Sharp Tail Grouse

The 1st thing I want to say about sharp tail grouse (sharpies) is to me they are the most unpredictable of all the upland game birds I have hunted. I didn’t even know what a sharpie was until I moved to South Dakota in 2003, even though there is a good population in south eastern Idaho, which is the one area of Idaho I have never hunted. In the last twelve years I have had dogs work many sharpies in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Just when I think I might have them kind of figured out they do something that makes me say I didn’t see that coming. Sometimes young ones will hold so tight you can get within a few feet, and other times I think they start flushing as soon as you leave your driveway to go hunting. I have seen them in tree tops, on big round hay bales, in thick marshy cover, standing out in the wide open prairies, up in the hills, and that was all in one day in South Dakota.  Sometimes there will only be one and sometimes you might flush 100. Sometimes they all leave at once, and other times they will flush one by one, or in small groups over a few minute time frame. Sometimes a dog can point them a few feet away, and sometimes they will flush when the dog gets within 100 yards of them. Sometimes when they flush they will fly for miles completely out of sight into the horizon. Other times they might only fly fifty yards. I have taken a young dog and worked the same sharpie a half dozen times before it flew far enough away I couldn’t go right back after it. Many times they will have a sentinel out looking for danger, but sometimes you can see the sentinel and just walk right up to the entire covey without them doing anything, while other times the sentinel will take off when you barely get within rifle range. Sometimes when you try to mark where they go they will be right there when you get there, and other times they will have run a few hundred yards before you get there. On a hunting trip with my brother the last few days of the 2014 South Dakota season in late December we encountered very wild birds, and very tame birds while hunting heavily hunted public lands. Normally birds this time of year never let you get close to them. After the hunt my brother said “you know the more I hunt these birds the less I know about them, I think I understand a woman better than a sharp tail”.

For a GWP sharpies can be perfect, even for a real young dog. I like to take young dogs out during the early season to work young sharpies. Usually the young sharpies are pretty tame and will hold tight until you flush them a few times. The other thing I like about young sharpies is they usually don’t fly out of sight so you can get a young dog on them a couple times. The dogs always seem to pick them up pretty good so they must put off pretty good scent. I also like them because they are bigger than quail/chukar size birds and the young dogs can see them flying off which keeps them excited. The young birds don’t seem to be the runners like the old smart birds. If I have some young dogs I want to get on birds I will run a couple older dogs in an area first to find the birds then I will mark where some of them have gone and bring in the young dogs.

One time in South Dakota I was hunting with my brother and a friend Ryan from work in some big grasslands. I had Cruiser and Zoie running together right in the prime of their hunting lives and we worked a small canyon. Both dogs locked up in the bottom in some pretty thick stuff and I was up on a ridge a few hundred yards away watching as Ryan went in for the flush. I was expecting to see a pheasant flush or run out the bottom, but when Ryan got a few yards in front of the dogs the sky filled with sharpies. He emptied his gun without hitting anything and after I got on him about missing I told him to go release the dogs from point so they could go find something else for him to shoot at. It was a nice day and these birds were in some real thick cover down in a draw. Most of the time on nice days while we were hunting in South Dakota we would find the sharpies out in the open areas, usually on a south facing slope of any rise close to the top of the rise. It would usually take weather to drive them into the thick stuff. In my years of hunting sharpies in Wyoming it seems to be the exact opposite on most occasions, go figure.

I was out hunting one cold blowing winter day a couple seasons ago in Wyoming and a dog locked up out in the flats. I normally would have thought it was on huns, but with the wind and cold I couldn’t see the huns staying out there, they would have been tucked in somewhere out of the wind. I then thought maybe one of the white jackrabbits because I have found them to be out in the open in real bad weather. When I got about seventy-five yards from the dog I could see sharpies just standing there about thirty yards in front of the dog. They didn’t appear to be at all concerned about anything. Since this was later in the season I thought there was no chance of getting on them before they flushed, but I walked right up to within a few yards and when they flushed the strong wind pushed them back towards me for a quartering shot which I connected on. I don’t know how far these birds flew because the visibility was down to a couple hundred yards.

One other thing about sharpies is you will see them flying around for what appears to be no reason. I always say sometimes antelope take off running because antelope must just like to run. I think sharpies take off flying because they must just like to fly. My brother actually nicknamed sharpies antelope with wings because just like antelope a lot of times they seem to be watching you at a distance and you never know how close they will let you get to them.

If you take your gwp after sharpies be ready for anything, and get a good recipe to make them eatable since they can be hard to choke down.

Advertisements

Doves

Dove hunting is not a good match for a pointing dog, but you can still use your GWP as a retriever.

September 1st is the opening for dove hunting in every state I have hunted in and usually that was the first hunt of the year in the desert of southern Idaho where the dove hunting was great. I think I started dove hunting when I was around ten years old and many years when I was younger I did quite a bit to get my shooting tuned up. The one thing about dove hunting is you probably get humbled with your shooting skills. They are small and with a strong wind they can get to zinging pretty fast. For many years I started my bird hunting season with a dove shoot. I never used a dog for any reason and even the 1st couple years I had a GWP I didn’t use them for dove hunting. I tried hunting doves with GWP’s a couple times, and I just didn’t have any luck. The problem is that the doves are either flying by you while you’re sitting in a good spot or they are landed on a fence, in a tree, or on a power line. When they are actually on the ground feeding somewhere the dogs just don’t seem to pick them up. It might be the hot weather or maybe they just don’t put off any scent.  The flying birds or the ones landed on a power line are obviously not a good thing for a pointing dog. I have also hunted them along gravel roads, but the dogs didn’t seem to pick them up on the roads either unless they just sight point them.

When I was living in South Dakota me, my brother, and a few other guys had a couple great areas to hunt doves on September 1st. They always seemed to be migrating through right then and sometimes by September 5th they were almost all gone. We decided to try to use a dog for retrieving since pointing them is probably not going to happen. The pass shooting birds was going to be pretty easy. We would just have a dog heeled waiting for doves to fly by and when we shot one we would send the dog for the retrieve. The 1st dog I used was Dilly who Jodi had just force broke to retrieve and Dilly did a good job retrieving the pass shot birds. Dilly didn’t like standing around when there wasn’t any birds flying, but at least she got a bird in her mouth a few times. She did the same job as the fat labs on TV only she did it about five times as fast. The only problem with pass shooting doves is that unless you get lucky you don’t always get in a spot where you can get lots of shooting. At some point you might have to go after the ones landed on fences or power lines if you want to limit out.

My brother and I decided to use a spot and stalk approach for doves in tree groves, on fences or power lines. We have used the spot and stalk approach on all big game and even chukar and sharp tail grouse with great success. Our plan was to glass the fences and power lines until we found a dove with some cover to sneak up on them. Then we would heel the dog with us while we put the sneak on the doves. Once in a while we would spot some on the ground in a road and get within range before they took off. One of us would shoot while the other one heeled the dog and this actually seems to work pretty well. If we got within range when the dove flew off the dog would just do a stop to flush while the shooter shot the sky full of holes in hopes on hitting one of the speedy birds. Then we would send the dog for the retrieve. We ended up getting our limits most of the times we went out and it was another way to get our dogs in the field. The dogs don’t seem to have any problem finding the downed doves. Besides most of the time when we’re dove hunting we are walking around in waist high rattlesnake infested cover, and we would rather let the dogs do the work and find the birds. The dogs are just as happy packing a dove around as they are packing a grouse. Granted it isn’t as neat as watching your dog lock up on a covey of sharp tail grouse or chukars, and then anticipating the flush, but it beats leaving the dog at home during a hunting trip.

 Young untrained GWP’s probably won’t be of much value dove hunting unless they are very well behaved. If you have an older dog that likes to retrieve I think using decoys and having the dog stay beside you is the best way to use them for doves. I have used a GWP in tree groves to do spot and stalk. My brother and I had a great spot along the Cheyenne River in South Dakota with lots of cottonwoods where we could walk through the trees and shoot doves that flushed out of the tree tops. I used our dog Zoie many times on dove hunts and she was great at it. Zoie had a very good nose and would always find a downed bird. Without a dog you can lose a lot of doves because they are small and when they fall in thick cover they just disappear.

We used Zoie in our favorite area in South Dakota a few times where a group of us would all have decoys and just wait for pass shooting birds. It was a pretty big area and we could spread out and all have some shooting. Zoie was always popular with the other guys because I would bring her over to find the ones they couldn’t find. They would just say I have one over there by that bush somewhere and Zoie would find it.

How not to go big horn sheep hunting, 20 years anniversary

In the spring of 1993 my hunting partner for the previous three big game seasons and I decided it was time to go after big horn sheep. I’ll not name the partner and just call him Bob because he probably will never forgive me for my bad plan on sheep hunting. We decided to apply for a big horn sheep tag in Idaho where we were both living, he was an import from Oregon and I was a native. The odds of drawing a tag in an area with a good chance of getting a sheep at that time were slim to none. There was one area in the Frank Church Wilderness area where we hunted elk that did offer a high success rate of drawing a tag, but a low success rate of harvesting a sheep. This area had some sheep, but it was very rugged and remote. You would have to walk around twenty miles from where you park your vehicle just to get to the areas to hunt sheep since the Wilderness area is road less, and no motorized vehicles can drive in the wilderness area. Bob and I were in our twenties, and in excellent physical shape. Bob grew up in Joseph, Oregon climbing up and down large mountains in the Hells Canyon area, and Blue Mountain range, with ease.  I haven’t seen anybody that could come close to keeping up with him if he wanted to do some serious climbing. Even though I couldn’t hang with him if he really wanted to go climbing, I could go up and down big mountains quite easily. When we got ready to apply my cousin, we’ll call him Jim, asked if he could apply as well. In the early eighties Jim was a good athlete in high school, but married life, kids, and good eating had changed his body shape just a bit. Bob wasn’t excited about having someone in less than perfect physical shape hunting with us, but Jim was going to get in shape and go with us if we drew. We applied and we all drew tags for the hunt.

