Rethinking the Relationship

We had completed a fairly thorough loop for one guy and one big running dog to do through the field, and were on our way back to the truck. Downwind. The dog absolutely hates hunting downwind, and will do everything he can to veer from it, since for him, hunting downwind is dumb, and because for him, the hunting doesn’t end when you’ve made the decision to head back to the truck and are returning via ground that you already covered on the way out. No, it doesn’t end for him until we’re at the tailgate. He’s taught me the value of this lesson many times before, but my hard-headed human brain tends to forget.

So when he veers off at a 90 degree angle to the wind, and the direction to the truck, I don’t think much of it, but then I forget how quickly he can cover ground when he wants to. I let him range because I tell myself  that we’ve already covered this, and the day is done and truth be told, I’m fantasizing about dinner. I probably should have noted that he wasn’t just meandering, but heading in a pretty specific direction.

There is a common adage in the bird dog world that, “you must teach the dog to hunt for you.” I used to firmly believe this was the case, with no room for interpretation. After all, the only other option is an out-of-control dog, right? In some cases, that’s certainly true. But I’d like to think I’m growing and learning as a bird hunter (and hopefully always will be), and have come to realize that too much stubborn control over everything your dog does can betray a lack of trust in your dogs’ inherent, amazing abilities, not to mention impacting what ends up in the game bag.

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The reality of the relationship – if it’s a good one – is a far more nuanced, “give and take” than that; an interdependent push-and-pull across the landscape. At least in the situations I most often find myself hunting in. This isn’t a quaint, 2-acre patch of errant apple orchard, but a wide open, hilly field 20 times that in size, and it wouldn’t even be considered “big” country by our western standards. I need a dog that has no shortage of initiative, not one that is going to be plodding along dutifully right in front of me. And in these scenarios, the reality is that we have learned to hunt for each other. Just as he is obliged to find birds for me in a vast and sometimes daunting landscape, I’m obliged to trust that he knows what he’s doing; that his desire to find birds is unwavering (the occasional rabbit or deer scent aside…) and at least as great as mine. Trusting this arrangement means that in general, he needs to go where I want him to, but it also means that it’s a good idea for me to pay attention when he clearly wants to head in a certain direction. Knowing a good bird dog well means trusting that he probably has his reasons.

I watch a couple skittish sharpies bust wild a hundred and some yards away, as he is quartering toward them, nose held high, before he has a chance to lock them down and point them. His sudden, 90 deg. detour now becomes clear – he somehow knew they were over there, even from that distance. I mark where they go down on the hillside, not far away. It could be tempting to raise my blood pressure regarding my “out of control dog” upon seeing this, but the truth is that he’s doing exactly what he should be doing, and the mistakes are honestly mine. Instead, I call him in, and as a team, we double back and move in together and get them. Birds we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, if it had been left up to me. Another lesson has been reinforced. Luckily, my dog is a forgiving and patient teacher.

Postscript: The following day, the little bastard ran all over hell and back, ignoring commands, whistles and every setting on the e-collar. I accidentally left the laptop open the previous night, and I’m now convinced he must have read this post.

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Filed under Dogs, Open country, Sharpies, Talegate, Upland Hunting

A Bird Hunter’s Table

A new, “highly recommended” addition to the upland hunter’s bookshelf has just been released – A Bird Hunter’s Table by Sarah Davies.

A Bird Hunter’s Table is about cooking, eating, and sharing friendship. It is also about gundogs, gamebirds, and getting outside to enjoy the land. Featuring contributions by MOF’s Tom Reed and Greg McReynolds, among other notables.

A Bird Hunter’s Table includes over 130 recipes, stories from the field, and a smattering of natural history.  To learn more, see a sample of the book, or to purchase, visit www.birdhunterstable.com or contact the author at birdhunterstable@gmail.com.  Trust us – this one is worthy, friends.

 

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Filed under Good Eats, Recommended Reads, Upland Hunting

The Reunification of the Clan

I don’t know about you, but I have friends who I rarely spend time with outside of bird season. It has nothing to do with the quality of those friendships; in fact, some of them are the most highly esteemed friends I have. But the intensity of our common love for dogs and big country cause our orbits to overlap around this time, and then the rest of the year life has a way of absorbing us in different directions. We occasionally keep in touch, but rarely do we cross paths until guns come out of the closet and the dogs are more antsy than usual and the sound of a bird busting from cover comes to dominate our thoughts.

