Monday, January 31, 2011

The sum of it all

Well, another great hunting season has come and gone. There were many ups and very few downs to the season and the downs were so minor you can hardly include them when you sum up the experiences we had.
To start the season, upland hunters were made aware of the probable availability of chukars/huns by the usual helicopter survey by the Idaho Fish and Game. The counts were similar to last year which was slightly below the 10 year average. To my delight and many of the other upland hunters I visited with, the counts seemed quite higher than they estimated. For me personally, out of 25 five years of keeping records I only show two years that were comparable or better than this season.
Part of the reason for the poor helicopter survey might have been due to the young birds. There were many young birds in the early season due to late hatching conditions. Many of these birds may have not been able to fly well during these flights by the game department.
Birds at times were hard to find, but when you finally found them there were lots.. I had several days where I would only see a covey in the first couple of hours of hunting and then see fifteen coveys in the next two hours. Many times this year I saw coveys with over fifty birds in them. Early in the season I saw very few huns but as the season progressed I found more and more huns, even in the places I hadn't seen any earlier in the season.
To sum up my season, I went chukar/hun hunting a total of eighty times this year. No hunting adventure was less than four miles or under 1200 feet of elevation gained. Riley hunted solo with me 59 times, Dakota 9 times, and I hunted with both dogs 12 times. That's a lot of entertainment for one season. We got to see a wide variety of wildlife on our trips. We encountered one cougar, many deer, elk, coyotes, skunks, and walked among a host of bighorn sheep. We had a first this year. We saw a moose and he was in an area that you would never expect to see one. Another first for me was seeing a mule deer actually drop an antler. I jumped him from his bed and he dropped one side as he bounced off.
As I said there were very few negatives for the 2010 chukar/hun season. The biggest downfall was my shooting. I usually shoot in the mid 60% area on chukars but fell to a dismal 59%. The season started like gang busters and ended up in the cellar. The only excuse I can come up with is that we had an unusually snowy and cold December and January. The frozen ground and deeper snow made footing hard to establish at times. Those same conditions kept the birds on the burnt off slopes which made getting to them harder. The only other bad things that happened this year were the normal adverse things that happen on hunting trips. Riley got stitched up a time or two and lost a toe nail, I had several cuts and bruises, along with a misaligned nose, and I have some new battle scars on my guns.
The pluses to the season are many. Too many to name them all. Probably the best thing that happened in the 2010 hunting season was having my son hunt with me on three occasions and my eight year old grandson tag along with me on another. My son, Doug, a 34 year old who spends a lot of time in the gym, kept Riley and I hustling up and down the hills. In fact, on our last hunt yesterday we went further and gained more elevation than any other trip this year. I also have to admit his shooting even made me feel like I was good. Conner, my eight year old grandson, insisted on we keep going until we get a limit of chukar. We ended up going 5 1/2 miles and climbing 1500 feet of elevation. I was ready to head down for his sake but he wanted nothing to do with it.
My dogs had nothing less than a spectacular year. Dakota, in his twelfth season, didn't hunt quite as much. When the hunts would be through, I could tell his hips would hurt so I decided to limit his outings. He took his last hard hunt January 6 this year and rewarded me with a limit of chukar before we came off the hill. Riley, four years old now, just kept on keeping on. He seems to be tireless and has perfected everything I expect from a hunting companion. Both dogs made countless points and retrieves that seemed almost impossible. Although our lost bird count was up a little this year over the previous years it was still only .057%.
As all upland hunters know, it's about the dogs. Mine fill my life with excitement. Especially the 2010 season. But along with the dogs are the new friends that come along from season to season. Upland friends seem to be a special bunch. They all seem to share that same love for their canine partners. Besides my family I was fortunate enough to hunt for the first time with several others. I spent many days with a new friend, Jeff and his munsterlanders, Kirklan and his four variety of great hunting dogs, Jon and his Braque du Bourbonnais, and Jon and Deb and their GSP pup. Not a one of these people have a dog that wouldn't be a pleasure to hunt behind but I have to admit to a special appeal to Jon and Deb's Neka. Being that she was such a young pup, watching her work and learn was especially exciting and I'm looking forwards to seeing her become a seasoned veteran. I met all of these people through the Upland Idaho Forum and traded conversations with many others through this site. There seems to be a special group of upland hunters that visit this site often.
The number of birds put in the bag this year is of no importance. The way my dogs and I got them is. The forty two different locations we hunted, and the sights and sounds we encountered while there are. The thousands of points and many retrieves are what it is all about to me. In the end, my hunts can be summed up by how well my dogs and I work together and respect each others ability to perform their duties. When I add it up we are 100%.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Old photos

