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Brad Eden

Essays, Poems, Thoughts. . .

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huntennut

It's just an old hat really but I can't seem to part with it. It has perched on my head during hunts for various game birds for the past 25 years in a number of states and behind three of the best bird dogs a man could want.

It would be hard to call hunter orange at this point so I seldom wear it while hunting but it still hangs on the hook next to my hunting vest like they belong together...and they do.

There are smudges and sweat stains that bring back memories of pushing through popples when my heart was beating so hard it sounded like a grouse drumming in my ears.

I got the hat at a Quail Unlimited banquet. At that same banquet I met a fellow hunter who became on of my best hunting partners and we enjoyed some of the best days in the field that a hunter could hope for.

Birds killed, birds missed, birds pointed, birds busted by young dogs but each and every hunt provided memories that seem to be intertwined with that faded orange hat.

I'm sure some non hunters would think it easy to discard as I have at least 4 newer and brighter hunter orange hats in my gunning bag but they missed the times we spent together. The friends, the laughs, the dogs and some spectacular scenery.

I feel sorry for them.........

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Alan Briere

Posted for Carver

"JUST A WALK" With My Lab

by Mike Enright

My morning started at 03:00 AM with a farewell kiss from my wife Lisa and daughter Megan as they left to catch an early flight to Chicago, another trip dictated by a passion for Irish Dance.  Both of my daughters are Irish Step Dancers and my wife is a dedicated "dance Mom".  My youngest daughter Shannon remained home with me.  I went back to sleep for a couple of hours.  The alarm seemed to come fast and I left the comfort of my bed to spend some "quality time" with my Labrador Retriever "Cayden" before leaving for work.  I worked Cayden on a few marked retrieves, got him his first meal of the day, and made sure he had plenty of water for the day.  I woke Shannon and as soon as she was ready, brought her to her friend Jessica's house where she would spend the night.  When I returned home from work, it would be just me and Cayden at the "castle" tonight.

I was off to my job as a Supervising / Sergeant Game Warden.  My patrol duties today consisted of the supervision of a "special operation" focused on the enforcement of laws and regulations specific to the illegal operation of all terrain vehicles (ATV's).  My agency had received numerous complaints of ATV related environmental impact, as well as reckless operation creating risks to public safety, and trespass related issues.  Interestingly, some of the trespass matters had taken place on State Wildlife Management Areas (WMA's) and State Managed Dog Training / Field Trial Areas.  Needless to say, I was a very popular guy that day when several gundog trainers leaving the area, observed me and my squad loading six ATV's belonging to violators onto a flatbed tow vehicle and issuing citations.  We had used a fixed wing aircraft to conduct aerial surveilance of the area, and had assigned ground units using both ATV's and patrol vehicles  to saturate the area, awaiting response direction from the observer above.  In total, my squad had made contact with twelve ATV operators for various violations, two subjects were taken into custody for interfering with officers, and twelve ATV's were towed.  It had been a busy day for all of the officers involved and most importantly, nobody had been injured during the course of the operation.

Having received clearance from my Captain, all officers were dismissed from the assignment. Like the others, I patrolled on my way back to my home.  I "signed off" the radio, ending my patrol at 19:15 hours.  I could not wait to get changed out of my uniform and make use of the remaining daylight to exercise Cayden.  Poor Labrador had been home all day with nobody to play with.  Even with the change to "daylight saving time", the day was rapidly giving way to the golden glow of a full moon, so tonight's trip to the woodlands behind my home would be "just a walk" with my Lab.

Cayden and I walked eastward through the hardwoods descending the western slope of the Mount Hope Valley.  I looked ahead as Cayden quartered his way through the understory of Mountain Laurel as we ventured toward the floodplain of the Mount Hope River.  Picassoesque abstracts of snow melted into forms by increasing spring temperatures punctuated the forest floor, white contrasting against faded hues of brown and green.  As we continued, I could hear the rushing waters of the trout stream just ahead, swollen with winter's runoff.  This was a sacred place.  A place where I had watched my oldest daughter Megan, land her first native brook trout, when she was still a child.

