Tips for Duck Hunting Beginners: Like Myself!!!

My duck retrieving side kick!

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” ~ Michael Caine

When I was little, every Saturday morning I crawled out of bed just before the sun came up, poured myself an oversized bowl of cereal, parked myself in front of the television, and watched Saturday morning cartoons. Those were good days! Anyway, after the three to four hour cartoon marathon ended, my dad would plop himself on the couch and watch the weekly morning outdoor show that came on.  Sometimes I hung around and watched, other times I got distracted and wandered off.

One of the things I do remember about that Saturday morning outdoor show was the duck hunting episodes.  The host would be dressed head-to-toe in multi-colored camouflage, complete with face paint.  He would have a disguised duck blind semi-buried in the ground overlooking a large lake, and a large Labrador by his side.  After a brief explanation on the area and the ducks he was looking for, he would crawl into his hiding spot and wait.  Soon, a flock of ducks would come flying over, cackling and honking, and skid to a stop on the lake.  The host would pop out of his hiding spot, start firing and knock down a few ducks, and then his lab would leap into retriever action.  I have ALWAYS wanted to do a duck hunt like that.

Now that I am older and learning to duck hunt, I am discovering that duck hunting is definitely a learning process. You don’t just hide in the ground, pop-up, and viola ducks are on the dinner table.  There is a lot to know, and so many different ways to do it.

I was lucky enough to spend the first day of the new year duck hunting.  It was a great way to spend a Sunday, and I already have learned a ton about duck hunting, which I am now going to share here.  So, here are a few VERY beginner tips for duck hunting.

Know the Licenses that You Need!

I know that sounds simple, but it really is the first place to start.  Ducks are classified as a migratory bird.  Other waterfowl falling into the migratory category, in most states, include geese and swans.  Most states have extra criteria you have to meet in order to hunt migratory birds.  I have included a brief description for several states here, as well as a link to their department of wildlife websites for waterfowl management.

Colorado – you will need a small game or combination license, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices), as well as a $5 Colorado State Waterfowl Stamp.  In order to purchase a small game license in Colorado, you will first need to purchase a $10 Habitat Stamp as well, which is good for one year.  A HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number) must also be obtained. Duck hunting areas are defined to seven different zones: Central Flyaway Northeast Zone, Central Flyaway Southeast Zone, Central Flyaway Mountain Zone, Pacific Flyaway Western Zone, and Pacific Flyaway Eastern Zone. The three Central Zones have a daily limit of six ducks with a possession limit of 18, and the two Pacific Zones have a daily limit of 7 with a possession limit of 21. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. Duck season starts dates vary depending on the zone so consult the guidebook for information on dates. 2017 Colorado Waterfowl Guidebook

Idaho – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices). Idaho divides duck hunting areas into two separate units: Area 1 and Area 2. Duck season in Idaho for 2016-2017 is follows: Area 1 October 1, 2016 – January 13, 2017 and Area 2 October 15, 2016 – January 27, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Idaho Waterfowl Guidebook

Montana – you will need a small game or combination license, a Conservation License, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), a Montana Migratory Bird License, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  Montana divides duck hunting areas into three separate units: Central Flyaway Zone 1, Central Flyaway Zone 2, and Pacific Flyaway. Duck season in Montana for 2016-2017 runs as follows: Central Zone 1 October 1, 2016 – January 5, 2017, Central Zone 2 October 22, 2016 – January 17, 2017, and Pacific Flyaway October 1 – January 8, 2017 and then January 14 – 18, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 6, and possession is 18. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Montana Waterfowl Guidebook

Oregon – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices). Oregon divides duck hunting areas into two separate units: Zone 1 and Zone 2. Duck season in Oregon for 2016-2017 is follows: Zone 1 November 2, 2016 – January 29, 2017 and Zone 2 November 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017 . The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Oregon Waterfowl Guidebook

Utah – you will need a small game or combination license, a HIP number (which is a Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program number), and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  Duck season in Utah for 2016-2017 runs October 1, 2016 – January 14, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for mergansers and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Utah Waterfowl Guidebook

Washington – you will need a small game or combination license, and a $25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (which are available at the post office and some field offices).  You will also need a Migratory Bird Authorization and Harvest Report Card if you are hunting Sea Ducks. Duck season in Washington for 2016-2017 is October 22, 2016 – January 29, 2017. The daily limit for ducks is 7, and possession is 21. Limits are different for snipes and coots, as well as special limits within the defined duck limits so be sure to read up the specifics. 2017 Washington Waterfowl Guidebook

Pick out Your Gear

Gun – Shot gun preference is definitely a personal choice.  There are several different gauges to choose from, and the most popular are 10, 12, 16, and 20.  When looking at the different shotgun gauges, the lower the gauge number, in this case 10, then the heavier the gun to carry around and also the harder the recoil (i.e. that kick your gun likes to give you in your shoulder).  The most popular shotgun is the 12 gauge, and it is a great all-around use gun.  However, as a beginner and starting out with hunting, I have used a 20 gauge.  I used a 12 gauge for my first turkey and the kick was so shocking to me that I dropped my gun (I may, just may, have cried a little…but that’s just me). I switched to a 20 gauge and it really helped me settle into using a shotgun, and also wasn’t so heavy to carry around.  Now that I have practiced more, I can use a 12 gauge.

