Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One last post for 2014

The ink well has been running a little dry lately but through the wonder that is Craigslist I managed to pick up another media tool recently - a decent Canon dSLR that I've been having a little fun with. Photos below are from two recent excursions with the dog, one carrying a gun and another without.

We're not allowed to hunt in the national forest on Sundays, something I did for years until I learned about the rule. I always wondered why I never ran into anyone else. There's no rule against taking your dog for a walk, though.

Figures we'd stumble into a covey when I didn't have a gun on me. This photo tells the tale of just how fickle scent can be. When I rounded the corner and saw Wyatt on point, he was looking to the left, not the right as he is below. His head was gently drifting from side to side so I knew he didn't have the birds locked, but he wasn't coming off the point either. I stepped off the road toward him and the covey blew up about 3 yards off his tail, leaving him with the look below as they flew off.

Bird dog after the flush

I checked the wind and sure enough it was blowing left to right. My guess is the birds were feeding (it was about 4pm) and had just been in the area to the left. A few minutes after the flush the wind had shifted 180 degrees, so there's no telling what his nose picked up. I was extremely impressed he held point for as long as he did under those conditions.

This time of year you can occasionally find a few woodcock in the right places. They love the river bottoms and cane breaks and the shooting is usually pretty easy down there.

River bottom
Woodcock like this...
Cane breaks
...and love this
Well, we hunted the best spots and didn't move any so we eased on to higher ground to look for quail. It wasn't long before Wyatt went on point, at least I thought he was on point because he wasn't moving although I couldn't see him through the mess of young pine trees and saplings and briars and vines. I'm of the mind that unless it's dangerous you should always, always try to get to a dog on point. It just sends the wrong message if you wait for him to break or, God forbid, call him off.

A machete would have been highly useful as I pushed and clawed and bled my way through and after a few minutes I heard it, the chirp of a timberdoodle taking flight, and looked up just in time to see it float over the tops of the pines. Gun behind me, a shot was not a remote possibility. This routine repeated on a second bird. Eventually we escaped from the wooded prison and got two more flushes, the last of which actually presented a shot but the bird would have dropped right back in the middle of the trees and vines so I watched it sail off. Woodcock hunting.

Bird dog working the edge
Working the edge late in the day
River view from the bluff
Not all views are bad
Mushrooms on a log

Lost horse sign
Apparently they're not too concerned about the rider.
I didn't see either of them.

Brittany in the woods
Maybe this way..

sunset in the pines
End of the day

Monday, December 22, 2014

Time passing

The lack of activity here over the last few weeks is not an indication of apathy or boredom, just conflicting priorities. Between a few lackluster dove hunts and one highly unproductive quail hunt I've been tending to an aging member of the family. Finally had him put to sleep on the 18th, mainly to prevent the suffering that was coming hard and fast.

This one was never a bird dog. Any talent he was born with was stolen from him by his first owner. He came to live with me scared of his own shadow. a foster dog that I was supposed to rehabilitate to the point that he could go live with another family. After a year of steps forward and back he was ready but by then he was part of the family, so he stayed for the next 15 years.

As a youngster he would run in circles in my backyard for hours, literally to the point that he made berms in places. This returned in his old age but the circles were much, much smaller and the motion was a turtle's pace. His affinity for escaping the yard and spending the night out also returned, as I wrote about earlier this year.

The last few months were spent alternately soaking up sunshine and struggling with the basics. There were times, more frequent toward the end, when he could only point his nose toward some tangle of objects and become trapped in or under them. When the neural switchboard guides you away from open spaces and into things from which you cannot escape on your own, something is very wrong. His legs were slowly giving out and it occurred to me that it had been a long, long time since I'd seen that nubby little tail wag.

Where his soul goes from here is nothing but speculation. I'll disagree with anyone, though, who claims dogs don't have souls. I've seen too much to agree with such nonsense. His is now freed from a worn-out old body, free to jump on the bed and dig through the trash can and run in circles again. Godspeed, old man.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Sunrise on Thanksgiving
Just before legal shooting time

...for this.

Didn't pull the trigger today.

Didn't mind.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From the "Idiots of the day" file

Seems it's hard to do something good without someone complaining about it. Yesterday the US House of Reps passed a bill that will increase the price of the federal duck stamp from $15 to $25, a move long supported by hunters - the only people who will actually pay the increase - and that will raise an estimated $120 million in additional funds for conservation.

By this morning the move was already being labeled a "tax hike" by Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch brothers. I'm not sure if the guys who run that shop came in late today and this position was posted by an overly eager intern who showed up bright and early, but that's the story I'd stick to if I were in charge over there because this is just stupid.

For this increase to be a tax hike I guess you'd have to consider the duck stamp a tax in the first place, which would mean my hunting license is also a tax, along with my driver's license and the ticket to the basketball game I attended, all things I consider privileges that I gladly pay to enjoy. I don't know a single hunter - republican, democrat, libertarian, whatever - who bitches about buying a duck stamp.

The bill (HR5069) contains a provision allowing the Dept of the Interior to reduce the price of the stamp in coming years if the overall revenue generated from stamp sales declines. In other words, if people stop buying duck stamps because of this increase (highly unlikely), they can lower the prices again. Ever seen a tax hike do that? In the meantime all of the increase goes toward buying conservation easements, not bridges to nowhere, not staffing the IRS, not hammers for the defense department.

