Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Finishing touch on the 2018 season.

Tomorrow I'm going in to get some hernia's fixed up. Nothing serious but they kept getting bigger through the hunting season and it's time to get fixed up so me and the dog's can enjoy our spring hikes and photographing.

Since I'm not feeling much like sleeping tonight I thought I'd show off my last hunt of the season which was today. The pictures of the dogs is pretty much a mirror of what I've been able to see all season.
Jake was the same stud he has been for six years now and Grady performed far better than I could have expected. He'll turn 1 in 16 days and has already had over 300 points to his credit. Some turned out great and some more like a first year puppy. But, by allowing him to be a puppy he has gained a huge drive to find birds.
He bumped a lot of birds this year, mainly because he outran his nose. He runs faster than any dog I have ever had and by the end of the season he was covering the country beautifully instead of making just long runs. He doesn't check in as often as I would like but I think it may be because he sees Jake and that's as good as seeing me.
Jake on the other hand checks in regularly and watches for any change in direction. Although he gets out there a ways still, usually he is the closer of the two dog's. Jake has no problem finding birds and waiting for my approach.
One of the things that amazes me the most is that even though the dogs run in their own directions and are hunting for themselves, they quite often find each other on points. Both honor each other although it took a little longer for Jake to finally except Grady's points. The only problem we are now having is when I walk out front of their points and I get about 30 yards ahead of them, one or the other will get a little nervous and before long they are racing to help me flush. It's a easy habit to break this spring when I don't have a gun in my hand.
I've always had very good luck with retrieving. Maybe not to hand, but getting my boys to find down birds and get them back to me. Usually retrieving chukars is so steep that I feel grateful when my dog runs all the way down the slope to get the bird and back up the slope with it in his mouth. I know he wants to get it out of his mouth as soon as possible and I allow it. For some reason, not of my doing, Grady likes me to take the bird from his mouth which has been a real thrill for me.
There is usually a race for a downed bird but once one of the dog's have the bird the other lets him have it. At first Grady tried to take the bird but soon figured he wasn't going to get it and would let Jake finish the retrieve. Jake quite often lets me take the bird from his mouth now because he doesn't want to put it down and have Grady claim it. 
Although I've had some real trying days with the two of them, they have become quite a team and I'm getting to trust Grady more and more each trip. I'm having fewer times when I wonder why Grady seems to be busting the birds, and also Jake, and realize that the conditions can't always be right for a point. As I watch them work I realize that more often than not the boys will find the birds and hold them. Sometimes excitement takes over and I don't want to take that away from them just so I can always be successful. They are usually working as a team member and that's all I can ask.
As far as the hunter goes. I also had some up and down days. I didn't keep track of my shooting this year but I guess my percentage went down some. A couple of trips I really let it get to my head and would have had better luck throwing my shotgun at the birds. Yesterday I got five birds with 17 shots and most of them were pretty easy shots. 
That was going to be my last day out this year and I was pretty disappointed in myself for ending it this poorly. Then a chukar hunting friend from Washington called me to talk dogs and just by talking with him I got excited to hit it one more day. Dave Schuler informed me he was looking for another pup since his current shorthair was nine years old and showing some wear. Now that doesn't seem odd until I mention the fact that he is 77 years old and had to miss 2 and 1/2 months due to a torn achilles tendon. 77 and ready to start  another chukar dog. What a stud. I figured I could muster one last hunt and try and make a better ending hunt for the season. Today my percentage improved to eighty percent.
Jake and Grady were even excited for me and now we are all ready to take a few weeks to appreciate what God has given us. 
69 chukar trips this year. One more than last year. Thank you to my wonderful wife, Barbara for giving me the freedom to live life to it's fullest.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Testing your limits

Everyone that has chukar hunted knows how frustrating it can be. There are hundreds of things that can go wrong on a chukar hunt. Some times just getting to your hunting spot can be a challenge. Then you have to figure out where the birds will be this time, whether you want to challenge yourself on the frozen steep hills, will the birds be wild, is your dog going to act like a chukar dog should or is he going to act like a pup on his first hunt?

