Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Snow Drift Hustle

By the time I reach the southeastern corner of the quarter section Ike is already at the northeastern corner, and of course, on birds.  He's always been the kind of dog that I would catch glancing in my direction as he crossed hundreds of yards to the front.  I'd think with the heavy snow cover, and the thick freezing fog, that Ike would be more likely to work closer in an attempt to stay in touch with me.  There is a thin layer of crust on top of the snow that compounds the now difficult task of putting one foot in front of the other.  Every step I'm convinced the surface will hold, and just as I lift my rear foot my forward foot crunches through.  But that doesn't seem to slow down Ike. 

760 yards.  Seven-hundred and sixty.  Yards.  I'm already out of breath.  I've unzipped my jacket and removed my stocking cap despite the temperature in the teens.  Ike is as honest as they come, and I know he will hold as long as it takes for me to get there.  But no self-respecting wild bird is going to wait for me to come shoot him.  No way.  Doc has hunted in another direction, but I know I can't lose him.  So, I do what I must.  Break open the gun, pocket the shells, put the head down and start truckin'.  Every minute I check the Astro to verify that Ike is still on point.  I'm taking too long.  As more time passes the thoughts of a cynic emerge, "maybe he's in a trap"..."maybe he's stuck in a snow drift"..."maybe he's fallen through the ice into the pond."  Closer now I crest the hill and search for Ike.  Through the stars I see the wooded draw where lives the covey we've met before.  A few more crunching steps and I see Ike's tail swirling as he trots around smelling the ground.

Damnit!  They're gone.

I stop and turn to collect Doc...a few hollers and he's on his way to meet us, although he stops every hundred yards or so to listen for our bearing.  The fourth time the Astro chirps I expect to see Doc "on point" again, but this time it's Ike.  He's into the pasture now, solid.  "Now we're in business."  I fight throug hip-high drifts to cross the not-so-taught fence.  I close the distance, fight through another drifted low area, and Ike remains...steady, honest, intense.

I'm just close enough when the covey flushes from the base of the tree. Most of them fly straight away keeping the tree between us, but a pair peel to the left. Ike sees them and drops his center of gravity and watches. The first shot splits the pair--I was thinking double. The second shot finds the lead bird, but she's not dead.  Ike makes it there quickly and I find him head down up to his shoulders in snow, so I dig and make the retrieve.

Two hefty thumps on his ribs and a "good boy" and he's off again.  The next time I see him he's on another covey.

And like the first most of this covey escapes behind the tree, but a pair offers crossing shots and this time I kill him cleanly.  A short while later Ike finds another covey and I take another bird.  Three quail and it's time to call it quits.  My water is frozen, both dogs have cut pads, and I'm glad, because I'm ready, too.  It feels like the late season and it's only December.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Other Kansas Hunting Dogs

Wes and I came across this interesting rig and motley pack of hounds at a gas station in the dark hours before legal shooting time.  I've seen vehicles like this on country roads a few times here and there.  From what I can gather when the driver spots a yote' he pulls a rope or chain run to the cab via a pulley system.  This releases the door and the dogs charge into action.  The greyhounds are the chase dogs that close the distance and surround the coyote, and the wolfhounds move in for the kill.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Today's Installment of Questionable Logic

"A toll's a toll, and a roll's a roll.
And if we don't get no tolls, then we don't eat no rolls. "

Translation: nothing worthwhile comes easy. Or, you reap what you sow. Or, you get what you pay for. There's probably a dozen adages that aim to teach what some refuse to accept as truth. I wonder what bird hunting would be like if shooting a limit was a foregone conclusion? Not very fun, I suspect.

Unlike most--who get their start with their fathers and grandfathers--I started hunting later in life. In-state tuition and an esteemed college of engineering pulled me to the middle-of-nowhere Kansas State University. I was a product of suburbia and, since there were no wild trout nearby, I spent the first few years chasing girls and drinking beer, usually in that order. Naturally, I met a lot of kids from rural Kansas (K-State is historically an aggie school) and was taken on a bird hunt or two.

Like all bird hunters I vividly remember the first bird I "earned." That inaugural season I borrowed shotguns here and there and hunted a lot by myself--and none of us had dogs. We didn't know to pick up a WIHA atlas, so we just hunted the same piece over and over again: a quarter section of CRP bordered by a grain field. We saw lots of roosts, but after many hunts we still hadn't seen a pheasant. We're talking many trying hours stumbling aimlessly through the CRP (sometimes slogging through snow or rain), looking down for sign, pausing to listen, doing anything we/I could to stack odds in our/my favor.

