Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

After a month-long break from the uplands due to my work load and the girls' injuries, I finally made it back to chasing birds. While we didn't scratch down our limits or anywhere close to a limit, we did see a ton of birds, which is always a great sign in the late season.  Abby responded fairly well to her month off.  She was a little rusty at times but she still out-smarted a few late season birds.

We'll be getting at it for the next month before the season ends.  Hopefully, we can catch a day or two in the snow.

til next time...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Good Book

No, more like a great book.

I recently rediscovered my love of reading through the pages of Feathered Tales: A Bird Hunters Grand Slam Odyssey by Joseph A. Augustine.

After a while of "I've been meaning to pick up that book" to actually picking up a copy. It was only a short time before I put down the book.  Looking back, I think I finished the book in just a few days.

From the very first pages, I knew this book was for me because I was able to relate not only to the content, but also to the author.  Relate, is saying it lightly.  As the pages flipped, I couldn't help but think how my upland hunting path was very similar to the author's. You see, Joe Augustine grew up only half and hour east of my hometown in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  He also came from a hard-working, middle class family that instilled in him a prolific work ethic.  The connection didn't stop there as I read he still runs the same breed of dog which his family had from his youth.

The obvious passion for the uplands carried me swiftly from chapter to chapter.  But it was his passion that drove the author through the adventures of chasing every huntable species of upland game behind his beloved English Setters.  No small feet for the adventures but an even greater accomplishment was putting it into words and fitting it all into one book.

If you like upland hunting behind any sort of breed, you will find this book a great read.

til next time....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Mend

So it's been a tough couple of weeks.

Abby was first up for her hernia surgery and it went well.  She's almost ready to chase some roosters.  Here are a few before and after photos.

All bandaged up.
Next up was Mia and her TPLO surgery. It's only been a few days since Mia came home, but she's seems to be recovering well. We really have to keep a close eye on her.  She's on lead while doing her business and she's being crated a little more than she's used to.  But this is all for her benefit and a quick recovery.

Mia hanging out on her new bed.
Look, 22 staples!
Getting ready for Christmas!

til next time....

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ruffed Up Road Trip

I was hoping that this post was going to be all about the grouse hunting glory from our road trip to Central Pennsylvania.  Instead, I report that both of my girls are going under the knife to repair some hunting injuries.

As I reported earlier, Mia came up lame on the opening day of our pheasant season and was given two weeks of rest.  I was preparing for the worst and hoping for the best with this, but I knew that it wasn't good that she wasn't getting better. It's not good as she'll be getting TPLO surgery to repair her ACL. So she'll be out of action for the rest of this season.

To make matters worse, Abby developed a strange lump/bruise on her side after grouse hunting this weekend.  I did an inspection of her and could not figure out a cause. The lump was definately filled with fluid and began to grow.  So after Mia was diagnosed with her injury and resulting surgery, Abby was going to go under the knife to repair some sort of hernia.

While writing this post, our vet called to tell us that Abby is doing well after her surgery. The vet also explained that a small puncture caused this hernia!  From what he could tell, a stick or giant thorn went into her side at her last rib and punctured the muscle in her stomach area to cause the hernia. It was almost 5 inches away from the small puncture on her skin to the puncture in her stomach muscle.

I know, I'm trying to figure this one out, too.  But Abby will be out for at least 4 weeks.

Our trip to Pennsylvania turned out to be a great time. We were able to visit a few of our Colorado pheasant covers before we started the rest of our 22 hour drive.  Once we arrived in PA, I was able to hook up with fellow blogger Rick Grimes from Allegheny Mountain Wanderings.  Rick was able to put us on some great cover that produced a few birds. While in the area I was able to stop by the Lion County Supply Store where I handled a few nice SxS's and picked up some dog supplies.

Here are a few pictures from the trip.

Colorado Rooster

Pennsylvania Rooster!

Looks like another hunter got here before me.

Little Girl

til next time...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Highs and Low

As in life, highs are usually associated with some untimely lows. The 2010 Colorado pheasant opener was no different.

Having scouted the hunting grounds the day prior to the opener, our excitement lifted as we saw birds in every cover and high numbers. As the day broke we found ourselves overloaded with birds. Almost too many for the 3 springers and 6 guns. The adrenaline was running high and birds were flying everywhere. As we settled down, a few birds fell after many were missed. Hey, what are you going to do it's opening day!

