Sunday, October 25, 2009

A One Hour Hunt

I finally managed to get away with Cookie and go duck hunting. That is what living in North Dakota can do for you; Cookie and I were in the Suburban, out of town and at our first slough in just under three minutes. (I timed it.) With my binoculars I looked over the slough and sure enough there were several mallards on the slough.
Now, hunting ducks that are sitting on a slough is not like other pond jumping hunts, and that’s because you really can’t get as close as you’d like—too much mud! If you’ve got several hunters you designate one or two to be the jumpers and the others will space themselves around the slough so at lest someone gets a shot. Notions of taking off into the wind and all that other nice stuff will quickly evaporate when the ducks are jumped. Usually it is just Cookie and me on the hunt so it is up to her to send the ducks to me.
I scooted into a depression where I was fairly hidden and then I turned Cookie loose, ordering her to “spook the ducks.” Okay, it’s not a sophisticated command but it seems to separate the notion of finding a cripple or lost duck from what I want her to do. She darted to the slough, then turned and ran around the slough without going into the water, a maneuver that she seems to recognize as one that sends the ducks into the open. I am not sure what prompts her to turn from running along the edge of the water to plunging in but suddenly she’ll turn and splash into the water after the ducks. As soon as they take to the air she turns, as though she is herding the flying birds and most of the time the birds turn and fly near me, giving me a shot. Not that I always hit something and the other day I managed to miss with both barrels. To punish me Cookie came out of the water, walked up to me and shook, spraying stinky, slimy, muddy water over me. I earned it; both shots were doable and I muffed them.
The next slough was across a field and when I looked at the muddy field I decided to let Cookie try and flush the birds without me nearby and she did, but the birds were too high by the time they came over my hiding spot.
Just for grins I decided to walk a nearby grassy field where I flush the occasional grouse. We were approaching the end of the hunting light and I was following Cookie when I looked up and she was running across the ridge of the rise in the ground, silhouetted by the setting sun. In those few seconds she was a perfect picture of nature, surrounded by hundreds of shades of gold. There was sky, and the water of the slough, the bare fingers of a tree on she slough’s shore and the grass of the gentle ground and moving across it all was my dog—Cookie—and everything was bathed in the dust freckled golden Alpenglow . Those seconds were what I had left my office to find. Perhaps a mallard hanging from my belt would have somehow reshaped the image in my mind—perhaps not. I was satisfied. I loaded Cookie in the back of the Suburban and drove home—satisfied with the short hunt.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Just about the time I thought I would have something good to write about bird hunting, I don’t. I woke up this morning and I was prepared to hit the sloughs and then the pain hit me, in my shooting shoulder. Man! It hurt! Like the preverbal dumb ass, yesterday I tried to climb a ladder carrying a bundle of shingles for my office/garage roof. It is bad enough that I’ve got to put these shingles on (You should see me, I scoot around on my butt because my sense of balance is so bad I keep losing my balance and try to fall over!), trying to get them up there is an exercise in stupid! When the second round of pain pills finally took hold I drove to the lumber yard and asked if they would bring a fork lift for me—when the weather clears.
The weather was my whole point in going today. It was dreary, foggy and wet, the kind of weather when I really like to sneak up on the sloughs. I’ll give Cookie a signal and she will gladly bound into the water and flush the ducks so I can get off a couple of shots. If I knock one down she seems to know where it lands and quickly returns with it. We have great fun but it only works on these gray days with scudding clouds, wet grass and muddy roads. I don’t know if the ducks feel that only an idiot (like me) would dare go out or they are just hunkered down against the weather but we can usually creep up to the very edge of the slough. But today was out. I guess sometimes I just have trouble reconciling my health issues with reality. Sort of sucks, you know. I’m going to try again in the morning, which means it is now midnight North Dakota time, the dogs are smart enough to be in bed and that’s where I’m going. This time I’ll drag my carcass out of bed and go hunting when the alarm goes off. I know Cookie is starting to wonder if I’ve turned into a pansy over the weather.
Best, glg

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mud, Snow, Mud and Fog

Today was a perfect day to go duck hunting except for the mud. I was going to go but I talked with another hunter who said the roads were too mucky for trying to get to any of the better sloughs so I put that idea on the shelf. I've go to make a trip to Fargo tomorrow and if I get home in time I am going to give it a shot in the evening. The desire to get out and hunt is building and building and Cookie is driving me crazy with her antics. She wants to get out of the kennel and into the fields.
I'll let you know how the day goes.

Thoughts on Early Snow Storm

Throughout the day I’ve been jotting down notes about this snow storm. I know many of you are way ahead of me on receiving the first snow of the year but today’s storm has my full attention! I am not happy about the storm for several reasons and at the top of the list is that I’ve still got several chores to complete before I can write off my office project as “completed.” Also, as a hunter, I am concerned that if this snow does not melt away in the next few days the opening of pheasant season will be interesting. Not that the opening will be delayed, but the early snow will make the birds hold longer, giving hunters and their dogs an advantage they don’t normally have in the opening days.

This advantage is troublesome. On one hand it is great for hunters because it is easier to get a limit of birds, but the easier limits have a price—lots of birds killed early in the season. The ideal, then, is for nature to provide a counter-weight by dumping more snow later in the season to be a counter weight to the earlier easy hunting. The later snows often provide late season birds an escape by preventing all but the most dedicated hunters from penetrating the bird’s hiding places in thick cover.

