Monday, January 30, 2012

Gone for a while

Well the season has come to an end for Riley and me. Wow! What a fantastic season we had. The weather cooperated more this year than I can ever remember. Nice dry slopes for 3/4 of the year. And to say there were lots of chukar and huns out there is an understatement.

My shooting was about par for the past 20 years. Birds per hour and per mile about what it has been for as long as I can remember. The hills were still there even though a few of them got a little steeper than I remember in the past, but we still got to the top.

I can't say enough about Riley. He has turned into a chukar getting machine. I don't think there is much he can't do with a chukar. He sometimes seems to know what they are going to do before they do. Riley's pace slowed a little this year. He seems to be more methodical with his pace and finds more birds per mile with less effort. He definitely has a nose and lets it lead him around the mountains. Riley's going to get a little couch time the next week or two.
Hopefully some of injuries and scars will heal up.

He did let me know that these fishing show on T.V. have to go. I'll find him a good hunting channel to watch.
As for me, I'm going to be working to clean up the mess we had up here from the snow we got a few weeks ago followed by a heavy rain storm. Our drive way turned into a river.

I've got two days to get this cleaned up and than I get to have my shoulder operated on. That is followed by an appointment with a long tube on the 9th. You guys over fifty know the procedure I'm talking about. Sometime shortly after that I'm scheduled to get some work done on my left knee because it is feeling a little neglected since my right knee has already been replaced.

Oh ya! I'll get my shotgun back from Browning in May. You remember, it's the gun that took the fall in the place of my body parts on one of my hunts this winter.

Anyhow, it's been a fun year. Since I haven't figured out how to get pictures from most of you guys, I hope maybe you'll send them to Upland Idaho where I can see all the fun things you all are doing while I'm recouping. As soon as I regain the use of my typing finger I'll be back posting on my fun spring outings.

One other thing. Remember guys, the next two and a half months are the best months for training on wild birds. Good Luck.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The two hour rule

It's pouring rain outside right now and supposed to keep it up most of the day so I have decided to take one of the last six days of the season off. I know, you can't get em if your not out there but a steady rain is not one of my favorite times to hunt. I don't know how productive it would be because I'm too much of a wuss to get out in these conditions and find out. So, Riley and I are sitting here planning the last five days of the season.

Last night I was at the Idaho Fish and Game open house meeting to discuss rule changes on the upland bird seasons. I visited with several fellow chukar hunters, several commissioners, and the bird biologist for the F&G, Jeff Knetter. My discussion with Jeff prompted me to write about my "Two Hour Rule". The past two years I have been participating with the F&G's bird wing program. He said I turn in more bird wings than  anyone else and I and  a few other hunters were definitely above the norm when it comes to success.

I have hunted with Jeff a few times and he has two great dogs. They have a little longer tails and hair than I care to take care of but I have seen them hunt and they are definitely great chukar dogs. Excuse my spelling, but they are of the Munsterlunder breed and are great bird dogs. I have hunted with several others that have great dogs of many different breeds and although I'm partial to my boys, there is very little bird finding potential between most of them. So having a good dog is not the only answer.

Anyone foolish enough to pursue chukars on a regular base has to be in descent shape and it's not real tough to know where the good chukar country is so why are some people more successful than others?

First off, I'm semi retired, which gives me more than my fair share of time to pursue chukars. That is not only during the season but off season also. I have given up almost all other hunting activities due to my love of my dogs and chasing the chukar allectoris. I try to be in chukar country most of the year with my dogs. I usually stay away and Turkey hunt during the nesting season but am back on the hill when I feel the birds are big enough to handle a little dog work.

Secondly, my dogs only hunt chukars and huns. I don't know if that really makes a difference but I feel like in work there are people that are jack of all trades and master of none and dog's are pretty much the same when it comes to different birds. A great example was last year I dabbled in hunting grouse with Riley. He did a good job but when the chukar season began he was spending as much time running to the nearest draw looking up in the trees or bushes for a perched grouse as he was looking for chukars. The same goes for quail. The way they usually are in big coveys under the brush and scurry around making there little sounds makes it pretty tough on a pointing dog. It also makes it tough on the hunter who has trained his pointing dog to hold until he flushes the birds. You don't get much shooting as you walk into the thorny cover and the birds finally scoot.

