Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dog expectations

As this hunting season comes to an end I like to look back through my journal to see what I need to work on and what is working well. The first thing that jumped out at me was my shooting. As usual I need a lot of help there. But, the most important thing to me is how I feel the dogs performed. As usual they get an A+. To someone else they may be a lot lower on the grading system. It depends on what we expect from them.

Once again, I learned a lot from my dogs this year. I've trained every dog I've owned and helped a few other friends train their dogs. I am not even close to being a professional, but I know what I want from a dog and what to expect from him. Too often I get reading some article about hunting with dogs and get to thinking "I wonder if I should get my dog to this stage?"

This can stir up a lot of heat, but I believe there are different expectations from trial dogs and hunting dogs. Trial dogs are trained mainly for a possible monetary gain. If you have a top notch trial dog, people want pups from him or her. Trial dogs make good hunting companions, but you must keep them honest at all times, otherwise they may pick up bad habits before their next trial. When a hunting dog breaks the rules it's just a lost bird. Nothing else.

Trainers and training books can show you the hows and whys. Their methods work very well, but once again, a lot of the things they have incorporated may not be useful to the way you hunt. That is one of the big things I learned this year. I've read lots of books on training and talked to a few big trainers. I heard a lot of this stuff about stop to flush, retrieve to hand, hold through the shot, and many others. I've never trained a dog to stop to flush until this year. I thought it might help me get those straggling chukars that some times take off well after the others have departed. I thought it would be kind of neat to have a dog that was a little closer to a trial dog. I was wrong.

Riley has been a very trainable dog. Not only is he a great athlete, he's pretty smart. I trained him to stop to flush. That means he is to stop and stand when a bird is flushed. That may be very pretty in a trial situation, but it's a pain in the tail during chukar hunting. I can't tell you how many times I've approached Riley thinking he was on point and the birds were long gone. Many times I've seen the birds fly and Riley stop, and no matter how much coaxing I give, he won't move until I walk ahead of him and say O.K. If I'm behind him, below him or anyplace else, he won't move. All we have accomplished here is me putting on more miles and elevation. A good hunting dog is often busting birds through no fault of their own. If you have to go to the dog each time this happens you could be putting in 3 or 4 extra miles a day. Hopefully I can solve this problem after the season.

Books and trainers can teach us a lot. But we have to decide what we are going to expect from our canine partner. Most of the time it's going to be you and the dog, so it should be trained for you. Don't try to keep up with the Jones.

What do I expect from my dogs? My dogs are all males so it's easier if I just refer to our dogs as him. As far as obedience commands I just expect him to come when I call or whistle and whoa when I say. When I give these commands it's a must, not only for hunting but for safety reasons. I also train them to heel on my left. I don't care if they fall behind a little or get a few steps in front of me. I just want them to walk with me. I want my dogs to hold point until I flush the birds. Others may want the dog to flush the bird on a command. I have no problem with a dog that relocates (in fact I like it), but if he busts the birds trying to get too close I don't shoot and then will whoa him. I never whoa when he is on point or he is creeping in on a point, just when he flushes the birds through his own fault. I do expect him to honor, and I have had great success with this. I don't require a retrieve to hand. I want him to get the bird to me and I can bend over and pick it up or even take a couple steps. Chukar dogs work hard going up and down steep hills. If I'm too lazy to help with the retrieve maybe I should find another game. I do try and encourage him to place the bird above me so it rolls down hill to me. If he drops the bird and it starts heading down hill I let him chase it and bring it back to me. It's amazing how fast they learn to hold onto a cripple until you have it. Also I allow my boys to get after the birds the minute I fire a shot (or realistically on the flush). I believe they lose fewer birds that way.

In return for this, my dogs expect me to let them be hunting dogs. They want to hunt and not be guided. They are a far superior predator than I am. So I trust them and don't stop them before they go over the next ridge. If they bust a covey, it wasn't intentional. It's impossible to cover all the country with the wind in your face. Most dogs will bump as many birds as they point. That is part of finding birds.

So treat your dog as the partner he is. Don't over expect and pat him on the head when he does good. Forget about it when things go wrong. He doesn't scold you for missing birds or taking too long to get up the hill. Like you he is just enjoying the hell out of being in the hills.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

approaching your dog

Today I was hunting chukars. I was on a hunt but it was more like a chase for a while. During the process I was reminded of the keen senses of animals. Yesterday Riley was solid on point time after time but today was different. It wasn't Rileys fault. It was caused by me. The first point this morning was above the ridges on a big flat where the snow had laid the cheat grass flat. The birds were visible and on the move. I rushed up to Riley on point. The birds were running and I shot as they flushed. 300 yards later the same scenario. The third time Riley wasn't pointing but doing the fast stalk on the moving birds. He started chasing the birds as they ran until they all flushed.

