Monday, November 23, 2009

Gobble Gobble

No, not turkey hunting (I wish). Just spending some time with the family for the holiday, so quite possibly no new updates until after the big feed. Looks like quail season is shaping up nicely and I hope to get out and rustle up a few birds after Christmas, if the weather holds.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

99.9% Rooster-Free

So after the fishing trip this past Saturday, and making my way back home tired and cold, 4:30 Sunday morning came all too soon on only 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Loaded up the truck, said goodbye to the family, poked the Lazy Beagle to make sure he was still breathing, and drove to Grizzly Island, just outside of Fairfield.

The morning was cool, but not freezing, when I arrived about 7:15. I checked in, paid my hunting 'tax', and waited for dad, who promptly showed up about 10 minutes later. After some initial discussion about which field to hunt first, we found our spot, geared-up, unloaded Bravo, and got to walking.

Now Bravo is a good hunter. He has a good nose and good instincts, but he has this urge to just screw around for the first 10 minutes of the hunt. Maybe it's the long rides in the kennel box, or maybe it's just a personality trait. I'm not sure which, but I do know that dog is somewhere between genius and insane. He hunted hard, but I could tell he was a little tired from the previous day's outing further up north with Dad. He worked and worked and worked, but never found a bird. We did manage to bust a hen (I never saw it, I was in a ditch lined with tall brush and the bird took off low), but that was it, and the dog never knew it was there. I suppose a litany of excuses could follow, but dogs, like people, are imperfect. Not a big deal, and besides that, I'm of the semi-informed opinion that as a good bird dog gets older and more educated, he or she learns to discriminate scents on a very fine level. It's possible he knew it was a hen and chose to ignore it and move on.

We moved to another field around 10am, further north, with lots of water-filled sloughs, and brought Tino out. In short, no birds, not even a hen. And Tino reverted to hanging really close to us - it was hard to get him to range. We busted some brush in the drier spots and tried to work him between us. But Dad and I were both tired from our adventures on Saturday, and I for one probably did not work myself or the dog as hard as I should have. That said, I think he still has plenty of potential and room to grow into a good bird dog.

If DFG is reading this, sorry, I forgot to turn in my field card. Let's just call it 0-for-0 for your record books and leave it at that, OK? When I checked in, I saw the tally from Saturday's opener - for something near 300 pheasant hunters, only 89 birds were taken. I recall last season there were about 250 hunters and closer to 140-160 birds taken. So for whatever reason, be it water, predators or mismanagement, this opener wasn't as good as last year. Heck, last year we popped 2 roosters and I had a shot (and missed) at one of them. This year pickings are slim, but maybe some wet weather will turn things around. If nothing else, some good storms, good forage and good spring cover will hopefully make for a bigger brood in 2010.

I did, however, get to see the native Tule Elk herd. I figure I see them 90% of the time I'm up there. Apparently DFG has a special tag hunt that lets you take 1 animal, and I think they issue all of 1 or 2 tags per season. I can't imagine the work involved in hauling out a 1000-plus pound bull from those fields. And having never hunted elk before, are they all that hard to sneak up on? I admit, this time I saw them probably 400-500 yards out - certainly not a shot I'd try with a 30-06 or a 308 with the expectation of a clean, one-shot kill. That's more in 7mm Remington Magnum or 300 / 338 Winchester Magnum territory. I suppose if you can sneak to within 200 yards, nearly anything with a decent 30 caliber bullet in the neck will do the trick. Regardless of trying to take one, they sure are majestic, pretty looking animals. But I'd sure hate to get one angry with me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

As I suspected.


I went to bed Friday the 13th, having set my alarm to wake me up at 4am. Apparently the anticipation was just too much, as my eyes snapped open at precisely 3:45. Breakfast, coffee, checking the weather and loading the truck got me on the road a hair before 5. From there, I had a 180 mile ride along 580, 5, 120 and 108 to my destination. Arriving at my spot about 8:30 in the morning, I found the ambient air temperature about 25 degrees (Fahrenheit. Celsius be damned!), the sun shining and a bit of snow on the ground. In other words, the morning looked beautiful, but downright cold.

