Tuesday, December 1, 2015

PLANTERS & COCKLEBURS - UTAH PHEASANT HUNT 2015

Chief pointing a running hen

Again - my apologies for the lack of posts this fall. It’s been very busy with a lot of personal plus career changes have kept me from the blog more than I would normally like. However, we have been hunting. 

hot day grouse hunting. Over 70º.
This stream was a nice relief.
The grouse season kind of ended without much to report. A bird here and there but we weren’t slaying them by any means. It was another warm fall and I had most of my success during the early morning hours. Chief has discovered his new love - turkeys. We had more points on turkeys this year than ever before. It was fun to watch. 

When the Utah general deer season opened that was pretty much the last time I went grouse hunting this year. recently it has snowed enough to shut down the areas I normally hunt or  at least hunting with dogs is over. 

The first Saturday in November opened to a packed reception of hunters of all types busting through fences ditches and marching through Utah’s wetlands all in pursuit of the wiley rooster pheasant. Utah again planted over 13,000 birds in the state lands and that has brought out the hunters in droves. More hunters than I’ve seen in 30 years. Usually the opening day is a mad house but after that the number of hunters reduces over  time until it was rare to see other hunters in the field after that. Not this year. Every wma has a few trucks parked outside the gate almost every time I've checked or been out.

We  hunted the opener and bagged a few planters, maybe a wild bird or two, but since then we’ve moved out of the busy areas and been in pursuit of the wild birds and the challenge they bring.

Still, we seem to bag more planters than wild birds no matter where we hunt anymore. These poor released birds are so dumb and ill equipped to handle the conditions, habitat and hunters. It’s practically a mercy killing in some instances. Frankly, with the added pressure of all the new hunters coming into these habitats its killing the wild bird populations. I’ve seen a gradual decline in the areas I hunt in both hens and roosters. I appreciate the effort the state is putting in but it’s almost ruined the hunt for this hunter. OK maybe ruined is a harsh word but it’s definitely diminished the experience. I ranted about this last year and I feel more strongly about it this year. 



Hazel Working It
I’m sure the state dwr is labeling the new pheasant hunt standard as a big success. I totally disagree. If people want a pheasant farm canned-hunt experience there is plenty of opportunity in this state to do so. There are dozens of places available to go shoot a pen raised bird if that’s what your into. Personally, I like hunting wild birds. Key word being wild. Not liberated or released - but wild.  Birds that a couple hours into the hunt are juking and jiving dogs and hunters, using all the powers that have been instilled in them by generations of survivors. That’s hunting. Shooting a decimated sick bird that has been wearing a blinder it’s entire life and is then dump trucked into a wma doesn’t compare.  All this while a dozen hunters wait for the DWR guy to leave so they can “hunt” the birds they just saw released. It’s not hunting in my opinion. That’s just shooting birds.

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this but I’d love to see a different approach based around habitat and supplementing in the late spring rather than during  the pheasant  hunt.



I have gone to many pheasant farms in my day and have had plenty of good experiences but I understand what I’m doing. I’m trying to simulate real pheasant hunting. It’s similar, but it’s not the same. The dogs don’t know the difference and they usually just think they fell into pheasant Shangri la and have a lot of fun. Pheasant farms are also great for bringing along a young dog. Getting feathers in front of their noses and simulating the hunting experience under more controlled conditions can be just the thing to get a young dog hunting and hunting the right way. But don’t fool yourself it’s still not real pheasant hunting. Same goes for what the state of Utah is doing. It’s not real pheasant hunting and I believe in the long run will be detrimental to wild bird hunting and also it’s just a bad look to those who don’t hunt. Anti-hunting groups jump all over this type of thing and why wouldn’t they. We’ve got to find a better way.

Habitat, predator control and stricter rules on access to these areas could make things a lot more interesting and make for a better more legitimate hunting experience. Pay for it with an upland stamp if needed. 