More than the fore mentioned reasons for some being more successful than others is what I call "The Two Hour Rule". It's a simple rule. You just have to prepared to be on the hill for two hours before you get your first shot at a chukar. I'm not saying it always happens that way, but many times that is what might happen. Most hunters give up way too soon. If they haven't found birds within the first hour or two they are back at the truck and driving to a new destination or taking out the fishing pole. When I chukar hunt the truck is parked and I am prepared to hunt that area for the day. Driving time is just waisted hunting time. There have been many times that I have walked for a couple of hours or more and never had a point or seen a bird. I often start feeling like it's going to be a bad bird day and then I remind myself of the words of a hunting partner of mine, Tom Thorpe, who passed away from cancer. You Gotta Believe.

Believing that it's gonna happen and  pushing on  usually makes it happen. Suddenly you are into the birds and the previous two hours of hiking the chukar mountains pays off. In the next hour you have more points and shots than you could have imagined happening because it's been so slow up until now. After you have either got x number of birds or depleted the shells in your vest you start your return journey to the rig. Usually it doesn't take as long on the return trip because your mind is consumed with the recent memories of great points and shots or maybe with discuss in how one person can miss so many easy shots after a dog works so hard to get you to that point. Either way you make it back to the truck with your trusty companion.

As you drive home with a tired dog sleeping in the passenger seat, also appropriately known as sitting shotgun, you plan your next hunt and wonder if the "Two Hour Rule" is going to apply again on that hunt. Are the birds going to be two hours away from the truck? Probably, so be prepared to suck it up, your canine partner is.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Zone

For the first time this year it's putting down some serious snow outside. The kind of snow that says it's better to stay off the roads. So, I decided to hang out in the warm house and reminisce over my chukar hunt two days ago. Nothing was special about this hunt but my poor shooting brought home the importance of a good hunting dog when it comes to chukar hunting.

Quite often I hear upland hunters say, "it's all about the dog". I have even said that a time or two myself. I, like most other chukar hunters, would never hunt chukars if I didn't have a dog. They are what makes the whole trip exciting and what's more, successful. But, in my opinion, it's not all about the dog but about the teamwork between me and my dog.

There isn't anything more beautiful than a pointing dog locked up on a bird. There's not a bit of movement, tail high (if they have a tail) and you could put a level on their back they are so straight. Thousands of pictures have been taken of dog's that show their ability to lock up on birds or scent of birds. I have hundreds of photos of my dog's on point. But as beautiful as the scene is, it doesn't tell the whole story. The story of how the hunter and the dog got to this moment and what was accomplished by this fantastic ability to hold point.

I hope that nobody takes offense to what I am about to say, but I think there is a lot of difference between a trial dog and a non trial dog's ability. I must admit, I have never been to a dog trial and my knowledge about them is just what I have heard or seen on T.V. It seems to me that those dog's are well trained to accomplish their jobs in a particular way and with a particular style or they are disqualified or not given the style points by the judge. These dogs will still produce birds but I feel they don't have the freedom of a plain old trained hunting dog.

Now, that I have stirred someones blood, let me explain. As the title eludes to, I feel that my dogs and I are often in the zone. You often hear of sports figures being in the zone with either their equipment or with other team mates. Everything is clicking and every movement is in sync. Producing a favorable outcome is almost effortless. It should be no different between a hunter and his dog. They are working for a common goal, and that is to produce birds.

The production of birds doesn't mean just a great point, but what happens during and after the point also. Tucker taught me to give him the freedom to be a bird dog and he would in turn help me get birds. He was the dominant predator and I my job was to close the deal. Now, Riley has taken the position of my prize pointing predator and he continues to amaze me of the canine ability.

Riley is not a huge ranging dog but ranges with a high nose that covers a lot more country than meets the eye. With the latitude I have given him he covers the country in a productive manner and seems to know likely places to find chukars. Just like with Tucker, I know to just follow his lead and we will eventually be into birds. It may be an hour or more before the find, but I know it's going to happen. When it does happen, that is when the teamwork comes into play. Riley and I have been on so many birds that we are most times in the zone with each other. He knows I am coming and how I will probably approach. I know he's not going to break unless there is a good reason. Most of the time the reason is because the birds are no longer there. At that point Riley will relocate on his own without a word from me. There are no deduction points for relocating so get back to do what he does far better than me, relocate them. Sometimes they have already taken flight and many times they have moved away from the original point. Either way, Riley has the freedom to do what he does best.

On our trip two days ago Riley and I were in the zone. The only thing that was in some other zone was my shooting. There is usually something good to say about the bad. This time, because of my poor shooting we had a longer stay on the hill which produced more birds and great dog work. I quit counting productive points at 22. I'll try and describe a few of the encounters so that you might be able to see what I mean by being in the zone and why I love hunting with my dog's so much.