Shot When hunting migratory bird, federal regulation requires the use of non-toxic shot. What does this mean? Basically, you have to use a shot that if the bird ingests the shot, it will not get sick or die. So, this outlaws the use of lead based shot. Two non-toxic federally approved shots include bismuth and tungsten matrix, but basically just look for the shot that says non-toxic on the box.  Please note that you will need to shoot a couple of rounds of the non-toxic shot if you are transition from the lead used in upland game as the pattern and range is significantly different.  The next major choice is the shot size.  It depends on your setup, expected distances, and type of bird you are hunting, but I have found a shot size of 4 to be a good all around choice.  Finally, select your choke.  My husband set me up with a modified choke because my accuracy is less than perfect, but he always shoots a full for waterfowl.  Again, much of this depends on your setup and what you are hunting.

Camouflage – ducks have great vision, especially for picking out hunters! They also tend to flock towards areas where you have to cross openings to reach them.  Camouflage does help when duck hunting.  The pattern and colors really depend on the area you are hunting. I was out in more a desert area, so I went with a lighter color. Also, it is cold during duck season, and you tend to get wet, so purchasing waterproof and warm camouflage is definitely beneficial.

Decoys and Calls –  This is one area I have not familiarized myself with yet, so any tips would be appreciated in the comments.

Boats – Another topic beyond my experience that I am open to discussion on.  I am thinking about doing a float trip down the Colorado River in a kayak.  Any tips are appreciated.

Find the Ducks!

For a newbie’s point of view, this definitely the most difficult part of duck hunting. I would assume a more seasoned hunter would say that creating tactics for actually getting into shooting range for the ducks is the most difficult, but that is a blog for another day, when I am not such a newbie duck hunter. So, a couple of tips I have for finding those little buggers include: know where there is open water in your area. I stress open because remember, it is December and January, many of the ponds where you think “I see ducks there all the time” are frozen over. I like to hit the river when it gets cold enough that most ponds are frozen over. Also, a great time to head out is actually mid-day because the ducks are sunning themselves. Look for the spot where you would like to be sun bathing in 32 degree weather and there is a good chance the ducks will be gathering here!

Jump shooting is another beginner activity that allows one to avoid all of the intricacies of calling, decoys, camo, etc.  If you are lucky enough to live in an area with vast public lands, grab your dog and your gun and head out to an area with water holes spread out or drive a river and try to sneak up on the ducks using the terrain.  You only get one quick burst of three rounds and the hunt is over for that spot though.  So make sure you have lots of spots to pop up on or your hunting day will only last a minute.

Finally…

Remember you are out hunting and how lucky you are.  I didn’t have a super successful Sunday of duck hunting, but it was still an amazing day. I saw bald eagles that are here to nest for the winter, bucks and does in search of winter feeding grounds, wild turkey out playing in the sun, and got to spend the day with my canine buddies, playing in the mud and water.

How can you say “no” to a day out with that face?

Happy Hunting!

 

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Top Ten Upland Game Hunting Blogs!!!

The opening day of pheasant season did not turn out as I expected.  It was cloudy and cold.  And it rained!  And the rain turned those beautiful slough areas I like to visit during my hunting season into giant mud mosh pits.  My dad always says that on a rainy day you enter the pheasant grounds with hope and optimism, but you leave the pheasant grounds birdless and seven feet tall from all the mud and clay gathered to the bottom of your boots.  Needless to say, my day went similar to my dad’s experiences on rainy days and I gained a good inch in height.

Returning home with empty hands, I decided to lift my spirits I would visit some of my favorite upland game hunting blogs and see how their seasons were going.  My most frequented upland game blogs are full of expert tips and tactics, beautiful photography and other art, and also have great stories.  They truly capture the upland game hunting experience.  So, whether your opening day was promising and plentiful, or a bit disappointing like mine, check out these great blogs and learn a thing or two for your next trip out!  Enjoy and Happy Hunting!

Top 10 Upland Game Hunting Blogs!!!!

Fred Bohm

fredbohm

In 2014, Fred Bohm was struck with a sudden awakening: “We are all in this together whether we know it or not.”  This seemingly simple but complex realization led to Fred’s self titled blog.  In the pages of his blog, Fred shares hunting stores about the “people and creatures I love.”  Fred shares upland bird, as well as wild game, hunting tips, tricks, and techniques through the unique forum of beautiful, rich photographs and a story-telling style.  Each of Fred’s blog posts are not only visually stimulating through his use of photos, but he also keeps things interesting through great stories.  I could sit at my computer all day and read story after story shared by Fred.

Website Address: http://fredbohm.com

The Grouse Father

thegrousefather

Upon meeting the “Grouse Mob” behind The Grouse Father, you are quickly introduced to Giuseppe “The GrouseFather” Papandrea, Sam “The Knows” Glasbergen, Michael Richard Thompson “UPLANDISH,” Andrew M. Wayment “Andy,” Landon “The Main’ah” Knittweis, and Archy “THE WISE” Wiseman.  A proper introduction of the six “Grouse Mob” members gets you familiar with their hunting styles, their guns of choice, and their faithful canine hunting companions.  The blog shares great tips and tricks for hunting grouse and woodcocks, great stories, gun information, and musings and information about hunting dogs.  There is also a unique section on the blog dedicated to outdoor art and literature.  The writing on this blog is enjoyable and readable, making it a great blog!

