Thursday, December 10, 2015

Negligent would be an understatement

I just realized I hadn't posted anything, not one word, since Sept 2. Ok, I actually realized it a month ago but just got around to doing something about it today. It's not like nothing's been going on or so much has been going on that I haven't had time to talk about it. Lots has been going on and I have had time to talk about it, I just spent that time doing something else.

So here's the last 3 months in review....

Dove Season(s)

The first dove season was the best we've had in years. My freezer is slap full of birds, partly due to more targets and partly due to me shooting better than the recent norm. Over the summer I did a little work on my gun mount (thanks for the tip Chris Batha), mounting in front of a mirror about 100x a day. It's easier than it sounds and it's made a world of difference.

We're not really sure why there were so many more birds, but our best guess is that dry conditions over the summer ruined a lot of corn crops, leaving fewer places for the dove to eat. Whatever the reason, we had numbers every time we went into the field and even when only a few of us showed, we figured out how to put away a limit.

Mojo dove
Shrinks the playing field considerably
The second season was a bust. Completely. Many of you heard about the Biblical rains we had in early October, but what didn't make the news was the 3+ inches we got every week after that for the next month. By the time the second season opened the weekend before Thanksgiving the ground was soggy and the feed was rotten. Any bird that came through here slowed down long enough to see that he was gonna get real hungry if he stopped.

It's dried out some and we have a nice millet field that hasn't been cut yet, so there's still hope for the third season.

The Great Bobwhite Revival

I keep promising to post an update on this, and I've been waiting until we had a little more publicly available info in case anyone's curious, but that's been slow in coming so I'm gonna talk about it anyway. This little project now has an official name (The SC Bobwhite Initiative), a logo (I'm not supposed to share that yet), a group of 24 state and federal organizations participating, and 4 focus areas where work is under way.

To say I'm excited about this is putting it mildly.  We've been working on it for 4-5 years and to see it finally take flight is both a relief and a realization that now the hard work begins. The enthusiasm has been overwhelming, and I'm pretty optimistic.

Website should be active before Christmas (fingers crossed) and I'll post a link when it is.

About that pup...

Holy cow I'd forgotten what it was like to have a bird dog pup around the house. Even though my backyard looks like the moon it's been a joy. He spent 6 weeks with the trainer letting the genes bloom and his bloodlines are no joke. 

He'll get steadied next spring and summer and right now we're just gonna look for birds. The drive is astounding and the endurance for an 8 month old is unbelievable. He's fine with the gun and will even hold a point for a little while. Smarter than a 4th grader, too. Should be a fun season.

Shot a deer last week. First time I'd been in the stand all season and 30 mins after I sat down they walked out. Every now and then I get lucky like that. I'm not a trophy deer hunter, just meat for the freezer and that means does are top of the list. This was a nice one, almost 100 lbs. 

I've been much more productive with the camera than the pen and some of that work is on the Instagram account (@spentcartridge). Even had a shot in the Orvis Digital Hunting Book (p43) a few months ago. Having a lot of fun with that. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

From the dumbass file

When you're stuck in the no-man's land between the whole country's opening day (yesterday) and your own (Saturday) and it seems there's nothing to write about but your own bitterness, the innate stupidity of certain Americans comes to your rescue.

Seems three old boys in Major County, OK, just couldn't wait another two days til dove season opened, so they set up a blind and some mojo decoys in a field and started hunting. The creative juices didn't stop flowing there, either. Anyone can build a blind from branches and weeds, so why not step it up a notch and build one out of weed.

Sunday morning, August 30th, did not start out like a normal day for game wardens Phillip Cottrill (Garfield County) and Lt. Frank Huebert (Major County). A passer by called in and reported seeing some mojo dove decoys spinning in a field. The wardens arrived to find 3 guys dove hunting over bait. Strangely, they were using dove blinds that were built out of marihuana* plants. The dove poachers were in possession of 45 dove, marihuana buds and a pipe.
But the fun didn't stop there. Wardens accompanied one of the boy geniuses to his residence to obtain ID where they found hawk and owl fans and talons. And yes, they also found the requisite meth and needles and more pot.