Chief attempting to rub off a cockle bur against my leg
Other than that rant I’ve enjoyed getting out and watching some good dog work. The most entertaining part is watching the dogs work the birds. The most memorable events this year were dog’s working some wild hens. It’s just so fun to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love actually putting birds in the bag but it’s so much more fulfilling when you take that bird from your dog’s mouth and feel the weight of a nice full, healthy wild pheasant with in-tact tail feathers with spurs and everything that makes a rooster pheasant all that it is. That’s a trophy... especially in this state. If you get a couple of those each season it makes the rest of it worth it. We’ve bagged a handful of planters and a couple nice wild birds and seen a ton of points on hens and we’ve also been juked out by some wiley roosters that have left us scratching our heads. But that’s what I love about it. 

Pheasant stamp yo!

It's time to hit the Chukar hills.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

GROUSE HUNT 2015 (CONTINUED)

Hazel taking a dip on a hot day.


I've been able to get out a couple of times since my last post. There's nothing too exciting to report lately. We've seen a few birds but we are not doing as well as we have during years past in these same areas. Again, the Utah DWR reported forest grouse numbers were up but so far that has not been our experience. We are still working hard  and having a good time and bagging a bird here and there.

My biggest complaint so far has been the heat. September has been warm. Hovering around 80ºF or hotter most of the month. It's been hard to get out early. My son has soccer every Saturday morning so that restricts my hunting time to what I can take off from work or Saturday afternoons. Sundays are booked. We've been combating this heat by sticking to areas we know have a lot of water for the dogs to cool down in. We've been hunting along streams or places with ponds and springs. Some days we have the dogs go swimming before we hunt. It does help with their stamina.

Chief taking a post hunt swim. He still loves chasing dragonflies.

First Ruff of the year. a young bird that Chief found. The bird flew straight up into a tree only about 8 feet off the ground. Chief had it "treed" and started barking (more like screaming) at it. I went over to  poked at it with my shotgun barrel to get it to flush. That worked and the bird dove down through some oak brush and I was lucky to get a shot off before it disappeared. It was a very hurried an lucky shot. 
Fall in the mountain west
Hopefully the weather will break for us and cool down some. We have some old haunts we need to check out to see if the birds are more plentiful other places.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

SKUNKED (Not what you think) Grouse Hunting 2015 (so far)


It has been a beautiful September here in Utah and I have been fortunate to get out and chase some of my favorite game birds.

The hunt opened this year on a Tuesday, my brother and I both took the day off work, got up early and got after some semi-local blues just after sun-up. It was a successful morning but it quickly became too warm for the dogs and they were soon breaking down and not hunting as effective as they were in the cool hours of the early morning. But we did bag a few and witnessed some good dog work. Mostly from my brother's 2 year old shorthair Oakley. She had some nice points and retrieves. She's really grown up this past year and come into her own.


Shawn and the hounds during a successful morning hunt



A skunked Chief wondering what he did wrong
Highlight/low-light of opening day was during the hunt my brother and I were spread out about a 100 yards from each other. He talks to me on the radio saying that he is moving off his line and coming closer because he smells a skunk. He gets closer and complains again that he still smells skunk. Oakley and chief soon after go on point and we approach them  and smell another skunk. "Oh no! She's pointing a skunk!" We pull them off the scent afraid that they would get sprayed. The dogs wanted  to go back to that spot but we took them away from it and got them hunting again. Soon we smelled more skunk. Skunks are now on my side of the covert and that's when we realize that there is a common factor amongst all this skunk scent...... my setter Chief. Somewhere, somehow he got hosed by a skunk and was covered in the nastiest funk I've witnessed in a while. When your right up on fresh skunk stink it almost smells oniony or chemically/oniony is how I'd describe it. It's putrid. The bad part is we probably pulled him and Oakley off a bird thinking it was a skunk. Chief soon after found a nice. deep. cool moose-wallow and rolled and rolled in until he was blackened in moose funk to cover the smell, (or pile on top of the smell) we then took him to a pond that was nearby and let him swim for a few minutes. It didn't make a dent in the stench so we had to deal with a skunk scented dog the rest of the morning. When we got home I mixed up a skunk concoction of 1 quart hydrogen peroxide, 1/3 cup baking soda and 2 tsp. dish soap and frosted him like a birthday cake and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Rinsed and gave him a bath with regular shampoo. He wasn't free of the smell but he was much more tolerable. He smelled like a box of burnt matches for about a week. Nearly 3 weeks later it's almost gone. That's powerful stuff those skunks are packing. It's been a few years since I've had to deal with a skunked dog. It was rather comical.