This is in no way a tax hike, but if I had an agenda that included trying to privatize public land I might try to pitch it as one. In fact, Americans for Prosperity made a lame attempt at trying to tie the two together:
Duck stamp revenue fits the bill of Washington ineptitude – the tax on hunters is used to give more land to the federal government, which already owns over a quarter of all the land in the country and cannot manage it properly.
Purchasing conservation easements isn't quite the same as purchasing land, but never mind such details. We're on a mission and won't be deterred by facts.

Noteworthy: The price of the stamp has remained at $15 since 1991. Inflation adjusted, the price today would be slightly over $26. Maybe instead of a tax hike we call this a long-overdue cost of hunting increase.

The bill still has to pass the Senate, with hopes that it lands on the President's desk by year's end. Please Washington, don't fuck this one up.

Monday, November 10, 2014


This is what four years of work looks like:

It may not seem like much, but this is a huge step in restoring bobwhite populations in a place where there were once more quail hunters than deer or turkey hunters. It started with a few casual conversations back in 2011 that evolved into an appearance before the DNR's board of directors. A year later a finished plan was presented to that same board and the keystone to that plan was this council.

The council will be the steering committee for the work that gets done, all of the partnerships that form and all of the people we manage to bring into the fold. It's the first piece of a very large puzzle. Made up of over 20 federal, state and non-profit organizations and a handful of individuals, the level of enthusiasm and eagerness to participate was overwhelming. Seems people were just waiting to be asked. Let's hope that's the case as this little experiment grows.

Ed: Sorry to all those who clicked on the links in this post during the last 24 hrs. Appears there were some server issues. All should be working again.  11/11/14

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Devil's minions

Fire ant hill

If your part of the country doesn't have them, count your blessings. These mounds of granulated clay look harmless, inert, until you knock the top off of one. Just beneath lie thousands of agents of suffering.

They take over a field faster than kudzu. They've been rumored to eat the eggs of certain gallinaceous birds. Every living thing is supposed to have some value to the planet, but I've yet to find the good done by this tiny demon.

Water doesn't drown them. Bug spray doesn't deflect them. They move quickly and in silence.

They invade a boot without warning and those at the front of the charge wait until those at the rear have arrived to begin the assault. And then they bite. And it stings. And then itches for days.

Often they don't stop at boot level, ascending a leg until well past the knee only to release their venom in the most inconvenient of places.

I take great pleasure in their demise.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A little help please..

I try to avoid re-posting stuff from other bird hunting blogs. It's their creative blood and sweat and you should visit their blogs, not mine, to get it. But this morning I read a post from Greg McReynolds on Mouthful of Feathers that was a bit different.

About a week ago Greg left his gun at a parking spot in Idaho, and this wasn't just any gun:

Most of the people who read my blog also read MOF, so there's some redundancy here. Given the circumstances I hope you'll forgive me. If you came upon Greg's gun and you're an honest soul, I don't blame you for picking it up and keeping the dishonest at bay while you figure out how to locate its owner. Now you know who it belongs to, though, and it's time to get it home.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Bobwhites in the news

Not often that bobwhites make the news twice in one day. The first article is on the PBS website of all places, a lengthy discussion of the movement toward landscape scale management of certain species. Like most of what's written about quail these days it's heavy on the vanilla and PBS monotone and light on the hot sauce, but if you're into conservation it's an interesting read:

Contrary to what you'd think based on the title, this isn't another "we're all doomed because of global warming" piece laden with liberal undertones of conservative culpability. It leans more toward the effects of recent droughts, something those of you in TX, OK, and as of late CA know too well.

The second is a news release from the NBCI about the funding it's been approved for under Pittman-Robertson (for the politically uninclined, this is the formal name for the excise tax on firearms and ammo).

This is a big deal for several reasons.  First, it provides needed funding for the continued work of the NBCI and provides some predictability to that funding. Living from grant request to grant request is no fun and consumes quite a lot of time and effort, both of which could be better put to use supporting the state-level efforts to restore bobwhite populations.

Second, it affirms that more and more attention is being paid to the plight of the bobwhite and the urgent need to do something about it. This is in many ways at least as important as the funding as it moves us closer and closer to the critical mass it will take to affect change on a range-wide basis. If you have a few minutes, visit their site ( and read the 2014 State of the Bobwhite report, particularly the segments on what's happening in each state.  Lots of really good results out there that just don't get a lot of ink.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Glorious 11th

As the first season wears on, turnout at the hunts drops to predictably low levels and Saturday wasn't the first time I had the field to myself on the closing day. My ancestors had their Glorious 12th of September, opening day in the isles, and this year I had my Glorious 11th, the last chance at shooting dove for the next five weeks, not knowing exactly what the day would hold but knowing I'd kick myself if I didn't at least show up.

It's been a lackluster season up to this point, the resident doves having moved on shortly after opening day leaving us to scratch out a living on scant gypsy populations. Week before last we killed a grand total of two birds in the whole field, so optimism is not exactly abundant this time of year. Most of the guys I shoot with opted for the Clemson game and several others were out of town or just had better things to do. Perish the thought.

dead sunflower
The field is spent
Experience teaches that you'd better bring along something to do when the birds aren't around so I packed the camera, figuring I could at least count on some leaves and dead sunflowers and stuff. When I walked into the field a dozen or so birds got up, which means one of two things will happen:

  1. the birds scatter and never come back and you don't see another bird all day (9 out of 10 times)
  2. this is an omen that there are still birds in the area and maybe, just possibly, this could turn out to be a decent afternoon (1 in 10)
So you settle in, snap a few pics and see what happens..

chairs and grills
Leftover from opening day

changing leaves
Sign of the times

Dead dove hidden in the grass
Sometimes they're hard to find

Dead dove on the ground
Sometimes they're not so hard

dove with a trail of feathers
Sometimes they leave a trail...

