Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Doggie Good Time

I “had” a pheasant cape hanging in my garage, which is adjacent to my office. Now I have feathers all over my office. I also “had” a deer cape in my garage but bits of it too are now scattered all over my office. Somehow the last time I went in and out of my garage yesterday, the dogs, Cookie and my Basset Hound, Buster, managed to open the door, or more likely in my haste to get back to the house I didn’t latch the door. To make a long story short, the dogs had a great time. When I went into my office this morning Cookie ran to greet me at the door and she had a pheasant wing in her mouth. At least she retrieved it. Anyway, the first hour of work was spent cleaning up the mess. I did salvage the tail feathers but there weren’t any feathers left for fly tying.
On to the whitetail hide they found in the garage. They didn’t completely trash it, just pulled a lot of hair out so that I now have bits of whitetail hair in every part of my office. I did manage to salvage the tail so I’ve got that for some tying.
At first I was furious with the two dogs but then, while I was cleaning up, I got to thinking, they were just being dogs and having a good time. Not unlike my kitten, Ophelia, that is trying to knock everything off my desk as I write this. Every animal, when given the opportunity, will play. When I was a deputy sheriff in Custer County, Colorado (a long time ago), I watched jackrabbits, coyotes, deer and antelope all play when they were sure they were safe. Sometimes there is a thin line between vying for dominance and play and frequently they are mixed. But, there as also a lot of play by all animals even after they have reached adulthood. The wildlife was the best part of the long back country patrols and I would frequently stop and watch the animals from a distance. Cookie and Buster must have been in doggie heaven when they were playing with the capes. It was my fault for not checking the door and I’m just glad they were distracted by the capes and didn’t get into anything that could have hurt them.
When I really think about it I know that we can learn something from animals--play, it won't hurt you. Oh, make your play something that isn't connected to the way you live your life. Step away from the fishing, hunting and everything that goes with them and just play with someone.
Two, maybe three more hunts and my season will be in the books. Over the winter I’ll tie some flies and get ready for spring and spend a lot of time just thinking. glg

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Late season hunting

Yesterday the weather was actually quite nice with the ambient temperature in the low twenties so getting out with Cookie for some pheasant hunting was a no brainer. I’ve only got a few more days of hunting available and I like to get out at least an hour or two each day but we’ve got a storm coming in tonight and tomorrow might be a little “iffy” for hunting, but day after tomorrow should be good for an hour or two in the afternoon.
I’m enjoying these last few days of the season and every time I go hunting Cookie is locating birds for me but the deepening snow and severe cold is putting a lot of stress on the birds. I don’t know how many of you live in parts of the country where weather can stress the birds but here in North Dakota it is a real problem and hunters need to think about that stress when planning late season hunting. As the season progresses I prefer to go a bit farther from popular hunting areas and hunt smaller, less likely looking patches of cover. These bits of cover seldom hold more than two or three birds but Cookie and I both get some exercise and the birds seem to hold a little tighter and I can get a shot or two. Hunting a popular area that is known for its pheasants is usually a lesson in frustration because the birds will flush wild, frustrating the dog and leaving my game bag empty.
The season will end on January 4 and after that it will be a long spring and summer. glg