Abby got the call for the first hunt of the day and she didn't disappoint.  She was rock steady and her range was awesome considering the amount of scent that was on the ground.
Lining up for the first hunt

Mia got the call for the next hunt and she too was thrown into a gauntlet of cover that held 50 plus birds. She was great and hunted the overwhelming cover like a seasoned pro.

Now for the explanation of the title: the low.

This was the season that I was finally able to rotate dogs to keep them fresh. With Abby finally steadied, I thought this was the year that my two dogs would be able to give each other rest.  Not only for the day but for the years ahead. Mia has been the go-to dog for the last four seasons. She's carried the weight of several guns and produced birds on a consistent basis. But she can't hunt all day, every day, and be expected to live a long, healthy life.

With best laid plans comes some bumps in the road.  On Mia's second hunt, right after she flushed and retrieve two birds, she took a long turn only to come back limping.  When I first noticed her limping she was favoring her back left leg.  I originally thought it was a sand burr that was stuck in her pad so I checked her out her pads and they were clean.  I let her run a few more casts but the limping continued so I took her back to the truck.  After a few more brief tests, I knew that she was done for the weekend.

Man, talk about a buzz kill.  From that point on I was bummed to have a her out of the rotation. Mia's a wild bird hunting machine that lives for the hunt. So many high hopes were dashed as she stayed in the truck.

I was able to take her in to the vet first thing on Monday morning.  Our vet examined her and determined that the injury might be a sprain.  But we have to give it two weeks of rest and hope for the best.  If she is still limping after the next two weeks, it might just be an ACL injury, so let's hope for the best!

Back to the hunt and the highs. With Mia in the truck, it was time for Abby to shine and shine she did. Abby hunted hard for the rest of the weekend.  Saturday afternoon she smoked out a group of roosters that helped me connect on a true double.  Once she finished the retrieves, she quickly put up a few more birds and one more fell from the Adam's 16 bore.
Break time
Sunday started out slow but heated up right before lunch. After covering the edge of a very large CRP field, we headed back to the truck and put up a group of birds at the edge of the road. I missed the last bird that came out, but my oldest friend and hunting buddy, Brian, dropped a rooster as it crossed into a corn field. I didn't see it fall but Brian said it hit hard and started running. A wing shot for sure, never a good sign when that rooster could use its legs to run miles before we could get to the mark. As we scoured the corn, Abby took a line up the corn and started tracking.  She relocated the track a few times and after a few minutes took a line and produced the bird 300 yards from the original mark.  That a girl!!

It was hard to top that, but Abby saved her best work for the last hunt on Sunday. My BIL Pete, Brian and I scoured the roads and maps for the last hunt of the day and the trip.  Right at 3pm we ended up at the State Walk In Access CRP plot.  It looked semi-promising but we were tired and ready to hit the road.  But after a few casts, Abby started to indicate some ground scent.  Almost immediately, she started tracking the scent and from the looks of the cover, I knew we had some runners. After flushing a hen, Abby quickly got back on a scent and flushed a rooster that fell to my second barrel.

As we crossed the street and into some new cover, not much changed as Abby started tracking some hot scent.  A hundred yards up the cover, Abby flushed another rooster that was missed by four barrels, including two of mine! As we continued on and switched directions, the favorable head wind became a crossing down wind. I knew I was going to have to keep a close eye on her range. She did take a few extra long casts but I corrected her and continued on. As the cover was coming close to the end, Abby again started tracking and an explosion of birds overwhelmed the guns as we missed a few roosters to ruin her hard work.

Having crossed back into the original field only brought more spectacular hunting by Abby.  She tracked down two more roosters and Brian brought one down.  After that, we took one more rooster from a wild flush. We ended the day and the trip on a great note.

The disappointing loss of Mia isn't too far from my mind and neither is Abby's first wild bird hunt.

End of great day with myself and Brian.

Adam bear hugging Razor

Star of the Show!
til next time....

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hard Hunt

Having just returned from our annual big game hunting trip in north central Colorado, all I can say is that I'm tired. We hunted hard from sun up to sun down. Miles were walk up and down the mountains. All this work resulted in one mule deer buck for the freezer. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining that I didn't tag a cow elk or mule deer buck but I was set on filling the freezer. There is always next year and the pheasant opener is only a week away.

