Friday, November 7, 2014

Bird Hunting

Bird hunting this weekend.  Looking forward to getting out again and testing my physical stamina after being down so long.  Things went pretty well during deer season.  I was definitely tired and out of shape, but I was able to get the job done. 

Bird hunting is a bit easier than deer hunting, physically speaking, for a couple of reasons:

A Good Dog Will Do Most of the Work

When bird hunting, you have to keep in mind that upland birds have been conditioned by many years of evolution to hunker and hide, and only fly as a last resort option.  They are very, very good at hiding. 

There is a bird in this picture.  Pinky-swear.

What this means is that a hunter must nearly step on a bird to get it to fly, and it has to fly in order for you to shoot it safely and ethically. 

Hunters without dogs, then, spend most of the day walking back and forth, covering every inch of ground trying to flush birds that might not even be there. 

But you know who covers ground a lot faster than people, and also has a sense of smell that allows them to smell a bird from a hundred yards away, no matter how well it’s hiding? 

Dutchess, my Bird Dog

So you walk along at a slow to medium pace, and let your dog work.  When she goes “on point,” you walk over there and kick the brush in front of her, then shoot the birds that fly out.  The dog has an added convenience, since the birds often fly out in place you can’t go – over thick brush, over water, or down a steep ravine – but the dog will go there happily.  She’ll grab that bird and bring it back like a good dog, because that is what she was literally born to do. 

And she will be so goddamned happy and grateful for the opportunity that you won’t believe it.  Dutchess will damn near piss herself with excitement when she finds out we’re going bird hunting. 

The Harvest Weighs Substantially Less

You know what the biggest difference between a deer and bird is?
Other than those other things you're thinking of?

Well, no matter what you are thinking, to a hunter, the biggest difference is that even a large pheasant weighs less than 5 pounds, whereas a deer can be damn close to two hundred pounds. 

Do you know what is a lot easier to drag out of the canyon ground than a two hundred pound deer? 
Other than a tiny deer?
A pheasant. 

Yeah, when you get your limit of three of them, plus your ten quail and six chukar, you’ve got probably twenty five pounds of stuff to haul.  Tops. 

It is Not Time-Specific

Lots of game is very particular about when it’s out and about, and if you want to be successful, you’d better be out and about when they are, or figure you’re not going to get anything.  Deer are most active right before dawn, so you’d better have your ass up and hunting then, or you’ll miss out.  Most fish hit peak activity at daybreak, so the same applies.  This means early alarms, and contracted sleeping hours. 

Birds, on the other hand, hide in the bushes all day, because they are preyed on by everything.  Hawks, coyotes, domestic cats…  the list goes on.  Your prospects don’t change one bit hunting any time of the day, because they are where they are – hiding in the bushes – and regardless of the time of day, your dog will find them. 

The only time constraints you have are dog-related.  If it is early season and still getting hot during the day, you can easily kill your dog with over-exertion if you aren’t careful.  Likewise, one must be cautious of early mornings when it is cold outside, not because the dog will freeze, but because their sense of smell is absolute shit when it’s below freezing out. 

Other than that, you can sleep your lazy ass in all you want. 

It Comes in Short Bursts, Because Dog

A bird dog lives for bird hunting.  They were bred specifically for that purpose.  Other than snuggling with you on the couch at night, and taking up more of the bed than you’d like, their primary reason for being is to hunt birds.  They live for it.  There is a beautiful simplicity in an animal that can so easily define its reason for existing.  It makes me envious. 

The upside to all of this is that they will pour everything that they are into the hunt.  Physically, mentally, and emotionally, your bird dog will invest its entire existence into finding you that next bird.

"Because i love you"

Unwavering.  Determined. 

It is a thing of beauty. 

The downside to all of this is that they will pour everything that they are into the hunt, including their very lives. 
"I fucking LIVE for this shit!"
I’ve seen dogs run off cliffs in hot pursuit of birds (they’ve always ended up okay, since dogs have an amazing ability to mountain-goat down the sheerest of rock faces), but more importantly, a bird dog will literally run itself to death in pursuit of their life’s work. 

Good dog owners will carry water, not for themselves, but for the dog, and force the dog to stop at regular intervals to drink.  Especially young dogs, who haven’t lived long enough to know better. 

But above and beyond that, it is important to stop every couple of hours and do something else, like sit lazily in the back of your truck and bullshit about the last two hours of hunting, while your dog takes a break.  It’s also imperative that you don’t hunt your dog at outside temps over about 70 degrees, at all, and between 60 and 70 degrees, keep a close eye on them. 

If you go out over 70 degrees, be prepared to stop a lot, bring a lot of water, and I even recommend being near a body of water so your dog can go swim and cool off. 

I know at least one story where a guy hunted his dogs hard on a day approaching 80, and both dogs died that night of heatstroke-related causes.  I didn’t know him, he was just somdood that hunted on my friend’s property, but it impacted my friend so much that he closes his property to hunting as soon as the temperatures reach a certain level, and chews hunter’s asses when they ask him if they can hunt on a hot day. 
"They should make THAT bad man wear the cone of shame, right master?"
All in all, I’m very excited about going.  I get to see my good friend, Isaac (the guy in the sturgeon photo) and my other buddy, Chris.  They live about 300 miles from me, so we don’t get to see each other nearly enough.  Wish me luck.  

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