Monday, March 29, 2010

Dad



I'm going to get away from the chukar hunting and pass on my last hunting experience with my dad. It's kind of a reminder to also remember the elderly the same as you do your children. My dad lived for six years after this hunt but it was his last hunt.
Dad never did hunt a lot. He shot a few deer and pheasants but he spent most of his time working. He had eight children and a wife to provide for. My brother and I had taken up hunting at a young age and became quite avid. It came as a surprise when dad asked me to take him hunting at the age of 81. He hadn't picked up a firearm for over 25 years. I called my brother and we formulated a plan for the following Saturday. He would pick up dad and meet me at my house one hour before daylight. From here we would drive 15 minutes and start up the hill.
All went well until I parked my truck and suggested we start walking up the hill. Dad wanted nothing to do with that. It was still dark and he didn't want to be tripping over any rocks. I knew that dad would be moving slower on the hills than I like and losing a half hour or so wasn't going to help our odds, but it was his hunt. When it was light enough we unloaded out of the truck. Dad took the gun case out of the truck and I noticed it was Tom's rifle. He said Tom suggested he use it instead of his .270. Made sense to me since dad's gun probably wasn't sighted in.
So up the hill we went. Dad and I up the ridge and Tom off to push the brush. It was a plan that I schemed up to keep from running all over the hill. About one hour later we had traveled about a mile up the ridge. There was a nice four point coming our way. When I whispered to dad that there was a buck coming he answered where in the same voice he used to use to get my attention over the loud t.v. He finally saw the buck racing over the next ridge. Tom called on the radio and asked why dad didn't shoot and I jokingly said, "it wasn't big enough". A half hour later and a little further up the hill a three point showed up. He had no idea we were in the area. That was until I told dad to put the cross hairs on his chest and squeeze. Dad's remark of how the hell do you see through these things sent that buck running.
It was then that I realized the chances of dad bagging a buck were pretty slim. He had never looked through a rifle scope. His old .270 had open sights. Once again Tom radioed me as to what was the problem. I explained we were going to take a half an hour to learn how to center the scope and for him to sit tight. After we got the scope figured out we were on our way again. This time a fork horn and five does came bounding towards us. They stopped at about 75 yards and looked back towards where Tom was. Dad tried to pull up on the buck but was shaking too bad to make a shot. I immediately took my back pack off and put it on the ground for a shooting rest. I put the rifle on the pack and everything looked great to me. The next problem arose when I told dad to lay on the ground and shoot the buck in the chest. 81 year olds don't get down on the ground that easily. Especially when there are rocks laying all over the place. In fact dad couldn't get down there at all. I realize that, as I'm getting older and stiffer, I was asking a little much of him. After he tried, he thought he would shoot right in the middle of the herd and surely he would get one. I explained to him that this wasn't like the good old days where does were legal and he could only shoot the buck. He explained to me that was a stupid rule and he's never shot a buck in his life. Once again he forgot to talk softly and off the deer went. Another call from Tom who had been running his butt off. I explained quietly so that dad couldn't hear that this just wasn't going to happen. I told him that the only way dad would ever get a shot was if we found something about three feet tall for dad to lean on to make the shot. He also would need five minutes to get his sights on the deer. About half way down to the truck the same five does and buck were walking our direction. There was a big boulder about three feet off the ground between us and the deer. Dad was getting tired, so I mentioned we move over to the rock and take a break. I didn't mention anything about the deer. As we rested the buck move off by itself. I put my pack on the rock and rested the rifle on it pointed towards the does. I than told dad to practice with the scope seeing the does. I also made sure I told him not to shoot. After he was comfortable I said, "now look about fifty yards to the left and there is that buck". Dad calmly swung the rifle around and centered the cross hairs on the shoulder of the buck. Whoops one more problem as I waited for the report of the rifle. Dad says, "how in the hell do you take the safety off?" I told him not to move and reached over his shoulder to take the safety off. Five seconds later the shot of his life was fired and the buck dropped in his tracks.
I took the rifle with excitement and tried to give him a high five. Dad was never much into athletics so he was looking at me like what in the hell is all this hand swinging. I quickly realized the error of my ways and reached out and shook his hand like a man. He asked if we could sit and take off his boots before we go down and retrieve his deer. He thought he had picked up some rocks in his boots. One more problem. I think he had these boots all his life and his feet probably changed since the last time he wore them 25 years ago. What had happened was that his socks had slid down and balled up in the toes of his boots. That had to be miserable. We finally moved down to the buck where Tom was anxiously waiting. After the hand shakes and pictures we packed the deer the rest of the way to the truck.
As you can see by the pictures it is not a monster, but it was a real trophy to dad, Tom and myself. Thanks dad for asking me to take you hunting again.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

First day of spring





Today Barb decided to walk with me and the boys. We hiked back into a place where she shot her second turkey a few years back. The loop is nine and a half miles and usually is a great place for wildlife viewing. We were a little early this year and the only wildlife we saw were turkeys the dogs flushed over our head. But there were many other treasures along the way. We saw wolf tracks, moose tracks, and of course the many turkey, elk and coyote tracks. The boys found an elk bone to chew on and my lovely bride found a freshly shed elk horn. We didn't have one point or even see a hun, chukar, or grouse but had a great day anyhow. Although today is the first day of spring, it's still winter not too far up the mountain. About three more weeks and the green up will be at the elevation Barb and I were at and the bears will start venturing out of their dens.