I got my waders on, with long pants and wool thermals beneath, more thermals up top, wool shirt and a fleece pullover, and still I froze. Never mind my hands which went numb near-instantly once I started to hike down to the river. I still haven't found an acceptable pair of gloves for cold weather fishing, but I'm always open to suggestions. At about that time, on any trip, I always ask myself "Why am I doing this again?"

Upon reaching my first fishing spot, the water was of sufficient flow for fishing, the birds were starting to chirp, the air was crisp and clear, and there wasn't another person for probably 20 miles. Question answered, I tied on an Orvis Troutmaster in #14 and made my first cast. For the next 3 or 4 hours I made countless more casts, all unproductive. The water, crystal clear, looked devoid of fish. But that sentiment is a beginner's first mistake. Just because you can't see the fish doesn't mean that 1) they aren't there, and 2) that they aren't hip to your presence. At some point I changed over from the Orvis fly to something someone tied for me 7 or 8 years ago. It's a brown mayfly-looking nymph pattern with a woven body, and had been useful up here during late season trips. Still, no dice. Plus, I lost that fly on a nasty snag.

At that point, somewhere around noon, I found a flat, comfortable rock, and sat down for a snack and some regrouping. I couldn't see a single bug hatching or coming off the water, despite full sunlight in spots. In a fit of head-scratching and snack-chewing, I figured I had two choices. Tie on a wooly bugger and try fishing streamers, or tie on a dry and see if I could entice a fish. With the water temperature at 36F, either prospect looked dim. In that cold water, the fish don't want to do much. Unless the fly comes right to them and lands nearly in their mouth, they often won't bother. Stubborn as I am, I decided on the dry - a #14 yellow humpy (something from a store - the ones I tie look like the deformed offspring of a caddis and a bumblebee, and I'm in need of more bench time to get them right.)

Cast #1 with the dry. Up against a rock and into a seam between slow water and slack water, I was greeted with a splash and a miss. "Well I'll be damned", I thought to myself. It worked. Of course a dozen more casts, and nothing. Maybe it was presentation, maybe the fish had spent its daily energy allotment or maybe the stars were aligned against me. I decided to move upstream to another spot, and then luck (stupid luck, I might add) found me.

You see, I had neglected to smear my dry fly with floatant (in this case, some goopy silicone-like stuff that keeps the thing from waterlogging and sinking). So now I was working with a fly that would stay on the surface for a split second and then sink. It was sort of like fishing a wet fly/emerger pattern and since nothing else was working, I decided to roll with it. In a moment of inattention to fishing, I let my mind drift to the scenery, the birds, the rocks, the snow and so on. Realizing the drift was over, I went to retrieve my line and there was weight on the end of it. Dead, but moving, weight. I managed to wrestle a nice trout to the surface, at which point it came out of its own cold-induced stupor and began to put up the fight of its life. My 4 wt. Sage XP doubled over from setting the hook, this fish was on. A minute later she was in my net and on the bank. I sized her up at 16 inches or so and decided she was going on the grill. Into the bag in my vest, and back to the same spot, just to see if this was a fluke or if more fish were hanging about.

Two casts later, the same thing. Only this time I was paying attention to my drift. Letting the fly and line go slack, I put the fly in roughly the same spot and on the retrieve, the same thing - dead weight. This dead weight decided to immediately put up a heck of a tussle. The hook set, I horsed this fish in. Probably a little too eager, but the hook, tippet and leader all held and I had another nice fish in my net a minute later - this one about 14". In the bag, and being a glutton for more punishment, I decided to try the spot One More Time. Sure enough a half dozen casts later, I had one more on the line. I brought this one to hand, and since my wife doesn't care to pick bones out of her dinner, I had no need for a third fish. This one was nice, about 12" as I made it. I popped the hook out of its mouth and sent it back home to (hopefully) be fruitful and multiply.

I continued to fish upstream towards the truck, trying a spot that is usually very productive in the summer months. I guess either no one was home, or the tactics I chose were only good in one spot. Either way, it did not really matter. Six hours of numb fingers, frozen feet and standing in near-freezing water were taking its toll. By 2pm, I decided to pack up and made the long drive home, with a big SEG on my face and some fresh fish in the cooler. Oh, and for the record, a hatch did eventually start late in the day. Some sort of mayfly hatch came up - pretty sparse, just a few bugs here and there. It was likely enough to get the fish interested in anything remotely resembling a mayfly, however, and that managed to pay off.

