Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Old dogs rule

I have two setters in my life: Rosie (7 years) and Silk (13 years). Rosie is a wide-ranging, stylish girl, and I love to watch her cover open ground. Silk works much closer - a good match for quail in our California chaparral. Though she is intense on point, she does not have Rosie's style or grace.

It seems strange that I kill about as many birds over each of them. One might expect that Rosie's wider range would give her an advantage but it just doesn't work out that way. I hunted chukar over the weekend and Silk had more points, including a single bird on a hillside that she relocated three times before pinning. Rosie inadvertently bumped one covey - there was almost no breeze and I think she just ran over them. But cautious, slower Silk never had that problem.

Rosie hunts the hillsides way over there and I appreciate that she saves me the steps, particularly on steep chukar slopes. Sometimes she'll find birds that I would have missed. Silk hunts nearer to me, and since I walk through the most likely cover, she spends more of her time in amongst the birds.

So, I love them both for what they are and don't worry about what they aren't.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wolves eat dogs...

"Wolves hate dogs. Wolves hunt down dogs because they regard them as traitors. If you think about it, dogs are dogs only because of humans; otherwise they would be wolves, right? And where will we be when all the dogs are gone? It will be the end of civilization."

   - from Wolves Eat Dogs, by Martin Cruz Smith

Monday, November 23, 2009

The ground in front and that behind

I have been thinking that an upland hunter has a lot of ground to cover in North America. To take it all in - the birds, the country, the people and dogs - is a lifetime of hope, travel, and ultimately assimilation and learning.

There is still a lot of ground to cover. I hope to get to southern Arizona for Mearn's quail - I have never hunted there or even seen a Mearn's. Then there are willow ptarmigan and Alaska uplands.  And lesser prairie chickens. Some things call for a repeat after many years - hunting band-tail pigeons on the Coast Range comes to mind. 

I am not checking off items on a list, but this all leads to thinking about next season, even before this one has run out. Getting a bit older seems to sharpen the appetite for those things not yet tasted. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mixed bag in Southern California

Well, Mike's most recent post describes snow and freezing rain in Montana. There is no danger of such weather in the Imperial Valley. A friend and I headed out there this morning for the dove second-season opener and brought my setters in the hope of also finding a few quail. Temperature was 50F pre-dawn and warked to 71F by noon. Nice, though a bit warm for the dogs.

I also brought a new toy - a Mojo Dove, mounted on a 10' piece of painted conduit, augmented with a couple of stationary decoys. Yeah, it is a bit non-traditional but that thing really worked. We had doves landing in the adjacent trees, apparently mesmerized by the rotating wings. If you get one of these set yourself up close to the decoy - you'll get some birds on top of you. Model 42 range.

The dove were not plentiful but were pretty thick for a few minutes around 8.00. We both bagged a few, then packed up the decoys to look for quail. Within just a few minutes Rosie hit a point but before I could get close a very nervous rooster bumped out of range. Clair Kofoed had suggested #6 for late season dove and I was wishing I had taken his advice, though not because of the dove!

We got into a few quail and I bagged a beautiful Gambel's cock. I usually see only the Valley quail so the Gambel's colors are a treat. I guess I've always been a sucker for redheads. Rosie had another very nice point - intense with a raised front leg - but the bird flushed unshot from the wrong side of the brush.

As we dropped over a berm by a drainage creek, planning to walk back to the car on the adjacent dirt road, another cock pheasant broke out of the brush. That was sufficiently promising that I walked 50 yards downstream and flushed 2 more cocks, one of which I dumped cleanly on the other side of the creek. Wading in that stagnant farm runoff was not attractive so we walked a mile or so around and eventually picked up the bird.

Who says you can't kill wild pheasant with 1 oz of #8 in a 16 ga? And this was a very nice old bird - he'd been around for at least a couple of years.

Hope others are enjoying themselves as much as we did.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Will in Montana

Will Pennington with his pointers, Riley and Lizzie. 
My friend, Cmdr. Will Pennington, Spent a week with me in Montana. We found the bird populations down a bit from previous years, but we had plenty of dogwork, including a classic find by Will's young pointer, Lizzie, on a covey of Huns. Will collected a double on a perfectly handled find. Impressive.  

Unfortunately we had some very troubled weather the week Will was there - the Airstream froze while I was in Michigan and we had some work to do before it was fully habitable, and we had some very cold nights and rain/sleet that kept bird hunting more about hunting than birds.  Still, we did find enough birds to enjoy each day. I think Will had a good time - I enjoyed his visit and hope that we can repeat again in the future.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ted and Mike visit LoBank

I first began corresponding with Dale Hernden of Michigan a couple of years ago when we discovered that we had littermates from an excellent setter breeding by Craig Peters of Maryland. So we exchanged notes on Ted and Dale's gyp, Lu (Keystone's Private Dancer). Dale and I began blogging at about the same time - he blogs at LoBank. Long story short, Dale invited me to come to LoBank for a visit, and since I was in the neighborhood (Montana) I took him up on his offer. 