While most of the day would be labeled what my kids call an "epic fail", there was one bright spot. They all shot a limit.

Here's to your opener. This year, don't settle for the same old same old.

* After several vigilant spellers spoke up, The OK Dept of Wildlife noted in a later post that the laws in OK spell marijuana with an "h", so that's how they wrote the report.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Has it been 10 years?

The last step in the morning routine is standing at the dresser and loading pockets with keys, wallet, chapstick, a pen and, if I'm lucky, a few dollar bills. A quick check of the calendar hanging over the dresser confirms the day and date. Yesterday morning I noticed some fine print at the bottom of the Monday square and my eyes no longer what they used to be, fetched a pair of readers.

Once in focus it read:
Aug 10, 2005 - PF launches quail conservation division Quail Forever (QF)
Yes, it's a QF calendar.

Hard to believe it's been that long since PF jumped into the quail world. At the time, Quail Unlimited was still in existence and although it was facing some headwinds, it claimed quite a few members. Many saw the formation of QF as a direct assault on QU, an attempt to wrestle away the disgruntled on the hunch that more would follow. Others saw it as a move to use PF's reputation to tap a group that up until that point hadn't jumped on the quail conservation wagon.

History being the great teacher that it is, I don't really care why they did it, I'm just glad they did. Ten years and 15,000 members later they are helping conserve quail in 27 states. There would have been a huge void nationally when QU folded up the tent had QF not been established and actively incubating local chapters.

Grass roots conservation organizations like QF and PF are an invaluable link the chain of restoring and maintaining gamebird habitat across native ranges. State and federal governments can't do the work alone. It takes people working locally and lobbying nationally to keep the movement going. If you haven't joined QF or a similar organization already, step up today. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Beating the heat (or trying)

We finally got a break from the oppressive heat and humidity today, but the last month or so has been almost unbearable. A few weeks ago I asked my wife how she'd feel about moving to Canada. "Montana," she said, "but not Canada." We'll see.

The only time we can get out and run is right around sunrise, so the dogs and I have been hopping over to the game management land not far from the house.  There aren't any quail, just doves and deer and rabbits and hogs and lots of space to run. It's fun for an hour or so until the temp starts rising.

Bird dog pup follows another
Show me how this is done

Bird dog pup looking up
Are those dove on that wire?

Bird dog pup in profile

Dog looking at cloudy sky
Even these don't beat the heat
Bird dog pup looking back at me
You coming?

Pup with deer turd in mouth
I was proud until I realized this was a deer turd

Bird dog pointing field mice
Field mice. Again.

Bird dog pup looking through grass
If we can just get this look on birds someday...
It's something to do until the real seasons arrive. That and try to grow more bobwhites. Stay tuned for an update on our Great Bobwhite Revival in a couple of weeks. Things are picking up steam.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Insta summer project

I've pretty much avoided the social media thing, at least for recreational purposes. I don't have a Twitter account, or a Snapchat account or a Vine account or a Pinterest account. Figuring that our fledgling state bobwhite project would eventually need a Facebook page to reach the masses, I did create a Facebook account but to date have rarely used it.

My recent renewal of a long-time interest in photography has turned my eye toward Instagram, however. While there are millions of selfies and other stupid wastes of pixels on there, a number of talented photographers share their work on it and if you're patient enough to find them, the viewing's pretty good.

So about a month ago I crossed over to the dark side and created an account and it wasn't long before I could no longer resist the urge to post a few of my own shots. If you have an account and are curious, wander on over to @spentcartridge or click the badge below. Some of the pics you've seen here, others are only on Instagram.  Fair warning: expect more than a few of Floyd, at least for a while.

Straight to my profile: 


If you like what you see, click on the +Follow button. I'd like to get that total up to at least a hundred or so. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Novel Idea

Got a news release from the NBCI this morning that's an encouraging sign of progress on the bobwhite front. The Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, a federally appointed group advising both the Dept of Interior and Dept of Agriculture, issued a statement saying that adopting the NBCI's approach would “proactively avert problems that have occurred with
other declining game bird species like Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Greater Sage-Grouse.” At last a voice of reason in DC.