A dozen birds in the bag, a few photos, one fire ant bite and everything a fall afternoon has for the taking. While it wasn't perfect - 85 degrees and far more gnats than birds - it handily beat all expectations, reminding me why I show up against the wisdom of the crowd. And why I'll do it again.

doves on a tailgate
The take

Friday, October 3, 2014

October brings..

a morning where the chill sends you back for another layer.

white vapor proof that I really am breathing.

victory over this year's army of mosquitoes.

a cease fire in the battle with the lawn.

leaves sporting new finery.

ashes in the fireplace.

birds multiplying in the freezer.

It's finally here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The (almost) Dream Job

Orvis gun room in Manchester flagship store

Saw this post on the Orvis News site a few days ago and thought I'd pass it along in case anyone out there has what it takes:

Looking at this job description I have the organizational and managerial side licked. Where I fall woefully short is knowledge of fine shotguns, and I'm fairly sure this would be tough to fake. Not sure the wife would be too excited about winter in VT either.

There's always the question of whether something you do for entertainment would be remotely entertaining if it was your job. Opinions - and experiences - on this vary. Years ago I spent a season guiding at a hunting preserve on weekends, figuring it would be a great way to keep the dog in shape and make a little pocket change. In short, it sucked. What I learned is that there aren't many people who like to hunt the way I do, and the money didn't - couldn't - come close to masking that.

Doesn't mean the job is wrong for everyone, though, and there's someone who's gonna love spending his days talking to people about shotguns and getting paid for it. If you need a field tester, you know where to find me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A few suggestions

Our dove haven't gone away completely but they haven't spread the word to their friends, either. Yesterday, during another session of long pauses between shots, several things occurred to me that might take dove hunting to the next level. Feast your intellect:
  1. Some well-heeled individual or his namesake charitable trust should fund the genetic development of a dove that, when mortally wounded, turns a shade of bright red or orange. This would eliminate quite a bit of poking in bushes, staring at patches of weeds, walking in ever-increasing circles and generally wasting my time. Time that could be better spent thinking up brilliant improvements to the sport such as this.
  2. Dragonflies, tweety birds, and butterflies should stay the hell out of a field when there is a hunt going on. Peripheral vision being the imperfect sense that it is, all you creatures that resemble a dove in flight over in the corner of my eye do nothing but raise my heart rate and interrupt my otherwise tranquil mood. Fair warning: on slow days you are quite a temptation.
  3. If we can put a man on the moon we ought to be able to figure out a way to keep gnats out of my general face area. Bug spray doesn't work. Ditto Thermacells, in spite of what people keep telling me. If the well-heeled individual in #1 is looking for another project, possibly one with commercial appeal, this would be it. I know gnats are part of the food chain somewhere way down the line, so I don't want to kill them, I just want them out of my face. They can hang out on the other side of my head or around my knees even. Anywhere but my face. And while we're genetically modifying things, let's tweak the gnat and remove whatever it is that attracts them to eyeballs.
That's as far as I got, three flashes of genius in a day being at least two more than I'm normally good for.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Here and gone

Dove season interrupted the summer nap on Labor Day, as usual sporting heat and soul-crushing humidity. But the birds were there and we were too, hoping for a barnburner, always hoping.

And as always, some higher power insists on turning everything fun into a learning experience. When the heat index approaches triple digits wearing short pants seems like a bright idea until a bird goes down in the trees and weeds. Teeth clench as the briars pick at bare skin, etching red lines that sting when the sweat finds them. About ten feet into the thick stuff that thought about poison ivy materializes. Remind me again why I think this is fun?

Date #2 came the birds stood us up. Never seen them disappear so early in the year, seemingly without a reason although that's never the case. Weather, lack of food, and hunting pressure are just about the only things that will move them out and other than a frog strangler of a thunderstorm none of these were in play. I'm still waiting for the "It's not you" phone call. Or text.

Some guys can't take a hint. Back at it again on Sunday..

Monday, September 8, 2014

Birds of prey(ed)

Longer than I've been alive men who hunt bobwhites have competed with natural predators for the privilege of dining on the brown bundle of feathers. For years a thriving fur trade coupled with abundant bird habitat rendered the contest moot, but times have changed and lately it seems more and more landowners are aggressively managing predator populations in an effort to leave more birds for the wingshooters. As evidenced by this story, some are taking it a bit too far, or at least aren't being very discreet about it:
3 sentenced in SC for killing hawks and owls
The sentences for the perpetrators - $500-$1000, a ban on trapping (odd, but maybe there's something I don't know), and community service - aren't much of a deterrent. The fine for the plantation owner sent a bigger message. At $250,000, it's enough to wake up even the well-heeled owner and I'm sure others in the area will think twice before encouraging their managers to keep the hawks in check.