Dusky Grouse tracks at 10,000 ft

The sun coming up in elk country.

Deer Country
til next time....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Almost There

Man it feels like all I do lately is work. That's because that's what I'm doing. I'm getting jealous of all the stories from Mid-Westerners and East Coasters telling tales and adventures about chasing Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock. But I bet they were jealous of us chasing Dusky Grouse in the beginning of September. So I guess we are even!

I should mention that I've been able to get out to the training fields at least once a week to get Abby up to speed and to keep Mia sharp. I can tell you one thing that I'm excited about for this upcoming season: rotating fresh dogs through the day. To finally have two finished springers to hunt with is going to be worth the wait.

I'm also gearing up for a crazy moth of hunting, traveling and work. We take our annual deer/elk trip in two weeks. The pressure is on for this trip to fill the freezer for some much needed venison and elk meat. The following week, we get to chase some pheasants on the plains of Eastern Colorado. Then two weeks after that, Nichole and I are driving back to visit her family in Central Pennsylvania. Don't worry it will be worth the drive to chase Ruffed Grouse.

Speaking of gear. I recently purchased a pair of LL Beans Technical Upland Boots. I really think I'm going to like these ugly boots. Yes, they are ugly but man are the light. So far they feel great but I'll give a report on how they're treating my feet once I get out there.

 til next time....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Great Day for Training

Sometimes the weather can make a great day better and today was one of those days.  With less than a month to go before the pheasant opener, it's time for the last push to finish the girls' conditioning and sharpen up their bird finding skills.

Hunting and training buddy, Adis, and his wife, Aida, headed up to the training grounds to enjoy the beautiful day. Aida carried the camera and she took some amazing shots of the dogs.

For Mia, it's just about maintaining her progress from the grouse season, but Abby is a whole different story.  Since she just arrived back from two months of training this was only my second day running her.  Like any new toy,  all you want to do is to play with it all day and every day! But you definately don't want to break it. And I definately don't want to ruin any of her training.  She had two good runs today, I had about half of that. I missed a few opportunities to advance her training but I'm happy with the day's progress.

In this video you'll see Abby steady to flush and the gun. She stuck a medium/far retrieve.

Mia steady on a rooster.

 This was a great sequence of Adis's dog Oreo smoking out a rooster.
One of the best springer action photos ever!

Zoe the speed demon!
Abby smoking out a hen pheasant!

Here's another great find and flush sequence by Oreo!
It truly was a great day of training made by good friends and great dogs.

til next time...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Abby's Home

Today I picked Abby up from the trainers after 8 weeks of steady training. And steady she is!

I took her out for a run and she was slightly confused when I walked her to the line. She kept looking at Tim who was gunning for me. Once I sent her off she quickly responded to my commands and settled into a nice pattern. After a few flags she hit the scent of the first planted pheasant. Once she sorted out the scent she blew threw the brush and up came a hen pheasant. Tim let the bird get out and downed it with one shot. Since Abby was steady on the flush and gun and I sent her on the retrieve. 

She duplicated this performance on the second plant. After seeing her performance today I was excited to finally run her as a finished spaniel.  As we move forward there are few things that I'll need to work on and they are all handler related!

We'll be training for the next three to get her more exposure to birds before we let her go on the wild ones. It sure is gong to be nice to finally rotate the girls throughout the day.

til next time....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It seems like the last two weeks of my life have just been one big blur. One minute I was enjoying my last Dusky Grouse hunt and the next minute I was standing in the flagship Filson store in Seattle. 

It's funny how life flies by when you are having fun. While my work load at the restaurant seems to be at an all time high, it's my upland life that keeps me going.  While the hunts are what we all talk about, for me, the last two weeks have been about the education of this sport.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a field trial gunning seminar for spaniels with my good friend, training, and hunting buddy, Adis, from Upland Hunting the Springer Spaniel Way. While we both are a ways from actually gunning in a trial, the seminar is a prerequisite mandated by the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association, which is the parent club of the breed. The seminar was hosted by a local field trial club. At times we felt like we were complete outsiders, but we were there to educate ourselves on the art of gunning for a field trial. I won't bore you with the details of the inner-workings of the seminar, but I will tell you that we shot well and looked good doing it (and I'm not talking about our looks).

