Sunday, November 28, 2010

Uncle Larry's Model 99

When I was eight my Dad mounted a mule deer rack in the garage to serve as a coat-hanger.  He's told me the story of how that deer met his demise many times.  In prepartion of a Nevada deer hunt my Dad borrowed his Uncle Larry's Model 99 Savage.  This wasn't just any Model 99; it was a .270 Titus, sometimes called a .270 Savage.  The Titus, so I've read, was developed by gunsmith Bliss Titus of Heber City, Utah.  Essentially the .270 Titus is a 300 Savage necked down to accomodate the .270 projectile.  They are purported to be very accurate.

Anyway, Uncle Larry handed over his rifle with a box of hand-loaded rounds, and my Dad made some comment that he "only needed one," but Larry scoffed and sent my Dad on his way with a full ammo box.  The next day, as the sun rose over the Nevada desert my Dad spooked a nice mule deer in the bottom of a ravine.  The deer charged up the other side and my Dad squeezed off a round just as the buck reached the top and the sun's light  flooded the scope.  In the early morning silence my Dad heard him fall to the ground and die.  The shot was 450 yards and the bullet entered the deer's back between the shoulder blades.  At his van a pair of road hunters asked if he had seen any deer, to which my Dad, with blood all over his clothing replied "nope, not a one."  Back in Reno my Dad returned the rifle, ammo box, and empty casing to Larry, probably with some smart ass comment about how he only needed one.

I'm hoping I'm as lucky this year as I try to take my first deer using the same rifle my old man used to take his.  She's a real beauty and I feel honored just to be able to take it out of the house.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Since it's pretty cold all over the US, I thought I'd share something I put together for some friends telling the story of our honeymoon.  Yes, it's November, and finally we are hunting birds in Kansas, but a part of me still wishes I was on a flat somewhere in 80 degree weather.

We boarded a plane early in the morning on Sunday, and with some creative plane switches and good timing we were over the Bahamas early that afternoon. As we flew south over the Exuma Cays the flats were quickly apparent. There must be bonefish everywhere down there.

We were shocked, floored, completely surprised by our accommodations for the week. We had been upgraded to “the Castle” because of a broken pool pump at the other villa, and upgraded can’t begin to describe it.

We later talked with the developer and he told us this is the nicest house in the Exumas. Completed just three months ago, we were the first guests.

We spent Monday learning to drive on the left side of the road, buying groceries and booze, exploring the beaches and George Town, enjoying the private pool and hot tub, and whatever else honeymooners do. The weather was perfect and we always had the place all to ourselves.

The local beer is called “Kalik,” after the sound a cow bell makes. I bought a case and taught the wife to bring me another every time I screamed “we need more cow bell!”  (I get to use some artistic license, right?!)
Tuesday marked the day I was to receive my official wedding present from Hannah: a day on the Bahamian flats with an experienced bonefish guide. We met Martin Clarke, of Moss Town on Tuesday morning at a pier down a rough road. His house and pier were only a couple minutes from our villa, but we were still late. Long night, ya know.

We motored down a narrow mangrove-choked channel until the banks opened up to reveal the vastness of the ocean. The tide was up, but falling, and we checked out two small beaches in protected coves to the north. Neither yielded bonefish, but he asked me to cast for him, to size me up I imagine. I did my best impression of a double-haul and sent the new line flying through the guides and he smiled, “oh, okay, we going to alright then today.”

Further north we came to a flat that looked like it extended the rest of the western coast of Great Exuma. It just went on and on and on. The goal was to catch the fish coming out of the mangroves. Martin directed my casting and stripping and we got the skunk off early.

Then I got another.

I saw neither fish but both ate the gold-assed Gotcha willingly and pulled hard. Just as Hannah was falling asleep we came across a school of fifty fish, and I caught a few more. Soon the water was getting too low and we had to leave the flat or be stranded. We headed far south and anchored the boat in a channel bisecting two enormous flats. Hannah stayed behind to sun bathe while Martin and I left to wade the ankle deep flat.

It wasn’t long before Martin softly commanded “stop!” and pointed out tailing fish in front of us. And so it went for an hour or so, he’d spot fish, I’d cast and either hook up or spook them. After lunch we were motoring to the other side of the channel when Martin called out “that’s a big fish!” and pointed to a nine pound bonefish on the edge of the channel. Just as I sent my fly sailing he turned away, and just as I was picking up the cast he turned back and spooked. Damn.