I'm always amazed how getting into a bite can quickly make me forget all my aches, pains, cold feet, numb fingers and rumbling belly. Even without catching fish, the trips are always worth it. The solitude alone makes the drive and the time on the river worthwhile. The fish really become a bonus. Of course I wore myself out, between the early morning, the long drive, and the cold weather. And I still had Sunday to go bird hunting with dad. That would prove to be a shorter, but no less fulfilling, day, despite being wiped out from Saturday.

The final tally on the fish - the bigger one measured out to 15.75" and the smaller to a touch over 14". A nice reward for a day of fishing!

Monday, November 9, 2009

And now for something different (soon).

Fall is here, the weather is cooling off in the mountains, and the State regulations call for closing of the general trout season on November 15th. To anyone from the California Department of Fish and Game that might come across this - could you please move the closer to some weekend other than opening weekend of our all-too-short pheasant season?

Still, it looks like I'll be taking a trek up to the mountains to fish the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus on Saturday, followed by an early morning 200 mile drive to meet dad for Day 2 of opening weekend (he's hunting private land on Saturday, and I can't go.) It's strictly a fly-fishing trip, so we'll see how things go. Pop used to catch browns up in the area this time of year using Mepp's lures and spinning gear and while I've got nothing against throwing chrome and brass to the fish, I like the challenge of late season nymphing.

Generally, late season trout up in the mountains is slow, at least for me. I suppose the cold weather, the fish focusing on the spawn, and the presumed die-off of both planted and native fish brings the action to a crawl. But, there are fish to be had. Several years ago, in knee-deep snow, I fished the area I'm visiting on Saturday. All morning and most of the afternoon I basically practiced my casting and mending, with not a fish to be found, not even a nibble. And then, on a slow drift into the face of a semi-submerged log, about 3 in the afternoon, it happened. Just a little bump at first. I thought maybe I'd snagged the bottom, as I was fishing a somewhat heavy nymph with a matted body. An attempt to retrieve showed dead weight on the other end. Another tug showed the weight was, to my surprise, not quite so dead. After a good fight, I landed an 18" rainbow. It went well with some lemon, capers and butter.

So, if you do head up for some late fishing, remember the key is patience. Besides, enjoy the views and the solitude. This time of year the rivers are generally empty and about the only company you'll have are the birds and a few river otters. If you pay attention, you'll probably see some ducks, too.

Now, as for Sunday - well I generally like to get where I want to be the night before. All the driving takes something out of me (road weariness?). But I know the drive will be worth it, if only to see how the young dog does with wild birds. I'd be tickled even to see him just flush a hen or two. It would do Tino some good, and hens mean babies and babies mean population. California will never be like the Dakotas, where pheasant are about as plentiful in the fields as pigeons are in your local public park. We can hope though, right?

Watch this space for an update sometime after the weekend. Tight lines and rooster feathers to all!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Range and Ammunition Results

OK, so I made it out for a couple hours of range time today. Other than a Garand shooting a bit lower that I'd like (I'll have to zero it later, I ran out of time), the Remington 700 did well.

Here is the first target. Nine rounds total of Federal Premium, loaded with 150 grain Sierra Game King BTSP, Federal Premium with the 165 grain Barnes TSX bullets, and a couple of Lake City (CMP) rounds with a 1974 date stamp. Overall, not bad. These were my warm up, knock the cobwebs off and fouling shots. Far left and lower left are the LC rounds, the rest of the cloverleafs are Federal stuff. The ones outside the pasted target were me fiddling around with some elevation and windage adjustments and were purposefully directed off target. Honestly!



And here is the target where I went to work after letting the gun cool about 20 minutes.



The bottom "crescent" is the first 3 rounds, the upper "triangle" is the second group of 3. The rifle (or the shooter, most likely!) didn't group as tightly as I'd have liked. But everything was in the 10, with a couple touching the bullseye. Not bad. Better than I've ever shot with Remington or Winchester ammo.

