Monday, December 24, 2012

A Friendly Reminder

     'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse. What?! A mouse? Not in my house! Get the traps!

     In the outdoors sometimes it's quite obvious when seasons overlap, and other times not so much. It's easy to see where bird seasons, and deer seasons converge, but not all pursuits are as clear. In most parts of the country those toting traps, and tending lines are barely visible, as are their tools of the trade. It is an unfortunate biproduct of the quest for fur that dogs can be accidentally caught, or worse, sometimes killed in traps. All states have their own special regulations, and rules as to how traps must be set. In many states, but not all, lethal traps must be set under water, or in a cubby to prevent accidental catches of domestic animals. All sportsmen that take to the woods with any kind of dog would be well served by learning what their regional trapping seasons are, as well as what traps are allowed, and potential trapping sights in their area. Learning how to recognize traps, and how to release them is a skill worth learning.

      No trapper wants to lose time resetting traps accidentally triggered by a dog, let alone accidentally kill one. Trappers, however, have just as much rights to pursue fur, as other sportsmen have to pursue their chosen game. Furs are in their prime in the late fall, and winter, so there will always be an overlap in the seasons. Like all things in life, education is the key to understanding. I'd recommend anyone with a dog, whether they intend to ever trap or not, take a trapper education class in the  off season. Trapper education will make the thought of hunting during the trapping season less of a scary proposition.

     And,.....Merry Christmas everyone.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

That's A Wrap- 2012 Grouse Camp(s).

     Sometimes it all comes together nicely. Like it has this fall. A young dog, some good friends, and a series of fortunate events meant writing got pushed to the back burner, and hunt moved to the front. And in moving it to the front burner I also turned up the heat, and kept it at a rolling boil for as long as I could. Now, however, I've begin to wrap up my grouse hunting season. It's not over, and I fully expect to spend a few more days in the woods with Ginger, but no more multi-day, no more camps.

     I've been very fortunate this season, and went to 5 grouse camps for about 30 days in camp. With this being Ginger's first season 30 days in grouse camp is immersion learning, and she learned quickly having been given the opportunity to flush a few hundred grouse, a boat load of woodcock, and even a few hares. Naturally I was the week link in the process, my shooting suffering greatly. While I shot a few birds, and hares I should have pocketed double what I brought home. The sting of missing made worse by the fact that many of the misses absolute softball flushes, in the open, with few trees to intercept shot string, or obscure vision. None the less, my shooting percentage was high enough that Ginger was allowed to learn her trade, and begin to excel at it.

     Both Ginger and I learned a lot this season. Ginger about hunting, and grouse behavior, and me about dog training. Ginger learned that the flush of a low flying grouse was much more exciting than the wind up toy like flush of a woodcock, and with that I learned that steadying a young spaniel on grouse wouldn't be as easy as I'd thought it'd be. So again it was off the the races, and back to a little dog training. As fate would have it, a little refresher yard work, and a little whistle work was all it took to her squared away.

     Our travels took us to 2 camps in northern New Hampshire. The first camp with GW which I wrote about last month, and the second, a week long camp with BK and his Lab, Ruby, where we managed to put a dent in the local woodcock population. At one point BK and I found ourselves each with a limit of woodcock in about 30 minutes, and having to round up Ginger to hunt dead for 3 woodcock on the ground at the same time.

     After a brief respite from hunting to attend some required training at work I was ready to go again when November rolled around. First Ginger and I made the long drive to Pennsylvania for our annual grouse camp with the ASO pro staff and some friends. While the area of Pa we hunted wasn't the best grouse cover, with 8 guys, 4 dogs, 3 bottles of whisk(e)y, and a huge fire place in the camp, we still had a great time. This, of course, goes without saying as anytime we get this crew together we have a great time.

     Ginger and I soon found ourselves in the great north woods, thanks to the extreme generosity of some friends who allowed me open door privileges at their camp. It was then that I took a bit of time to do some refresher yard work with Ginger that quickly resulted in having a dog steady on not only woodcock, but ruffed grouse too. The open door policy of the camp gave me nine more days up north, and allowed me the opportunity to enjoy the company of some new people and dogs. More often than not dogs out numbered people in camp, and their variety was stunning. I was able to spoil and tease 3 English Setters, 2 Red Setters, 2 French Brits, 2 English pointers, 1 German Shorthaired Pointer, and a Lab. And as much fun as that was, sharing a beverage with their owners was equally enjoyable.

     Ginger and I will be spending a day in the woods later this week. While we've got good grouse cover within driving distance of the house we know that it will pale in comparison to the camps we've had the pleasure to attend. But we'll make the most of it.

**A special thanks to Tim, Ted, Al, and Russ for letting me take over their grouse camp.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Firsts and Seconds, North Woods Bird Hunting

     The great north woods are a magical place. Well, at least for me they are, though I doubt I'm the only sportsman who feels this way. Whether it's fin, fur, or feather there is game to be had in the great north woods. Its for this reason that I routinely make the long drive several times each season. Couple the great sport of the north with a young dog in need of a quality education, and my desire to go north increases dramatically. This year I had the great fortune of having my vacation from work fall right in the prime of grouse season, so off I went to spend 12 days wingshooting. The first five days would be accompanying G.W. who was headed up to cap off the trout season. Then, after a four day regroup I'd head back again to spend 7 days in camp with B.K. and his lab, Ruby.

     If I was to experience any difficulty on my adventure it was of the nature that warrants no true complaint; traffic slowed my departure from the city. Before too long I was zipping past the multitude of leaf peepers clogging the roads. As the local traffic had put me an hour plus behind schedule I decided I stop and hunt at least one of my coverts near the halfway mark to camp. This would allow me to blow the dust off my reflexes, and serve as Ginger's grouse and woodcock debut. Mid-morning would be the prefect time to slip into the abandoned orchard, and it's surrounds. I did not regret this decision. Ginger quickly found her stride, quartering the thick under brush between the long forgotten trees. Soon she'd catch a scent she found irresistible and launch a woodcock skyward. It wouldn't be until the third flush that the 20gauge side by side would bark loudly, but it wouldn't register a kill, and Ginger would have to wait a bit longer to get her mouth on some feathers. To my surprise Ginger held steady, planting her but on the ground with each flushing bird as we'd trained for, not moving until sent on. We worked the edges, before moving deeper into the cover. A few more birds were flushed, and a couple of misses registered before my eye, hand, and the 20 found the rhythm needed, and knocked down a fleeing timberdoodle. The bird flushed late, pinched between me and the dog, requiring Ginger to be stopped on the whistle, and sent on a hunt dead for her first retrieve, as she'd not marked the fall. Enthusiastically she took the cast and scoured the area until nosing the bird, and looking at me quizzically with a  "You want this?" expression. A moment of coaxing, and the bird was delivered to hand. Five minutes later the scene would be repeated only this time the bird would be flushed on her nose, the fall would be marked, and the retrieve made without hesitation. We would work our way deeper into the linear cover, and then around to our starting point with couple more woodcock flushes, but only a lone, distant grouse flush. With two woodcock in the bag Ginger and I continued our trek north.