We anchored and were into fish immediately, bigger fish, too. We saw a dozen fish in the nine to twelve pound range, but none were hooked. I did manage to land my largest fish of the day, about six pounds. I’ve seen it written that the average Exuma bonefish is about eight pounds, but my average was probably three or four pounds. Martin fished us a full day and we both had a great time.

The next day I wanted to find a spot to wade on my own. The highway that runs the length of the island is called the Queen’s Highway, and it’s really the only good road on the island. It runs the ocean side, which is more scenic and therefore where all the developments are. There aren’t any bonefish on the ocean side, they’re on the flats side of the island. But, an adventurous soul could brave the badly dilapidated secondary roads to nowhere in search of flats. So, despite Hannah’s pleas to turn around, despite my fantasies of finding a long lost tribe of pygmies, we pressed on and found our own private piece of bonefish paradise. Well, it was someone else’s piece; there was a small boarded-up house on stilts over a concrete pad, right there in the middle of no-where, and it’s backyard of lava-rock and mangroves was the only easy access to the beach and miles and miles of endless white sandy, muddy flats. Hannah sunbathed as I waded aimlessly. Unfortunately I was unable to spot any fish; maybe they were there, maybe they weren’t.

Hannah decided she'd rather fish again than go sailing like we had planned, so we booked the next day with Martin. This time we arrived on time and were slowly feasted upon by no-see-um’s until Martin arrived late. The tide was way up as we motored out and we hit the same two beaches directly to the north. The first one yielded a large school of bonefish that were gone as quickly as they appeared. The second beach was unproductive as well. In the higher water we decided on a yellow Deceiver pattern I had to get down quicker than a regular Gotcha pattern. But, there was a trade-off…the heavier fly often landed with a splash that would spook the fish.

After the two beaches we hit an area close to some mangroves. With the wind and the falling tide there was a strong out-to-sea current, and TONS of bonefish, and they were stacked up like salmon. We could see shadows and flashes for over and hour, mostly out of casting range, but some close enough. The first fish I hooked was taken by a lemon shark just twenty feet from the boat. I caught a couple more before we had to motor off the now much shallower flat. 

We hit several places that, to my untrained eye, didn’t look like the best bonefish water. The coast was perforated lava rock, and although the bottom was the white sandy mud, the water was still four feet deep. However, Martin directed my casting to fish and I was able to catch a couple more. Motoring across the open water was a little rough, and each time the boat fell to crash on the water there was a jolt that shot through my ass and up my spine like how it must feel to have a Mexican featherweight boxer go to work on your kidneys. We finished the day wading the same gigantic flat that we fished on Tuesday. The water was higher than last time, but dropping. We didn’t see any fish as we walked several hundred yards from the anchored boat and I could tell Martin was frustrated. We turned to walk back and started seeing fish. I caught a few, but something seemed off. They weren’t eating like they were the other day. Shadows from aerial line would spook them. They were picky. Martin thought maybe it was caused by the hurricane passing off in the distance to our east.

My greatest feeling of pride came on the walk back where I actually got to point out a fish to Martin. He had seen every other fish before me, up till that point. Dozens and dozens of fish. He would see schools coming directly our way a hundred feet before I could make them out. He would look out over a flat and comment how there were lots of fish out there, but all I saw was waves and sand. Anyway, to finally spot one before him probably meant I got lucky, but I hoped it meant I learned something.

On Saturday we went back to the private flats and Hannah waded with me for a couple hours, but still I wasn’t able to spot any fish.

Overall, it was an awesome trip. I will go back to the Exumas again.  It’s more affordable than you think.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It's been nearly two weeks since we've returned from our fall classic in Montana.  And I've yet to make a post here, or anywhere else for that matter, to share any stories or pictures.  The reason?  The upcoming nuptials are only 10 days away, and that means the flats of the Bahamas are only 12 days away.  So, I beg your pardon, but I'm sure you understand the box needs to be filled.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Long Distance Relationships

Remember when you were a kid and you met that special girl at summer camp?  She wasn't like the girls back home, she was different.  You fell head over flip-flops for her.  You came home and thought of her often, you longed for her.  You told your best friends about her sandy blonde hair, about how she was driving with a farm permit at 14, and how she liked to go muddin' in her truck.  A truck!  What kind of girl drives a truck?  The best kind.

You might have begged your parents to call long-distance, and surely you traded some hand-written letters (complete with Elvis Presley stamp, to let her know how cool you were).  High-school resumed, and even with myriad distractions she wasn't far from your thoughts.  Summer began to give way to autum, and the dank mornings were replaced with a refreshing crispness that confirmed the changing seasons.  You decided you would ask her to be your date for Homecoming.  Then, one by one, the logistical challenges of a long distance relationship revealed themselves to you in earnest.  It just wasn't going to work out.

