Thursday, February 24, 2011

one year

My mentor and greatest hunting companion has been gone one year today. I went high on his favorite hill and fired a reload with his ashes to let Tucker know I miss him. As the ashes fell to the ground with the falling snow I felt at ease to know Tucker is hunting on a mountain where chukars are everywhere.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To shoot or not to shoot

I was having lunch with another chukar hunter yesterday and dogs were the topic of discussion, as usual. This was Mike's second year of chukar hunting and he has done a very fine job of training Aspen, his GSP. She is doing a very good job of pointing and loves to retrieve. She needs some work on backing and we'll be working on that in the upcoming months. I only hunted with Mike twice, but I could tell he was very safe minded when it came to firing a shot.
Well, after visiting with him yesterday, I found that it was more than just safety. He didn't want to shoot around me if his dog wasn't locked up. Every shot he saw me take was when Riley was locked dead solid on point and figured that was the way it was supposed to be. He told me he finally had to start shooting birds that either he flushed or the birds flushed once in a while or the shooting was going to be minimal.
He finally asked me if I only shot birds that Riley had pointed and I flushed. My answer was an emphatic ALWAYS SOMETIMES. It seems I was lucky and he saw me shoot four times at birds that were held perfect but he didn't get to see what happened after Riley and I disappeared over the rise.
I wish my dogs were so good that it was always a point, my flush, a shot and then a retrieve. But neither me or the dog are that good. Anyone that says that the only time they shoot a bird is when it is just right either gets very few birds or is distorting the truth.
The first year of training/hunting a dog I try not to shoot busted birds or passer bys, but after I know the dog knows what he's doing I change my thoughts some. Every dog and every hunter is different and we should style our hunting behind the dogs and the hunter. Too many hunters read books and magazines from trainers and trial dogs and figure that's the way it should be. Those big time trialer's and trainers are making a living off those dogs and if they don't win so many awards who is going to buy a pup from them? Most of those dogs are taken out of the field once they make a mistake and returned to retry another day. Most hunters wouldn't make it a half mile from the truck if that were the rules in hunting.
Mike admittedly didn't get a  much shooting last year as he would have liked. It didn't hurt anything but didn't help much either. Shooting birds is part of the equation also. Dog points, hunter flushes, hunter shoots and then the dog retrieves. That's the way it is supposed to work. So what do I do when the bird flushes wild or the dog flushes the bird?
It depends on the situation for me and my dogs. We are not perfectionists, but I want to keep it hunting with a partner (my dog) and not just killing. I try and never shoot at a bird that is intentionally busted by the dog. They know what their job is and that is to point birds and hold them. There is an exception to every rule. For me that is when those darned chukars are doing mach 1 up the slope and my dogs try pointing them but they just keep on moving up. There is a point when the dog gets tired of pointing running birds and finally rushes for the flush. If those birds fly over me I'm going to try and take one down. I can't think of many other times I'll shoot at a bird that my dogs intentionally chase up.
There are many other times that aren't perfect that I'll shoot at the chukars also. There are the times when I flush the birds and my boys have nothing to do with the flush. If the situation is safe, I'll shoot and then direct the dog for a retrieve if he doesn't see the bird go down. There are the times when the birds flush from a point before I flush them. This is no fault of the dog so why not take the shot and reward the dog for a good job done.
Another question Mike asked was if I made Riley stay until I released him for the fetch? Once again, I'm not a perfectionist so i let my dogs break on the flush. There are many pro and cons on the subject such as safety or the dogs busting more birds when he breaks but I deal with those issues in my own ways. I'm responsible for my dogs safety and I don't care if I get more then one bird out of the covey.
These two pictures are a good example of what I'm talking about when it comes to safety. This first picture Riley is holding a pair of huns between him and I.

I move in for the flush and after I flush the birds Riley breaks. As you can see there is not a safe shot. Possibly if Riley hadn't broke I might have been able to take a shot. A broke dog would still be at point at this stage but I'm not willing to add the additional pressure to my dogs.
Hunting for me is pleasure. I don't have to kill a bird to have an enjoyable hunt,  but I do base my success on the number of birds that me and my dogs bag while hunting together as cooperative partners. A few of my most memorable hunts were with the game bag empty but the most successful hunt I ever had was with 8 chukars and 8 huns weighing me down after my dog and I worked together as a team.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Staying in chukar hunting condition