The hunt started on August 30th and that gave us four months to get in the best shape possible, and to scout the area for sheep. I’m a private pilot and at the time I was flying quite regularly. Before we started walking we flew the area a few times. All we saw from the air were huge herds of elk. On our first scouting trip we realized this was not going to be a walk in the park. I went on a couple four-day trips by myself and found some sheep, but not any big rams. We could only shoot a mature ram and all I was seeing was young rams with the ewes and lambs. On these scouting trips I started to come up with a plan on how to get us in to the sheep areas and get us and hopefully a couple rams out of the sheep areas. The main problem was that the sheep spent most of the time on top of the mountain where there wasn’t any water. The sheep could go up and down the mountain to get a drink, or they knew where small springs were, but it would take us a full day to make a round trip from the top of the mountain range to the bottom to get water. We would need to carry enough water to support us while we hunted on top the mountain. The easiest and best way to do this hunt was to fly into one of the dirt airstrips on the middle fork of the Salmon River and have an outfitter pack our camp and water to the top of the mountain. The outfitter would come back and get us when we got a sheep. This would have cost around $1000.00 dollars. That seemed like too much to spend, but looking back I spent a lot more than that before I got done hunting for a sheep. There wasn’t any water at the top of the mountain so we couldn’t use our good saddle horses without taking them up and down the mountain every day to water them, and using up a lot of hunting time. That’s when I came up with a hair-brained idea. I thought we could use a couple of Jim’s donkeys to pack our camp and water up the mountain. Then we could just turn the donkeys loose and let them fend for themselves. The saddle horses were worth a couple thousand dollars, but we could get donkeys for $50.00. Most of the time if a saddle horse gets loose in the mountains it will either go back to the last place it spent the night or back the to the horse trailer. I thought the donkeys might go back the trailer, but they would probably just go down the mountain to the river and hang out there. Then we could get them if needed. Worst case they end up becoming somebody else’s animal, or maybe a predator kills them and we weren’t out too much money. The horse trailer was going to be close to 25 miles from where we were going to be hunting. If we got lucky and got a sheep we could just go looking for the donkeys hoping they were within a few miles. Then we would take them back to the sheep to pack it out. Someone should have shot me when I brought this idea up.

On August 28th I met Cousin Jim at his place and we went to load up two of his donkeys, Fetus, and Mary Lou. The trip started with us spending way too much time loading the stubborn beasts into the horse trailer. From there we headed to the trail head to camp for the night. We were going to spend all day on August 29th packing into the area to hunt and be ready for the opening on August 30th. Each of us would have a backpack that weighed around sixty-five pounds, and the two donkeys would have around eighty pounds on their backs.

The morning of the 29th came and we were packed and ready to start hiking around 4 A.M. Jim had a large roll of salami and he put that on one of the donkeys. I told him if he was going to carry that into bear country with us he would have to sleep a long way from us. He brought it anyway. The hike was going all right for the first couple hours and then we hit the first obstacle. It was a creek about one foot wide and one inch deep going across the trial. The donkeys refused to cross. After a long battle, some pushing and of course plenty of cussing the animals crossed. All the way they did the same thing at every creek and we crossed a dozen or so by noon. Then we hit an even bigger challenge. This was a bridge about forty feet wide if I recall across a deep ravine. I have to admit it was a bit intimidating, but by looking at the donkeys you would have thought we were tossing them right into a volcano in an animal sacrifice ritual. All the extra activity involved in getting the donkeys through the areas they didn’t like had slowed us down, and tired us out quite a bit. At this point we have walked over seven hours and we are about one third of the way to our destination. Bob and I were starting to have our doubts about arriving for the opening day. This was a good place to fill our water jugs and we kept going in hopes of arriving at the lookout by night. We spent quite a while climbing to the top of the ridge dividing sheep creek and the middle fork of the Salmon River. When we got to the top of the mountain we could see the Thomas creek airstrip far below, and by now it was late afternoon. This is the time of day when you usually get a thunderstorm in the high country, and we did get drenched for a few minutes. We were so hot and tired we didn’t even put our rain gear on. By now it’s early evening and we’re still walking along the ridge and we have drank all our water. The trail finally started down the slope into the middle fork and we decided to camp the first place we found water, which was a ways down the hill and right at pitch dark around 9 P.M. We took off our packs, pumped some water through our filters and tired to find a place to pitch our tents. There wasn’t any place flat enough to get a tent to keep from just rolling off the shale rock covered mountain. I wedged my tent against a fallen tree and Bob found a small depression to get his tent to sit somewhat flat. I’m not sure if Jim even pitched a tent or if he just slept sitting up against a tree. Jim was looking real bad. It was probably a combination of being out of shape and the altitude, but when we went to sleep I thought he was looking pale. I was just plain tired so I slept even if it was very uncomfortable.

The morning of the 30th, opening day, found us still a long way from a sheep in our hunting area, and Jim looked like he was literally going to die. We decided to get down to the airstrip and put a call into the airport where Jim’s brother worked and have somebody come retrieve Jim. We packed up the donkeys and ourselves and headed down the mountain. At the bottom was a ranch that sits right in the middle of the wilderness area and I was told it was owned by some casino in Las Vegas. There is some private land in the wilderness areas that was grandfathered because it was owned before the wilderness designation. The ranch foreman placed a call on a two way radio to get Jim picked up at the strip. After a couple hours of poor radio communications the people on the other end had the directions and we headed down river to the dirt air strip to leave Jim for the night. We had to cross the Middle Fork of the Salmon River on a narrow bridge, and the donkeys fought hard to avoid the crossing. Once we got across the river we walked right into a nest of rattlesnakes. I really don’t like rattlesnakes, but the donkeys seemed to dislike them even more than me. Somehow the snakes didn’t manage to bite any of us or the donkeys and we went on our way. It was mid afternoon when we left Jim at the airstrip. We went up river a mile or so and camped for the night. This was the start of the trial up the mountain to the lookout where we wanted to start hunting, and we would get an early start for the hike in the morning. This ended up being a very unproductive day for us even though we still walked a few miles and fought with the donkeys.
Day three started way before sunrise. We got the donkeys loaded and ourselves loaded. Festus was carrying water for us in collapsible plastic containers. We had all the expensive stuff on our backs. About half way up the hill just at daylight we heard a pack of coyotes start yipping down below us and when we looked down we could see Jim’s tent far below them on the airstrip. In about another half hour a plane circled and landed. We were too far up the mountain to see if Jim was loaded or not, but we assumed he was loaded. The plane took off and we were kind of wishing we were on it as well since the trip had not got going like we wanted. When we talked to Jim later he told us he woke up in the night with his tent laying on him. A yearling size black bear was wrestling around with him and his tent. He said after he threw the bear the roll of salami it didn’t bother him anymore.

It’s now midmorning and this is when Mary Lou decided she wanted to quit. Without any warning she just fell off the side of the trial and started rolling down the mountain like she had been shot. After she stopped rolling I ran down a pulled the packsaddle off of her. She got up and looked fine, but I thought she must have been over worked or something else was wrong with her. We decided to just let her loose and split up her load between the two of us and Festus. We hid the saddle in some bushes and left her standing there on the side of the mountain. We headed onward and Festus didn’t seem to miss Mary Lou at all. He was actually being a good pack animal. When we got about three fourths of the way up the mountain we finally saw a sheep. It was a single ewe just running around on a big bald mountain like she was nuts or something. Nothing was chasing her and we couldn’t figure out why she was running around like that, but she must have had her reasons. Shortly after that we saw a herd of elk with a young rag horn bull so we were getting optimistic about actually seeing some more wildlife, hopefully a couple large male sheep.

We stopped around noon in a shady area with some nice looking green grass for Festus. We went ahead and unloaded the load from Festus, but left his packsaddle on him. I was just holding him while he munched down a pile of grass. All of a sudden he raised his head, his ears went up, he looked around, let out an eeee-honk, and he took off down the trail pulling me along behind. I couldn’t get him turned and I fell down, but I didn’t let loose until he had dragged me a few feet. This was unbelievable. The trail was visible about every two hundred yards for a mile or so as it snaked through the small canyons, and we could see Festus just kept going until he was out of sight for good way down the mountain. Now we had Mary Lou running around loose somewhere, and Festus running around with a packsaddle, halter, and lead rope dragging. Of course we’re twenty some miles from the trial head or any road for that matter so we didn’t have any idea where the donkeys might end up if they survived the bears and mountain lions. We both just sat there in utter amazement for a few minutes. After arguing in frustration about what to do we decided to just bag the trip and head back to the trial head and go home. In hind sight we should have continued on to the sheep area which actually wasn’t far away and left the donkeys. Anyway we started back down the trial with an even bigger load since we now had everything Festus had that wasn’t water, which we just poured on the ground. I guess we each had around 100 pounds on our backs. It was mid afternoon by the time we got to the place where Mary Lou fell off the trail. Mary Lou was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t want to leave the packsaddle there so I loaded it on the back of my backpack with the rest of the load. I’m not even sure how much weight I had on my back, and it wasn’t that stable either considering the pack saddle fits nicely on an animal not on an already full backpack. When we got almost to the bottom we saw Festus coming back up the trial. He walked right up to us like nothing was wrong. We loaded him up and made it back down to the trial head around dark. To sum up day three we got up and left camp around 4 A.M., climbed a big mountain with heavy packs, walked back down the mountain with heavier packs, and quit walking at 8 P.M.

Day four started with us sleeping in until daylight around 6 A.M. We decided to not go back to the trial head the way we came. We were going to walk the middle fork of the Salmon River from the Thomas creek airstrip up to the rapid river and then walk it up to the pickup parked at the top of the rapid river. I wanted to check and see if Mary Lou was down river by the airstrip before we took off and left her for the predators to eat. When we got back down to the strip we saw a couple more sheep hunters waiting to get hauled out. They hadn’t seen any sheep, and had physically blown themselves out in one day of hunting, but they had seen Mary Lou. She was standing on the side of the mountain further up the mountain from where we left her.  Bob and I had left our guns back up stream at the place where we had camped because I guess we were just tired of carrying them around for no reason. I told the one guy since I didn’t have a gun to shoot her for me. He wouldn’t shoot her, and he wouldn’t let me use his gun to shoot her either. This meant I was going to have to go get her. We went back up river, got Festus, and I started back up the trial. I was hoping she would see Festus and come down to see him. Festus and I walked on the trial until we were about a 100 yards directly below her. She was just standing on a shale rock chute that was pretty steep. I tied Festus up to a scrubby little sagebrush, and headed up to her. When I got to her she wouldn’t’ move. I tried to pull her, but I couldn’t get her to move. When I got above her I could push her and little by little I got her pushed down the hill almost causing and avalanche of shale rocks in the process. Once she got close to Festus she got excited, started baying, and then Festus pulled the sagebrush out of the ground and they both headed down the trial at a fast run. Bob was down below watching the entertainment, and he managed to catch them before they took off up or down the river.

