Archive for the ‘Hunting’ Category

Field trial, hunt test terms you should know

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

This shorthair's ready for the breakaway. Are you?

This shorthair’s ready for the breakaway. Are you?

Thinking about playing some of the dog games? Field trial, hunt test, NSTRA or NAHRA, each has its merits. These terms will help you fit in a bit faster:

AA: All Age dog, as defined by AKC, competes in All Age stakes, which are open to a dog of any age.

Breakaway: A brace of dogs released simultaneously to begin a field trial run, usually commanded by the judge.

Derby Stake: Field trial competition for dogs between six months of age and no more than two years of age.

Green broke: Often the same as a “started” dog, indicates some level of training in obedience and elementary hunting skills, usually including pointing.

Line Manners: A term used to describe how a dog acts while sitting at the “line” under judgment.

Pick up: Taken out of competition and removed from the field. In a field trial, a dog is “picked up” at the order of a judge.

Retired Gun: Used in multiple marks, after an assistant has thrown the item to be retrieved, he or she moves to a concealed location so when the dog returns to the line and looks out to their mark, the assistant (“gun”) is hidden from view.

Scott’s the host of Wingshooting USA, airing on Destination America and Pursuit Channel. More information here.

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One at a time

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Focus on one bird at a time and you'll probably shoot more doubles.

Focus on one bird at a time and you’ll probably shoot more doubles.

If I want Manny’s full attention and undying devotion, I remember that one bird in the bag is worth two in the air. Too often when I try for a double, it means two misses. I raise my head off the stock to watch the first bird fall, or don’t swing through, or start looking for a second bird before I’ve shot the first.

As we now know, our dogs think linearly, and in shooting so should we. Shoot the first bird first, see it drop, mark it carefully. Only then, and if you have time, should you contemplate a second shot. But make sure the first bird is dead and down where you can find it readily.

Need another reason to hold off? On covey birds, a late riser will often flush long after the smoke – and your mind – have cleared. Save your second barrel for him, and your friends will soon be buying the first round at the end of the day.

Scott hosts Wingshooting USA on Destination America network. His new book is available here.

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How dogs think … I think

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Hmmmm. What else is on his mind?

Hmmmm. What else is on his mind?

Just like a therapist can best help someone by venturing inside their mind, we can guide our dog toward excellence by understanding how he thinks. This form of “training” is helpful primarily for us, adjusting the way we think based on how our dog reasons (or we think he reasons), rationalizes and justifies his behavior.

We humans can think in more than one dimension, plan ahead, reason, debate alternatives, and consider abstract concepts. Dogs, for the most part, string thoughts (actually, probably more like reactions than thoughts in the human sense) in a linear pattern. “A” is followed by “B,” and then comes “C” and so on. If you work with phone company call centers often enough you may not always agree, but in general humans have much more experience with life – and learning – than they do.

I’ve also noticed that dogs think literally. Here’s the classic example: my guys watch me enter the shop across the driveway from their yard. They spend much of the next half hour staring at the doorknob, willing it to re-deliver me to them. I went in that way, I will come out that way (they think). If I exit from another door, they are baffled. A cruel variation is the hide-the-treat game, sneaking it from hand to hand behind your back. Again, they saw it in one hand … it must still be there, right?

Time and again I’m also reminded that dogs truly live in the moment. Their actions, desires, and needs are right now, right here. Unlike the abstract thinking humans utilize (excepting some in-laws) canines are all about NOW. Look up “immediate gratification” in the dictionary and there will be a picture of a dog.

(Scott hosts the TV show Wingshooting USA. His “Comfort Collars” and Real Bird Bumpers are available here.)

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Why your hunting dog will work for you

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Clearly, he wants something. What is it?

Clearly, he wants something. What is it?

Have you ever had a lousy boss? You know the type: harsh voice constantly berating you, cutting you down, badgering, yelling, and criticizing … never offering praise or encouragement.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a good boss, or even been one. To others, it might have been a coach, teacher, Scoutmaster, neighbor. You remember them for their soothing demeanor, supportive attitude, mutual respect, positive reinforcement. Heck, even their critiques were constructive, almost pleasurable.

