Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dogging It.

     It's been a dog training weekend. Sure, I could have snuck off to a treestand, duck blind, or grouse covert, but sometimes ya just gotta slow down. Plus, I've got a busy week planned, where I'll be sneaking off to a treestand, a duck blind, and a grouse covert. Just not in that that order. So I worked with Ginger on some basics, with some tricky cover thrown in. I want her to succeed as a duck dog, too, so I've been keeping her in wet, thick, and tricky cover.

     In this first video, I don't do anything tricky. I toss a marked retrieve, and send her for it at my leisure. Ginger has been struggling with her steadiness a bit; she doesn't run in, but creeps, and doesn't stay seated. So she doesn't get to make the retrieve until her butt hits the ground.

     Here, I toss a dummy into tricky, wet cover. Ginger still creeps, so I give her a little reminder, and put a bit of pressure on her. Of course, she makes the retrieve, and makes it look easy, too.

     In this last video I toss the dummy into heavy, thick, wet cover. The water depth in this cover varies, and the cover is tall, so not only is Ginger doing more swimming, but we can't see each other much. If you're planning to use your spaniel for waterfowling you've got to have a spaniel that can handle this type of cover and get the job done. You need a dog that is brave, trustworthy, and independent.

     **Special thanks to my wife for the wonderful, professional looking video job.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Waterfowl-Water Foul. Adventures In The Muck.

Waterfowling is a passion of many a sportsman around the globe. My friend Tim is one of those sportsmen, so whenever an invite is floated my way I am sure to accept. Today Tim, along with his Chessie Pogue, and I trekked in the predawn blackness to the brush choked, muddy shore of a beaver impoundment Tim frequents. The effort was well worth it.

To assure we'd have ample time to bushwhack in and set decoys, I rolled out of bed at 4 AM, and turned the car north 15 minutes later. By 5:30 Tim and I were dressed and making our way in, and had our set up completed about 20 minutes later. This actually allowed us 15+ minutes of listening to mallards quacking, wings whistling, and duck butts splashing down. One minute after shooting time arrived I found myself swinging on a trio of ducks set to land in our spread. The butt to shoulder-cheek to stock- muzzle to bird-finger to trigger scenario played out in perfect syncronization, and the duck disappeared. The splash and concentric rings in the water confirmed what we knew, and Pogue was sent for the first retrieve of the day. Not being a regular fowler, I am usually happy when any fowl makes it home with me, and even a single duck is considered a "success". In turn, my focus has been on increasing my species list. I've shot Mallards, Blacks, Woodie, Pintails, and now I could add Gadwall to the list. For the next 15 minutes we announced our position to the world with an almost steady volley of shots. I'd like to tell you that by the time it slowed down we'd sent the dog to pick a number of well shot birds, but I can't.

As the action slowed, ducks still came in, worked the decoys, and held our attention. Some shots were still offered, and some spectacular misses were recorded by us both. Such is the art of wing shooting. To our right Mallards teased us, setting into an inpenetratable mess, while to our left Teal zoomed in, landing in open water too far away. Eventually it was time to pick up the decoys, and prepare to go to work, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that we need more time at skeet.

As Tim waded out to the first decoy he insisted that I remain by the shore, loaded, and looking. He assured me that as Murphy prescribed so many years ago, that ducks will come in while the decoys are being pulled. He was right, and I soon knocked a drake Mallard into the weeds about 50 yards to our left. To our surprise Pogue started back without the drake. No big deal. We'd finish picking up, walk the shore close to the mark, and send him again on a hunt dead. Of course I made this harder to do by splashing down a passing Canada goose. The goose wasn't dead on the water, and required Pogue to give considerable chase. When the goose crossed a section of the beaver dam Pogue got the leverage he needed, leaping from atop the dam directly onto the goose. A job well done, by the somewhat aging veteran.

Picking the Mallard proved to be more of a chore than we expected, too. We both expected the drake to be dead, but put it out from under a blow where it had been hiding. Again, Pogue gave chase while the duck made a series of submarine maneuvers to avoid capture. At one point, while well clear of the dog, Tim even shot it again, but it kept swimming. Soon the drake dove, and never resurfaced. Pogue was directed to the area where he searched and searched. We'd considered waiting out the duck, but time wasn't on our side, and painfully the decision was made to abandon the search with the hope that Tim and Pogue could make it back there before sunset to try a hunt dead search again.

