Tag Archives: bird dogs

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

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Turkey Day Hunt

To keep up with Thanksgiving tradition, I managed to squeeze in a half a day of chasing quail.  It was a far cry from the four day weekend spent following birds dogs in quail country that I was hoping for. If nothing else, this season is teaching me, that we don’t always get what we want.  I grew up in pheasant country and Thanksgiving meant several days of chasing tail. Times change. Family move. Decisions have to be made.  So, my options were limited.  I could hunt a half a day before going to visit the family or I could not hunt at all.  Take what you can and give nothing back.

It was a pretty good half day for local standards on public ground.  As luck would have it I flushed a covey while driving to the spot I planned on starting at.  I let the birds settle down for a bit and then turned the dogs loose not far away.  It wasn’t long before both dogs were standing motionless with the wind in their face.  I took a few quick pictures (which look like crap) and then moved in to flush.

Hide Tksgiving 15

Quail exploded and I picked out a bird.  A simple left to right crossing shot.  I fired and the bird started to fall.  I instinctively glanced back left for late flushers, but there were no more birds coming up.  Just as quickly and instinctively, I looked back to the right only to see a poorly flying and clearly hit quail struggling to make it over the first stand of trees at the creek bed’s edge.   I stood there wondering what the hell just happened as I watched feathers drift to the ground.  I thought I had hammered that bird.  I looked and had the dogs search for the bird that should have been dead on the ground, but we finally gave up.  We looked all over the creek bottom but found nothing.  I hate losing birds.  Killing birds never makes me feel bad, except for the times when we know we killed it and can’t find it.  It really bothers me.

After a long search for singles on the other side of the creek that came up empty we moved to a different location.  I turned the dogs loose at the end of a fence line that is home to the Old Faithful covey.  They may need a new name, as we came up empty there as well.  We covered some ground and poked around some likely cover on the way back to the vehicle.  I saw a few hawks soaring over a particular area and decided to check it out.  I have often found birds by targeting areas that the hawks seem fixated on.  The hawks moved off as I started to approach.  The cover on both sides of a wide mowed grass strip looked great.  Hip to head high ragweed with a bunch of warm season grasses mixed in, dotted with a handful of plum thickets.  I wanted to check the thickets on the other side of the mowed strip and started heading to the downwind edge.  Dogs were out front, almost to the first thicket.  I was watching the hawks again, gliding on the wind in the distance.  I wondered if I was fooling myself, by thinking the hawks were hunting quail too.  My eyes fixed on the raptors in the distance, my gun on my shoulder with my hand on the end of the stock, the ground erupted in every direction.  Oh shit, birds, bang, dead bird.  The dogs clearly missed this covey, in ankle high grass no less.  Oh well, it happens.  I never claimed to only shoot pointed birds, and the dogs didn’t miss handle them.  They were just off hunting more likely cover.  We searched for the singles in the head high ragweed but that only produced one bird that offered no shot.  The ragweed was about as good of quail cover as there is.  Bare ground that allows birds to run and five to six foot tall dried stems so thick that its hard to see more than 20 yards.

After making it back to the vehicle I had time for one more walk.  I pulled into an area that I hadn’t hunted in several years.  The cover looked great everywhere so I stuck to the fence row of a ragweed choked,  year old corn stubble field, next to some crp grass.  We covered a multitude of excellent looking cover, bouncing from field edge to fence row, to thickets, to brush piles.  Nothing.  I was getting discouraged and tired.  It was time to give in and head for home.  I swung back around to the original fence row I had started walking and headed for the car.  The dogs out front and to my right and my mind wandering.  The covey blew up right in front of me.  Boiling out from under a small, waist high thicket split by the fence.  As snapped to the right, I saw him standing there in a low spot on the other side of the fence, tail straight in the air, staunch.  How long had he been there?  I don’t know.  I pulled up to shoot but I couldn’t get on a bird that offered a safe shot, as they flushed low and on the other side of the dog.  Finally a late riser busted out and quartered to my left.  About as easy as it gets.  I fire. I miss.  Frustrated, at my shooting, actually at the whole fiasco, we set out tsearched on for singles.   I didn’t see where the bulk of the birds went as I was too busy missing the one bird that went left.  I kept the dogs close and handled them to where I thought the birds would have went to.  I kept loosing sight of the dogs in the tall cover, but I trusted they would be working in the right direction.  I topped over a small terrace in the old corn field, which obviously hadn’t been farmed at all this year, and Bell crossed right in front of me.  She slammed on the breaks and froze.

