Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Big Box Break Down.

No question about it, big box stores are a retail reality in this country. Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, and Best Buy are household names. And many of us frequent wholesale clubs like BJ's and Costco in search of deals as well. Getting most of your shopping done under one roof saves time and money spent on gas. With gas prices creeping up, and lead prices now high, saving money at the gas pump, and in some cases, on daily necessities may be the only way some of us will be able to have any money left over come the shooting season.

The outfitting industry has their big box stores too. Cabela's, Bass Pro, and Gander Mountain are this countries big three, with cataloges full of glossy pictures of everything a sportsman could want, and then some. But in reality, the idea of the big three falls short of the expectations. My experience has been that the selection, and in many cases the hired help aren't exactly dialed in.

I've been to two Cabela's, the Maine store, and the Connecticut store. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The lay out of both stores seemed to be nothing more than a afterthought, and the selection at both stores was lacking, with large gaps, both on the racks and in the inventory selection. To make matters worse, I've found the atmosphere at the Maine store, to which I've been several times, rather depressing. While the store was still filled with lots of goodies, the customers all seemed to just be wandering about in a fog. Perhaps they were in a the same state of increduliousness I found myself in every time I went there; perplexed that a store so large, and with so much stuff, didn't have a single thing I was looking for. How does that happen?

Gander Mountain left me a little less disappointed. I'd detoured to Watertown NY to visit the store on the way home from grouse camp last year. Id only gone there to take a look, wanting to buy nothing more than an atlas. The atlas they had in stock, but the general impression of the store left me with the feeling I was shopping in a Building 19.

Bass Pro Shop isn't quite the disappointment the others turned out to be, but suffers in other ways. Perhaps the biggest blunder at Bass Pro, and something Cabela's suffers from too, is lack of a regional marketing strategy. The store in Foxboro, Massachusetts sells camo patterns that would look great, and be efficient on an antelope hunt in Wyoming, but fail to carry much in the way of upland bird vests, or pants. I guess they haven't noticed that in Mass deer and pheasant are the two most widely hunted species. Why carry a sex scented bear lure? Bears mate in the spring, and here in New England our bears season is in the fall. A food scent, such as anise, which is in the catalog would make more sense.

Even worse than not finding what you want is finding something you do want, but also finding out it's way over priced. I don't bother to look at the gun selection at Bass Pro anymore. Twice I've pointed out to the management guns that were tagged too high. One gun was a discontinued model that even with a sale price $300 less than the ticket was still over what I could have bought it for down the street. That was before Christmas, and as of last week at least one of those guns was still there collecting dust. But let's end on a positive note; Bass Pro's interior, and atmosphere is lively and exciting. Walking through the store is almost like being in an outdoors themed Disney park.

I'll not rant about the hired help, but will say this; working at an outfitter five days a week still means you're only hunting two days a week, if your wife lets you. If you hunt more than two days a week, your experience, and expertise may be of a higher level than those in the embroidered uniform. Trust yourself, trust your judgement. This assessment doesn't only apply to employees of he bigger outfitters either. Here is Mass we've got a family run outdoor store that I've witness passing along extremely suspect advice, and even make stuff up as they go. When the employee behind the gun counter looks at a shotgun for a full sixty seconds, and still can't tell you the make or gauge of the gun, I say shop elsewhere; Even if the outfitter has nifty commercials on TV.

All hope is not lost, however, and I am not as cynical a man as the previous paragraphs might have you thinking. There are a couple of places here in New England where one can, in my opinion, comfortably shop for, and usually find what they need. Number one on my list is The Kittery Trading Post in Kittery Maine. What makes this place special to me is their marketing departments understanding of what hunters and fishermen in New England need. If you need it, they'll have it. Maybe not the brand you wanted, but another version. They've also got some knowledgeable people working there; the shotgun department in particular. I'm quite fond of LL Bean, too. Though I've not had many conversations with the employees there, I've also never failed to find what I'm looking for either. I find LL Bean to be a no frills outfitter, with a good selection of the basics. As a die hard grouse hunter, I've no trouble pointing other bird hunters towards Bean when they might need to replace some gear.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Disconnect