I've taken exactly one animal with the Federal Premium/Barnes TSX combo - a 80-90lb sow a while back at a range of about 60 yards. The bullet struck the heart and she only made it a few yards before she fell. I was sold on the stopping performance of the Barnes TSX bullet at that point. As an added benefit, I know I can run this stuff in my rifles for any big game in California. No need to worry about testing new brands or batches of ammo when hunting in lead free vs. non-lead free (i.e. California Condor Friendly) parts of the state.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ammunition Testing and Trigger Work

Just a heads up. I'm planning to head to the range tomorrow morning to test out a new batch of Federal Premium Vital-Shok topped with 165 grain Barnes TSX bullets in 30-06. This is also a chance to double-check zero on the rifle, as I had to pull the action from the stock after deer hunting (water + wood + blued steel = bad if left uncleaned.)

As a teaser, here's what the rifle can do:



Specs:

- Bone-stock Remington 700 in BDL trim
- Leupold VX-II 3-9x x 40mm
- Trigger pull set at 3.5 pounds

No fancy barrels, no firing pin, bolt or other work. No stock bedding, either. In case you're wondering, that target was from a trip where I was trying to learn to shoot the rifle with gloved hands. Three of the wide shots were with a gloved trigger finger and we'll call the left-most ungrouped shot a flier (it was). The 'tear' above the bullseye represents the last 6 rounds, 3 + 3, with a 10 minute cooling period between groups, shooting ungloved. The 6 shot group is intentionally high to get me on target a bit over 100 yards out. Any of those shots would have been within the vitals of a deer, pig or bear, but I prefer it if I'm shooting sub-MOA groups.

Let's hope for similar results tomorrow morning. And no, I won't be wearing stupid gloves. I'll manage with cold fingers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Keeping Optics Clean In The Field

Dirt Be Gone.
Nothing will ruin a hunting trip quicker than looking through your scope to line up that once-in-a-blue-moon-oh-so-perfect shot and seeing not your target, but a 4-power, coated optics-enhanced smudge. A blob of grease from a finger, maybe last night's chili, dust from the trail or water droplets from the morning mist. In a panic you might try to clean it off with a shirt sleeve, some spit, a handkerchief or even that same greasy finger that made the mess in the first place. Don't! You need to clean that scope properly or risk damaging lenses and coatings.

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Dirt

In an earlier post I mentioned a product from Cabela's called the LensPen (note, Cabela's and I have no relationship, other than when I send them large sums of money, they send me small boxes containing goodies) For about $10, you get a pen-like device, about the size and shape of a Sharpie pen. One end of the the LensPen holds a retractable brush, something like a makeup brush that your wife or mother might use to put on whatever that make-up stuff is they put on (pay attention). At the other end, removing a cap reveals a felt-like pad (chamois, I'm told) impregnated with some sort of non-liquid cleaner.

The proper use of the LensPen is pretty self-explanatory. You first use the brush end to remove visible dust and grit from the optics. Combined with gently blowing off larger particles of gunk-n-junk (my technical term), the brush makes a good first stab at getting your lenses cleaned up.

The other end, what I call the 'swab' end, is then used to get things like grease, oil and condensation off the lens. Since this means you will be rubbing the lenses to remove contaminants, you have to be careful here. If you leave fine grit, dust, dirt or other abrasive detritus on the scope's objective or eyepiece, the pad-end of the LensPen will grind some of that junk right into your lenses like ultra-fine sandpaper. That translates into lots of fine scratches in your field of view. If the scratches are bad enough, you will compromise the functionality of your scope. Some scope manufacturers can replace or polish & recoat lenses, but that won't do you much good 7000 feet up on the side of a mountain, staring down that trophy bear or deer. Be sure to use the LensPen's tools in the proper order and fashion and that dirty scope will quickly become a clean scope, ready to help you put that perfect shot downrange. Bear in mind that this tool is equally effective at cleaning binoculars, range finders, and spotting scopes. It's versatility far outweighs its cost.