Riley is on point approximately 150 yards away and is patiently waiting for my approach. Since he is below me I position myself to his right so not to shoot over him if the birds flush premature. Riley know that is where I'm coming in from and turns his head slightly to confirm where I am. As I move in front of him and about 20 yards to the right I see the quivering tail suddenly freeze and the intensity magnifies. Obviously he just heard or saw something that made him think they were about to flush.  I put my thumb on the safety and sure enough the birds explode on the next step. At this point Riley is looking for a bird to fall. Once again there is no deduction for him breaking so he can continue doing his thing. Since no bird fell and I didn't say dead bird he was off to find the next covey.

On another of his points I had moved about thirty yards out in front of Riley. He hadn't tried to relocate as I slowly progressed in front of him. I always try and move in about twenty yards to one side or the other of Riley as I approach the birds. It's usually to the right but Riley knows where I'm coming in at. Looking back at Riley, he is as tense as the moment I started to pass him. After hundreds of encounters with Riley, I know that means only one thing. The birds are right there. So, I turn and slowly walk towards him. Sure enough, about five yards in front of him a single busts from the cheat. Time in the field with each other has helped us to know what each other are thinking. I could have move another hundred yards down the hill and he would not move.

A prime example of thinking alike is honoring. This is not trained, but Riley honors me, just as Tucker did when he was alive. By honoring, I mean he'll actually stop and not move if he sees me walking slowly with my gun in the ready position. No different than a creeping dog. H e knows to stop and avoid him flushing the birds. The only way you get that is lots of hours in the field together. Riley even does it when we are in the field together without a gun. They sense the moment and are in the same zone that you are.

Another point Riley had that day produced a result I wasn't quite ready for but was pleased with the result. As I approached his point he suddenly busted down the hill about fifty yards and spun to his left and locked in. I figured he was going to bust some birds, which does sometimes happen. The wind was now at his back. I walked towards him and soon flushed about twenty chukars. Obviously he could see them moving away and circled them, trapping them between him and me. It  makes you wonder how many times that is what your dog was trying to do when you thought he was just rushing birds. A trial dog would not be allowed to do that because it would enforce bad habits but Riley and I were just in the same zone.

Sometimes Riley just looks me in the eyes and seems to tell me "I know where they are so just follow me." The next thing I know he is heading off to the next ridge where he immediately locks up. I don't know if he saw the birds go there or if he heard them. The one thing I know is that he knew they were there and he set out to show me. So, I headed over that way and about ten minutes later I was flushing a nice covey of chukar. I knew not to slow him down or try and turn him. He was on a mission and if it didn't work out he'd return to me and start on another quest.

Another part of being in the zone is the retrieve. When I do hit the bird, which was happening less that day than missing, I give Riley a lot of room for a retrieve. If it's a single or just a couple of birds he usually sees the bird go down and not a word has to be said. But often times a large covey takes flight in different directions and Riley doesn't see the bird go down. When that happens I can say dead bird and Riley will usually look to me for guidance in direction of the bird. Once he hits the scent it's usually a done deal. But at times I might have to move down the hill in the location of the fallen bird and help Riley in the direction. For a retrieving dog that would probably mean deduction points, but for me and Riley it is team work. I will also side hill to make the ascent easier for Riley on his retrieves. Carrying a bird straight up the hill is a lot of work and I do whatever I can to make it easier for him. Also, Riley would probably get deduction points for not bringing the bird straight to me. For some reason he likes to parade in front of me with the bird for a minute or so to show off his prize. All I have to do is tell him to bring it to me and he will bring it to within a step or closer to me and drop it. Once in a while he'll wait for me to take it from his mouth but not usually. Once again. no points added or deducted, but a bird in the bag.

My main thought here is that we spend so much time together that we usually know what each other is going to do, thus being in the zone. Most of our birds are shot in the manner described earlier, but I am not a purist that says if the bird is not pointed by my dog and flushed by me I won't shoot. There are times when a bird flushes wild through no fault of Riley or mine. If Riley rushes the birds to flight I will not shoot because he is supposed to be a pointing dog, not a flusher. That is the only major rule I have and for that reason Riley and I can enjoy the hunt and quite often be in the zone. To us, Chukar hunting isn't all about the dog but about the team and a finished job together.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The duct tape eight

As most of you know, each hunting trip is a different journey in itself. Some good and some not so good. My hunt today had a little of everything. Kind of like the Clint Eastwood movie, "The good,bad and the ugly."

The good is that I enjoyed a great day in Oregon chasing chukars and huns and am back here at home telling you about it. The amazing part of the good is I even brought eight birds back with me.