Standing in line, a lone can of Off bug spray the only product on the conveyor before me, there was no way I could not notice the young mother in front of me at the check out. Not because she was rather pretty, nor because she had a huge pile of grocery items, both on the conveyor and in her cart, but because for the roughly ten minutes I waited for her to complete her purchase she talked loudly on her cellphone. I don't remember any of the content of her conversation, but from the tone of her voice, and the occasional giggle, I figured she wasn't on a business call. As general rules of civility go, talking incessantly on your cell phone while standing face to face with a live person is rude. But what I found most distressful was the fact that the entire time this young lady gabbed away, her toddler sat, ignored, in the shopping cart. And after I'd completed my transaction I noticed that even as she loaded her considerable number of bags into her car, she still talked on her phone, deftly balancing it between ear and shoulder, so she could talk hands free; the toddler still ignored. While I'm sure scenes like this play out somewhere, everyday, it reminded me of the addiction, and dependency mankind has developed to the media, social networking, and it's associated devices.

I cannot condemn the use of media, net, and social networking outlets; I use them myself, and they're not, after all, evil. That you're reading this is evidence of one use of cyber technology, and my posting regularly may make me an enabler. It's what our society losses, what individuals lose, when they are immersed in a cyber life, and hopelessly attached to lifes modern devices; situational awareness.

When life is turned inwards, and takes place in the a fictions realm, a detachment from reality takes place. As a sportsman, I truly believe that my time spent in the outdoors, whether in the woods or on the water, contribute of allowing me a heightened level of situational awareness. Perhaps knowing a twisted ankle while grouse hunting twenty miles from the nearest pavement, or bowhunting black bear from a ground blind can present you with the type of problem that can have grave consequence keeps you focused. But I don't think so. Seems to me, being in the outdoors is natural, and so brings out what is a natural connection. To the uninitiated, plopped down in a wilderness situation, this sense of awareness may be initially coupled with some fear, but as ones time and interest in the outdoor environ grows these feelings of awareness will become noticed. When it does, a connection will have been established.

Of course, the web, and everything about it that keep people happily unaware have uses in a Sportsmans life. Properly used we research trout streams, lodging, and guides. Whether deer hunting, bird hunting, or fowling, Google Earth becomes our friend, and through the use of online web forums we share ideas, learn, and make friends with people who have similar interests in far away places. Let's not forget the entertainment value either. Reading web publications keeps the enthusiasm high, fueling outdoor adventures of my own, which in turn get put down here, and become, in part, your adventure too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Answering The Question

     Some people don't get it. Others don't want to. There is a majority out there that just doesn't care. A majority that doesn't know, or refuses to admit that life goes on, and sometimes ends, off the grid iron. Quizzical looks when informed that, No, you really don't want to play for the company softball team. Befuddlement that you'd rather toss large hairy flies to bass, or shoot a round of trap, or hike across the crest of a distant mountain.

     Others think they know better than you, better than everyone. They know that the forest must have trees, that mustn't be cut, and that the meat aisle is where you get your meat, should you absolutely have to eat it. They know the best foods are stamped "organic" and over priced, and unless so, they're not of the best quality. They'll tell you so even as the freshly plucked plumage swirls in the breeze at their feet.

     Fortunately there are some who still understand that a little sweat equity makes everything taste better. That rising before dawn, and watching the world wake up is good for the soul. And that watching a well built campfire burn is way more entertaining than CSI, Miami will ever be. I've never been able to explain why I'm drawn to the outdoors; I just am. I do know that hunting, and fishing, hiking, canoeing, and especially  owning and training a gundog, and all that encompasses, make me a better person.

     While I may not be able to explain adequately, I've come across someone who can, and if you haven't read it before, I think you'll be glad you did, and if you have read it before, you'll no doubt want to read it again. And while there's no doubt as to the author, and publication, they need, and deserve thanks for putting out what myself, and probably many others have never been able to say. So, Thank You, William G. Tapply, and Field and Stream.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spaniel Clinic Photos.