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It is that time again, and phone calls are made and e-mails traded and the mutual bonds re-energized as plans are made. But a nagging thought keeps clawing at the back recesses of my hat rack – another year has somehow gone by. It hardly seems real, but I haven’t shot the shit with “___,” I think to myself, since we were walking across that errant CRP field last October, game bags full of sharpies, my dog limping on a raw pad after a long day, a snow storm scudding our direction across the tops of the Big Holes… Jeezus – that was a year ago. A job I couldn’t stand was kicked to the curb where it belonged, new opportunities were created, new friendships, some old ones strained only to be strengthened again, others strained past the point of recovery, too little time spent with family, hopefully a little more perspective on what matters and what’s worth putting energy into… A YEAR.

I do the only thing one can do when such thoughts threaten to steal you from the present – I wipe the late September drip from my cold nose, drop a couple shells in the barrels, and join a friend as we head off toward the horizon, with much to talk about and little that needs to be said.

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Filed under Keeping it Real, Talegate, Upland Hunting

Feathers were involved.

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Featuring work by Mouthful of Feathers contributors Tom Reed and Tosh Brown, and a number of other talented scribes, Pulp Fly: Volume Two is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo.

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Filed under Recommended Reads, Surviving the off season, The other 7 months of the year.

Almost Gone.

I see him disappear as he drops off the cut bank and into the river, purely intending to cool off. By “river” I’m referring to the South Fork of the Snake, currently running at 12,000 cubic feet per second.

The uninterrupted force of the river is cranking along the undercut bank where he went in. There is a tangled strainer of logs and debris just downstream, reaching out like a wicked, gnarled hand dragging long fingernails across the galloping surface of the torrent.

I sprint. He’s clawing at the bank without purchase, and then I see him starting to get sucked under and swept. His eyes go wide as dinner plates as the reality of his predicament dawns on him. Somehow sinks through that knuckle-headed pointer cranium of his. It’s a look I’ve never seen on his face, and my own probably didn’t look much different.

I dive to the edge of the bank, grab a fistful of collar and pluck him from the current with little time to spare. Fall on my ass.

I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t been right there, and able to respond so quickly. What if I was still back in the cottonwoods, looking for morels, as I had been just minutes before? He’d be gone. Pinned below the undercut, or swept into the strainer. I’d have lost my bird dog.

On terra firma again, he shakes the water off and tears off back into the forest, following the onslaught of spoor that rules his better judgement. Living as he always does – entirely in the moment. I give up on the morels and decide to call it a day. Too dry anyway.

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Filed under Surviving the off season, The other 7 months of the year., True stories

Rites of Spring

Do you think she’ll remember this the next time she comes across a porcupine?

Of course not.

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Filed under Glutton For Punishment, Surviving the off season, The other 7 months of the year.

Off-Season Pursuits

He was fully immersed in his second favorite thing to do in this world – chasing a tennis ball.

Without warning, he abandoned his second favorite thing to do in this world, which could only mean one thing.  He hooked a hard left and headed toward the houses, nose to the ground, inhaling scent at a full run.

From a distance, it was obvious he was on point.

A standoff had ensued. The fowl held its ground briefly, before making a fatal mistake.

As the yardbird turned and ran, the shorthair was on it in seconds, shaking the life out of it.

We’ve been politely invited to help our neighbor build a new fence.

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Filed under Dogs, Fodder, Surviving the off season, Talegate, The other 7 months of the year., True stories

Chukar Dunketts

A serving of homegrown footage courtesy of our buddy, Brian Huskey. Pour a couple fingers of brown liquor, kick back and enjoy a little off-season succor. Er, chukar, that is…

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Filed under Chukar, Reloading, Surviving the off season, Upland Hunting

One from the Memory Card…

Hank and 2 sharpies

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by | March 10, 2013 · 12:34 pm

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers – 2013 Rendezvous

The BHA 2013 Rendezvous will be held in Boise, ID – March 22nd to the 24th.

It will be another great weekend rich in how-to and DIY backcountry hunting and fishing seminars, information on advocating for your favorite piece of backcountry, excellent food, exciting auction and raffle items, and of course, time to visit with other members.

Jason Hairston of KUIU

Jason Hairston of KUIU

Jason Hairston, the former NFL linebacker turned revolutionary gear manufacturer (co-founder of Sitka Gear and more recently founder of KUIU) will be this year’s Keynote Speaker.

BHA works hard to protect the backcountry integrity of our public lands and our hunting and fishing opportunities. Please show your support, and attend if you can!

For a full schedule of events, click here.

To register,  click here.

Please note that the registration deadline is March 4th.

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Filed under Conservation and legacy