Website Address: http://www.thegrousefather.com

Upland Utah

uplandutah

While mostly following the hunting trips of Brett in the fields of Utah, the Upland Utah blog offers up great hunting tips and tricks that can be implemented anywhere.  Brett says bird hunting is his second biggest passion, falling only behind his passion for family.  His stories of dogs, hunting, and experiences with those he meets along the way are easy to read and full of great information.  There are also some really wonderful product reviews on the site.

Website Address: http://uplandutah.blogspot.com

Mouthful of Feathers

mouthfuloffeathers

Mouthful of Feathers is one of the more unique blogs in this list.  The blog has a diverse collection of authors and calls itself a more of an example of the “how-not-to,” as opposed to the “how-to.”  The site really peers into experience of hunting, and why people spend so much time trekking through unbeaten path in search of possibility.  I find the blog to be full of humor, wit, insight, and, of course, a little bit of “how-to.”  Don’t miss the photo gallery when visiting this site; it is filled with beautiful photos that capture the essence of the upland game hunting.

Website Address: http://mouthfuloffeathers.com

Pheasants Forever

pheasantforever

The Pheasants Forever site opens the front page with its mission statement: “Pheasants Forever is dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.” And when exploring the site, you see it does just that.  There is information about pheasant and other upland game habitat and conservation efforts, how to get started in pheasant hunting, youth involvement, recipes, and product reviews.  The site is a one-stop shop for everything pheasant!

Website Address: http://www.pheasantsforever.org

Upland Ways

uplandways

Follow Andy and Shawn as they explore the uplands! The photography alone on this blog can easily tell a story.  You can breeze through an article, looking at only the stunning photography captured by Andy and Shawn, and take in an entire hunting experience.  However, I have to say, don’t miss the writing because the stories are great and well written.  Looking for a little perspective in life while also learning about upland game hunting?  This blog is the place to stop by and have a look around.

Website Address: http://uplandways.com

Upland Addictions

uplandaddiction

This blog’s tagline is “Cut the dogs loose. Wear out a pair of boots. Make some memories.” The author says they started this blog in hopes of capturing the good and bad memories and thoughts with their bird hunting experience.  I love this blog for the writing.  The stories wrap you up and for a while you get to leave your computer and follow the author through the hunting field.  Each article also has great accompanying photos.

Website Address: http://uplandaddictions.com

Red Legg’ed Devils

redleggeddevil

If you are looking for a site with true, pure upland game hunting tips and tactics, Red Legg’ed Devils is a great place to visit.  The author sets out on foot in pursuit of birds and he knows his stuff.  The site is full of information and is incredibly well-written with stunning photography as well.

Website Address: https://red-legged-devils.com

Chukar Hunting

chuckarhunting

This blog has it all, reliable product reviews, delicious recipes, videos, tips and tricks, great photography, excellent writing.  It has it all! I could spend all day cruising and exploring this blog, and still not read it all.

Website Address: https://chukarhunting.net

A Bird Hunter’s Road

birdhuntersroad

Follow Jay Hanson as he navigates across the Midwestern and Western United States in search of upland game.  This blog is fantastic because the author visits so many different states that you really get a feel for how different bird hunting is across the country, from Montana and South Dakota, to Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon.  Jay has put some serious miles in searching for birds, and the stories are shared in the pages of this wonderfully written and beautifully photographed blog.

Website Address: http://mtbirdhunter.blogspot.com/

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Images from the Fall Muzzleloader Hunt 2016

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Chilly, frost-bitten mornings.  Vibrant orange, red, and yellow fall leaves.  Beautiful crisp blue cloudless skies.  Warm campfires glowing after the sun has set.  Muzzleloader mule deer season falls at the most beautiful time of year.  I did not have a tag this year, but I went out with my party and simply followed along.  I carried the iphone with me to snap a few photos, and I just wanted to share how great a hunting season can be even when you don’t have a tag.

The aspen trees on the La Sal Mountain are quickly loosing their leaves. But before they hibernate for the winter, we are treated to a beautiful display of fading colors.
The aspen trees on the La Sal Mountain are quickly loosing their leaves. But before they hibernate for the winter, we are treated to a beautiful display of fading colors.

 

Color is running from the base of the mountain to its crown: red, yellow, orange, green, brown!
Color is running from the base of the mountain to its crown: red, yellow, orange, green, brown!

 

I am just along for the ride, but the scenery, smells, and tastes of fall on the mountain are more than worth it.
I am just along for the ride, but the scenery, smells, and tastes of fall on the mountain are more than worth it.
muzzleloaderhuntbrush
Even the oak brush is brimming with fall colors.

 

muzzleloaderhuntblues
A king’s view of the Abajo Mountains in Utah. Also locally known as the Blue Mountains.

 

muzzleloaderhuntwalking2
As always, Happy Hunting!

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Top 10 Bird Dog Blogs!!!