Cover That Thing

The next item is what I call a preventative measure. Since I use exclusively Leupold scopes for now (again, no business relationship here, other than whenever I send a Leupold dealer large sums of money, they ship me back a small box with a pretty trinket inside), I also use their line of Alumina flip-back lens covers. These covers thread into the objective and eyepiece bells of most 2005-and-later Leupold scopes and feature spring-loaded covers held shut with a strong magnet. A firm push on the exposed tab on the objective's cover piece causes it to flip up and out of the way. On the eyepiece covers, Leupold installed a thumb release that causes the cover piece to flip up and out of the way as you push the release forward. These work incredibly well for right-handed shooters because as you shoulder your rifle or shotgun, your left hand's thumb will be close to the exposed tab on the objective cover. A quick flick of the thumb and that cover is open without adding any awkward motion to your shouldering sequence. On the eyepiece end, as you wrap your right hand around the stock and trigger guard, your right thumb will come relatively close to the thumb release for the eyepiece cover. Again, a quick press of the thumb release and the eyepiece cover is open for business without any interference to your normal shouldering motion.

These covers are not cheap (expect to pay about $35-$40 each), but they do a good job protecting your scope lenses from dirt and contaminants as you hike through the terrain. They are also easier to open than "bikini" style scope covers during that adrenaline rush of seeing your target. The flip-up covers get out of the way and stay out of the way. There is nothing to fall off, nothing to fumble with and nothing to worry about losing or stowing in a pocket. When a shot presents itself, you have better things to worry about than what to do with your scope cover.

On The Cheap
For the hunter on a budget, there are other flip-up covers from other manufacturers, i.e. Butler Creek, that may fit the bill at a fraction of the cost. I do not have any experience with Butler Creek's lens covers, but they may be worth a look. I have some of their other products and have always found their products to be of decent quality and workmanship.

The budget-minded may be able to get away without spending the money on a LensPen. Many women's makeup brushes are made of natural, non-abrasive fibers and will fit the bill nicely as the 'brush' end of a LensPen. I'm not sure what goes into makeup, but it always looks powdery to me. Powder means grit and grit means scratches. So, get your wife/mother/sister to give you a new, unused brush. I'm pretty sure makeup brushes and rabbits share some common genes, as both seem to multiply exponentially. These brushes are often given out as freebies to the ladies, so this is cheaper than cheap - it's free.

As for the other end of the LensPen, odds are if you bought a scope or a set of binoculars, it came with a soft cleaning cloth. This will do in a pinch for getting grease, oil, and moisture off your lenses. Keep this and your brush in your shirt pocket and you'll be ready to keep those optics clean and at the ready. As an added benefit, if you wear glasses, you can keep those clean with these same tools.

Keep those scopes clean and at the ready for when you need them most.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

D5 Zone Postmortem.


This past deer season I put in for an X8 tag and took a D3-5 tag as my second choice. I only had one chance for a trip, the week of Columbus Day. Yes. That week. You might remember that week. Big, wet, windy storm? Lots of snow up in the mountains? Trees falling over, power going out, general meteorological mayhem? Yes, that one.

I drove up Highway 4 on Columbus Day, past Lake Alpine, and made camp on the banks of the Mokelumne. It was a little breezy, and after making camp, I hunted the river until last light. The wind was coming up more as night fell, the air was getting colder, but the National Weather Service had assured me a dozen times that the snow level was going to be well above 8000 feet, and likely above 8500-8700 feet. Figuring I was in for some rain and wind, I decided to stick it out, hoping the the passing of the rainstorm would get the deer moving off the ridges. That would play perfectly into my plans to poke around the Mokelumne and Stanislaus rivers, being natural migration paths for deer, providing good cover, forage and water sources. What could go wrong?

Five o'clock Tuesday morning brought wind and cold, but no rain. By first light, a very light, but wet, snow started to fall. I began my hike not far from The Elbow. Uphill. Uphill. Uphill. Snow. Snow. More snow. By 8:30 I measured 2+ inches of wet snow on the ground and no signs of letting up. Not good, when coupled with winds in excess of 25 knots. While waiting for the GPS to get a lock, I began to hike back in the general direction of the truck. (As an aside, a GPS is handy - always carry one and use it if you can. But never rely solely on it. Take compass readings as often as you need to, time your hiking and you can dead reckon your way back to somewhere close enough to your starting point.) By 9 I was at the truck, now with a good 3-4 inches of snow. A nasty ride down the river canyon to camp left me with a decision - stay snowbound for a day or two, or head for a lower, rainy spot? I opted for the latter.

