How to Pick a Hunting Dog, part 1

My first dog was a lab, a "purebred" AKC-registered beaut named Maggie that wouldn't fetch and shat on the grass.

Really, it was Dad's dog, the kind of dog you buy as a young father, eager to show the ropes of the world to your growing clan. Maggie - "Duchess Maggie Carbonier" was her full name - had a ton of energy and a loveable tendency to try to bear hug you in greeting at the end of a full sprint. hti sused to kock y 4 year lfd ittel sister flat on her back, which I thought was funny at the time, until I accidentally hit my own four-year old with a dog that was chasing a poorly aimed ball. You could get a concussion that way.

Anyway, back to Maggie - she used to drive my dad nuts, this dog - she could care less about a tennis ball, and loved to take a crap on our freshly-manicured Zoysia in the backyard. Dad used to chase her around with a rolled up newspaper trying to get her to fetch a tennis ball and stop shitting on the grass.

So when I got my first bird dog, it was my "own" dog with a similar eye to the coming broods of children that would soon invade our lives. I didn't know any better but I had high hopes for my young GSP, so the first thing I taught him to do was to fetch tennis balls. And the second thing I taught him was to shit over in the pinestraw and leaves behind the hollies in the edge of the back yard, and certainly not on the freshly-manicured and oh-so-inviting grass. At least that way I knew I could tell the kids "hey, careful when you go over there behind the hollies." And to be honest, he does A+ work in ball fetching, and B- work in not shitting on the grass (which is a passing average in my book).

The trouble is, when you pick a dog based on his love of tennis balls and the fact that he begrudgingly shits where he's told, you have the odds to draw a less than stellar hunter. Which, truth be told, is just what Dean is. But in the interests of full disclosure, that fits me to a t - I am a less than stellar hunter myself, so we get along fine. His nose is poor, he breaks on the shot, and he works close, not far off like the big-ranging pointing breeds are supposed to. I usually walk up birds, and don't have a horse, so working close is fine with me. The other two qualities, well, you get what you pay for I guess.

Dean has an ok nose, and ok drive. Ok drive on birds, once he's already flushed a few by accident and we've taken a break for lunch, and then he remembers what it is that birds do: smell funny, hold a bit, then fly off so the master can make the gun go bang. sometime, not often, they fall. then dean goes over to sniff them, and promptly goes back to doing somethings else, usually not hunting. i swear, this dog will retrieve a tennis ball until your rotator cuff literally falls out of your shoulder socket. but if it is not covered in lime-green-yellow felt, he doesn't want to pick it up in his mouth. weird as shit. anyway, he's the best fetching dog I've ever had, but i can't for the life of me get him to retrieve a downed bird.

I cut his balls off when he was one year old. I have been told that is what you are supposed to do to city dogs. However, I found out later to some chagrin that no stellar hunting dog has ever been so emasculated - if you are a shit-hot bird dog, you get to hunt all day and spread your seed to various females in the off season, in the hopes of fathering a second generation all-star. Alas, not Dean - he's a rare Hunting Eunuch. Which is all well and good, because he's not really very good enough at anything (except fetching tennis balls and shitting just on the pinestraw) to make him worth the time of any classy full bred bitch that I ever met.

One time I took him duck hunting at the old family pond. Well, it used to be a good duck pond - now there are so many local Canadas that they roost there year round and eat up all the mast and have pretty much pushed the ducks on down to mexico as far as i can tell. so pretty much we were going goose hunting. We got everyone out in the blind, nice cold morning just below freezing but still plenty of open water. sun comes up, big passel of geese fly over, the Benelli barks twice in the blind. Out goes Dean, diving gallantly into the half-froze water, swimming like a mad man (he loves to swim) over toward a big old bull goose, 18 or 20 pounds or more, flopping around and mostly dead already. He picks that old guy up in his mouth - at this point I am literally applauding from the blind, ego swollen with pride at the natural duck-blind talents of my versatile hunting dog. nope. he just shakes that guy back and forth for a few minutes until he's sure that it is dead, then paddles on back to the blind, climbs up and gives us all a cold muddy shower.

Dean the dog is now a bit past middle age, I guess. He's ton of fun, the kids adore him, and he's justaboutalmost calmed down his anxious bird-dog nerves enough to finally be well and truly loved by my wife. He's given me a lot of good walks in the woods and a few memorable hunts. And he's given me a lot to think about, about the role of dogs in our lives, what the really important traits are, what matters and where the room for improvement lies.


Creek Fishing at IOP

Jack and Caroline and I took the 'Vader out into the creeks behind Isle of Palms marina today. I even let Caroline drive the boat a little bit:

These kids are starting to act like pros even in the span of just a week. At least they sure do like to think they know what they're doing. Actually I give Jack the credit for pointing out the potential honey hole on this trip. 

A little bit of cut shrimp and a Elsa and Spiderman fishing rod we're all we needed to hook up on a couple black drum that were keeper size. We hooked a total of five but only landed to because our tackle was a little too light for the fight that was in these guys.

