Archive for the ‘Quail Forever’ Category

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Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Finger off the red button!


Who gives a flyin’ fig?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Why recruit new hunters? Let me count the ways ...

Why recruit new hunters? Let me count the ways …

Do you want to be the last bird hunter?

I love pulling up to a promising covert and finding nobody else parked there. So do you. To know with confidence that you’ll be the first – possibly only – one to hunt a field that week, immeasurable.

We all long for untrammeled ground … “first tracks” to use a ski analogy, when we open the tailgate and let the dogs out. Who doesn’t want to believe the birds are plentiful and naïve, will hold for our dogs, fly high and slow when we walk them up?

But what if that was always the case? What if you never saw another soul in the woods or on the prairie, because you were the last bird hunter?

Someone is fervently hoping it will come true, that they’ll be the last to inhabit this “ideal” world and be the only ones, getting all the shots, finding no footprints.

I wouldn’t want to hunt with him.

But we may all see a situation almost this dire in our lifetime, if you believe the pessimists in our midst. If you read the magazines or are a member of an upland conservation group, you know our fraternity is at risk of extinction. There are fewer new hunters coming on and more going out, usually by dying. We are an aging population, we bird hunters. And too many of us are a tad too selfish – relishing the situation described above – to bring on the next generation of uplanders.

Okay, maybe not selfish, but defeated, discouraged, disillusioned. I can’t blame them.

The almighty dollar usually trumps CRP payments and conservation easements. Ethanol is a wicked competitor, fueling the plowing of marginal ground for a few more bushels of corn. Deer hunters waving dollar bills will keep grouse hunters off a lease; the price of ammo will stop a 16-year-old from picking up a shotgun, as will a PETA lecture in kindergarten. The pressure of peers who don’t hunt, lack of a father figure, onerous regulation of gun ownership and even ammo restrictions have thinned our ranks. Bird populations are devastated by blizzard or drought, or nesting habitat is mowed early for another cutting of alfalfa.

The “barriers to entry” as statisticians call them, are numerous. But none are insurmountable. Unless you’re selfish. Or a quitter. Or brain-dead.

Why bother taking a friend, kid, spouse hunting? What do you get in return? Here’s my list … you can probably come up with more reasons:

New hunters’ license dollars fund management of habitat and game populations. Your neighbors, PETA members, and the Defenders of Wildlife might talk a good game, but only hunters put their money where their mouths are. When license money evaporates, don’t look to taxpayers to pick up the slack. So unless you plan to quit hunting the very day your state outlaws it, every new recruit ensures access and a modicum of managed game to chase.

New hunters are fresh and energetic, ready to pick up the banner and fight for conservation. We all burn out, and without new troops joining the battle against habitat destruction, the front lines will collapse. Oil companies and wind energy syndicates will claim victory.

New shotgunners who understand scientific game management can advocate for it among their non-hunting, anti-gun peers. Sensational claims by the anti-hunting cabal are best countered with cold, hard facts related by knowledgeable outdoors enthusiasts.

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. That includes gun control. The anti-gun crowd pooh-poohs the fundamental reason for a Second Amendment, but you shouldn’t laugh. You don’t have to pick up a textbook to learn that many tyrants modern and ancient started their reign of terror by disarming their citizenry. The death of gun rights starts with excessive government meddling in your personal life, an “imperial presidency” ruling by fiat not representation, marginalizing those with unpopular views. It is fueled by a sheep-like tolerance of more and more unreasonable encroachment on our rights. Whether it’s Big Gulps or Obamacare, a slippery slope might be around the next bend in the road.

We should fear any president’s desire to take away the last resort we have available for opposing a corrupt regime. Ask the Syrians fighting for freedom right now, or the Jews of 1930’s Germany, if you think that notion is silly and antiquated. Unarmed citizens become subjects. New hunters become Second Amendment advocates.

A kid who knows and understands guns is a safer kid. He handles one with respect in the field and knows what to do when a gun is found where it shouldn’t be. That kid is less likely to be a danger to himself or others. When the bad guy does break down his front door, that kid – or adult – might just stop a rape or murder. If some nut job is drawing a bead on your daughter at the mall, a fellow shopper (and hunter) shooting back might save her life.

Hunters are part of the circle of life. They have a realistic view of where food comes from and what is involved in making meat. Shotgunners take personal responsibility for some of their sustenance, and in this cynical world that makes for a more authentic life.

Shooting straight, find your way back to camp, starting a fire, cleaning a bird, training a dog are all skills that teach important character traits: overcoming hardship, accomplishing something tangible, self reliance, accountability. You won’t find those on the agenda at a public school. “Manliness” is scorned these days, but when the dam breaks or the woods catch fire, I hope there are hunters (and Boy Scouts) around to help.