I can see, smell, and feel fall is on the horizon. Lately, in the evenings, I have been inclined to pull out a light jacket.  The light jacket is always the first sign of fall’s inevitable, but much anticipated, arrival. The leaves are just starting to lose their emerald green color.  This past weekend on the mountain, I saw tiny, almost unnoticeable, dots of yellow dancing in green bushes. And of course, everyone is talking about baking dutch apple pies and pumpkin is starting to show up in the stores. I love fall!

Fall also means hunting season, and more specifically bird hunting season. I know I am excited for pheasant and duck season.  And I am pretty sure my excitement is peaking the interest of my two Labrador retrievers.  Their life is about to get good again.  Gone are the dog days of summer and coming are weekends of beautiful fall weather filled with brush pushing, mud stomping, and bird chasing days.

In honor of my two furry friends, I have compiled a list of my favorite bird dog blogs. Each of these blogs provide not only information and tips for working with bird dogs, but they also include heart warming and tugging stories about some of the author’s best bird hunting buddies. One of the things I enjoyed most while compiling this list was seeing how many different breeds of bird dogs people like to work with.  I am definitely a lab person, but seeing all these blogs really opens my eyes to all the different personalities, strengths and skills that are out there.  Enjoy!

Top 10 Bird Dog Blogs!!!!

Adventures of a GSP Hunting Dog

GSPHuntingDog

Robyn, spelled with a “Y” and not an “I”, is the proud owner of German Shorthaired Pointers.  Oh, and she is also interested in photography (she owns a hunting dog photography business!), cooking, hiking, fly fishing, and mixed martial arts.  When you check out her blog, you will see she is quite the accomplished fighter.  Her blog is filled with some of the most beautiful dog photos I have seen on the web.  There are also some excellent posts about her German Shorthaired Pointers, Sage and Fig.

Website Address: http://gsphuntingdog.blogspot.com/

Setter Tales and Mallard Curls

SetterTales

Bret Wannacott shares his love for his English Setter, Tic, on his blog Setter Tales and Mallard Curls. Bret is an accomplished bird hunter and caller.  He also trains English Setters. Bret’s blog is great because he provides tips and tactics but in a true story teller’s fashion. Each blog post is like reading a great short story, but are filled with tips from a truly accomplished pro.  The pictures provide wonderful illustrations as well.  A great site to visit where you can kick back and enjoy a few well told stories while learning a little something too!

Website Address: http://settertalesandmallardcurls.blogspot.com/

2 Brown Dawgs Blog

2BrownDawgs

Dedicated to the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, 2 Brown Dawgs follows the escapades of the mischievous and adventurous Thunder, Storm, and Freighter.  The site also has fantastic tips for training dogs, bird hunting, and other useful information, like dog first aid. This blog is really well written, the information provided is very accurate and well explained, and the pictures are superb.  Spend some time browsing the plethora of knowledge, enjoy some great pictures of some super cute furry brown dogs, and just simply enjoy this website!

Website Address: http://2browndawgs.com/

Hunting Dog Blog

HuntingDogBlog

The first time I visited this blog, I have to admit I thought I was in the wrong place.  Those soulful brown eyes under that dark mop of poodle curl did not strike me as “hunting dog.” I don’t know why, but it didn’t. I even thought that was a rawhide bone hanging from the dog’s mouth. This blog follows the training of a standard black poodle named Prinz. Terry, Prinz’s owner, states he is not a professional dog trainer and has started the blog to document the learning process and work required to train a hunting dog.  Terry might not be a professional dog trainer, but this site seems like a trainer put it together.  It has great information, photos, and videos.  Stop by and learn a thing or two from Terry and Prinz!

Website Address: http://www.huntingdogblog.com/

A Bird Hunter’s Thoughts

BirdHunterThoughts

Randy and his five Brittany bird dogs spend each September to March traveling the country and hunting birds along the way.  As Randy and his hunting companions search for chukars, quails, grouse, partridges  and pheasants in places such as Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Arizona, Randy blogs about the dogs, training, hunts, equipment, and even just general musings.  It is a great blog with excellent photography, really useful and helpful information, and some super cute Brittanys!

Website Address: http://www.abirdhuntersthoughts.com/

Living with Birddogs

Wenaha

Living with Birddogs shares the experiences, training, and hunting of L.J., Andy, Cody, and Ted.  Oh, yeah, and the hunters who follow them! It is a great blog with a huge variety of information. You can read about training techniques on one post, and in another find a bird hunting book review.  There are tons of great photos to accompany all the posts, and the author’s provide an interesting read.  You can spend some serious hours browsing this site.

Website Address: http://wenaha.blogspot.com/

Bird Hunter

Birdhunter

With stories told mostly through photos, this blog is, simply put, beautiful! The images are really just amazing. The author, who has been active in bird hunting for over fifteen years, really knows how to capture the emotions of a hunt. Stop by and enjoy some truly great photography of some terrific bird dogs!

Website Address: https://brdhntr.com/

Point: The Pointing Dog Blog

Point

Craig is a self-described dog nut. And you can clearly tell from his excellent blog that he is indeed a true dog nut! Besides being an active hunter and photographer, Craig also authored the book Point Dogs Volume One: the Continentals. Pretty much, what I am saying here is Craig knows hunting dogs! The photos on the website are stunning, and Craig truly has a gift with his photography that visitors to the site are lucky to get to see.  The information provided is the kind that can only be provided by a true expert bird hunter and dog trainer. A great site you should add to your “favorites” button, as once you visit you will be returning!