Fast-forward 15 years.  Things have changed quite a bit.  You've settled down, married, maybe have a couple rugrats crawling about.  But, you still have that long-distance relationship.  At least I do.  And just like Jenny from summer camp, my close friends know about it.  They've heard how the dogs usually wind them from a distance, how they always explode as a group at the exact moment you're admiring your dog's stylish point, and how they're screech pierces your ears as they rocket away.  As I type this my bags are packed, collars are charged, boots are treated, and the gun is cleaned.  This is one long distance relationship that works just fine.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dog Topper Retrofit

Having a mid-size pickup is just fine for one guy and a couple dogs. Things get interesting with three dogs, and downright cramped with two guys, three dogs, and camping gear.

Over the last year or so I've seen a few projects (Living With Birddogs and Idaho Upland Hunting) that inspired me to retrofit my existing topper to more easily accomodate dogs and gear. I knew I could build one with wood cheaply and easily, but aluminum offers many advantages and seemed like more of a challenge--I like to stay busy during the summer.  Anyway, aluminum is cleaner, more durable, and just looks nice if you do it right. But I don't have a workshop in a steel building full of gnarly tools fit for cutting metal. I also don't know how to weld al-loo-min-ium, and hiring a welder would make any project cost-prohibitive. Without welds, joints would look too sloppy using common fasteners. And then I found these steel-core tubing connectors online. With that, this project was a go. After I finalized my design I ordered the connectors and some 1" aluminum tubing and a 4'x12'x0.063" sheet of aluminum from EMJ Metals here in Kansas City, and the doors came from Bob at Wingworks.

I cut the tubing with my Dad's miter saw and filed the burrs off the edges for a clean finish. The connectors fit very tightly with 1/16" wall tubing, once it's in it's not coming out. I used 1/20" wall tubing on pieces I wanted to be able to come apart--this thing is designed to be quickly disassembled.

Here's a look at the frame laid out before assembly.

I used an archaic drill press to put holes in the corner connectors for pull pins on one side and spring pins on the other side.

Then I set to work cutting the sheet with a circular saw and metal blade. It worked pretty well aside from the random chip that would fall into my shoe. It was too damn hot to wear proper work clothes anyway. I secured the vertical partition to aluminum angle that I mounted on the roof and floor and held all together with nuts and screws.  I ran the calcs and it should support 500lbs with less than 1/2" deflection. 

I used 0.063" polished diamond-plate for the back. Unlike the other two projects linked above, I decided to mount the doors inside the truck. I only have a 5' bed, so I decided to leave enough room for a water jug and vests in front of the doors. Otherwise the dogs take up most of the bed area with room for storage underneath them. I like the dogs to be able to load themselves, and I like the doors inside to keep the weather off them better.

Most of the time I'll only roll with one door and backplate installed. The other side will be utilized for storage. I figure I can fit my two setters and my buddy's setter together on one side, and then if we're carrying more dogs install the other backplate and door.  I've got some plastic grating to add for floors and I plan to add a DC fan sometime, too.  This weekend it gets it's first official test for the prairie chicken opener.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Even in Kansas we manage a few trout-food type hatches.  You usually can find mayflies and caddis under outside lights on summer nights.  I'd call this one a hexagenia mayfly, but I have no clue if that's actually correct.  He was probably three inches long counting the tail.  Anyway, he was in the garage watching me build a dog topper I'll be posting on shortly--I'm really welcoming the versatility it will bring to my pickup.

There's another change coming this hunting season: Scampwalker has acquired himself one of those hot-shot trial-bred short-haired setters. Two falls ago I saw a dog out of the same breeding run in Montana, and if this gal turns out as good she's going to be a brag-worthy bird dog.

With Scamp's newly acquired pigeons we set out last weekend to give Lulu her first exposure to birds at just over six months of age.  As many well-bred dogs do she caught on quickly and was winding pigeons from range and establishing point like an old salt.  I am captivated every time I witness that first special moment.

Imagine if your entire life were completely devoted to one purpose, one function.  Mayflies and bird dogs both are a lot like that.  The former exists purely to procreate.  They hatch from eggs in a river and live a year as a nymph trying not to become food for an organism further along in the evolutionary process.  Then, when the time is right, they swim to the surface, wildly scramble to crack open their exoskeleton, escape the shuck, dry their wings, and fly away to avoid what would otherwise be a premature death by salmonoid.  Finally they gather over the water in swarming groups in what must be an insect's version of Woodstock.  The males donate their genetic material and, completely exhausted, they fall to the water's surface to give their bodies back to Mother Earth.