While lost game, and a friend shooting zeros isn't anyone's idea of a good time, and I take no joy in them, the morning was exceptional. The only thing that held us back was ourselves, and had we been shooting better, no doubt we'd have been damned close to carrying out a limit. We are both excited to team up for a duck hunt again soon, and now that I've seen the beaver impoundment, and what it holds for cover, I'll bring Ginger to get her share of the work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From The Ground Up; Thoughts On Foot Care

     All things being equal, I often consider the feet to be a hunters number one asset. One day afield with I'll fitting boots, or an errant step while crossing a blow down are usually what it takes to get us thinking about our feet. Sometimes sitting in camp with our throbbing feet up, scotch and Advil coursing our veins is what makes us take notice and motivates us to buy new boots. A look at what our feet do for us reveals their importance. Our feet take us to our tree stands, and carry us up. Our feet allow us to follow bird dogs through coverts, and kick out tight holding birds. Our feet allow us sure footing while wading rivers and fighting big trout. Here are a few of my thoughts, and a few things I do to keep my feet happy, and ultimately insure I spend more time afield.

     Foot Wear- we all know the importance of proper foot wear, but I'll say it again. The right foot wear will make your adventures more pleasurable. It's never when we're wearing the right boot that we think about it, so it's hard to fully appreciate your choice. The fit of the boot is important; make sure they fit correctly. If your heel floats in the back, you're bound for blisterville.

     Quality socks make a difference, too. Depending on the weather, I prefer a wool sock, but a cushion foot boot sock in the warmer months gets the trick done.

     They type of boot you use can make a difference. Deer hunters have seen a swing from traditionally styled hunting boots to rubber boots, though either kind will do the job provided the boot is matched to your hunting style. Same goes for bird hunters. Those hunting in dry conditions will benefit from a light weight moc-toe boot. That said, I use rubber boots for both deer, and bird hunting. I value the water tightness of a pair of rubber wellies, and traditional New England grouse cover is usually wet. Wellies can be found in a number of configuration; insulated/ un-insulated, camo, or plain, ankle fit, or not.

     After the hunt- there are things you can do, post hunt, to help your feet recover for the next hunt. Obviously, a warm soaking feels good, but cold will benefit you more. One trick I use it to take a standard therapeutic sports wrap, and freeze it. In the evening I sit with the wrap under my arches for 10-15 minutes. The cold pushes the fluids, which collect in your feet out. After removing your feet from the cold wrap you will quickly feel the rush of fresh blood flowing back into your feet.

     In extreme circumstances such as a twisted ankle, or a sore Achilles tendon, you can immerse your feet in an ice bath. A small dish washing tub filled with some ice and cold water will do the trick. Remember to keep the ice bath to 10-15 minutes, as any longer can cause cold burns.

     If you really feel like treating yourself, book some reflexology. A good foot massage can do wonders. Many shopping malls have massage and reflexology shops. With the holiday season approaching it is a sure bet that your spouse will drag you around shopping. This may present you with the perfect opportunity to sneak a reflexology session in.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kiji Tatsuta

       As thrilling as the hunt is, the time spent in the kitchen preparing and serving a hard won meal can be equally exciting, and satisfying as a heavy game bag. The extent that sportsmen go to, in their efforts to be able to smooth the breast feathers, and feel the heft of a bird delivered to hand by a trusted dog, it's no wonder so many spend as much time perfecting their culinary skills, as their clay scores. Of course, knowing your way around the kitchen also brings with it a certain awe in camp, and almost always assures one will be exempt from doing dishes after the meal.

     With the responsibility of taking game comes the responsibility of creating a masterpiece with it. While it seems these skills improve with age, and bird camp experience, there is always someone who draws the line at doing little more than opening a canned cream of mushroom soup and a bag of onion bits. Coupled with the need for a forgotten appetizer, a culinary whiz in camp is always more than welcomed.

            Of course we all want our game birds to be picturesque center pieces, but let's not forget they make great apps, and snacks too. As a frequent traveler to Japan, and a lover of Asian food, I've found a series of treatments not only suitable for game birds, but pleasing to the American palate too. One of the foods I've adapted is a fried chicken recipe, suitable for either a main dish or an appetizer, called Tatsuta Age (Tah-Tsu-Tah Ah-Gay), but this recipe will work with any white breasted game bird. In Japanese, Pheasant is called Kiji (Kee Jee), so I call this dish, Kiji Tatsuta.