Next up was a trip to Seattle for a friend's wedding. Wow, what a city. The food, the sights and the culture, that city has it all. In between the drinks and meals, Nichole and I took a trip the Filson flagship store. It was very cool to spend some time checking out the high priced gear. It was a lot less fun without my credit card! Sometimes you wonder how your wife can get to the credit cards before you can get into trouble! I think it goes both ways.

Between all this, we were able to pick up Abby from Tim at High Prairie Farms. Tim was traveling for a trial so he offered us the chance to bring her home for a week. Boy did that make Nichole happy. Abby wasted no time getting back into the swing of things. She's a funny little dog with a ton of quirks. She made us laugh as much and maybe more than she did before she left for training.

When I dropped her back off today I was able to witness her progress. If I haven't said it before I'll say it now. Nothing can compare to watching your very own springer steady to flush, gun and wing for the first time! I guess if you have kids you'll be a few up on me, but I don't have kids. She was rock steady and was spot on during the her run. I hung back at the trucks while Tim ran Abby. I knew that she would be steady but it was still amazing to see her in action.  She'll be up at Tim's for one more week of training with a daily dose of pheasants to sure up a few loose ends. From there, Tim will turn her over to me and I will then have a few weeks to train with her before our pheasant season.

til next time....

Monday, September 27, 2010

It truly is better when you find birds

I won't lie, this season has been pretty good. Call it luck, call it hard work, call it what you may. The way I call it, you can't get birds from the sofa, work desk or at the bar.

I'm lucky to have a good gun dog and good group of hunting buddies that won't mind working hard to get after them. We take our combined efforts of the past to produced great hunts as the season moves on. As the days grow shorter, the birds become more challenging. Locating their general location becomes an anomaly of "here one day, gone the next."

Dusky/Blue Grouse migrate up in elevation as the calender keeps moving towards the end of the year. The males proceed the females and family groups in this effort. Usually by the 4th week of the season, the males are in the "dark timber" and the remainder of the species are not too far behind. I say "usually" because this year is different. The extreme heat and drought that Colorado is currently experiencing is forcing the birds to stay near a source of water, whether it be berries or a stream and sometimes both.

Water was the key to our success on this past hunt. We all knew that as it hit "too hot to hunt" at 10am at 9,000ft. After getting down from the higher elevation we took a nice long break. Not knowing if this day's hunt was over, I thought that this might be the last grouse hunt of the season. We discussed and decided that if we were to hunt the mid day we would only venture into the dark areas that held a water source. We were assured by a few in our group that these draws held those two components.

As we arrived at desired location, the four of us split up in two groups. We each took a draw up the hill. As we first started out, I didn't know how long this hunt would last. It was wide open and only a few willow patches for shade, but my buddy Adam quickly assured me for the 10th time that the draws held water. After seeing the first spring, my worries diminished as Mia took a quick swim to cool off.

Adam , Scott and Ben planning the hunt.

Myself, my nephew, Ben, and Gary, from Silk Line River Horse blog, moved up the the draw on a deliberate slow pace. I was thinking to myself that this what it should be like to hunt the week before October in Colorado. Cool and collective, I thought I wanted this draw to last forever but I also wanted some birds to keep the blood moving.

As I wished for this, I noticed Mia tracking some scent. Her nose hit the ground and I thought just one thought: trust your dog. Right then, Gary shouted that this area was looking good. I agreed and pressed on. 
I took this video clip of Mia working up the draw. You can notice her tracking the bird scent as her nose hits the ground. No more than 2 minutes after I put the camera away, all hell broke loose as one of my personal best wing shooting experiences followed.

Fast flying birds and over head shots enlightened my tired body.  Gary and I quickly took four birds and we marked a few more for the downhill decent.

                                             Here's Mia retrieving my first bird.

By the time we finally got back to the truck, we collectively took six birds between us from two different draws. Of the six birds, four were mature males.
Ben, Scott with Elice, Adam with Razor and Mia

What started out as a hard day's hunt soon heated up to great day in the mountains with great friends and even better dogs.

til next time....