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50 Shades of Blues and Bobs

A few photos from the last few hunts of the year.  We were lucky enough to manage to find several coveys of both Bobs and Blues.  We kind of like those cottontops!

It wasn’t easy and we had to work for every bird, but it was sure worth it.

We turned the dogs loose, chased some birds and made some friends along the way.

The end of a great year!  Lets hope that 2017 is even better!

 

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Dad’s old whistle

In a world where new hunting gear advertisements flow through our media streams on a minute by minute basis, and we fall into the trap of buying every new gadget for the hunt, I find myself wanting nothing more than Dad’s old whistle.  The plastic yellow whistle, of brand I don’t recall was nothing special in and of itself.  It was from a time before ecollars, garmins and diamond plate dog boxes.  It wasn’t attached to a stylish and durable lanyard made of woven leather strips, nor was it accompanied by a compass or a flush counter.  It was strung up with a stained white sneaker shoelace.  Unfashionably tied in a knot at the ends.  It was functional and not pretty.  It did match his old bird hunting coat though, with its drab shades of brown, rips, tears, blood stains and denim patches that covered nearly every pocket.  He hated wearing orange.  Dad doesn’t hunt with that whistle anymore and for all I know it was lost long ago.  He wears a nicer, orange vest now, with less rips and tears.  It has been replaced with a pair of newer Roy Gonia’s that hang on a fancy woven lanyard. Probably one of the cheap Christmas gifts I had given him.

When I think about that whistle, I remember the dogs it commanded.  Magic, Cassie, Dusty, Cooper, and Remmy.  Tilly and Wylie weren’t whelped yet. If I ever found that old whistle, I doubt I would ever use it.  I don’t even know why I want it.  I would just hang it on the wall next to an old rooster mount in the living room.  I might make a shadow box with a rooster hanging from a fence post, a box of Winchesters with the words Duck & Pheasant printed on the front, and a few purple shells.  I always thought I would covet that old 16 gauge wingmaster the most, but nearly every hunt I can remember as a boy started with that whistle coming out of the closet.

It Has Commenced

As the opening weekend grew closer my mind wandered further and further.  I found myself daydreaming about the great hunts from the past and hopes for even better hunts still to come.  I spend almost every night reading at least one Havilah Babcock story.   Even though the days were still unseasonably warm, the evenings were getting cooler and the fall air was starting to creep in.  I wanted to get the dogs out more often. Although, work and other engagements kept getting in the way.  Despite this we did manage a few preseason outings to find our legs and reacquaint ourselves with the hedgerows, waterways and the fields that were littered with ragweed.

A week before season officially opened I started dragging out the gear I would eventually load into the pickup.  All the collars were charged.  The remnant feathers, sand, a few spent hulls and a couple of water bottles from last season were dumped out of the vest.  I started piling up my hunting pants, chaps and the 15-year-old orange hoodie in a pile in the corner of the dining room.  I have a need to know where all this stuff is.  I can’t put it away in the closet or dresser, for fear of it being moved by an unknown being.  The loose shells in the garage, the two vests, and the shell bag were all sorted and repackaged.  I don’t think I have ever shot a full box of shells before getting into another box.  How can I have this many loose shells randomly stashed everywhere?  I finally decide anything bigger than a 7 1/2 would be stuffed into one box and labeled “pheasant” to save space.  I reload the shell/gear bag after emptying everything it contained on the kitchen table, much to my wife’s disapproval.  The season of random feathers in the house is now upon us.

I was on the road most of the week, returning home on Thursday evening in time to see the 3rd grade Veterans Day program.  The kids and teachers did a great job and it was a vivid reminder that everything we are allowed to freely do in this country is a gift from those who have served.  And to all the veterans, I thank you.  That night we loaded up the pickup and drove for 5 hours.  I had a full day of business appointments on Friday and then it was another few hours to the stomping grounds.  We made it with just enough time to get the dog chores done and relax a little bit.  I knew I wouldn’t sleep.  I never do the night before.

The alarm finally sounded although it wasn’t needed.  The slamming motel and pickup doors already had me awake.  I slipped into my clothes and dawned a jacket, let the dogs out to stretch and relieve themselves.  Stopping only to get a cup of coffee, I headed out-of-town in the predawn.  It was a beautiful and crystal clear morning.  The bank sign read 32 degrees.  The faint breeze was barely enough to move the condensation in my breath.