Bird dogs also only have one simple function:  to point birds.  Sure, they're bred for conformation, stamina, boldness, bidability, companionship, etc, but the dog has got to have a nose, and he has got to love birds.  Those are paramount.  Anyway, I thought that a well-bred pup's first point must be a lot like a mayfly's (only) sexual experience.  The molecules enter the dog's nose, the receptors process the scent, signals are sent to the brain, and a previously unengaged instinct takes complete control of the dog. The tail straightens, the body tenses and begins to shake. They are helpless to do anything but endlessly ponder the next movement.  Captivating, truly.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

There Have Been Birthdays

There's no denying it...I'm officially in my "late 20's."  At least when I was 27 I could sneak into the "mid-20's," but not anymore.  While it could be worse (I could be turning....30!) this birthday has served as a gentle reminder to quit pretending I'm fresh out of school and to start acting my age.  Well, maybe next year...

To celebrate my fiancĂ© and I took in a Reckless Kelly show at Lucky Maggie's in Diamond, MO, near Joplin.  This was her baptism into Reckless live and they have another loyal disciple for life--needless to say we both had a great time.  Maggie herself tossed me a Shiner-in-a-can on the house, nice!

Normally I would forget these things, but Sage's birthday is exactly a week after mine.  This year is his fifth.  It's tough to think that (with his ankle injury) his best days are behind him, but he stuck his share of birds last season and we're looking forward to two weeks out west this fall.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

First Impressions of the Garmin DC40

Plant me firmly in the biased camp.  I love the Astro system.  I believe I need it.  I might not have kept Ike around without it.  Not that Ike is a run-off, or a self-hunter, he isn't, it's just that I'm still a (relatively) in-experienced dog handler, and up to that point every dog I had hunted behind had been (relatively) closer working dogs, or younger dogs that hadn't yet found their range. 

Early on I was running the Tri-Tronics G2 collar with the remote-activated beeper.  Every 30 seconds I found myself polling the beeper for clues to Ike's location.  Hunts were not enjoyable.  I was certain that someday I'd lose him, or find him expired on a country road.  There was no trust, and I didn't know how to develop trust with a dog like Ike.

The Astro changed all that.

I felt like I could discern between a wide cast or a deer chase.  It took some time to grow the trust, and there were some moments that found me dropping my vest and gun to chase after him when he pushed beyond the Astro's range (chasing deer).  But I think today we've struck out a mutually beneficial deal:  I let him do what he does, and he maintains his manners with minimal tomfoolery.  In that regard, the original DC20 did what I needed it to do.  But there were opportunities to excel and as such Garmin just released their third iteration with some significant improvements.

The key is that these improvements directly addressed feedback from users of earlier models.  For example, the nylon collar on both of my DC30's are frayed and worn.  As such they have been replaced with the more popular coated nylon collars that e-collar manufacturers use.  Sometimes I have experienced issues charging collars, especially if the collar and the charger are cold.  Now they have switched to use a method that offers more direct mating of electrical contacts.  I've muddied up the contacts and put both in the freezer over-night, no charging problems at all.

I managed to run the dogs for the first time with a DC40 this weekend.  Works as advertised.  I can't image the market for a niche product like this is very big, so kudos to Garmin for listening to users' concerns. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oldie = Goodie

Like everyone I have some interesting relatives. Family gatherings are best spent listening to the same stories for the umpteenth time. A lot of the tales revolve around how my Dad and his brother and friends tried to give my Grandma a heart attack...there was the time Dad drove his friend's motorcycle off a cliff...or the time Grandma had to pick him up at a party because he had (temporarily) blinded himself. My sister and I can recite these chronicles word-for-word if called upon, but they're better told by the people that lived them. Besides, we'd rather listen anyway.

Of course you've figured my Grandma never waivered. She's a strong, tough woman of her generation. Her experiences prepared her for life as a mother of crazies, and I'm sure my Dad prepared her for a stint as a California parole officer. There was the one time a disgruntled parolee said he was going to come into the office and blow everyone away, so the entire office decided to start packing. Packing heat, that is. Grandma bought a snub-nose .38 special. Thankfully she never had to use it.

Recently, my Grandma gifted me her pistol, and now I own one of the props that we've been hearing about since I can remember. I was amazed when I first saw it. She still had the original box with manual, and inside she kept the check she wrote for $70 back on Oct 1, 1970. It's in near mint condition, and although it's no collector's piece, it's not for sale.

Thursday, January 21, 2010