Cayden arrived at the stream out in front of me and I watched as he entered the cold water.  I sat on a nearby boulder and listended to the water cascade over the rocks that were deposited by the great sheets of ice, long, long ago.  The "peenting" call of the woodcock and their spiral courtship flights, returned me to a time in my youth marked by the "eternity" between ice-out and the opening day of the trout season.  This was a time when only issues of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield could satiate my desire to wet a line.  Many hours were spent readying tackle for the season opener and making plans with boyhood friends as to which waters would be fished on that ritual morning.  "Secret spots", rich with the lore of huge trout, were often determined by their distance from home via bicycle or foot, rather than by their yield of record size fish.  Camping out along side the "honey hole" the night before opening day, ranked right up there with Christmas Eve...full of anticipation!  I call out to Cayden and he comes quickly and heels to my left side, much as if we were training, but I remind myself that tonight is "just a walk" with my Lab.

As we start our way homeward, I decide to walk northward and parallel to the stream.  Just ahead is an old earthen dam of man's design for early industry.  One can still find rusted metal parts of machines powered by rushing waters, during times when flocks of waterfowl were said to have darkened the sky.  I hear the primal cry of a lone "Woodie" as it pitches into the waters pocketed upstream of the dam, a structure that had breeched toward it's eastern end, long ago.  The waters above the primitive dam now vary in depth as determined by beaver, as well as the storms that wipe out their temporary repairs.  Several year ago, I had watched as my wife landed and released a fifteen inch Brook Trout in this very location during a period of high water above the dam.  She and I had hunted for spring turkeys earlier that morning and fished for trout that afternoon and into the dusk...a perfect day!  Cayden sits and stares at me while my mind ramblings return to the present.  His Labrador eyes gaze at me as if to say, "you should have dropped that Woodduck, I want to work"!  "Not today boy, it's just a walk".

Turning westward, Cayden and I walk toward a sun having long set below the horizon.  Golden light cast by the full moon in the sky to our backs, guide us home.  As we ascend the western slope of the Mount Hope Valley, I am in awe of an owl as he flies silently through the overstory of the forest.  I ponder, what prey will succumb to those deadly talons on this night?  I look at Cayden and apologize, "sorry boy, no training today, it's just a walk"...

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Skybuster

Vignettes from an Old Brain

"The Quest"

I am neither a teetotaler nor a steady drinker.  If I drink alcoholic beverages at all it is usually confined to premium beers or red wines.  However, there is one place and occasion where an excellent bourbon can enhance an early evening respite... my cabin after a long day of busting brush and blasting sky in the grouse woods.

I am still in search of the perfect blend of amber spirits.  One that enhances the essence of a damp October evening, replete with the smells of decaying leaves, pine needles, moss, wet sandy soil, and lake breezes.  The north woods has an unmistakable presence about it.  And so does a fine sour mash.  There must be a match, when enjoyed together will bring out the essence of each... a bouquet as it were, the sum of which is greater than its individual elements.  

I am on a quest to find the right match of spirit and October evening.  It may take the rest of my life.  And then there’s November...  My search began several October’s ago, thanks to my hunting partner, Dan, who brought with him a bottle of cheap bourbon.  The stuff was so bad, I excused myself from the cabin to dispose of it on a decomposing leaf pile.  The act of tossing Olde Gunny Sack into the air brought an interesting mix of evening smells to my olfactory senses.  There were possibilities here!  The search was on.

Since I have an appreciation for the finer things in life, there would be no involving Dan in my quest for the Holy Water.  “The cheap stuff suits me just fine, thank you,” is his curt reply, each time I attempt to elevate his expectations.  My quest would be a lone one, and one label at a time.  And of course, first impressions must always be thoroughly tested.

The process is easy enough.  Pour a modest amount in a glass, step outside, take a deep breath of fresh evening air, sip, roll over the tongue, swallow slowly and deliberately.  Next, immediately record your description of the experience.  Be sure to note the date, time, weather conditions, and of course the particular brand of spirits.  You must also be prepared for the usual chiding and cajoling from your hunting buddies.  They can be most unsympathetic at times.

You’ll be pleased to know I am getting close to nailing down the magic elixir that will enhance every grouse camp experience.  I intend to share it with the world when I find it.  If, in the interim you have a suggestion or two, please write me at this address.  I’m not above accepting samples either.

J.J. Drivel

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Felix

More than I can expect.

I'm not sue how many of you guys/gals are like me. I LOVE HUNTING WITH A DOG but, it's probably third in my priorities behind family and my job (which supports my family).

Like me, my dog spends about 99% of her time doing something other than hunting. 99% of the time she is as much a part of the family as I am, the other 1% she is my best hunting buddy. She is more than I can expect.