Young Dusky (Blue) Grouse
I've been out a couple more times in the evening and had moderate success. The Utah DWR said it was going to be a banner year for grouse but where I've been hunting that isn't what I've seen so far. But it has still been warm and the undergrowth is very thick and heavy from our wet spring and we've had enough moisture this summer to keep things growing. This creates tough conditions for the dogs to find and scent the birds. The points have all been pretty close and tight up to the birds. But the weather is just starting to turn cooler and the plants are starting to die for winter so conditions will soon be improving.

If you follow the blog then you know me,  and know that I'll keep after it.  I'm sure we'll have more success.  I've been happy with what we've found so far. This time of year it is so nice to be in these mountains, chasing these dogs. Yesterday we saw bighorn sheep, moose, mule deer and a coyote along with the grouse. You can't see that from your couch, it's just nice to be out in it.

Chief has developed a new love for moose wallows. He's been sleeping in the garage more often than not lately.
Chief with his first grouse of the season. 

I've been packing my 28 gauge side by side so far this season and I'm rediscovering how much I enjoy that gun. It's so light and nimble. I don't think I shoot as well with it as do with my other guns but it has a fun factor that I'm enjoying. Not shooting as well could just be in my head. It fits me well and shoulders fine. I think it's more rust on my end than the gun.

Grouse crop: buds and grasshoppers
Chief and Hazel are doing well and it's fun to watch them shake off the cobwebs from the boring days of summer and watch them do what they were born to do. Last night Chief had a gorgeous point on a young blue grouse in a little open bowl. The grass was so tall all you could see is Chief's muddy tail sticking out amongst the grass. The bird held and he held for a long time as we approached. It makes all the messes, shedded hair, skunked dog smell and the game trails he creates in my yard, all worth it just to see him handle a bird like that.

Hazel has also had a good hunt and she continues to be consistent. She's gotten into a few so far and I'm sure there will be more.

GAME BIRD COOKING TIP:
If you like Indian food a nice simple way to cook game birds is buy a pre-made curry sauce. Cube or quarter up your birds. Brown them with a little oil in a pan. Then simmer them for at least 20 minutes in this sauce on low. That and some basmati rice makes for some good eating. I buy a Maya Kaimal brand from Costco and Target has an Archer Farms brand that's pretty decent. If you have more time, make your own curry and cook your birds in that. If you have the ingredients Thai-green curry is pretty easy to make. The web is loaded with good recipes. We discovered this last year during chukar season and have really enjoyed it. I recently did up some grouse with this sauce and the results were the same. Ive simmered chukar legs in this recipe and it breaks them down nicely. Simmering in a sauce for 25 minutes or so makes those tough chukar legs nice and tender. Remember to age your meat in the refrigerator for a few days (4 minimum - 10 maximum) before cooking or even freezing. Trust me it makes a difference.

Lastly, I'd like to congratulate my oldest brother Rick on a successful Moose hunt. They won't be going hungry any time soon. :) Beautiful and amazing animals are moose. He's been waiting for this for a long time. I'm so happy for him. If I had a dream hunt in Utah I think a moose would be the one.

Once in a lifetime. Rick with his first and last Utah moose


My nephew Clint hauling out the head and cape. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Utah Chukar Hunting Winter 2015


It's been a couple months since my last post and to those who frequent this blog I apologize.
December was a very busy month and the weather didn't cooperate with my hunting plans. There really wasn't anything to report.