By the time we got ready to start hiking again it was around 11 A.M. We decided to just put a saddle on Mary Lou and nothing else since she didn’t seem to want to go, again even though she had just ran like a gazelle. We tied her lead rope to the back of Festus’s packsaddle and let him pull her around. Bob was in the front and I was behind the two donkeys when we started off for another walk about. After about an hour of hiking Bob makes a jump off the trial on to a rock and yells snake. A rattlesnake was coming down the trial and went right through the donkey’s legs sending them into a frantic dance. It then headed my way and I jumped up on a rock and clung to it like spider man as it slithered on by me. We saw a few more snakes that day, but none were rattlesnakes.  We walked at a good pace all day with little to slow us down. A few places the trial was washed out and if you fell off the trial you would probably only stop when you hit the whitewater in the river. The donkey didn’t like these places, but they went through them. The last few hours of the day I was in the lead and Festus seemed to think I wasn’t going fast enough. He kept running into the back of my backpack knocking me forward each time. My feet weren’t blistered, but they were really sore from all the walking for the last few days with a heavy pack, and I just couldn’t go any faster. We ended up getting to where the Rapid River meets the Middle Fork of the Salmon right at dark and we camped there for the night.

Day five started with us heading up the Rapid River. We thought we could get to the pickups by noon. Bob mentioned bear season was open so we would see a bear and I had a bear tag. Half an hour later Bob stopped and said there’s a bear. It was nice size jet black one right across the river from us, and the donkeys hadn’t seen or smelled it yet. It took off straight up a huge mountain, with no cover to hide it anywhere all the way up the mountain. Even though my rifle was strapped to the back of my pack and the shells were in my pack somewhere I knew I could get loaded and shoot it before it was over the top of the mountain. I got a good rest and squeezed the trigger with the bear about two hundred yards up the hill. I was expecting to see a bear rolling back down the mountain, instead Bob said “I have no idea where you hit.” The bear took off a little faster, and I fired again when it stopped at about three hundred yards. Bob said I was hitting way high. I had already taken into account the steepness of the mountain, and I was just baffled as to why I was missing. I lowered the cross hairs again and shot when it was about 400 yards out and Bob said still hitting high. I was now out of shells since I had only grabbed three, thinking I would only need one, and I started digging through the pack again. Bob offered me his gun, but that would have been too easy. I found a couple more shells and shot again at about five hundred yards; still high was Bob’s response. I was holding way below the bear by now, and still shooting over it. One more shot at around six hundred yards which was actually only a couple feet high and the bear got into a little draw that hid him from us. He was only about half way up the mountain at that point, and popped back out at around 1000 yards, but I had already given up on getting that rug tanned. Bob said he had never seen me miss a shot at a big game animal, and was surprised I didn’t get the bear, but it was par for the trip.

We kept going up the canyon without much excitement for another hour or so and then we saw a massive yellow pine tree lying across the trial. That summer when I was researching trials the forest service people told me many of the trials had fallen trees and were impassable. This was the first tree we had encountered in our hiking exercise over the last 4 ½ days. The mountain was too steep to go above the tree and around it with the donkeys. We looked down and it was around fifty yards to the river, but it was too steep to go down and back up. After surveying the situation for a few minutes we thought we could go down the steep bank to the river, walk right in the river on the edge for a couple hundred yards, and then make it up a bank that didn’t look too steep. We barely made it down without the donkeys crashing. When we got to the spot we wanted to climb up it was much steeper that it looked from a distance and we would have to navigate a near vertical fifteen foot embankment beside it. Bob climbed up and said the trial was right there and if we could make it up the short steep slope beside the embankment we were home free. Mary Lou was still tied to Festus and this proved to be a mistake. I headed up the hill leading Festus and he was doing great. He was really digging in climbing and almost to the crest when Mary Lou just stopped climbing. This jerked Festus over backwards when Mary Lou’s rope got tight. I turned around to see Festus flying backwards off the side of the embankment with all four feet straight in the air. Mary Lou was flying sideways off the embankment with him. They both fell about fifteen feet and Festus landed right on his back in a swampy willow patch. Mary Lou managed to land on her feet. Festus was lying there unable to move because the packsaddle and his entire load were stuck in the mud underneath him. I ran down the hill and got the cinch on the saddle loosened and got Festus rolled over on his feet. He didn’t look too worse for wear considering he had just had an impressive crash. After we dug the saddle out I told Bob my expensive spotting scope was on the very top of the pack, which in turn was the very bottom when Festus landed. The soft spotting scope case was covered in mud and I didn’t even look at it until I got home. I just knew the way the trip was going it was destroyed, but when I later checked it there was no damaged at all. Bob and I ended up packing the saddles and the rest of Festus’s load up the hill to the trail. We were able to get the two of them up the hill without any load. We put the saddle and his load back on Festus and away we went on up the trail.

About half an hour later we saw another big tree across the trail up ahead. We stopped and thought we heard something and it appeared the tree was shaking. That’s when we noticed there were a couple guys with a saw cutting it in half. We got up there and they had a long two-person handsaw because you can’t have power equipment in the wilderness area. They were employed by the forest service to clear trails. The first thing they asked was if we had come from the Middle Fork, and I replied yes. Then in a depressed voice the one guy asked how many more trees across the trial are there between here and the middle fork? We said there was one back down the trial. The said just one and started giving each other high fives and they got extremely happy. At this point I asked how many more trees were on the trail between us and sheep creek where we had turned off the trail a few days before. They said hundreds of trees had fallen over the trail. They had been working on them for a couple weeks. In some places they just had to make a new trail and go up around the fallen trees. I’m not sure what we would have done if the trail was not clear.

The rest of the way back was pretty uneventful until about five hundred yards from the pickups. We were getting ready to go through some rock cliff areas and the donkeys stopped and refused to take another step. They had their ears up and looked like they had sensed something up ahead. I looked around expecting to see a mountain lion in the rocks or maybe a bear down along the creek. They just kept looking up the trail and wouldn’t move. I said I’d go see if something is up here to scare them. I didn’t even bother to take my gun off the back of my backpack and after I walked up and down the trail a couple times the donkeys finally decided it was safe to go onward. I’m sure either a mountain lion or bear was in the area, and the donkeys had smelled it, but it probably felt sorry for me and just left the area when it saw me. We got back to the pickup mid-afternoon and the donkeys were a lot easier to load this time. I think they anticipated going home and didn’t want to annoy us anymore. When I finally go home I just laid around for three days before I did much of anything. When I went to check my rifle it was indeed shooting way high. I think Festus’s forehead banging on it might have had an effect on the accuracy of the scope. I flew back in with my flight instructor a couple times and ended up spending sixteen more days hunting by myself. I saw plenty of sheep and one that might have been legal, but it wasn’t big enough for me to pack out by myself.

Chukar

Chukar hunting is probably my most favorite hunting ever. I’m not sure if it is the country they usually live in or the physical limits you surpass chasing them up and down steep rocky canyons. Most of the time at the end of a few days of chukar hunting both man and dog are beat into the ground. I loved doing it while I was a teenager, and it was still easy in my twenties. In my thirties it was a workout, and now in my fifties, it’s just hard to try and do what I did thirty-five years ago, but I’ll keep doing it until I can’t climb hills anymore. Of course there are pen raised chukar to hunt on many hunting preserves, but that falls into the chukar killing, and not chukar hunting in my mind.

chukar country
Many canyons in chukar country look like this one. My dog Hoover was on point down in here and it took 20 minutes just to get close to him.

The first time I can remember anything about a chukar was when I was probably six years old. Most of the family on my mother’s side would go to a deer camp in southern Idaho near the Idaho/Nevada border. The families had all tagged out and loaded up the horses for the trip down a rough dirt road back to home. During this extremely bumpy slow drive across the sagebrush flats all of a sudden all the trucks abruptly stopped. Everybody was running around digging through the gun cases like they had just seen Bigfoot and was going to tag him. Someone said look at all the chukar. I didn’t have any idea what a chukar was, but soon enough they were flushing and guns were blazing. I can’t remember if anyone got any or how long they chased them, but seeing the excitement on the grown-ups faces left me thinking I want to go chukar hunting someday. The deer camp area was twenty miles from any good chukar hunting areas, but I wouldn’t learn that until I finally decided to hunt that area thirty years after that deer hunting trip.

It wasn’t until I was twelve or thirteen before I got to go on a chukar hunt. One of my buddies was old enough to get a driver’s license which opened up a vast new world of hunting for me. In my pre driving years if I couldn’t walk from our house or ride my horse to a hunting spot it didn’t exist. Three of us decided to make a forty mile drive to the north of where we grew up and find some chukar. The buddy with the license had been chukar hunting with his dad many times and had some areas to hunt. They used German Shorthairs or English Pointers, I can’t remember for sure, but they were not world class birds dogs I do remember that because they did lots of long range flushing. My buddies came by my house before daylight in an early seventies ¾ ton standard cab Chevy 4X4 pickup, 4 speed, 454 engine, with dogs running loose in the back, and the three of us with our guns and daypacks filling the cab. Times sure were much different back then. Wow do I like the modern fuel efficient mega cab pickups of today better than those rigs, and I like my dogs in the front with me or in a kennel. The road into the area was rough, really rough, just nothing but lava rock and a little dirt once in a while. I’ve been on that road many times over the years and it’s the worst road you will ever drive on, but most good chukar hunting areas are at the end of a long rough road. When we did arrive at the very deep steep walled canyon where the chukar supposedly lived I thought this looks crazy, and like a good place for rattlesnakes. I had never seen a rattlesnake on our ranch, just lots of bull snakes, but I didn’t like any snakes. I would learn chukar hunting is also a great way to find rattlesnakes, but I didn’t find any that day. The one lasting impression I had from the long day of chukar hunting was listening to the chukars talk trash to us from the other side of the canyon after we had chased them with poor results all day. The dogs were not good, and we thought we could chase chukar up hill and catch up with them. I don’t think many people can do this. They run up hill like a cheetah, and just when you think you have them close to shooting range they will make a fast flight all the way back down to the bottom of the canyon, and start running up the other side. Some of these canyons can take all day to go from one rim to the other rim.

I started hunting them without dogs as a teenager with a couple other teenage buddies, and we were pretty successful by using a call to locate them, and then getting above them for a stalk. They always seem to fly downhill and run up hill. Our young legs, and uneducated minds were a perfect match for chasing chukar all day, and we would usually always limit out. Of course we were into hundreds of chukar in areas where most normal hunters just looked through binoculars from miles away at the secluded country we were hunting. On one hunting trip in mid-October I did end up in a small rocky crevice that was probably a rattlesnake den area. There were rattlesnakes everywhere buzzing and I don’t know how I didn’t get bit that time. We hunted mostly in south central Idaho close to home, but we did make a few trips to the Snake River in the Hells Canyon on the Idaho side. Everywhere I went chukar hunting was hard physical work and I didn’t think there was any other way to hunt them.

After my four years in the Air Force I returned to Idaho and did a lot of big game hunting, but I still kept going after chukar and other upland game, with an occasional duck shoot in the mix. A guy I worked with had a German Shorthair that wasn’t too bad of a bird dog, (actually pointed things) and the dog did help us find chukar when we started hunting southwestern Idaho, and southeastern Oregon to go along with Hells Canyon.