Website Address: http://pointingdogblog.blogspot.com/  

Red Bird Dog

RedBirdDog

Rod and his two Hungarian Pointers, also known as Vizslas, travel the West tracking down birds and visiting amazing places. Besides having a great collection of stories to share and some fun pictures to go along, this blog has some great information about Vizsla dogs, their habits, training, and just about anything else you could want to know about Vizslas. The cover photo for the blog says it all, these two Vizslas are ready to hit the road and find some birds, which is what a great bird dog blog should be all about!

Website Address: http://redbirddog.blogspot.com/

Gun Dog Forum Blog

Forum

This last blog I added is not like the others.  It is not a true blog. I added it because the amount of information on here is great.  Have a question about bird dogs? Anything at all? You can most likely find it here. And if someone hasn’t already asked it, you can pose the question and there will be a great number of helpful responses. The site has a great and very knowledgeable community.  Have a look for yourself and enjoy!

Website Address: http://gundogforum.com/blog/

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Tales of a Bird Dog

“I love my old bird dog. I like to watch him run.” ~ Crossin Dixon

A few months back, I blogged a story about my bird dog, Ryah. I shared the story on a hunting forum, Utah Wildlife Network. Others shared stories about their furry, four legged friends. A lot of the stories touched my heart, and this was one that stood out to me. I asked Craig O’Banion if I could share the story on my blog, and he agreed to it. So, here it is, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Back in the fall of 2000, my son Nate was 12 years old and wanted a Labrador retriever. I had always been a dog owner and an outdoorsman but had never combined the two into owning and training hunting dogs. One of Nate’s teachers was going to be having a litter in February and offered him a good price on one of the pups. Little Annie came to live with us 7 weeks after her February birth.

What a whirl wind, aren’t puppies supposed to sleep at night? A very good friend of mine had been training labs for years and offered me a book to read that he said was a step by step plan on how to train a water dog. Nate and I both read the book and went to work training. We are both pretty stubborn and so we often butted heads as we interpreted things differently on how we should be training.

All in all things turned out well and over the years Annie became an excellent hunting dog. I started guiding at a duck hunting club and Annie was my partner. I have to be honest and admit that she was never the best trained dog, she would often break at the shot and have to be called back on the rare occasion (ha ha) that I or my client missed. She was never patient enough to sit in the boat while I put out or retrieved decoys, instead she would swim around and drive me crazy. She also earned an unprintable nickname out at the club for leaving the occasion deposit in the boat on the ride out to the blind. Annie lived to retrieve birds. I can recall a couple of times when motoring in or out that she actually jumped out of the boat to go retrieve a duck that some other hunter had shot when she just happened to hear the shot and see a splash.

Annie was never just a hunting dog, she was a part of our family, and she was my friend. There is an old joke that says lock your wife and your dog in the trunk for an hour and when you let them out see which one is happy to see you. Annie loved everyone and would have come out with her tail wagging.

Dog ownership also comes with it pitfalls. This past February Annie stopped eating, this was not initially a concern as over the years she would have times that she would not want to eat or would eat very little. After about three days we became pretty concerned so my wife took her to the vet .My world kind of crashed around me when Colleen called with the news. Annie had developed a very bad infection. The vet said he could do surgery but it was very expensive and her chances were not good. I had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life but ultimately took the advice of the vet and Annie was put to sleep while I held her in my arms and cried like a baby. I got permission from the manager of the duck club where I guide and was able to bury Annie out there. She is overlooking one of the ponds where she can forever watch the birds come in.

I have been told by many that pets just don’t live long enough and the pain of one passing is just too great so they choose not to go through it again. I am not of that mind set, while it still brings a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye to even write this down I have already jumped back in.

As I thought about what I would do for a dog this fall I really was torn but felt the need to start training and building that relationship once again. I began a list of possible names and one I thought of was Abby.

I noticed an advertisement for the last of a litter and contacted the breeder. He told me the cost (more than I felt I could afford) and I politely told him thanks and wished him well. I told my wife about this pup and while she too was concerned about the cost she encouraged me to go for it. I got back in touch with the breeder and was told I was third on the list. Looking at the pedigree and with the reputation this breeder has, I just felt there was no way I would get this pup. Well maybe Annie pulled some strings but a few days later I got a call saying the other buyers had backed out and Abby was mine if I wanted her.

Abby was what the breeders daughter had been calling this pup and because it was on my list I felt again that maybe Annie had pulled some strings and so kept the name.

The cycle has started again. I went for a couple of weeks with very little sleep, a couple of nights I actually “slept” on the laundry room floor trying to get Abby to be quiet so the rest of the family could sleep. Potty training came pretty quickly, a good thing because we are in a new home and my wife’s patience was wearing thin. It will be an interesting hunting season this fall, sad without Annie but full of new promise and adventure with my new best friend Abby.

I can’t imagine life without a dog.

