Posts Tagged ‘quail’

I doubt he knows the difference.

I doubt he knows the difference.

Why do you hunt?

“Being able to watch your young dog come into his own.”

“My Springer Bonnie. It’s not a day in the field without her.”

In my viewer surveys virtually all of you said something similar. Dogs rule, and we hunt so we can watch them perform magic in the field.

So why condemn pen-raised birds?

One reason might be our own biases. I’m not judging your leanings, mine are probably similar. But if we’re honest about the pre-eminence of dog work to our experience, why aren’t well-raised planted birds just as valuable?

Do dogs ignore the scent of a liberated bird, while pointing a wild bird? Show me the evidence. For that matter, can you distinguish a well-raised planted bird from a wild bird without looking at the peeper hole in the beak?

Does your dog’s tail droop when pointing planted birds? At a preserve, does he trot instead of gallop, boot-lick rather than range? When you command “fetch,” does he spit out planters?

“Watching a setter work in a beautiful field on a gorgeous day is always the best day.”

Maybe it’s all in our heads, and I get that. We love wild places, untrammeled ground, off-the-grid coverts. But that’s not what we’re talking about (or is it?). Unless a covert resembles something from a Mad Max movie, I wonder if your dog cares whether it is aesthetically pleasing or simply a bird-holding environment.

But how wild is wild? Beyond the quails and grouses, virtually every upland bird we shoot at was planted at some point. Do you shun chukar hunters because their birds were planted in Nevada in the thirties? Wild pheasants are simply descendants birds Judge Owen Denny “released” on his Oregon farm in the 1880’s, or similar, later efforts in Redfield, South Dakota, etc. Gotta problem with that?

“Wild hatched” might be a better description of the birds some cherish more than their domestically-reared cousins. But why can’t we value a released bird that acts just like its wild counterpart, much as our dogs do.

“Seeing the dogs do what they were born to do.”

We’ve all encountered bad planted birds, bad apples that spoiled entire barrels of good introduced birds. They flounder instead of flushing, our dogs catch them on the ground, and nobody’s happy, especially the birds. But many of us have also encountered released birds that thunder, tower and jink just like wild birds.

My dogs don’t seem to know the difference and truth be told, I’ll bet yours don’t either.

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Proud pup. I mean, pop.

Proud pup. I mean, pop.

There was no point. No quivering tail, lifted leg. Not a single fluttering nostril or bulging eyes.

I didn’t take a shot. Didn’t even have a shotgun. No anticipation and certainly not any expectation.

But the lone valley quail we encountered today was responsible for one of those moments. You know, one of the rare, fleeting moments amateur bird dog trainers hope for.

All the work, the drudgery and drills, mind-numbing practice sessions came together when Manny crashed into the tall sage from upwind. A hen bird whirred out of the bush, jetting right over Manny’s stationary head.

You read that right. Stationary, as in stopped to flush. Just like the books and videos, the very situation magazine writers brag about. The sound and sight of a flushing bird anchored Manny’s paws to the ground in our real world, just like everyone says it’s supposed to happen. If he wanted to, he could have opened his fuzzy, bearded muzzle and swallowed her whole. But he watched the feathered rocket sail off, calm and collected and waiting for his next command.

I’m hoping it will someday be such a common occurrence I’ll get blase’ about it. Until then, WOO-HOO!

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california_quail_glamorI shot one quail today, and it kind of spoiled the hunt.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that often the best part of the hunt is not the killing, it’s everything else. And we had some of that.

Cobalt blue sky, a couple inches of snow glistening like diamond dust as the dogs dashed back and forth, grateful for I don’t know what, but they were on fire. No competition, the place abandoned on a Thursday after Christmas. The white blanket softened ambient sound, footfalls muffled. A raven complained about our presence half-heartedly before flapping off in a sulk.

We motored from spot to spot, exhausting my inventory of birdy spots on this patch of public ground. I rotated dogs, disappointing one every time the other got his chance. By the end of the day, just one cover harbored a small covey. They’d been sunning on a snow-free south-facing slope under a juniper tree, flushing well before Manny got a whiff of them. That’s a wild covey for ya.