Of the two, who would you rather work for? For which would you gladly stay late to help with a rush order, or go the extra mile? The same holds true for your dog.

I’m not saying you should curry favor, suck up or kowtow to your pup. In the pack, your dog functions best when he knows his boundaries and who’s in charge. In your house, yard and field that’s always you. Establishing those boundaries and setting up your chain of command can be done in a number of ways, some better than others. One version engenders respect and cooperation, other versions foster fear or aggression.

When discipline is applied appropriately, instruction is melded with encouragement, or correction is done with restraint and sensitivity, I think your dog acquires a sense of “fairness.” I doubt that dogs truly comprehend that term, but they are certainly aware of the opposite.

Doesn’t it just make sense to create a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and reward for a job well done? Remember back to when it worked for you; I bet it’ll work for him.

(Buy Scott’s new book here.)

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Ditch parrot, mudbat & X&*%$! bobwhite

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Anyone else call this a hunkie?

Anyone else call this a hunkie?

Every region has it’s quirky names for critters. Time to compile the ultimate list of those we shoot at as they fly away. What do they call a ringneck pheasant in Montana? Is a timberdoodle in Vermont a bogsucker in New Brunswick? And what the heck is a mudbat? Offer up your upland and waterfowl colloquialisms in the comment section … and if you can’t come up with a “real” one, feel free to make one up.

I’ll start:

Woodcock: mudbat, bogsucker, timberdoodle
Pheasant: ditch parrot
Merganser: flying liver
Up yours!: (anything we miss)

Your turn!

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What’s bad about a good preserve hunt?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Okay, we’ve all been on a BAD lodge/preserve hunt: Dogs that won’t hold or retrieve, pool table smooth “cover,” birds that couldn’t fly themselves out of a paper bag.

But what’s wrong with a GOOD preserve hunt? It offers much to the dog owning hunter: more plentiful birds, convenient location, a chance at that rare commodity camaraderie, and at least a taste of the natural world, even if it’s been crafted by the hands of man.

And that’s not even weighing the value of your time, driving hours (or days) to knock on locked doors and not get permission to hunt non-existent wild birds on beat-up property that was hunted by every third cousin of the landowner’s last weekend. So “paying” for birds becomes moot, unless the value of your time is zero dollars.

I just had a pretty good preserve hunt. My friend Rob and I enjoyed every minute of it, from the dog work, to the weather, to the unlittered fields we had all to ourselves. And while a true wild bird hunt offers a philosophical and possibly emotional charge I won’t get at the local lodge, it was better than nothing. Way better. And according to Buddy, pretty darn gratifying.

Caveat: don’t get on my case about the nightmares that occur at many preserves. I already know, and have lived through, them. That’s not my purpose here (maybe in another post). But consider:

Fly anglers are pretty much over the planted trout issue, except in the rarest of cases. Many of our best “wild” trout streams were barren until someone put fish in them. Even put-and-take fisheries redeem themselves with most anglers if the fish “act wild.” Clipped fins, brookies in the West, McCloud River rainbows in New Zealand … who cares as long as the package is good?

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West Tennessee Quail Culture

Monday, June 16th, 2014

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Quail Forever Farm Bill Biologist Brittney Viers with cooperating landowners Judy and Brian Robbins. Instead of continuing to plant a worn out farm they inherited, Judy and Brian worked with Quail Forever and other partners to restore their land for quail and other wildlife.

The quail culture of West Tennessee runs deep and wide.

I visited the Mid-South and Kentucky Lakes Quail Forever chapters just before the holidays. It was a very encouraging trip that began with visiting farmer Vince Arnold near Paris. He recently put in a buffer strip on a creek because it was eroding badly, but also because he wants his son Casey, who he brought out to meet me, to experience wildlife and hunting.

I next attended the annual gathering of the area Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Jackson, where I spoke about the Paris landowner, thanking the NRCS for its help in bringing hope to area quail and quail hunters. My host, QF Farm Bill biologist Britteny Viers, then showed me another, much larger quail habitat project on land owned by Judy Robbins.

