Christmas eve goose hunt

Although I’m not a goose hunter I won’t pass up an opportunity when it presents itself. So December 24, I took my little huntress Mia and set up on some bluffs overlooking the river, hoping to bag some geese during their morning flights out to the fields.

Mia finds her own tree to wait under, while goose hunting

Mia finds her own tree to wait under, while goose hunting

It seemed as though the flocks were flying everywhere I wasn’t, so I moved from place to place in an attempt to position myself under their flight path. I would set up under a Juniper tree and then shoot as they came overhead. After missing several shots, I dropped a big Canadian goose and Mia did a nice job of finding and retrieving it.

That was one of the last flocks of the morning, so we returned to the truck and I drove about a mile down the river to hunt ducks. As Mia and I walked the river bank searching for a place to get down to the riverbed, she went on a solid point. I assumed it was a Pheasant hiding in the brush and since the season was closed in this region, praised her and called her off her point.

Mia listens to the geese down on the river

Mia listens to the geese down on the river

I found a way down to the river and we waited for awhile but no ducks flew within range, so I decided to go down the river where there was more open water. We hadn’t gone far when a wounded goose flushed from the brush – the goose was what Mia was pointing earlier.

I dropped it on the edge of the ice and Mia made a nice retrieve. With two geese in the bag, I was done hunting for the day but Mia wasn’t.

Returning to the truck with my gun unloaded, carrying the goose, I wasn’t paying attention to Mia who went on point, and I stumbled onto a flock of partridge. I watched them land on a knoll so after depositing the goose at the truck, we went after them. The birds were still on high alert and flushed well out of shotgun range. I didn’t see what direction they flew but we spent the next half hour or so hunting them without any luck.

Mia with the two geese she retrieved, 12-24-16

Mia with the two geese she retrieved, 12-24-16

A rainy bird hunt

That look when you know you're going hunting.

That look when you know you’re going hunting.

Neither rain, nor wind, nor flash flood warnings could deter Doc and me from hunting on the final day of Sage Grouse season. The 45 degree temperature was comfortable for hunting although I did become a little chilled after the rain soaked through my water-resistant clothing.

Wet clay made the road nearly impassible even in 4wd.

Wet clay made the road nearly impassible even in 4wd.

Leaving the main road was a mistake and I turned around at the first opportunity. While the desert road was still passable in 4-wheel drive, another hour of rain and it wouldn’t be.

The desert is not to be taken lightly.

The desert is not to be taken lightly.

We hunted our way over to the Wapi lava flow and from there, hunted the edge of the lava field. At one point we had to cross a lava ridge and in doing so, Doc hit on something that scared the crap out of him.

Doc pauses while crossing a lava ridge.

Doc pauses while crossing a lava ridge.

He crossed a fissure and either heard, smelled, or saw something that scared him because he dropped to his belly, shaking in fear and staring at the fissure. I approached ready for anything, but didn’t see what was scaring him. I didn’t spend any time looking either but tugged Doc away from the fissure and we continued on.

Doc surveys the landscape.

Doc surveys the landscape.

We hunted a couple of hours without seeing anything and returned to the truck just as another hunter was arriving. After a break, we headed out again and hunted another hour before finding a lone sage hen.

Unlike last weekend, I dropped the young rooster with my first shot. This bird was about half the size of the one Mia retrieved and Doc didn’t have any trouble with it and in spite of the weather, a successful end to the short Sage Grouse season.

Doc. Wet, tired and happy with the sage grouse he retrieved.

Doc. Wet, tired and happy with the sage grouse he retrieved.

Mia’s opening day hunt

Mia heads out into the sage brush on our opening day hunt

Mia heads out into the sage brush on our opening day hunt

Since Doc got to go Ruffed Grouse hunting, it was only fair to take Mia on the opening day of Partridge and Sage Grouse season. She hunted hard and hunted well, and had a great time of it.

Mia pauses to check the wind

Mia pauses to check the wind

For an opening day there were very few hunters and the only shots I heard the entire day were my own. The hunters I spoke with weren’t hunting with dogs and they had only seen a couple of birds, all of them flushing out of shotgun range.

I credit Mia for being able to find and hold the birds for me to get within shooting range. Not long after starting out, I flushed a partridge but it ducked around a lava outcropping and I didn’t get a shot. A while later I watched a Sage Grouse flush some 75-100 yards out so things didn’t look too promising.