Laid out and dredged in Bisquick and Old Bay, they fried up pretty durn tasty.

Fishing at Hamilton Lake

Good day with Jack and Sam, chucking crickets out for bream on light tackle. 


Boating with Bud

We got the Evader out on the waters around Eye Oh Pee this week, total of 4 trips in 7 days. The new trim motor wiring ensured no adventures were delayed by mechanical malfuncitons (as was the case over the Fourth of July week). The kids did great and Jack was a terrific First Mate.

Here are some highlights:


Learning to Gambel

I am headed out to Vegas today. And you know what they say: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

But this one particular part of the trip I feel compelled to write about.

I am out here not to gamble - no, a much more noble cause colors my travels this weekend. First off, and the primary reason for the trip, is a time-honored tradition among fighting men that has passed down through the millennia: a reunion of war-brothers. 10 years ago this fall, the men of 1/5 left Iraq for the last time, following their third consecutive deployment to that "restive" nation. OIF I (which I missed): The Invasion. OIF II: Fallujah 1. OIF: The Battle of Ramadi. I made two of the three - many of my guys, particularly those who enlisted just prior to 9/11, had the distinct honor to make all three trips.

So now, 10 years late, a lot slower and a little fatter and not nearly as mean, we are all getting together in our old Marine Corps Ball haunts, a week after all of the active duty guys have rolled through for Ball season. Vegas calls, and nearly 140 of our own alumni are answering that call, to reassemble and reminisce over scotch, cigars, and warm hazy memories of the finest days of our young lives, and the finest of us that did not return. Best men I've ever known. Best job I ever had.

But that is not the real purpose of this blog post - it is only the platform for a small one-day aside. I got a really sweet "value add" opportunity for this trip though: i found an outfitter that guides out Henderson NV, and booked an upland bird hunt once I figured out that none of the other officers were bringing their spouses. I thought at first we were going t be hunting chukar in the rocky rimrock of the surrounding mountains, perhaps out to the East Mojave near Invapah. Instead, it looks like we are going to be chasing Gambel's Quail, a bird I know nothing about but that sounds interesting all the same.

I hear they are small and fast, but not as small and maybe faster than their bobwhite cousins. All wild birds, out in the arid rocky arroyo's of eastern Nevada, just west of the Arizona border. The guide is picking me up at my hotel at 4am, which will no doubt consume most of Saturday in more productive fashion than would sitting around and drinking all day. Here is an excerpt from the little upland anthology I am reading currently:
The dog, on the other hand, has never experienced an environment remotely like this one. . . .[But] the dog does what every pore of his being is meant to do; he is relentless in his pursuit of a species of quail that he has never experienced before this trip, to the exclusion of numerous other bird species he's never seen before either, but pays no mind to. I find no shortage of marvel in this. He finds them and almost flips over himself slamming to a point. They don’t hold for a second, of course, but start running in a loose, directional flock, flowing around cholla and prickly pear and acacia like a school of fish around dock pilings, coming together again and heading for the nastiest cover they can find. Spindly head feathers bobbling as they run. He moves after them, maintaining something of a vector/point as he goes and I have no choice but to do much the same in pursuit. Quail running. Dog running, freezing, pointing, running again. Human trying to keep up. The whole thing seems comical and about as far from the stereotypical, “classic upland” experience as one can get. But being attached to stereotypes isn’t the least bit productive here, whether you’re talking about putting a few Gambel’s in the bag, or a number of other things. 
Lenny is picking me up in the truck at 4am tomorrow, and we are heading out to the Nevada / Arizona line for a one-day hunt. I've got the 870, most of the kit I need here in the hotel room. Flight out was a breeze. We had a good little get together with everyone tonight, not too much to drink and I haven't even touched the poker tables. Doesn't matter - I'm ready to Gambel.


Book Review: Daniel Boone, et al.

Jack told me on the phone today that while at Nana's house, he was getting to read one of my favorite
childhood books, the Landmark Series classic Daniel Boone: The Opening of the Wilderness. Jack relayed excitedly that Daniel Boone had killed a panther at the ripe age of ten, as if to intimate that he himself might accomplish such a feat in just a handful of years.

I grew up reading these books of American folklore, cover to cover and back again, often under the light of a flashlight concealed beneath my bedspread. While most other's childhood evenings may have consisted of "good night, ma" and "good night, john-boy," mine certainly most often consisted of "Stephen, turn your light out" and "just one more chapter, mom."

One of my favorites was the story of General George Armstrong Custer. to find out later that he was something of a buffoon does nothing to diminish his place in the history of my childhood. I read that book seven times in the Third Grade alone.


Happy Birthday Pookie Face

Dean the Dog officially turned 8 years old today. It's been quite a journey since that fateful trip down to Harker's Island to pick him up one October day. He's a good dog, and he's not at all jealous that he shares his birthday with his younger, prettier sibling, who turned 5 herself today.

There were plenty of snack treats for the ol' Deando, and a couple choice photographs. Doc even got him a special bone, which he sat patiently for while wagging his tail.

 He even got a little bit of Sister's cake, too..