Driving home from a recent hunt I started pondering the differences between the upland hunting scene today and the way I remember it as a child. In a lot of ways the two time frames are still very similar. We still get excited and dream of banner days afield well before the season opener. We continue to load up our dogs, both kinds, brag dogs and the “well he is all I got type”, meet with friends and march into the wind. In some cases, we hunt the same locations that we hunted twenty years prior. I guess one could say that it hasn’t changed all that much. However, the term “the good ole days” emerges in nearly conversation between bird hunters. On the other hand, I look at everything that is so much different from the way it was.
At the age of 14 I was given the opportunity to own my first gun dog. And she turned out to be a dandy little dog. She was bred right. A direct daughter out of my fathers dog and …uh, well we don’t know who her daddy was. But apparently she was bred well enough because she did in fact turn out to be better than most dogs she shared the field with. She was trained to highest standard of retriever training that we knew how to train. Lets just say that triple marks and blind retrieves didn’t happen. Ever. All that aside, she handled, hunted for the gun, retrieved everything from quail to geese and she never offered to quit. Today, I wouldn’t consider owning a hunting dog that didn’t come from reputable blood. But back then, several of the men I hunted with had dogs that had less than stellar paperwork. I eventually switched to pointing breeds, when I moved away to quail country. My father and the men we hunted with still run labs, but now they cost more and somewhere along the way everyone learned how to train them.
Now days we run up and down the Interstates and highways on hunting trips to places we have never been, for birds we have never hunted. Our pickups loaded to the hilt with dog boxes, coolers, extra guns, and what ever else we think we might need. Back then, a big hunting trip was a few counties over. Maybe it was an invite from a family member or friend of a friend to hunt at their place. And dog boxes,.. they were plastic crates or maybe a homemade wooden box with half the door frame chewed off. And that is If, there was a dog box at all. Although I am currently between fancy and expensive dog containment options, in recent years I have had a large diamond plate two hole box, an additional three hole box, a homemade 4 hole trailer and a used but still more than sufficient 6 hole trailer. None of which suited me quite well enough to want to keep. The last two years I have went back to the old ways. Plastic crates. Honey holes were kept secret much easier in those days. You didn’t have to worry about some soon to be former hunting partner “hotspotting” and giving away the gps coordinates to your best covers. Nor was it hard to get access to new farms to hunt. Knocking on doors and having a five minute conversation was all that was usually needed. Today we (or at least I, and many others based on my gathering from the internet) can’t help but to give into the wander lust that resides in us. Bird hunting trips halfway across the country are now accepted as part of a normal hunting season for the average joe. Before I was married, I had hunted in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma during the same season. Partly because there are no birds here and partly because, why not. If you want to hunt birds in any large number, you have to travel for it. Or go to one of those God awful hunting preserves. I suppose I was lucky growing up in a game rich environment and had the realistic opportunity to shoot a limit of roosters and a few bonus quail, every time I went out. I didn’t realize just how fortunate I was.
I can remember in vivid detail a conversation that I had with my Dad as we approached the end of a large CRP field that bordered another property. Across the dirt road there were two guys getting geared up to hunt. We could see them from two miles away with all the blaze orange they had donned. When we had moved a bit closer it was apparent that everything they were wearing appeared to be new. “Cabelas Cowboys; Wanna make a bet those boys are from Colorado?” It was not a bet I wanted to take. (Us locals were not very fond of anyone, who wanted to hunt “our” birds and fish “our” lake, that had green tags on their truck.) Dad was right. We later drove by and the plates were green. I said, “Well they sure look the part”. He replied, “No, I don’t think they look anything like us”. His point being, we had tattered and torn chaps, old sweatshirts, and bird hunting vest and coat that were held together with denim patches. None of which was orange. We damn sure weren’t worried about how we looked. Fact is, Dad didn’t wan’t to wear anything but drab colors, for the simple reason he didn’t want to be visible to anyone passing by. His theory was that if others see us hunting there, they will think its a good spot and they would hunt it too. And he didn’t like sharing. I still wear chaps that should probably be thrown away, but I have fallen into the marketing trap set by many a outdoor clothing company. And I not only wear at least some blaze orange I encourage everyone that hunts with me to wear some as well. I suppose some changes aren’t all bad.
I am eternally grateful to the persons who invented and developed today’s e-collar technology. I sure did enjoy taking a break from trudging through the semi flooded creek bottom and plopping down on a sunny hillside to rest our legs. I would have enjoyed it even more if we weren’t waiting for a dog to give up chasing that deer. Today my dogs seem to understand deer aren’t worth chasing, and neither are jackrabbits for that matter. What a tool the modern day collar has become. I can call my dogs back to me without blowing a whistle or hollering at all. I just have to hit the tone button and they have been trained to come back and check in. I don’t have to wonder where they are or what they are doing. I just have to glance down at my little gizmo and then I can make a handling decision. I don’t have to listen to an obnoxious and unnatural beeper constantly going off to keep track of a rangy dog. And I don’t even want to start to think about the old ways of making training corrections. We certainly weren’t abusive towards our dogs, but we weren’t always gentle either. Now making a correction is simple, timely, and easier on all parties involved. Our dogs have certainly risen to a higher level of performance and I believe the proper use of an e-collar has help most of us get them there. For all the times I curse technology, I have to remind myself that it ain’t all bad.
I could write all day and night about differences, now and then. There are many times when I wish it was now, like it used to be in the good old days. I certainly killed more birds back then, but on the other hand it is pretty damn cool to watch my dogs perform at a high level on birds that inhabit a landscape a thousand miles from home.