The topic itself is probably as polarizing among hunters and landowners as religion and politics are in other circles, and facts, pesky things that they are, often aren't enough to sway opinion. Tall Timbers and the Albany Quail Project have conducted plenty of research showing that predator control has a negligible effect on bird populations. The money and time would be better spent on a number of other things that DO have a demonstrated effect. Still, predator control isn't very difficult and it's easy to show results, at least in terms of dead predators, and if you're a plantation manager trying to impress the boss I guess that's something.

Until you get caught.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Game time

It's been a long stretch since the weather was cold and the trees were bare of leaves. Everything since then leads up to now in more ways than one.

Workouts in the heat, watching film, drills, even a little scouting. No off-season injuries either, knock on wood. A few of the redshirts have eyes on the starting lineup. Last year's record wasn't exactly one for the record books. Maybe a new look on the uniform will change the luck. Everyone is undefeated at this point.

The season kicks off this weekend.

Someone said football starts, too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's a clock?

This happens several times a week, proving that instant gratification is not purely a human weakness. He doesn't seem bothered by the reality that opening day is still 3 months away.

I've heard that dogs have no concept of time, at least in certain context. None I've seen need a clock to know it's feeding time.  When it comes to elapsed time or relative time, however, I'd be inclined to agree. How else to explain the same surge of joy whether you've been gone two hours or two weeks?

It must be nice to spend your time not burdened by regrets and fears or wishing you could re-create the glory days. Now is all there is and if something not so good is happening now, well, every second is a new now.

Time only matters when you're getting paid by the hour anyway.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Home sweet home

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Longpine Plantation in south GA finally sold after five years on the market. At roughly 6000 acres, Longpine is neither the biggest nor the smallest place in the area but its sale was considered newsworthy nonetheless, possibly because the previous owner was a Ford.

Longpine Plantation roadway

The initial listing price was $40 million, later reduced to $34 million and ultimately let go for $27 million and change, which just goes to show that lowballing really works. In some worlds.

I'd be lying a big fat one if I said I wasn't a tiny bit jealous of a guy with the coin to make such a purchase. Of course that's just the cover charge, the yearly upkeep running about what a mediocre NFL player makes. The mere thought of feeding the string of 35 Longpine-bred bird dogs is enough to make me cringe. Not likely a problem for the new owner who, according to the Journal, collects ranches and plantations like I collect chigger bites.

If it's true, their claim of a peak count of 6.7 wild coveys per hour since 1998 is astounding even in the best of years. At that rate a limit is not only possible, it's embarrassing if you're not done by lunch. I'd love to give my dog just one day of that olfactory heaven.

Longpine Plantation burning

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The results are in..

Earlier this week the results from the first ever national dove hunters survey were released. A collaborative effort between the USFWS, the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies and the National Flyway Council, the study appears to be a stab at taking the temperature of the dove hunting community. You may have received one of the questionnaires (I did, and yes, I did fill it out). Approximately 30,000 were mailed and about 12,600 were returned.  Those targeted were selected at random from state HIP databases.

Most of the reported results fell short of anything shocking, not that there was a reason to expect otherwise. There were a few interesting bits, though. The average age of respondents was 45, which could mean that teens and early twenties hunters didn't get the survey or didn't have time to fill it out (kids lead such busy lives these days), or it could mean that there just aren't many younger dove hunters. One of those would be bad.

More than half filling out the survey travel at least 50 miles to hunt. That's either a lot of dedication or a way to stretch the time out of the house a bit longer.

And to quote from the FAQ, "More than 85% of respondents “mostly” or “always” use lead shot to hunt doves, and the majority believe that lead shot substitutes are too expensive." If you don't think lead substitutes are expensive, you're probably hunting in Argentina anyway. The switch to non-toxic shot for dove is out there on the horizon somewhere and in the meantime I'll either become a better shot or figure out which day of the week I won't eat.

You can read the full results here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thermometer games

Every few years or so we get lucky and catch a spell of cooler days right in the middle of summer.  Cool as in low 60s when you wake up and maybe mid-70s when the sun's up top. May not sound like much but it's sure welcome when 95 is the norm.

Watching fireworks on the 4th I told my wife that I couldn't remember doing that without fighting the urge to stare at them through the windshield, A/C on full. And there was a breeze to boot. The next morning we had coffee in the backyard, a ritual normally reserved for April or, if we're lucky, early May.

Saturday the temps were cool again and it even rained all day, just like it does in some other seasons I know of. Mother Nature is such a tease.

And then last week the bird hunting issue of Gray's hit the shelves. New names mostly, which is nice every so often. I couldn't help noticing that there wasn't a bobwhite story anywhere in in. Great. Now they've disappeared from Gray's, too.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hurricanes and duck stamps

The plan was to spend some time in Charleston, daylight hours on the beach and evenings sampling a few of the many dining establishments, in celebration of my bride's 40th. The dining establishment part was appealing. Sitting on the beach for two days, tempting the skin cancer gods, well.....

Mother Nature to the rescue. Thursday morning broke to showers and a 25 knot wind courtesy of Arthur, the first named storm of the season, and just enough to make the beach unappealing. The birthday girl decided to meet a friend at a Pilates class instead. Yeah I know, but it's her birthday and it would likely keep me out of any number of antique stores. So there I was in the Holy City with several hours on my hands and not one thing to do but wander around.

Downtown Charleston is a swarm of retail stores of all flavors, historic buildings dating back to the early days of our country, restaurants at every turn, and art galleries. Dozens and dozens of art galleries.