She finds and points birds, even though she bumps a few; she is not steady to wing or shot; she chases weather I hit or not, and she retrieves when I do hit, although not always to hand, but she is more than I can expect.

Morgen, more than I can expect.

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Alan Briere

Reflections

The transformations that happen when you aren't actually watching for them can be dramatic. I remember the day that I went to pick up Penny and I always will as long as my brain continues to function. John told me to just pull her up close and into my lap. She struggled at first, but soon realized that there was no threat here. Penny was a hard case. Purchased as a pup, abused for two years and finally reclaimed by the breeder when he learned about the abuse. Within fifteen minutes Penny was running with me outdoors and within twenty four hours her safe spot was under my desk. Years later she would just take refuge standing next to my leg while we were outdoors. Close enough for security and distant enough for independence.

Dozens of prospective adopters lined up to try to resolve Penny's issues. Fear of men and of people in general. She was a good mother and her daughter Millie, also in our care as a rescue exhibits many of the same characteristic behaviors. Why two dogs from one blood line should be sold as pups, abused by their owners and reclaimed by the breeder will always be a mystery to me. Both Penny and Millie were born in the month of August. They would have been delivered to their contractors in October. Is patience to deal with a puppy a virtue that is lacking during bird hunting season?

Millie has taken over Penny's spot on the dog bed under my desk. Each time I look into Millie's eyes and see that her right eye is essentially useless to her due to an act of extreme violence against a puppy; it makes me wonder about human kind. Kind is the key word. We strive to make the most humane kill we can on the game we pursue. Don't our dogs deserve at least the same level of respect? The breeder has never shared the details of the abuse that was delivered upon Penny and Millie. Perhaps he doesn't know all the details. I don't fault him for that. I'm thankful that he chose us as a fit to provide a good home for these wonderful dogs. Millie wouldn't come to anyone even after years with the breeder after her reclaim. She comes to us reliably and is the only dog I've known that is so full of kisses. She is a beautiful, loving and energetic dog and for the life of me I cannot understand how a person could take out anger or anxiety on these animals.

A kennel environment offers security and sustenance, but not always the individual attention an individual dog needs. The pack is smaller now and Gypsy seems to be handling it the worst. If dogs have the capacity to mourn, Gypsy is showing it. She lays outside for hours just watching. We had the vet come to the house to put Penny down and Penny left this life in my lap just as she came to be with us. We thought the transition at home would allow the other dogs to reach a level of understanding that would make it easier for them. It doesn't seem to matter.

Millie is her own dog and has the joy of life her mother had. I'll miss Penny climbing up on my chest every morning in bed and snuggling, but her daughter has the same affection for stuffed animals and a belly rub as her mom did. I swear the two of them spent and spend more time on their backs kicking at the sky than anything else. Wild abandon is a joy to witness.

Gypsy on the other hand is more introspective and stands off a bit stranded in her own thoughts. Reminds me of someone . . . I'll have to try to figure out who.

Alan

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Dave Gowdey

THE EMPTY METAL BOWL – IN MEMORY OF TRUDY

By David Gowdey

The empty metal bowl

Lying on the cold ground

Surrounded by emptiness

I bend down

And grab its cold metal edge

Choking with the pain of loss

A pain almost unbearable

The weight of the world

Filling my chest

The water and soap fill the bowl

The happy white suds

Beaten down by tears that fall

Flowing from my reddened eyes

Drip, drip, drip

Through blurry eyes I can see the

Scared young dog

That came to love being held high in my arms

I can see Trudy’s head on my leg

Every day for a lifetime,

Those brown eyes so soft for me,

Those soft ears,

That irresistibly demanded caress

That brown nose,  

Gateway to a universe I could never know

The ecstatic barks as I approached the door each night

The joy at my arrival

Boundless, limitless, selfless – infectious

All gone today

Eleven years, two months

Proof that the best die young,

And I, a human,

Condemned to live on

It is the way of things.

An empty metal bowl,

Shiny clean

Washed with tears

On the shelf

Enclosing an emptiness

mirrored in my heart.

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Guest

I am not a writer, but so wanted to put down on paper the following; thank you for the forum to do just that.

I have known a Brittany!