LoBank is a wonderful place on the Ausable RIver, and Dale was an exemplary host for the week that I was there. Unfortunately the weather was less than wonderful. But we got out for a day or two of woodcock and grouse in the Michigan woods. I had never been to this type of cover, and Ted had never hunted woodcock. But his cover dog side came to the front, and he ran the cover with his littermate Lu like he had been doing it all his life. Very cool.

Here is Ted pointing a woodcock in typical Michigan cover - thick stuff! (photo by Dale Hernden)

I flushed the woodcock Ted is pointing above, but did not have a clear shot... later Dale told me that, "If you can see the bird, that's a clear shot!" Lesson learned.

Dale also invited me to attend the Michigan Woodcock Championship - a premier cover dog trial. Since I had never been to a cover dog trial I was excited to have a chance to attend, and Dale had a dog running under the whistle of Scott Chaffee, an accomplished cover dog trainer and handler. 

The trial was held at Gladwin, MI. These are grounds set aside by the state of Michigan specifically for field trials and no hunting or other use is allowed. Amazing to a Westerner who is used to scraping for trial grounds. This is a very classy set-up, and the Michigan trialers are very fortunate to have these grounds, which includes an excellent club house and camping area.

The Gladwin grounds were an example of what is possible when the state and sportsmen can co-operate.

Dale's young pointer, "Al", was running in the 5th brace and I was able to walk a couple braces and scout Dale's dog for handler Scott Chaffee. There were many birds on the course, and grouse and/or woodcock were pointed in almost every brace. The handlers had an almost uncanny knack of knowing when and where the dog (not visible in the thick cover) were on point, and went straight to their dogs. Also very cool.

Dale introduced me to a number of people, including Wayne Fruchey, Bryan Wood, Mark and Scott Foreman, Scott Chaffee, and others who exceeded my ability to remember all their names. A terrific and hospitable group of people! I thank all who made me welcome at the trial. A fine group of sportsmen.

I hope to sample some of the fishing in the beautiful AuSable River that Dale shared with me, and to reciprocate his hospitality in the near future. Thank you, Dale!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Clair Kofoed and Dave Brown (right) heading in from an impromptu evening goose shoot in Saskatchewan.

I am posting this ahead of other reports (Michigan, Prairie Chickens, Montana...) while it is fresh in my mind.  I just returned from a week of bird hunting in Saskatchewan at the invitation of Dave Brown. Dave maintains an outfitting operation in Cabri, Saskatchewan and invited Clair Kofoed and I up for an 'end of the season' hunt - a casual event that was most enjoyable for all of us. 

The Hungarian (grey) partridge is a sporting bird, and is nearly perfect for hunting with pointing dogs. And we found Saskatchewan to be a Hun paradise - rolling wheat fields interspersed with prairie islands and brushy draws. This is the finest partridge hunting I have yet experienced. We moved as many as 10 coveys a day and in some very beautiful cover. 

We found the waterfowl hunting to be very good, even though we spent 80% of our hunting time chasing Huns and sharp-tailed grouse. We took both geese and ducks. Geese were incredibly abundant - snows, Canadas, and white fronted geese were overhead in huge numbers every morning and evening.

Dave runs a string of pointers and Brittanies, and he hunts his very stylish and capable bird dogs two at a time. They find a lot of birds, but neither Ted or Clair's setter Thorn suffered in comparison. 

We finished the hunt with a Wednesday evening game dinner of Huns, Sharp-tails, mallard, sprig, and both snow and Canada geese that Clair prepared over a smoky alder wood charcoal grill. Wine, sourmash, Scotch and cigars were also on the menu. Great times with old and new friends. Thanks. Dave Brown!

John Yates - a memorial

On September 15th of this year, my friend John Yates died while undergoing major surgery. He had been battling cancer for months.  I will miss him.

John was a trainer and breeder of setters, and helped to develop my dog Ted at his winter camp in Oklahoma several years ago. I spent a lot of time with him that winter in Oklahoma and we became friends. 

john was a tireless and tenacious fighter for the rights of dog owners and founder of the American Sporting Dog Alliance. He made a major difference in the fight to defeat SB250 in California, and had a similar impact in many states where the rights of dog owners have been threatened by animal rights sponsored legislation. 

My heart goes out to John's wife, Donna. 

I will miss him.