“The land when I inherited it was being worked to death. I didn’t want to do that anymore,” Robbins said. She fondly recalls her grandmother, the land’s prior owner, sitting on the front porch of the farm house whistling to the quail.

The next day Walker Morris, co-founder and former president of the Mid-South Chapter, and Andy Edwards, QF regional representative, toured the famous Ames Plantation, which annually hosts the National Championship for Bird Dogs on its over 18,000 acres southeast of Memphis. Shadow Oak Bo won the 2013 competition here, the first English setter to do so since 1970.

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Farmer Vince Arnold, son Casey and wife April worked with Quail Forever to buffer a field-side stream to protect water quality and provide quail habitat.

We later toured the 30,000 square foot National Bird Dog Museum in nearby Grand Junction, which includes an amazing collection of bird dog lore that any bird dog owner should see. One display, a Remington Model 17 20 ga. pump, was donated by local Julian Fleming who bagged 8,000 wild quail with the piece between 1955-1980!

After indulging in the local quail culture, we finally got to hunt them up at the nearby Wolf River Wildlife Management Area.  Walker’s two setters “Zip” and “Bonnie” put us on some birds too and there was shooting. The woods of west Tennessee are gorgeous, with over 20 varieties of oak. The uplands grow very tall and stately with hickories, persimmon, yellow poplar, shortleaf pine, America beech and eastern red cedar. The interspersed wetlands include the iconic bald cypress, hackberry, sugarberry and water tupelo gum. The uplands are carefully stewarded, planted with native grasses, forbs and regularly burned to keep out the trees and invasives.

The next day we hunted 30 acres owned and expertly managed by Quail Forever member Mike Hansbrough, NRCS area biologist. We also put up a covey here on that beautiful, diverse habitat….and got some shooting. Viers, a wildlife biologist with a masters in forestry, also took up the chase for her first wild quail. At day’s end, we hit a well managed, 528-acre CRP SAFE (State Acres For wildlife Enhancement) project in Fayette County.

As our day closed out with the Mid-South Chapter volunteers at a great Memphis BBQ joint, thunder, lightning and heavy rain descended. The next morning in heavy rain, we fled north to Minnesota through ice and snow, grateful for our new Tennessee friends, adventures and memories they so kindly gave us.

Check out the details of this intriguing adventure in an upcoming issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you’re not a member yet, join. You’ll love our magazine and feel good about giving back to the birds.

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Put your best feet forward

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Up here, a saved step or two is worth thinking about.

On this morning’s training walk with Manny, I was reminded of the importance of how we choose our steps … and why. Hope you find something useful here:

“Walk This Way” is more than an iconic rock tune (the original version by Aerosmith, whose lead singer Steven Tyler, by the way, has been a bird hunter in the past.) Ambulating with some care husbands your precious energy and maybe save a trip to the emergency room. Where I hunt, in the darkest spot in the lower 48, both of those are good enough reasons to think before I step.

It starts with minimizing the strain on your thigh and calf muscles by stepping over, not on top of, obstacles such as logs and rocks. Each upward stride is like climbing stairs, taxing some of the largest muscles in your body and lifting virtually your entire body’s weight each time you summit a downed tree.

If you must negotiate a boulder field or rocky slope, you’re safer stepping to the low spots. You have less chance of twisting an ankle or breaking a femur because you’re carefully, deliberately putting your feet where they’d go the hard way in a mishap. And by not “topping” rocks, whether they’re securely anchored or loose as bowling balls is immaterial to your delicate bones and joints.

On steep uphills, say in chukar country, conserve energy with the slight rest your muscles get as you lock your knee at the apex of each step. Your legs’ skeletal structure supports your body weight for a microsecond, giving oxygen-rich blood a chance to flow back into relaxed muscle tissue. And for some reason I tend to stomp on each uphill step, adding injury to the insult of taunting chukars mere yards uphill from me. If you do too, step lightly instead.