As a puppy, when we first brought her home, before she knew who she was, we looked into her vacant eyes that gave the appearance that no one was home. We found those baby-teeth everywhere, loose on the rugs and furniture, sometimes not loose but embedded in items that should not have been recipients her teething activities. Once as Judy rescued her trapped foot that had wedged into the cast-iron umbrella stand and she decided that chewing up and down Judy’s arm would help her plight, leaving Judy’s arm looking like a pincushion, and the phone call to me at work explaining just how bad a puppy I had picked. Of course that was the moment that she knew that this was home and no one would kill her no matter what she did; the eyes were no longer vacant, they now opened up with brightness and her impish nature started to develop. There then was the times, when I must confess we complete confused her by adding, no screaming, the word “No” before saying her name, then again screaming the words “NO DON’T” and “STOP” directly after her name, this usually was are only means of communication with her every ten to fifteen minutes while she was awake. For what ever reason, first thing in the morning her first thought as she awoke would be to leap onto our bed and make sure we were also awake by both licking our faces, she had this fascination that all things must be licked so as to soften them and then at this point they would be of the correct texture to give aggressive puppy nips to, and our heads laying on the pillows seemed to be the best target for this early morning greeting. We kept a rawhide bone on both of our nightstands so as to be able on the first cry of help, from either of us, to shove the bone at her; I will never forget those early morning cries of “QUICK SHOVE SOMETHING IN HER MOUTH, those were good times as she started to train us to be good loving providers for her every need. Then of course there was the tail, oh how you could express so much with your short Brittany tail, not to mention the hours of pleasure that we had watching and speculating on just how fast it could go and should the full circle revolutions increase anymore would your back end really lift from the ground. You found so many ways to play and totally enjoy life; we never have been with a happier puppy and you so consistently brought smiles to our faces and happiness to our hearts.

As a young dog, the four “B’s” were ever on your mind; birds, bugs, butterflies, and bunnies. How you would search and chase these, and with the bugs you usually could completely catch them unawares and their demise was quick and effective. There of course were the everyday walks where we both learned so very much; you taught me so much, how to not look with my eyes but instead trust what your nose knew and head off in a different direction then I had planned, of course then your intensity and direction would change in just a few seconds based on a random butterfly or other attraction. We learned the basics together which from my perspective should have been just the same as training as all the other dogs that we have had over the last five decades; wrong, you are a pointer and seem to have your own set of rules. So we did learn together, oh girl you taught me so much about working as team and understanding how to trust your partner.

As we spent the oh too short next nine years together you without fail awoke me every morning, when just sitting next to my bed breathing very heavy did not work there was always the “let’s shake your head so that your ears flop loud enough to a wake the bum” or if that failed then just jump up on my head routine. From your perspective every ride in a vehicle meant going somewhere fun, and you never would miss an opportunity to go for a ride. We went out in to the desert and placed the pigeons for you to learn on,  we spent our time pursuing chukker in northern Nevada, quail in Mojave desert where we live, and there was that time in the woods of coastal Oregon when we looked for grouse and I shot as it flushed directly overhead, when that grouse fell from the sky right at your feet you. You covered ground with speed, not to mention fearlessly, sailing over three foot high Yucca plants with their spear like arms waiting to impale you; my heart would stop as you defied all safety. You would limp back to me and hold your foot up when with the cactus firmly stuck into your paw, then when I pulled them you would be off again. For those first few years I did not understand that it was my duty to keep up to where you and the birds were because the quail would not wait while I slowly plodded along, but as you patiently worked with me and trained me, the light did finally come on and I seemed to be okay as your hunting partner. You shared your life with me and as we did so many thing together you always chose to be there next to me. Just as my retirement looms a few months away, the dream that would allow us to spend the next years hunting together all over the west has been dashed, so close to being the dream that would fulfill your incessant appetite to hunt, that I have not been able to completely fill for you; spending to much time at work; you fought the cancer so hard, but just could not go on, I love you my friend.

I have known a Brittany, her name was Gemma, and she lives on always in my mind and part of my heart is hers. I miss you Gemma.

Gemma April 18, 2001, to November 23, 2010; far to short a time.

Jim Lynch

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Wisconsin

A Bird Dog for Baby Spraefke

by Ken M. Blomberg

    There is a special place tucked in the north woods, nestled in aspen and alders, where a country church once stood with pride.  It burnt to the ground in 1948 and today, all that indicates its existence are a pair of white crosses - the smaller of the two marking a single grave site of an unnamed newborn that died in 1937.  Late last year, the setting took on new meaning.  And that story, as told by good friend Rich Wissink, of Merrill, includes a bird dog named Ranger.