Sounds like a bad day for the dog but it was caused by me at the onset when I rushed the first covey. Riley could sense my excitement and as I rushed past him he felt the need to do the same. Twice was all it took. From then on it was let's rush them and get them into the air. As we all know, our dogs can sense our feelings. They can tell by our demeanor when we're angry or happy. Just the same they can tell when we're excited.

In other words, we need to contain our excitement the same way we expect our dog to contain his by holding point. If we approach the dog in a calm manner it will help him stay calm through the point. If we rush up to him in a fast excited motion his reaction will be the same. He'll break point. I can get my dogs to whoa just by the way I hold my shotgun. If I assume the pose they will stop and watch me. I now know that I can make them run faster. I just have to get excited and run and they will to.

Hopefully I rectified the situation before our next outing. After the third time I realized what I had done and that the rest of the morning would only get worse if I didn't get away from these birds. I dropped off the flats onto the side hills. There weren't many birds, but working into the wind we found a few that were holding in the standing cover. Riley had three great points and we called it a day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jan. 18 chukar hunt

The temperature hit 50 degrees for the first time for a while so I decided to hit the mountain. Took some photos of Dakota and Riley pointing birds and a retrieve by each. The only thing that could have made it any better was if Tucker was in there with these two. Last year there would have been three dogs pointing instead of just the two. Tucker's now enjoying the warm couch on hunting days.

Health and medical technology advancements

fj790 suggested this might be a topic close to most of us. We're all getting older and some are just a little closer to the golden years than others. I'm still a young man in comparison to a few other hunters I have encountered while hunting. I am 59. I've had a very active 59 years and with conditioning and medical advancements I hope to be active for that much longer.

Twenty years ago while on a chukar hunt I ran into a older gentleman. It was one of those days that would snow hard, let up, and then snow hard again. I was about three miles from the truck and on a fairly steep hill. Between one of the squalls I see two English setters and a hunter heading my way. I took a break and let the fellow catch up to me. We talked chukars a while and I finally got his age out of him. He was 70. I told him of a couple of coveys I had busted and he asked if I minded if he went after them. He then went off in that direction. I heard him shoot a few times and when I got back to my truck he was parked there. He thanked me for the direction and said he got two birds out of one covey and three out of the next. We shook hands and went our own ways. I vowed that I would be like that man when I become 70.

I've got a way to go but I can see that day coming and I will be like him. The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone about conditioning for hunting, is to stay flexible. Stretching several times a day is the best way of doing this and it doesn't take any special tools. The stiffer you are the more likely to get hurt. Think of it as a piece of wood. It's easier to break a dried up branch than a green one that bends with pressure. I do sit ups and push ups every day and along with my general household jobs I feel that is sufficient for upper body work. But, I walk a lot, and try to do so in mountainous terrain. The tools I use for this are my dogs. Hunting dogs demand exercise so off we go. Show me a fat dog and I'll show you a lazy dog owner.

There isn't a recipe for getting into shape for chukar hunting. If you're a sheep hunter or the like it's a different scenario. It's a once a year type thing and you have to prepare yourself for that one week of hunting. Chukar hunting is conditioning in itself. You go many times during the season and you get stronger with each hunt. Your days between hunts are fewer. But it does make it a lot simpler and better for the old bod if you keep in chukar shape year round by walking those mountains at least twice a week. And the scenery is fantastic.

As we get older, certain parts of our body fall apart sooner than others. I've led an active life and couple that with all the hours up and down ladders on my job, I wore my knee out at an early age. I had three arthroscopic operations on right knee and each one eased the pain for a while. After the third scope they put me in a brace. That was to prolong knee replacement as long as possible. A year and a half later even the knee brace wasn't getting the job done. The doctor decided it was time for knee replacement. When the time came I did a lot of research for fear of not being able to hunt the way that I like to. I like to cover lots of country and that involves some steep terrain. I talked to several people that had the same operation but was never convinced that these people hunted as hard as I do and was feeling that this operation might inhibit my abilities to hit the mountain. One day I could hardly get off the hill, my knee hurt so bad. I set up the surgery for Feb.1, the day after chukar season was over.