     The north woods would provide the action I was looking for, and the education Ginger needed. Woodcock were abundant and provided plenty of sport. Grouse numbers are up too, which presented Ginger with tricky situations. To that end I shot not only Ginger's first woodcock, but her first grouse, too. Ginger's first grouse came in the midst of some heavy woodcock shooting. As Ginger quartered, stretching slightly further to the windward side to my left a grouse was pinched between us. Like her first woodcock the grouse's flight and fall on the shot went unmarked by Ginger, so I whistled her to a stop, and moved her forward to hunt dead. The Grouse, with a broken wing put some distance between us, but wasn't able to avoid a keen nose, and was retrieved nicely to hand.

     Sometimes, however, it's not a young dogs firsts that you remember, and proudly reflect on, but it's second that shows a dog's potential, and willingness to please. Ginger had begun making game on a thick stemmed hillside. I followed her to the edge of the cover where she continued to make game below me even though the cover had thinned and looked more of a likely place to flush a hare, than a grouse. Suddenly the young dog made a quick move to the base one of the few trees spread across the area, and a grouse flushed explosively on her nose presenting me with a left to right slightly quartering away crossing shot. My first shot failed me, but on my second shot the grouse dropped from the sky, and landed somewhere out of sight over the edge of a slight drop off. My attention then turned back to the young dog, who was sitting staunchly at the base of the tree the flush produced from, casting glances from me, to the mark, and back again. I walked towards the mark about 5 yards until I could see the area of the fall, then released Ginger on her name. She raced to the mark, where she ran a couple of quick, tight, high speed circles before picking the grouse from the underbrush and presenting it to me. My little girl had flushed a grouse on her nose, stayed steady throughout the entire flush, shot, and fall, marked the fall, and retrieved to hand as if she'd been doing it for years. I couldn't have been more proud. I'd learn later that not all birds would be handled as nicely, but  we were off to a great start.

     Woodcock would rule the day on my second trip to the great north woods. B.K. and I would find out quickly  a number of woodcock could test a young dog, as well as multiple tricky grouse flushes could.  For the most part Ginger's manners stayed intact thanks to the woodcock's nature of flushing skyward. Grouse were becoming a problem, as their tendency to flush horizontally before gaining altitude was too tempting for Ginger, on may occasion requiring me to steady her with the whistle. Thankfully through it all she still remembered what a long blast on the whistle meant, and heeded the signal.

     On our second or maybe our third day in camp B.K. and I made a quick trip through one of our usual spots with Ginger. Right out of the gate we moved a couple of woodcock, and a grouse, but none were put in the bag. An hour in and things had slowed until we wandered into a cut thick with head high alders, and B.K. secured a woodcock. We'd moved barely 20 more yards and suddenly all hell broke loose. Ginger flushed (and failed to stop on) a woodcock that I rocked on the shot. Not being well hit, nor marked by my now out of control dog, I stood still and directed B.K. to the area of the mark so we could then reign Ginger in and have her hunt dead. We were soon to understand Ginger's unbridled excitement.

     As B.K. reached the area of the fall another woodcock got up, but it's straight away flight line was no problem for B.K. who easily stoned it. With two down, and a seemingly unhinged spaniel I would surely be needed at the area of the fall to regain control of the dog and recover our game, however on my first step in that direction another woodcock flushed at my feet offering a straightaway in the opposite direction, and I killed it easily. Now with three birds on the ground and who knows how many holding around us, it was time to get busy, and I whistled Ginger in to hunt dead.

     We elected to recover the last bird I'd killed first, as B.K. was already in the area of the other two. Ginger, now in control made short work of this bird, and we turned our attention to the other two. Working the area B.K. had marked Ginger began to make game slightly off the mark, and after a minute or two presented us with a winged woodcock. At this point I'd begun to think that I'd actually missed the first bird, and that the one B.K. had shot was a reflush of that bird, and that was what Ginger had just retrieved. But B.K. insisted that he'd clean killed his bird, and that the winged bird had to be the one I'd shot. So off Ginger was sent to find yet another bird. The search wouldn't last long as B.K. quickly notice that the dead woodcock was laying a mere 6 inched in front of his right foot as we stood there watching the dog. We now had 4 woodcock in the collective game bag. And while it took me a good few minutes to recount this story, and you a bit less time to read it, in real time it all happened real quick, with all three shots happening withing 60 seconds, and the recovery of the birds taking only a couple of minutes.

     We weren't done. With Ginger reeled in we moved forward and killed two more well handled woodcock within 50 yards of where we'd picked the last three. Two limits of woodcock were killed and in the bag in about 20 minute of what was a 2 hour hunt. That many birds, that much scent, and that much shooting in such a small area did present a problem for the young dog, but nothing that couldn't be recovered from.

     Throughout the week many woodcock were shot and retrieved by B.K. and I, as well as some grouse. Both dogs saw their fair share of birds, and time in the woods. Ginger and I both learned a lot about grouse and woodcock hunting, and what is expected. An additional highlight of my second trip north was sharing camp with a contingent of spaniel people. In total there were 19 springer spaniels spread between three cabins and an RV. It made for some interesting, enjoyable, and educational conversation. I was relieved to hear that I wasn't the only spaniel owner having difficulty with steadiness in a young dog when dealing with the excitement of a grouse's horizontal flush. In my opinion one of the most exciting thing in the grouse woods is when a dog flushes a grouse back at you, and several times Ginger did just that.

     Life being what it is B.K. had to depart camp early because of a business trip he was required to make. On his last morning before heading south he and Ruby went out on a solo trip while Ginger and I explored a covert we hadn't touched yet. We returned to camp to find that Ruby had guided B.K. to another limit of woodcock. A nice way to part.

     We did some things differently this year. Gone are the days of feeling the need to beat the brush all day long. Instead we hunted from about 9am to about noon, enjoyed a leisurely lunch, then got out again late in the day, hunting the last hour or two. This tactic showed us lots of grouse, however most often they were flushing from trees. Still, having multiple flushes, 10-11 grouse from two trees, is quite exciting.

     Reflecting on the trips later I easily knew what I need to work on, and what the successes were. Like always my shooting proved to be a weak link, and birds that should have fallen flew on. The weather didn't cooperate, but over the years we've learned what we can handle and how to deal with rain. So we made the best of the opportunities we had, and had the right equipment for the times it was needed. Ginger was a success, too. Though there were moments when her youth, and excitement got the better of her, the work I've put into her was apparent. All in all I give her performance a B+, improving as her steadiness improves.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Calling An Audible; Camp Cooking

     Last week I had the pleasure of sharing a camp up north with G.W. for 5 days. I was out with Ginger in pursuit of grouse and woodcock, and G. W. was getting in some quality fishing the last few days of the trout season. Naturally we ate quite well, grilling some woodcock I'd taken for an appetizer with our steaks, and eating an Oktoberfest type meal of kielbasa, and sauerkraut. Burgers, and cold cuts filled us during the day when we'd have rather not been in camp, but out in the sunlight. The last night it was decided that a fish and game feast was in order, so we set out to create a feast with our rewards. I had a brace of grouse to contribute, and G.W. a couple trout, but we'd not considered the possibility of cooking game in advance, so we were restricted to the meager contents of the camp kitchen. It was time to call a culinary audible.

