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Posts Tagged ‘upland hunting’

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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Use it or lose it. A follower pointed this out recently, as yet another reason to spend time and effort exploring those private lands enrolled in states’ walk-in hunting access programs. But there are plenty more, including price (free), availability (millions of acres), habitat (some good, some not), and sometimes, less competition from others than on “public” land.
Those topics will have to wait, because this essay is about exploiting these treasure-troves to ensure your success. Here are ten tips on making the most of “walk-in” land.
1. Plan ahead. Most states publish hard copy booklets and online versions of their maps in about August, once all the rental deals with land owners are consummated. Google “walk-in hunting (state)” and you’ll likely find the page.
2. Many states publish updates as the season opens, so double-check.
3. Spend considerable time studying those maps in relation to your potential “home base.” You might consider choosing your HQ based on the concentration of walk-in areas. Study Google Earth too, for a better feel for the lay of the land, terrain, crops and cover.
4. Call the state agency that administers the walk-in program and talk with the local biologist in your chosen area. They might clue you in to the better areas, time of year to hunt each, and current conditions (burns, harvest, snow cover).
5. Scout early, if you can. Nothing beats boots on the ground. I’ve avoided flooded fields and unharvested crops (access prohibited until completed) simply by driving past some areas the day prior. Seek out alternate parking areas unless restricted.
6. Pick nearby alternate areas. If someone beats you to the area you have somewhere else to go. One spot doesn’t play out, go to the next. More time hunting, less time driving.
7. Phone the landowner or sign in as required. In some states, that’s how they are compensated for use of their land.
8. Start your hunt close to the edges. Often, crops are adjacent and game birds will likely spend some time there. You might ambush them coming or going. If you bust birds, they will more than likely fly into your hunting area, not out.
9. Be mindful of ammo restrictions. Sometimes, you’re hunting waterfowl country and may need non-toxic shot.
10. Choose the road less traveled. Find the marginal cover – most hunters won’t bother working that hard. Thickets, tree rows, lighter cover, swampy stuff … birds are often pushed into that stuff by other hunters.
11. Go later in the day and season. Most hunters are home by early afternoon – and once the snow flies. The golden hours prior to sunset can be very productive. Give covey birds time to re-gather for the night, or you may not find any next season.
Privately-owned open-to-the-public real estate is a big part of the land inventory hunters enjoy. The bureaucrats who administer it track usage, and make many of their decisions based on it. Take advantage, be respectful, be safe, and good luck!
When you go:
  • Take that hard copy of the hunting atlas just in case you don’t have cell service.
  • Fill up your gas tank at every chance. Don’t ask why I know how important this is.
  • Order your dog food here – you may not be able to find it in a small, rural town.
  • Get the OnX chip for the U.S. or your chosen state.

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I became a bird hunter because I watched my first wirehair work a field, putting up a pheasant hen after a solid point. I’d never owned a gun before, but decided if he would do that for me, the least I could do is shoot the bird for him. Little did I know that was the start of a (late) life-long series of dazzling performances by a series of magical dogs I was privileged to observe. Lucky for me, the relationship continues, and the awe I felt from that first point returns every time I send a dog into the field.

Any excuse for sharing time with a dog is legitimate. But for me, it is clear: we become a team linked by DNA, a modern version of a prehistoric wolf pack coursing the uplands for sustenance – literal and emotional.

In the digital age we pretend to communicate with gadgets. The talking we do at each other via smartphone is shallow, ephemeral and self-centered. Contrast that with the deep genetic link between hunters. Words are unnecessary when instinct guides predators linked by common purpose.

I’m honored when my dogs invite me to share this primitive thrill, accepting me as equal, calling on the most basic of instincts to feed our pack and sustain our souls. We are one, thinking and acting as a single being with a single goal, to find prey. The act is violent and primitive, ugly and beautiful, the most complicated transaction in the universe: lives taking life to sustain life.

Neither of us will starve if we aren’t successful in the common definition of the term. The size of our bag is a sidebar to a bigger story: flow of adrenaline, deep passion, panting and slobber, the tang of sage and if we are lucky, the coppery smell of blood.

Our dogs tolerate human missteps and bad shots. They put up with poor noses and slow, creaky joints in their human packmate. At the end of the day they ask little except a warm place to sleep near their hunting companion, forgiving missed shots and misplaced anger.

We should be flattered.

[Why do you hunt? Comment below, or better yet drop me a note here to be on an upcoming Upland Nation podcast on the topic.]

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Okay, okay, I get it. Willy-nilly broadcasting of a bird-hunting honey hole is verboten. A few personal stories from podcast callers have convinced me there is a slight chance of finding a place trashed, over-run, shot-out … well, you get the idea.

Want to listen to the podcast? Go here.

I also understand how hard it must be to share a spot you found “on your own.” But how else is someone going to see early success if nobody will help them? Maybe not your best place. Maybe not everyone. But sometimes, some people, some areas. If we don’t help others become hunters, we are doomed. Purchases of guns, ammo, licenses, and Pheasant Forever dues are what fuel conservation. No hunters, no purchases, no conservation. Period. End of sentence.

Facts are facts: the biggest reason people quit hunting is they can’t find someplace to hunt.

Think about your own introduction to hunting: did you really, truly, accomplish every single bit of it on your own? Nobody helped you, ever? A parent? Sibling? Scoutmaster or neighbor? If you can truthfully claim to never having any help finding hunting spots, more power to you. At the rate we’re going as a hunting community, some day, you’ll be the last guy there. Don’t forget to turn off the lights and lock the gate. And keep your expectations low, because nobody will have managed the cover or the game birds as it declined.