Once again I explained to the Dr. my concerns and he assured me that outside of running and jumping life would not change. On the second day after the operation I was bummed because there was an older gentleman and lady that had the same operation and they were breezing through rehab with hardly any pain at all. I could hardly waddle to the rehab room and it hurt like hell. The doctor used this analogy. The older folks just wanted a knee to be able to get out to the mailbox and back without hurting and I wanted a chukar knee. The tolerances were much tighter and therefore the rehab and pain would be greater in order for success. So we fought through it. Getting the flexion and extension was hard and very painful. My goal was to hunt Turkeys on the opener, April 15. The therapists were made aware of my goal and they pushed me hard. Four times a week I was at the gym with them and they made me do things that brought tears to my eyes. But with the help of the therapists and my wife I was hunting turkeys 75 days after the operation.

When chukar season came around I was in full swing, not missing a beat. It still requires therapy at home. The therapy is simple flexing and stretching and thigh exercises. I do a lot of squats and step ups. You'd think that with all the mountain hiking we do our leg muscles would be strong. Believe it or not the thigh muscle doesn't get strong in proportion with the rest of the leg muscles and that results in more work on the knee leading to eventual bone to bone and a new knee. Do a lot of exercises to strengthen the thigh muscle and you might save a knee. I don't know this as a medical fact, but my back also feels better when I am religious at strengthening my quads.

For those who have hip problems, I have a friend, Jeff Dooms, who had a hip replacement and was hunting chukars with me the first year after his operation. He covered more country after his operation than he ever did before it.

As far as nutrition, I wish someone could help me on that one. Even though I know how important it is to eat properly, I seem to take the easy way out. My cholesterol is way up there. The doc says it doesn't matter how good of shape you are in, if your veins get plugged your heart will fail you the same as the unconditioned guy. I'm working on that.

Stretch, stretch, and than stretch more. I wish I would have made a greater effort to stay flexible. It's amazing how many things you can do better when you are loose. As far as chukar hunters, you can get up and down the mountain easier, you can negotiate the rock ledges better, catch yourself before the fall instead of after, shoot better, and actually step into your truck after the hunt instead of crawl into it. With the medical technologies of today and the right attitude there is no reason we can't keep chasing the chukars into the 80's if we have a mind to.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

pics of upland idaho day

Upland Idaho

Went on a fun hunt with a group of people from the Upland Idaho organization which was started by Karl Dehart. These people along with others in the group are going to do a lot of good for upland hunters and birds in the Northwest in the years to come. We met on the hill before dispersing to our hunting locations with our leader, Karl, taking group pictures. Of course the main interest was the variety of dogs and the stories of how they became such great hunting companions. I forgot to get a picture of the canines but there were many breeds in attendance.

After four hours of hunting, some of us reassembled to discuss the day's adventures. For the most part everyone saw lots of birds but mostly from a distance. The birds have been educated well through the year and were getting up wild out of gun range. Even at that, everyone got some shooting in. I was very fortunate and found some more cooperative birds. I have to credit Riley for that. He's my three year old shorthair.

The best part of the day was meeting up after the hunt and listening to the stories. I was particularly excited listening to Idaho Griff and his stories of his eleven month old dog Gus. Watching his eyes and listening to his voice as he talked about the staunch points, the retrieve and how he's getting to know how to read Gus was as good as being there myself. Idaho Griff is now owned by his dog and I don't think anyone could have enjoyed the outing more than him.

Last week I had the fortune to talk with another member of the Upland Idaho group. He had just come off the hill with his 6 month old german shorthair. His stories of how well the pup was doing and how he had retrieved a couple of birds for him made me envious of the journey that dog was going to take him on. A journey I have traveled many times and loved every minute of it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

