Friday, October 30, 2009


I received an email late this morning from J.D., owner of Folsom, that his pup had been found -- alive and reasonably well.  Nine days have passed since that terrible accident.  The little guy was hungry, thirsty, and had an issue with one of his paws, but is apparently in good shape.  He was found on the same farm where we lost track of him -- the poor bugger must've been too scared to come out.  I can't say I blame him.  At any rate, we're all breathing a little easier.  Sometimes, there are happy endings.  Thanks for all your prayers and well wishes.  ((photo credit: Four Seasons of Bird Hunting))

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

To Hell and Back on the High Plains, Part Two

In my previous post, I alluded to another disaster that befell us on our trip, but this one was more insidious, and requires a bit of background. But it's a cautionary tale that every hunting dog owner should heed. This is a long post, but I encourage every sporting dog owner to read it to the end.

Jon and I picked up three "mercenary dogs" in northeast Colorado from Scott, a hunting buddy and pheasant guide. We had hunted with two of them before -- an aptly-named shorthair named Rebel and a loveable Vizsla named Scar (named for a "war wound" he got on his noggin at birth).

The third dog was a year-and-a-half-old male pointer named Tick. He was a stylish and alert dog, and Scott had worked with him to hold steady to wing and shot. It would be fun to run him, I thought -- he reminded me of Stony, a tough but sweet pointer who died when he was about 10 years old of mysterious causes.

Another reason Tick reminded me of Stony was his frame. Both dogs were lean -- very lean. To those unfamiliar with hunting dogs in general and English pointers in particular, they generally have very little, if any, body fat. Typically, they're run daily, and take on the look of serious marathoners. So we loaded up the pooches and set off for Big Sky Country.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

To Montana and Back, With a Stop or Two in Hell

We pulled out of Stanford, Montana and pointed our rigs east onto Highway 87, after having consumed some axis venison chili and sandwiches in the sun-washed parking lot of the Sundown Motel.  My buddy Jon was behind the wheel, and I took the back seat behind him, allowing an outdoor writer buddy of mine who came up from Helena to ride shotgun.  We were pulling a trailer of seven dogs, a rogue's gallery of pointers, setters, shorthairs, and a vizsla.  Behind us were JD and his dad, in a Toyota Tacoma with a topper holding two crates that contained Ruby, a loveable yellow lab, and Folsom, an enthusiastic six-month-old setter.

Our caravan was heading to the first field of the afternoon, and our planned turnoff was less than a mile or so out of town, so I don't think we ever even reached the 70-mile-an-hour posted speed limit.  As we were looking for our turn, we probably slowed down to somewhere around 40 mph.

Out of the blue, we saw JD's silver truck streak by us on the right hand shoulder -- although at the time, it didn't register to me that it was their vehicle, because it was completely demolished on the back end.  And the crates weren't holding any dogs.

We quickly slowed to a stop just ahead of them, and got out of our vehicle to render aid.  JD and his dad were out of the truck (thank God) and appeared dazed, but otherwise fine.  Further back, an 18-wheeler was coming to a rest, and two very disoriented but alive dogs (again, thank God) were stammering along the highway.

Knowing that JD and his dad would be busy with the accident scene, Jon ran to Ruby, who was rapidly becoming woozy and bloodied.  I took off after Folsom, who by this time was making a beeline towards a farmstead a half mile away -- scared and confused, but with no outward signs of injury.

I made it to the farm within a minute of losing Folsom behind a corral fence, and Jon quickly joined the search in his vehicle.  Beyond the farmstead, there was nothing but open land, and we were both reasonably sure that we made it to the farm before he had a chance to move beyond it.

But that might have worked against us.  Animals often run for a short distance and hole up in the nearest safe spot -- and like any farmstead, this one was packed with outbuildings, farm implements, vehicles, and a hundred round haybales that each contained a cubbyhole just large enough for a frightened setter pup to hide between.

No one was home at the farm, but I decided trespassing in this case was acceptable, or at least explainable.  We searched the property thouroughly, to no avail.  We expanded our search to the surrounding ranch roads -- still nothing.  We stopped into gas stations, motels, and any other place nearby, and while the locals were exceedingly pleasant and helpful, no one found Folsom.  We spent the next day and a half in vain looking for Folsom.

Folsom is still missing, and I can only presume that he did indeed hunker down somewhere, and internal injuries got the best of him.

Ruby, after trips to two different country vets, is now at home recovering after surgery to repair her pelvis -- broken in two places -- along with assorted scrapes and puncture wounds.

