Monday, February 28, 2011

Coneys for the Pot?

I've always been pleased with my dog Hazel's versatility. Pointing birds, tracking running pheasants and finding and retrieving downed birds on land and water. That's why I enjoy the versatile breeds so much and why I bought a pudelpointer. I use Hazel pretty much exclusively for upland bird hunting. She is a great retriever and loves the water so if I knock a duck down I'm confident she will find it. But there is one aspect of Hazel's talents that I believe I need to start taking advantage of during future hunts. Her ability to find and track fur. Specifically rabbits.

Hazel is a bonafide rabbit dog. While grouse hunting she has tracked and circled several snowshoe hares back to the gun. I've seen her point both snowshoes and cottontails. Yesterday during a hike through the foothills she pointed and tracked 2 different cottontails and she circled one back to me. I would of had several safe clean shots on them if I had been hunting. This is a purely natural skill of Hazel's. I've never encouraged it. I've never pushed her to do it . I actually call her off them for the rabbits sake. I think she could catch a cottontail if pushed. I'm a bird hunter and I want her concentrating on the birds. Is this a mistake? Am I not letting her work and hunt to her full potential? The Europeans who use these types of dogs have no problem with it.

I'm almost exclusively an upland bird hunter. I don't hunt deer or elk anymore (although I'm thinking I should start again). I occasionally duck hunt but not often enough to consider myself one. My passion is upland bird hunting with dogs. But I'm thinking that I'm missing out on some wonderful opportunities with the deer and the now the rabbits here in Utah. Rabbit season in Utah lasts from September to the end of February.

I haven't hunted rabbits exclusively since I was a teenager. But rabbit hunting back then was more of a killing sport than hunting. A large group of us would drive out to the west desert. Once we saw a lot of dead road kill jack rabbits along the roadways we would stop. We would spread out in a line and march through the sage brush pushing all the game out ahead of us and blast every jackrabbit that made a break for it. We hunted much like you see most pheasant hunting done in South Dakota. The pusher and blocker method. Not my preferred method of hunting but it gets the job done. Jackrabbits were considered diseased vermin and killed without discretion. After shooting a jackrabbit we never used any of it. Anyway. I quickly learned that was NOT how I like to hunt. It felt wrong and wasteful.

So shooting rabbits over Hazel has not been something I've really considered. I don't come from a family that eats rabbit but I've tried it and it is delicious. My only real concerns are shooting animals off the ground when my dog is tracking or trailing them. That is a safety issue that needs to be addressed. It's hard to tell where your dog is sometimes especially in the woods, and before I took a shot I would have to take that into consideration and be very careful. But beagle guys do it all the time so I'm too concerned about that. My big concern is with how Hazel would react if I started shooting rabbits while hunting grouse or other game-birds. Would she stop hunting grouse and concentrate more on rabbits? I don't know. My only option is to try it and see where the chips fall. I think she would be fine and is smart enough to do both. Maybe if I only shoot rabbits after she points them. I may wait one more year though. Maybe a little more maturity would help. Hazel does have a talent though and I should take advantage of it. And it would extend my hunting season a couple more weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Another Utah Upland Season is Over

The Utah Upland Game season ends today. It's been a great year full of wonderful memories of times afield. I watched my dog Hazel grow into a genuine bird dog and shared some great days out in nature with my family and friends. It's sad when it ends. I'm already excited for next years season to begin. Saturday was going to be my last chance to get out so I took full advantage. I got up early and hit it hard all day. I picked a great area that I hadn't been this year but had luck in the past. It paid off! We saw a lot of birds and were able to bring a few home. It was a beautiful 50 degree day.Hazel and my brothers dog Sage both had some nice points and finds. Shawn would surely want me to mention his double! Hazel had some nice retrieves. Most of the retrieves were completely blind so she had to totally work the area until the birds were found. One in particular was on a bird that Hazel had pointed the covey. One the flush one bird luckily came my way. I knocked it down but it sailed a long way down a hill.The bird unfortunately wasn't killed on the shot and once it hit the ground it started running down the hill away from us. The bird was definitely injured but it still had some life in it. Chukars are tough little bastards. Just look at the country where they live. I called Hazel over and told her "Dead Bird" and "Fetch" She went down the hill and worked it back and forth until she caught the scent and then tracked it down the hillside until she caught it and then delivered it to hand.
Great dog work from the 3 year old pudelpointer. It was a beautiful old cock bird.
Good retrievers are so important to chukar hunting. The terrain is so steep and there is so much up and down that a hit bird can fall and end up on the other side of a canyon. Your dog needs to have a lot of faith in its handler. If you say "dead bird" the dog needs to believe it and have the drive and determination to find it. Hazel is the best at it I've ever owned and she is only 3 years old. She came from proven chukar dog stock in Idaho and she's got it in her blood. I should have many years of good hunting with this dog. I love this dog.

It was a great last hunt of the season and we were all very tired and satisfied at the end of the day. A great way to end the 2010-2011 hunting season.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Every Dog Has Their Day (or not)

Last weekends Chukar Hunt was not Hazel or my best day. She spent the day busting coveys and I spent the day missing shots. Hazel was pushing really hard. It seemed as if she was competing with my brother Shawn's dog Sage. We found a lot of birds but the dog work was not where I would like to see it. Most days this year Hazel has been awesome so I'm not upset about it. I just consider it an off day and an opportunity to do some training on wild birds. In her defense it was a very gusty, windy day and I'm not sure if she could locate the birds very well. She'd point hard like normal but would break down quickly and relocate and thats when the birds would go up. And with the wind I'm not sure if she could hear me calling whoa. She busted 2 nice coveys in about 20 minutes. It was not her best day. Hazel had to do a lot of standing at whoa where the last infraction took place. All while the other dog got to hunt. She wasn't happy at all about that. Hopefully the training and message sunk in. It was still an enjoyable day in the mountains. Shawn brought one home off a beauty of a point by Sage. One more weekend and the 2010-2011 Utah bird season is over.

My wife is relieved that the hunting season is nearly over. There is a long list of chores that I need to get working on. Basically we are remodeling 3/4 of our house. Nothing too major, just repainting most of the upstairs and remodeling two bathrooms, (one bathroom is a complete gut and rebuild), putting in a new ceiling in our basement family room, repainting and retexturing the basement, adding aother new bathroom and adding and painting trim around everything down there. Or however much we can stretch and get out of our tax return. I am not relieved that hunting season is nearly over.