    “Legend has it that the child in the grave is a daughter of William Spraefke, aka Whiskey Bill.  Not sure if that is true, but the road near the grave was once named Whiskey Bill Road and has since been renamed Spraefke Road.  I know there was a man named William Spraefke that lived in the woods off of that road at that time.  So it all makes some sense.”  And according to Rich, “The two crosses are about 30 yards north of Whiskey Bill Road and are nestled in mature aspen with an understory of some alder, a thorn apple thicket and some scattered balsam.  You really can't see any remnants of the church or foundation.”

    14 years ago Rich and his family packed their truck and experienced 140 miles of “white knuckle driving” through “a January blizzard that we had no business going out in” to pick up an 8 week old pointer puppy of English decent.  They made it home safe and sound – and welcomed “a friend and companion that enriched the lives of our family.”  But the thing that intrigued Rich the most was “the way he looked into my eyes – literally for hours and hours over his lifetime.  What was he thinking?”

    Ranger was well travelled – including multiple trips to Montana, North and South Dakota and of course, throughout Wisconsin.  Rich recalls many highlights – 14 years of memories. Like in North Dakota, during his first fall and witnessed by friends, including yours truly, “When my pride and joy ran over a big hill and disappeared chasing a large whitetailed buck.”  And 1998 – 2000, “three years of the best ruffed grouse hunting I’ve ever had – with the dog that all three sons shot their first birds over.  He was in the prime of his life.”   Or later on, the time he became lost pheasant hunting in South Dakota for 45 minutes, and “we found him on point - pointing a rooster near the exact spot we last saw him.”  

    This past fall in Montana, during the twilight of Ranger’s life, “the old boy nailed a covey of Hungarian partridge at the end of a shelterbelt on an abandoned homestead, and then proceeded to find singles for me and the rest of our party.”  

    On his last night, he slept with Rich’s 18 year old son Corey, a young man who will leave for the Marines next spring.  “Bullet proof and full of macho; sleeping on the floor with an old bird dog, no doubt sharing memories, smiles and tears.”

    Rich buried Ranger near Whiskey Bill’s infant daughter.  “So in my mind I have taken him where there are plenty of grouse and have given the best bird dog I’ve ever owned to a child that never had a dog.”

    Rest in peace buddy.

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trust me

Per Brad's suggestion...

I cut my teeth on bird dogs and shotguns.  Pap always had a dog or three while I was growing up.  My earliest memory is of standing on the carport watching my father work in the back yard with a surly and mean tempered English Pointer named Tim, and when the dog saw me it charged to attack me and my mother whisked me up into her arms to rush me into the house.  I remember peering over her shoulder as Pap pulled the growling dog away.  I was no more than three when it happened because the dog died in 1968 and that is the year that I turned three.  

My brother and I would run out to the driveway when Pap returned from a hunt.  My brother got to carry the Browning down to the basement because he was five years older and stronger and more trustworthy than his younger brother.  No one would trust a six year old with a Browning.  I was allowed to sit by my father on the old barracks cot in the basement and help him clean the Browning and to peer down the shiny bore of the barrel and fill my nose with the wonderfully addictive smell of Hoppes, but I wasn’t allowed to carry the big automatic.  

Instead, I got to carry the hunting vest, and I still remember the heady excitement of hefting that vest as Pap handed it to me and feeling all the extra weight in it, weight that wasn't there when he left that morning, and I can still feel the weight of birds and smell the musky scent of fresh feathers and I can hear the clink of empty shotgun shells. I had to carry the vest up under my chin just so the bottom wouldn't drag and trip me on the stairs.  My brother had the honor of carrying the gun, but I got to carry my father’s hunting vest and for a young child with a head filled with hunting dreams that was the very best thing.

I followed Pap and his bird dogs a lot of miles before I got to carry a gun.  I treasured the cold miles, the steep hills, and the cramped truck cab with me in the middle with the shifter between my knees because I was the youngest and smallest.  I remember my older brother and how he killed many birds and how skillful he was with his old Winchester Model 12 pump, and how Pap would stand back and spot my brother in the best place when the dogs were on point because my father wanted that bird to fall to his son.  Our hunts were filled with laughter and dog whistles and sweat and rain.  My pockets were filled with rocks from the creek beds and souvenirs scoured from the abandoned old home sites marked by the stone chimneys standing like forgotten sentinels.  We stood on high strange ridge tops, looking out over miles and miles of a wild jumble of hills and hollows and I did not know where in the world I was or sometimes even where the dogs were but I had absolute faith that my father could get all of us home safely again.  I remember sawbriers and dog whippings and the smell of damp leaves and I remember points, beautiful points from beautiful Grouse Ridge bred dogs with high feathery tails.  