     I decided that the best thing for fresh grouse would be to take advantage of a couple of apples I'd brought along as snacks. Melting a 1/2 stick of butter slowly in a pan I sauteed the salted, and peppered grouse breast over a moderate heat, allowing the butter to begin to brown, When it was time to flip the grouse breast I added the pealed slices of two apples to the pan, and let them brown beside the grouse breast. After a few minutes and a few shakes of the pan I added about a 1/2 cup of white wine and simmered slowly while the white thickened. After about 5 more minutes with a slotted spoon I plated the grouse breast, and apples. Next I added more wine to the pan, raised the heat, and cooked it down until it was a thick syrupy sauce which I poured over the grouse and apples.

     G.W. is no stranger to the kitchen, and has cooked up a few nice dishes in his day. His decision to poach the trout he'd caught came quite easily to him. Like my dish G.W. started by melting butter, and seasoning the fish with salt and pepper. He then proceeded to brown both sides of the fish in the butter before adding about 1/2 cup of lemon juice, 1/2 cup of white wine, and 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic to the pan. The trout was then left to poach over a medium-low heat until tender. During the cooking of this dish G.W. flipped the fish several times to insure it was cooked evenly, and even added more wine as it was needed. To say this dish was delicious is an understatement.

     It doesn't take much to create a delectable camp feast if you've prepared and brought the appropriate spices and herbs along. Sometimes however, one must rely on a bit of cook sense.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Things You Should Check Out; The Vintage Cup

     On Friday Sept. 28th I had the pleasure of admitted onto the grounds of Addieville East to take in the shooting, and vendors of The Vintagers 16th Annual Vintage Side By Side Championships and Double Rifle Championships and Exhibition. The Vintagers are a club dedicated to preserving the traditions and culture of the vintage years. Members shoot double guns exclusively, and adhere to the traditional dress codes of tweeds, breeks, and ties, though kilts are acceptable, too, as I found out.

     The grounds of Addieville proved a perfect fit for this event. With a sprawling sporting clays course the staff at Addieville was able to modify the course to fit the needs of the various disciplines. The disciplines included events for both the wingshooters, and the big game enthusiasts. Two sporting clays courses were layed out; a big bore course for 10, 12, and 16 bore guns, and a small bore course for any gun 20 bore of finer.  The targets on the small bore course varied depending on which bore gun you chose to shoot, while all the shooter on the big bore course got the same target presentations regardless of bore. There was also a flurry shoot set up where two shooters with loaders chase after high flying clays thrown above the trees from wobble traps in towers. Designed to simulate driven bird shooting, this station is said to an exhausting 4 minutes for red hot barrels of fun. This is one station I intend to try next year.The rifle courses offered various timed events, as well as a simulated dangerous game station where one could test their cool shooting a number of artillery shell sized double rifles at charging, and running elephants, and rhinos.

     Equally impressive was the collection of vendors in attendance. If you're looking for fine guns you'll find them at The Vintage Cup. While I haven't the budget (yet) to own a Holland and Holland or any other bespoke British double, I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by them. As well as some great sporting art, vintage books, and quality bespoke clothing. It was also nice to get to meet some of the faces that belong to the names I've often seen in some of the more popular wingshooting magazines (even though they won't publish my work). As an intrepid travelling wingshooter who has made his way to many of the New England and east coast states in search of sport I have found a few that I consider "local" that I found of interest.
     Christine Knight Coombs is an artist from New Hampshire who had a display of some fantastic paintings of outdoor scenes on display. Unfortunately at this time her web site is still under construction, but it is worth doing a google search for in the future.

     If you're in the market for a high end, or unique gun then Amoskeag Auction Company is the place to go. Located in Manchester NH, Amoskeag Auction Co holds several auctions of sporting and military collectible weapons.
Jason Devine, President of Amoskeag Auction Co.
     Located in Litchfield Ct, Braeval Sporting Apparel makes a line of stylish, comfortable, and functional clothing. If you're looking to be the best dressed person in the field, the river, or on the clays course Braeval is for you.
Gregor McCluskey, Founder of Braeval
     For the ladies, Good Shot Design of New Jersey, created by Lyndall Bailye is producing bespoke English style tweeds that are suitable for a day afield, or just a comfortable afternoon out.
Lyndall Bailye
     So if you're in the mood to preserve some of yesterday's sporting traditions, swing a nice double gun, or improve your sporting wardrobe check  these out.
     And just so you can get a bit of a feel for the atmosphere at The Vintage Cup, a few photos. Enjoy.







Sunday, October 7, 2012

Scouting- Home Work and Leg Work

     Ginger stood on the edge of the weed choked pond, water dripping from her underside and a retrieving dummy cradled softly in her mouth, watching 5 mallards alight from the Lily pads just 20 yards from where she'd made the retrieve. We'd been doing a little preseason water work in a "ducky" looking section of the pond. I'd have sworn I'd heard an occasional quack to our left, but the well camouflaged ducks remained hidden until they decided they'd had enough of our drill. That they'd stayed put, and undetected for a half dozen retrieves somewhat amazed me. As I scanned the water, straining to spot more tight holding fowl, I was reminded of something a wildlife biologist once told me; Habitat is defined by the species that use it. I'm sure there is probably a lot of levels to that statement if we chose to dissect it, but I like to keep it simple, and in the context of finding game. Of course no one just goes out and finds game. A requisite amount of research and scouting are required, so let's take a peek at scouting, it's pieces, and many forms.

     Scouting is nothing more than looking for clues that will put us closer to the game we are pursuing. Big game hunters probably get the most involved with scouting, relying on a variety of techniques and technology to help them amass as many clues as possible to put them on game. Small game, and waterfowl hunters scout with a bit less precision, but spend time doing homework, too. When it comes to scouting, seeing the actual species you are targeting, in your intended area is probably the best indication that you are in the right area. Deer hunters glassing fields at dusk, grouse hunters seeing birds along logging roads, and duck hunters seeing fowl fly into a marsh at dawn are all dead give-a-ways. You'd probably do well hunting in those areas.

     Other times the clues aren't as obvious. Big game hunters will look for trails, scat, hair, and various calling posts left by game. Uplanders will listen for grouse drumming, of birds calling, as well as remnants of birds taken by predators. Yup, you may not be the only species looking for a meal in those woods and fields. With these clues the big game hunter has then got to work to get the bigger picture of what is going on, and piece together a plan. Unlike an uplander who goes to the game, usually a big game hunter will sit in ambush waiting for the game to come to them.