The WHHCC is composed of the heads of several state and federal agencies and numerous non-profit conservation organizations. The acknowledgment of the problem (and solution) at this level is vital, and so is the realization that, had action been taken earlier, the current state of the prairie chicken and sage grouse might have been averted.

More from the release:
“…now is the time for federal actions to prevent future ‘listing anxiety’,” wrote John Tomke, council chairman. “Your departments have the opportunity to ensure the restoration of habitat for bobwhite quail, other declining grassland birds and pollinators on private croplands, rangelands and forest lands. In addition, many National Forests, National Parks, National Battlefields, Military Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are ideal places …”
With a bajillion dollar deficit and more fires than the surface of the sun, getting any proactive measures out of the government is difficult, but without a push from citizens and advisory councils it doesn't stand a chance. Find your way to push.

Full news release here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

*Not the barber

Anticipation, especially when given too much time to simmer, often allows expectations to grow a bit beyond the practical limit. It's hard to temper expectations with a pup anyway, so I'm giving myself a pass. We're just glad he's finally here.

The first two weeks have been an orange and white tornado. Yes, he tries to chew everything. No, he hasn't shown an uncanny pointing instinct, steady to flush, at ten weeks of age. While housetraining is a daily effort, it is still mostly in the dream stages. He's a puppy.

Curious, confident, not the least bit timid, all good traits in a bird dog. There are a few overachievers in the pedigree as well, which never hurts. The cards are stacked in his favor and my job, at least for the next few months, is to not screw it up. I can't possibly give him more potential than he has, but through lack of patience and other blockheadedness I can certainly take it away.

I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch the lights come on a little bit at a time. Simple things like learning where the food and water bowls are and what his crate is for and the harder stuff like that name we keep calling him and what "here" means. It's like watching a time lapse of kids growing up. In the end, there are more similarities than differences.

This is Floyd.

Yes, I'm taking a leak all over the leash

Still not sure how all this works together.

Two speeds: on and off


Just about everything is a chew toy

Give it a few more months

Monday, June 22, 2015

Marking time

Unless you're a Druid the summer solstice probably passes without fanfare. Most people are looking toward July 4th or simply trying to survive an early heat wave and the point in time (12:38pm Eastern Daylight today, for those keeping score) when the North Pole hits maximum tilt toward the Sun is also known as lunchtime, something far more critical to personal well-being.

Hungry or not, the solstice is mostly just another minute in another day in another month that people rush through on their way to the next minute. Mostly. Scattered across the globe, without organized celebration, a handful of us do feel the subtle shift in planetary axis. Days getting shorter, seasons getting closer.

This photo was taken on December 21st of last year, just before the North Pole began its crawl toward the sun. This pond lies at the bottom of a field that usually holds some late season birds, but not always. It's not too far away now.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Getting it right

A week from today I'll make a drive across the state and bring home the newest member of the team. Everyone's excited, eager to meet this little guy and have him as part of the family and I'm slowly checking items off the list to make sure we're good to go. Kennel cleaned, bowls scrubbed, collar and lead where I can find them, pile of rags handy. All stuff I could have knocked out in about an hour if I didn't have 8 weeks to kill.

As I mentioned before, it's been almost 20 years since I had a bird dog pup in the house and the last time around I was cutting (and grinding) my teeth. This time around, with the blessing of 20 years of experience, I'm intent on doing a few things differently and I've been reading and thinking and reading and thinking some more about how best to approach this project.

More and more I keep coming back to one overarching theme: It's not what I do that's important, it's what I don't do.  As in don't go after him when you want him to come. Don't talk incessantly when trying to teach him a one-word command. Don't scold him for the puddle on the floor when you forgot to let him out. Don't feed him from the table if you don't want him to beg. The list is close to endless and its length underscores how much easier it is to just do a few things right.

So I'll focus on basics like talking less and showing more, being consistent, not rushing the progress, using the occasional backslide as a hint and not a reason for punishment, giving affection only as a reward. Yes, the last one will be a challenge. I'm unabashedly affectionate with all dogs, my own especially. Might not get that one right.

