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Cheatgrass, foxtails ... watch for them.

Cheatgrass, foxtails … watch for them.

This is the best time of year for humans, but the worst time of year for our dogs. Maybe I’m not telling you anything new, but just in case …

Everything out there can cut, irritate, scratch or otherwise damage man’s best friend. (I remember the first porcupine encounter like it was yesterday!) Just a reminder to keep minor problems minor, and minimize major problems with a careful going-over after each outing.

Foxtails, cheatgrass and other weed seeds (“awns” is the more scientific term, I believe) are some of the worst offenders. They will get in your dog’s mouth, eyes, nose, between his toes or pads, and lodge in ears. I know someone who lost a great shorthair to an inhaled foxtail that infected a lung and went undiscovered until it was too late to save it. Any seed can burrow into the skin, migrate to internal organs and kill a dog, so teach your pet to stand for an inspection, and gradually accustom him to ear-poking, toe holding, and eyelid lifting.

Even minor cuts and scratches can become infected, so check your dog for blood, watch for persistent licking (often a sign of pain or blood), and dig deep into thick coats for a visual inspection of his skin. Foot pads, especially the accessory carpal pad (a dog’s “thumb”) are particularly prone to cuts and bumps.

Other signs something may be wrong with pup include head shaking, favoring one foot or leg, pawing at eyes or ears, and rubbing against furniture. If you observe any of these signs, take another look or head for the vet – like the commercial used to say, you can pay the vet now (cheaper) or later (cha-ching).

Hey, after all your dog’s done for you, it’s the least you can do for him.

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Psychologists say a quality life has many “peak experiences.” I just had one, so life is getting better by the day.

This is the place.

Got to the place I’d been craving to hunt all season on a crisp, 15-degree day … shirtsleeve weather, if the shirts were made of polypropylene and wool. But weather wasn’t the point behind the epic hunt … instead, it was the setting, the dogs, the birds … WOW! We snake along a small-but-raging creek, the bed a tangle of willow, alder, cattails and wild rye. The valley quail were in scattered bunches, their heavenly scent wafting upslope to Buddy and Manny when they were running the top bank, clouding in the thicket to tempt them when they were busting the brush.

Points were rampant, often followed by covey flushes then the suspense of sussing out singles. Three weeks away from the hunt, the pup soon glommed onto his job, working independently of his uncle. Buddy was his usual incredible bird-finding self, ghosting from brush patch to willow thicket, crossing the creek confidently to seek and ultimately fly valley quail from their streamside hiding places.

Manny backed, even brought a few birds almost back to me. I remembered a lesson from trainer Doug Burnett, and gave them back for a few minutes. Dead bird soon lost its allure and he raced to the stream for more live ones. He leaped cross-creek with abandon, bird scent beckoning.

The only point I was willing to risk a photo on!

A wild flush at my feet was quickly followed by a shot and Buddy was all over it. Then, silence. He didn’t return from where it dropped.  I hustled over to find both dogs on point, a dead quail in Buddy’s mouth. One bird flew upstream and soon fell to the gun’s report. That triggered another flush from the same sagebrush, the cockbird rocketing downstream until it splashed it into the creek at my shot.

I caught my breath, looked at the robin’s egg blue sky, the massive stone pillars watching over us, two panting wirehairs at my side, and a brilliantly-colored quail in my hand. Time to go, as it couldn’t possibly get any better.

So, have you had any “peak experiences” lately? Spill!

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With Christmas breathing down our necks, have you ever considered the real gifts we receive? There’s the goodies, rich food and tchotkes that decorate our lives, clutter our mantels and boast our material wealth.

Sometimes, it's places like this.

But what have you learned, experienced, and remembered? I mean really, truly, deep-down indelibly etched in your mind as a result of this season’s experience? What is under your (figurative) Christmas tree?

Did your dog gift you with a solid pin-down on a brace of ringnecks, that you turned into a picture-perfect double brought to bag? Maybe it was your puppy’s first find, a ground-level ornament of trembling point and stumbling retrieve. You may have found a new hunting companion of the human variety – who understands what’s really important in life. How’d that sugar-plum of a new shotgun perform?

Other times, it's who you share them with

I may be a slow learner, but over time I’ve concluded that birds, dog work, and beautiful places are just part of the equation. They may be bright, shiny adornments hanging on the tree, but when all is said and done, much of the joy and satisfaction comes from the people with whom we share our experiences. Even hunting alone, I often long for the camaraderie of others après hunt: to relive the high points, seek counsel on technique or strategy, or simply to remind me that when all is said and done, we are members of the same tribe.

You? What’s under your Christmas tree?

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What does yukky weather do to your hunting plans? I’m looking at a Courier & Ives winter scene: eight fluffy inches of snow against a deep green forest … all that’s missing is a one-horse open sleigh.

Did I mention the two wirehairs snuffling around in the white stuff, looking for God-knows-what and bringing half the snow load back into the house?

The original plan was a weekend in the chukar hills of eastern Oregon … steep canyons along a secret stream – the only place I’ve limited on valley quail, chukars and pheasants in the same day. But six hours driving each way, most on icy roads, then slogging through at least as much snow was daunting enough to incent me to indoor chores and office work instead. [Did you get my survey re: dog club needs?]

So where do you draw your line in the sand, er, snow? What conditions are you willing to tolerate and which aren’t? Would you hunt in the rain, mud and slush? What’s your, and your dog’s upper temperature-tolerance range?

I hate wind! Is there a type of weather that is completely, totally off the table for you? And how about practical concerns? We shot sporting clays last weekend in cold and fog and one gun (or one shell) experienced what muzzleloaders call a hang fire. My guess was, sticky firing pin due to cold affecting whatever lubricant was in the works. You?

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Buddy on point at Ravenwood. Gun at the ready?

Elusive bobwhite quail flummox Buddy and his Pointer friends at Ravenwood Lodge. So what’s new? Lots of flushes and some wacky shots punctuate this visit I made to hunt with my friend Ken Corbet. Enjoy it by going here.

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