     Identifying likely habitat is another way of zeroing in on game. In keeping the simplicity in the statement that habitat is defined by the species that use it, I look for habitat that I have learn my target species prefers. Primarily a Ruffed Grouse hunter, I have learned that the grouse have a preference, and my scouting is usually just a matter of finding habitat to fit that bill. Over the years I have begun to do the same thing with duck habitat. If I look at an area of habitat, and it looks like a place ducks would like, I label it duck cover and hunt it. I don't feel the need to get out early with a pair of binoculars and actually see ducks pouring in. Like grouse cover, my mileage has varied. Some spots have proven to hold lots of duck and grouse, and others not so many. But like the ducks at the beginning of this ramble prove, they are hard to see when resting in weedy, stagnant pools with cover.

     So get out there, if you haven't already and do your homework. And in your travels, if it looks good, hunt it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Check List

     With grouse season just around the corner my thoughts have turned to my much anticipated grouse camp. The long drive to far away grouse coverts, and the evenings enjoyed with good friends, and dogs is second to none. This year I'm fortunate enough to have two camps planned, and an invite to join some others at a third camp. With a new dog I've spent a lot of time training, and preparing I expect to spend quite a bit of time away from home. Of course one just doesn't grab a gun and jump in the car. Lots of planning and logistics go into such an adventure to make it a success. There are things that need to be considered.

     Packing all the necessary hunting accoutrement's comes easy after many years afield. The basics; gun, dog, and shells all seem to fall in place. GPS, maps, cleaning rods, and such are usually always ready to go, neatly stored. The fact that there are often trips to the skeet or sporting clays club means that essential shooting supplies are always refreshed in a timely manner. Hunting clothes are packed in their own duffel or hung together in the walk-in, for one stop shopping (though I'll admit to forgetting brush pants on a late season outing some years back). It's the other things that go into making camp enjoyable that need to be considered.

     One of the hallmarks of any good camp is the food. I'm fortunate that I share camp with a crew of guys that know their way around a kitchen. Despite the long days of walking covert behind dogs, we all gain weight a camp. The fact that we are a travelling group, switching locales every few years, we've learned that not all rental camps have the same amenities. Two areas where we've found it wise to provide for ourselves are kitchen related. Coffee is important in the morning, and camp coffee makers have often seen better days. We travelling with a french press to make our own coffee. Sure, they are delicate, and require a little practice to get the ratio right, but they are worth the effort. This year I've gone one step further. I received a single cup drip brewer as a Christmas present last year. It will make it's camp debut next month. Yes, coffee is that important. The other kitchen utensil that we now travel with is a good, sharp chef's knife. Camp knives get flat out abused. While a dull knife can be dangerous, we just find them annoying. So a knife or two always make the trip. And Yes, I've got a box set of steak knives too, especially for camp.  Seasonings have been a problem in the past, too. Salt and pepper are staples in the kitchen, and a good meal is of vital importance so it's sea salt, and a pepper mill for us. We're not food snobs by any stretch, but why take a chance with the woodcock breast your about to grill. Right? By now I figure I don't need to tell you how important a few cloves of fresh garlic, and a handful of shallots are either. And don't get me started of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and good mustard.

     Libations are probably the second most important item that require thought. Naturally beer is on the menu. This is one area where we seldom have too much of a problem. That's right. I said "too mush of a problem". Naturally everyone brings different beers, and an beer enthusiast could have quite a sampling; seasonal Oktoberfest, Yuenglings (the Pa, NJ guys love them), artisan ales, and bitter lagers. The only problem is some beers disappear faster than others. Not too bad of a problem really, considering we've a wine connoisseur amongst us. Choosing a brown liqueur isn't too terribly difficult. I like scotch. Most of the others like bourbon. We compromise. I bring scotch, and they bring bourbon. When it comes to brown liqueur there are some appropriate choices, but they never make it to camp. Bird Dog Whiskey, and Famous Grouse are appropriately named, but... And I suppose if we were at deer camp Whitetail whiskey would fit the bill.

     Another area to be considered is entertainment. When the pavement ends, and the cell phone signal disappears one finds they are stuck with a bit of satellite TV, and a selection of history VCR tapes. Now is the time to start loading the iPhone or iPad with music. A pair of small computer speakers plugged into an music holding device does the trick nicely. If one is inclined to rip a few movie to an iPad you can be equipped with current visual entertainment, too.
     Lastly, I'll not tell you what type of tobacco product to pack, but I'll caution you. Not every member of camp may be a regular cigar smoker, so its best to pack a few you enjoy, and a few for the curious. Regardless, a good cigar deserves a proper ashtray, so I've got a nicely boxed camp ashtray, too. After all, it's camp. One has to get it right.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pushing Buttons; An E-Collar Primer

     The new Lion Country Supply catalogue greeted me at the front door when I returned home yesterday. I could see it sticking out of the mail box from the driveway, and I eagerly thumbed through it in the hallway before I'd even taken off my hat and shoes. I always get straight into any outdoors type catalogue that makes it's way to my home hoping that one day I'll find some new must have miracle dog training device in it's pages. I didn't find any. I did see a few items I would like to need someday, and a few things I should buy to replace old or missing items. Hey, who couldn't use a few more retrieving dummies? But Miracles of dog training were not to be had.

     Judging from the first dozen or so pages of the catalogue I think I know what item a lot of dog owners believe to hold miracle like powers. The e-collar. The catalogue had 13 pages of various kinds of electronic training collars. And that isn't including the bark collars, or invisible fence collars. Wow. I know a lot of people use e-collars. I know a lot of people that use them, and I even have one which has seen use as a training tool from time to time. The e-collar is indeed a very effective training tool, and has no doubt allowed may dogs, and trainers to reach levels they probably never would have without the existence of such a tool. But this carries with it one caveat; it must be used properly. Something I'm not sure many people know how to do. Something I wonder, now in my 20th season of training, and handling my own dogs, if even I fully understand how to do. Which is probably why I've placed my e-collar in a reserve status, to be used only when conventional means of training have not worked. It is probably also the reason why I get annoyed with what seems like a trend in people picking a model of e-collar before they've even decided on a breed of gundog, and an urgency to get an  e-collar on the pup.So let's look at what an e-collar is, and isn't, what it does, and doesn't do, and what I think are some myths about the e-collar, and how to use it.

       First, and I'll be very clear about this; an e-collar will not train your dog. You must do this. Training is best achieved in the traditional ways, using checkcords, treats, and positive reinforcement. An e-collar can only be used to reinforce a command the dog already has been taught, but for some reason needs a little extra reminder. In short, an e-collar is an extension of arm/leash/checkcord. If your dog doesn't know what to do at arm length, on a leash, or on a checkcord, it certainly isn't going to understand the command when a jolt courses through it's neck. And this is just one of the many training theories.