Even when everything seems to be going right, you move in on a solid point, ready for the shot and as the birds flush a rock slips out from under your feet and sends you to your back side as you watch the birds race to the next ridge. Or maybe the birds flush at 50 yards and you empty your gun without seeing a feather fall and then the rest of the covey flushes at ten yards away. And the times the mountain is so steep the swinging shot sends you and your gun rolling down the hill. I could go on and on but if you have chukar hunted much you know how many things can mess with you. Sometimes you might even feel like the golfer who just shanked a shot and proceeded to snap his club in half.

Conner and I were on a hunt today and he found this shotgun on the hill.
We've found a lot of things in the past but this was a first. By the way the barrel was bent and the stock was broke off it was easy for us to figure the gun was broke intentionally. Maybe not, but we surmised that the person had just emptied his gun on a covey of chukar and once again no birds fell from the sky. Being tired from the long hike in he finally broke and slammed his gun over a rock and then grabbed the barrel and broke the stock.
That may not be at all what happened, but we all know how chukar hunting can work on your mind. I know I've been close to the breaking point a few times. Let your imagination go and maybe you can come up with a better story.

And how about these glasses. I found them in a place where I can't imagine anyone but a chukar or bighorn hunter would be.
One person told me that he had heard that Elton John was a chukar hunter and maybe he lost them. You think about it and maybe you can find some reasons for the strange things we find back in those places where we think no one else has ever been. I'm up for any possible answers.

Two more days for me.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

January hunting with pictures

The weather outside today is a rain and snow mix and tomorrow is supposed to be more of the same, so we decided to pass on the hunting and hang out at home. That's our excuse but the real reason is we are whipped from yesterday's excursion. Thank God for Barbara's patience with us laying around moaning and groaning.

I finally pulled myself off the couch and decided to post some pictures of our last two hunts along with some descriptions of how Jake and Grady's year progressed. With me having only 9 more possible hunting days so I probably won't be taking the camera out of the vest much, but doing more late season training. Unless something unusual happens this will be my last hunting post for this season. Did I hear someone say "hooray"?  I'm going to punish you more by showing off lots of pictures of the boys on my last two hunts.

You already saw the video of the elk, we had the same kind of encounters with deer but I only took still pictures of them.