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When that Dog’s too Old to Hunt

MountainSunriseMoabOriginalWebsize“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.” ~ M. Acklam    

I was too young to actually remember it, but every time my dad tells the story of the last hunt with his beloved black Labrador retriever, River, I am instantly transported to that early fall morning so many years ago. I can smell the first breaths of the new day’s breeze, feel the dampness of the morning’s almost forgotten frost, and hear the delicate coos of the morning doves. My dad awoke early, pulled on his weathered leather boots, and packed his day-sack with 12 gauge shot gun shells, Hot Tamale candies, and water. River’s interest was perked when he laced up his boots. As soon as he lifted the wooden stock 20 gauge from the closet her focus shifted from interest to obsession. As she did on every pheasant hunting trip for the previous 10 years, River impatiently lay in the passenger’s seat of the old 1970’s Ford pickup truck. She gently placed her head on my dad’s lap and whimpered and whined with growing force as they headed towards her favorite pheasant spot. As the site drew near, her whimpers and whines metamorphosed into near screams. The dog loved pheasant hunting with a passion.

My dad pulled off the road and into the tall reeds, killing the engine and climbing out to get his gun from behind the seat. River remained seated. Her screams had quieted. Upon opening the passenger side door, River slowly wobbled to a standing position, and then against the offerings for assistance, jumped from the seat and landed feebly in the dirt. Her legs slightly buckled and she struggled to maintain her balance. However, after a quick shake from ears to tail, she brushed aside her age and pushed out into the thick reeds in search of birds.

My dad slowly followed behind as River struggled to traverse the damp and stubborn foliage. Many times he attempted to call her back, and each time he was unsuccessful. She continued on until she was so exhausted her tail was dragging and her back legs were limping. He tried again to call her back, and was unsuccessful again. Finally, after about an hour she jumped a rooster. The rooster emerged from dark, dense brush with ferociously flapping wings and loud squawks. My dad fired a single shot, but was too late and missed. The bird coasted above the reeds until he disappeared from sight.

River had laid down in the dirt at the site where she had jumped the rooster. She was panting, her tongue hanging long and heavy. Her eyes were exhausted, but he said there was just a hint of a smile in them. She couldn’t get up to walk anymore. He had to carry her back to the truck. It was her final pheasant hunt, she was too old and tired, but it ended in the only way it can for a bird dog: working until you can work no more.

JerkPheasantDogsI have only ever owned bird dogs. I can’t say I know how to train them or even teach them simple tasks like retrieving birds. It’s weird, but they have just always kind of known what to do. I am sure if I actually learned how to work with them and taught them how to “be” a bird dog they would be astonishing hunters. But I myself am just an amateur, so we work together. Just because we lack the professional skills and training does not mean we lack the same passion or working drive found in the technically trained.

Bird dogs are a different breed from other dogs. They all have different personalities. Some, like the Labradors, are lovers and goofs. They seek reassurance they are pleasing you, even when they aren’t quite sure how to do so. Some, like Chesapeakes, are stubborn, protective, and extremely loyal. Despite their loyal nature, they do what they want to do, regardless of your desires for them to act otherwise. While they all have differing personalities, they share a very unique and common trait. They are designed for bird hunting.

At a basic level, it is quite easy to spot the bird dog. They seem to spot birds out of nowhere, their ears perking up and eyes sharply focused in search of the slightest movement. They hear every quack, whistle, coo, squawk, crow, and peep. They find pure satisfaction in dropping anything, a ball, a toy, a bird, a dead frog, whatever, at your feet. Their faces say, “Aren’t you pleased? Let’s do it again!” If nothing else, when you are around them you notice “Dang, that dog really likes birds.” It’s just a thing about them.

At a deeper level, the bird dog is much more than simply a lover of birds and retrieval. A bond is created between bird dog and hunter, and it is a unique one. Hunters and bird dogs work together, both for the common goal of finding a bird, and this work must be accomplished without traditional communication. Hand signals, whistles, even glances are the language between hunter and dog. And this language is exclusive to each hunting pair, and is created from hard work, understanding, and consistency. But the key ingredient to this bond is trust. An unbreakable trust is built between hunter and dog.

BrushPhotowebsizeIt is an odd relationship to have with an animal. In a way, it is like a marriage. The relationship’s foundation is composed of this common goal: bird hunting. But like any relationship worth having, it must be fed through hard work, time, and even struggle. And if the bond is built correctly, the payoff is worth the sacrifice.

When I was just 21, my little yellow lab, Ryah, entered my life. We were instantly a good fit. She was independent enough that I could be a flaky twenty-something year old and she would remind me to do things like feed her or let her outside. But she was instantly loving and cuddly. Nothing cures a broken heart or the depression of trials at work like a soft dog head on your lap with a listening ear.

While our bond was nothing short of amazing, Ryah was a bird dog at heart and she needed to exercise that desire. My husband starting taking her out when she was about a year old. He had never pheasant hunted before and Ryah had no idea what she was doing. They were two lost hunters trekking through the reeds of the wetlands, stumbling and tripping the entire way. Their first season was pretty uneventful, but at night after they returned from yet another unsuccessful day, I noticed my puppy was a bit more serious and slowly her place at my feet was inching towards his feet. By the end of the second season, they were bird hunting pros, and my feet were no longer Ryah’s resting place. Her place was now at the feet of my husband. Their bond was unbreakable. Ryah and I still shared a special relationship, but it was more of a caring and supportive one. Their relationship had quickly evolved to a mutual need for one other, with Ryah constantly working to see what was needed of her to help accomplish the goals of the team.