     A dog must be conditioned to the collar. What exactly is this? Unlike many people think, it's not a time period where the dog wears the collar, and gets used to the feel of it's weight, but a training period where the dog learns that the collar is responsible for the uncomfortable stimulation, and not some arbitrary environmental feature near it when it gets shocked. This is when the dog starts to learn that there is a relationship between the collar, and it's unwanted behavior that cause the shock. This is important if you want a dog that (for example) comes to you when you call it, rather than avoiding tree stumps, which it will reasonable understand to have been the cause of the shock if it was near a stump when first corrected.

     This leads me to what I believe to be a myth of e-collar training. I've heard some people say they don't want their dog to become collar wise. You can't train it properly if it doesn't know what the collar is, what it does, and it's connection to you. The collar is how you get the correct behavior out of the dog with a few well timed corrections. So how do you get the training to stick when the collar isn't on the dog? Simple, once the training is understood by the dog you stop pushing the button, and let that training become a habit. The dog may initially be responding to avoid a shock, but after a couple weeks of performing properly the behavior becomes a habit, regardless of the motivation.

     Of course all dogs are different, and respond differently, so each trainer needs to make a judgement on how far to go, but I feel firmly that most, if not all training can be achieved without the use of an e-collar, and that in many cases it is best left in a glass box that labeled "break glass in case of emergency".

     In this world of bigger, better, and faster, I doubt very much I'll actually convince anyone to give up the use of an e-collar, and it's fine if you use one. But don't forsake the many traditional training methods just because you've got technology strapped to your dogs neck. And if you are going to train electronically, please spend some money on a couple of DVDs, and books on e-collar training. Yes, I said "some". There are several methods out there, and you owe it to your dog to understand the tools you are about to employ.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dedication, The Long Retrieve

     Here is a video I came across that illustrates the importance of conditioning, and trusting your gun dog, the value of good training, and the respect that we all should have for the game we shoot.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Higher Education, Birddog Style

     Sometimes in life we've got to make decisions based on faith, others on knowledge, and sometimes we just jump into things with our fingers crossed; better to be lucky, than good. My dog training decisions of 2012 have been a mix of all of the above. Sure I've taken the advice of a lot of trainers with proven track records, but that still requires a bit of faith, doesn't it? Some of my training has been based on what I've done in the past, and the results I've gotten. A bunch of my training this year has been a distorted mix of thought and ideas, which seemed like they might do the trick.  Now however, the time has become to put them all up for judgement, and see where I am really at. With not much time left before the start of the shooting season I felt the need to get Ginger evaluated, and if need so help from a pro trainer. So off we went to spend some time with Pat Perry, of Hedgerow Kennels, in central Massachusetts.

     Without too many words, and the typos that come with them I can tell you this; it went great. Ginger performed excellently, and I was able to see the mix and match training system I put together function as I had hoped in (almost) every way I had hoped. Prior to today Ginger had not been worked on any live birds. She'd retrieved grouse, woodcock, and a hare I the yard at camp last year, but had yet to have the whole flush, shot, retrieve sequence play out in front of her, because of her.

     Our moments of truth, and Ginger's higher education started quite simply. Pat wanted to see her run a bit, and how she handles. So we took a quick walk across a small field with some cover and allowed her to stretch her legs a bit. We then moved on to some retrieves, freshly shot pigeons being tossed into cover. As I expected, Ginger picked up the birds, and delivered to hand.

     Next we grabbed a gun, and moved into an area with a couple of planted pigeons. This would be the real moment of truth for us. Ginger has had very little contact with game, and all of her steadiness training so far had been done with hand thrown dummies. I want a broke dog, so this was what it all boiled down to for me. As we made our way through the cover, Ginger quartering nicely, the first pigeon decided to make its appearance early, flushing wild to our right. I couldn't have been happier as Ginger turned, dropped into a half hupped position, and watched the bird fly off. A quick reminder was all it took to get her butt on the ground, before I turned and shot the bird as it tried to escape into the trees. So close two the trees it was, that I thought I'd missed the bird, but Pat insisted he'd heard it hit the ground, so Ginger was sent for the mark. This mark would be Gingers only mishandle. As Pat and I moved forward to see her work, Ginger scooped the bird, and for whatever reason decided to deliver it to the pick up truck parked just around the bend. She then came back to us, and at my encouraging searched the area for the already picked bird. After five minutes we decided to give up, not wanting to sap all of her energy in the heat. When we emerged on the road we discovered the bird laying in front of the truck. With a quick wave Ginger ran to it, and then delivered it straight to me. She'd gotten one over on us. I'd be quick to get her back.

     A few minutes later we were working again, and soon Ginger had a nose full of scent. She produced a second pigeon, right off her nose, and planted herself like she'd been taught. This time however, my shooting failed me, both barrels missing. The pigeon, like pigeons do, rolled, made a swooping arch, and came across again. I had time to drop a fresh shell in the bottom barrel before turning and dropping the bird behind us, at about 40 yards on the edge of the tree line. When Pat and I turned or attention again to Ginger she was sitting contently in the exact place she flushed the bird. As the bird was shot behind us we elected to heel Ginger about halfway to the mark, rather than sending her on a long mark. I rather liked the idea of turning the marked retrieve into a memory retrieve, and Ginger didn't seem to mind either, readily picking the the bird and delivering it to hand.

     We concluded the evaluation with a couple of water marks at the pond near his house, before engaging in a conversation about dog training, training expectations, and field trialing. Probably one of the most gratifying parts of the exercise was when Pat asked me what I wanted him to do. I'd taken his question seriously, and not knowing how to answer, I asked him in return what he thought should be done. His question was rhetorical, and he went on to explain that in his opinion there was nothing more to be done other than shoot birds over Ginger to cement in the lessons she'd already received. So that's my plan for the next month; get Ginger as much positive contact as possible with pen raised birds. I'll no doubt experience an episode of breaking, and as backwards as it sound, I need this to happen to reinforce her steadiness. I don't think it'll take too much to drive the steadiness lesson home, however.

     Pat gave me a run down on the politics of field trialing, and encouraged me to give it a try. I had been planning to do some hunt testing with Ginger, but now have to consider going the competitive route. Either way, the training needed has been completed, and whether I decide to hunt test, trial, or just plain have a fine hunting companion, the work I need to do is all the same. And I look forward to doing it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Locked and Loaded, Getting Back On Track

     Summer is over. Well, not officially, but close enough. With summer behind us it's time to start preparing for the fall, and the the hunting season. I've always got a lot I'd like to do. Some of it I actually do. My number one fall pastime is grouse hunting, and my annual grouse camp. Plan for this are in full effect, and it's going to be great to see the guys again. Unlike many the guys I hunt with, and enjoy camp with live no where near me, which I think makes grouse camp even more special as we don't see each other regularly.