Art has always been a bit of an enigma to me, especially when it comes to placing a value on it. What makes one example of paint on canvas worth millions while another struggles to find demand at any price? Simple economics play a role, certainly, but perception seems to drive demand at least as much as supply. If it tickles someone's fancy enough to make him pay a high price, it has instant value to the rest of the art world and instantly lands out of my modest reach. As such, I tend to stay out of art galleries.

Unless, being captive in a city with more art galleries than fire hydrants, I wander by a window with 'Dog and Horse' on it.

Just inside the entrance hung 9 framed pieces of original duck stamp art. Done by several different artists, they dated from the '40s, '50s and '60s and, at least in the in opinion of the owner, are worth about as much as a brand new pickup with all the fixins.

Original duck stamp art collection for sale in Charleston gallery

The asking price on the collection is $50,000 and the owner prefers that it be sold as a set and not broken into individual works. Having spent my last $50,000 at Dunkin Donuts a few hours earlier, I was not a player as I gazed at this cut of waterfowling history. They were nice drawings, some intricately detailed and others more intent on action, but I have to say that none moved me, and I for art to have any value beyond mere investment it really should spark some feeling inside. Anger, longing, amazement, exuberance, even shock, anything that grabs your emotions by the collar and shakes them a few times when you look at it.

Someone will buy this collection eventually, though, and it will end up in a study or an office or a hunting retreat and people will ooh and ahh over these old, old duck stamp originals. And the next time they are sold, the price will be higher still.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lessons in crisis management

It didn't take long for word to get out that the pheasant capital of the world was having an off year. It didn't take much longer to do something about it. The season wasn't even over before Governor Daugaard convened a habitat summit to explore the options. Not to stereotype, but it usually takes years for governments to even acknowledge a problem, then a few more to figure out who stands to gain the most politically by heading the committee, and then a while longer for the committee to talk it to death until nobody cares about it any more and by then there's a new cause du jour. Lather, rinse, repeat until the well runs dry.

And now Pheasants Forever is opening a regional HQ in Brookings. Forgive what may sound like a twinge of envy at all the attention given this bird and its plight, but how do I get some of that down here? I'm not so naive that I believe this is entirely altruistic without a hint of politically-motivated PR, but I'm not so pessimistic that I think no good will come of it either.

More so I'm impressed with the speed of the response.  There are plenty of PR opportunities, most of which will build political capital faster, yet this issue is being given time and money while the rubble is still smoking. Actions like those taken by the Governor and PF put the issue squarely on the table and give it a dose of priority along with raising the awareness of the general public, all before the situation goes from bad to worse.

Sage grouse, prairie chickens and bobwhites have suffered steeper declines, albeit over longer periods of time, yet the rapid response at the first sign of trouble was missing and along with it the chance to stop the bleeding before the patient turned pale.

So how do I get some of that down here? Simple. I make quail a $300 million industry.

Friday, June 13, 2014


"What's the gun range?"

"It's where you go to shoot guns. Wanna go?" It was a longshot but worth the ask given the difficulty in throwing clay targets to yourself.

"Mmmm...okay." Score.

Excessive misses during the season suggested a change of routine during the down months. Don't call it a New Year's Resolution, more of a commitment to make an attempt to get a little better. After skipping March, April and most of May for no good reason it was time to at least make the effort.

loading clay targets

The effort was a bit unorthodox. He's not quite big enough to cock the thrower, at least not without risk of it springing back and cracking a wrist or taking out his lower set of teeth. So the routine went something like cock, "okay put a target in", "keep your hand off the lever", "I said keep your hand off the lever", walk 15 yards off to the side, shoot, walk back to thrower, repeat.

Truth be told it was probably better practice than round after round after round from an electronic thrower on the skeet range, the philosophy being that birds typically don't come floating into the field on command at precisely spaced intervals in places outside of Argentina.

He would've stayed all day. At that age there must be some never-experienced feeling of power at heaving a disc 75 yards through the air with barely the touch of a finger. He's really in a for a treat when he gets to turn that disc to powder with the same finger.

Better still from the shooter's perspective, every time a target broke he clapped. Not out of sarcasm, not because someone told him to, just untainted sincerity. A fan club of one is all you really need.

empty bag of shotgun shells

Two guys from the same gene pool, one living purely in the moment, the other leveraging the moment on a practical basis for what's behind door #3, but starting to wonder if he didn't already get the prize.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Calendar check (1 week to Father's Day)

Given the dearth of good post material around my place lately I thought I'd offer up a public service announcement. Next weekend is Father's Day and if you're still looking for a gift, something other than a tie, I have a suggestion.

50 cal bottle opener

I picked one of these up around the first of the year from an outfit called Lucky Shot which makes all kinds of stuff from old cartridges. This model runs about $12 and everyone who comes in the house wants to try it. I've used bullet bottle openers before that had a half-ass notch cut in them and made opening a bottle more puzzle than prerequisite, but this one got it right.

And if Dad doesn't drink beer that comes in bottles, you could always punch a hole in the can with the business end.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

From the days of film

Thumbing through some old photos I came across this one and although I had to scratch my head for a second, I don't think I've ever posted it here. It was taken around 1998 or 1999 at a preserve north of town where I had permission to hunt the leftovers. Pen-raised fowl are a distant second to wild birds but it was good practice before the season opened.

bird dog on point

Shortly after sunrise on a foggy morning, the scent conditions were ideal when he stopped in his tracks and I snapped the photo, then shot one of the two birds that flushed. The other landed in a tree at the edge of the field and he pointed that one too, ten feet over his head. I managed a photo of this as well but seem to have lost it in the folds of time.