I was starting to think there has to be another way to get these dumb birds besides just trying to out physical them, but I hadn’t figured it out yet. I remember one time while working on my hunting rig at my mechanic buddies shop (I tore up a lot of vehicles hunting) talking to an old timer about chukar hunting. This guy was in his eighties and still hunting chukar. He was hard core and had been using Brittany’s all his life. He told lots of great stories, and he said he had figured out how to hunt them without climbing up and down all day long. That helped him get twenty extra years of chukar hunting. He said he probably wasn’t going to go after them the next hunting season because in his words “because of too many bad hips”. I asked him if he would draw me a map of some of his close by areas since he wasn’t going to hunt anymore and he replied “NOPE find your own spots”. I laughed out loud at him because I would have responded the same way. This was still a few years before I got my 1st GWP, but I was starting to think a really good dog might be worth it for hunting chukar.

When I got Cruiser, and at the end of his 1st hunting season when he was around ten months old everything really clicked for him as a hunting dog. I had some good chukar areas within a few miles of my house and there were huns and sage grouse on the flats below the chukar. From talking to the old timer a few years earlier I had decided the best way to hunt the areas was to get Jodi to follow me out with the car. We would park the car six to eight miles from where I wanted to start hunting on the mountain. Then Jodi would ride up the hill with me and drop me a Cruiser off and then drive the pickup back to the car leaving the pickup for us and she could continue on with her day. This worked great. I had a couple times I got into some hairy situations in the rock cliffs, but it was way less physical walking down the hill or on pretty flat land all day than it was walking up the hill. Cruiser would run up and down and all around, but I just kept going mostly down. One time on a chukar hunt I watched Cruiser go over the ridge a couple hundred yards ahead of me and not come out anywhere. When I peeked over a large lava rock there was Cruiser standing with chukar milling all around him. My first thought was why are those chukars not scared of Cruiser? Then one of them saw me, probably scratching my head in confusion, and they all burst into the air. I got one and Cruiser happily retrieved it. A couple weeks later I had another situation just like this happen and I was able to see why the chukar got close. Cruiser had pointed a covey below him with the wind coming up hill, and the chukar didn’t know he was there and they just fed up the hill getting all around him. Over the years there have been quite a few times I have watched dogs on solid point not be seen by wild game even when the game gets close. These chukar had been hunted a lot and were very wild, but I guess they didn’t realize Cruiser wasn’t a rock or they didn’t care. Cruiser and I had many successful chukar hunting trips his first couple seasons, and I started to go to some new areas in Northern Nevada, and other parts of Idaho I hadn’t hunted before. It didn’t take me long to realize hunting with a good hunting dog would greatly increase your chances of getting chukar. I wonder how many more birds I didn’t see in the years prior to getting a GWP.

Oliver on chukar in Oregon.

Oliver on chukar in Oregon.

On one trip I decided to go where the family had seen the chukar three decades before. I knew the general area where they must have found the chukar, and when I got there I had no idea why there would have been chukar there on that mid-October evening so many years ago.  I could within easy eye sight see the deep canyon lands twenty miles to the southwest in northern Nevada that are still home to a good population of chukar, but this was out in the flat desert without any rock canyons. When I got to the really rough dirt road off of the just rough dirt road leading to deer camp a few miles away I turned Cruiser loose and followed him in the Suburban. He had a couple points on sage grouse, but no chukar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the chukar my family found were the last ones in that area ever. It just wasn’t good chukar country. After a morning run I headed to the west and some deep canyons where chukar should live. I had one other hunting buddy with me and we drove to the end of a miserable road before we started hunting. I turned Cruiser loose and he locked up about fifty yards from the Suburban. We got in position and about fifteen of the biggest, fattest chukar you will ever see were on the rocks ten yards in front of him. Cruiser had been in many field trials by now, and these chukar were acting like pen raised birds. My buddy looked at me a shrugged his shoulders. I said they sure are tame and we got real close before they flushed. My buddy shot a couple and I watched Cruiser to make sure he stayed broke. After I sent him for the retrieve my buddy said they only flew about two hundred yards and landed right up on top of the ridge. Cruiser found them again and once again my buddy shot two. This time the rest headed way down the canyon. Chukar that haven’t been hunted will give you a couple easy chances, but after they have been hunted easy and chukar don’t often get used in the same sentence. In heavily hunted areas by the end of the season even the best dogs will struggle to get any pointed and if they do get a point most of the time it will be over fifty yards out.

Sometimes the ride to the chukar hunting spot is more of an adventure than the hunt. Birdie and Ralphie had 5 miles and two hours in the cage to get to this spot, but they did just fine riding along the bumpy road.

Sometimes the ride to the chukar hunting spot is more of an adventure than the hunt. Birdie and Ralphie had 5 miles and two hours in the cage to get to this spot, but they did just fine riding along the bumpy road.

One of the winters, I think 2001-2002 in Idaho we got a couple bigger snow storms in the areas I hunt chukar. Normally the snow is not too deep and it will melt quickly on the rocky south facing slopes providing some open ground for the chukar to feed. That year it was just too deep up in the canyons and the chukar started to gather in very large groups and head way down into the flat sagebrush areas. I found some while looking for huns one afternoon and I decided to try the flats with some other chukar hunting buddies. When we got to the spot I said they are right out in that big basin. They all looked at me a laughed. I couldn’t convince them to go for a walk with me so I said I’ll turn a couple of my dogs loose and we’ll just drive around until they find them. They agreed to this with some more you are crazy comments. After a few minutes both dogs were on point close to the crest of a small rock pile in a flat area. I told the guys I’ll bet there are a million chukar on the other side of the rocks. Well there wasn’t a million, but the four of us jumped what we later thought was around five hundred chukar in an area no bigger than ten acres. We all got some shooting in and the dogs got a few retrieves. The birds all flew a least a few hundred yards down the gently sloping hills, but we knew where to go find them again. Since driving the Suburban and watching dogs had worked so well we decided to do it again. Over the course of the day we just kept getting on large covey after large covey. At some point we were probably jumping the same birds again, but it was the least amount of walking I ever had to do chukar hunting. One of the guys said it really wasn’t hunting because the dogs did all the work and all we did was drive around and walk a short distance to them on point. I can’t think of an easier hunt, (or should I say shoot) than that day. I have yet to get into any other circumstances where the snow and big populations of chukar on public lands have come together to provide an opportunity like that one.

When I moved to South Dakota for five years close chukar hunting was not an option. While South Dakota has plenty of upland bird hunting, chukar to my knowledge don’t exist in South Dakota. I made a few trips each year back to Idaho or Nevada to chase them around. One trip to Idaho I took four dogs including a young bitch named Wanda who I really liked. I had been hunting the prairies in South Dakota and the dogs were in good shape for the flat lands, but not great shape for chukar canyons. The second day out we went to the exact canyon where I had my very first chukar hunt decades before. Even though my chukar hunting buddies from Idaho said it was a bad year for chukar I knew they would be in the area. I took off across the lava rock close to the top of the canyon with Wanda and we got a lot farther from the 4-wheelers than I wanted before we found our first covey. I got one and Wanda was fired up, but I had made a bad mistake. Her pads were getting worn quickly in the lava rock, and I had forgotten my bicycle intertubes I used for booties. Very seldom do I have any issues with blown pads, and I seldom use anything to protect the pads. This area is beyond brutal on feet, both man and dog, and hard to explain until you have experienced it. Now I carry duct tape that works good if I think there is a chance for blown pads. At this point Wanda and I are on the top of a big cliff looking into a huge steep vertical walled canyon trying to figure out how to get down to the bottom of the canyon and on to the cattle trail so we could walk back to the 4-wheelers. I got on the radio and told my brother and hunting partner who were a couple miles on the other side of the canyon I was going to be coming up the trail and would need to get Wanda loaded in the 4-wheeler because of her feet. While Wanda and I were making our way through a large boulder field of jagged rocks she went on point. I jumped a few chukar and got one that landed in a rock pile. She was able to get in and get it and even though she was all fired up I could tell she was a hurting unit. I got to a flat spot and checked her pads. Every one of them was bleeding pretty badly, and all I had was my own first aid kit. I wrapped her feet in gauze and alethic tape and put her on a lead for the rest of the trip to the bottom. At least they probably didn’t get worse that way. When we got to the bottom she stood in the creek for a few minutes, and then the chukar started talking trash up above us. She took off up the hill after them, and it took me some hollering to get her to come back. It was well after dark before the two of us made it back to the 4-wheeler and her hunting trip was over.

When we moved to our current location in Wyoming some of the locals told me chukar did live in Wyoming, but they were in rough country. My first though was how rough? It can’t be worse than some of the areas in Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada I had hunted them in the past. Well the first couple places they sent me were actually pretty nasty, and all the dogs found were some blue grouse in the sparse timber areas. I hunted one entire season without finding a chukar in a few areas where they were supposed to be living. I did find some areas to hunt blue grouse and a good elk area. Then I thought this just doesn’t look like as good of chukar habitat as say over there ten miles away from here. The next season I didn’t listen to any of the locals and I started hunting for chukar in areas that looked like chukar country to me and I started finding small coveys here and there, but nothing too big. The last couple seasons I have located a few good populations. I do think the chukar here in Wyoming are a more fragile population than some of the other western states. Even with the over hunting some of the areas in Oregon and Idaho experience the winters there are not as brutal as they can be here in Wyoming. The winters here can get a lot worse than other states for the upland population. The second winter here in Wyoming we had a long very cold spell, with lots of wind, snow and below zero temperatures. After the storm I went hunting for huns in an area and the dog I had retrieved five dead huns that still looked completely healthy. I think they simply froze to death and the scavengers hadn’t found them yet. I’m not a bird biologist, but I think the huns can handle more wet and cold than chukar, and these huns were close to some good chukar areas so I think the chukar were probably dead as well. The last couple winters have been fairly mild, but the summers have been dry and this summer it is very dry. I think the chukar will do fine because there has been a good bug crop so far and chukar don’t mind flying many vertical feet nearly straight down to get a drink and then walk back up the mountain feeding all day.

A couple things to think about with chukar hunting with your GWP are the time of year you go hunting and how well of physical condition you and the dog are in. If you go hunting in September or early October chances are you will be in very hot dry conditions, and maybe not close to any water sources for the dogs. There are chances you will heat stroke your dog if you don’t choose a spot with water they can get into for a cool down. This is one time I think the size and color of a GWP actually makes a difference. I had a big solid liver male named Harry years ago and if the temperature was below forty degrees he was an awesome hunting dog. If it was hot and dry he just couldn’t perform without overheating. I know of guys with large darker colored GWP’s that have had them die of heat stroke during an early season chukar hunt. A smaller lighter colored dog will be able to handle the heat better. That is not to say they won’t have overheating issues as well if they don’t get into plenty of water. Another thing is rattlesnakes. I HATE rattlesnakes. If you go early in the season expect to see rattlesnakes. I can’t think of a single public land chukar hunting area in any of the western states that doesn’t have rattlesnakes. My ideal time to take a GWP chukar hunting is when it gets cold enough to freeze at night and if it does get warm during the day it isn’t until late afternoon. You can get out early and hunt a few hours before it get hot.