     Yesterday's account of the spaniel training clinic was created on the go. I was mobile, away from home base, unable to create to my fullest ability. Therefore, no pictures. Today you get the pictures, with some brief explanations. Enjoy.

The first segment Friday, David did a bit on puppy handling, and socialization. In this photo he is working with my pup, Ginger.

Here David watches as Jim handles Monty on some marked retrieves. Stopping to the whistle was also worked into the drills during this session.

In the afternoon some older dogs were worked on harder marks, over a fence. During this session David worked some of the dogs on the Back command, and some directional hand signals.

Here a little Cocker from the U.P. handles the fence smartly.

In this short video, Gus is made to remain steady before being sent for the retrieve. The dummy had already been tossed, and Gus held back for a spell, but he hunts the mark enthusiastically for the dummy.

On day two we moved into the woods for a scent trailing drill. Here a helper gets ready to fire a cap before a mark is tossed for the dog. After the mark was tossed, the dog would be healed away, the mark picked up, and then the dog sent for the non-existing mark. The dog would be expected to follow the pre-layed scent trail that crossed the line to the mark. This drill worked well, and encourages a dog to be bold in it's trailing, and confident in it's nose.

Dogs and handlers waiting for their turn on the line.

The last drill on Saturday was a steady to flush drill. Here dogs and handlers, again, await their turn. Unfortunately I didn't get any good pictures of this drill.

A quick shot of the sizable quail pen.

Saturday ended with a fantastic pig roast.

Views of the seating area. The tents came in handy, as we had showers, off and on, both days. When it wasn't raining it was hot and humid.

David and myself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spaniel Training; Buccleuch, Windrift, & Ginger

Sometimes the stars align, and good luck is bestowed upon us. Lately, I'm happy to say, good luck has come my way a few times. It started with finding a puppy, and rolled right on from there. One piece of luck to come my way was the opportunity to get to attend a Spaniel training clinic being hosted by Christine Lavier of Windrift Springer Spaniels in Cochranton Pa.

Christine owns a beautiful property, both wooded and fields, ideal for birddog training with ravines, fences, and waterways. She's got a pigeon coop, and pens for both pheasant and quail, as well a a kennel, and barn. Tucked away in farm country, it's a perfect venue for a training clinic. But it gets better. Christine imported David Lisett, from Buccleuch Estate in Scotland to teach us all his tricks of the trade. David is well know in the spaniel community, as a 7 time championship winner in the UK, and Ireland, and from his spaniel training DVD set.



The clinic format was to work the younger dogs, 4-12mos, in the morning, and the older dogs, 1-2yrs, after lunch on both Friday and Saturday, Sunday would be reserved for older dogs, and trial dogs. Of course before each session David talked a bit about his training philosophy, answered questions, and even solicited suggestions. A very approachable, soft spoken, and funny guy, David was adamant that the dog owners in attendance voice their concerns and suggestions, wanting to be as productive as possible when addressing each dog owners issue.

While it seemed like David may have imported a little Scottish weather with him, switching from showers with an occasional clap of thunder, to hot & sunny, and back again, the crowd remained enthusiastic. Springers were the order of the day, with a sprinkling of Cockers, and a Golden, an American Water Dog, and a Portugese Water Spaniel tossed in for color. The drilling included some basic marked retrieves, non-slip steadiness, fence handling, scenting, and some steady to flush. My personal favorite event was on the morning of the first day, when David demonstrated some puppy socialization, and bonding drills with my new pup, Ginger.

Performances of note; that is, those that stuck the most in my head. Gus, a springer from the Pittsburgh area, navigated the fence masterfully. Tess, a springer from Massachusetts, handled her first retrieve of a live bird beautifully, and then went on to absolutely rock the steady to flush drill like a pro. Cramer, the Golden ( from somewhere in Pa), did a fantastic job scent trailing and retrieving a live pigeon. Christine too, handled a young male who's name I've forgotten through an impressive series of drills teaching the dog to take a hand signal. And not to be forgotten; Luke, the American Water Dog who's a local boy to the area, did almost everything asked of him, and never showed any signs of quitting when things got tough.

