Monday, September 16, 2019

Final preparations for the chukar season

The season is about to begin for me and the boys so we're beginning our final preparations. We've already got the vest and shotgun ready because we've been out on a few grouse hunts. Not that grouse aren't a great bird to pursue, they definitely are, but our hearts are more into chasing the chukar. So Jake, Grady and I spent the afternoon loading our special shells and talking about my past buddies.

My special shells are filled with ashes from past hunting dogs of mine.
I combine their ashes so that my first two shots of the year at chukars will bring me as much good luck as these dogs did when they were running the mountain for me.
So far, since I began this tradition, it's brought me fortune all but once. These few hours of reloading and visiting with the dogs are a fantastic way to show my appreciation for all the wonderful times my past dogs provided me.
Without going into all the detail that I gave Jake and Grady I'd like to introduce my past hunting companions. The only girl of the bunch was Alli and we never got her ashes but her memories are just as fond as the others. Each dog had a special talent and taught me much.
                                                                                                                                                                    First off is Rookie. Although I had a couple family dogs early in life, I hunted with this Brittany who was the first dog I spent much time with training and hunting.
Rookie had more heart than any dog I know. He loved to hunt and loved me. I was definitely an amateur trainer and trained with a stiff hand. I would stop him from going over the hill in front of us in fear he would bust birds. To be honest I was a little quick with the collar. I was one of the guys who was the boss and it had to be my way. In spite of this he hunted with the exuberance of a dog that loved hunting.   There wasn't any bird he couldn't handle but he didn't like retrieving quail but I always forced him to bring them to me. I read that a dog should put the bird into your hand so by God that was what I expected. He could have been as good a dog as I ever had but I didn't give him the chance. I put to many restrictions on him. In fact he was so good I hated to leave the Brittany breed and the only reason I did was that a good friend of mine, Greg Allen, had German shorthairs and never had the problem with cheat in the ears like we had. Rookie was only 35 lbs. but he became a 300 lb. giant when at the vets to get cheat out of his ears and had to be put to sleep every time. He lived for 14 1/2 years before he left us but got a couple of years of good couch time for me to realize how special of a dog he was and try to make up for my rough treatment. To show how big his heart was, I often hunted with my son Doug back then and Rookie would have nothing to do with Doug when he wandered away from me. He actually wanted to be with me, the hard ass. So, along comes Alli.
Alli was the only dog I didn't get as a pup. She was a pound pup with German shorthair blood and something else in her. We picked her up from the pound for Doug to have a dog to hunt behind when we would go hunting. Doug was in high school back then so you know how much time he spent training Alli and hunting her. It wasn't long before she became one of my pack. Somehow she worked her way into everyone's heart and whenever a visitor would come by the first thing they wanted to see was Alli. Her hunting ability wasn't the best but she would point and retrieve because that was what Rookie taught her that a good dog should do. So she went on every hunting trip with Rookie and I and made sure we didn't forget her by laying on top of my gun case in the morning. She really had stole my heart and at five years of age she suddenly lost her appetite and would just lay in the front yard with no energy. Our vet, Katie Wright, Diagnosed her with Addison's disease and warned us that she might not live a full life. The meds were very expensive, but Alli was worth every penny and she lived another four years. At 7 she was shot by another hunter and I had to pack her two miles through the steep and rocky terrain to my truck. She was about 70 lbs. and not an easy pack. Carrying her in front of me Alli seemed to know that she could trust me and stayed perfectly still. Dr. Koob showed me the xray that showed over 100 pellets in her. She stayed at the vets for two days until they were sure none of the pellets had penetrated any organs. To show how special she was to my family, my daughter, Kerri, spent the whole time at the vets with Alli. She passed away at 9 years of age and even in dying  she found that special way to touch my heart. Barb and I noticed she was feeling a little down and decided to take her for a truck ride, one of her favorite things to do. As Barb got ready Alli and I were sitting in the front room when she got up and came over and put her head on the arm of chair. Like usual I gave her a few love pats and she lay down. When Barb came back in Alli was gone. Her heart had given out. There were lot's of tears of love for that girl, not only from the family but from many of our friends that got to know her. Alli passed away two years before Rookie and a year after that we made the decision to get another hunting dog. 
I could truly write a book about Tucker and the things he taught me. It started off negative but turned into a positive experience in short time. When I went to the breeder I was looking for a whiter shorthair to compliment Rookie but the only male he had was solid brown. He was a pistol of a dog and I figured I could live with the brown color. Since then, I've done nothing but search for solid shorthairs. From day one, he took control and showed me how things were going to get done. We have plenty of quail around the property and he was constantly on point. There was no need in making him birdy. A little retrieving training and introducing him to gun shots was all he needed and at just under 4 months of age he made his hunting debut. When he locked up in the field I was ready for a quail but to my surprise a rooster erupted from the grass. You would think the loud noise would have spooked the young Tucker but it didn't. When the bird hit the ground he was on it immediately and had to drag and carry the bird back to me. As we headed back to the house I knew I had a winner. We became very tight and he checked in quite often when we would hunt the chukar mountains. I knew that when he went over a ridge he would stay out of sight for just a short time before checking in and if he didn't check in I had better head for the last point I saw him. Those were the days before the Astro so my only connection with him was the beeper. I had finally learned to keep my hand away from the shock collar and let the dog do what he was supposed to do. He taught me that he was the better predator between the two of us and if I would let him be he would find the birds and keep me rounded up at the same time. Tucker had only one fault. I was his and any other dog that tried to get affectionate with me was quickly taught not to get between us with a quick bite to the snout. Every dog in the neighborhood had a bite mark on the nose. He played with all of them but when it came to me they figured out that I was Tucker's prize possession. Rather than writing a book about Tucker I'll just point out what I felt is best trait was. He didn't like me out of his sight very long just as much as I didn't care for him to be out of sight for long. Quite often when he would go out of sight and point birds, if I didn't show up in short order, he would back off the point come back and make eye contact with me and than reestablish point. It happened so often that it wasn't a coincident. He had kind of a separation anxiety because several people I had hunted with would notice that when he would approach them, thinking they were me, he would get a panic look and head out for me. Tucker lived to be almost 15 years of age with the last couple of years just earning some couch time and run of the neighborhood. At 14 years of age Barb and I took him for a short chukar hunt where he made his last point and retrieve. Barb snapped pictures of us and that day will forever be in my mind.