January came and I was finally able to get out and do some hunting. We went to some of our local favorite haunts and found Chukar populations were up from the last few years. We were consistently finding good coveys in all the places we'd found them before.

With the dry warm weather we've experienced this January it wasn't long before those coveys were scattered and became harder and harder to find. By the end of the hunt in February most groups were just 2-3 birds, occasionally more. But, the action once we found them was usually pretty consistent. That doesn't mean I was putting a ton of birds in the bag but we got our share and had enough success to keep us wanting for more.

Typical local Chukar Terrain
Chukar hunting is hard and it's not for everyone but it's this hunters opinion that it's the most rewarding of all the upland birds, or at least the ones I've hunted. It's usually a lot of work to get to these birds. The dogs work hard, The hunters work hard, the shots are hard, the land is steep and hard but the payoff is so great. The bonus is chukar meat is some of the best if not the best eating bird in the game world. Tonight my wife and I made Chukar Coconut Kurma with Garlic Naan. It was so good. An Indian dish for a species of game bird  that was imported from that region of the world. Kind of cool. Every chukar is a prize and every time I get one I cherish it.

Chief on Point
The dogs had a good chukar season. Both dogs had their shining moments. But dogs will be dogs and have their.... not so good moments. But I have good dogs and they hunt hard. Chief has become an old pro and knows that if he is going to get his mouth on a bird he needs to be patient and wait for us to catch up to him. There was a couple points this year that he was pretty far out (500 yards or more) that he almost took on a casual attitude while waiting for me to approach. He was wagging his tail and looking over his shoulder. Once I thought he was going to actually sit down. This is totally new for him. Chief is as intense a pointer as any dog I've owned and more than most I've seen. I thinks it's that he has done this enough times that he knows what to do. The main thing is he held his birds and gave me opportunities. I also think on some of these occasions he was beat-tired and was taking the moment to slow down and relax. He was born to hunt chukars. It's really his element.
He gets to run as big as he wants and I'm not nagging him to stick around.


 I love it when a dog is on point and turns it's head to make eye contact with you. There is some communication going on with those glances that is hard to explain in words. I've had looks that I interpreted as "It's right there" and once this season Chief turned to look at me and I swear his eyes got really big and wide when we made eye contact as if to say, "I got it dead-to-rights.... DON'T YOU MISS!" I know that sounds crazy but his look had a tone. I didn't miss that one. I believe these interactions mean that this dog is hunting with you and is working as a team. Canine and human both have the same goal in mind and are working together to accomplish it. It's so cool. Those who haven't experienced it just don't know and can never understand. All the breeding, training and hunting pays off in those little moments and interactions.

Hazel with a nice blurry retrieve.
Fresh Chukar Sign. Yes, I'll pick up
poop to see if it's fresh. I'm weird like that.
Usually I just step on it to check but I
thought It would make a good photo.

Hazel ended the year as well as she started. She had her moments where I wanted pull her ears off but a minute later she'd do something awesome and all would be forgiven. She found her share of birds and held her points. She also had some great retrieves.  She is 7 years old so I have a few more years with her. (I hope). She had some moments this Chukar season that I hope I never forget. One comes to mind when we were on top of a mountain in kind of a flat area. I'm walking a long and see Hazel a hundred yards in front of me with her nose up bee-lining across this yellow cheat grass field for about 60 yards and stopping at the edge of some burned junipers. I hailed my brother on the radio and said "I got Hazel on point in the flats".  She held that bird long enough for both of us to get there and by the time the bird flushed we had 4 dogs locked up and backing her point. The bird flushed and we took the shot but the bird sailed around us and we thought it was gone. I was disappointed not only because of the good dog work we didn't reward but I felt like I got it. We left that spot and went around to were the bird flew and my brother's dog Sage found it dead among the rimrock. That was a sweet moment.