A long day weaving among the trees and shrubs will seem shorter if you weave less. Even if it seems a bit out of the way, walking in longer straight shots with fewer twists and turns, alleviates stress on hip and knee joints and the muscles that activate them. Over the course of a 10-mile hunt, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the absence of pain.

Finally, the U.S. Army has convinced me that shortening your stride just a few inches is wise.  Among recruits, it protects against hip and pelvic injuries. For we hunting civilians, too. Here’s a bonus: on crusted snow, you may find yourself “postholing” less.

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Are you a “slob hunter?”

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Your mother doesn’t live here. Clean up after yourself.

Way back in the deepest recess of your formerly-adolescent mind, you heard that cliché in reference to your bedroom. Below the Farrah Fawcett poster, amongst the model cars (or maybe an X Box) was your dirty laundry. Or a pizza box, unfinished homework, candy wrappers or more likely all of the above.

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But today it’s your spent shotgun shells on the ground.

Just like dirty socks in as a kid, you left them where they fell. Just a couple, forgotten in the excitement of a covey flush … or a double on jinking bobwhites (yes!).

No big deal. Until the birders visit next spring and surmise that all hunters are slobs. Or the local PETA chapter on their summer solstice drumming-and-sweat-lodge outing. Then, those empty hulls are just garbage.
Trash. And hunters are too, damned by the bright, shiny evidence shouting to the world that we are all gun-toting yahoos without regard for anyone or anything else, including our environment. Our coverts.

Those empties are no longer plastic and brass. They are an embarrassment to sportsmen – a condemnation of every one of us, a glinting example of our carelessness and disregard for others.

I’m reminded of a sign I saw above a locker-room door years ago: Our reputation depends on you, me, and us.
How about a more selfish reason: piles of shucked ammo show me where your honey hole is. And another: common courtesy. You wouldn’t be invited to his next barbecue if you dumped crap in your neighbor’s yard. Why dump it in our collective yard? Fellow hunters are your neighbors on public lands.

We have enough challenges: to the Second Amendment, finding ammo, continued access to public land, dogs that forget their training. And while we can’t sway rabid anti-hunters, we have plenty of chances to keep the non-hunting public on our side. The ones who vote, and stand up at public meetings. The folks who write letters to the editor and testify at game and fish department hearings.

So pick up your trash and someone else’s. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Your choice.

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See better, shoot better

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

IMG_1734Still not hitting them? You might be cross-dominant. No, I don’t mean wearing a dress (if you’re a guy) or a suit (if you’re a woman). Your “off” eye might be stronger than the one looking down your gun barrel. If you miss a lot you might be one of the ten percent of us (me included) who need to cope with this.

Here’s a simple test: Keeping both eyes open, extend one arm, index finger pointing up as if it’s a rifle sight. Look over your “sight” and put an object across the room on top of it. Close the eye that normally looks down your gun barrel (shooting right-handed, your right eye). If the object stays on top of your “sight,” you’re cross dominant. If it jumps to one side, you are currently shooting with your gun on the correct shoulder.

Depending on your motivation and self-discipline, take your pick of these solutions:

1)       Learn to shoot with the opposite eye and shoulder.

2)       Shut your dominant eye while shooting (good luck)

3)       Wear shooting glasses and put a patch over your dominant eye

The patch method eliminates a summer’s worth of frustration while learning to shoot again (or in my case, two summers). It also lets you focus (pardon the pun) on the bird, not trying to remember to close your eye while shooting. The key is careful placement of your patch.

Use a one-inch piece of transparent (“Scotch”) tape. Put it on your shooting glasses’ dominant eye lens so that when you mount your gun, the muzzle is obscured by the patch. It’s not the perfect solution (hard crossers from your dominant eye side will still be tough) but it beats the alternatives.

Whether you are or aren’t cross-dominant, try to keep both eyes open. Shotgunning is a pointing skill, not an aiming skill. Unlike rifle shooting, we don’t line up the back sight and the front sight – there is no back sight, except for our eye. Ideally, we’re focusing on the bird, not the gun muzzle, nor the beads on our barrel if there are any.

(Scott’s new book What the Dogs Taught Me, is available here.)

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