Probably the biggest training aid is not something I've found in any book or article. It's my age. I'm just a helluva lot more patient now than I was the last time around and I'm convinced that patience is one of the most, if not THE most important aspect in raising a pup. In spite of what you read and see about 3 month old pups being broke to wing and shot, it takes time to make a good bird dog. As in years. It's only a race if you make it one.

One last don't: Don't over-think the process. People get so worked up over getting it right that they try too hard and manage to get it perfectly wrong. It's a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lost and found

We're at T-minus 4 wks until the new family member arrives and it's apparent that this is gonna be a change of pace. Most of the stuff the older dogs use will be useless for a while so over the weekend I pulled out my dog box and rooted through it to see what I had and what I'd have to come off the hip for. This little green collar was buried in there, one I bought for my first bird dog and somehow kept from losing over the last twenty years, no small accomplishment considering I can't find my coffee cup from this morning. Kinda diggin the nostalgia. Photo on the right is from the early days with that pup, putting many miles on the boots just exploring and sniffing.

Not long after that picture was taken we were out walking and crossed a creek next to the road. We went downstream a ways and came back across and couldn't find the road and kept walking and came to the creek again, only I was dead sure we weren't walking in circles. Dead sure because I don't like to admit how easily I get lost but the fact is I am a directional dyslexic. No, that's not a real condition, it just aptly describes me. Back and forth and up and down and somehow we kept ending up at the creek, not the road.

Soon I started wondering which one of us would keep the other warm when it got dark and we had to settle in for the night. This was back when cell phones were still mounted in the car and GPS was limited to billionaires and the military so the only options were to sit and wait until someone came to find you (not gonna happen) or find your way out. Why I didn't try this earlier I still don't know but eventually we headed back upstream, figuring sooner or later we'd find the place where we'd crossed the first time, and what we found was that the creek had forked and we'd been wandering between the two branches. By then the little man was out of gas so I threw him under my arm like a 12-pack, which I might have traded him for at that point, and set off for the road.

Still a few months away from such adventure with the new pup but it's not as far off as it feels. This was taken at a bit over 3 wks of age, eyes open now, still trying to figure out what those feet are for. Hope he has a better sense of direction than his owner.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Most of us live under the delusion that we control far more than we ever do. It's an endless source of frustration at best and leads to stress and depression in extreme cases, neither of which are on most bucket lists. Still, we insist everyone else ought to do what we want them to and get pissed when they don't. And God forbid some random event doesn't go our way.

The secret to happiness, if it exists, has to lie somewhere in the ability to roll with the punches. Hold a high degree of indifference toward anything you can't control, which basically means everything except your own thoughts and actions, and move on without emotion as if it doesn't matter, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn't.

My first bird dog was a Brittany and I've never had any desire to stray from the breed. I've always been partial to orange and white ones, especially those that are mostly white. But not all white. And male. Picky, yes, but that's my deal.

When I started poking around for news of upcoming litters the only thing on my mind was whether the sire and dam were the kind of bird dog I was looking for. Coloring didn't creep into the picture until I got the news on Monday that the chosen mom had whelped a whopping 10 pups over the weekend.

I started thinking about how I'd choose among the males. Where is the happy mix between color and temperament and, honestly, how much can you really know about temperament at a few weeks of age? Gotta be at least 4 or 5 males in there to choose from, right? At least 2 or 3 would be orange and surely one would be mostly white, maybe more. Surely.

One. That's not how many are mostly white. That's how many males in the whole pot.

Sometimes you take what life gives you. I think it's gonna work out just fine.

There's either one missing or buried in the pile

Lower right is our man

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's been a while

Something like 19 or 20 years I think since an honest-to-goodness bird dog pup made puddles and chewed shoes in my home. The last few dogs came in as teenagers or older, a compromise to offset the other toddlers in residence. The toddlers are now in grade school and the window of opportunity is fully open. Call me the breeze.