The point and back described above. After this moment I realized my camera was not working too well. Sorry for the blurry picts. I'm still mad about it because it was such a cool moment.
Another crazy moment during the hunt was I came across the strangest creature. It was brown with a small round head with big ol' eyes a hump back and moved in a weird shuffle drag motion. When I first saw it I had no idea what it was and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It kind of freaked me out. I was wondering if I was looking at a Chupacabra or something.  A few minutes later I saw a jack rabbit and realized that what I saw before was a badly mangled large jackrabbit that had somehow had it's ears removed and could no longer hop. It was a strange looking sucker. I wonder what that rabbits story is.



Last Bird 2015
The last bird of the year happened on the way off the mountain on the last day of the hunt. We were just starting to head back down when Chief's beeper collar started to scream point. I run him on silent mode and my point signal is a hawk scream. I find him head down and tail up looking down a slope among some burned out junipers. Before I could get close enough for a shot 3 birds flush about 15 yards in front of him. 2 dive down a canyon but one flies up over the canyon and lands on the next ridge not far from were we are headed. We look around for a moment to be sure there are no stragglers. I water the dogs well and we head for that ridge in hopes of a reflush. I swing around pretty wide hoping not to over pressure the bird. We approach the area from above but to no avail. But again within a few minutes, Chief's beeper is going off just above me. I bounce over to him just in time to see a chukar running about 10 feet in front of Chiefs nose. He breaks point and does a stiff legged stalk but the bird bolts down the hill. Again this bird doesn't fly too far. Maybe 300 yards and I watch it land again. So off we go again we go to where I marked it and both dogs were birdy but no bird. I let the dogs work and Chief went wide to my left while Hazel stayed pretty close working down hill in front of me. She was about 40 yards out when she froze and I knew we had it. I came down on her left side and walked past her about 10 yards when the bird came up right beside me it flew straight down hill and I shot it with my second shot.  It fluttered in the air for a moment and landed almost directly on Chief. He picked it up and headed up towards us then dropped the bird and just sat there with it until I came and picked it up. He was really hot and I guess didn't want to retrieve it but didn't want to leave it until I got there to pick it up. So I had 3 points on the same bird. That is rare with wild chukars. The birds and the terrain hardly ever allow that to happen. It was cool to end the year like that.

Hazel with another nice retrieve after a nice point by Chief
Overall it was a good year. Not only the chukars but I had a really good grouse season and the pheasant hunt was pretty fun. No out of state hunts this year. But the action was pretty good here in Utah so I don't feel like I missed out.

Lessons learned: 1) I like having a beeper on Chief. There was a few coveys and birds that I would of never known about if I didn't have him wear one.

2) Hazel needed a confidence boost for whatever reason and is back to her old self. It is so good to see. I love that dog more than ever.


3) I had to check my shooting. Concentrate on the target and not the gun. Once I did that chukars started ending up in the bag.

4) You can never pack too much water in the chukar hills. We had some warm days this year but I packed enough water that I could really let the dogs drink and that helped our success because the dogs had the stamina to hunt long and hard.

Worn out Dog Booties after a day on the mountain. Only a chukar hunter can appreciate this shot. 
5) Dog booties last longer if you coat them with duracoat or some other spray on rubber. I give mine several coats and got a lot more wear out of them. Plus I think it helped with the traction.
https://www.dogbooties.com/shop/1000-denier-cordura®-booties/

6) Time for a new camera. Mine is no good. I like using a camera rather than my phone. It's quicker than digging out my phone and trying to get it to wake up.

7) Chukar hunting is not for everyone. Don't expect everyone to love it the way I do.

I have a few posts and product reviews pretty much ready to go. I'm going to try to get back on my game and keep the blog more current this off-season.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and comment on this bird hunting drivel. I really appreciate the support I get from family and friends and those new friends I've made along the way.

Until next season.
Brett

Tired dogs and a tired hunter. Can't wait 'til next year. After reviewing this post I notice my dogs looks trashed in almost every photo. It was a dry hot January and February. It made for some long hard days. The dogs did great.