One blistery January evening I was alone walking the edge against the grain field with a borrowed Remington 870 Express. The sun was just dropping below the cloud cover on the horizon when I paused to listen. Just then a rooster exploded right in front of me and made a hard maneuver to the left. The trigger pull sent a bright flame out of the barrel and the dragon's fire anchored my bird in the grass. That evening I broke our house mom's rules by bringing the bird into the kitchen to pose for a picture, like it was some sort of trophy deer or gobbler. Well, it was a trophy to me, and a significant emotional experience. I've since killed many more pheasants, but none came after as much effort as that first bird, and no bird has given me a bigger smile (dogs are another matter). The successes after small failures stoke the fire to drive longer and walk further. If ever this thing I do becomes easy, and I don't think it ever will, I'll get bored and move on. After all, nothing worthwhile comes easy.

First Impressions

In the past four weeks I've managed to hunt nearly every corner of the state and get an idea of what bird numbers look like for Kansas this season. Generally speaking, bird numbers are up year-over-year, at least specific to quail. I don't think birds are back to where they were during the '05/'06 season, but with a little help we could be back there next season. I very much doubt pheasants did as well as Pheasants Forever or the KDWP would have you believe. But, this wouldn't be the first time folks were over-emphatic in regards to our bird numbers. "Consipiracy"...probably not, "optimistic"...you betcha.

Some pictures...

On Thanksgiving morning my dogs pointed five different coveys of quail in less than an hour. A few days later I tried again and only found one scattered covey. Weird.

Wes made a hell of a shot on this covey that wanted to run into the woods rather than flush on the edges.

Doc on a single...

We stopped to watch this covey cross a road. They'd peak out one or two at a time and then sprint across the bare ground to safety. Probably two dozen birds in this covey.

Typical find along a Kansas bean field.

Ike found this covey feeding in a corn field just before dark. Wes and I each took a bird on the rise and then left them to re-group before night-fall.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Da Hunden Stormen

I can't remember the movie where I heard the title. It was supposed to be a comic translation for dogs the Germans used in Dubya Dubya Two (I'm sure it's wrong)...but I remember it made me laugh. The same can be said for Scar and Rebel, a solid and dependable pair of guide dogs loaned to us for our trip to Montana by a close friend and hunting buddy. Scar, aptly named for an injury sustained to his head during birth complications, is a goofy Vizsla that feels most at home in your lap, or hunting running pheasants. Rebel is an almost entirely roan short-hair, not very big at all, but with astonishing ground speed. Together, they're the hap-hap-happiest brace of hunting dogs since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye. They even play jokes on eachother. For example, they shared a hole in the trailer for the trip, and Scar would purposely block Rebel's entrance by holding up his paws, like a defender blocking a point guard's passing options. Like I said, lots of laughs.

Anyway, neither had ever smelled a hun or a sharptail before, but you wouldn't have known it. Both broke free of the closer hunting patterns more suited to preserve birds and ranged through the prairie. We shot huns, sharpies, and pheasants over both dogs. This post and picture is my tribute to them. They, and their owner, are always welcome in my truck.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Sage always waits until the last minute to pick up the WIHA, every year. And as you can see, he usually falls asleep before he's even opened the cover. I wonder where he gets it from?

Photo credit goes to Wes Carrillo.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Big Covey(s)

Later that afternoon we found a spot so full of good looking cover that it was almost overwhelming. Our eyes were filled with lush shortgrass prairie interrupted by the small fingers branching off a large coulee. I wish we had found it earlier in the day; it would have taken all seven dogs and a couple days to hunt it all. There didn't appear to be much biodiversity in the grass, it looked rather uniform, but it should hold birds.

As we did that morning we opted to run Dottie and Ike. Very quickly into the hunt, while coarsing the edge of a ridge, Ike and Dottie crept into points, a shared find, just ahead of us. The wind was stiff into their noses and that meant the birds would either have to fly straight into the wind or peel off and give good crossing shots. As before, the birds didn't let us reach the dogs before they flushed and flew straight away. Even into the wind they accelerated very quickly and I barely managed a sporting shot. I saw Ted's bird drop but I was unsure if mine had found it's mark. Then Dottie, as she usually does, pointed my dead hun.

I had watched the large covey circle way back behind us and sit down out of view in a cut wheat field. We doubled back to the truck to put another dog down, Vegas, and continued our hunt on our original bearing. Ted took the bottom of the coulee and I tried to stay on the ridges. We made a big circle and oddly didn't see another bird, or even any sign of birds. On the final leg of the circle I convinced Ted to try to find the huns again. Still a few hundred yards from where I thought the birds landed Ike went on point on the edge of the wheat field in a rather sparse pasture of sage and heavily grazed grass. A covey lifted between dog and guns and again we each took a bird.