Occasionally the unexpected, unplanned, and accidental have virtue. I thought nothing when I took it or later when I looked through the stack of pictures from the PhotoMart. This was no photo session. In fact, it was shot with a disposable camera.  Remember those?

A friend saw the picture and asked if she could have the negative to make a copy. That "copy" came back 2'x 3', framed, as a birthday present and I still have trouble convincing people that it's not a painting. The camera quality (low) combined with the film speed (probably high) and the enlargement resulted in a very grainy portrait that closely resembles the work of a brush. For the doubters I point to the ear turned inside out and the beggar's lice on his side.

This is the dog I wrote about in the first post ever on this blog. He's long gone and all this image brings back is more images played out in the motion theater behind my eyes. We had a lot of good days.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Semi-annual lazy links

It's May, it's hot already and bird season is a long, long way off. The right side of this equation is that while I may be thinking about birds and dogs and such, there aren't a lot of words in the pen right now, so excuse me while I stoop pretty low and point you to someone who is motivated.

Two someones, actually. The first is an article I read on Craig Koshyk's Pointing Dog Blog (found in the blogroll to the right).  The piece was written by a friend of his and is a well-presented case for preserving the remaining prairie, or what he refers to as "community pastures", for sharptail habitat by placing them in public trust. Funding for this would come from energy royalties. I know it sounds kind of dry but like I said it's well-written and is an interesting proposal that might have applications in other species and in other places. Bobwhites, prairie chickens....

Direct link here:

The second someone is Daniel Wallace and he writes about a cemetery in Alabama for coon dogs. ONLY coon dogs. I can't begin to do it justice, so just follow the link:

After reading the article and poking around, I found that the cemetery has its own website and Facebook page. If this ain't a slice of Americana I don't know what is.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming when this round of apathy passes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Steelheading on dry land

John Gierach's latest in Gray's ("The Velvet Handshake", March/April 2014) about steelheading paints a picture that, oddly enough, lessens the sting of a slow bird season. The only steelhead in South Carolina are hanging on walls in offices and living rooms, but it's not difficult to understand both the allure and the long stretches of nothingness that shape the experience.  Gierach doesn't moan so much as explain that not catching steelhead is as much a part of the business as catching.

When times are poor the rule of thumb is there's nowhere to go but up, so when they actually get a bit worse it's enough to cause panic or, in the worst scenario, a compound case of seasonal affective disorder. Day after day it teeters between maddening and soul-crushing and yet the thought of quitting, of putting away the gear or selling it and leaving it behind for good never emerges.

On the other hand, dry spells do seem to breed a dangerous excess of contemplation on all matters personal, public or otherwise. According to Zen ideology the mind isn't supposed to wander. Stay in the moment, focus on the present, be here now. According the bird hunter the mind does, in fact, wander. Wanna re-think your career, your relationships, the way you're raising your kids or the future of the country? Grab the dog and go look for quail.

The arc carved by a fly line on a perfect two-handed cast is not much different than one carved through grass by a fire-breathing pointer. Things such as these fill the void and bring the mind back to the here and now.

If you find three or four or even eight coveys, you remember the day. If you find one covey and shoot one bird you remember the bird. Either way you're bagging memories, which is really all you have left after the meat is gone.

And if the dog never catches a zephyr of scent? There are reasons you head back out in the face of long odds, and it's better if you don't try to justify them.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Playing chicken with the grim reaper

His back legs can't quite carry the load like they used to, bending under the weight of standing still and dragging toenails on the ground when he walks. He wobbles a bit, too. He's mostly deaf and his head droops much of the time. Episodes that are best classified as some sort of canine dementia carry him into a corner where he'll stand for long stretches until you tap him and he snaps out of it.

But his health is generally good, he never seems to be in pain, and at times (usually around meal time) he gets some spring in his step again. Hard to say for certain what a dog considers good quality of life, but being able to get around on your own, eat, drink, and sleep probably cover the basics.

Sometime on Monday he wandered through the electric fence and didn't make it back by supper time. I walked around the neighborhood looking without luck in places an old dog might wander. With temps in the 40s he wouldn't have any trouble surviving the night as long as coyotes didn't find him but several days without food would weaken an already frail body to the point that he wouldn't be able to get around. By the end of the week there'd be little chance of finding him alive.

Shortly before bedtime I came to grips with the fairly good chance that we might not see him again and I wasn't overly upset. Sixteen years is a long time and he does require more effort and upkeep than the younger dogs. We'd all be a little sad but wouldn't feel cheated in the least. Not knowing would be the only difficult part.

I came home at lunch on Tuesday to see if he'd turned up anywhere. No sign of him in the yard. No messages on the phone.  On an impulse I pulled in the driveway across the street to see if he'd strayed into their backyard like he'd done once or twice before. Having checked on Monday evening there really wasn't any reason to go back but unseen forces, maybe animal spirits at work, will pull you or push you to do things that aren't entirely logical.

He wasn't in the backyard and I walked to the edge of the woods, looking down a hill toward the muddy wetland that borders the creek. A white spot in the distance turned out to be a five gallon bucket.  A second white spot had some brown patches toward one end and turned out to be my dog, stuck chest-deep in the quagmire. A few more hours and this would have been a recovery operation. He could barely keep his nose out of the muck when I arrived.