In haste I broke camp, packed the truck and made it back up to Highway 4 just as a CalTrans plow passed by heading west. Timing in life is everything, no? I decided to head all the way down to Arnold to scout some private forest lands open to hunting. By the time I got there, I decided lunch and coffee would be a good thing while I adjusted my plan of attack. Fueled up and warmer, I took to road hunting in pouring rain and caught the back end of a deer (doe or buck, I can't say) heading into the brush. I lost it in thick cover and decided to keep covering ground. Tuesday was just a nasty, wet day and setting up my tent sounded like no fun, so I grabbed a warm motel room for the night, dried out, and poked around in the same places on Wednesday. At that point, 4 was still closed at Lake Alpine, so I spent Wednesday in Arnold, and Thursday up around the Union/Utica/Spicer areas. I managed to jump something on Wednesday evening, but again the cover was too thick to identify the critter as a doe or a buck, and I never had a shot. Thursday afternoon warmed up quick and as I was packing my parka into my backpack, I saw movement off to my right, maybe 80 yards out. Not a deer. No, this was a big brute of a bear, somewhere in the 350-400 pound class. And me with no bear tag. That makes 3 seasons in a row seeing bears (D5 this year, D6 last year, and B2 the year before that.) Sign was plentiful for bears but slim to none for deer.

Friday the road was finally open and I made it back up 4 to meet up with the rest of my party as planned Up near Ebbetts Pass the deer sign was plentiful - lots of fresh beds and droppings, fresh muddy tracks, but I saw nothing. Glassed, glassed and glassed some more, but still nothing. More of the same Saturday and Sunday was 'pack up and head home' day. I'm a little bummed that I never saw (for certain) a buck and never had a shot, but that's how it goes. Three years now with no venison in the freezer, but I'm already plotting and planning for next year.

Some things to keep in mind. First, if you know wet weather is coming, gather up a few days worth of kindling and wood scraps and keep them dry. Plastic garbage bags work well for this. Gather your larger wood and completely wrap it in a tarp or two. You'll be glad you did. Fire is your friend when everything else is cold and miserable. Heat, light and the ability to cook are three essentials you never want to be without. Next, the National Weather Service fibs. Let's face it - they may have more of a clue than you and I, but they aren't the most accurate predictors of weather conditions, especially in the mountains. Also, bring cleaning gear for your guns. A little surface rust on a barrel is not a pretty sight, but it isn't going to mess up a shot. On the other hand, a fouled, rusty, dirty rifle bore will cause you all kinds of grief. Make sure you've also got stuff to clean your scope lenses, plus good scope covers. I use the Leupold flip-up scope covers for my rifle or a set of rubber cups depending on conditions, and I keep a Cabela's Lenspen in my pack. A dirty or fogged scope is a useless scope. When the weather refuses to cooperate, be flexible. Road hunt if you have to. Get out of the weather and go look for non-migratory deer herds if you can. Finally, follow your gut. I had a feeling that if I didn't break camp on Tuesday, I wasn't going to get out of that spot for another 2 or 3 days, maybe more if the snow ended up deeper. A few days stuck in the snow is at the very least an inconvenience. While I was well-equipped in terms of food, shelter and fuel to wait things out, that would have been a few days with zero hunting opportunities vs. the few days of sub-optimal hunting opportunities - at least I was still out there looking and working to fill my tag.

For those that did fill a tag, good for you. For those that did not - get ready for next season!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting ready for the wild birds...working with dogs.


November 14th marks the opening of the Caifornia general pheasant season. By now I would guess most hunters have their dogs trained up and in good shape, reservations made (for private or public lands), cobwebs knocked off the shotgun, and the reflexes in peak condition. Right?

This past Saturday, me, my dad, and a close friend of his, along with dad's two labs, went up to the Black Point Sports Club, just outside of Novato to give the dogs some more shooting time over planted birds. It also gave us a chance to get tuned up for shooting at something somewhat less predictable than a sporting clay. The morning met us with some dense fog, which didn't fully lift until 9am. The club owners let us into the fields around 8:30, declaring visibility to be safe for the conditions. Dad's yellow lab, Valentino ('Tino) did well for an 11-month old dog (he was also trained at this club, 'camp' or 'boot camp' as I like to call it.) We shot 4 birds over him and he did excellent work on the flushing and the retrieves. He has some work left to really become a prime hunter, but my uninformed opinion says he's well on the way to being an excellent working dog.