Anyone who hasn’t gone on a chukar hunt in the big canyon lands out west needs to put it on their bucket list. Just make sure you have your boots laced up tight, and your dogs are properly prepared.

Coyotes

If you are born in Idaho a few decades ago on a ranch you start your life not liking coyotes.  I think after the nurse gets done slapping you around the next thing she will do is show you a picture of a gun and a dead coyote. Coyotes are just not liked by hunters or ranchers. I think the main reason is no one seems to be able to exterminate them like they did with the wolves a hundred years ago (only to see the wolves reintroduced and protected). Simply put coyotes are great at surviving right next to people, or way away from people. They are very good hunters and I’ve watched a pack take down a large healthy mule deer even though the deer was much bigger than any of the coyotes. They prey on about anything domestic from younger cattle, down to house cats, and of course the family dog. Growing up we witnessed a single coyote lure one of our dogs over the hill only to have the pack waiting to kill it. We had a few dogs disappear and I think this strategy worked well for the coyotes and bad for our ranch dogs. The coyotes seem to find plenty of stuff to eat in the spring and summer, but the winter is the time you will most likely have issues with them eating Fluffy or Fido. I spent a lot of time hunting coyotes in my younger days.

When it comes to hunting with a GWP coyotes can always become an issue. In the winter when the coyotes are hungrier they will actively seek out your dog while you are hunting and if there is an opportunity they might go after them. I have not had a dog killed by coyotes yet (I have had one was killed by a wolf) but I have had some close calls with coyotes. One thing that I have noticed is the coyotes rarely go after two dogs even if the coyotes are in a pack, but even a single coyote will go after one dog if you are hunting with just one dog.  I’m not sure why this is, but I have noticed it many times. If you have a young GWP and it comes across a coyote scent it will most likely take off tracking it. I don’t use my e-collars often, but if I know the dog is tracking a coyote I will use the collar as a deterrent.

The first encounter with coyotes was on a chukar hunting trip with Cruiser when he was about ten months old. This was the days before I had tracking collars, or e-collars and Cruiser was starting to run pretty big. One time I remember seeing him way down below me probably 600 yards away rolling across the flats and then I saw five coyotes starting to circle him. I whistled and called but he didn’t turn, when I shot my shot gun in the air he stopped, but didn’t come back. Four of the coyotes took off at the shot (ones that had probably been shot at by other hicks like me). I shot three more times and the other coyote took off and Cruiser came back. That week I bought the gun I still use mostly today while hunting with my dogs, a double barrel 223 Rem, 20 gauge combo over and under. It has been very useful over the years shooting, skunks, porcupines, and coyotes at a distance while running dogs before my dogs can get involved.

The worst time to deal with coyotes is in the spring around March to May when they have the litters in the dens. The male and female will both go after a GWP and even take on a couple dogs. They get very protective of their young like most wild animals. I had many encounters when I was training and conditioning dogs for field trials and running in the spring. One trip in Idaho I was running Cruiser off the horse and he was on the ridge on one side of a small canyon while I was riding the ridge on the other side. Somewhere in the canyon below us there must have been a coyote den because the male coyote was running up the hill at Cruiser and didn’t seem mind I was yelling at Cruiser to come. Cruiser didn’t even know he was being tracked and he came running over with the coyote right on his heels. I jumped off the horse and I only had a blank gun to fire in the air. About all that did was scare my horse. I grabbed Cruisers collar and the coyote stood with its hackles up growling at about ten yards. I had been within a couple feet of coyotes when I used predator calls to call them in, but never an aggressive one that close. I was able to lead the horse and Cruiser out without having the coyote come any closer. I started packing some kind of real gun after that and I had quite a few times when I had to direct the dogs away from coyotes I could see at a distance during the spring training sessions.

One day Cruiser and I got into two different pairs of denning coyotes. The 1st pair I watched Cruiser working a small rock ledge about two hundred yards out and then I noticed a coyote in the rocks below and just ahead of him. I bailed off my horse and got my 9mm pistol out. By the time I got ready to shot in the air Cruiser was a few feet above the coyote and they were in a stare down. I shot once in the air and the other coyote come out of the den and both of them took off running across the desert. Obviously these coyotes had been shot at before. We made a turn away from that spot and after I had ran Cruiser about two more miles I could see another coyote sitting on a rock watching Cruiser running through the shallow draw below. About the time I was thinking of getting off the horse the coyote took off like a bullet towards Cruiser. By the time I got on the ground I looked up just in time to see the coyote T-bone Cruiser and both of them went rolling down the hill in a cloud of dust. I was shooting in the air by then and the coyote took off one direction and Cruiser didn’t even seem to mind as he just went back the direction he was going before he got side swiped.

When I was living in South Dakota and training in the Black Hills during the spring and summer I got into many coyotes. I didn’t get into very many out on the prairies, but the hills were full of them. Now that I live in Wyoming I seldom see one out in the flat lands, but the Big Horn Mountains are full of them. I think in both cases the ranchers are able to see them and keep them thinned out in the low lands to some degree, but in the timber areas the coyotes are real hard to find.

In all the dog/coyote encounters I have had I think I have only had a handful of points on coyotes where the coyote was not aware of the dog or me. I have never been able to shoot a coyote over point. I think the most logical reason is most likely the coyotes know of you and your dog’s presence way before you know they are in the area. It can be hard to sneak up on a coyote. Like always you have to have perfect weather conditions, and be extremely stealth if you want to get close without them knowing.

Riot has her tail down while on point. She normally has great style, but this time she was pointing a coyote about 20 yards away. Ralph is backing about 100 yards behind her.

Riot has her tail down while on point. She normally has great style, but this time she was pointing a coyote about 20 yards away. Ralph is backing about 100 yards behind her.

A few years ago me, my brother, and Bruce Mueller from Wisconsin were hunting some public lands in Southwest South Dakota. The area we were hunting had some sharp tails, and a few huns, lots of rattlesnakes, and lots of coyotes. I had waited until December to hunt there (rattlesnakes don’t like cold) and I had been in the area with a dog Harry a couple times before this trip. Harry had found a small covey of huns in the same location on a ten acre flat ridge both trips before. I hadn’t shot any of the huns because the population was low in the area, but I still worked them for Harry who was green broke. On the trip with my brother and Bruce, Harry went up the ridge and I followed, but he pointed in a different location, and in a different direction than before. I just assumed the huns had actually moved a little ways. When I got to the top my brother called me on the radio and said Harry was pointing a coyote that was just over the ridge. Bruce and my brother were across the canyon trying to direct me and I thought for sure I would get a coyote over point, but it put the slip on me and even with the two of them directing me I couldn’t get a shot.

A couple days later while Bruce was still out hunting with us we ended up in north central South Dakota hunting for some pheasants, huns, and sharp-tails. The three of us were working down a small canyon with Bruce’s dog Jim. Right off the bat I missed a chance at a couple roosters Jim had pointed because I shot a tree on the flush, and I was afraid I had blown the best chance of getting a pheasant. It was late season on heavily hunted public lands and I knew the other pheasants in the area would be on high alert after the shooting. We continued down the east to west canyon with Bruce in the bottom, my brother on the south side ridge, and me on the north side ridge. About half way down Jim started to track. I was thinking the wild pheasants were just running along ahead of him. My brother could see him and was watching as well. Jim would track for twenty yards then lock up for half a minute, then track again, then point again. Jim did this for probably three hundred yards. My brother called on the radio and said we needed a blocker because the pheasants had to be running ahead, and the cover ended at the bottom of the canyon. We never saw a single pheasant run or fly at the end, but a coyote took off out the bottom when Jim got about 50 yards from it. A blocker would have not expected that.

Some people see the good in coyotes. I have some buddies I grew up with in southern Idaho who farm large tracks of land along the desert. They have lots of coyotes on their property and used to shoot any on sight. Even though they are avid bird hunters they don’t shoot any coyotes. They know the coyotes take out plenty of pheasants, quail, and chukar, but they leave them alone because coyotes are great at controlling the rodent populations as well, and the rodents are much more destructive to their croplands.

I have a lot of respect for the coyote as a fellow hunter, but that doesn’t mean I like them. If I’m hunting with a GWP I’m always looking out for coyotes because your GWP might be the hunted in some cases.

On October 13th, 2013 I finally shot a coyote over point.

Sage Grouse

DSCF0805

One of the 1st trips I can remember where we drove some place to go hunting, besides the annual deer camp was a trip close to deer camp early in September in the mid-seventies to hunt sage grouse. We didn’t have any sage grouse on our ranch so I had never seen one. I had my single shot 410 and I was feeling pretty confident about getting a grouse. I did realize the limits of my 410 loaded with lighter loads. I figured that out the winter before when I put the creep on some Canadian geese that had landed near one of our stock ponds. I thought I was pretty close and when I shot one of the geese it just ruffled it feathers and they all flew off. Anyway I knew I would have to get close because my dad had said the sage grouse are real big and if I can shoot one on the ground that would be best, but I wanted to get one in flight. The strategy for finding them, which at the time I didn’t realize was to find a stock pond and start circling it until you find them. This worked well, but in looking back and knowing what I know now, I think the fact there were hundreds of birds, with many of flocks having a few dozen birds in the hunting area that made the hunting great. After missing a few flying shots I shot one on the ground, and then I got one in the air later in the day. I can still remember them looking like airplanes taking off.

For quite a few years one of the first hunts of the year was sage grouse. I can’t ever remember anyone taking a dog of any kind. Most of the time we just walked around until we found some grouse flushing in front of us and then we started shooting at them. Some years we walked a long ways before we found any birds, and I have no idea how many we walked with in a few feet of without them flushing. The seasons were never very long and for the most part we only saw sage grouse during the hunting season when we were actually looking specifically for them. We didn’t have any reason to go after them when it wasn’t sage grouse season. In the late seventies and early eighties southern Idaho had plenty of sage grouse. It was not uncommon to see maybe a hundred in a flock and see a few flocks a day. Since then the numbers in Idaho have gone down quite a bit and I have heard the west Nile virus has been real deadly to them in southwestern Idaho.