Just reminiscing over some old hunting pictures of Tucker and I came upon these old photographs. They were taken with an old camera that wasn't digital.
This first picture was taken while Tucker was pointing what I thought was chukars. When I got to the brush this is what was staring back at me.
This was a spring outing when Tucker, Dakota and I came upon a fawn. Mama wasn't too happy with our presence and continually charged the dogs trying to get them to leave.

In this last group of pictures, I was hunting with Tucker and we approached a herd of elk. We hung back until the herd moved over the ridge and then went back to hunting. Suddenly this lone yearling stood up and watched Tucker and me. It seemed fearless so I took a series of pictures wondering how close I could get. The only thing I can figure is that the elk was fast asleep while the others left and when he woke up he didn't know how to react without the rest of the herd. In the last photo I backed up and made Tucker stand by the elk, which he wasn't real happy about. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canine intelligence

I've heard and read over the years that dogs only remember a certain number of commands. The number varies depending on who you talk to. I've also heard that animals don't reason. I am not a animal behaviorist or a professional dog trainer so I can't give an educated answer to this but I spend a lot of time with my dogs so I can give my opinion on my dogs intelligence.
I'll start with reasoning and figuring things out. If a dog can't reason, how is it that during Tuckers last years he figured out how to fake sleep until Barb would walk out of the room before he would sneak into the kitchen and steal something off the cabinets?  This trait might be genetic because his son Dakota now does the same thing. How does a dog know when you are about to go bird hunting even when you try to hide the fact? As the dog matures, how does the canine know the difference between a meadow lark and a quail? I could go on and on but I believe that at least MY DOGS learn to figure things out because they learn associating and reasoning without the help of me.
Intelligence is a much different subject in my opinion. Dogs intelligence is different just like the IQ of humans. Different breeds of dogs are said to be smarter than others and intelligence is even different within the individual breeds. In my opinion Tucker was a very intelligent dog while his son, Dakota just use the gifts of a hunting dogs nose to find birds. That being said I'm going to use Riley as an example of what I consider a intelligent dog. Not because he can add or subtract, but because he has developed his own style of finding birds for me.
First off, he now has fantastic work ethics. There is probably a better word for this, but it's all I can come up with. By work ethics, I'm talking about his work habits when we are not in the best of hunting habitat or walking a road to a hunting spot. He hasn't always been this way but has learned to save his energy for the actual hunting. I'll use a friend's pup as a prime example. J.C.'s pup Neka is a bird finding machine at eight months old. I watched her a couple of different times looking for the elusive chukar. She quarters and ranges searching for birds. She is always at mach 1 speed. When she hits scent she slams the skids on to a stylish point. It is a beautiful thing to watch. Anyone who visits the Upland Idaho site has seen pictures of her along with her two sisters, Sky and Birdie. I haven't got to see the two sisters, but I understand they are of the same mould.
Anyhow, that is how Riley hunted his first two years. The more country you cover the more birds, right? That's how a pup full of enthusiasm thinks. Riley is now on his fourth year and his gait has slowed to a more deliberate pace. He is going about two thirds the distance he did two years ago but still covering the same distance. He has learned to save energy on the places that don't hold birds and trot straight to the areas that do. He will walk a straight line until he gets about three hundred yards away and then hunt the wind back towards me rather than to quarter back and fourth with the wind at our back. He has learned to utilize the draw thermals to find birds and has often walked me in on birds three hundred yards away. At the end of a hunt he seems to know that we are done and will help me find the trail that leads to the truck. He'll usually be there a couple hundred yards before me and unless he smells a bird from the trail he will save his energy for tomorrows hunt. For lack of the proper word that is what I consider dog ethics.
Another way Riley shows intelligence is the way he approaches a ridge. When he was young he would barrel over the top but now he slows testing the wind as he gets close. If the wind is at our back he will show back up below or above me pointing the draw we were about to abandon. Riley doesn't always nail the birds but his percentage is far above 50%. Many times I will come over a hill to find him semi locked up. As soon as we make eye contact he starts moving towards where he thinks the birds are in a slow deliberate move and we eventually get a lock up or find where the birds have been. A younger dog or even an older dog that hasn't quite the experience or intelligence will usually push to get to close to the birds in that situation and the shooter probably would never even see the flush.
Intelligence in dogs is due to experience in my opinion. The more you have your pup out there experiencing the hunt the more he learns how to handle situations. Riley also uses his ears a lot. I have seen him stop on a side hill and listen to chukars on the next ridge. Many times he will head that way, not wasting any energy covering the country. In his mind why waste time. Although he might bust the birds sometimes or it might take me a while to get to him, more often than not he will have the birds pinned by the time I get there. He will often use his sight to perform the same activity when the chukars are running the opposite hill.
I can also say the same about retrieving. When we first started hunting we had to look hard for downed birds but now through experience Riley knows how to use the wind to locate a crippled bird.
Intelligence in a dog is gained by experience. Dogs can't speak so they have to experience situations in order to learn. We, as humans, can speak. That's probably our biggest draw back when it comes to training our hunting partner. We don't know when to shut up. I don't hunt around people a lot but I often hear hunters whoaing their dog before he goes over the ridge. How is the dog going to learn to hold birds if you are always going to heal your dog before you walk over? Many hunters know where the birds have landed or are more likely to be so they direct the dogs to an area instead of letting them find the birds. Those dogs are not going to have the intelligence to find birds in new country without guidance. How many times have you seen a guy calling his dog to a downed bird only to have the dog show up with the bird from 100 yards away?
Range is also derived from intelligence. A smart dog knows when it's time to get out there and find birds and when it's time to stay close where the birds are.
Yes, I believe some dogs are more intelligent than others. Of course none are as intelligent as mine. J.C., Neka is going to be a very smart dog and maybe she already is. But it's due to you getting out there and letting her do what she was bred for. I hope you aren't offended by me using you for this analogy, but unfortunately for you, you are the only person with a young dog that I got to hunt with this year.
Tucker taught me a lot. The main lesson I took away from his training was simply "give me a chance."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Retiring Dakota