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As I collared Hide, my 6 yr old pointer, and Belle, my 3 1/2 yr old setter, I noticed I had the place all to myself.  This made it all the better.  I like hunting with others and enjoy the camaraderie in the field but there is rarely a more special hunt than one with a man alone with his dogs.  I took a photo of the sun rising above the horizon and took my time enjoying the scenery while I started my walk.  Fifteen minutes had not passed when I heard wings beating my heart into the ground.  I jerked around to the front and see Hide standing with the wind drifting away from his nose.  He stumbled into a covey on the wrong side but he had excellent manners and stood rigid while they flushed in three waves.  I watched the birds filter down in the cover below the bench I was on, and then go straight to Hide to flush just in case.  All tenants had vacated and I stroked his side before releasing him.  I gathered up both dogs  and we headed after the singles.  I bumped one and missed as it flew straight away.  Seconds later Hide stuck one and as I moved in, two quail rocketed up putting a tree between us and giving me no shot.

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We moved through the area and bumped a few more birds, with no shots.  It became apparent that the lack of a nice breeze wasn’t necessarily helping us. One about hit me in the face when it vaulted from the ground.  I spun around and whiffed with both barrels.  Belle cut across right in front of me and froze.  I grabbed my camera and snapped a picture that would never make a magazine cover.  They can’t always point em’ high on both ends. I flushed that bird right in front of her face and she cussed me when I failed to hold up my end of the deal.  I chuckled at myself for the ridiculous display of shotgunning.  …It’s..Back….

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I had enough and made the decision to move on, look for another bevy and calm myself down.  We searched for a while before we hit paydirt again.  This time it was Belle that had a stop to flush.  As frustrating as it was, I didn’t get upset with this situation.  She did the same thing Hide did.  Popped over a little rise and into a feeding covey with the wind at her back.  She stood as 5 or 6 birds busted from the sage.  I walked in front to flush and couldn’t produce a bird so I went back and released her.  She dropped back down the hill and I stayed up top, walked another 30 yards and stumbled into the rest of the birds.  The status quo didn’t change.  I gathered both dogs and gave them a good drink.  This time they worked the singles with a little less charge and they put on a show.  I didn’t do my part with either the 20 gauge or the camera.  On top of missing more times than I want to admit, these birds outwitted us.  I had to pass on multiple shots as these little rockets skirted the ground low and put the dogs in between me and them along with using the brush as a shield.  I can’t shoot, the dogs probably hate me, it’s getting hot and we’re out of water.  They win.

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I decided to leave the camera in the truck during then next walk.  I seriously needed to make some changes in my shooting or this was going to be the worst opener ever.  It was getting warmer and I had moved several miles to a new area where I had found some scaled quail in the past.  I turned Nelly loose, (4 yr old pointer) and Luke (1 yr old pointer) the newbie.  We covered a lot of ground and Nell got birdy a few times and finally pointed.  By the time I got to her I couldn’t produce any birds for the gun.  We wasted a lot of time trying to find them again and never did get it done.  On the way back to the truck I bumped a covey of bobs and I watched them down.  Nelly found the birds in short order.  Luke came and backed her with a little encouragement on my part.  I walked in to flush where I just knew the birds were and I was wrong.  They flushed behind me and to the right.  I wheeled around and …yeah….

I was licking my wounds and thought I had better let the dogs rest.  By this time the laughing was replaced with something else. I decided to go scout out a place for tomorrow.  As luck would have it I flushed a single scalie as I was driving out.  I hurriedly geared up, put Hide and Nelly down, and marched in the direction the single went.  I worked the hillside hoping to find the others but that didn’t pay off, but we kept chugging along. About 200 yards over the hill, I found Hide standing stiff as a board.  I moved in and flushed a lone bird.  It fell.  Let me repeat that.  It fell.  As in dead.  The monkey is off my back.  Two more birds burst from near the tall cactus.  I air-balled on the back bird.  At the second shot about 40 more erupted.  It was by far the biggest covey rise I have ever witnessed.  We spent the next 45 minutes chasing the shooting blues away.  The dogs did an outstanding job working the singles, pairs and small groups.  It was plenty warm but the wind had picked up enough to help us out.  I finally connected on several shots and both dogs made retrieves.  The dogs were spent and I was tired but smiling again.  I headed back to the truck humbled and grateful.

The next day was more of the same.  My shooting did improve though and I had knocked down close to a limit before noon.  Nelly was the dog of the day with more finds than any mediocre shooter would need.  Luke proved that he might have a little bird dog in him with his very first solo find and retrieve.  I really wish I had the camera with me for his first pointed covey but I had all but given up on trying to shoot and take photos.  I had to wrap up early and head back to the real world.   In the end it was still a great way to spend time in God’s creation.  The lesson from this hunt: Be thankful for the opportunity and enjoy the pursuit.

