Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Season Of New Begins Now

I can't believe it's almost here. Hunting season starts tomorrow.

If you hunt, you get it -- the giddy anticipation and the borderline obsession with last-minute dog training, gun cleaning, and gear gathering. If you don't hunt, then you can probably stop reading this blog and tune in again sometime in January, because between now and then, this little corner of the internet is going to be devoted to birds, dogs, buddies, and the places we all inhabit this time of year.

And what a special, special year this is going to be for me. It's the first season my ten-year-old son will be actively hunting with me. I was lucky enough to draw an opening morning public dove hunt on the Kansas River Wildlife Area, and sunrise tomorrow will find me and Jack in the middle of a sunflower field, heads pointed skyward.  It's a rite of passage -- I vividly remember my first dove hunt at the Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant with my father nearly 30 years ago. I became hooked on this whole outdoor affliction at that moment -- and I can't wait to pass on the tradition to my boy.

Jack and I have been practicing gun safety and clay target shooting for the past month or so. And after much experimentation with the various scatterguns in my safe, I opted to buy him a Remington 870 youth model.  The gun fits him well, he shoots it well, and while not as elegant as a breech gun, it is pretty much bomb-proof (and hopefully boy-proof).

The other "first" I'll experience this year is hunting behind my now-seven-month-old pointer, LuLu. I'm doing my best to temper my expectations, but I think this dog is going to be a keeper. She has the drive and birdiness that I had hoped for, and she's proven to be a dream to train and handle thus far. Just this morning I had her off lead (having just recently collar conditioned her) and I was thrilled by the graceful 250-yard casts she'd make -- and even more thrilled that she would voluntarily check in every few minutes.

The appreciation for LuLu is magnified when I am reminded of how fragile it all is. Dottie, my eldest dog, is enjoying her air-conditioned solitude indoors while recovering from surgery. While we haven't yet heard back from the veterinary pathologist, I feel pretty confident things will be alright. And if nothing else, the old girl has reminded me to appreciate every moment I'm blessed to be afield.

Happy hunting, everyone. Be safe.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Well, That Was Quick. EPA Shoots Down Proposed Ammo Ban.

Apparently the work of sportsmen and gun nuts makes a difference.  On Friday, the EPA announced that it was denying a petition aimed at outlawing lead in ammunition.  Nicely done, folks!  The NSSF credits a strong grassroots campaign in helping to defeat the measure.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Do Not Touch The Shuttlecock

I was looking for a fun photo to close out a week from hell, and here it is. You may recognize it as part of Shuttlecocks, a huge outdoor sculpture at Kansas City's Nelson Atkins Museum. By sheer coincidence, the four precariously balanced, 5500-pound pop-art icons are celebrating their 16th year in existence on this very day. Crafted by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, they've become icons in the KC area and beyond.

These photos, I'll have you know, are a tad contraband. See, you're not supposed to touch these works of art -- let alone allow your kids to climb on them. We didn't know that at the time, and shortly after our little photo session began a voice boomed from speakers unknown, PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE SHUTTLECOCK. Befuddled, we collected the kids and walked back to our car. Looking over my shoulder, some security guard was hurriedly walking towards us, but we didn't wait around to talk to him.

Happy weekend, everyone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gimme Back My Bullets, EPA

Ok, guys, here's a real quick, painless way to write your Senators and Representative and encourage them to prevent the EPA from adopting a complete ban on lead ammunition.

They're using the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 as their basis, except the law specifically calls out ammo as exempt from the rules.  Make no mistake --the Obama-appointed people behind this proposal are more interested in a de-facto gun ban than saving any kind of wildlife.  Not only that, but there's never been any legitimate, peer-reviewed study that I've found that connects wildlife mortality to the ingestion of lead.

The NSSF has the full story here, and you can send an email or letter to your elected officials here.  Do it now -- the whole shebang takes less than a minute, and it could help save the future of our sport.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home, And Dog Tired

Well, the surgery is successful, and other than the 8-inch incision in her belly, Ol' Dottie seems to be fine.  A little drugged up, but who wouldn't be?  She gets the sutures out in a couple of weeks, which, by my calendar, means she ought to be ready (although a bit out of shape) for the Kansas chicken opener.  I'll say this much -- it's nice knowing she'll at least go on the trip.

Of course, we are still on pins and needles waiting for the biopsy to come back, but we can all breathe a bit easier knowing we did what we could to get to the most pressing problem.