Unfortunately, the problem of weight-counter-weight is that it has other consequences, if the temperature drops too low, as it did last winter, the birds struggle to survive the cold. I believe there is something that hunters can do to have a positive influence on game bird populations when it is a little too easy to get a limit—practice self restraint.

Suppose a hunter is able to easily shoot a limit of birds on day one of the hunt. On the next day, if the birds continue to hold close and the shots are still fairly easy, reduce the number of birds killed by one bird. If the limit is three roosters a day with two or three days limit a possession limit, then reducing the second and third day’s kill will keep two birds in the population and increase the population’s chances of surviving late season severe weather. I know some people will argue that if one hunter doesn’t take the birds then another hunter will. That’s not true. Certainly, another hunter may ignore the restraint idea and kill a full nine birds over the three days but the two birds the other hunter didn’t kill are still in the population and the number is up by two.

After witnessing last winter’s devastating kill of game birds with the prolonged cold weather I have come to the belief that hunters can take the imitative to protect the game bird populations by insuring that hunting remains just that—hunting. When it is too easy the “hunting” difficulty index begins to drop and we should practice self-restraint. I’d rather have a great hunt and kill one or two birds that I am proud of than a hunt where the birds were too easy and I feel somewhat uncomfortable.

What do you think?

While I was at the SEOPA Conference several people asked me why I don’t have any advertising on my Blog. I didn’t have a good answer. Many suggested that while letting Google put up advertising wouldn’t help the content of my blog they didn’t think it would hurt because the advertisers have no control over the content of the blog, beyond the rules imposed by the site’s owners. So, my question to you, my readers, is whether you think I should allow advertising? I’d really like to hear your opinion. I haven’t made up my mind and don’t propose to do so too quickly. Let me know your thoughts. glg

SEOPA Conference

I am writing this from the waiting area of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Amtrak station. Like so many of the Amtrak stations this one is Spartan, the bathrooms are unimaginative billboards of graffiti, and the creature comforts in the waiting area consist of hard plastic seating and fickle vending machines. After several hours in airports where glitz, glitter and grub (food) dominate every square foot of space not necessary for air travel these surroundings are grim reminders that train travel in the United States is on the political back burner. Amtrak doesn’t even have money to keep the grass around their stations mowed! Still, I much prefer the train to the flying beer can. On most trips I will mix the two modes by taking the train from Grand Forks to St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota. From the station I walk a block and a half to the bus stop to catch the #16 bus to downtown. From the downtown stop I can catch with the city’s light rail to the airport. The train/plane combination is a little more complicated but it usually saves between $150 and $200 over flying out of Fargo. Another advantage is that going either direction I can sleep on the train and arrive in either in M/SP or Grand Forks ready to start the day.

I believe Amtrak is missing the boat. For us, that is hunters and anglers. First there is the problem that Amtrak has no accommodation for pets. I cannot take Cookie by train to hunt birds on a friend’s ranch in western North Dakota. Second the trains also lack secure baggage storage so firearms, even if they are in locked tamper-proof metal cases, cannot be stored on the train. In short, Amtrak is hunter “unfriendly” and only marginally angler friendly. Amtrak needs to recognize the potential of the angler and hunter market and make some accommodations. It is not just a matter of increased revenue but more voter support for train travel.

As for why I am sitting in this Amtrak terminal—I am returning home after five days in Florida. I attended the Southeast Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) Annual Conference. The conference was held at the Best Western Waterfront hotel in Punta Gorda, Florida. I was surprised to learn from one of the locals that Punta Gorda is a top rate retirement community, which is interesting considering the area’s somewhat Bohemian atmosphere. An impressive fact is that Punta Gorda was hard hit by Hurricane Charley in 2004 but the community has recovered from the storm’s devastation. The business center is rebuilt and thriving and in the residential areas there is little sign of the storm’s handiwork. Overall, my response to the area is—I am very impressed.

As for the conference, this was my first SEOPA conference and I came here as a speaker so the week’s stay was a true bonus. After a long summer of working on my office the conference was the break that I really needed. My comfort wasn’t why I was there—I was to give a presentation on my vision of the philosophy that would (or should) provide direction for outdoor writing in this century. To do this I had to reduce my years of research into a 45 minute presentation. I wasn’t sure how the presentation would be received because if the word “philosophy” is in the title of a presentation and outdoor writers notoriously disappear, but my session was both well attended and well received. Throughout the evening and next day a number of people congratulated me and urged me to continue my critical study of outdoor literature. What more could I want?

October 14, 2009

My trip to Florida may have an unexpected down side—I might have missed most of the local waterfowl hunting. The weather here in North Dakota has been cold and snowing and even now, as I am preparing to post this, a serious snow storm is blanketing most of North Dakota. All I can do is wait out the weather then Cookie and I will visit some of the local sloughs to see what we can bump out of the cattails. I’ll let you know. glg

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rain and Rain

The fall monsoons are upon us and the past two days have been wet and cold. Doesn't really matter that much because on Thursday I was in Fargo and today I was in Grand Forks. Does not make me happy but I do plan to seriously hit the sloughs this weekend! I've gotta get in some serious duck hunting before leaving for the SEOPA conference.

Does anyone have any pet peeves about the outdoor media because if you do right now would be a good time to tell me so I can incorporate some of them into my presentation. Let me know.