When I dumped all the empty hulls out of my vest and put them next to the birds, I laughed at my horrible average and almost took a picture.  Almost… because it wasn’t that funny.

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Luke, waiting for marching orders.

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The tell-tale sign.

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A few for later this week.

Keep the passion Stay addicted

5 Ways To Ruin A Good Bird Dog

There are countless books out there that can teach us the proper methods to train our canine hunting partners.  Some of them are great and some of them are out dated.  With all the cataloged info out there to help us, why do we often find ourselves dealing with so many problems in the field?  The answer usually lies within us.  Whether or not we can realize our own shortcomings as trainer and handler, is another story.

This list doesn’t take into consideration starting puppies and all that can go wrong there.  Let us assume that we have done a good job at getting the pup started on the right path and we are now into at least season one of their careers.

5.  Constantly telling the dog what to do and where to do it

How many times have we hunted with someone who is always telling their dog to get over here and check over there?  The question that really begs answering is; How many times have we been that guy?  Probably more than we would like to admit and possibly more than we recognize.  We view ourselves as trying to help him find birds.  Now how in the world do we know more about finding birds than the d’rn dog!?  Sure we have a pretty good idea of where we think they should be given the time of day and the area we are in.  But the dog has the nose and hopefully the brains of the operation.  Now I am not telling you to the let them run plumb off the grid.  That’s just self huntin’.  But why do we always feel the need to tell them to get off that hillside and to hunt this one.  Put it this way.  If we let them learn where the birds are, by themselves, they will (if they have any grey matter between the ears) become better at knowing where and learning how to find birds, than we are.  With exception to some of the “Lab guys,” we don’t hunt with robots.  We’ve gotta let em’ learn on their terms.  For some of us, it’s a hard lesson to learn!

I will always remember the field trial judge that I asked for advice.  We were back at the trailers after my brace ran.  I told him I was new and asked him what I could improve on.  Without answering me, he walked 20 ft to his trailer and brought back a roll of duct tape.  He smiled and said, “Next time you run that dog, put this over your mouth.  He doesn’t need all that help, you keep offerin’ him.”

4.  Over training on pen raised birds

preseason 15

Out side of those that live in the glorious west, many of us overzealous dog trainer wannabees just don’t have access to wild birds all the time.  But discouraged be, we will not!  We are going to outsmart the system and go buy some birds.  Stinky, nasty, already looking for a place to die, pen raised birds.  What could go wrong?

First off, if all you hunt is preserves, train on libbies all you want.  But if you are like me and almost exclusively hunt wild birds only, tread with caution.

The most common disaster that I have found, is that the training birds will take more pressure from a dog and even let a quick dog close enough to catch them.  I experience the repercussions of this first hand a few seasons ago.  The first two or three coveys that each dog faced,  graced us with a lesson on manners.  None of my four-legged guides wanted to give the birds any respect.  And as expected, they ditched us and didn’t even leave a forwarding address.  A few more contacts and we were back to playing par golf but damn the frustration!  “Worst part is,”  I told a friend.  “I know I caused this.”   The next year, I did absolutely  zero training on pen raised birds and as a result the opening morning re-learning curve was shortened exponentially.

The second problem with pen raised birds, in my opinion of course, is unless released correctly, they don’t teach the dog to hunt.  They teach the dog to run down a mowed strip and point when it gets within five feet.  The only way I have seen pen-raised birds teach a dog to hunt is when they are released in coveys in natural cover, a week or more before training on them.  This is time-consuming and expensive.  The other drawback, it takes a lot of birds.  There will be plenty of death loss.  The upside of doing things this; things play out on a more natural stage.

Pen raised birds are an often times necessity in some areas, but let’s try to keep it to a minimum.  I think they’re fine for puppies, and as a once in a while substitute.  Just don’t over do it.

3. Being inconsistent

How can we expect our dogs to become masters at their craft, if we don’t have the same set of rules every time we let them out of the truck?  Now this especially pertains to young dogs and pups,  and possibly a started dog that was recently acquired.  It’s just common sense to keep obedience and other commands to a set standard and stick to it.  We already know that, but what about some of the other moving parts of this machine.  For example my biggest struggle is not shooting.  Not shooting at birds that were mishandled by a dog for some reason or another.  I fall so short in this pit of doom.  I have to force myself to walk with an empty gun when I have  a young charge on the ground.  The old dogs are pretty much set in their ways I figure.  But for the pupils, it’s a different course.  We should in theory, only shoot properly handled birds.  By doing so we are positively reinforcing the pups work, and the opposite is true as well.  We are ignoring and negatively reinforcing the pup when he charges in and knocks the birds.  I still have yet to pass this course.