Now Ryah is 13 years old. I know she is too old to hunt, but like my dad’s dog you can’t just tell the old dog they can’t go anymore. And she has yet to have that breakdown point of being so exhausted she can’t walk back to the truck. So, what do you do when that dog is just too old to hunt? I find it is our duty as the owners of a bird dog to pay Ryah back for our her hard work and her commitment to our relationships. So, when that old dog is too old to hunt, take her out anyway. Even if it just means riding in the bed of the truck. Fill her bowl with just a little extra bite of food, she earned it. Let her sit out in the sun on the porch and relax in the hug of a warm day. She spent years silently communicating with us, watching our every movement in order to decipher what her next move should be. Now I am trying to listen a little better, and give that old dog whatever it is she needs.

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Gearing up for the Spring Wild Turkey Hunt? Tips for Getting Ready!

TurkeyOutdoorShot“When I was younger, I used to drive up to a bunch of turkeys, roll down the window and say something. They’d all gobble back at once.” ~Levon Helm

I am just going to straight out say it, turkey hunting is a blast! (Man, I pun a lot!) During the winter, I wait for turkey season with bated breath, trying to contain my desire to head out by convincing myself turkey hunting isn’t that fun. Then the spring hits. I can no longer persuade myself into thinking I have better things to do than turkey hunt. As the weather gradually warms and trees sprout their tiny leaves, my excitement builds and builds. By the middle of April, I can hardly contain the desire to get outside and search for toms!

I think I like the wild turkey season because it is kind of the awakening from hibernation. The days are growing longer, plants and animals are emerging from winter’s slumber, snow, melting off the mountain peaks, is draining into and filling the meager flowing streams. It is like something is saying, “Hey, wake up! Let’s go!” Turkey season is kind of my kick in the behind to remember to wake and get going. And no one says that more prominently than a gobbling tom.

In Utah, the wild turkey spring hunt opens May 2nd. Here are a few tips to get ready for a great month of tracking down toms.

Start with Scouting for Birds

Scouting is always a good idea for any hunt. Scouting not only assists in identifying the location of game, but it also helps you learn the patterns and habits of an animal, what they are eating, when and where they are moving, if they are solo in the area or in a group, mating habits, and so much more. It is a very beneficial practice, and the more time you invest the better your odds for a successful hunt.

Turkey scouting is a bit different from deer or elk. With bigger game, it is ideal to start scouting months in advance. Turkeys vastly alter their eating patterns between the winter, fall, and spring, so there is not as much benefit to scouting for your tom during the winter when you have a spring hunt. You can always start earlier if you desire, as their is no harm in following the flock across its seasonal feeding grounds, but typically heading out two to three weeks before the start of the hunt will suffice with turkey.

In the spring, turkeys move to the blooming green fields and blossoming plants of creek beds. A great starting point for scouting is to get high above fields and openings to glass for birds. Turkeys breed during the spring, and depending on the timing of your state’s season, the toms and hens will be flocked up in the full swing of breeding, or maybe the hens will be grouped up and the toms will be hanging on the outskirts as the breeding time starts to end. Either way, during the spring hunt locating a group of hens is a great way to pin point a harvestable tom.

Besides glassing, birds can also be located by listening for gobbles. Start your day early to listen for the early morning tom gobble. Turkeys typically gobble at first light and right before sunset. This can help you identify where the toms are roosting in the evenings, giving you a great idea of their location each morning. Roosting locations for turkeys are determined by the terrain. Toms typically roost in high trees, the type dependent on the region you live in, and prefer the older, larger trees as they provide better protection from predators. If the area is devoid of trees, turkeys will also roost about 2/3’s up the hill on north-east or east facing slopes.

Other tips for locating turkey include scouting for tracks, droppings, or strut marks. This can be done by driving dirt roads in the area you are hoping to hunt and looking for tracks crossing the road. It also might take actually putting your boots on the ground. If you decide to head out on foot into an area you are hoping to hunt, try and disturb the area as little as possible. Stop often to listen for birds and glass ahead of where you are traveling. You don’t want to accidentally jump your bird too early before the season and push him out of the area. While walking, look for signs including droppings, feathers, and dusting areas. All these signs can help you identify roosting and feeding areas.

One final tactic you might employ is to set up a game camera. Set the camera up on a suspected feeding area. This will provide not only information about the size and types of birds frequenting the area, but will also give you an idea about the times of day they like to visit the feeding grounds. For tips on setting up a game camera, you can visit my blog page: Tips for Setting up Game Cameras.

Practice Your Calls!FlyingTurkey

Like most animals that live in large groups, turkeys have a very large vocabulary for communicating. The most identifiable call for turkeys is the gobble of a tom. Ask any five year old what a turkey says, and they will answer “Gobble, gobble.” However, the gobble is just the beginning of a long list of turkey sounds, including the clucks, purrs, assembly calls, cuts, yelps, and cackles. Each sound is unique and used for a different reason.

When using turkey calls during hunting, it is important to not only use the proper type of call but to also administer the correct cadence and tone. This can only be accomplished through practice, practice, and more practice. There are a variety of calls available on the market, including push button, box, slate, diaphragm, wing bone, and camo glove calls. What works best for you depends on your skill level with the call and also what you are attempting to use the call for. Probably the easiest call to start out with is the box call, however it has a limited range on the types of sounds you can create. More advanced calls include a diaphragm or slate call. These calls require more practice to master, but give a greater range of sounds.