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Brush With Nature

I’ve lost count of the number of continuous days of sub-zero weather here in North Dakota. I do know the weather turned cold enough to freeze the sloughs and drive the waterfowl south earlier than I expected and the bitter cold has cut into my upland bird hunting. Over the past three weeks we’ve also had our share of snow storms and now that winter is officially here we can expect more of the same for two more months.
Severe winter weather is the norm for North Dakota. I know there are other parts of the country, like upstate New York, that get hammered with much more snow but we get a combination of wind, snow, and more wind with sub-zero temperatures that will quickly kill anyone who underestimates nature’s brutality. I came close to making that mistake earlier this week.
The weather was finally clear, the wind was averaging 10 mph and the ambient air temperature was only about -10 (F) and I knew that the pheasant were holed up in the thick cattails of the frozen sloughs. After loading Cookie, my possibles bag, shotgun and two vacuum bottles of coffee (a small one for my bag) I was ready to go. Because I live in North Dakota I maintain a survival kit in each of our vehicles and that kit includes some high calorie survival food. I was not worried about needing the survival kit because the drive to where I intended to hunt ringnecks was less than 25 miles. Secondly, I would be less than a hundred yards from the road because I would hunt the cattails and frozen sloughs that bordered country roads.
Everything was going well and Cookie had pointed two birds (both hens) and she was getting birdy on another and I was sure it was a rooster (gut feeling). I decided to cut across what appeared to be open ground so I could angle to where Cookie was pushing the bird (did you know that pheasant will run under the snow). If everything worked right the rooster would flush at a right angle and I’d have a good shot. Cookie had already crossed the open snow once and I had taken several steps when suddenly I was in snow up to my hips and I knew that I could quickly flounder.
The commotion panicked the pheasant (a rooster) and it flushed in what would have been an easy shot except I was preoccupied with getting out of the snow. There was no way I could walk out so I worked around until I could swim out of the snow drift. While I struggled Cookie was barking furiously at me and once grabbed at my sleeve. (Was she trying to help?) It took me several minutes and by the time I was on solid ground I was exhausted. I pulled myself up so I could conserve my body heat while I ate a couple of glucose tablets and topped that with a small cup of coffee from my little thermos. After catching my breath and regaining some internal heat I pushed myself to my feet and walked, with Cookie at heel, back to my Suburban. I unloaded my shotgun, loaded Cookie and my bag in the back and then I pushed myself into the driver’s seat and started the truck to let it warm up while I drank more coffee and fished an energy bar out of the survival kit. The total exercise of the walk around the frozen slough, through the cattails and ultimately getting out of the snow drift had lasted less than thirty minutes. The wind chill was -28 which meant that had I spent much longer struggling in the snow drift I would have been flirting with serious frost bite. Fortunately I got out with nothing more than snow under my hunting coat and in my pockets.
This short flirt with the truth about nature sent me a wake up call—I wasn’t paying attention to the elements around me. This is something that we (hunters) need to remind ourselves of every season. As the season passes we sometimes become complacent about the elements that are nature and we make mistakes. Hunters cannot afford mistakes because nature does not let us beat her, we just escape—occasionally.
Stay safe when you hunt the closing weeks of the seasons.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Getting Colder and Answering a question

Our weather has turned bitter cold, which is the norm for this country, and it tends to cut down on the number of people willing to get out and hunt. I, for one, prefer to hunt the cold weather because the birds will sit longer. I’ve had Cookie out in some areas where I know there are no deer hunters but we haven’t had much success. On Thursday I am going to try and devote most of the day to bird hunting for both grouse and pheasant. For my money I like to hunt upland birds when there is about four inches of soft snow in the ground. They won’t flush as wild as they will when there is no snow, even when the weather is cold. I’ll let you know if we have any success. In the meantime you can get a chuckle out of Cookie relaxing in front of the wood burning stove. I don’t close the dogs up in the kennel (you can see the door behind her) but let them roam through my office. I suppose some people might not find a shop converted to office, with a dog kennel at one end, comfy but I do.

Recently I was in a discussion with a non-hunter (as opposed to anti-hunter) and this simple question was put to me: “if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?” My answer was that “hunting has, for many people, a psychological value that is important to their well-being. Also, the protection of the right to hunt, more specifically the choice about whether to participate in hunting or not to participate, is often equally important to the non-hunter as a guarantee of the recognition of fundamental rights which therefore provides them with a sense of well-being.” The person who asked me the question, actually an elderly individual, nodded and said that was good enough for him. Is it truly good enough? Can we actually reduce ourselves, as hunters, to 75+ words? I’ve been working on a very complex series of essays for Whitetails Unlimited ( that will be addressing this issue of who we are as hunters. In my research for this series, my graduate work at UND, and continuing work as a critical thinking hunting writer (as least I hope so and is that word order correct? Norcal?) I’ve found that as complex as hunting is, and the more it is truly examined, it plays a much larger positive role in our well-being, whether we are hunters or non-hunters, than the pop-shrinks (who, for some reason, are generally anti-hunting) are willing to admit. Doesn’t that beg the question of what are they actually afraid of in the hunter or the person who is a non-hunter but actually supports it? I would really like to crawl inside their minds for a look around!

Isn’t thinking fun!? glg