chukar hunting alone

Please don't read this just so far and then think that I am being arrogant. Read all the way through this, understanding that I'm trying to explain my feelings as well as some others. I know there are plenty of people out there who enjoy group hunts and rightly so.
I decided to post on this subject because I'll bet there are a lot of hunters out there that feel the same way as I do but don't know how to put this to their hunting partners. Also there may be a lot of hunting partners that don't understand why I prefer to hunt alone. I don't want to sound like I don't enjoy people's company because I really do. Hunting pheasants, ducks, quail, deer, elk, and many other animals have been great fun for me and I have usually done so with other hunters by my side.
Chukar hunting can be a little different. It doesn't have to be but can be. I enjoy the company to and from hunting camp and at the camp, but prefer to chase chukar on my own for several reasons. None of these reasons have to be with not liking to hunt chukars with people. I hunt chukars alone for fairness to both me and the other person that might want to hunt with me. First off comes the hunting dog. I let my dog cover as much country as possible where another may want his dog to hunt close. That's not fair for either one of us. If someone else doesn't have a dog and wants to hunt with me that's fine. But he's hunting behind my dogs and I have a certain way that I work with my dogs that makes me successful. I would appreciate it if he would keep up with me or slow down for me, whichever the case, when the dog is on point and approach quietly. That's not fair to my partner and no fun for me to have to ask him to do so. My dogs don't like taking breaks so we usually don't, so I can't or don't want to take the luxury of visiting over the scenery. For me there's nothing like sharing a hunt with my dog and then meeting up with the other hunters back at the truck and swapping stories.
As far as difference in people some of that has already been discussed. We all have different expectations from our dogs. We all hunt different. Some use whistles, some yell, and some use shock treatment. I'm not saying which procedure is right but I can say this can be very confusing for a dog. My dogs do a great job of honoring where another dog may not. That's no fault of the dog but it usually results in the hunter who's dog doesn't honor yelling at his dog or apologizing. There is no need for that, let's just work on it after the season, under controlled circumstance when we don't have to confuse the dogs.
And probably the main reason I don't do a lot of hunting with other folks is because of the pressure I feel it puts on me. I'll bet a lot of other hunters feel this same way. I feel like I have to produce, even though I know that the other person probably doesn't expect the same. It's just inherent in us. We want to show our best side. But when we're alone we have no expectations, just hopes.
This scenario is a prime example of what I am talking about. Jeff and I were hunting behind Tucker and Dakota several years ago. Jeff didn't have a dog yet. We hadn't gone a half mile and up the hill a couple hundred yards were my two dogs and they busted a covey of huns. All we saw were the dogs approaching and the birds take off flying. Another hundred yards and there goes another bunch. I'm feeling a little embarrassed so I call my dogs back and make them work closer. Normally I would have just taken it with a grain of salt knowing my dogs came in with the wind to there back and had no idea the birds were there until to late. They didn't do it on purpose but I was still embarrassed. Those things happen just as much when I hunt alone but I know that over the next ridge may be the next point. Also, Jeff wasn't in the same physical condition as me. It wasn't long before the dogs were on point up hill a couple hundred yards. My job is to get to the dogs when they are on point. They don't understand why Jeff and I are stopping so often on the way up the hill. When we get to them they are confused with my talking to Jeff and telling him how to approach the dogs. After the shooting is over Jeff decides he would rather hunt on his own on the way back to the truck. He doesn't want to admit he likes to slow down a little. Now we both feel a little bad and haven't enjoyed the hunt as much as we could have.
The next year Jeff got his own dog. We trained him together and he became quite a dog. When we went hunting he always wanted to hunt off his own direction. He readily admitted it was a lot more fun this way. He could go at his own pace and could appreciate his own dog. The way I think it should be. So if you're like me, don't put yourself and your friends in this predicament. Explain to them up front, I'm sure you'll both have a much better time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


As of right now I can't figure out how commenters can submit pictures to this blog site. I am working on that. I am very excited to see pictures of your dogs and hunts so please bear with me. Until then your stories will have to do.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

You gotta believe

Tom Thorpe and I were always very competitive. We ran track together at Boise State College. Before he died of cancer we went on many fishing and hunting trips together. I remember one particular fishing trip in Alaska. The kings hadn't started their run yet and the fishing was slow. Tom kept telling me "you gotta believe". It wasn't long and I hooked a 45 pounder that took over an hour to land. I take Toms words with me in whatever I do.
It's the same when it comes to chukar hunting. If you go at it in a negative way, your hunt will more likely be negative also. I like to think of it as being a little arrogant. Take sports figures, they are arrogant, but they usually back there arrogance with performance. When I go on a hunt I know I'm going to find birds. I have the best dog and I have done my scouting. If I let my dog do his thing he will find the birds because that is what he does. Sure he's going to bump some birds. He is not perfect. Just as Michael Jordan can miss a basketball shot, my dog can come in on the birds with the wind wrong. The next covey may be a solid point or he might bust this bunch. Either way I keep my mouth shut and move on because I believe my dog is doing the best he can. Things will eventually turn my way. When I approach a pointing dog I know I'm going to make a good shot. Once again it doesn't always happen, but I guarantee it will almost never be a hit if you walk up thinking "I'm just gonna miss again." When I do miss I let go and look forward to the next shot knowing I will redeem myself. I know this because I practiced before the season and even at sporting clays I miss but I always come back.
Chukar hunting is like anything else in life. If your going to be good at it you gotta believe. I may get skunked today but it was just bad day. The next trip is going to be the thriller. And what a trip you're going to have making it happen. Just you, your dog, a shot gun and a chukar. It's that simple. Now make it happen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