Back at the truck we inspected the crops as we cleaned birds. The first pair had crops full of greens and grass seeds. No wheat at all. The second pair had nothing, which left us confused. Either the covey processed the contents of their crops in an hour, or it was a different covey. I'm still undecided, but I guess it doesn't matter. It was a great day to be in Montana.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Initiation

The first day started off a little rough. I had done a ton of research on areas that would likely hold birds. I studied satellite imagery of many plots of state land, BMA's, and BLM land. I identified plenty of places to turn a dog loose with good chances of finding birds. However, we quickly learned that there is no substitute for boots on the ground. Most of the places had been overgrazed to varying degrees. Even most of the BMA's didn't look good, especially in comparison to the adjacent private lands that weren't open to public hunting. But if we drove enough we'd find a spot that looked worth the effort.

The first spot was a small patch, maybe only 40 acres of prairie grass bordered on two sides by wheat fields and nestled below some sage-covered hills. Ted astutely observed that this piece was probably too small to bother grazing, and that's why it escaped the bovine lawnmowers. As Ike and Dottie raced through the knee-high grass we noticed an old farmhouse over a shallow hill which pretty much sealed the deal for me: I was sure there were birds here. Very quickly Ike made a strong cast to the right and established point--the kind with his rump in the air and his nose to the ground. Two small relocations sent a single hun zooming away and Ike with a question mark hoving above his head. Eh, I can't fault him. First hun he's smelled in a year, and mistakes happen.

We swept beyond the imploded house and along the edge where the prairie grass meets sage hills. Just about to the end Ike went on point, cornering birds between himself and a sharp rise in the terrain. I fumbled my zippered pocket for my camera to document Ike's first find. I decided that taking pictures would assure one of several possibilities: 1) Ike was pointing a badger or a skunk or some other off-game, 2) birds would flush before I was ready, or 3) I would miss an easy shot.

Well, it turns out it wouldn't take a camera to guarantee possibility number three. Ted and I calmly approached Ike and Ted gently whoa'd Dottie into honoring, as I'm sure it was tough for her to see Ike through the grass. Before I was ready birds were in the air, screeching, and hauling ass. I remember seeing legs and wings, and being completely taken by surprise. I shot twice; maybe I picked out a bird, maybe I didn't. I'm sure I scared them pretty well as they rocketed over the sage hill. "Quail on steroids" might be an understatement. Ted, on the other hand, began the best shooting performance I've seen. I think he only missed once the entire trip. Anyway, Ted bagged hun number one and we unsuccessfully tried to locate the covey over the ridge. No matter, it was a great start to a memorable trip. As we were driving out we met a few bird hunters up from Livingston looking for pheasants. Apparently we are nuts for having driven all the way from Kansas "just for huns." Oh well, I've been called worse.

Friday, October 30, 2009


"Got the call this morning. He is skinny and dehydrated but is being taken care of by the farmer that found him." - JD

Folsom was found in the farmstead where we originally lost him, next to a massive collection of round hay bales. The farmer called his name and he ran right over. He was skinny and very dehydrated as you would expect after being missing for 10 days. His neck was raw from wearing an e-collar all this time, and he was limping a bit. He ate like a pig and drank water, too. I wonder if he was in those bales for all that time? Temperatures were getting down below freezing at night and they had some snow as well. JD left from eastern Idaho the same day he found out and picked him up that evening. He said Folsom was happy to see him. A vet said it's possible he has a torn ACL, can't tell because of swelling, but he's young and healthy and will likely make a full recovery. JD's lab, Ruby, is also recovering from her surgery, which went well, but it's crucial that she not suffer any setbacks during this delicate time. I am constantly surprised at how tough dogs are.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Montana Odd-yssey

Never again do I hope to have a trip like this year's 2nd annual Montana hun hunt.

My heart is broken for my friend, JD, who was rear-ended by a semi. His two dogs, Ruby and Folsom, were jarred through their crate doors and onto a state highway. Ruby suffered two broken hips, and Folsom ran away and remains unfound (UPDATE: Folsom found!). Another friend, Scott, was forced to put down his prized pointer, Tikk, after he was diagnosed with an accute intestinal condition. I am emotionally drained over these events. I've replayed the pivotal moments in my head dozens of times and each iteration produces another "what if" scenario. Although I make a point to acknowledge it, I don't like to dwell on the bad news. So, this trip report is going to be a little different. However, if you'd like to read the details they are documented on the 8 More Miles Blog.