Thanks to all of you for your comments, emails, phone calls, and silent prayers.  They mean more to me and my family than words can describe.  We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prayers, Mojo, and Good Thoughts for Dottie

My ace is sick.  Dottie -- my decade-old pointer bitch -- has a nearly-golfball sized mass in the breast tissue under one of her nipples.

While I was carousing and being immortal with the boys over the weekend, my family had our eldest bird dog in the house.  Plenty of loving and petting ensued (as it should), and they noticed the lump.  It's fast growing, for sure.  It was just a couple weeks ago that she was at the vet for her routine checkup.  While I'm relieved we caught it quickly, I'm also alarmed by its rapid growth.  My wife -- an RN who's talked me off numerous ledges throughout our marriage -- assured me that ol' Dot can lick this.  Despite her confidence, the dull, acidic aluminum taste seeped into the back of my mouth -- the same one I encounter in the worst times of my life.  Worry.  Bad News.  Sickness.  Death.

So Dot goes under the knife on Wednesday.  Funny how it works.  A week ago, my string was as tight as it's ever been.  Dottie as the wily veteran.  Vegas (finally) coming into her own, and LuLu impressing. 

And now this.

My first question to my wife -- as any bird dogger would ask: will she hunt this season?  It starts the 15th.  We've got places to go, goddammit.  The vet was confident, thankfully.  And, thankfully, so was my wife.  So we sit.  And pray.  My girl might not be immortal after all. 

And if she's not...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Drive South

Gratuitous Puppy Photo.
All is well.  The Ram is pointed towards the equator, XM's Outlaw Country is churning out some classic Son Volt, and the beautiful Flint Hills are passing by at a brisk 75mph.

Wes and I got a jumpstart on a bachelor party weekend this morning and visited Skyview Setters outside of El Dorado, Kansas.  Some nice looking, nice running shaggies.

Now it's onto Oklahoma City, for some R&R by the pool, carousing in Bricktown this evening, and tomorrow night's Reckless Kelly show at the Wormy Dog.

Bird dogs, beer, and bands... I think I could get used to this.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pimientos de Padrón

Part of the fun of having a garden is growing stuff you don't normally find at the grocery store.  And that certainly extends to Pimientos de Padrón.  Never heard of 'em?  Neither had I, before traveling to Spain.  They can be found in many tapas bars along the winding cobblestone streets of Barcelona, and they're worth seeking out.

They range anywhere from an inch to two inches long, and almost all of them are sweet and not at all similar to the jalapenos that most Americans know.  Folklore has it that one in ten peppers are truly hot, but I think it has more to do with the size of the pepper -- we let our first batch grow too large and some of them were downright face-melting meteoric, and my family doesn't fear a little heat.

Most satisfying is that we grew these peppers ourselves, from seed no less -- provided to me by the inimitable NotHemingway, no slouch when it comes to good Spanish grub.  It was touch-and-go for awhile... out of sixteen seeds, about eight germinated into spindly, sad-looking sprouts.  Of those, only two survived and are bearing fruit.  But they're prolific enough that we expect at least a few more servings of these spicy treats.

Preparation is simple... fry them in a liberal amount of olive oil until their skins just start to wrinkle, sprinkle them with sea salt, and enjoy.  Enjoyed with a glass or two of Manzanilla sherry, manchego cheese, some garden-fresh gazpacho, and a basil tortilla española -- we were transported to the ancient Plaça Sant Josep Oriol.

Monday, August 16, 2010

LuLu Gets Work On The Pigeon Pole

Photo courtesy Four Seasons of Bird Hunting
Some readers have chided me for not providing more photos of my pup LuLu.  She's seven months old now, and anyone familiar with a bird dog pup knows that they are seldom still.  I've probably taken a hundred photos of the girl over the past few months -- running, swimming, rolling with Dottie and Vegas -- and they pretty much all suck.  She's a kinetic blur.

Photo courtesy Four Seasons Of Bird Hunting
Thankfully, I've found an exercise that'll slow her down -- the pigeon pole.  Many of you may know or use this training technique, but I've learned there are a lot of folks out there who've never heard of it.  It's a great way to introduce young pointing dogs to birds, and it's as fun as it is educational.

