Checking In

It’s been over two years since I wrote last.  A lot has happened and, at the same time, very little has happened.  I’d like to say that this post marks the turning of a new leaf – the renewal of a commitment to writing and to recording my hunting adventures.  They are, after all, a reliable journal and it’s always nice to go back to recount past lessons.  If I’m being honest, I’m here because I’m bored.  The Jazz aren’t playing, I don’t care about the football game that’s on, and my family is out of the house.  So, here I am….

I guess we’ll start with the “big” stuff.  Had another baby, put down a dog, started a new pup.  That pretty much sums it up.  Spike was getting more and more anxious with the hustle and bustle of our large family and slew of young children and eventually he started to get testy.  One day he went after and bit one of my girls.  I don’t know if he felt threatened or what but in the end I don’t care.  You bite a child and it’s game over.  It was very hard to let him go but it was the right decision.  The safety of my kids is number one.  And, the more I look back at things, I feel that he was so unhappy and so nervous all the time that it was probably a merciful release for him.  Maybe that’s just something I tell myself to cope.  I don’t know and, again, don’t care.

The new pup’s name is Oliver’s Cash Me Outside How Bout Dat, call name Cash.  He’s the most hard-headed, stubborn, mind-of-is-own dog I’ve ever had or seen, at least as far as Brittanys are concerned.  I’ve had Beagles that were much worse but hounds are another story altogether.  I brought him home in late winter and he’s a hell of a dog.  He is the exact opposite of Spike – he’s driven, hungry, loves birds, and never tires.  He’s everything I was looking for.  With a lot of help from Curtis he’s doing very well.  He was able to catch a few pigeons in early training and we’ve been working him with remote releases since then and he’s doing well.  In fact, a week from yesterday we were able to locate a covey of chukar several times and put three of them on the ground.  We’d have likely had a limit but he broke point the last two times we got on them and I don’t want to reinforce him by putting a bird on the ground that he didn’t point.  Curtis and I have talked long and hard about that theory and I’m not sure where he ended up but it’s my belief that it’s a case-by-case thing.  Where Cash has previously caught birds on his own and has a good chance of deciding he doesn’t need my along to get birds, I think it really matters.  A dog that has always pointed and happens to bump a few birds, maybe not so much.  It certainly isn’t going to harm him to not shoot them and there’s a chance, even if slight, that I could harm him by putting them down.

Anyway, great hunt last weekend.  This weekend we went back to see if we could relocate those birds.  Again, with direction from “The Dog Whisperer”, the idea was to keep him on birds as frequently as possible.  That covey was easy, accessible, and gave him quick success and a lot of learning opportunities in a short and close-to-home hunt.  We’ll try a new area or two over Thanksgiving weekend.

That’s going to do it for tonight.  I doubt that Curtis will ever post again and maybe I’ll fill you in on some our exploits when I get bored again.  I don’t feel it’s my place to share his stories (although he told me a humdinger last night about a deer and small misunderstanding between him and Gunner).  I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the recent trips.  Maybe it’ll encourage me to work harder when I log back in two years from now…

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Pick Your Spot

I’ve done quite a bit of scouting over the past two weeks with varying degrees of success.  The first trip was to a new section of a range that we already hunt and know holds birds.  The new area does as well.  ‘Nuff said.

The second trip was to an entirely new area and it was wonderfully successful.  I found both chukar and quail and all kinds of land to hunt with good access even after the snow falls.  I also found a really nice patch of stinging nettle… with my backside… while trying to relieve myself… with well over an hour hike back to the truck….

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Even found some pictographs on my hike!

The funny thing about this area is that I grew up twenty minutes away and never even new these stupid devil-birds even existed.  When do I find out?  After I moved a few hours away.  And that’s the only problem with this spot – it’s still a good drive away.

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Quail in the bottoms, chukar in the hills.