The lingering scent put him into high gear, galloping up the ridge and slip-sliding into the shadows of a steep draw. Sidehilling in snow is never easy, but I’ve had worse. So when Manny locked up at the base of a sagebrush I was actually close to ready, shotgun at port arms. The quail was two trees away by the time I swung on her, a hard left-right crosser at 40 yards downhill.

She tumbled, Manny careening toward her before the trembling stopped. When he delivered to hand, the tone of the day was changed. It wasn’t better or worse, just different.

You know what I mean.

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We'll see, won't we?

I was issued a hall pass for the day before Christmas Eve … are you jealous yet? Just one day, so close to home was the number-one criterion. Someplace undiscovered was my second priority. Hmmmm. Tough list already.

A chance glimpse at one of the dozens of maps lying around the shop sealed the deal: a famous steelhead river beckoned … well-known for its aquatic denizens, its side draws and finger canyons might hold valley quail and chukars. And this time of year, if I encounter anyone it’ll be a lonely, shivering steelheader not a bird hunter.

I’ll be celebrating, in a way. Not only is it the day before we quaff eggnog and finish decorating the tree. It’s just one day removed from the winter solstice. The longest night of the year, followed by the shortest day.

Our hunter ancestors feared the dark, long nights. We who live in homes, not caves, merely tolerate the inconveniences. But we revel in the longer days, even if the sun only gives us one more minute of its presence each day, even if those days portend the end of hunting season, even if in one way summer has started.

A lump of coal in my stocking couldn’t spoil this Christmas gift.

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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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Okay, we can finally spill the beans on the upcoming season of Wingshooting USA. I hope you have lots of DVR space, and plenty to eat and drink while you watch – there is a lot in store!

Starting October 1 and every Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, you can watch the show on VERSUS. In January, you can also watch on the Pursuit Channel Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. If you’re stuck in the seventies and watching via digital “rabbit ears” on your local TV station, check for AMGTV Sundays 1 p.m. or TUFF TV Saturdays 10 a.m. or 4:30 p.m.

Bring plenty of ammo and dog food – we’ve got an incredible lineup of destinations: Idaho pheasants, Montana huns, North and South Dakota sharpies and pheasants … California pheasants and quail, Oregon valley quail and pheasants and more!

In addition to the hunting, Wingshooting USA is loaded with fun, educational and motivational feature segments:

– “Buddy & Me” sponsored by TruckVault is our continuing adventure as my wirehair and I learn how to teach and learn from each other. Watch sample here:

– TriTronics “Young Hunters Afield”  encourages families to get outside together, rewarding those who send photos of kids with their dogs with a chance at a TriTronics e-collar. Watch here:

– Native Performance Dog Food’s “Conservation Showcase” raises funds for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. Learn how you can help, here:

– ZoomDog’s BuddyCam provides a fascinating look (literally) at a dog’s perspective in the field and at home. Watch here:

– And carrying on our tradition, the National Shooting Sports Foundation offers parents  and children a chance to win a hunting trip on the show with me in their “Take YOUR kid hunting” sweepstakes.” 

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The drive home ... one tired pup

I played hooky Friday (maybe you did too) and got on the chukar hill in time for a two-hour hunt. They called, we climbed, put a sneak around the rocky top, and scored. Buddy had to search to the bottom of a thousand-foot ravine to produce the bird. 

A last-minute cancellation meant I got one of  two rooms at the motel – especially welcome as the snowflakes started falling. An old writer friend greeted me in the parking lot, and Sandy held supper for me at the café. There were more old and new friends in the general store, where the beer was plentiful and cold. The population of the town doubled overnight to 18, most from my own town five hours away. 

My hunting partners arrived to trade secret spots. A neighbor pulled into the lot. Soon five wires, a couple pointers, shorthairs and a Lab, were all sniffing butts and peeing on bushes. And not one dogfight. Do you own a male dog? You can sense the relief.

That night, an impromptu Italian dinner was offered and accepted, jokes were told, and the one stranger at the café ended up being a fishing companion from almost 20 years ago.  

In the field, birds were pointed, some were shot, retrieves were made. By the end of the snowy weekend the sun was blazing, illuminating the desert from a vantage six hundred feet up a rocky draw. Life is good. 

Now, how was your closer?

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