     Of course this year will I will be under a bit more pressure at camp. This year will be the first season the guys get to see Ginger in action. Logistical issue this year have kept me from doing as much meaningful training with her as I'd wanted. My plan was to get her on birds this summer, turn her into a bird crazy spaniel, and educate her on the meaning of steady to flush. It hasn't happened, and time is not on my side (though there is still time), so I decided to reach out to a local, well respected trainer for some help. Friday Ginger and I will spend some time with Pat Perry, of Hedgerow Kennel for her introduction to birds, and steadiness. Our goal is to flip the switch in her head and make her realize what all this work we've been doing is all about.  I'm not too worried about Ginger's performance, and expect that a couple of good, solid bird contacts is all it will take to turn her into a bird finding fanatic.  She's been a very biddable dog, and is quite smart too,so I'm sure she'll take to the steadiness training quite easily. We've worked on her manners, and her stop to the whistle for some time. She stops so reliably to the whistle in fact that I consider it bomb proof. Coupled with her desire to make me happy I'm eager to see what she becomes. I expect I'll even shoot a bird or two for her, though I hadn't initially planned to do so on her first day of bird work, but Pat told me to bring a gun, so.... I expect this to be the first of several such training sessions before the actual season opens in a month, and if things goes well I will probably even book a day at a preserve somewhere to further sharpen her. Now, if only the woodcock would start to repopulate our local training spots. 

     The logistical issue of the earlier half of the year are now resolved, so I expect to become a regular  sight at the skeet club again. I've got three cases of skeet loads ready to go, and to make up for lost time I plan to make my way to the club for both evening, and weekend shooting hours. I'm not sure how I'll break this news to my wife yet, though. 

     Should the training with Ginger go smoothly I may try to find some time to get in a little early season goose hunting. I may even sneak off sit on the edge of long abandoned apple orchard I know in hopes of filling the bear tag I buy ever year, but never use. This of course means I'll need to make a little noise with my black powder rifle. Yup, it's that time of the year.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Behind The 8 Ball

     Real life, and sporting life never seem to have much in common. Sometimes they meet in the middle, and at other times,.....this year has been one of those "other times" kind of year for me. While I've gotten in some interesting things like my trip to Japan, I've been forced to focus on some other pressing issues, and find myself solidly behind the 8 ball as grouse season approaches.

     Most pressing has been my need to focus on my health. This has become priority number one for me. Yes, I'm still spending time training Ginger, but not as much as I'd like to, or the kind of drills we need to be doing.  I've also not made my way to the gun club in a while, my skeet shooting routine having fallen to the wayside, as well. My time has been filled with a series of regular trail runs, cycling, and even a bit of mountain biking. All good things which I should have been making time for, but never did until order to by the doctor.

     Of course as the fall rapidly approaches I've once again set aside time for Gingers education, and my shotgunning tune up. I'm not overly concerned, really. Ginger is intelligent, and biddable; she'll take to any training I put in front of her. I've also swung a shotgun enough to know that I'll easily blow the dust off, and be breaking clays to my former level in no time. I was never very good anyhow, so the bar is pretty low. This all has got me thinking I may not be so behind the 8 ball after all. While I may not have followed my usual routine in the off season, nor my standard approach as the season nears, it it not lost on my that my improved health my be the great equalizer. With the exception of a recently injured ankle, for which I am seeking treatment, I feel great. I've lost 40+lbs, and no doubt will be able to carry myself through the woods much easier this season. My lack in shooting skills, and Gingers reduced training schedule should easily be made up with more time afield resulting in more bird contacts, and more shooting opportunities. I guess all I really need to worry about is how I break the news to the guys at camp that we're all on a diet, and getting them to eat their vegetables.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Things You Should Check Out; Pain Management

     It happens to all of us at one time or another, for one reason or another, sometimes without warning, and others a long slow build up. I'm talking about pain. I've recently been suffering from a bit of tendinitis in my ankle, courtesy of a little weekend rugby and steady effort at trail running. Whether your pain is exertion related, or age related it needs to be treated before it ruins a day afield or on the water. A product I recently discovered, and have been using for relief is KT Tape.

     KT Tape is an elastic tape designed to be applied to various injuries in ways to provide either relief, or support to the area. I've been using KT Tape to take the pressure off of my peroneal tendon in my ankle. Having suffered from a bit of tennis elbow during hunting season in the past I wish I had known about KT tape then, as it made carrying a shotgun all day a bit troublesome. The people at KT have a YouTube channel that explains all the applications of the tape, eliminating you having to guess what to do with it. It's good stuff. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ever Fallen In Love?

     Like many sportsmen around the globe I identify myself more or less by the species I prefer to hunt. I'm not a hunter, I'm a grouse hunter. Sure I hunt other species, ducks, geese, deer, and rabbit, but it's the pursuit of Ruffed grouse, and Woodcock that make me tick. Yes. I've fallen in love with grouse hunting. I can't really put my finger on what it is about grouse hunting that raises my pulse rate, however, there are a couple of things that quickly come to mind. The wild nature of the game is one of the draws to Ruffed Grouse. Unlike other places in this country, the only truly wild upland species around here are grouse and woodcock. Put and take pheasant and quail hunting just don't stand up to it in my book.

     I've dabbled in other sporting pursuits over the years, and I've wondered what it'd be in love with if I lived someplace with no Ruffies. Would I have the same affection for another species of game bird? Probably I would.  As any working dog owner will tell you, the relationship between man and dog is equally as important as any game you seek. I don't think it matters if we're talking pointers after quail, hounds after bear, beagles after hare, or labs after ducks; the bond one feels when their pooch rests it's head on your knee after a hard day hunting is second to none. So, I guess if I lived in the Dakotas surrounded by wild ringnecks, on a Georgia quail plantation, or in the rocky chukar habitat of Oregon, as long as I had a bird dog I'd probably have a love.

     Not everyplace has wild uplands,  nor everyone an affinity for walking miles and miles behind a dog. Some would much rather sit over decoys next to a statuesque Lab watching the sky for flocks of ducks. I've often wondered if this might one day be my fate. After all, knees don't last forever, and I haven't been kind to mine. I suppose if I lived in the flooded timbers of Arkansas, or the pothole region of Nebraska I could keep my self occupied with Lab training, blind building, and decoy carving. I imagine I'd have to relearn a little about shooting, too. The snap shooting, instinctual methods commonly used in the grouse woods being less of a necessity.

     Hunting of big game has had a place in my life, too. I cut my teeth bow hunting deer, and while I still greatly enjoy bow hunting it takes a back seat to anything I can hunt with my dog. I could, under the right circumstances, probably fall in love with a form or two of big game hunting, however. For several years I tested my hunting skills in early September by chasing bears. With bow in hand I attempted to take a bear from both treestands and ground blinds. It was never to be, but I still consider my attempts to be successful having seen bears on two occasions.Should I have connected, I might be writing a different story right now. I also become enthralled with the idea of one day tagging a nice bull moose. These majestic animals are in my opinion the kings of the outdoors, and it's by that standard that they make it on my wish list. Nothing less than a king causes one as much work, and turmoil after the shot. Again, should this dream ever become a reality, I could see myself in a whole new light, with a whole new identity.