When I got Cruiser I got involved with the German Shorthair Pointer Club of Idaho. There was a bunch of good dog trainers that helped me out with my new GWP puppy, and I remember one telling me to get Cruiser in some sage grouse if possible. I was still doing a lot of big game hunting and August 15th was when archery antelope opened. The area I hunted antelope had some sage grouse and I thought maybe I could get Cruiser on some sage grouse out there if I could locate some while antelope hunting. His first hunting season I didn’t get an antelope until late in the season and on one of the trips out to the desert before I had taken an antelope I talked Jodi into going out and staying in the camper with me. We brought Cruiser of course and on the way out I jumped a flock of sage grouse on the dusty road and they landed nearby. They were in season so I got Cruiser out and brought him in downwind and he went on a solid point way out from where I thought the birds were sitting. Sure enough they were quite a ways out and when they flushed I looked for the smallest, (big old sage grouse are real rough to try to eat) and shot one. Cruiser was already almost underneath it when it hit the ground. He grabbed it and packed it around proudly for a few minutes, but didn’t want to bring it back. I just let him enjoy the experience. This was his first wild bird point, and my first wild bird point with a GWP, and the first time all the gears really lined up with Cruiser as a hunting dog. I can still remember the evening like it was yesterday even though I have witness who knows how many points since that first point.

When I got into field trial competitions I started training with a retired game warden and bird biologist from Utah who was quite successful in field trials with German Shorthairs. We also trained with another retired army colonel who was just getting started in the field trial game with his nice German Shorthairs. The game warden said he loved running on sage grouse in the summer in the northeast corner of Utah, and he wanted to know if I knew where we could find some in Idaho. I knew of many places and we all started spending time together training. The colonel had a nice motorhome and we would find places we could run right from the motorhome. We could run in the morning and evening, and do yard work training in the afternoons if we weren’t napping. The thing about the sage grouse for dog training is they seem to always smell. The dogs would find birds if they were in the area and if we didn’t push the birds they would stay in the general area. Usually the young birds were about seventy five percent grown when we were training and they flew pretty well. I remember one time three dogs all locked up pointing into a small ravine. We rode up and when I went into flush the sage grouse started boiling out and they were coming right over my head and over the dogs and the other guys on horses. None of the dogs held through all the birds flying right over their heads and with the exception of pheasants packed in cover this was the most birds I ever had come from such a small area. After all the excitement I noticed a small spring that ran maybe twenty yards and was gone into the dry dirt. These birds were getting water and we just found them at the right time. I know the sage grouse will fly a ways for water so that is always something to remember when hunting them.

It was a flock of sage grouse that taught me a little more about how far a dog can point game. I could write an entire book on what I have observed and what I think about how scent must travel and how dogs pick it up. Anyway a buddy and I had Harry a large liver male who loved the cold weather out looking for some huns in an area close to home in Idaho.  It had snowed about six inches the night before and we were hunting down a long fairly flat canyon with a slight breeze right in our faces. We hadn’t gone too far when Harry locks up. He always stood very tall with an intense stylish point. He was pointing right out into an open area with no cover for at least 150 yards. I told my buddy some huns must be hunkered down out in the field and we just can’t see them. We walked about 50 yards out from Harry and nothing flushed. I looked back at Harry and he was still very intense. My buddy and I didn’t believe he had anything and I tried to call him, but he didn’t even blink. After looking around somewhat confused I looked down the draw a little further and I thought I could see a sage grouse in a small sage brush area. We walked that way and sure enough there was a small flock of grouse in the brush 150 yards from Harry. The conditions were pretty much perfect and Harry had a phenomenal nose, but I still couldn’t believe he pointed birds that far out at first. I’m sure the birds smell more than others, but I also think the slight breeze had pushed the smell slowly up the draw and filled it with scent over a long period of time. I have noticed this in big canyons at the right time of the day the hot air will bring scent from a long ways down the canyon up the canyon for other game like deer, but sage grouse seem to be the biggest stinkers when it comes to birds.

After I realize the sage grouse were the perfect bird to work broke dogs on I started thinking of the many places I knew where they lived. I would take trained dogs out and work sage grouse with a blank gun. The dogs would always point them quite a ways out and the dogs really wanted to break when the big boomers took off. I was getting used to having all the different nearby flocks of sage grouse to work dogs on and then we decide to move to South Dakota. South Dakota does actually have some sage grouse in the northwest corner, but not many. When I was living there they had a season of two days in the middle of the week on public lands only. During those two days every game warden in the state was there monitoring the hunts. They wanted to take a little tissue sample from each harvested bird to send back to the lab for testing. We always went up for the hunt since it was in a good area for huns and sharp tails as well. The main area they lived in was actually quite small but had a good population. I did find some other small populations in South Dakota, but nothing like Idaho. The sage grouse are very dependent on sage brush. They will feed in alfalfa fields and on other crop lands, but most of their diet is sage brush which explains the bad taste of old birds.

One year on our two day South Dakota hunt me, my brother and a buddy took off early to arrive at the sage grouse spot. It was almost like a store opening its doors for a special sale. People from all over the state were lined up along the road waiting for legal shooting hours to embark on the area. We knew exactly when the legal shooting started, and with a herd of game wardens watching we weren’t about to shoot one early. I had Cruiser who was in the prime of his life at the time and we decided to turn him loose a few minutes early to go find some. I knew he would hold point for a long time if needed and if the birds were out away from the road a few hundred yards we would arrive at Cruiser about perfect. Well that was a good plan if the birds were a long ways out. I turned Cruiser loose and in less than a minute he was standing like a statue not very far away. We then noticed some sage grouse walking around out in front of Cruiser. One of the game wardens came over and asked me how long will that dog stay on point. I said for a long time, and he replied that’s good because legal shooting isn’t for a while yet. The grouse actually just flew off for no reason over the road to some other area after a few minutes. Cruiser was still just standing there until I walked out to released him. Cruiser ended up running a long ways before we found any more, but we all got one for the research team.

When we moved to Wyoming I learned sage grouse was a word that sparked a lot of debate between coal, gas, oil people, ranchers, hunters, and environmentalist. The oil and gas field operations are in prime sage grouse areas and sage grouse don’t adapt to intruders as well as some species. Needless to say in the eastern half of Wyoming the sage grouse hunting is not too good mainly because it’s mostly private lands, and the birds are getting lots of pressure from the coal, and gas fields.  If you want to hunt private lands there is some good numbers, but not much on public lands. In the western part, especially the southwestern part of Wyoming the sage grouse are still doing pretty well. I have a few places I know where they live. I have taken young hunters out sage grouse hunting to get them experience with bird hunting and with GWP’s. The season here is very short so the sage grouse usually aren’t real wild and will hold well while a dog is pointing them. It takes a few times getting flushed for them to get educated.

I have a couple great places to go hunt them now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in my lifetime they became endangered and we won’t be able to watch a GWP lock up on point. If you have a chance to get your GWP on a sage grouse you better do it soon.

DSCF0813

Ducks

Like I have stated before I probably shot more ducks before I was 18 years old than some pretty devoted duck hunters will shoot in a life time. On our ranch in Idaho we had two shallow year around creeks that didn’t freeze over, some ponds, and we were in an area right off the Snake River where the ducks headed to fields to eat. We jump shot ducks on ponds and creeks, and we sat in blinds and shot ducks. Sometimes we would sit on top of the haystacks and shoot passing ducks in the evenings right next to the dairy cow pens. We always had lots of ducks in the freezer and my mother made duck every way possible. It can be a challenge to make a duck taste good. We never once used a dog for retrieving. The only time we might have needed a dog was when a duck dropped right in the middle of a pond, but most of the time it didn’t take long to float over to a bank with the current. I really can’t even remember ever losing a dead duck and at the time this always made me think why people were so fascinated with Labs for duck hunting. I couldn’t see the need for a dog when most of the time I just went over and picked up the dead duck on the ground. It was a much different style of duck hunting than sitting in a blind with thick cover in lots of wetlands like you see on TV shows. If you hunt ducks about any other way than I did growing up you will need a dog unless you like swimming in cold mucky waters.

Now this next paragraph will probably make people think I’m a conceited when it comes to hunting. Most of the time I don’t think duck hunting is actually hunting. I think it is shooting. Dove hunting, would be the same thing in my mind. If you are sitting in a tree stand deer hunting the black and white area between hunting and shooting blurs to gray a bit to me. I have shot antelope from a blind on water holes with my bow and I think this is shooting, and not hunting. I have shot antelope on spot and stalk, and by stalking with a decoy with my bow. This would be more hunting to me. I think hunting is where you are on the ground pursuing wild game and your weapon of choice isn’t as important and the actual pursuit. I have my own thoughts about what is hunting and what is shooting and I have done plenty of both in my life. I’m sure many people will not agree with my thoughts, but that is just how I feel. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I realize we are the ultimate predator with all our advantages, high powered rifles, binoculars, shot guns, and more developed brains than our quarry just to mention a few. We also have bred and trained dogs to use their nose to locate game for us. That being said wild game of any size or species can still be very difficult to hunt in many situations. I bring this up in part because a GWP can be both a true hunter and just a retriever of dead game as well at the same time. I think the GWP is probably the best dog out there when you want one that can do both.

Zeke waiting for the fetch photo courtesy owner Tyler Hice

Zeke waiting for the fetch

When it comes to ducks a GWP is well suited for most applications. If it is extremely cold they might not be able to perform like a Lab or Chesapeake. In some strong current river retrieving situations you will be better off with a GWP that is on the larger size to hold up in the current with a green head in its mouth. Many GWP’S are very strong swimmers. If you plan on using your GWP for waterfowl where you are shooting them out of a blind it would be a good idea to spend some time doing retriever training. In reality you are not using your GWP as a hunter, but using it as a retriever of dead or wounded waterfowl. A GWP has plenty of natural ability to swim and find dead or wounded ducks, but when it comes to retrieving in the areas that most people shoot ducks some training will be very helpful. Training for blind retrieves, and basic whistle commands would be a must. I would also spend plenty of time swimming your dog to get them conditioned for swimming. I take my dogs swimming in the summer a lot. Most of the time I just play fetch in a lake or pond mainly for conditioning when it’s too hot to run them, but also it is good retrieving training.

As you have probably guessed I don’t sit in a blind duck hunting “shooting” very often. I like to walk too much to sit around very long. However I do shoot some ducks every year for the young dogs I happen to be evaluating during that hunting season. I like to jump shoot ducks on stock ponds, or creeks and rivers. Many times when I’m hunting prairie lands or open country in the western states there will be ducks on any water source. If I know there are stock ponds, creeks, or rivers that might hold ducks, and if it is duck season I will gear up for duck hunting. Obviously that means putting on my vest with just the steel shot, and probably lugging around my heavy side by side 3 ½ inch chambered 12 gauge. When I think there might be ducks on a pond, or in the bend in the river I will call the dog in and heel it. With the young dogs that usually means actually putting them on a lead. Then I will sneak over the bank of a pond or creep up on the river. If I encounter ducks I will turn the young dog loose, and start blasting once the ducks are airborne. Usually the young dog is running or swimming after the fleeting ducks by the time I start shooting. If I have a trained dog they will still be standing by my side until I send them for the retrieve. You want to be careful with your young dog and not shoot right over their heads with the big bertha duck guns. Most of the time I will keep an eye on the dog and try to shoot a duck that is going the other direction just to make sure the noise isn’t right over their heads. Older dogs I’m not too concerned with where I shoot because most of the time the louder it gets the more excited they become.

