Rock Bottom?

Is this rock bottom?

I feel my season is turning into a full blown disaster.  I imagine it is like a drug addict stuck in a revolving cycle. Perpetually moving and still going nowhere. There are times when the euphoria sets in and times when I want to shoot the dog. Of course I didn’t and never will, but you get the point. And just like an addict stuck in that predictable cycle, I know I cause most of the problems, and I just can’t help myself. I can’t stop.

So, what is my problem exactly? I…. I …. I shoot at birds that aren’t handled correctly. There I said it. I can’t make myself stop. I do not have the discipline to choose good dog work over shooting at a bird. Even though I so desperately want great dog work. And then, I get extremely frustrated at the dogs (and myself) for continuing to mishandle birds. WTF? Even I don’t get it. Even I know it doesn’t make sense. If you want the dog to learn to handle birds correctly, don’t reward the dog and shoot, or often in my case shoot at, mishandled birds.

So on top of one of the poorest shooting exhibitions I have ever put on, I now am rewarding the dogs for bad habits and flat out knocking. The shooting, has its own set of obstacles. I used to be a good to better than good wingshooter. That is back in the day, when I lived in bird country and hunted every chance I had. That was before marriage, and children, and work obligations.  When I was in a target rich environment. Sure I hunted hard and had to work for the birds but I had a lot of real life practice. I have slowly gotten progressively worse in the shooting department. So what gives? My eyes. I am one of the minority it seems as I am no longer right eye dominant. So, I am currently shooting right handed and am left eye dominant. So either I close one eye or I need to learn to shoot lefty.  Or can this be fixed with more focus and practice.  We will see how this plays out…

Eye dominance test: Look at a object in the distance. Make a triangle with your hands and center the object in the triangle.  Then close your shooting eye (dominant) eye.  Do you still see the object?

eye test

Now back to the dogs. I can’t say that all is lost. There have been some bright rays of sunshine that have shone through, even in the gloomiest of storms.  For the most part the dogs are doing there job well enough.  Certainly better than the average dog.  They hunt hard and handle well, and that is better than a lot of other dogs I have hunted behind.  Ironhide has had some outstanding pieces of birdwork, and is learning to play the game with ditch chickens quite well. He still stops to flush and has stayed broke several times. Bella, who is a wild bird rookie this year, is starting to find and point her own birds, and she is hunting dead very well, even though she points the dead birds rather than retrieve them to hand. And Luke, the pup that doesn’t know anything, has had the instinctual fire stoked by having a few coveys flush in his face, during some evening road training sessions. But Magic… The most experienced dog on the crew, the oldest dog, has decided that she needs to see every bird she smells. See em’ on the ground, see em’ in the air. She doesn’t care anymore. And what have I done to stop this. Nothing. Nope, I shot, which just rewarded her. But at least she is still does a great job retrieving.  Like I said, I have created most of my own problems.   I have to hunt her alone now, until we fix this issue.

Magic makes the retrieve.

IMG_0161.JPG

Why is it that I can’t hold off, when I know I shouldn’t shoot? Why can’t I force myself to be disciplined? Am I so amped about shooting birds this year because I didn’t get to hunt much at all last year?  Actually I haven’t hunted much for about 5 years as I had been almost exclusivley training and trialing. Are the dogs pressuring birds too much because I have over worked them on throw downs? Will more exposure on wild birds straighten this out? I can admit that I am puting pressure on myself to kill a lot of birds this year. Why, I don’t know.  Its not like I will starve if I return home with an empty game bag.  I think it impacts both my lack of discipline and my poor shooting. I just find it so damn frustrating that I used to kill so many birds with my old lab/mutt and now I am struggling to scratch a few birds down.

Cooper with Huns and Sharpies.  I miss this dog!

Cooper in Montana

Cooper Huns and Sharptail

A good friend and mentor of mine that has decades more experience than I do told me this, “What you are going through is what we all have to go through at some point. We have to make a decision. We have to decide whether good birdwork is more important, or is killing more important.” My response would be that of course good birdwork is more important, but I know deep down I am a killer. My first 15 years of bird hunting didn’t require all this discipline. If a legal bird got up within range you tried to kill it. End of story. I feel as though it is ingrained in me. Kill any bird that offers a safe shot. It is a real problem for me. I want to stop, but it’s so damned hard.

I have to make the decision now. What do I want more? I want the good work! I am going to have to force myself to walk with an unloaded gun and only shoot properly pointed and handled birds. That is the only way I can do it. But can I even do that? Can I pass up birds that I walk up? Birds that the dogs had nothing to do with. Will I be able to overcome the need to shoot a bird? Will I be happy if I don’t shoot another bird all season? I can’t answer that. It would be disappointing to say the least. But I have made the decision. The dogwork must take precedence.  We shall see if I can stay on the wagon.

There is still hope. There is still time and still some hunts to come. One of which I am looking forward to more than others. Texas. On a ranch where the birds haven’t been hunted for years.

Like I said, “It hasn’t all been bad.”  For the remainder of the season, I think its time to focus on quality work and not the quantity of dead birds.

Ironhide on Point

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