     While my love remains with the Ruffed Grouse, and Woodcock, I might well be easily swayed, though I don't see it happening in the near future.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fishing In The Land Of The Rising Sun

                The sounds of Japan's JR East Sobu line rumbling by, and the digitized screams of the near by arcade hardly seem the beginnings of an outdoor adventure of any type. On a recent trip to the Tokyo area it's exactly how a trout fishing venture started. In Japan to take care of a little business I decide after many trips to the country that is was time to get a little outdoors time. I'd gotten a taste of Japan's countryside many years ago when I'd made frequent trips to Nagano prefecture's Matsumoto city, but most of these trips mearly involved driving country roads, and snapping pics of scenic views, save a short hike into an onsen nessecitated by a recent snow closing the main road. A hunter first and foremost I erased any ideas of doing any type of hunting based on the strict gun, and hunting laws, and the fact that I was visiting in May. I'd thought of maybe trying to meet up with an area field trial club, but they dont exactly advertise in mainstream cirlces, making them hard to find. This made fishing the next logical choice. And so it was to be. That said, I now know I've got a lot more research, a lot more travel, and a lot more fishing to do to fully experience fishing in Japan.

                My fishing guide would be my good friend Hiroaki whom I met some years ago when he was living, and studying in Boston. Hiroaki and I frequently fished the trout streams of western and central Massachusetts to various effect. While Tenkara might be the newest fishing craze to captivate the American angler, 15 years ago Hiroaki used this technique with a devastating effect on the local trout population. While I would cast with relative ease on streams allowing a modicum of space, Hiroaki excelled on streams where I was restricted to roll casts, and picking spots selectively.

                Unfortunately, and unfortunate in so many ways, the earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing radiation emergency that devastated much of north eastern Japan has also effected Hiroaki's sporting, and his family's livelihood. A year ago we would have made the drive to Fukushima to fish a now off limits trout stream that ran directly through his brother's dairy farm. The farm is now destroyed in so many ways, as is the stream, the cows all having been destroyed later. A last act of kindness one could reason. I'd rather have happy cows watching me drift flies, but I didn't have a say in the matter. This series of events meant we'd have to fish elsewhere, and appropriately Hiroaki chose a local trout stream in the Tokyo area where he'd sneak off to when he was in high school  Once again we would meet in the city at on ungodly hour of the morning, drive out to a stream, fish all day, and return exhausted. What more could I ask for?

                I arrived in Tokyo  a few days before Hiroaki had a free day, so I decided to investigate a few fishing shops, and any outfitter I could find. I was quick to find that fishing equipment is in no short supply in the Tokyo area. Within ten minutes walking distance from where I was staying in Ichikawa city's Motoyawata neighborhood I found two vastly different, yet well stocked fishing shops. The first I visited was Tackle Berrys, a used fishing equipment shop. The shop carried a small supply of just about everything, from every style of fishing with just a bit more of an emphasis on salt water fishing. Organized by type of tackle, rods and reels of various quality were displayed. As would be expected the shop also had a bargain bin, and the ever entertaining bragging wall. I doubt Tackle Berrys will ever be a shop I frequent, but for a neophyte looking to get started on a budget, this is the place.

                Next I stumbled upon Fly Shop Rocks. Rocks is a small, but obviously serious fly fishing shop. The shop held the usual name brands, plus a selection of home grown gear. Rods, reels, line, tippet, flies, and fly tying materials were all on hand as well as the various accessories that make a day on the water less painful. Rocks also boasted a small selection of fishing fashion, as it wouldn't be right to be seen on the river without the proper herringbone cap. The owner, whose name I foolishly neglected to take note of, was quite cheery, and seemed to genuinely enjoy talking with me about my upcoming fishing trip. Rocks is a shop I will be sure to visit in the future.

                When it comes to fishing in Japan, San Sui is a Tokyo institution. If you've ever been to a serious fishing outfitter anywhere in the states or Canada then you've been to San Sui. So impressive is this shop that I have to admit I felt a little intimidated just browsing its 4 floors of top quality merchandise. But adding to the intimidation factor is the fact that San Sui has not one location, but three all in 200 meter radius, each dedicated to a different type of fishing. The first, and biggest location is dedicated to the freshwater fishing traditions of Japan. This is where one will find a Tenkara rod, as well as various floats and specialty lures. Leave the store, and walk up the street to the left, and you'll find their next location within 50 meters. This location is where they sell their traditional saltwater gear, and boat fishing gear. It was here that I saw the most unique, and beautiful fishing reel ever. Looking like a fly reel, but made of grainy, dark wood, these  reels are used with a regular monofilament line. While I didn't engage in lenghtly discussion about these reels, I did discover that though they would undoubtably look fantastic on a split cane flyrod, their lack of any drag mechanism makes them impractical. Like Rocks, San Sui's third location was cut from the same cloth as our homegrown shops. This locale was where San Sui sold their flyfishing and bass fishing gear. The two story shop was as equipped and comfortable as nay shop geared towards the serious angler. Here, too, was a bragging board with pictures of customers with a variety of huge fish. The pictures over flowed the bragging board and were tacked up in a trail stretching around the store. Surprisingly, most of the photos were of big fish caught in Japan. The employees here were younger than their counterparts in the other location, yet we're enthusiastic about fishing, and I enjoyed talking shop with them.

                 The fact that Hiroaki and I were going to be fishing an area he hadn't fished for many years, and me not having a fishing license led to the decision to fish at a tsuri bori. Not having a fishing license  doesn't disallow one from fishing, but does limit where you can fish, so it would have to be a tsuri bori, or one of a few select ponds.  What is a tsuri bori you ask. I actually wondered the same thing. I knew it was someplaced with stocked fish, and I had an image of a large pool with multiple docks extending out from which people chucked bait. It is, however, nothing more than a privately held section of river which is stocked with fish. One pays a daily fee to fish, and goes to it. Fishing a tsuri bori is not a quiet affair. Tsuri bori are good healthy family entertainment, and offer a variety of Streamside amenities. The one we fished had a section of the river where canopies were set up to provide a bit of shelter, seating and campfire pits. Families picnicked beside fires while their children fished. Being a stocked river several time during my day there I observed buckets of rainbow trout being dumped into the river, spurring a renewed interest in many of the children who'd grown bored.  I had to wonder how many times a trout would go from a bucket, to the river, then directly to the grill. The river itself was stunningly beautiful with small deep pools interspersed among the many boulder strewn rapid sections. Steep cliff like hills, with tall slender pines and rocky outcrops lined the banks of the narrow river, and upstream a waterfall filled a prehistoric cliff lined pool forcing the water around in a circular motion before draining into the river.