Mia works a hillside

Mia works a hillside

We hunted for a couple of hours and upon returning to the truck ran into a flock of them. I flushed two and missed, reloaded, and another pair flushed. Again I missed, reloaded, and a third pair flushed. This time I dropped a large rooster.

Mia poses with the sage grouse she retrieved

Mia poses with the sage grouse she retrieved

This was Mia’s first retrieve of a sage hen and it took a little coaxing for her to bring it back, but she ended up making a nice retrieve.

Back at the truck we took a long break, had a couple of sandwiches and lots of water, and I let her cool down. I also groomed burrs out of her and pulled cactus thorns from her legs, then we were ready to go again. Since I had my 1-bird limit on sage hens, we were after Partridge.

Mia gets a drink of water from the bota bag

Mia gets a drink of water from the bota bag

We hunted a couple more hours and even though the temperature was comfortable and a nice wind blowing, Mia was becoming hot under the direct sun. I also didn’t want her to slip a pad or cut her feet on the lava rocks, since she hadn’t built up callouses yet, and called it quits without seeing another sign of birds.

Final tuneup

I’m going to be handling Doc, Mia and Elettra in next week’s double-double hunt tests, so this weekend was their final tuneup. Testing three dogs in two days will certainly keep me busy, so hopefully the bracings will be favorable.

Mia on point

Mia on point

Friday we worked on retrieving but was interrupted when Mia went on point. Perhaps she caught wind of the local partridge, or maybe even the pair of geese that have been checking out the pasture.

Elettra and Doc honors Mia

Elettra and Doc honors Mia

In any case, I sent Doc and Elettra out to honor her which Doc did nicely but I had to “whoa” Elettra to honor.

Elettra on point

Elettra on point

Saturday it was back to pointing and with Elettra, retrieving as well. I set a bird in my homemade launcher for Elettra and she did a very nice job of pointing.

Elettra retrieving a pigeon

Elettra retrieving a pigeon

For Elettra’s second bird, I carded a pigeon to give her a retrieve. Elettra has always refused to retrieve a bumper even with wings attached, and in Friday’s retrieving drills, even refused to retrieve bird wings. But give her a real bird and she’s almost flawless.

Elettra on point with Mia and Doc honoring

Elettra on point with Mia and Doc honoring

For the third bird, I put a pigeon in my launcher and braced Mia, Elettra and Doc. Elettra established point and both Doc and Mia did an excellent job of honoring.

Mia’s tough retrieves

Mia’s tough retrieves

On Saturday’s duck hunt, I asked a lot of Mia and she responded quite well under challenging conditions.

Posing with Mia and her two ducks

Posing with Mia and her two ducks

The temperature was in the 20’s with a stiff wind, however a light jacket was all that was necessary – although I would have liked to have had my gloves.

Mia waits with our hunting vests and gear

Mia waits with our hunting vests and gear

Our Pheasant hunt quickly became a duck hunt when we noticed large numbers of waterfowl that the recent storm had pushed into our area. Mia stayed with our gear and hunting vests while we sneaked up to jump shoot ducks along the shoreline, then I’d call her over to make the retrieve.

This tactic made it tough for Mia since I was asking her to do blind retrieves in water that had whitecaps and was very choppy. Furthermore, she was having to approach her retrieves from upwind so there was no chance of being helped by their scent.

Wade shot the first duck and although Mia took a nice line to it, was unable to find it in the choppy water. The wind was blowing it towards a bay and by the time we walked there, Mia was left with a short retrieve.

Mia patiently waits for more ducks

Mia patiently waits for more ducks

It wasn’t long before a flock of Widgeon came over. I dropped two with my shot and Wade hit his but that duck continued on with the flock. By the time Mia retrieved the drake, the hen I’d hit had drifted well away from the shoreline.

Mia is about 100 yards out searching for the duck that drifted out of sight

Mia is about 100 yards out searching for the duck that drifted out of sight

Again, Mia took a nice line to it but was unable to find it in the choppy water, and the duck drifted out of sight.

We then came upon a number of ducks scattered along the shore. I dropped a Mallard with a long shot and sent Mia after it. Again, the choppy water made it a tough retrieve and after a couple of failed attempts, took a nice line to the bird.