In the two decades I've owned dogs I have never, ever seen one this muddy. Hell, I've never seen a pig this muddy. He looked like he'd been dipped in chocolate and left to soak. It took the better part of an hour and some unimpressive work with scissors to get him reasonably clean again. He was so exhausted he went to sleep while I was bathing him.

If I had gone on back to the office instead of taking one look behind the neighbor's house, if I hadn't looked exactly where he was mired, if I'd just waited to see if he turned up....the story changes completely. It's humbling that just one split-second impulsive decision can be the fence between life and death.

There's no question life around here would be easier if he were gone. Old dogs, like old people and old cars are high maintenance. But we get attached to all of them. Maybe that attachment is the unseen force making you do things that aren't entirely logical.

Somewhere is a line beyond which you stop doing whatever is necessary to keep an old dog alive. I guess I haven't quite crossed it yet.

Friday, April 4, 2014


I've heard the stories of old men driving their land yacht Cadillacs into the field, giving the shocks all they could handle, and when they stopped in a cloud of dust and grass, one would open the trunk and let the dogs out. Evolution was inevitable.

Eventually someone had the idea of doing a little cutting and welding to a car to make it easier to get in and out of and added a few places to put the guns so you wouldn't have to carry them in your lap.  Then someone else figured the work force could use a nicer place to ride and the dog box was born.  Soon there wasn't enough room on a car, or there wasn't enough power under the hood, and the whole setup migrated to a truck body giving birth to the modern day quail rig.

I've seen some of the tamer versions in person and even ridden on a handful and my reactions have ranged from "bet that ain't cheap" to "you gotta be kidding me". They're a sight to see and a feast for the engineer's and tinkerer's mind. Just when you think you've seen it all, however, along comes one that resets the standard.

Native Texan photographer Lokey compiled upwards of 120 of these rigs in a new book slated for release later this month.  Texas Quail Rigs is the result of three years traveling the state shooting pictures where owners and ranch managers shoot birds, and some of these give new meaning to the sky's the limit.

When I spoke with Lokey he said the idea came from a conversation where someone suggested he do a book about quail hunting. "I said no, that's been done before. Then they asked if anyone had done a book about the rigs and I knew we were onto something." Considering the current state of affairs of the bobwhite he adds, "It's social anthropology on many levels."

One of the fabricators manufactures 80-90 rigs a year, far more than I would have guessed the market could stand. Of course, a market where a high-end rig can run as much as $250,000 isn't entirely reflective of the broader economy.

These rides are truly limited only by imagination and, in a few rare cases, by wallets...

AM General texas quail rig

Pure military meat. Built for the full-on assault of birds, a campaign waged in the field without sacrificing comfort, and ready if the North Koreans invade.

Vintage GMC 1500 before we got too carried away. I kinda like this one. You can almost hear a few old boys saying, "What if we put a seat up there and cut a hole here to walk through?"

Pinzgauer Texas quail rig

Euro-rig. I don't imagine it had any trouble getting to the top of the hill. Love the hatch in the roof.

13 seat Texas quail rig

This looks like a stretch frame job but it's actually an F350 Super Crew long bed conversion. Seats about 13 and you can drive it from the back end. Of course at full capacity you only get your turn every 6th covey.

VW Micro Bus Texas quail rig

You can do just about anything in a micro bus. Or to it. MP3 player has 6000 hours of bootlegs loaded and ready for an afternoon..umm...session.

VW Thing Texas quail rig

This may be the highest and best use of a VW Thing. Bookends, too.

Jeep Texas quail rig

Didn't Mad Max drive one of these? Form definitely taking a backseat to function here. I really included this one because the Brittany looked so damn good striking a pose.

Rolls Royce quail rig

....and in the More Money Than (go ahead, fill it in) category. Yes, this truly is - or was - a 1982 Rolls Royce Silver Spur. Grey Poupon in the glovebox.

Some of the options you can't see in the photos? A built-in 400 lb milo tank for spreading feed as you hunt. An onboard smoker. A full bar with blender and margarita machine. How about a 4000 watt stereo? As Henry Chappell says in the intro, boys will be boys.

Yes, we've come a long way from the mule-drawn wagon. You can see more at

Friday, March 28, 2014

Company business

bird dog on the office floor

It's a rainy Friday, bird season is long gone and there's really nobody around the office today. Seemed like a good day to bring some company along.

He's not thinking about spreadsheets or bank drafts, but what's stirring between those ears is anyone's guess...

..if the line on the UVA-MSU game gets to 1.5 I think I'll take some action on the Hoos.

..eventually that Russian guy's gonna bite off more than he can chew. 'gardener' a job description in Greenland?

..natural gas is a viable alternative to oil-based fuels.

..wonder why the kids are so averse to flossing?

..this is a helluva lot softer than the garage floor.

Monday, March 10, 2014

That's a wrap

March 1 clocked the end of the 2013-2014 quail season, and as such was the last day of wingshooting until September. It's in the books, and that's just as well.

I decided to go off the menu and hunt somewhere I'd never been, a good three hour drive from home. Several people who ought to know told me this place held birds. In retrospect I shoulda asked them exactly where.