Jake turned 6 on the 15th and has become quite a machine.
At first he was a little reluctant to honor Grady's points but now has no problem with it at all, knowing that he is still going to get into the action.
Outside of running a stick through the webbing in his foot he has had a healthy season and performed like the champ that he is.
Hunting the two dogs together was a great experience. It was a little harder than I had remembered because Grady had no fear of covering country and didn't check back as often as I like. That could possibly be because as long as he could see Jake he felt in contact with me. That is one of the training areas we are going to be working on.
Grady has come a long way from his uncertain points early on and very seldom fools me with a false point.
His biggest fault is his speed. He goes so fast he often outruns his nose and bumps birds. I'm hoping the more trips into the field the sooner he'll figure that out. Or else maybe I could kill myself and take longer hunts with them as I did yesterday. After about 30 miles, Grady's pace slowed quite a bit.
Once on point, Grady stays steady, allowing me to walk around him until the flush. On this point in the snow I spent a couple of minutes out in front of him trying to get the bird to flush without a bit of movement from him. Just about the time I figured Grady was wrong the single chukar flew from the brush right beside him and I proceeded to miss with both barrels.
At the beginning of this same hunt, Grady locked in on a large bitter brush. Learning from last years experience with Jake and the porcupine I kept my mouth shut and was glad I did.
Sure enough, there was a porcupine hidden deep in the brush just as there was last year not 200 yards from here. I wonder if it was the same guy. At the end of that hunt we counted up our birds and were pretty happy with the outcome.
Jake added a new wrinkle to our hunts this year. If the birds are running up hill from him or randomly taking off around him he does this whining kind of bark. I don't think I'll try and do anything about it because it usually seems to be birds he can't get pointed. In fact sometimes I get a passing shot from birds he's chased a couple hundred yards up the ridge.
Once in a while I also get a passing shot because of Grady. I usually have no idea whether he is following running birds or just out ran his nose but I am willing to just accept it from a 11 month old pup who is just super excited to find chukars.
I probably will have to work Grady on stop to flush. He has a tendency to follow hard after a flushed bird hoping to see where they go and before long he is too far away from me looking for them. I allow a short twenty yard chase looking for a bird to go down but not a 200 yard chase.
I can't say enough times that wild birds are the best training for bird dogs . Luckily for me I live in a state where there are lots of birds and I have plenty of time to hit the mountain. It's like producing a good gun dog while you are having fun.
By the end of January I hope to be close to having 70 trips with the dog's this year. I've hunted 34 different locations, which is fewer than my normal year, and have only had poor results in two different hunts due to lack of birds. The other poor results were due to very poor shooting. My excuse for those days is a very stiff back that prevented me from swinging through.  Works for me. How many times did I get to walk around a hill to find both boys locked and wondered who is honoring who? A lot more than I probably deserve but it sure is rewarding.
For the last month one thing I found was pretty consistent. Even though the dog's were solid, most likely the birds were out a ways. This point here found the birds flushing about 100 yards down the draw as I moved to the front of the dog's.
I never got a shot which happens as often this time of the year as not. But we stayed with it and put in that long day with lot's of positive things happening and plenty of not so positive things and came home with a pretty generous bunch of birds.
So this is pretty much a wrap up of my late season hunting with a couple of great dogs. We're going to try and get out a few more times with Greg and by ourselves and enjoy some time trying to improve our techniques for next year. Jake and Grady can use some tune ups but more than anything else I need to have someone walk behind me with a two by four and hit me in the head when I pull some of the dumb stunts I have pulled this year. The best way to clarify that statement is to say that February is dedicated to getting my body and my truck worked on.

I sure hope everyone had as successful of a season as I did and are rewarding your dogs for their good performance. Appreciate chukar hunting for what it provides for us. Great scenery, viewing a variety of animals, great dog work, good friends, good eating and great conditioning are just a few of the assets of our sport. Let's keep it here as long as we can. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

The boys and the elk

We had a great hunt today. Walked a long way, saw tons of birds and other animals and came home very tired. Grady once again turned in 34 + miles while Jake did just over 31 and I was just shy of 10. I took time to film this video and got lot's of pictures of points. Enjoy this video and I'll tell you the rest of the story at another time. 12 days left.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

First aid kit

I've packed a first aid kit for both me and the dog's for a long time but never needed it until yesterday. Although it wasn't an emergency like Greg Munther's dog, I was glad I had the kit along.

I noticed some blood in the snow and saw Jake licking his foot off and on but at first I thought it was just one of those little cuts I often see in crusty snow in paw prints. When Jake quit hunting and just walked about ten feet in front of me I decided to check it out. I was shocked to see a small stick sticking through his paw.
It wasn't a big deal but needed attention all the same. The stick had gone through the web in his left hind leg with about a half inch sticking out the bottom and 3 inches out the top of his foot. When I pulled it out Jake didn't even flinch. There must not be many nerves in the webbing. The blood tracks suddenly were a lot more obvious and I thought we might head off the hill but after applying some EMT gel the bleeding stopped and Jake was off to the races. I kept an eye on his tracks and there was no further blood in the snow so we finished the day off chasing chukars with Grady.

Not an exciting story but it shows the importance of always having that first aid kit with you.

Two weeks left in Idaho and Oregon so get out there and have some fun. The birds are very wild but still fun to pursue.