I thought that Mia had locked onto the bird when she was 80 to 90 yards out and only about 20 yards from the duck, however she turned around just short of the duck.

Mia finished retrieve over half a mile from where I shot the duck, it had washed up on the shore

Mia finished retrieve over half a mile from where I shot the duck, it had washed up on the shore

After lunch, we drove to the opposite side of the bay where we thought it might have drifted. As luck had it, Wade spotted the duck under some trees and Mia finished her retrieve 0.6 miles from where it began.

The bluff where I shot the Mallard is circled, over 1/2 mile away

The bluff where I shot the Mallard is circled, over 1/2 mile away

Another hunter had dropped a duck on some ice but was unable to get it, however I knew that the water was relatively (waist) deep, and didn’t want to leave it. With Mia following me, I broke through the ice and was almost to the duck when I recognized it as a Merganser. Since they are not good eating, I turned back; by then it was late afternoon so we called it a day.

Mia returns through the trail of broken ice

Mia returns through the trail of broken ice

Mia and Elettra together again

Elettra on point while training with pigeons

Elettra on point while training with pigeons

Elettra’s been doing very well with her refresher training so I figured it was time to reward her with a short 3-hour hunt at the nearby Wildlife Management Area (WMA). I braced her with Mia and was once again out in the field with the two little huntresses.

Mia and Elettra happy to be hunting

Mia and Elettra happy to be hunting

As for hunting, Elettra was about where I expected her to be – overjoyed to be hunting but still needing a little more conditioning and training.

Mia and Elettra work the grass for birds

Mia and Elettra work the grass for birds

Mia did a great job of hunting and tracking but somewhere she forgot the part about pointing and bumped most of the birds we found. I did have several opportunities for easy shots on rooster Pheasants but passed them up; if Mia wasn’t going to point them, I wasn’t going to shoot them.

A hen Pheasant was there

A hen Pheasant was there

Maybe it was because the birds were runners, or maybe it was the excitement of being braced with Elettra, but in any case, she will need a little refresher training as well.

Elettra and Mia watching a Pheasant fly off

Elettra and Mia watching a Pheasant fly off

In any case, it was good to get Elettra back to hunting again.

Nice point and honor

Nice point and honor

Back to retrieving

diagram 2-15-15

We went back to retrieving drills this past Sunday and while the Doc and Mia did okay on their long retrieves, the angles were a little too much. In the diagram,  #1-4 represent two sets of retrieves we ran with the bumpers placed about 75 feet apart, and #5-8 represent a set of retrieves with the bumpers placed about 150 feet out.

Mia and Doc wait to be sent out on retrieves while training.

Mia and Doc wait to be sent out on retrieves while training.

No sooner had we began training than the wind blew in a dense fog. The guys initially had a little trouble with the first set of retrieves (1-4) but then quickly caught on and made some good retrieves.

Doc watches Mia appear out of the fog while retrieving bumpers

Doc watches Mia appear out of the fog while retrieving bumpers

In addition to retrieving, I worked with them on honoring each other’s retrieves – all of which were all blind retrieves. That is, I didn’t throw the bumpers for them and they couldn’t see where I had placed them.

Doc retrieves a bumper in the fog

Doc retrieves a bumper in the fog

The angles (5-8) gave them a lot of trouble and neither could hold a straight line more than halfway to the bumper. After a few restarts, I could tell they didn’t understand, I walked them more than halfway out to each bumper before casting them. After retrieving the bumper in this manner, I returned them to the starting point and then they held a good line all the way to the bumper.

After training, Doc goes on point while Mia honors.

After training, Doc goes on point while Mia honors.

After our retrieving work, I let them run the pasture and Doc went on a nice point with Mia honoring. Earlier while feeding and watering the pigeons, both Doc and Mia went on point and the birds flew around their loft and bird run.

Mia and Doc go on point while I feed and water the pigeons

Mia and Doc go on point while I feed and water the pigeons

Later that afternoon everyone celebrated Dakota and Elvis’ birthdays with grilled roast beef sandwiches and tater tots.

Elvis, Doc, Mia, Dakota, and Sophie wait to eat their roast beef sandwiches and tater tots.

Elvis, Doc, Mia, Dakota, and Sophie wait to eat their roast beef sandwiches and tater tots.