Saturday I drove to the other side of the state to talk with a guy about my next bird finder. The female is starting to show just enough to make us think the breeding took, which puts pups on the ground around the third week in April and ready to go home in early to mid-June. Perfect timing in my world, a stretch of warm, long days with no other real calling to distract from making sure a pup turns out right.

Mom and Dad are beautiful dogs with solid pedigrees and perfect temperament.

And then he walks back to the kennel and brings out this little pot of piss and vinegar. She's 10 weeks old out of the same sire and she's a fireball, chewing my shoelaces, chasing this bumper around, gnawing my sleeve. Pick her up, though, and she's putty. If this next litter turns out like her I don't think I'll be disappointed.

They're filled with promise, which is maybe the most imposing part of the whole affair. You can get it right or you can get it wrong, but you can't get a do-over. I made plenty of mistakes with my first dog and lucky for me he was bold enough to deflect most of them. I like to think I'm a little wiser and a lot more patient now. Hopefully we'll find out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


That's pretty much all you heard if you dropped by here recently. No calamity behind the scenes, just the periodic lack of anything to say. Got a few things coming up, though, that ought to tickle the pen.

The second meeting of the SC Quail Council is late next week and the activity is beginning to build. Lots of good things coming out of this and more than a few challenges ahead.

And with a little help from Mother Nature there's a distinct possibility that I'll have a very small four-legged addition to the hunting unit before the days get shorter. I'm supposed to go see the mom and dad in a week or two and we should know by then if the breeding took. If it did, pups will be on the ground in mid-April. Just a bit excited about this one.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yellow shells

In the beginning there were reds, greens, blacks, blues and even an occasional purple. Whatever was in the box, and often whatever was cheapest.

There was one gun in the closet, a 12 gauge, and it served its purpose well. Anything with wings got the business end of it. The pump action never jammed and I lugged it through fields and swamps and woods and prairies through all seasons. We were inseparable.

And then came the lure of two barrels. Too many magazine articles, too many pictures of a man and his dog and his gun and that gun wasn't a pump action 12 gauge. For some reason I just had to have one, couldn't possibly be complete without one.

So pennies got socked away until a decent Browning came into the picture, a lighter gun than the 12 which seemed like a fringe benefit at the time. Part by chance and part by design this smaller gun took only one color.

20 ga shells

Over a period of years it became the gun that gets the call on nearly every outing. It was lighter, easier to tote all day, and when a shooting slump came along it emerged as the franchise player. Ducks and turkeys, on the rare occasions they are the main event, still demand the bigger stick. But for all else the pockets are filled with those yellow shells.

And now we are, for the most part, inseparable, although I've heard that once you try a 28 you'll never be the same.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tennessee Red

It's not whisky, as far as I know, and the BBQ joint in Portland with that name closed last year. More on this in a bit.

There are a number of places around our state, mostly well off the beaten path and not well-publicized, where a few intrepid souls have done the hard work of making the land friendly to quail. Through many, many conversations with wildlife and forestry people I'm slowly learning each of them, and learning that they're mostly on the other side of the state. Lick Fork Lake is one of these.

Sunrise through the trees
Conflicting weekend schedules sometimes demand pre-dawn departures, which isn't the worst thing that can happen to a guy and his dog. Scent conditions are ripe in the early morning hours and the birds are out feeding, casting their airborne trail in broader paths.

Got one pinned
We pulled in around 8:15 and by 8:30 the dog was locked up on point. A single bird flushed, I knocked it down, and it vanished in a gulley.  We looked and sniffed and poked around for 15 minutes and never found it.

Back to work and pretty quickly the dog was on point again and another single got up. And I whiffed with both barrels. Bag still empty.

A few minutes later another point, this time on a pair. I knocked down the first and missed the easy double, but marked that first one well. When I picked it up I noticed how well-fed it felt, a hefty bird for this time of year. Looking more closely I saw that it wasn't exactly what I thought it was.