             Tastuta is a dish in which bite sized pieces of chicken are marinated in some basic ingredients, and deep fried to deliciousness. The simplicity of this dish, coupled with the familiarity of deep frying make this dish an easy primer for anyone interested in expanding the flavor profiles of their cooking, and is sure to impress the guys; whether served at hunting camp, or while watching a football game. In addition, two of the ingredients are a staple I use in treating any bird I take that might be hard hit and suffering a little rankness from blood trapped in the meat.

            To start you'll need to take a trip down the international aisle at the grocery store for a couple of provisions, and then detour to the produce section, before venturing into the kitchen. To start with, find yourself a bottle of soy sauce, and a small bottle of cooking sake. Cooking sake is a very low alcohol content rice wine, and should be available at any large grocery store. Should you not find it, any inexpensive bottle of sake from the liquor store will do. I like to keep a large bottle on hand, as it comes in handy for other game handling applications, which I'll explain later. From the produce aisle you'll need some scallions, and a roughly one inch long piece of ginger root.  In addition you'll need to get some oil for frying and some flour, if you don't have it already.

            Taking a look at our ingredients, here's what you should have assembled when it's time to start cooking:
                        The breast meat of two pheasant. Cut into bite sized chunks
                        Soy sauce
                        Cooking sake, or regular sake
                        Ginger root, roughly one inch in size

           Assembling this dish is quite easy. Put two parts sake, and one part soy sauce in a bowl suitable for marinating. About 2/3 cup of sake, and 1/3 cup of soy sauce should be enough.  Finely chop two scallions, and add to the soy/sake mixture. Next, grate the ginger, retaining any liquid, and add about one tablespoon to the mixture. Ginger can be grated with a small, fine cheese grater, or chopped finely if you have the knife skills. Before grating, you can quickly remove the paper-like skin of the ginger by scraping it off with the edge of a spoon, or you can include it in the dish. After you've assembled, and mixed your marinade, submerse the meat and refrigerate for a couple of hours. When it's time to cook, simply pull a couple chunks of meat from the marinade, allowing bits of scallion and ginger to adhered to it, dredge it in flour, and carefully drop it in the hot oil you've heated until it's fried golden brown.

      This combo of ingredients will give the meat a warming, refreshing accent, which will keep everyone’s fingers traveling from the serving plate to their mouths. The simplicity of this recipe allow for easy modification. More ginger or scallion can be added to suit ones taste, and should you want to make this as a meal, just cut your meat to a larger size and fry a bit longer. The first time you make it, you may want to only use half of the ginger, increasing to your taste as you go.

            In addition, sake is a great treatment for hard hit birds. On occasion, I find that I may have a bird in my fridge, that either from being hard hit, or suffering from a poor diet, has a bit of a rank odor to it. Simply marinating a bird such as this in sake, and a couple 1/4 inch thick rounds of ginger easily removes any unwanted essence, without impacting the flavor.

            Bon appetite.

This is an article I thought was going to be publish, and maybe it will yet. After several issues of the publication going out without it, however, I thought it was time to share it.




Friday, November 11, 2011

Grouse Camp 2011 Photos

     What is it, really, that brings us all to grouse camp each fall? It must be something truly special to motivate one to pack dog, gear and gun into a cramped car, and turn north to the farthest reaches of New Hampshire. I've got it easy, only driving up from Boston, but others make the trip from more southerly points; New Jersey, New York City, Pennsylvania,.....and in past years, even from as far away as Colorado. Perhaps it's the thrill of sneaking away from civilization, and staying in a rustic camp?

Or the view it provides?

Maybe it's the thrill of getting to hunt and share camp with this guy? But I doubt it.

   I think it's about covers filled with potential,.....

 and the vistas travelled between them.

But even more, I think it's about good friends, and gun dogs.

Sterling & Tim
Steve & Lula

Myself & Bryan


Often the surprises we encounter along the way become cherished memories,......*

Woodies flushed from a creek

but mostly, it's the birds that bring us together.

Special thanks to ASO Pro Staffers Bryan, and Sterling for providing the photos.
* If you ever have a chance to meet Sterling, ask him about his cherished memory of a Black Bear surprise in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things You Should Check Out; Safety & Navigation Recommendations

This installment of Things You Should Check Out covers a few items I use, and recommend for safety and navigation. Naturally navigation goes hand in hand with safety. After all, not getting home at the end of the hunt is fundamentally unsafe.

The Delorme Gazetteer is a great item to add to your gear bag. Deform makes a topo atlas of all 50 states, showing a variety of features you're bound to find useful. My collection of Delorme are worn, chewed by puppies, stained with gun solvent, and well marked with highlighter pen. While too big to be carried afield they can be studied before heading out for an adventure.