It seems like every year about this time I get questions from my family concerning my senility. My kids are both health nuts and spend hours at the gym and my wife has her little home gym she likes to use. Me, well I'm a fool and just go back out in the wind, rain, snow, or shine and walk the hills. It doesn't make much sense to them.
I graduated from Boise State in the early 70s and used a track scholarship to pay my way. I was a sprinter and know all the benefits of weight training, running the steps, and all of the other activities involved with being an athlete. As I aged I continued working out and joining the local gym, playing basketball, racquetball, walking on the stair stepper and so on. I quit playing basketball at 44 because my back would ache the morning after and it was getting harder to roll out of bed to get to work. It occurred a couple of years after that when Tucker came along that I didn't have time to work, go to the gym, spend time with the family, and work my dog. Something had to go and it was the gym. That seemed the smart thing to do since my knees and back were starting to feel the effects of climbing ladders all day at work and then going to the gym.
Since that time I have made the outdoors my gym. I kill two birds with one stone. Work my dogs and also work myself. At first I only could get a couple of times a week because of my job or family responsibilities but now that I am semi retired I make sure to get out four times a week depending on the weather. My only rule is that I have to go at least four miles or 2000 feet in elevation to consider it a work out. I still stretch every day and maybe do a set of crunches and push ups now and then but I can't find any excitement about going back to the traditional work outs.
Of course while I'm out I have to respect the others that are out there and give them their space.
The elk are in a critical stage. In three months they will be calving so they need to save as much energy as possible. I always leave these areas immediately, and hopefully don't disturb the deer or elk.
My boys always find some treats to show off a long the trail.

I also try and go a different area each time I wander off. The reasons are obvious. Not only does it add to the excitement it allows me to find new places to hunt or maybe not to hunt. For those who like working out at the gym, let's call it sizing up the opponent. In this case the opponent is the hill. I use to watch an opposing player in a racquetball tournament before our match would come up. Now I walk the hills to see what opportunities it might present. I look for a lot of this kind of sign.
As I mentioned as I'm huffing and puffing up the hills and getting that burning feeling in my legs and chest I get to do a little training. I always dress my boys in full combat gear the same as me. The only thing different is I'm not carrying a shotgun and shells which takes about 9 or ten 10 pounds off. I make sure everyone gets their turn at pointing and honoring.

After the boys have made it clear that they know what they are doing I take advantage and move out front with the camera. Since it is taking the place of my gun I find what kind of a shot I am. As you see I need to get a lot more lead on this pair of huns.
I shot over the top of this chukar. Maybe this relates to why I only shoot 60% at chukars and have to spend a little more time at the sporting clays course.
The end result is I really enjoy my work out. Just like a snow skier can't wait for the next time he hits the mountain, a tennis player looks forwards to tomorrows match, hockey player waits for his next game, or the gym enthusiast can't wait to get on his treadmill, I look forward to each day I can get on the mountain with my dogs. Another month from now I will start scouting out for turkey season. My dogs will be along since we are only looking for birds and sign. When the season opens they will be missing the days I hunt but I make a point of making sure I still get them out at least twice a week.
At 60 years of age, the only thing I find hard about my training method is the first half hour. The body seems to take a little longer to get the lube in the right places, but once it is lubed I can go anywhere I did at 30. It takes a little more time than going to the gym a mile a way and you don't get to turn the T.V. on during your work out to see what's happening in Egypt, but the view you get is spectacular.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February training.

Although we've been out a couple of times this month today was our first training or photo session of the month. This is the best time of the year for training in my opinion. Especially on wild huns. They are already starting to pair up and those places where you found some nice coveys last hunting season are starting to scatter and present lots of training possibilities. My boys had a great year but wanted to help me flush the birds towards the end of the season. That's what I worked on today. Making sure they get back in tune to who does the flushing.
In another month the chukars will start pairing up and offering another good chance for multiple training ops in a day on wild birds.
Here are some of the pictures of our outing today.
Riley pointing with Dakota honoring.
Dakota pointing with Riley honoring from over 100 yards. Dakota used to honor from a distance like this but as he got older started fudging some to make sure he gets into the action. The wild horses are enjoying watching the dogs work.

I walked in and flushed a pair of huns but only got one in the picture.
Then I took a close up of the horses before they snorted a 50 gallon bucket of air at me and ran off.
Here's a long cross canyon point and honor with Riley being the pointing dog.
A couple more of Riley's points.
Once again I flush a pair.
Another point and honor.

Riley's last point of the day as I move around him taking pictures while Dakota is honoring.

And then turned and flushed these two huns for a possible double.

What a perfect day on the hill.