friends, and are really, really careful and have confidence in your fellow hunters … is blaze orange really necessary?

2. How much is enough? Some states require a minimum number of square inches. Oregon just made a cap and “upper garment,” I believe, required for kids under age 18.

What say you?

PS: if you’re really, really concerned about safety – your dog’s or your own – get a couple Blaze Buddy Bandannas here, and benefit the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, too.

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You are now officially a citizen. Wear blaze orange, proudly, fellow citizen. See you in the field.

Have you ever raised and trained a young dog? Then, run him with an experienced dog? Anything can happen, right? How would you handle it when a young dog’s training is trumped by instinct?

Duke arrived at Eagle Nest Lodge days earlier, had never hunted with anyone from the lodge. But his genetics were superb. Fortunately, Ty the Irish Red Setter had a full complement of tolerance genes. Watch what happens and maybe you’ll win a limited-edition Wingshooting USA long-sleeve tour t-shirt by answering the trivia question at the end of the video clip! [I’ll pick one winner from all correct answers.]

In your answer email, tell me what you would have done in the same situation … I can use all the help I can get with Manny! Thanks.

[Vote fast! This trivia quiz closes Dec. 24 at midnight.]

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Doh! Sorry everyone. You can now add your two cents’ worth at the page where we are revising the Ultimate Upland Checklist. Please do.

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