Next was another trip into a farther reach of a known territory, this time for grouse.  I found a few birds and I found huge expanses of land that are fairly close to home, easily accessible, and open to the dregs of society (i.e., the general public).

I also found a road with a sign that said it was open to cars, ATVs, motorcycles, and snowmobiles.  What it should have said was that it was open to the spawn of Satan and only those spawn who happened to be driving a fully off-road capable rig.  Know what I’m driving?  A Suburban!  A Chevy Suburban!  You know the 80″ wide behemoths with the 130″ wheelbase?  Yeah, one of those.  This is one of those really cool single-lane roads with either cliffs or trees on both sides of the road so you can’t possibly turn around or pull off to the side.  So much fun…

So, after getting myself committed to this mess I find a dip in the road where my angle of attack is less than satisfactory.  On top of that, the grade on the road is so extreme that I can’t back up, even in four-wheel drive.  So, out comes the shovel.  Have you ever dug a three-ton vehicle out of a spot like that?  No?  Then you have no idea what hell is!

After I got out of that hole I proceeded down the Boulevard of the Damned with a sense of relief and a sure feeling that the worst was over.  Around the next bend I come face to face with a second obstacle, this one even more menacing than the first.  But this time I’m on top of it.  I’ll just stop before I hit it, throw some rocks and dirt in the bottom to lessen the angle, and just ease right over it.  Easy peasy.  Then I found it, the angle at which a Suburban refuses to come to a complete stop on a dirt road.  Even in park.

Close your eyes.  Imagine that you’re sitting in your car and you’re being slowly pressed into an immovable and impenetrable object.  Imagine knowing that once your car and the object have completely coalesced into a single form you’re going to have to somehow separate the two with a 12″ shovel designed to dig cat-holes.  The outcome is so inevitable that you can almost just relax and enjoy the ride.  Like a skydiver with a chute that won’t open.  Almost peaceful.  Almost…

Now we’re back in the car, we’ve escaped from hell a second time, and the bottom is in sight!  We’re free!  The devil and his minions have been robbed of the victory!  Almost…  The last turn reveals a river crossing.  I get out and scope it out.  I act like I’m in complete control just in case someone’s secretly watching me, but inside I know that I’m crossing this thing one way or another.  I’m sure as hell not trying to go back up the Boulevard.  It’s a couple feet deep but seems to be doable.  The water isn’t moving too quickly and the stones in the bottom seem to be pretty well compressed from previous vehicles.  Should be a breeze.  And it was, all the way up to where my front tires climbed the bank on the other side and found dry ground.  That’s when I heard that horrible sound of tires spinning in gravel.  Stuck again.  Now I’m digging out while standing in two feet of water and not able to see a thing.  I honestly don’t know just how I got out of this one, but I eventually got enough momentum to get the rear axle up the bank and had all four tires back on a decent road.  I passed a few people on the way out and the look on their faces was a perfect mix of pity, astonishment, and admiration.  Maybe they’re sitting somewhere writing a blog about the idiot they saw in the Suburban.

The last trip I took was into an area I have checked frequently for elk and deer but not much for grouse.  I found some good habitat and great numbers of ruffed grouse.  It’s close to home, too.  The road is quite rough but it’s no Boulevard.  The only real issue is that there are no large areas where we could hunt for hours on end.  It’s more of a stop-and-go area where we’d hunt a meadow for twenty minutes and then load up and drive to the next one.  Definitely not my preference.

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Aspen stand loaded with ruffed grouse.
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Prime transitional habitat for both blues and ruffs.

All in all it’s been a productive few weeks.  It’s nice to have the luxury of choice now.  It wasn’t long ago that birds meant we went, regardless of how far or how many or anything else.  We’ve got enough areas now that scouting trips involve more than the question “are there birds”.  Now we can start to ask questions of convenience; “is it close enough”, “is the road too rough”, “are there enough birds to make it worth the trip”.  It’s nice to be able to pick our spots.  Now all we need is September.