2.  Being overly harsh and critical

Now I’m not talking about physically being overly harsh, as we all understand that to be bad medicine.  What I am discussing here is our personal critiques of our own dogs. *Notice* I said, “our own dogs”.  Those are the key words.  I don’t want to give anyone the impression that its okay to say anything of ill manner about someone else’s dogs.  They may take the insult to heart and retaliate by depositing an ounce of #6 shot in your posterior, or worse.  They could give you an honest opinion about your dogs!

Let’s face it.  Our dogs aren’t perfect and they never will be. Hell, I have seen a multiple time Field Champion, that has run in the National Championship numerous years, precisely locate and stick a covey of slinking birds and then RUN THROUGH THEM like a puppy full of piss and vinegar.  All this took place on center stage, with the whole gallery watching.  Dogs will be dogs.

Have you ever noticed that the dogs that get all the praise and love are same ones that don’t meet your standards?  His owner just loves him to death but you wouldn’t feed the mutt!  Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perfection is in the eye of the handler.  I have hunted with many another that were just tickled pink with their dog’s performance and I wondered if the dog even points birds!  But hey!  He did retrieve two birds and he never got more than 20 yards away. (Roll my eyes..)  And if that makes his owner happy; that’s what he should do.  And who am I to think differently.

Bird dogs in general are for optimistic souls.  For those like me that suffer spells of pessimism, don’t sweat the small stuff.  If you are judging the negative, you will end up with a long list.   I am constantly chastised by my wife because I am overly critical about a canine performance.  I have to be reminded time and time again, to focus on the good things they did.   “You have to be the only person I know, that gets back to the truck after a two hour walk with 4 coveys found and 5 birds in the bag and bitchin’ about one of the dogs because, she accidentally bumped a single.” she exclaims.

I guess its time to revisit #5.

1. Bragging on a dog before a hunt.

They say its in bad taste to claim every bird that falls.  Even if you did shoot them all.  Well in that camp lets just say this.  Its flat stupid to brag on your dogs before a hunt!  I don’t care what they did last week or last season, or what award they won or how many dogs they bested at the trial.  The minute you tell your hunting partner how great your fireball is, clock starts ticking.  It’s like a time bomb in a Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.  The best laid plan is going to blow up in your face.  This is especially true if your gunning partner is a new acquaintance.  Your old feather chasin’ friends are too smart to hear it and they likely know your dog as well as you do.

Not that we ever needed help, but ours dogs have the ability to make us look stupid at will. And sometimes I think they understand this!

I love to visit with new bird hunters and dog owners.  They have that spark of enthusiasm, the drive to conquer and the will to overcome.  And because they say some dumb stuff.  Who can blame them, we all were once just like them… and I still am.

“My dog has never lost a bird!”  Yeah,.. you need to hunt more.

“I can hunt my dog all day, she never slows down!”  Well,.. some never get started.

“she would never mess with a porcupine, she doesn’t have any fur drive”  NO Comment.

“He has never bumped birds”  yeah… okay…

And finally, “I don’t need one of those tracking collars, my dogs aren’t run offs”

I consider myself lucky, to have had several good ones that I hope I didn’t screw up too bad.

 

Blogs, Podcasts and Random Thoughts

I have finally decided to try to write something again.  I meant to stay with it all year but, well…

So I decided to write this because I don’t have anything interesting to write about and it gives me something to do other than sit at the computer and research old shotguns that I can’t afford.

September:  The time of year that I start compulsively daydreaming about hunting birds.  The mornings almost feels like fall but the mid south mornings turn from cool to hot way to early.  This is the most frustrating time of the year, as half the country have opened up seasons and I am forced to either wait until the middle of October or drive north.  Now lets get something clear from the beginning.  Driving north for a bird hunt is a great idea, it just isn’t always an option.  Unfortunately, real life things like family, work, and bills can bust up that plan like a young pointer knocking every bird in a half mile radius.  After spending a season chasing huns in Big Sky Country and falling in love with “the quail on steroids”,  I have been fortunate enough to take a few early fall trips to revive the soul.  But this year, it just isn’t in the cards.