If you are just starting out with calling, I would highly suggest visiting a website and begin with just listening to the different sounds turkeys make. A great one is here: National Wild Turkey Foundation.. I also watch hunting shows, as this not only allows me to hear the sounds but gives a visual on how to set-up for calling, how to use different call devices, and how the birds react.

Well, all there is left to do from here is PRACTICE!

Get Your Gun Ready

First things first, make sure your gun is in working order. You also might want to give it a quick spit shine if you didn’t already clean it after the last time it was used. After you know everything is good to go, I suggest following three simple steps to ready for the hunt: select your ammo, sight the gun in, and pattern your shot.

When selecting ammo, you want to research a choke and shell combination that works best for you. Everyone has a different preference, and every gun works a little differently with different chokes and shells. A common turkey hunting gun is the 12 gauge. The 12 gauge offers a bit better range than a 20 gauge; however, it also offers a better kick to your shoulder too! I have used both when hunting turkeys, and to be honest I usually prefer the 20 gauge because it is a little easier to pack around. I also will admit, the shot used for turkey in a 12 gauge makes for a very sore shoulder the next day, and if I can avoid that it is a successful hunt in my mind.

BrandonTomA good choke to start out with if you are shooting a 12 gauge is a full choke. They also sell a turkey choke, designed specifically for turkey hunting. With smaller game birds, such as ducks or pheasant, a wide spread pattern is ideal since more than likely the bird will be in flight. Turkeys require a harder hit, and when aiming for a tom most tend to aim at the head. Since the area you aiming for is about the size of your fist and you are looking for the most knock-down power possible, a full choke is a good choice since it creates a tighter collection of pellets.

For shells, a good place to start is either a #4 or #6 shot. It is difficult to offer solid advice on shot size, as everyone has a different preference and this is usually based on the patterning they are getting during practicing. I think a #4 or #6 is just a good starting point for a beginner looking to figure out their personal style and how their gun handles.

After selecting the choke and shot, it is time to sight in the gun and get some patterning going. To sight in the gun, start fairly close to your target, about 10 yards. Since you are not overly concerned at this point with how the gun is patterning and instead are looking to make sure it is aiming straight, I would suggest using a smaller shot, something you might use on a pheasant or duck. These smaller shots create SOOOOO much less kick, and who wants to get their shoulder all sore just to see if a gun is shooting straight? (Not me.)

Once you have sighted in your gun, start patterning. Select the shot size you think you want to start with, set up about 25 yards for a new, clean target and get started shooting. Check how tight your patterning is. You can do this by drawing a 10 inch circle around the shot and counting the number of pellet holes in the paper. Ideally, you are looking for 18 or more pellets within that circle. Less than that and you are probably creating an opportunity for a sad hunt missing lots of turkey.

If you are satisfied with the patterning at 25 yards, move back 10 yards more and start with a fresh target again. Check the tightness and then move back another 10 yards. Repeat the process until you have selected a load you are comfortable with. This practice will also give you a great idea about the range of your gun. If you aren’t getting a tight grouping at 50 or 60 yards, you probably shouldn’t be taking that shot. Patterning is an important step to not miss before the opening morning of turkey season, it gives you the best opportunity to combine your gun with a choke and shot load that create a consistent shooting pattern. And consistent shooting patterns lead to more kills and less injured birds. And less sad faces.

Prepare Those Miscellaneous Items

If you have done your scouting, practiced your calling, and got your gun, you have covered all the major items in preparing for the spring turkey hunts. Everything else are just gravy items at this point. So, a few extras you might want to prep in assistance for an even more enjoyable hunt include:

  • Get your camo ready to go! On top of having excellent hearing, turkeys have superb vision.  You could say they have an “eagle eye.”  They can detect even the slightest of movements.  It helps, immensely in my opinion, to wear proper camo.  When I go out turkey hunting, I dress from head-to-toe in camo.  It makes for a hot day, and I really wish that I could not do it, but I find that it is necessary if you want to get close to a bird.  By head-to-toe, I mean I wear a hat, a face cover, long sleeved shirt, pants, and even brown shoes.  Anything you can do to help you blend in to your surroundings will help with turkeys.
  • Get your decoys ready to go! Decoys have their place.  I usually sneak out before the sun is even thinking about coming up over the hill and place my decoys.  I have had mixed results with them.  Sometimes an overly zealous tom has rushed in and started strutting his stuff for my fake flock, and other times the birds have spent their time playing shy just out of sight.  I try not to get too attached to hunting near my decoys, because I have found if I do that then I spend all day sitting in a spot where obviously the toms aren’t interested in what I am selling.  So, like I said, I set them up before first light, so I don’t create any disturbances, and then I kind of feel out how the day is going before I commit to how, or even if, I am going to use them that day.
  • Make sure there is room in the freezer! May as well think positively before you head out on your hunt.  Make sure there is room in your freezer for the big tom you are going to bag and bring home!

Well, hopefully this has been helpful.  I would love to hear what other people do in preparation for their spring turkey hunts.  Comment below!

Happy Hunting!

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