On a few occasions with the stock ponds or small creeks on the open lands I have had dogs point ducks. One time in a canyon in Idaho I had a dog go on point with another backing down in a big pile of thorn bushes and Russian olive trees. The creek was very narrow and shallow. The dog pointing didn’t have a lot of intensity or style which to me usually means they are not real comfortable with what they are pointing, or they are a bit confused with the animal they are pointing. I was actually expecting a porcupine or maybe a rabbit in the bushes. When five mallards came flying off a kidde pool size spot on the creek I was wishing I had actually brought my steel shot. This was out in an area where I would normally just see chukar and huns up on the ridges so the ducks were a surprise.

The best point on ducks I ever had was on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. I was hunting with a big solid liver male dog named Harry who was not a warm weather dog at all, but if the temperature was below forty degrees he was as good a hunting dog as I have ever hunted behind. He had hunted the open grass lands and was headed towards the river for a drink and a cool down when he went on point twenty yards from the bank. I was about three hundred yards away from him and above him on the ridge at the top of the valley. After he locked up I could see what I thought were ducks on the other side of the river. The river was around forty yards wide and fairly shallow. The river was close to as low of water volume as it would get all year. When I thought about a plan to get to the ducks nothing looked like I could get within range before they saw me and flew away out of range. This area is covered with rattlesnakes if it is hot out, but with the temperature hovering around twenty five degrees I felt safe to get on the ground if needed to creep up on the ducks. I actually had steel just in case I found some ducks on the river. I walked up to about fifty yards behind Harry and I then hunkered down some for another forty yards. Then I got on my hands and knees and went crawling by Harry while he stood on point. The last ten yards to the bank I was on my belly wiggling like a rattlesnake myself. When I finally ran out of cover sure enough I could see a couple dozen ducks sitting on the other bank. I glanced back at Harry and he was still a statue. I got to my knees and picked out a green head as they were rising. A broken wing brought him to the ground, but he quickly made it to the water. Harry was not broke so he was already past me when he took off with the shot and in the water downstream from the duck. I went ahead and shot it dead on the water because I didn’t think Harry could catch up to it going against the current. It came down river right to Harry who scooped it up and brought it back to me.

Just like when I was a very young kid I still don’t see the fascination with Labs. But, I do think a good dog for ducks is a necessity. I just like using a GWP.

Rabbits

GWP’s like rabbits, sometimes too much

Hoover with a cotton tail.

Hoover with a cotton tail.

One of my 1st experiences with a rabbit and a GWP might have been a real bad situation, but I think I got lucky. I was running Cruiser off a horse when he was around 15 months old and we were in an area in Idaho that had lots of rattlesnakes. I watched him run up a hill and he was working back down it when a snake started buzzing around 75 yards from me. It was big snake right at the bottom of a large boulder and my horse wouldn’t get any closer. Cruiser came running down the hill and right into the snake, but he had been snake broke, and he jumped back away just in time. I thought that was close, but just then a small cottontail rabbit went wobbling out in front of Cruiser and he jumped on it. He was bringing it back to me and acting like he might want to eat it. I finally got him to spit it out and it was still just kind of wobbling around for maybe thirty seconds then it just died. I inspected it and could see the fang marks. I concluded the snake had just bitten the rabbit and it wasn’t dead when Cruiser grabbed it, but if he would have eaten it he would have got the venom in his stomach. Of course that is just my theory and maybe it’s not accurate at all. I have no idea how much venom was in the rabbit, or if it would have caused issues, but I thought it was better he didn’t eat it.

It wasn’t too long after that I was doing some yard work with a young male in a five acre sagebrush area at my house when he went on point. I noticed it was a jackrabbit that had snuck through the net wire somewhere. This was the 1st real good rabbit point I had seen. Most of the time I saw rabbits the rabbits were running full out with a dog right on their heels. The dog and rabbit were both frozen so I decided to work the rabbit like a bird for the dog. I got a little closer and the rabbit took off, and the dog broke. Before I could even really think about a correction the rabbit was in the dog’s mouth. It ran the wrong way and the dog ran the right way. I was standing there thinking how did a wirehair just catch an ultra-fast jackrabbit? Then the dog dug a hole, buried it, and tamped it in with his nose. All this happen within a few minutes while I was still thinking how did that happen? Unfortunately this is the dog that was killed by a wolf a few weeks later.

Five month old Plum with a large white jackrabbit.

Five month old Plum with a large white jackrabbit.

After I had lived in South Dakota I started getting lots of work on rabbits out on the prairies. I had many points on cottontails and a few broke dog situations where I was able to flush the rabbit, shoot it, and then send the dog for the retrieve. Mostly it was white jackrabbits I found, sometimes in herds. A few places the white jackrabbits were so thick the dogs would have a point every fifty yards. I had one dog that always found plenty of the big jackrabbits to point. I would shoot a couple as a reward for good work, and they were a workout to retrieve them as well since they were pretty big.

What I have started to figure out is pointing rabbits is much harder for a dog than upland birds. The rabbits just don’t hang around that often when they know the dogs are in the area, but once they get pointed they usually don’t bust until I get within range. Even a dog with lots of point seems to have some difficulty getting rabbits pointed. I think they try tracking them too much, and don’t lock up fast enough when they get in the scent of the actual rabbit.

Of course weather can help you out just like upland bird hunting. I had a couple dogs out in some real nasty weather last winter; it was around -10 degrees without the wind, 20 mph winds, and snowing. Not too pleasant for me, but not the worst I have tried hunting my dogs in either. I always take dogs out in the bad weather just to see how they perform. On this day one dog looked great and one was not so good. The dog doing the good work did get five different snowshoe hares pointed and I got close to most of them before they busted. That was the most snowshoes hares I ever had pointed in a day by far. I didn’t get any shot because the dogs were young and not broke which meant they were right on the hare’s heels and I didn’t have a shot. The best time for me to get on cottontails is winter conditions with some fresh snow. Most of the time the cottontails are in the rim rocks where I hunt, but some are in brush piles and thick cover in creek bottoms. It seems like they are never too far from the rabbit hole, usually in a rock pile. After I have hunted a dog a few times most of the time I can tell by the dog’s tail if it has a point on an upland bird it is familiar with, a deer, a porcupine, or a rabbit. Until the dog has had many rabbit points it just won’t look quite as confident on a rabbit as say a covey of sharp tail grouse. I also try to find the rabbit by looking from a far if I think it is a rabbit point. Sometimes they will be out in the open on a rock, or maybe under a piece of brush. If I can locate it I will just use the rifle portion of my 223, 20 gauge combo gun. If I just have a shot gun I have no choice but to try and get close and hope I can hit it running full out, and hope the dog doesn’t break. I have never tried to shoot a rabbit for a none broke dog just because I don’t want to run the risk of shooting my dog. Even if the dog is broke they might want to break on a rabbit. I usually work a few rabbit points and blank while watching the dog with broke dogs just to make sure they stay broke before I shoot any rabbits.

I know many hunters just want their bird dogs to avoid rabbits, and if you mention rabbit points around field trailers some will look at you like you need to visit a mental hospital. After watching many different gwp’s, with different styles work rabbits I’m convinced if your dog can handle rabbit points, it can handle pointing any upland birds, even wise old pheasants. I would never discourage my dogs from pointing rabbits because I don’t see the bad things that some dog people or dog trainers seem to think are out there because of rabbit points.

Porcupines

This is not something that I go hunting for, but my dogs sure seem to find plenty of them, especially the last few years. When we first got the wirehairs other wirehair people told us that GWP’s love to go after porcupines. What I have found out over the years is that some GWP’s really like to go fill their faces with quills, and others will point them sometimes for a long time without jumping on them. I like the later better.

Hoover pointing a porcupine

Hoover pointing a porcupine

The first time we had any porcupine issues was in Idaho. I never saw lots of them in Idaho, but we would see a few, mostly along the river systems. We had our first two dogs Cruiser and Zoie out one summer evening along a somewhat secluded area on the Snake River close to our house playing fetch. We would toss a bumper out in the middle of the river and then have the dogs go get it and swim against the current. It was great exercise. During this outing Zoie come back with a few quills in her mouth after a short jaunt up the river bank. We pulled them and she didn’t even seem to mind us yanking them out, but we headed home instead of going looking for it. I’m not sure what happened, but she had lots of prey drive so it surprised me she wasn’t filled with quills.

It was actually a few years later when we had moved to South Dakota, before we got into any other porcupines. The 1st quills I pulled were out of my horse’s nose, not a fun job there.

The 1st hunting season in South Dakota we had a buddy with a good line of wirehairs from Wisconsin come out hunting with us and one of his dogs went after two in two days requiring plenty of pulling. The next hunting season I was running Cruiser without a tracking collar and he went into a slough and even though I never saw him come out the top, I thought I had just missed him. I looked around for 20 minutes before I found him 50 yards from where I had released him and he was pointing a porcupine. I was able to get him out and shoot the porcupine without any quill pulling. Later that year I was running Cruiser with a couple young dogs. Cruiser had pointed and held a few porcupines during the season and we didn’t have any quill removal practice. This day we would get some practice. Cruiser was pointing a porcupine and I was heading his way, then the young dogs stole point and jumped on the porcupine. After they jumped on it Cruiser decided he wanted to wrestle with it as well so he joined the party. It took a while to get them to listen so I could get them away from it, but they were all packed with quills when it was over. We were a long way for anywhere so we just took our time and pulled them with a needle nose pliers.

Birdie pointing a porcupine.  Notice her style isn't as nice as when she is pointing birds.

Birdie pointing a porcupine. Notice her style isn’t as nice as when she is pointing birds.

I had quite a few different dogs point and hold them in South Dakota, and I can’t remember any of those dogs getting into to any, but there could have been a couple mild encounters I forgot about. We would probably average maybe five points a years, and shoot maybe ten porcupines total in a hunting season while I was hunting in South Dakota.