Canal WMA is a long, narrow stretch of property, not much suited for anything but hunting. The diversion canal that forms its spine was built by the Army Corps in the 1980s to re-route some of the flow from the Santee Cooper lake system back into the Santee River.

red cedar after an ice storm
Red cedars and ice storms don't play well together

We had a nice walk, saw the spoils of the recent ice storm, scared a few geese out of a dove field, but didn't move a single quail.

dog pointing geese
That's a goose in the water, one of a dozen
bird dog looking at the water
I'll just wait here and see what happens..

You can grade a season by how many birds you shoot or by how many coveys you find and there's nothing wrong with that.  Birds are what we're in it for.

But worse than going and not finding any birds would be not going at all.

Eyes out the windshield, not the rearview.

bird dog running down the road

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

This guy gets the award

A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune last Friday details the quest of Thurman Tucker, a guy who moved to the Twin Cities area around the time I was born and has been working ever since to restore quail populations in the state. Keep in mind that Minnesota is on the fringe of native bobwhite settlements.  They don't even have a quail season.

Undeterred, Thurman started his own non-profit to support the effort and later merged it into Quail Forever. The guy is a purist if ever there was one, devoted beyond imagination and persistent in the face of what most would consider impractical. And we need a few more like him.

Thurman Tucker, quail restoration pioneer
Thurman Tucker
photo courtesy of the Star Tribune

Why? "I'm 70 years old, and I like to stay with a job until it's done."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ticket please

It's an hour in the truck each way. Leaving home with tempered expectations, the season a disappointment so far, a new spot not being any more of a risk than the old ones.

It's the game warden telling you there really aren't many birds on this property. Then again, he might be a bird hunter.  Dismissed with a polite "Thanks."

It's borrowing your wife's nice camera, figuring that at the very least it would be a good day to take some pictures. And when you power up the camera (an hour from home) you get a message about a memory card not being installed.

It's realizing that three hours with no one around can be time well spent.

It is looking down and finding you're covered with beggar's lice.

Quail roost
It's your dog going on point and there's nothing there but a roost. Birds don't stray too far from the roost.

It's one bird flushing wild off to your right, then two more, then the whole covey blows up. Normally you only shoot pointed birds, but it's been a long season.

It's killing a bird and coming home empty-handed. Karma.

It's looking at your watch and realizing these birds need time to covey up before dark.

This is the price of admission.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some props for Hank Shaw

Wild game at the table is an art, something requiring equal doses of creativity, knowledge and touch. Too much or too little of any of these will leave you hungry and headed for Mexican take-out. Most of you will agree, however, that when you get it right, wild game cannot be surpassed.

I've been a closet fan of Hank Shaw's for several years. If you  haven't heard of him, visit his Hunter Angler Gardener Cook website. He does some amazing things with wild game and does it in a way that's not the least bit intimidating to a non-professional chef. Two dishes I've enjoyed more than once are his Belgian venison medallions and poached dove with roasted peppers. The wife and kids are at the in-laws tonight which is usually an occasion to dive into the game stash uninhibited. Bad news if you're a venison backstrap but bacchanalia if you're a taste bud.

Belgian venison

I had a few thin strips of backstrap so rather than cut them into medallions I left them whole and draped them across a scruffy pile of garlic mashed potatoes. If the presentation offends you, get over it. I did.

I'll confess that I've taken liberties from time to time with his work, substituting here and there for stuff I had at hand. Some of the items he uses may be difficult to come by depending on where you live but if you don't get too funky there's no worry. I've gained a minor education in all kinds of vegetables, salts, oils, nuts and such, things that carry over into all types of cuisine. And I've learned what's caused some of my game dishes to fail (it's not always over-cooking).

All in all it's a great place to spend some time. If you like what you see, pick up one of his books and you'll have a field day in the kitchen. Many thanks, Hank.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Time warp

Seems like barely yesterday that the leaves were changing colors and the nights brought a chill with them. Every day held thoughts of guns and dogs and birds and every weekend took shape around the hunt.

Then the leaves were gone and the annual weight gain otherwise known as the holiday season rolled into town. Turkey, family, football, holly, Santa, empty boxes and wrapping paper and then all of that was gone too. Still, it was bird season and soon there would be no competing for the woods with the deer hunters.

Now, staring at the last two weeks of the season it doesn't seem possible that the next eight months will ever pass, nor does it seem possible that the last four months are gone. In truth they pass more quickly every year, same as the right-hand digits of my age, and remain utterly indifferent to all efforts designed to slow or stretch them.

There are still a few fires left to burn but most of the wood in the rack will get to simmer over the summer before it gets a turn, patiently waiting for the time when 50 degrees will be reason to break out a pullover instead of a welcome warm spell. Were it not for the certainty that autumn returns every year this would be a most depressing time.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pointers & birds

Went hunting with some friends last weekend and took my wife's camera along. It's a 35mm SLR with a lot more capability than my pocket-size point & shoot and I'm determined to get proficient with it. Not much else on my mind this week anyway so I figured I'd post a few pics.

English pointer

English pointer
Show jumper

English pointers on point
Wind blowing 25mph makes for hard work

Bobwhite flushing
First bird out gets shot
I never got the pic of a 20-bird covey rise that I wanted.  We found several that size but the camera was always in the bag. This was a much smaller covey but I captured a few birds in full stroke:

Bobwhite covey flushing

English pointer
Ghost eye

English pointer
Turn on a dime

Bird dog at rest
Everyone has to wait his turn

English pointer face shot
Tools of the trade