P.S. Although this was the first time using my kit on a dog, my kit has been used several times to fix a broken gun on the hill.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Chukars and wind direction

I took a high school friend of mine chukar hunting today and the hunt didn't turn out the way I had planned. Ron and I spent some time hunting ducks and pheasants way back then, almost 50 years ago, and his dad had a Brittany named Buck that  we hunted behind. We got lot's of pheasants and although I wasn't much of a dog expert I can remember many of those birds that were either flushed or pointed and retrieved by Buck. Back then I didn't know a thing about chukar hunting or see a dog that would range past 75 yards or so. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to watch ol Buck get birdy and take off running through the stubble before the bird flushed. That was just how we hunted. It didn't matter if the dog did the work or not, the chase was on.

Sometime after those days we both found out what a good bird dog could do for hunting and the pleasure it is to hunt behind one. The big difference between Ron and myself is that he stuck to the flat lands while I made my home hunting turf in the mountains. Ron has kept his love for Brittanies while although I once sported them I have changed to GSP's. He also has a chocolate lab named Ruger for duck hunting but takes Patch out after pheasants and quail.

We haven't seen each other for over twenty years and evidently while planning for our 50 year reunion this year he found out I had a love for chasing chukars. His call came about two weeks ago and we planned a hunt after pheasant season closed and that day was today. I wanted to impress Ron so I took him to my favorite spot over by the big pond. I hunted it twice this year and both times came home with birds and left hundreds there. We headed out at 6:30 this morning in hopes to get our hunt done and be back in time for the big Alabama/Clemson game.

Ron was a pretty good athlete in the good old days and as I figured, he had no problem with the steepness when we got there. He was a little shocked that we were going to head in opposite directions but was ready to head into the wind when I asked him which way he wanted to go. Four to five hours later we were to meet back at his rig. As we parted I could see him and Patch working the opposite ridge while Jake, Grady and I ascended ours for a half hour or so. Patch was making some pretty nifty quartering moves back and forth in front of Ron. There was never more than 100 yards between the two of them. I kind of figured he was going to have a tough time finding many birds and it turns out I was right.

As I usually do when hunting with someone new I stayed within hearing range until I heard a shot and than headed in which ever direction the dog's wanted to take me. Shortly before an hour on the hill I heard Ron shoot twice meaning he was into birds and I could now put some distance between us. To make this story short, five hours later I returned to the rig with my birds and found that Ron had already been there for about an hour and a half and had shot one hun. He had seen two other covey's but they got up wild.

We had a quick snack and returned towards home, discussing our adventure. His biggest frustration was trying to hunt into the wind. The wind was constantly changing and he was always trying to work Patch into the wind. He would make some big loops around a likely bird spot so that he could hunt it into the wind. That's a lot of pointless walking to me. I explained how I hunt chukars and Ron didn't think he would be comfortable letting Patch get out of sight and at 67 years old I wasn't about to try and change what he loves to do.

We transferred cars at the gas station and Ron invited me on a pheasant hunt this coming fall. I said that probably wouldn't be a good idea because he would likely want to shoot my dog's for being out there 2 to 3 hundred yards. Ron and I will always be good friends but it looks like we will pursue our hobbies and leave the others alone. I'm sure we will tip a few on our 50th to the things we did accomplish together way back then.

As far as wind direction goes when hunting chukar/hun on the mountain you just can't worry about it. The wind is constantly changing directions and often times the wind is blowing in one direction as you top a ridge and coming the complete opposite direction on the other side. There has been many times when I see a dog on point and I swear he's pointing with the wind at his back but when I get to him the wind is blowing in his face which was the opposite of what it was 100 yards ago.

A dog that has been on chukar slopes will learn to use the wind to their advantage by making big loops in front of and some times behind you using the wind to their advantage. At times they may even go across a canyon to get scent. As humans we try and guide our canine partner and forget that he/she is a much better predator than we could ever be and if we just let them do the job we'd be finding a lot more birds. Many hunters stop their dog's from topping the ridge in front because they are afraid it will spook the birds when in reality most of the time that is where they get a snoot full and lock up. Many times those birds will hold tight because they haven't been watching you approach for the last ten minutes.