The last hour of the hunt was spent working with the chocolate lab, Bravo. He's the senior dog, hunts like a pro and is one of those dogs that works with you as a partner (aside from his rare bouts of canine intractability.) I kicked up a rooster that he hadn't found and was too slow on the swing. Luckily dad's friend John was on the ball and put the bird down in a ditch. With a little direction, Bravo went into the ditch, found the bird and brought him back. He's one heck of a dog - watching him work is watching a living definition of 'heart', in the idiomatic sense.

Sometimes Bravo ranges a little further than dad prefers, though (again in my uninformed opinion) he seems to intuitively know when to turn himself back so as to stay within shotgun range. But the more I've thought about it today and yesterday, I see dad's point - the dog has a tendency to work the very edges of an acceptable range. If he flushes a bird, you might get one quick shot before you may as well just wave goodbye to that rooster and go find another.

'Tino, on the other hand, is still a pup. He's developing his senses, his endurance and still getting educated. He has the opposite problem of Bravo at times - he doesn't want to range far at all. He would rather hang out with dad like old buddies, eagerly awaiting a belly rub, a dog biscuit, or some combination thereof. Working 20 or 30 yards apart, we managed to use the whistles to keep him moving both ahead of us and between us, showing him that the idea is to work and cover ground, not hang out next to us. The previous trip he wasn't quite sure of what to do at times, but this outing he really looked to be getting the idea of "cover ground" vs. "cover boots." Like dad said with a smile, "no glue factory for you this time!" While some doubt remains with dad, I think 'Tino will soon work up into another fine bird dog. He just needs a little more time and experience to get the hang of things. At worst, given his calm demeanor (i.e. quasi-laboradorian-comatose), he will make a great duck blind dog once he learns hand signals.

Of course not owning my own bird dog (yet...), this was also a training experience for me. I've hunted with dad since I was a kid, first over German shorthaired pointers (What. A. Rush.) and now over labs. As you watch the dogs work, you learn that 100% of what they communicate to you is via body language - the way a tail is carried, the direction the dog is moving relative to the wind, nose up or nose down, even the pace and stride of the dog. Those things are not too hard to pick up on. The tricky part is being attentive enough to notice when the dog goes from looking for a scent to actually being on a scent to being right on top of a scent. Everything can (and will) change in the literal blink of an eye. If you don't pay attention you'll miss out in two ways. First, you lose opportunities to take a bird and second you miss an opportunity to take that bird and reward the dog for his hard work. Nothing is perfect and sometimes you miss the shot and the dog watches the bird fly off into the marshes. But you hope to make that the exception, not the rule.

Overall both dogs did well, and my shooting is getting warmed up for the wild birds. I'm also learning to better read the dogs and spatially manage everything at once - paying attention to the dogs, paying attention to where I'm walking, keeping my eyes open for roosters that the dogs miss or haven't smelled yet, and of course always maintaining proper firearm safety discipline. In the end, it was a great few hours and a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning with good company. Naturally, wild birds are a different game. They aren't planted, they tend to be more scarce, they behave differently given the amount of pressure they are under, and sure enough they fly faster than the pen-raised birds. Twelve days to the opener. Everyone is ready. Right?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Welcome

I have finally decided to take the plunge into blogging. The title of the blog might be a bit misleading, but the general topics will cover hunting and fishing in California, as well as notes about any trips taken out of state. Entries won't likely be limited to just these two topics, though. Gear and ammunition reviews, how-to articles and even non-hunting and non-fishing excursions will receive coverage (i.e. trips to scout out potential 'hot' spots and the like.)

At first I was a little concerned that I might not have enough writing material to work with, but in retrospect I think the opposite will be the case - I probably have too much to say and the major constraint will be time. After all, I can't write about something if I'm out doing it at the moment. So hopefully a little balance will establish itself and the blog will be updated on a regular (weekly during various seasons, daily during the off-season) basis.

So check back often, leave constructive comments, and if you have an idea or wish for something to be covered, feel free to let me know!

-Ed