When Tucker was 3 years old, Greg Allen, the person responsible for my GSP addiction, had a great female named Moki that was looking for a boyfriend.  Since Tucker wasn't fixed yet we thought they might produce some fine hunting companions. I decided that if there was a solid brown male I would like a pup. There was and as strange as it may seem I wanted the runt of the bunch. I figured with Tuckers alpha tendencies it would be better. I made a great decision and along came Dakota.
My worries were soon forgotten when Dakota came into out lives. Within two weeks Tucker had accepted him as part of the pack. Tucker never got into Dakota's face for getting close to me and was the only dog I can remember that didn't have a Tucker mark on the snout. Although he was the smallest of my shorthairs, his heart was as big as any. He covered the ground like a chukar dog should and soon learned all the great traits Tucker taught him. We had a few solo hunts but it wasn't long before I couldn't leave either dog at home and they became a terror on chukars. They became "TEAM TUCKOTA" and my license plates have remained that ever since. The two of them hunted together for seven years before Tucker finally got couch time and Dakota had to go solo. Whenever I took the two of them on a hunt I remember thinking all I have to do is follow them and shoot well off their point and we'll come home with birds. They were that good of a father and son chukar team. Dakota's points were less than stylish but the birds would be there all the same. Many times his belly was almost touching the ground in a crouching position but he never moved a muscle as I walked past him. If the birds were on a steep down hill decline he would almost be in a sitting position but once again not moving a muscle as I flushed the birds. His strong suit was trailing wounded birds. He loved to retrieve and Tucker quite often would back off the find and let Dakota retrieve while he headed out looking for more. He was one of my more vocal dogs and many times you could hear his yipping bouncing off the opposite canyon wall as he chase the cripple down the steep slope. I always knew it was time to take a break because Dakota was relentless and wouldn't come back without the bird. I can only remember one time that I heard him in chase and not show up with the bird. Dakota was an instant honoring dog and I have 100's of pictures of the two of them on point and honoring each other. I don't know how they did it, but although each dog might be hunting different areas they always seemed to be complimenting each other on the same covey of birds. As Tuckers time grew short, Dakota was also slowing quite a bit on the mountain and I knew if I were going to keep hunting it was time for a young pup to enter the game. The only solid liver colored shorthair we could find was in Oklahoma. We made sure his parents were hunting dogs and immediately got him coming to Boise. Riley showed up at just over 8 weeks old.
Once again, just like the others, this character requires a book to describe the short 7 years he was with us. From the beginning the breeder had warned us that the vet said he had a slight over bite. When he first showed up it was hardly noticeable but got more pronounced each week. From the moment he got off the plane no disfiguration would have mattered. He was family. His medical bills were just beginning with the dental work we had done to keep from having other problems later on. A character dog like this I had never seen. He soon ballooned into the tallest gsp I've ever seen and somehow took on a clowns personality. He was always ready to entertain anyone new that came around. His first year he looked like a skeleton before we finally got him on the right feeding program. With his tall structure it was very often that he got caught in strange positions while pointing but he would still be solid as a rock. Probably my favorite memories of chukar hunts was when I hunted Tucker, Dakota and Riley together. It only happened 6 times but each time I got the thrill of seeing all dog's on point with different leads from each. God, that was fun.
Riley's hunting style was a little different than the rest in that he wasn't up and down, here and there, and quick sprints. He used trail and the topography to cover the country with a high head, like he knew his big nose could suck those bird scents in from greater distances. He was right. One of the years when Riley was a solo dog we got out on 80 chukar hunts and averaged the most bird per day than I probably will ever see again. He did it all like a great hunting dog. Looking back I should have realized maybe so many long hunts wasn't right for a dog with his build. He blew both knees, had a surgery to chase a piece of cheat that mad a journey through his body heading for his internal organs and busted his front leg. Throughout all this he never missed a hunting day. He blew his first knee on the last day of chukar season and did the second 14 weeks later and was back up chasing chukars on opening day. He broke his leg on a May day and the vet said it would be a lengthy healing process and he would have to be fairly immobile for quite a while. So Barb and I turned the master bedroom into a master living room where we all slept. We built a special ramp out the back door so that he could easily negotiate the steps for bathroom duties. We spent most of our time in the room with him. A month of this and the vet said it was okay to move around more. Riley busted two of the screws and we had to start over again. At the end of the second month the same thing happened and Riley was in for the third time. So after three months of being bed ridden he finally got some outside time. We spent a lot of time down by the pond. It was his favorite place to be. He loved swimming and picking up rocks from under the water and I'm sure as we lie in the sun he was looking forward to the day he could do those things again. He started having seizures and lot's of pain. Short story is that after watching a few and finding out that blood clots were the culprits we couldn't stand to see him in such pain any longer. I don't mind saying I've shed tears for each of my past friends but this guy produced buckets. The last three and a half months this guy had spent in confinement just to have an ending like that. By the time he past away we had spent over 17,000 dollars in vet bills but I would have spent another 170,000 to let him live the full life he deserved. Maybe it was because he didn't get to live his full life as to why it hurt so much but as I looked back I would have gladly stopped after his first leg operation failed and never hunted with him again just to let him live a full life at the pond.
So that is what Jake, Grady and I talked about during our reloading process and I'm sure next Saturday when the ashes fall to the ground we'll sit down in respect to our fallen partners and discuss a few more of those great memories.