Bella turkey day

I started digging the camera out of its case.  As I was doing this, I noticed that Hide was on point about 20 yards ahead.  They were obviously pointing different birds.  They were facing opposite directions and couldn’t see each other.  I took a few pictures and then moved in to flush.

Hide turkey day

I didn’t know what to expect as Bella was pointing in the wrong direction for the wind.  I thought she may have run past a bird and didn’t want to move, but she was starring straight ahead, as if she knew was right there.   I flushed for her and produced nothing.  I released her and hustled over to Hide, who hadn’t moved a muscle.  I was sure he had a bird pinned down.  I readied the gun and flushed in front of the motionless dog.  Nothing.  “Little bastards are running on us” I said out loud.  I figured I had just sacrificed a shooting opportunity to get some pictures.   I released Hide and Bella, who was now backing, with the whistle.  Hide took the lead and hit a deer trail with his nose on the ground.  I followed and watched him slam to a stop.  A stop to flush.  Too much pressure.  A single male bob was in the air and I swung and missed.  Five more birds flushed at the shot and I missed again.

Shooting slump continues….

Frustration has set in.

Temporary Insanity

Temporary insanity is usually a term thrown out there by defense attorneys that know their client is guilty.  I am claiming the same defense strategy, for,… well, everything that I should be doing right now, while I am sitting here counting the days before the opening day kicks off.   Just a few days left to wait.  Just a few days left to run through the mental checklist of the gear that needs loaded, the plans that need to be re-evaluated and then edited again.  Day dreaming about young dogs nailing their first covey.  Re-living the covey rises of the past, and fantasizing  about the great dog work that will be .  I’m sure there are numerous things that I should be doing, but I can’t.  My mind has turned off, switched gears.  Its bird season and not just the early opener trips that we took to the prairie, last month or the month before.  Its bird season here and now.  Every activity that takes up time on the weekend will now be weighed and balanced against the time I could be spending in the field.  On top of that, the weather is actually starting to cool off and it’s not to hot for the dogs anymore.  I can no longer use the scorching hot summer and early fall temps to ease my mind when participating in another activity.  No more telling myself, “Well its too hot to run dogs anyway.”    The weather is right and the season is open.  If there is any, and I mean any, free time, it should be spent following a bird dog.

I guess the average person doesn’t get it.  My wife, whom I love dearly and understands me better than most, doesn’t fully grasp it either.  But she loves me, and I think for that reason lets me go.  Even when there are other things to do and the honey-do list is growing faster than the national deficit, she lets me go.  That’s not to say, that she is happy about it.   I am trying to become her enabler but at this time she is just a casual user of this drug, we call bird hunting.  She’s not quite there yet.  She walks some, when it’s not to hot, or raining, or snowing, or too cold.  She sees what it cost in time and in money, and sees the returns in terms of birds in the bag and on the grill.  She still thinks rationally and it doesn’t add up.  This bird hunting thing is a bad investment.  We feed and care for dogs all year-long and that aint cheap.  Nor is it always easy.  Having a pack of dogs means, every time we plan a vacation we have to find someone willing and trustworthy to take care of them.  For the record, I hold fast and true, that the only vacations should be bird hunting trips.  This causes more issues….

Who in their right mind spends the time and money to travel 1 to 6 hours, then hunts all day, stays in a motel and then hunts all day again and then drives the 1 to 6 hours back home?  Repeating every weekend until they are either broke, on the verge of divorce, or until the season is finally over, leaving them with an empty bank account, friends that seem distant, relationships that need mending and list of chores that needed done yesterday.

I’ll tell you who, someone who has an addiction.