Friday, March 12, 2010

day in the hills







Seems like in a lot of the web and blog sites things have really slowed down now that hunting season is over. But as I've mentioned many times in the past, this is a great time to be in the hills. Of course, when isn't. I like to Turkey hunt, so I use scouting for turkeys as a great excuse to get my dogs out. The dogs will even point them if they'll hold.
Today we didn't see any turkeys but we saw three different species of upland birds which the dogs were tickled to point all the same. We found five rough grouse, 7 blue grouse, and a number of paired up huns to work on. Although we miss Tucker a lot we've found the best way to honor our lost companion is to go out and do what he did best. Find birds.
Here is a few of the pictures from today. I hope the rest of you are getting out and enjoying your dogs as much as I am mine.

Monday, March 8, 2010

spring training on wild birds

This has been a perfect transition into spring period this year. The snows have been few and the days have warmed, melting the snow. With the melting of the snow there is a lot of water, so I don't have to pack water for the dogs. I'm not packing a gun either. It's almost like walking the hills without weights. The mountains are not frozen anymore and the dirt is soft, giving me better traction than I had the last two months of the season. The soft dirt almost feels like a cushion coming down hill, not jarring every bone in the body with each step. So there is no excuse for getting the dog out for some spring training and staying in shape myself.
The winter was kind to the birds and there seem to be plenty left for breeding later this spring. All the huns seem to be paired up and the chukars are starting, although I still see coveys of ten to twenty occasionally. These birds are great for training, especially the paired up huns. They seem to hold pretty tight. I've already got Riley back to good form as far as holding point until I fire the blank pistol, so it would seem that training may not be so necessary, but every minute in the chukar hills together is training for both of us. I learn a little more about him each time just as he figures out how to use the wind better and places the chukars tend to congregate. Being out together three times a week not only is good training, it is also great conditioning as well as helping us learn to work as a team together. It is a team sport. I wouldn't be able to find the birds if it wasn't for the dogs and they wouldn't get to retrieve if it wasn't for me and the gun.
Which brings up two more parts of the hunting equation that I feel necessary for my success. I always pack a frozen chukar along in my pack for retrieving. Two or three times during our hikes, I flush the pointed birds and shoot the blank pistol. I'll throw the bird in a direction where the dog is not watching and then call his name and try and give him hand signals towards the bird. Once again, this helps the dog to know we are a team. If he doesn't see the bird and there is one down, he can count on me to help him find that bird.
The last point is shooting. Although it may not be considered conditioning it is. As you get older the reflexes slow. So once a week I take my trap thrower out (without the dogs) and shoot a box or two of clay pigeons. I have an automatic thrower that throws the clays randomly so I don't know whether they are going to be high, low left, right, or straight, thus helping to keep my reflexes honed. I have to be able to do my part in this team relationship.
When the dogs and I go on these training jaunts I usually try to treat the walk just as a hunt. I go at least four miles and 1500 feet of elevation. We go to many different locations, keeping both the dogs and me guessing. It's also a good way to scout. There are times when we only see a few birds and times when we are constantly on them. I have a few places I could go where the dogs would constantly find quail to point, but that's not what we do. We hunt chukars when there are times when you might go a couple of hours before finding the birds. Riley is now three years old and Dakota eleven so I don't need to keep them on birds to keep them interested. The quail are perfect for young pups.
Although I've managed to put a few pounds on Riley, I think his ribs will always show as much as we go out. He and Dakota love it, and I love taking them. Because of this spring training I'm keeping in decent shape. As you get older, this is very important. Once you get out of the habit, it becomes hard to get back into the rhythm of walking those steep hills.

Monday, March 1, 2010

special characteristics

Most of the people who read this blog probably hunt with dogs. How many of you have hunted with a dog that seemed to have some special ability or character to it? Hopefully this post will jog your memory of a past or present dog. I've spent the last six days reminiscing hunts that Tucker and I had together and I could write a book of memories. But Tucker had one quality that I never saw in another dog. I'm sure some of you might have seen a dog do this before but Tucker is the only dog I've seen do it.
Tucker and I were very close. He would almost go into a panic mode if we were out of sight for long on hunting trips. I've had others say that Tucker would approach them thinking they were me and then spin around in panic mood looking for me. I think this is why Tucker began backing off points and coming back to find me. It happened quite often and my hunting partners saw it quite regularly. Tucker could be on point 300 yards away and as long as I was in sight he would hold point. Sometimes it would seem like forever as I scaled the mountain to get to him. But, if I was out of sight for five minutes, Tucker would show up, make eye contact, and head back to where the birds were. He would return to the same spot he was holding the birds from earlier. It was as if he had marked the location on a gps. I've had guys watching from the next ridge and tell me later what had happened. They said Tucker would back out slowly and then turn to find me.
Things such as this are just special characteristics dogs develop. They can't be trained. They are learned from experience in the field. It is one of the many things that made Tucker special. The thing that made him most special is that he was my dog.
I'm hoping that each of you take a moment to think of your canine friends, past and present, and remember some of the special things they have done to enrich your lives. Just like Tucker they are special just because they are your dogs. If you got something to comment, please do. It should feel good to brag on your buddy, or maybe even make for a laugh on some of the crazy things they do or have done. I've got several of them on Tucker too.
Most of all, the next warm day you have off, take a break, enjoy the sun and your favorite beverage, and remember those good times with your dog. Today was 61 degrees and that was exactly what I did. I came out with a great feeling knowing the special times Tucker and I spent together. Believe me, you'll be hearing more about him.