A GPS is another item that will allow one to safely venture into parts unknown, and back again. There are quite a few companies making GPSs, and many different kinds available. I use a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx. This model has downloadable topo maps, so not only can you see where you are, but what lays ahead. Any waypoint, or track you save in the device can be saved on your computer, so maps can be made, or over-layed on Google Earth. The GPS has allowed me to find and hunt cover I would have never been in. The Garmin etrex

The last thing I'll recommend is the shooting glasses being offered by Ducks Unlimited. These glasses come with a case and five different shooting lenses. The set includes two low light lenses in yellow, and orange, a bronze lens for bright days, a blue lens for clay shooting, and a clear lens. In addition to the obvious benefits of glasses when shooting, they also have a navigational benefit. Should you ever find yourself pressed into navigating the woods after dark (not recommended) you can put on the clear lens, and protect yourself from the twig, or branch that will try to poke your eye out. DU Shooting glasses

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Shooting Sport Rant

Last week while grouse hunting up north I found myself needing to buy a box of shells. No problem, I'll just pop into the local sporting goods store, and grab a box off the shelf. That's exactly what I did. But I was reminded of a conversation I'd had with my friend Sterling a week before while grouse hunting. I paid $17.50 for a box of 20 gauge, high brass 7 1/2s. But price isn't the subject of this rant. The fact that by next season any un-used shell which has been rolled in my pocket, thumbed, and been allowed to commingle with other shells will be indistinguishable from any other shell is my problem. For $17.50 per box, the manufacturers could at least mark their products with ink that doesn't wear off so easily. While I usually dedicate one pocket for 7 1/2s, and another for 6s, by the end of the season shells often end up mixed together some how. When it comes time again to use these shells, I sure would like to know that it's a 7 1/2 I'm dropping in the right barrel, and a 6 I'm dropping it the left barrel. Is that too much to ask? Rant over.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Learning Curve; More Grouse Hunting

Another journey north, to the grouse woods of northern New Hampshire served to further expand my knowledge of this most noble bird. What did I learn? That's easy. I learned that grouse hunting without a dog sucks. Sure, grouse can be hunted without, and with some company to help move the birds forward you're sure to sling some lead. But solo, truly solo; no dog, no friends, it's a different, and much more challenging game. And the birds sure seemed to know the difference, preceding to flush behind me after I'd moved past them.

As I'm sure you could guess, my idea of accessorizing is a lanyard with dog whistle around my neck. And if you've been following my blog, you'll know I've got no one to blame for my dog less position but myself. I should have started a pup a couple years ago, and been prepared for the inevitable passing of Austin, my setter. But sometimes we don't make the best decisions, or think clearly, so I must resign myself to less intense grouse season, and a more intense dog training season. Happily, the latter is making up for the former, and Ginger, my springer pup is coming along grand.

All hope was not lost on this last trip north, however. I took some time to venture deeper into an area I'd hunted last year, and the trip proved out my suspicions. I moved quite a few birds in there. Of course this marks a growing understanding of the functions of my GPS. Now that I've had the GPS a couple of years, and experimented with it's functions, I've gotten to the point where I feel comfortable busting brush into parts unknown, and using it to navigate my way back. That was precisely what I did. Last year, in unseasonable heat, Bryan and I hunted this area for a couple of hours. We hunted it in the typical walk the trail while the dog courses the cover routine. The heat, however, sapped the energy of both dog and man, and we quit hunting quite early every day we were there. This year I felt the call of the wild, and went where the cover took me.

The birds in the cover often seemed, to my detriment, to not really care too much about my presence. Sure, they were sneeky, and flushed behind obstructions, but they flew as if they'd never seen a human before. This should have been a recipe for success, should your measure of success be a heavy game bag, but I found myself being punished in other ways. I'd decided I'd carry my 28 gauge Gamba over/under into that covert. That turned out to be a mistake. Not the result of bad shooting, so stop thinking it. But rather a more mundane, and foolish annoyance. Being a rather cold day, I'd elected to wear gloves. I say elected, as if I had a choice, but I didn't. It was about 22 degree in the morning, and had only warmed to about 32 degrees by the time I was in the woods. The Gamba, of course has a rather low profile thumb safety,.....yup. Safety trouble of the highest order. Three softballs go up, and three times I fail to switch the safety off. A dog wouldn't have helped in this case, but at least I'd have had a companion to bitch at. But I can't blame the gun, nor the lack of a dog, nor the weather. I can't blame anything, or anyone for my troubles afield. It is, after all, grouse hunting.