My favorite point is when the dog has traveled out 2 to 3 hundred yards and is coming back towards me with the wind in his face and suddenly locks. I'm now walking towards a pointing dog with the wind to my back and birds in between. Those birds will usually hold tight enough that even I can get a second shot off and that seems to take a long time anymore.

Even though Ron doesn't have a long ranging dog he can still be very successful chukar hunting. It doesn't take a special long range dog to get chukars. I have friends that do well with labs that stay within 50 yards. The secret is to let the dog's use their abilities and quit trying to direct them, They are predators and God built them with the ability to use that great nose. Don't be afraid to follow them if they know what they are after. You will see more birds that way. Sometimes I'd be walking circles if I kept trying to get my dog's into the wind.

All of us do something very well and would get confused or upset if someone came and tried to change the way you did it so how do you think a dog feels when you tell it how to hunt.

After reading all this B.S. you might think Ron and I had a bad hunt. It was a very good hunt with just a little education for both of us. Thanks for the fun day Ron.

Friday, January 4, 2019

The pain of loosing a dog

A good friend of mine lost a hunting companion yesterday. As with most of us, his dog was not just a hunting tool, he was family. From the moment Jeff picked the pup he had made an impact on his heart and his soul and with every day the bond grew deeper and deeper.

Jeff Knetter called me this morning and told me he had some sad news. I could tell from his shaky voice he was very upset. He told me that Fergus, his large Munsterlunder, had passed away while on a hunt. Evidently, Fergus had just pointed a bird and the next thing Jeff saw was Fergus fall to the ground and not move. He was only nine years old but evidently his heart had given up. Jeff gave chest compressions  and mouth to mouth with no results. I can only imagine the tears and sadness from Jeff as he had to carry Fergus back to the vehicle. A walk he will remember forever. A walk I hope I never have to make.

October, a year ago, Jeff asked if I could take Fergus for a week while he was on a business trip. He said I could take him hunting if I wanted and that sealed the deal. I'd seen Fergus and Jeff hunting from a distance and knew he was a fine dog. Jake had never hunted with another dog so I was interested in seeing how he performed as well as how Fergus would work with Jake. I hate to admit it, but Fergus showed off his fine training.

I never got to see Jake honor Fergus that day but don't know that he wouldn't have, but saw Fergus honor Jake several times. I just concluded that because Jake ranged a little further he just found the birds first but it was such a pleasure to walk up on his honor.
                                                                       
Like Jake, he had plenty of fine points that day and he held patiently as I walked ahead of him for the flush. Not a word had to be spoken. He knew what his job was.
Probably the most impressive thing for me was his retrieve. Not only did he bring the bird straight to me, he demanded I take it from his mouth. That is something I have never requested of my dogs. They usually drop it on the ground at my feet. It sure was a pleasure to not have to bend over to get the chukar.
I'm sure that huge hole in Jeff's heart will never completely go away but time will help. He has a young female Munsterlunder to keep him occupied on the mountain. She has hunted with Fergus and learned some of his tricks and one day he'll be able to tell her "I don't think ol' Fergus could have done it any better".
                       
Today I took my boys on a special hunt. It was the spot Fergus, Jake and I hunted last October. Although there was snow today we found chukar in the same bunch of rocks as Fergus and Jake did back then.
Yes, we got a bird from there again today. Just as we did last October and guess what? Grady retrieved the bird back to me without putting it on the ground. It's not the first time Grady has done that but in my heart it was for Fergus.

I don't know if Jeff reads this blog, but if you do, know that you raised a great dog who represented you well and there are many of us out there saying a prayer for you and your family.

Thanks for letting Fergus be a part of my life.