Building a pigeon pole is simple and cheap.  Buy a 10-foot piece of 1-inch PVC pipe, and put a cap on one end with an eye bolt fastened to it.  Put a large snap swivel on each end of a 40-foot piece of brightly colored masonry line -- this makes it easy to see in the field.  My "terminal tackle" are two foot-long pieces of cotton string attached to a three way swivel with a slipknot at the other ends. Simply secure a pigeon's feet with the slipknots, and attach the snap swivel to the eye bolt, and you're in business.

The benefits of a pigeon pole are many.  The bird can be reused indefinitely, and it essentially "plants" itself with little or no human scent.  You can set your puppy up for success by subtly steering them to the hidden bird, and work on their steadiness to both wing and shot.  I've been pleasantly surprised how quickly LuLu has taken to holding her points, even after only a couple of sessions.  We've got a long way to go, but the beginnings are very, very promising.  There's certainly not a lack of drive or nose in her -- she's both bird crazy and eager to learn.  That's something I attribute to rock-solid genetics.

Photo courtesy Four Seasons of Bird Hunting

I set up two pigeon poles about 100 yards or so apart.  That way, once the bird flushes, you can teach your dog to hunt in the direction that you want to go, instead of chasing birds that have flown away.  It's a great way to introduce gunfire as well. I started out with the low-powered acorn blanks, and this past weekend I let Jack stand off about 50 yards and shoot his 28 gauge into the air.  It doesn't take long for her to associate "bangs" with birds -- two things that go great together.

Other than the pigeon pole, we're doing daily heel, here, and whoa drills -- just five or ten minutes a day in the backyard.  We're exactly one month away from the prairie chicken opener here in Kansas, and I can't wait to have a new young partner in the field with me this season.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My New Dog Box

With the addition of a third bird dog, transportation (without a trailer, anyhow) has become a bit more difficult.  If it's a short trip to the dog park for a run, I don't mind cramming Dottie and Vegas in my large crate, and LuLu the Pup in my smaller one. 

But on longer trips -- especially during the hot early season -- I'd need another crate.  And another crate pretty much fills up my full-sized truck bed.  And that third crate is never easy to get to.  And forget about lugging along all the requisite coolers, gear bags, and other crap that I can't seem to do without.

Like most guys, I need a project, and for the last few weekends I've been sweating in the garage, solving (I hope) my dilemma.  I love my pickup and topper, but it's a pain in the ass to reach anything in the back without tearing out gear and climbing in (and yes, I have a nifty "windoor" on my driver's side).  So I figured I'd build a dog box for multiple dogs that utilized the length instead of the width of my pickup bed.

I chose the dimensions of 60 inches long by 30 inches wide and 30 inches high, and used half-inch high-grade plywood (only the finest for my bitches).  That seemed to be the largest I could make it for the comfort of the pooches, while still being able to fit it inside my bed.  I reinforced the all the corners with 2x2 furring strips, and fastened it all together with wood screws.  As you can see from the above photo, I caulked the bottom seam because I wanted it waterproof.  In addition, all wood got a couple coats of waterproof stain.

The next step is pretty cool.  I found a quart of Herculiner at Tractor Supply and applied two coats to the bottom piece of plywood as well as the furring strips.  I wasn't sure how this'd turn out, but I am very pleased with the results.  It's an even, durable, and very waterproof finish, and is very similar to what you'd find in a professionally-done pickup bed (I'm not saying you should use this stuff for your rig, however).

Then, it was just a matter of fastening the walls to the furring strips.  I hinged the roof for easy access and cleaning.

While the floor was now waterproof, I didn't want my dogs laying in it whatever wet crud accumulated there.  I used the two-inch lip on the floor to my advantage.  I got a couple grates of PolyMax kennel flooring from FarmTek, and this stuff is the bee's knees.  It's nice and rigid, and each piece interlocks together.  It'd make great flooring for dog trailers, kennel runs, or whatever.  I highly recommend it.

I finished it off with a door and seven ventilation grates that I got from Bob Welsh over at WingWorks.  In addition to making some of the finest upland vests available, he sells these nice-looking and very functional kennel accessories.  If you're thinking of a DIY project, I'd encourage you to take a look at them.  I finished it off with an easily removable Lixit water bottle.

I'm excited to put it to use this fall.  In cooler temps, it'll easily fit my three dogs (they usually bunk together anyway).  During the hotter months, I'll probably put two in here and one in a separate crate, which'll still leave the bed with enough room for my gear.  I've got good cross ventilation on the passenger side and rear windows, and I have a 12-volt fan that I can use to keep the air moving.  Even so, I monitor the temperature of the crate at all times with a remote thermometer.