The day started out great. I hadn't been on the hill for a half an hour and Riley pointed the first covey of huns. One shot and a dead hun retrieved to hand. Fifteen minutes later, another point produced another hun from a second covey. Things were looking good and than my brain got in the way. I decided to go higher on the mountain for some chukars.

Riley got a couple points on the way up but I could see the birds running up hill in front of him. He tried to relocate and hold the birds but they finally took flight around the hill. It wasn't long before I saw a couple more covies of chukar flying wild and around the north slope. Figuring that would make a good start on chukars I found a decent deer trail and headed that way with Riley in the lead.

That's when the bad happened. Out of nowhere an elephant crossed the trail and tripped me. I tried to protect my gun but knew I had failed when I heard the cracking sound of wood. I lay there for a few minutes trying to decide whether my head was facing uphill or downhill and than realized my head was uphill because the blood from my nose was dripping on my chin. Not to worry though. Riley was right on that, licking me clean and wondering why I was just laying around. With his encouragement I was soon standing on the trail again. While standing there, I realized that elephant had also stomped on my back and ankle as he left. Boy were they sore.

Well, we can't let a little thing like a fall ruin our hunt. I picked up my shotgun and noticed quite a wobble in the stock and a few pieces missing. Riley was already off finding chukars so I needed to make a plan. The light bulb came on and I remembered the duct tape that I pack in my game vest and retrieved it. With two pieces of cardboard from my candy bar and the duct tape I soon had a firearm that fealt fairly rigid. What was going to happen when I pulled the trigger was a totally different matter.

It wasn't long before Riley was pointing a covey of chukar and waiting for me to make my usual swing into shooting position. As I moved in I thought to myself, "don't be afraid, just keep your eyes open". At the flush of the birds, I shouldered the shotgun and only shot once. Wow! A chukar fell from the sky and my shotgun is still together. I think it was the one I was shooting at. Riley was convinced it was as he retrieved the chukar to me. I can always depend on Riley to believe in me.
I checked the shotgun out and it was still some what rigid so we pushed on. Before long we had five chukars in the bag and the gun was getting pretty loose so we headed back down towards the truck hoping for maybe another point or two. I don't mind telling you I was keeping a close eye out for that elephant. I didn't think I could handle him stomping on me a second time. I was feeling a little sore.

Luckily the elephant stayed up on the hill waiting for some other unsuspecting victim to trip. Shortly before we got back to the truck Riley locked in one more time. I carefully inspected my gun. It was in good enough shape for another shot so in I went. As the huns flushed all around me I planted my feet and picked out a bird. I actually know I had my eyes open this time when I shot. The bird crumpled to the ground and I sat down waiting for Riley's delivery. I took the bird from Riley and rewarded him with the candy bar I had stolen the cardboard from. I unwrapped the duct tape from the shotgun and admired the crack down the stock and the two pieces of wood missing.

It was ugly but it stilll did the job.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy new year to all. Riley and I just hunted five days in a row and he told me it was time to take a day off before we finished the final month of the 2011-2012 chukar season. This is how he told me he was tired and needed a day off. As we got back to the truck Riley found a warm spot and assumed this position.
Since I started this blog I have met a lot of good people and learned a lot from some. Hopefully I have been able to save some a step or two along the way. I had one of our follower's ask a question yesterday and felt I might offer my opinion on it. Especially since I've been asked this question more than once before. He asked, "what do you do when your dog is on point way up the hill and you don't want to go up there or can't get there?"

This is my opinion and maybe there are circumstances that vary, but my answer is simple. You suck it up and get to the dog. You owe it to him/her. Your dog's job is to find birds for you and hold them, now it's time for you to do yours.

The long answer is, know yourself before getting your hunting companion. There are certain breeds that work closer and slower than others. They may not cover as much of the country, but they make it a lot easier on the lungs and legs. Each one of us is built differently and have different feelings about what is fun or not and we should get a dog that fits our individual style. If you are sold on a particular dog, as I am on the gsp, then at least let the dog know what you expect as a pup so you have some control on the range later on in the hunting days.

Sometimes I see Riley heading for an area that I don't care to hunt. Rock cliffs, rock slides, and thickets I wouldn't be able to shoot out  of are a few examples. In those cases I recall Riley and get him headed in a direction I prefer. But I never try and recall him if I know he's hot on scent. Once you've hunted with your dog enough, you can tell when he is just sniffing the air looking for scent or he's sniffing the scent looking for a bird to point.

To put it in dog words. Look again at the picture of Riley. If he can put the amount of energy it took to wear him out to this point finding and retrieving birds, the least I can do for him is to honor him by getting to him no matter where he is.