chukar dogs

I was asked recently, "what kind of dogs I prefer and what range do I like them to hunt at?" The simple answer is "What kind of a hunter are You?" I believe most breeds of hunting dogs are reliable but if you put a slower easy going person with a dog that wants to cover ground at mach 10 the shooting opportunities may be few and far between. The same goes for the boot licker dog. If the hunter is trying to cover a lot of country and the dog is at his feet all day the hunter might show his frustration with the side of his boot to the backside of his hunting companion.

Before choosing a breed you should also be honest about you lifestyle. Although all dogs require exercise, some require a lot more than others. If you want a good companion you must give him time to run, build up the muscles, and let off some steam. Each breed requires different amounts of outdoor time. English pointers for example are big running dogs and require lots of room to run. Labs are a more calm dog and don't require quite as much exercise. Also is your dog going to be a house pet? Although all dogs make good pets when raised properly, some are better in the house than others. If the dog is to double as a pet are you willing to vacuum hair constantly and other cleaning as necessary? I've known people who don't like seeing the white dog hair on their furniture but don't seem to mind the brown.

What kind of birds you hunt is another big consideration. Of course they all will hunt a variety of birds but some are better suited for specific hunting than others. In my opinion, you will find more chukars and huns if you have a little bigger running dog, thus covering more country. But if you have a big running dog, then you better be ready and able to run big yourself. You have given the dog the responsibility to find birds and hold them, now your job is to get to him. Most other birds don't require a dog that covers a lot of country so a dog that ranges is not necessary. Pheasants for example will run like crazy. A ranging dog will sometimes make them run that much more while a close working dog may be able to give the bird time to to hide in the thick cover. Quail also don't require a long ranging dog. If you also do water fowl hunting a long ranging dog is of no importance.

The type of terrain you hunt may determine the dog you choose. Open country requires long ranging dogs. Brushy cover is perfect for medium to close hunting canines. Also, the thicker brush area may require a tougher skinned dog. Shorthairs, pointers, vizlas, weimerieners, and other shorthair dogs usually get cut up pretty good by thick rose bushes and barbed wire. Most of these shorter haired dogs don't do well in the cold wet weather or in the cold water. By the same token longer haired dogs like brittanys and setters take much more to groom out the burrs. Labs and wire haired type dogs seem to handle the harsh conditions the best.

Although I haven't hunted behind too many different breeds, I have hunted behind enough to know what suits my style of hunting. My doctor describes me as a type A personality. Evidently that means I don't relax as much as I should. I have never owned but have been behind english pointers. These dogs, and other english pointers, are more for the A+ type person. They bring a new meaning to range. I am by no means negative about pointers. I just don't prefer one for me because of their range. I'm getting old enough that I don't want to have to scale a mountain for a quarter of a mile or more to get to a dog on point. In my eyes the next step down is the German Shorthair Pointer. Obviously that is my preference. My shorthairs range to about 300 yards and for me that is covering as much country as I care to and I can still get to them.

A flushing dog may be your best choice. I know several people that get lots of birds with flushers. Today, for example, a flushing dog would have been better to hunt with than my shorthairs. It was very foggy and I couldn't see my dogs most of the time. A Springer spaniel would have been perfect for todays hunt.

There is no perfect dog for everybody. But there is a perfect dog for you. That is your dog. Know what you are going to expect of a dog. Remember, don't expect more out of him than you are willing to put in yourself. Don't try to keep up with the Jones. Keep hunting fun. It's no fun to be chasing your dog all over the place. The best dog I ever hunted behind was MY DOG.

As far as the range a dog covers. That is strictly up to you. But remember, it's a lot easier to rein a dog in than it is to get one to range out farther.

If you have a picture of your favorite hunting dog and would like to share it, please feel free to.