JD and Folsom


Monday, October 5, 2009


September 15 marks the opener of the "real" bird season in Kansas: prairie chickens. I didn't get to hunt them during the early season last year, but had some success during the general season later in the year. This year would be special. After a few years of stories and pictures my Dad decided to join me on his first bird hunt in more than 40 years--mostly shooting the camera, but he would get to pull the trigger as well. Wes joined us as well, only without Doc, who's been sick lately, but is improving.

On the way west we stopped to hunt a spot along the way before the sun set. Fifteen minutes into the hunt Sage pointed and was rebuffed by a stink-rat. What a way to start the season! I couldn't help but laugh.

Ike managed to point a small group of chickens but they flushed wild as the guns approached. Sage may have bumped them, and that's all the action we would see that evening. After a stop for dinner at So Long Saloon in Manhattan we washed the dog at a carwash that also had a doggie wash pod. It did help to some degree, but my fiancé still thinks he stinks.

We were up early the next morning to hit the same spot where I found my first prairie chickens back in 2006. Ike put down a nice run yet we were unable to locate any chickens in our first hunt. From there we moved to my honey hole, a spot that produced nearly every time I've hunted it. Hunting the pasture south Wes nearly stepped on two small groups of chickens and took a bird from each. The second bird flew across a road onto private ground so Wes took Sage over and he pointed the wounded bird in quick order. With Wes limited out he passed his shotgun to my Dad. A few minutes later a dozen chickens flushed several hundred yards out and we watched them sail away. So we continued walking.

And walking…

We looped back around and were cresting a hill when I heard the familiar chirp and confirmed that Sage was on point. I urged my Dad in and several chickens flushed straight away. Unfortunately there were cattle just beyond them so we didn't shoot, and then a few more flushed to the right offering clear shots. We both fired and I know we hit one bird, but it flew on strong. A couple more steps and another bird got up to the left and I dropped it. We decided to head in the direction the wounded bird flew, and several hundred yards further my Dad spotted the wounded chicken trying to hide along a cattle trail. We were unable to find any more birds.

Ike on a covey of quail we saw run across the road. I almost always work dogs on road birds (without a gun).

We ran Ike for an hour or so on Sunday and found some more quail and a young pheasant, but that's it. Already my Dad is talking about coming on the general upland season, and I am welcome to have him.

This past weekend I hunted with Wes, Mr. Scampwalker of 8 More Miles Blog, and Scampwalker Jr. Like the opener we covered a lot of miles but saw less birds. Still, the scenery was some of the best Kansas has to offer.

The fall colors are really starting to turn.

On Saturday we only managed to get close to one group of chickens, and I'll let you read Scampwalker's account. But basically we saw this...

And ended up with this...

And I learned one valuable lesson: wait longer to shoot.

Now, the task is to pack for Montana. Take care.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Belated Post: Colorado Trip

I can't believe this trip was more than a month ago. I've been busy and time has been flying, for good reason.

So, I've been wanting to take my girlfriend on a backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. The two hippie friends I usually do this stuff with are doing hippie things like working for the Peace Corps in Peru or travelling the high-seas on a cruise ship. Besides, a backpacking trip and roughing it for a few days is mandatory in a complete vetting process for potential mates. So, plans were set, bear canisters were rented, and permits obtained to backpack up to Lawn Lake to spend a couple days and nights.

I can't explain why people think these trips are a "vacation." You strap a pack to your back, hike uphill for several miles, and arrive sore and enhausted. Then, you set up camp, eat food not fit for Applebee's, battle mosquitos, and sleep in the dirt (save one layer of nylon and a Thermarest). Some of us even wake up every night absolutely positive a bear is nearby and about to have his next meal. Hopefully, the pictures speak volumes as to the "why."

This is the view we enjoyed for two days...Hague's Peak is on the right and Fairchild Mountain out of view to the left, Mummy Mountain out of view to the right of Hague's.

Of course I packed a fly rod. I really enjoy late-summer fishing to apline lake cutties. While small, they are numerous, hungry, and will rise from the depths to inhale just about anything.

I've never bought into filters and all the other stuff to purify water. I prefer to boil. Just seems like the only way to be sure you won't get some giardia or some other stomach bug. Sure, it takes time and you have to pack a little extra fuel, but at least you get to pass the time fishing.

Sometimes the water gets a little more boil than it needs...

I'm pretty sure this is a greenback cuttie. Count me in the group that thinks their re-introduction wasn't much of a success, but only because they don't get very big or fight like the other trouts. But they sure are good looking.