Not quite a wild bird
These are what we call Tennessee Reds, a strain of quail bred in captivity and preferred by some breeders because of their hardiness. The chest and head feathers are a rusty brown on the hens and a cotton-white patch dominates the throat. After another hour of hunting the area and not finding any more birds, I started piecing it together. Someone must have been working his dog and put these birds out to train with. They were all good fliers, good enough that I thought they were wild until I picked up this one. They'd obviously been out for a while, maybe since last fall, and whether these were the lone survivors of a larger group or the lone survivors of that training session I don't know, but they put a smile on my face for one morning. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


If you do anything long enough, eventually all of the pieces line up for a performance that you never thought possible. Chamberlain scores 100, Bo Jackson on a Monday night in '87, Tiger at Augusta ten years later. Sometimes things just click and then keep on clicking and you feel like you couldn't ruin it if you wanted to, so you revel in it knowing the next time will be a long way off, if ever.

Reports out of South Texas last fall were beyond encouraging. Factoring in the standard embellishment and overexcitement multiplier they still suggested a pretty good season, so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit optimistic when I got the nod for an early January trip. I put off writing about it these last few weeks mainly to avoid sounding like a 7 yr old who's just spent a day with the Justice League, and I'm not sure I succeeded so just indulge me.

In quail hunting success is relative, geographically speaking. What passes for a good day here in SC would be considered somewhat of a disappointment in TX, so a good day in TX - and we're talking in terms of coveys found - is nearly unfathomable where I'm from. With the exception of one or two places where they take intensive management to a different level, and where I don't have hunting privileges, it just doesn't happen that you'll find 4-5 coveys an hour for as long as you choose to hunt. And just to be clear, I'm talking about wild birds.

What's truly surprising is that the only management done for these birds in TX is a little supplemental feeding on the roads during the season, and this is only to make them easier to find. The property is managed for trophy deer and the birds are simply a byproduct of proper cattle grazing and nature's benevolence.

Any day I can ride around big open country and find a few coveys of birds gets filed with the keepers. Any day I can find so many coveys that I stop counting gets its own file. Sure, after the first few coveys it's easy to keep up, but eventually you just lose yourself in finding the last bird someone shot or locating the dog on point. Each day I had to ask the handlers for the tally, which I've come to consider a good sign.

Without horses, GPS units for the dogs are a necessity.  You just can't see them even from the top of a rig, and once you get in the grass on foot they can disappear twenty yards in front of you. Every day we'd have a stretch when shooting singles or looking for dead birds that the handler would say "I got a point 100 yards that way" and we'd high-step it through the grass to another covey. This would happen three or four times before we'd decide to load up and head in another direction. It's the kind of shooting I've always read about and now through some strange combination of karma I'm the one telling the story.

I'd say it ruined me but that's not true. It's something close to the high water mark of my bird hunting adventures, no question, but I came home and loaded up my dog and went out looking for birds the next weekend.

Didn't find quite as many.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Cactus, Jack

I spent the better part of last week chasing birds in South TX, something I've been fortunate enough to do for the last few years at various times. This year stood apart as far as the quail are concerned (more on that later) and, unfortunately, for one other reason.

Walking after some singles I cut a corner a little too close and knew it immediately. The cactus drove through my pants just above my knee and left the spines in there when I lurched backward. The long ones have surprising penetration ability and the short ones are just plain aggravating to get out. I got them all out after several minutes of picking and pulling that also involved dropping my pants in the middle of a Texas pasture, but that was just the beginning.

Not this one, a bigger, angrier cousin.

T + 3 hrs - I start to notice some soreness in the knee.

T + 20 hrs - What the ???

T + 36 hrs - I need an aisle seat on the plane.

T + 48 hrs - Wonder what a torn meniscus feels like? Or a strained medial collateral cruciate patella femur thingy?

T + 72 hrs - This damn thing ain't gettin' any better.

T + 4 days - Stairs is another word for Bataan.

T + 6 days - Finally turning the corner.

Lessons learned? 1000 denier cordura is no match for this stuff.  Filson tin cloth might be but on most days it's too hot in my neck of the woods so I don't own a pair. After this run-in I may see what's on eBay, though. And in the future I'll be giving a wide berth to these green hornets. I'll try not to complain about briars any more.

Worth it for some of the best bird hunting I've ever had? Oh yeah.