How about a new set of rules – thanks podcast callers – that you can use and adapt to your own situation … while still recruiting and encouraging newcomers? Some suggestions:

– If you’re being shown a place, ask if you can share it before you go. If you’re showing someone that spot, be clear as to your expectations before you take them.

– Stay off the Internet (or online forums, Instagram, etc.) with your location-specific information. Watch those photos and identifying tags.

– Vet your “guests” carefully. If you know them well, trust them, and they are safe and ethical, they will probably keep the spot close to their vest. Go with them if you are doubtful as to their trustworthiness.

– Are you the “guest?” Ask if you can go back, and if you can bring others.

– A quid pro quo is okay, and may be a good way to see how sincere your “candidate” is about sharing and caring for the land.

– Have a few “giveaway” spots (with some likelihood of success) for those you’d like to encourage but don’t know well. See how they handle the opportunity; maybe they’ll become a hunting buddy.

– Been the beneficiary of a hunting-spot tip? Go back once, maybe twice, and limit your take. Then, invite the benefactor to hunt one of your spots.

– Encourage newcomers by teaching them to find their own spots. Acquaint them with the resources, agencies, programs (WIHA, for example). Show them – in the field, if you can, what good habitat looks like.

– There are plenty of ways to get people out there without giving a latitude/longitude. A county, highway,

– Don’t call those who share “idiots.” How does that create a better habitat? Or encourage people to hunt?

– In most cases, it’s not “your” spot, nor are they “your” birds. If what you’re really bitching about is others who hunt where you do, you’re just selfish.

– Newcomer? Yeah, do your own homework. Then, pay it forward.

It’s a start. I’ve seen the light. Any more “rules” you’d suggest? Make a comment!

 

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How do you celebrate the hunt?

Once the dogs were put up and watered, twice in Kansas this week I pulled out my bottle to toast the day. Neither hunt was “epic” in the sense of clouds of birds. The shooting was “meh” too. But the entirety is what made it worthy of a 12-year-old Scotch from Speyside: new friends, dazzling habitat variety, generous sharing of knowledge, a lot of fun, hard working dogs.

First distilled in the 1400’s, uisge beatha means “water of life.” To many of us some 600 years later, whisky still fuels conversation, reminiscences, admiration. And not just because it’s 80 proof.

It’s a simple tailgate ritual. Paper cups, a little toast to the day and the dogs, maybe one more for friends gone to better fields and more cooperative birds where all the dogs are steady.

That’s when the fellowship begins. A small gesture like pouring and sharing primes the mind and cracks open the heart. Memories – recent and long-lost – are rekindled. A favorite dog, the place you shot your first bobwhite, it doesn’t matter. Opening up is what counts. You learn a little about your companions, the place, their dogs, and ultimately about yourself.

For you it could be beer, a meal, coffee, a soda or a cigar. Great dogs, new and old friends, the experience of beautiful places deserve acknowledgment, don’t they?

My light, fruity, Speyside whisky opens up with a drop of water in the glass, brightens a bit. It tingles the tongue without the bite so common in others from Islay, the lowlands, even the highlands. There’s a trout on the label, another of my passions. And nobody has stopped at one taste – it’s the best first whisky I’ve ever served.

What’s your poison? For me, a “wee dram,” a little ritual … and camaraderie often results. To life!

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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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Hard to get mad at him. It’s probably “operator error.”

At the time, I thought it was a red herring … an excuse … a pro trainer’s nomenclature to make us feel um, well, less professional than them. But time and time again, I am reminded (and often humbled) that “place learning” is, as Millennials say, now a thing. Probably has been forever, if you harken back to your own training experience. Are you familiar with the term?

The basic concept: A dog learns a command on the training table. Give the same command on the ground, or in a different yard, or another time zone, and it may have been given in a foreign language. I’m a slow learner, but eventually I do learn that you may have to start over, or at least backpedal a bit. Maybe you, too, have learned this from the cruel mistress of experience.

More so (in my experience) in the agility, obedience, Schutzhund and other non-hunting dog worlds, it’s one reason trainers recommend a dog be trained in so many different places. The number varies, but the concept is sound: a dog associates the command with the location. Only by “re-training” it in other spots does he finally, accurately, do what you want no matter the “place.”

For many it’s the best reason to send their dogs to a prairie “summer camp.” Or, a pro trainer. Or, to attend training days. Anyplace (else) is better than the same-old, same-old.

I was jarred into remembering this simple concept again today – maybe I need to practice dog handling in more locations! Flick is a rock star, steady to wing-shot-fall anywhere within 100 yards of his training yard. Our yard adjoins public ground, where we train a lot. For steadiness, Flick’s “bailiwick of excellence” is about a football-field’s length from my back fence. There are trails and abandoned dirt roads clearly defining that space, but I didn’t believe it was as obvious to him until an experiment today.

Having learned the hard way in recent days, I planted one pigeon within the zone of compliance. Result: as expected, a textbook point through the downed bird … even a bonus retrieve to hand. Chest puffed and head held high, I hied him across the old road where I secreted another bird in a shrub. Flick worked into the scent cone, crossing the dirt track, from familiar territory into the danger zone. The point lasted all of a few seconds and then all hell broke loose. The only good news was, Flick didn’t catch the bird.

So we weren’t set back to Square One. But we are starting again at about Square Three … checkcord and half-hitch, stage-managed so yours truly is always holding or stepping on it to ensure compliance. I can’t be lazy and plant birds at my convenience – longer walks are the order of the day – but with luck Flick will remember most of his training when he’s in new territory.

So next time it seems like your dog has been replaced by an evil twin, don’t necessarily blame him. Blame your location.

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