The last time I was here and buddy and myself climbed up this slope while the waterfall kept us cool.

This is looking back at Lawn Lake after climbing further up.

What she thought was "just" going to be a fishing trip ended up being an engagement trip. We couldn't have asked for better weather to enjoy this special time--the vistas were ideal. A lonely marmot was the only witness and he barked his approval (or displeasure); I don't speak marmot.

Alas, she said yes and has been busy with the wedding planning, one of the reasons for my long hiatus from posting. I should be done with my prairie chicken opener post shortly so stay tuned.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jack Byrnes or Bernie Focker: Which Dog Trainer Are You?

If you're not familiar, the two character names in the title come from the movie "Meet the Fockers," where a soon-to-be newlywed couple must endure the first meeting of their parents. Jack Byners, the bride's father, is and ex-CIA operative played by the great Bobby De Niro. Jack clearly subscribes to the authoritarian style of parenting, obviously a derivative of his career and training--strict, rigid, and often unforgiving and unapologetic.

In the movie Jack is balanced by the groom's father, Bernie Focker, who is played by another Hollywood great, Dustin Hoffman. Bernie is a lawyer turned Mr. Mom and is way more sensitive and nurturing than Jack. Always proud, encouraging, and in defense of his son. The conflict in parenting styles comes to a head during a scene where Bernie is showing Jack and the others a room he's created in dedication and in memoriam of his son's childhood and early achievements. Ribbons and trophies everywhere. There is a disagreement over "celebrating mediocrity" which kicks off the conflict throughout the rest of the movie. I think there is an interesting parallel in the dog training world.

I can see where snippets of both philosophies can be beneficial in training our hunting and housepet companions, but I find myself standing fervently with Bernie. More on this later...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bad News Bears

Sage may effectively be retired just a week and a half from his fourth birthday. We've been dealing with an injury off an on since our trip to Texas in January. Sometimes after some hard work he'd show a slight limp and favor his left-front. We have done quite a bit of bikejoring through the spring and honestly I thought we had beat it. Then, after I get back from fishing I knew they needed some exercise. Sage couldn't make two miles without limping this time and upon inspection the joint was inflamed. I gave rimadyl a few days and it still didn't come down. No exercise for two weeks and still swollen. So I took him to the vet yesterday. He said it appeared Sage suffered an injury and the joint has calcified around the injury, and that likely he will be like this for the rest of his life. He suggested some glucosamine treatments and I'm researching those. I suspect he's in some pain because this spring he started growling without provocation, growling at me or my girlfriend, sometimes the neighbor kids, and at Ike. Other times he's sweet as can be.

I feel completely devastated, hopeful (or is it denial?), frustrated, regretful, and confused. I don't really know the extent of his injury, how it will affect him, or if I can break him of the growling. I've decided to get a second opinion so I will be taking him to a vet who has and hunts setters; hopefully he's got better news or suggestions. I'll post some pictures as soon as I can.


The week preceding the 4th of July I had off work. As mentioned in an earlier post, I had a wild hair to try to find some salmonflies out west or fish the grey drake hatch on "the Hank" in Idaho. Some plans fell through and with the truck already loaded and dogs with a sitter I opted to fish some familiar waters in the Ozarks. In all I fished four rivers in five days and had a really great time--it was like a complete decompression.

The first ingredient of a successful road trip of any sort is good music. Six months ago if you had asked me who my favorite band was I might have winced and squeaked out something like "Incubus?" I wasn't really sure. Then a good friend of mine managed to sink his hooks in, barbs buried, and now I'm reeling on Reckless Kelly. Really good stuff. The more I listen and talk about them to friends I find that they have a strong cult following with a host of other bands, and what I've sampled has been strong work. Streaming Pandora on a road trip is a great way to identify similar music to what you already know you like--or veg out and make the time pass a little faster.

The first two days I floated and fished what I consider my home river with two friends. We saw plenty of inept canoers, or is it canoeists? Whichever, they were entertaining. These pictures are of three separate canoes (note the fightened chihuahua's in the second picture).

Fishing was okay the first day, and dynamite the second. Most fish coming on a big Pat's or a pheasant tail.

From there I putzed around down in Arkansas for a couple days. They were running tons of water which limited fishing severely. I fished a spring creek new to me for an afternoon and found some really hot fish. I decided to cap the week with more time on my home river.

Found this in the water.

The fisherman's definition of irony: when the largest fish you catch all week is hooked in the ass.

Even threw some streamers...

I really need to fish more.