Hunting is a direct link to our shared history. It has a body of literature that is beautiful. It is our connection to grandparents and our distant ancestors. Hunting is part of our DNA, and ignoring that suppresses a visceral element of our personhood. A new hunter becomes part of the chain, a standard-bearer for all things worth remembering including our hunting heritage.

Finally, a new hunter might take you hunting when you’re too old to venture out alone. Recruits will listen to our stories around the campfire, and pass them on. They will be our legacy, just as are pristine streams, wild places and thriving game populations

Now, go make a new hunter.


Smell ya later

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Tell me he's not smelling fun.

Tell me he’s not smelling fun.

Crack open a bottle of Hoppe’s Number Nine and you’re transported to another time and place. It might be your grandfather’s shop, or a favorite hunting spot, maybe something altogether personal and secret, but you will go there. There is no better time-travel device than our nose.

Science tells us of all the memory-kindlers, our sense of smell is superior to the other four. There is a four-lane freeway from nostrils to the memory center in our brain, and we are in the express lane every time we inhale.

For we bird hunters, perhaps more so. After all, our four-legged partners make a living with their schnozzolas, so we are in some small way tuned into their incredible olfactory abilities, mimicking them to a pitifully small degree. But even at a smidgen of their scenting ability, we can appreciate the remarkable way our nose takes us on hunting trips long after the blisters have healed.

Our chukar desert emits a pastel-hued atmosphere, fueled by a mélange of sage, hot sand and bitterbrush. The reaction to its quenching by a sudden downpour is genetic, first the smell of wet air and ground reaching us, then drops – if we’re lucky – soon after. Deep down, we know life-giving water is good, even if we must crouch under a rocky overhang until it abates. Even a wet dog reminds us water is good.

A cold snow has texture and an odor like no other winter phenomenon. It sticks in the throat, penetrates deep into the lungs. Add the tang of pine pitch and you are suddenly in a different world.

Skunk in the distance is the quintessential smell of rural America. Up close, we use other descriptions, and we never forget that day (nor does our dog).

We relive every shot from every hunt when the gun opens and smoke drifts from the barrel. That hard left-right crosser, the double over a staunch point … where and when, whom you were with are retrieved from the subconscious every time burnt powder bites your nostrils.

We’ll never suss out the mystery of what our dogs feel when they drink in the elixir of bird scent, except to know for certain that it is a deep, deep pleasure. Do they recall every bird? Is it a brand-new experience every time? Are there special birds? What makes them special? Is he hoping this is the one he can pounce on, swallow whole, and enjoy again later when it magically reappears in front of his retching muzzle?

Or rather delivered to us (we hope), where the coppery aroma of startlingly-hot guts taken from a small body assaults our senses.

Musty leaves beyond crackling, destined to join the soil they sprang from last year. Wet rocks along a stream that beckon a dog that deserves a quenching drink. The musk of mud and still water. Anticipation of the first bitter snort-gulp of icy beer shrinks the distance between ridgeline and truck.

Campfire smoke is the perfect accompaniment to old whiskey in a tin cup – like a wine snob, don’t forget to inhale as you sip. A charcoal grill, rib eyes sizzling, signals the end of a good day.

Long after the snow flies, I watch my dogs while cooking birds we’ve hunted together and wonder: is it the raw meat that draws them inexorably to the kitchen, or the stirring of memory …where they pointed, how they felt, the intoxicating odor of feathers recalled in a breath?

I might be giving them more credit than they deserve, hoping they recall the magical time when two predators worked as one. Maybe you do, too.


In praise of pigeons

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

One of their many uses - teaching steadiness.

One of their many uses – teaching steadiness.

Sky rats. Vermin. Urban scourge.

Not my pigeons. They may not be the most elegant, or the smartest bird. Nobody  waxes poetic about the common rock dove.

Columba livia domestica is much maligned, even among those of us who keep them. Like most others, it’s unlikely I’d be a pigeon fancier if I didn’t have bird dogs. George Hickox said it best: “no birds, no bird dog.” And it’s true.

My birds are first and foremost, a training tool. But watching them roost, calmly ruffling feathers on a nest, elegantly circling the loft, even pecking the ground for grit, they are in many ways like our horses. Both exude a calming influence, a soft and peaceful aura enveloping nearby humans.

It helps that most people find them objectionable in one or more ways. After all, we do need to abuse them a bit and a certain disdain softens the blow. But they are partners in our dog training effort and I appreciate that.