The truck driver was issued a ticket.  There were no skid marks, and as you can see from the photo, there were no hills or other obstructions to block his view -- he simply wasn't paying attention to what was on the road ahead of him.  (The accident took place at approximately the same place where the tanker truck is.)

As terrible as this all was, I'm realizing how lucky we all were.  JD and his father were sore, but safe.  JD had the forethought to swerve onto the right shoulder and missed our vehicle.  Had he not, I have no doubt he would have sheared off the top of our dog trailer, rolled his own vehicle, and probably ours as well.  The semi hit with such force that it was rendered inoperable, and the front seats in JD's truck were torqued out of alignment.

It's taking some time to make sense of all of this, and thankfully, it didn't ruin our trip -- but it sure put a damper on it.  Right now, I'm shelving my guns and gear until I get everything straight in my head -- hopefully that'll come before the Kansas pheasant opener.

More on this very eventful trip later.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snakebit! Scampwalker's Lament

After traveling more than 2,500 miles, I have exactly two birds to show for it.  I shot the only sharptail of the trip in Nebraska, tagged a late afternoon chicken in Kansas, and fired my gun once in three days of hunting on my latest trip to Minnesota.  I can't blame this funk on bad shooting -- it's just bad luck.  For one reason or another, it seems as though I've been in the wrong place at the wrong time all the time.

I've always believed -- and still firmly do -- that hunting is not about the killing of birds, and thankfully, the men that I hunt with subscribe to that credo as well.  But I'm learning that this doctrine is much easier to subscribe to when you're occasionally shouldering your gun.

Now I know what Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset meant when he said, "One does not hunt to kill.  On the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted."  I'm kind of missing the punctuation at the end of the sentence, you know?

No sense in brooding on it.  I suppose I'd prefer this to a self-induced shooting slump... and all three trips have been spectacular in every other way.  But as I pack for Montana, I sure hope the bird gods are reading my blog.

More on my Minnesota trip soon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

My son J and I tagged along on a trip with Jon and Wes for a prairie chicken trip to north central Kansas, about a four hour drive from KC.  We hightailed it out of town after work on Friday, and stayed at a Super 8 motel while the hardier Jon and Wes camped out in 42-degree weather.  It was the best of both worlds, frankly... we got the campfire, marshmallows, and bourbon... while they got the cold sleep on the terra firma.

We started the morning hunt somewhat frustrated... one of our honey holes (Jon and Wes had done quite well there just a couple of weeks ago) failed to yield a bird within shooting range.  At this point, a bit of frustration and self-doubt was seeping in.  Those who hunt will understand -- wondering if somehow, some way, the bird gods are testing your patience, mettle, and dedication.  I'm not someone who measures success by fulfilling bag limits, but I do enjoy the excitement and satisfaction of good dog work and an occasional connection with a bird.

That afternoon, as I was feeling sorry for myself, the Astro warbled.  It indicated Vegas was on point, just over the hill ahead of me, about 60 yards away.  I didn't hustle much -- I was a little frustrated by her performance thus far this season.  She seemed enthusiastic enough, but for one reason or another, she wasn't making any productive points.  I figured this was yet another tweetie bird encounter.

I crested the ridge along with Jon, and we discovered Vegas locked up with Jon's setter Ike close behind.  I still was in no hurry.  Jack snapped a picture or two, and Dottie trotted up and reluctantly honored, and then locked up hard.  By this time, Wes had joined us and we moved in to flush the offending meadowlark.

What happened next will stay with me for many years.  Three prairie chickens erupted within arm's length, presenting amazing straightaway shots as they flew down a draw.  I've always been a remarkably quick shot, and I fired the first round.  MISS!  (I said I was a quick shot, but not necessarily a good one.)  About that time, I remember hearing Jon fire to my left, exploding one bird, and then dropping another.  I lined up the second barrel of my SKB 385, slapped the trigger, and dropped the third bird.  About that time, the dogs broke to retrieve the birds, and a fourth chicken erupted from the same spot.  It barely rose from the ground, gaining speed, but putting itself right between us and the dogs. 

Our guns were empty, and neither Jon nor I had much of a shot anyway.  At about 40 yards, the bird veered to the right, presenting Wes with a difficult, but makeable shot.  And make it he did.  After more than a bit of whooping and hollering, we collected our birds (including an amazing find by Ike for that last bird, that had hidden itself deep in some grass).

I write this as my family and I digest said birds, after a healthy marinade in soy sauce, olive oil, liberal sliced garlic, and rosemary.  PC's are more like venison than chicken.  My daughter described them as rich, and she's right.  Rich in flavor, and rich as in the way I feel after a good meal that has been provided for me.