                Despite not having been Streamside with Hiroaki for about five years, the inevitable pattern of success still held true. Hiroaki excelled at fishing rivers such as this where the fish would be caught right under your nose, while I preferred casting to their distant hides. This river had no such distant hides, many sections barely wider than the length of (a good long) fishing rod. Like always we quickly slipped into serious mode and got to it, cruising the banks, and casting or dabbing promising looking spots. Not knowing what to use I cast a variety of small Mepps spinners about while Hiroaki alternated between his spinner, and Tenkara rod. Before too long success was to be had by Hiroaki, a wild Iwashi, native to Japan and not a stocked fish was brought to hand. His luck did not stop there. While I experimented with color changes, and streamer fly droppers Hiroaki continued to fill the fish cooler with two wild Yamame, brook trout like fish also native to Japan. Like many anglers, I enjoy all the time I spend on the river, and despite not catching any fish this day was no different. The anticipation of what the next pool held, or the results a different color spinner would achieve was exciting and enjoyable in itself. While I brought nothing to hand I felt comfortable knowing that I was slowly learning the language of the Japanese trout, twice having been hit and shaken off.

                I've always believed that things go smooth if one adheres to the principles of the six P's; Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. I dropped the ball somewhat in this respect, as I threw the fishing segment of this trip together rather haphazardly. My first mistake was bringing new equipment I was unfamiliar with along on the trip. I ran into a few snags, and knots while getting used to the new light weight travel set up. I also forgot my Furidashizou, which is a collapsible/extendable Tenkara rod. When collapsed it fits easily into most luggage. The river we fished begged to be probed in the tenkara fashion. While I'm on the subject of tenkara, which is quickly making its way into the American anglers vocabulary, I can't help but note that Tenkara is quite a standard method of fishing in Japan. While the angler stateside has adjusted the rod, and some of the method to better facilitate the use of a fly, in Japan it is usually used to dab some type of bait, rigged with a float or some type of strike indicator. The license issue too, was a bit of a problem, mostly because Hiroaki just couldn't figure out a licensing station that would be open on a Sunday. Though having a license would have been nice, it wasn't nearly the problem it would have been stateside, as Hiroaki explained that a license isn't necessary on some bodies of water. Without a license we could still legally fish a number of places. Having one would have widened our choice of destinations. While packing excessive amounts of fishing gear for a flight around the globe can be problematic, no doubt I will sacrifice some convenience, and a bit of cash to see to it that a pair of waders and a flyrod make the trip, as well as my Furidashizou.

                While I would have liked to have landed my first Japanese fish, I've no hesitation saying that my first fishing adventure in Japan was enjoyable, and successful. A day on the river with a good friend, beautiful scenery, the sights and sounds of a beautiful river are all things one should enjoy, as well as the efforts put forth to catch some fish. I'd do it all over again. In fact I will. I know now that I'll need to be a bit more prepared, and having gotten a taste, I know it can only get more exciting and enjoyable.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Streamside With GW; Benevolence

     I have a river that I love very much.  She got her teeth adjusted by the cruel master of drought a couple of years back.  On a slow day at work when I have a case of the fuck-its, limited time, shitloads of time that carry the price of a spontaneous drunk, or just some affection for the river, I’ll take a quickie from Boston to check up on the old girl as she meanders her way around the  leafy outskirts of Worcester. In those lean months what I saw made me sadder every time I did it.  The usual freestone had synched her girth down to something about the width of a car.  Where there used to be a river, there was a heartbreaking trickle surrounded by bleached rocks and the song of the water was no longer there to lift the soul of anybody. I feared that the breeding population of brown, rainbow, and brook trout  had joined a desolation of caddis flies, mayflies, crayfish, surprisingly territorial kingfishers, herons, ospreys,  and everything else whose cafeteria had gone the way of the dinosaur, US manufacturing, my hairline, etc…  On a day when I fished knowing I wouldn’t catch a thing I had a family of mink trail behind my wading bark playfully at me and pick prey out of the swirl of mud behind me in the current.   I have seriously had sleepless nights wondering about the fate of those mischievous little thieves who barked at me so playfully, somehow knew I would not harm them, proved to me again that humans are not the only conscious beings on planet Earth, and came so close to being banished from nature by commerce more than once.  I haven’t seen them since.  My soul will be nourished when I cooperate with them again.

     I can remember coming across another fisherman at the time.  Cresting a ridge, I saw him casting into a hole… What I will never forget is the dead fish floating at the end of his stringer which was barely four inches long and bore through its deathly pallor the par marks of an immature brook trout.   When a river is clearly having a hard time, and McDonalds has a 99-cent cheeseburger, how hungry do you have to be to justify such an inappropriate kill?  In my mind, and I hope everybody will agree, a baby like that isn’t going extend your life by much, but its loss will kill the shit out of a river.  An honorable man would just go ahead and orchestrate his own death if he can’t find a better way to keep his mortal coil.

      As sportsmen we juggle an ethic that only we truly understand, yet not without argument among ourselves.  We want to preserve/manage an environment so that it is rich with game.  We want to adventure into said environment to harvest said game, take it home, and dine in the glory of wholeness. The trophy-hunting issue is something to discuss another day, but my rule of thumb is “if a population is being exhausted, you are an immoral person if you keep killing shit”.  I carry something called a “Jungle Primitive” in my pack because I don’t want to be the guy that didn’t have a giant, honking, survival-knife, machete-looking monstrosity on the ONE day he needed it to hack off his own extremity in order to survive.  The possible incarceration of my person is the only thing that kept my seriously fucking carbon-steel, aggressively notched, serrated, fuck-your-ass-up-ten-different-ways-from-Sunday knife from finding a home in that dude’s dome. Seriously, what the fuck?  There are less brook trout in that river than there are assholes in Worcester.

     The good news is that I still fish there.  The rivers that bolster our spirits were there a long time before greed came along to dam them up, harvest the shit out them, and cease to understand their importance, our interdependence, and all of that stuff.  Despite an almost universal indifference a beneficial pattern of weather has come along to restore my baby just like it has through feast and famine since we were all chimpanzees.  Today I fished the nymph forms of your classic Spring mayflies through the calm meanderings of a river who sings anew.  In between the big, fat stocked fish, I grabbed a few brookies with fins so sharp and straight they could never have known the deadening sameness of a hatchery.  I caught and released a few rainbows small enough, with healthy color, and beautifully intact fins that they could only have been born wild and survived the drought as fry.  The jury is still out on the brown trout, but if I catch any of them, I’ll put them back in the river so you behold their glory for yourself, but they will be a little smarter now, so hone your skills. I haven’t seen any minks, yet.

ASO Pro-Staffer G.W. is a passionate, and outspoken trout bum. He calls it like he sees it, and that's why he's my friend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Waterfowl On The Mind. Long Island P.E.

     The dog days of summer hardly seem the time to be thinking of waterfowling. But with the early goose season just three months off, now is the time to start preparing. Here is a quick photo essay of the Long Island shore, some ingenuity, and a bit of sucess.

If you want to get here,... 

You'll need one of these.

It's a two mile paddle, mixed with a little bit of hiking.

Toss out a few of these,...

and wait for these.

But the marsh holds some surprises.

Sometimes lots of surprises.

ASO Pro-Staffer S. Shea lives and works in NYC. He is a dedicated small game, and waterfowl hunter. He routinely hunts sun up, to sun down, and has outlasted many a bird dog.