When I moved to Wyoming I started to see a few more in the areas on the low lands that I like to hunt. The first hunting season Cruiser pointed one and held great, and after I shot it he broke and jumped on it. I’m sure he tried to take a bite out of it, but he didn’t get any quills in his mouth. At the time I thought maybe a dog can’t get quills from a dead one, but I later learned if they bite a dead one a few weeks old they can still get quills stuck in their mouth. I’m still not sure why he didn’t get any quills. The first four seasons in Wyoming I would get maybe ten points a year and shoot around twenty. The 2011-2012 hunting season I probably had twenty points and shot maybe twenty five total. Then came the porcupine explosion year of 2012-2013 when they seemed to be in every place I went hunting. I shot around fifty over point, and probably shot seventy-five in total. With all the encounters I had only had one quill pulling session when two young dogs went after one. I’m guessing it was one pointing and one stealing point, then the competition took over. I took a bitch Riot out for some traininJazz chasing porcupineg on an April evening, and I shot seven over point in thirty minutes, and I saw a few more at a distance I couldn’t get to.

Ralph had pointed a couple dozen, but finally had to bite one. He did stand still and let me pull them all the quills out.

Ralph had pointed a couple dozen, but finally had to bite one. He did stand still and let me pull them all the quills out.


I’ve talked to a few flushing dog guys in the area and they all said the last few years have been real bad. They rarely get the dog away from one without it going after them and filling its face full of quills. There seems to be many different ways to remove them, but the most popular way seems to be to roll them on their back and get help pulling while one guy holds them down. If you are a vet I guess you have an advantage because you can just knock them out and pull them. One guy said he carried a wooden dowel, like a retrieving dummy, to put in the back of their mouth to hold it open so he can pull them without getting bit. We haven’t had to take one to the vet yet to get them removed, and we have had a couple with a lot of quills inside the mouth. If it is too bad or the dog fights you too much you will just have to rack up another vet bill. I think the best thing is too hope your GWP points and holds for a long time. If it doesn’t you will quickly learn how a porcupine quill looks up close, because once they go after it most won’t stop until they get filled up with quills.

Foot hunting with a big running GWP’S

   Some hunters are afraid their dog will have too much run and will not be a good foot hunting dog. Some people me included like to call run, power instead. I think power is both physical and mental. When people see dogs are competing in horse back field trials sometimes I think they think they won’t hunt for foot hunters. I think they envision an American Field all-age English Pointer or Setter. When they turn that kind of dog loose you might need three guys on horse, and two airplanes circling to keep up with it. I’ve ridden many braces watching the American Field long tails and very few if any GWP’s will probably ever run like them. Some GWP’s do have a little extra power, maybe a 5th gear and some strong desire to go the extra distance. With the GWP’s I have hunted with the good ones are smart enough to understand a lot of different situations. They know when to range farther out, and when to stay close in. I have probably hunted GWP’s about as many ways possible, and in as many different terrains, and with quite a few different styles of GWP’s as anyone out there over the last fifteen years. I will list some examples of why I think they understand a lot more than we give them credit for. A dog with power can still be a good swimmer, a good retriever, a good tracker, good duck blind dog, good fur dog, and be very trainable, power doesn’t mean non-trainable runaway. People sometimes don’t realize a runaway dog won’t do much if any winning in field trials. Even a close working none alethic dog can be a runaway if it doesn’t listen to its handler. I honestly don’t think your GWP can be a great versatile hunting dog if it doesn’t have power. Just think of the words versatile (capable of or adapted for many different uses, skills, etc.) and hunting (The pursuit and killing or capture of game and wild animals, regarded as a sport. The act of conducting a search for something). Think how limited a versatile hunting dog in big country will be without some power. I also don’t think that just because a dog has power it is a good hunting dog. My definition of a good hunting dog would take a few pages to define. Most of the public land hunting of wild game in the US is west of the Mississippi River and a lot of the country is pretty open. This big country is usually full of game, both fur and feather, but that game can be distant and scattered. You will need a dog that is able to go find it, a dog with some power. We hunters can only walk so far in one day, and I’ve found my physical limits many times. I think it is the dogs job to cover most of the country, find, point, and retrieve if I shoot something, so I don’t have to walk every square inch of it doing all the hunting by myself.

One thing I would like to say is I hunt with my GWP’s a lot more than most people would ever dream of hunting. I work very long weeks in the spring and summer and hunt for six months in the fall and winter. I don’t spend much time training dogs, going to any field trials, or hunt tests especially in the fall, because ultimately it takes away from hunting time. I just think the best way to evaluate hunting dogs is to go hunting, in different areas, and do it a lot.  I almost always hunt wild game on public lands, and most of the time it’s very big country. I have also hunted pheasants in areas where you might spend all day in less than twenty acres, and other places where the country is very open, and very thick cover in the same hunt. I’ve hunted ruffed grouse in cover so thick I couldn’t get through it myself. There are many hunting days that I have more points on deer, rabbits, porcupines, or other four legged critters, than I do on upland birds. Most of my hunting is on foot by myself with one or two dogs running. On occasion given the opportunity I will use some form of transportation to carry me around the country. When I was field trialing and owned horses I would use the horses to hunt a few times a year. I have also used an ATV to follow the dogs across big country. A few times I have loaded hunting buddies in the suburban, turned 2-3 dogs loose, and driven across the open areas until they went on point. The good versatile hunting dogs will adjust to every situation, and usually real quickly. They will range the farthest when we are hunting out of the vehicle, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they can see it moving a long ways away. They will actually range father for me on a horse than an ATV. A dog can be a long ways away in open country and still handle great. Many times I have turned dogs on a dime with a short whistle blow well past the 500 yard mark. One of my favorite and most enjoyable ways to hunt is to walk a ridge and send a dog down the canyon to one side or the other. I just stand there and let the dog work down the canyon and hopefully work up the other side. When I think it has covered enough area I will call them in and send them off the other side to do the same thing, then we’ll hunt the ridge down a few hundred yards and do it all over again. I have had dogs hunt a hundred acres while I just stand there and watch. Depending on the canyon it can be a workout for me if the dog points on top the next ridge. So far I have only hunted with two dogs that will actually do this to a level I think is great. Many dogs seem to go part way down, but lack the mentally to cover everything in sight while I stand there watching. A dog without power will never come close to doing a good job hunting in this situation.

 

On a trip back home to Idaho a few years ago I had a bitch that was probably right in the prime of her hunting life. We were hunting an area that was a big, deep, steep walled canyon with flats on top, and lots of thick cover in the bottom. We left the pickup and trailer at the bottom of the drainage and drove ATV’s with the dogs to the top so we could hunt downhill most of the time. Then we would take the pickup and trailer back up to get the ATV’s at the end of the hunt. When I have hunted with other hunting partners I have done this kind of hunting many times. We let the dogs run up and down the hills and we just keep easing on down. This area we were hunting was about as good as it ever gets for a hunter and a GWP. I had hunted this canyon before and shot pheasant, quail, chukar, huns, blue grouse, ducks, and cottontails all over point, all in the same hunt. It is around eight miles to the bottom so it takes a while to hunt, but it has lots to hunt. At the very top is a series of springs coming out of big rock outcroppings with Russian olive trees, cattails, swamp type areas, and lots of very tall sagebrush. This area always has a few pheasant, and some valley quail. It is about thirty acres. On this hunt four of us two legged hunters were hunting with three dogs. I turned the dogs loose and I had just started using the tracking collars with the distance/direction display that hunting season. I watched the displays and the dogs all stayed close, even though we could rarely see them in the thick cover, and as they worked this thick cover they never got more than thirty yards away. These three dogs had never been in any areas quite like this area. We got on some quail and pheasant and then started down the canyon. It was a great hunt with more quail, and huns in the open part of the canyon and then we got down into some moderately thick rosebushes packed full of quail. The four of us were hunting maybe a half mile across spread out through the canyon and I was up above the thick stuff a little distance. We hunt with radios so we can keep in touch and most of the time the dogs will work between all of us at some point and in this cover they stayed within 100 yards. I was just a little ways up from the creek in a steep part of the canyon and the bitch with me started working up a big bald ridge. She started running up the mountain towards a rock pile at the very top. I distinctly remember thinking there is going to be chukar in those rocks, and that crazy bitch is going to go point them. Then it’s going to take me a long time to get there. Well she did go all the way to the rocks, but thankfully for my tired legs there wasn’t anything to point. She was a few hundred yards and lots of vertical feet away when she reached the top. After she didn’t find anything there she worked her way back down the other side of the knob and we hunted some thicker sagebrush for more quail on the way to the pickup. Every time I looked at the tracker when she was in the thick stuff she was within fifty yards. A half mile before the pickup it opened up on some flat areas where we usually find a covey of huns and she ranged out maybe three hundred yards, but didn’t find anything. That trip is very typical of what I see in the dogs that have power like it takes to run in field trials and know how to use it. I have had dozens of trips very similar to this trip. The good dogs know when to use the power, and they also know how and when to dial it back.

 

I hunted another bitch up in northern Montana a couple years later in an area for pheasants where many times I couldn’t find her on point five feet from me. For two entire days every time I looked at the tracker she was within twenty yards and we hunted the same 20 acres for two days. I think she just walked with her nose on the ground all day and she had many points on pheasants, lots of which I never got a shot at through the trees and brush. This area was a wetlands with grass over your head, trees and bushes everywhere, and packed full of pheasants, but a long range dog would have been pretty useless in that situation. On the 3rd day of the hunt we went out to some grasslands and went after huns and sharptails. I turned this bitch loose and she made a nice 400 yard cast down a small ridge. The two guys hunting with me asked me if I was going to call her in closer. I responded what the hell for????, do you want to walk all the way over there if there is nothing to shoot? Another thing is this bitch is a very strong swimmer. She is just like many wirehairs bred by other breeders who have realized how the power dog works, and that the good dogs know how to use it.

 

Not all wirehairs including many I have hunted with over the years will have the power to hunt at a long range. A lot of wirehairs are limited by their genes to always be a close working dog, like the standard says they are supposed to be, and they just don’t have the power. I feel if you can have a dog with the power it is a better thing than no power, and I know from watching enough power dogs the good ones can be close working dogs when they need to be. I have had little or no success trying to make a dog without power obtain more of it. I have had dogs with lots of run, but not the hunting mentally to go with the run. Of course I don’t think these are good versatile hunting dogs. Just like people, all dogs are different; some dogs are just better hunters than others. If you know you will never hunt a big area and you have a power dog just spend some time keeping it close when it is young and it will most likely figure it out very quickly. Wirehairs like to please and they adapt very well to different conditions. In my opinion there are a lot more below average no power GWP’S than there are too powerful GWP’S out there.

I think power dogs are kind of like a pickup. If you have a small engine ½ ton you won’t be able to pull a big trailer down the road like you can with a big engine 1 ton. You can always step on the brake of the powerful pickup, but pushing on the accelerator of the small engine might not do much.

 

Of course not everyone is going to agree with this and these are my thoughts and opinions based on my experiences. If you have a power dog let it go hunt, and you will probably have a great hunting experience.