Looks to be a cooler opener than normal so good luck to those hitting the hill.


Calton said...

Wow, what a great read. Thank you for letting us in on that part of your life. I absolutely love seeing the pictures and reading the stories. I can't think of any better tribute than what you do for those dogs. Hope you have an excellent opener!

Ben said...

Goodness, that is a great tribute!

Anonymous said...

Larry that is a wonderful reminiscence of a life of great dogs. It is always somewhat nostalgic to think about the years some us older guys have hunted and how attached we become to our dogs. I have had some exceptional bird machine setters, and some that were not but tried hard. Hope you have a great season. Gentlemen from TN

Hanson said...

Great way to remember our beloved bird dogs!

I have ashes of my Tess still on the shelf. Haven't decided if I spread them in the MN grouse woods, on the Montana prairie or up on the Idaho chukar hills. There are reasons for each.

Good luck this weekend.

Anonymous said...

I am headed to Idaho in am, I have only 1 dog now, Gracie, I have had, 2 brittneys, 2 shorthairs, and now Gracie is my second pointer, they have all been fantastic, but she is the toughest, luv them, she is 4 and hunts 50 to 60 days a season, almost all in Nevada, your posts are great, always enjoy the read

Tuckers Chukars said...

Thanks all. I hope everyone getting out this year has a great year and appreciates every thing our dogs do for us. We become their whole lives.

Larry said...

Great tribute to your buddies! Thanks for sharing it with us! Good luck tomorrow.
My older dog Annie is having pain in her hips. She had a good hunt a couple weeks ago, but lately it is worse. We will be going to the vet soon and I hope there is some help with medication or maybe diet.

Greg said...

Thanks for sharing the memories Larry. They help me understand your history of your dogs and your relationship with them. It will fill in the blanks of some of your stories that I enjoy hearing.

Anonymous said...

Two words Awesome Story!
Alan and the Setter.