Stoic, patient and maybe a bit oblivious … all are attributes that fortify a pigeon for its job, a job that is crucial to the polishing of our dogs’ skills.

Europeans and Middle Easterners have revered pigeons along with their cousins the doves, for eons. Steeped in romance and history, they’ve been hand-in-glove with humans since Egyptian times, enshrined in hieroglyphics and lauded in papyrus scrolls. In World War I, lowly pigeons couriered vital information. Such noble genealogy has not stopped modern society from relegating them to the role of cooing ornaments in city parks, denizens of grain elevators, desecrators of windshields.

Some passionate racers still exist, speaking in hushed tones about breeding and strategy. Sure, they have their quirks (the same can be said for bird dog folk), but many of us are grateful for their culls.

They are not chukars, ringnecks, or even pen-raised bobwhites. But rock doves are available, inexpensive, and tough. When a bob will often die of fright on its first retrieve, a pigeon will heroically endure numerous retrieves, ultimately arriving mangled and bloody, but ready to go again after a few days’ rest. They are quite content to be the bird we have to use, but don’t want to use.

There’s a certain amount of pride among dog owners who also keep pigeons. There’s an element of propriety in one’s loft design, birds’ homing abilities, even colors become the subject of endless debate, the tone of which clearly indicates a visceral connection between man and bird. I won’t call it affection, but look deep enough and you detect the same attitude one has toward a good set of  tools.

For all of us, let me say thanks, pigeons.


Dog of the Day: Elli

Friday, March 21st, 2014

BirdDogNBen Fleischacker’s English pointer pup ”Elli” is pictured here showing off after Nebraska’s Franklin County Quail Forever youth mentor hunt.

“Thanks for a great conservation group!” said Fleischacker. “The boys down in the Franklin County chapter know what they’re doing!”

Have a bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Rehan Nana, Quail Forever’s public relations specialist, at



Dog of the Day: Oliver

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Ollie & Stella-Sized-II

Oliver (the big guy in front) and his little buddy, Stella, are shown here hunting in Oregon. Oliver and Stella are owned by Tiffanie Andrews-Rost.

Through both history and anatomical evaluation, at least four breeds appear to have been instrumental in Pointer crosses: Greyhounds, Foxhounds, Bloodhounds, and Bull Terriers. Each of these were established breeds with unique qualities the Pointer could use to do its job.


Give ‘em a break too

Sunday, March 16th, 2014


All work and no rest … a recipe for disobedience.

Mondays may not be your favorite day of the week but you are refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to face the work week. Conversely, if you worked all weekend you’re probably not at the top of your game when you clock in again on Monday morning.

My dogs are the same, they need a break from training once in a while. There’s only so much undivided attention I can expect. So I give them a “weekend” too.

Some days, we just play. Explore new places. Or hunt. We go back to the easy stuff on the training agenda. Or practice old skills in new places. What we don’t do is focus on acquiring new skills.

After a few days of introductory work, I let the newest bits of knowledge sink in, so to speak, without burning him out. This way dogs – and their handler – enjoy a no-stress holiday that makes the next intense training session more productive.

It’s kind of like when we put on our sweatpants and watch football all day. We still know where the fridge is and how to open it, but its second nature and doesn’t require much concentration … until we can’t figure out where our wife hid the beer!


Dog of the Day: Windy

Monday, March 10th, 2014


Dog of the Day: “Windy” with a chance of quail. Owned by Scott Cormier, a hunting guide at Pine Creek Sporting club in Okeechobee, Florida.

Have a bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Rehan Nana, Quail Forever’s public relations specialist, at


Dog of the Day: Brook

Friday, March 7th, 2014


The English springer spaniel,  Brook, owned by Steven Ferguson of New Mexico, just turned seven weeks old and is on the right path to be a bird dog.

Springer Facts: During the early 19th century, both cocker spaniels and springer spaniels were born in the same litters. The smaller cockers were used to hunt woodcock, while their larger littermates, the springer spaniels, would “spring”—or flush—the game into the air where a trained falcon or hawk would bring it to the handler.

Have a bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Rehan Nana, Quail Forever’s public relations specialist, at



Dog of the Day: Quinn

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


Quinn, the English pointer, was 15 months-old in this photo (showing his first point on quail), but by the looks of it, Quinn was already a pro.

“(Quinn is) one of the best dogs I’ve ever owned, and I’ve had some good ones,” says Quail Forever life-member Wayne Kinzel of Missouri. “He is 11 years-old now, but still has great intensity on point and has always been very biddable.”

Have a bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Rehan Nana, Quail Forever’s public relations specialist, at