After 12 hard years of hunting chukars for me, Dakota has made it obvious that the steep mountains are becoming too much. It's time for him to retire to the couch and maybe get in a few easy hunts next year. The decision became easy for me shortly after we arrived home from our hunt today. Dakota had a hard time getting himself up in the back seat of the truck after the ride home and I had to lift him down. After his dinner he laid on his blanket in front of the T.V. When I went over to pet him he  had a hard time getting his back hips up.
Those of you that follow the blog know that Dakota is the son of Tucker. Dakota was the runt of the litter but has his dads heart. He was never the athlete his dad was, but was a quick learner and became a first class hunting dog by his first season. He and Tucker became a great team and were soon known as Team Tuckota. Chukars weren't safe when the two of them were in town.
Dakota was also a great solo hunter. He was built a little closer to the ground so he didn't cover the country like Tucker or his relief dog Riley. Although he holds point forever, he has never been the dog that would let me get 10 to 20 yards ahead of him. He liked being in the action. This last year was no exception. He started figuring out ways in which to circle the birds once I got ahead of him so he didn't miss anything. But put him with another dog and he would honor like a pro.
As time has progressed, his tail became less stiff and almost tucked. Maybe that is due to his bad hips. But he was staunch none the less. He is also quite deaf now which leads to a quite a bit of uncertainty at times. He doesn't hear the birds when they take off. He spends as much time looking for me as for birds now. A few times he has been confused as to where I was and would bark enthusiastically when he would locate me. All of these things have lead to a more cautious hunting dog. Here are a few of his points today.
Dakota's strong point had to be his retrieving. He was relentless and lost very few birds in his hunting career. He would often beat Tucker to the retrieve and towards the end of Tucker's hunting days he relieved his dad of many long retrieves.  That made it easier for Tucker during his last hunts. Today was no different. He retrieved every bird to me although it took much longer to gain the elevation I was at.

My hopes are that Dakota will have several years of rest around the house left. We will still enjoy many outings together but at a lot slower pace. I do hope to get him out on maybe an easy hunt or two next year, where just getting one point will be sufficient. But Until that time I am happy to remember Dakota's last point and limit.
After I wrote this I turned around to find that Barb had covered Dakota. I think he'll have a good and soft life from here on.