Unfortunately, I did not stay for the third day, though I'd have liked to see the older dogs work. As I was picking up a puppy, I felt it would be wisest to depart early, as a 10 hour drive with a 9 week old pup is not assured to go smoothly. However, it did. Christine will be hosting this event next year, and David will be returning, so I too, will make the trip. This time I'll have a somewhat older dog, and hopefully she'll be somewhat impressive. Either way, she'll be fun.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Puppy Time; The New Girl is Here.

     Thought the weeks, days, and minutes passed slowly, they passed none the less. The stillness and quiet of a suddenly dogless home life has come to an end, and I now have the pleasure of introducing all of you to the new girl. So, without further delay, I give you Ginger.

     Ginger is the product of a breeding between Windrift Honeybee, and AFC Tulcan Tod. I came across this breeding in a round about fashion. I'd talked to Justin of Olive Ridge Springers, who put me in touch with Christine at Windrift Springer Spaniels, because he wasn't planning any litters. Christine didn't have any litters planned either, but put me in touch with Shane from Ontario. Shane had decided to breed the bitch he had gotten from Christine, Windrift Honeybee (Bee). After several e-mails, and phone calls an agreement was reached, and I knew where my next dog was coming from.

     As fate would have it, the age when Ginger would be ready to be separated from the rest of the litter coincided with a spaniel training clinic being hosted by Christine at Windrift, featuring David Lisett of Buccleuch Estate Scotland. As Shane would be attending the clinic, my wife and I decided to attend the clinic and pick up Ginger there, rather than putting her on an airplane. The clinic was fantastic, and I'm already planning to attend next year ( details will be posted separately, soon ). Hopefully Ginger will be reunited with her litter mates next year. As for her litter mates; her sister Trixie will be staying with Shane and her mother Bee, while her brother Quinn will be living in eastern Pa, and Pearson will be living in northern Va.

     While it's only been a couple of days I'm already seeing things in Ginger which make me think she'll be easy to train. Most importantly, the bonding is going well. My wife having never raised a puppy before, my dogs being adults when we married, we both want Ginger to bond with both of us in the same way my past dogs had bonded with me. So far they've enjoyed some nice mama time at home, and we've set up a dedicated mama only walk time. Ginger has already been introduced to the crew at the kennel, met the chickens and cows, been for a walk in the woods, and popped into the bath tub.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


A wise man once bestowed upon me the rule of Six P's. The rule is designed to keep one from looking like an ass at anything they endeavour to accomplish. It's a simple rule; Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. For the last week or two I've been following the rule of six P's down two different paths, both of which will ( or should ) lead right back to the same place; my kitchen table.

If you've even looked at this web-site even once you'll have noticed I've got an affinity for bird hunting, and bird dogs. If you're a regular reader you know I lost my English Setter, Austin, to bone cancer in February. Losing Austin was painful for all the obvious reasons, but it also left me without a dog for the first time in 18 years. Well, that's about to come to an end, as I'll be picking up my next pup this week-end. Not having brought a pup home in over ten years, I've found myself making lots of preparations in advance of the little lady's arrival.

My first thought, has been to puppy proof the house. Many things an adult dog wouldn't give a second thought look quite tasty, and stimulating to a pup. Having made considerable effort to fill my house with nice furnishings, I've also bought a bag of full of various chew toys. And while I usually tow the practicality line when it comes to what I buy for my dogs, I did find myself agreeing with my wife when she suggested we buy a "cute" collar/leash combo. Don't worry; while cute, it's rather conservative too. While these preparations might seem rather domestic and lacking in excitement, they are very important. Puppy training and socialization are the cornerstone of the field work the pup will be expected to learn when she gets older. And if I expect her to turn into a top notch bird dog, which I do, putting birds before the gun, and ultimately on the kitchen table, then I'll gladly do the prep work.

On a divergent path; I've prepped and begun planting my vegetable patch. While my patch isn't very big I genuinely enjoy it's humble yield throughout the growing season. This year we'll be growing Daikon radish, Spinach, Peppers, and Eggplant in the garden, and Cucumbers and Scallions in planters. Hopefully, this combo of gundog, and veggies will provide me with meals worthy of writing about here, and sharing with all of you.