Not bad for a white-collar redneck.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pigeon: Impossible

Email to Building Manager of Tall Building where I work:

This is going to probably sound like a really bizarre question, but here goes.

Do you have any issues with the pigeons that congregate on our tower roof? It seems like there are a ton of them, and I was wondering if you were in need of a pigeon control program.

No, I’m not asking if I can shoot them --- but I am in need of a source of live birds to train my hunting dogs. Do we have a pest control service that traps them? If not, I’ve got a couple live traps and would be happy to thin the population. I'm fine with running my traps after hours or over the weekend to keep it from being a distraction to those who might not understand (admittedly a large majority of people).

If this whole thing sounds absurd to you, that’s fine – I can find some elsewhere. I just thought I’d ask.

Reply from Building Manager:

I was actually getting ready to start a good old fashion pigeon shoot soon with a pellet gun of course. Please go ahead and trap all you want. When you’re done I’ll exterminate the rest. If you need any assistance please ask as I want the birds gone as much as you want them relocated!

SUCCESS!!  Since last weekend, I've been baiting these rats with wings that are literally one flight of stairs from my office.  The other night, the kids and I came back in the evening to find our trap filled with three birds.
Only problem?  It's way too damned hot -- even near dusk -- to train the dogs.  So they now reside in my suburban garage, happily eating corn and shitting on a tarp where my wife's now-displaced car used to be.  The kids have named them Speckles, Cornholio, and Bait -- and my son keeps asking me when he can shoot them.
Early Saturday morning, a buddy and I will try our luck with a pigeon pole or two.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday Afternoon At The Range, And Shotgun Advice Wanted

Yesterday afternoon my son Jack and I drove about 85 miles south to the Hollister Shooting Range, a public range run by the Old Fort Sharpshooters near Fort Scott, Kansas.  Yes, there are plenty of ranges closer to my house than that, but I'm pretty particular about where I shoot.

It seems to me that at most ranges, the clientele and management fits into one of two categories.  The first is run by those elitist, uptight, Perazzi-toting bluebloods that travel the clays course in tricked-out golf carts that won't give you the time of day.  The second kind of range is the one inhabited by testosterone-laden, sleeveless-shirt wearing, menacing guys that are a little bit unstable.  I don't feel comfortable at either place, and I don't want my son thinking that that's how he needs to behave around guns.

So about a year ago, I found this range.  The only two rangemasters I ever see there are two normal looking, friendly, and knowledgeable (but not know-it-all) grandad types.  They immediately took to Jack, and one of them, being a hunter safety instructor, gave all sorts of great shooting and safety advice to my son.  And that advice sticks -- there's something about being told something by a non-parent that makes it more credible, I guess.

Anyhow, we started out on the rifle range, and put my little AK-22 through its paces at 25 yards (it's no tack driver).  Even so, Jack hit in the red on virtually every shot, making his dad proud. 

Next up was the AR.  This was only the second time we've shot it, but man is it ever fun!  Since buying it, we've done some minor customization, including a new pistol grip, an ambidextrous safety, a Trijicon scope, a laser sight, and a poor man's trigger job.  It's delightful to shoot -- and the recoil isn't really much more than a .22.

Next we hit the trap range (for a measly $4 per round!).  A couple weeks' back, Jack netted a 15/25 on his first round of trap ever, using the same Stevens 16 gauge that I grew up with, and the same gun my dad grew up with.  The barrel was shortened to about 24 inches, so it's easy for him to carry and swing.  But it kicks like a chorus line of Rockettes, and I fear that at ten years old and 75 pounds soaking wet, he's going to grow tired of the recoil (who wouldn't?).

So this week, I let him have a round on my father-in-law's old 20 gauge Stevens 311 -- a rock-solid gun with a nice, short length of pull.  Unfortunately, those two barrels make fatigue set in pretty quickly, and his swing isn't what it needs to be.

So my question: what do we do?  There's one more gun that I've already got that might fit him -- a little Spanish 28 gauge guild gun that I think we'll try next week.  Problem is, it's a little nicer grade than I want my ten-year-old with, and shells are pretty spendy.

Any other dads out there faced with similar issues?  I've not been fond of the pump/auto guns with youth stocks -- they're still pretty heavy and I much prefer the safety and simplicity of a breech gun for a kid starting out.

Thanks in advance for your advice.  The kid's got his first dove hunt in just 30 days!