So what should I do?  Its still too hot to enjoy running dogs.  I don’t really want to do much work on throw down birds.  Read and listen. That is what I do in September.  I dust off all the blogs and podcasts that get my mind ready to get back into this healthy addiction.

Here is a list of blogs and podcast that I enjoy when I need to break up the monotony of a long drive or take a break from a home remodeling project.  So, before you lose your temper and throw your hammer through the wall, pull up one of these blogs and take a few minutes to forget about real life.  (Ugh..Ugh,  Not that I would ever get that frustrated during a little remodeling project.)

 

The Hunting Dog Podcast:  I love this podcast.  Ron Boehme (find Ron or Dancing Duke Kennels on facebook) does a great job puting this show together.  He interviews all kinds of folks who’s life revolve around hunting dogs of all kinds.  It covers hounds, flushers, retrievers, and pointing dogs with the majority of shows going bird hunting of some kind.  I like the fact that this podcast is put together in a kennel rather than a studio.  It may be on the lower end of the production scale but when you hear two or more guys talking bird hunting and dogs and cracking open beers it takes on a kind of authenticity I can really appreciate.

http://thehuntingdogpodcast.libsyn.com/

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-hunting-dog-podcast/

I also follow several blogs.  I used to buy all the bird hunting magazines that I could get my hands on and devour them within the evening.  They had a few good photos and if I was lucky maybe one good article.  They just got so repetitive and monotonous it drove me to look for something new.  Something a little more legit and less focused on sales of ad space.  The magazines are still out there and I still pick one up every now and then, but these blogs seem to do a better job of portraying a real bird hunt.

Most of these bloggers are very talented writers, either telling great stories or giving reviews on gear that has just come out.  I appreciate their work and aspire to write as well as they can.  Most if not all of these blogs focus on wild bird hunting, with a smattering of fly fishing, turkey hunting, big game hunting, outstanding photos and an occasional rant about some hot topic or another.  For some reason I follow a lot of bloggers that are chukar hunters.  I don’t know if chukar hunters make up the bulk of the bird hunting blogging world or if I simply like their stories about continually hiking uphill and sliding down scree slopes, chasing one of the most frustrating game birds in North America, or if I just find a beauty in the country they hunt in.  Either way they are lucky to live where they do and I am lucky they write about it.

Take a break from what ever boring, same old,  deer hunting show you are watching and check out these blogs.  And if you know of more good blogs about chasing wild birds, by all means please share them.

Birdhunter | images from the bird hunting experience

https://brdhntr.com/

A Bird Hunter’s Road

mtbirdhunter.blogspot.com/

Upland Ways – Red Letter Days Afield and on Stream

https://uplandways.com/

New Year, Success Found

As the calendar turned its last page on 2015 our dismal success took a needed swing in the right direction.  The first two months of this year’s bird season was a struggle at best and had me shaking my head and my fists more than I want to admit.  Dog work was a spotty mix of good and bad and my shooting prowess was at an all time low.   We did have some pretty good hunts early on, considering it always seemed to be 70 degrees and windy.  But we could never quite put it all together.  For the majority of the dogs on this years team it was to be their first year hunting wild birds.  As the dogs struggled with poor scenting conditions and learning not to crowd birds, I failed to be disciplined enough to pass up shots on mishandled birds.  To make it worse, I struggled to connect the little dots on the birds that were handled correctly.  It was shaping up to be the worst season I have ever had.

How can things change so abruptly, I haven’t a clue.  I am still having issues with being cross eye dominant and my shooting still isn’t what anyone would call good, but things have taken a turn for the better and I am not complaining.  I have come to the conclusion that my expectations were too high and I was hinging my perceived success and failures on bar that was set too high.  I vowed to “just go have some fun” for the remainder of the season and see how things worked out.  Essentially I took the pressure off, both myself and the dogs.  I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care if I missed that easy straight away shot and that if didn’t matter if the dogs bumped, knocked, ran over, or totally missed a covey of birds.  Of course I did care, but I had to pretend it didn’t matter.  And in the end it really didn’t.  I lowered my standards and both my performance and the dogs started to get better.

I had a few short, local hunts at the end of the year and they were good for both the dogs and I.  We didn’t find a lot of birds but we did get some birds pointed and a few tumbled.  The biggest success was releasing the tension.  “It was the start of a new season,” I told myself.  Let the dogs make mistakes and learn from them.  Let the birds to the teaching. And for God’s sake, don’t shoot at mishandled birds.  It doesn’t matter if the only covey we see the entire day gets a free pass.

 

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.

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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