And I remember my first hunt that I carried a gun.  I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, and I had been breaking a fair number of clay pigeons with the shiny new Ithaca 37 20 gauge Pap had bought for me.  We were hunting in a hollow near our home and Old Sam pointed in a gully on the side of a hill, and this time Pap stood back for his youngest son.  This was to be my bird, my first bird, and I would kill it coolly and cleanly.  I walked in with a shiny new Ithaca pump and boots a size too small on my feet and a hand-me-down hunting vest on my back and all the confidence of a teenager that had grown up following grouse hunters and English Setters.  I walked the hillside and came up even with the dog, and the bird erupted with a roar of thunder and a blur of beating wings, just as I had known all along that it would.  One shot, two shots, and the final third shot sounded as the bird flew straight up the hillside and escaped to cross the distant ridge.

I stood there forever feeling suddenly very young and small amid the echoes of the shots and then I turned to look back at my father.  I knew he wanted that bird to fall more than I did, and the failure and disappointment that I felt were reflected back at me in my father's lined brown face.  The echoes chased each other away up the hillsides and then turned themselves into dead silence.  I remember that silence as the deepest, saddest, loudest, hollowest feeling sound I had ever experienced.  

I've missed hundreds of grouse since that long ago day, and I saw Pap miss his shares of birds over the years too, but that was the only miss that ever made me feel that I had let someone down.

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Wisconsin

Thought you might enjoy my Christmas column for our county's weekly newspaper.

UP THE CREEK by Ken M. Blomberg

    Holiday traditions ring true again this year for our family.  A Christmas tree harvested from along the creek, stockings hung from the woodstove mantle with care, a couple of late season grouse hunts, a number of family gatherings and last but not least, both boys back together under our roof for a short while.

    Since leaving the nest 6 years ago to pursue advanced degrees in wildlife management, No. 1 son has faithfully returned home at least once each year for Christmas and New Year’s - first, from the east coast and for the past 4 years from the far west.

    No. 2 son bought a one-way ticket and flew to Reno this past weekend.    His older brother met him at the airport bar just in time to have a beer and watch the Packer’s winning streak come to a screeching halt.  Misery loves company, but their despair was quickly extinguished as they packed No. 1’s Jeep for a hunting trip to central Nevada’s Cortez Mountain Range.  Their mission was to follow a well-seasoned male German Shorthaired Pointer named “Sue” and hunt for Chukar partridge in the mountain’s rocky, rugged terrain.

    These upland game birds have light brown backs, grey breasts, buff bellies and  Zorro-like black banded masks running from the forehead across the eyes then down the head forming what looks like a necklace enclosing a white throat.  Add a pair of red legs and a coral red bill, this exotic game bird is indeed unique.  Native to Israel, Turkey and Afghanistan they were introduced long ago to suitable semi-arid western habitat and have since flourished - ranging from Canada to southern California and Utah.

    On Monday of this week, their first of two days hunting, the boys reported seeing more than a hundred birds and by day’s end, they had nine in their game bags.  Day two will find them in the Diamond Mountain range northeast of Eureka - once again following Sue in pursuit of more chukars.  On day three they’ll point the Jeep east for a thirty-hour drive to central Wisconsin and home for the holidays.  By the time you read this, they should be settled in the home they know so well along the creek.  And Sue will be reunited with his sister and several other kennelmates.

     Every family has their own holiday traditions.  This year ours began well before we were all under one roof.   Cutting a Christmas tree from the woods out back used to be up to the boys and me towards the end of deer season.  With no boys around of late, that labor of love has fallen on my shoulders – a welcome task nonetheless.  With an abundance of spruce and balsam to choose from I brought home a tabletop sized balsam.  The boss and I brought the decorations out of storage and transformed this year’s specimen into a traditional holiday tree – out of reach to curious cocker spaniels.

    The holiday dinner table will once again see the influence of the Swedish side of our family tree – bringing meatballs, coffee cake, pancakes, limpa bread and lingonberries to their place alongside more conventional Christmas food stuff.  And of course our favorite holiday beverage, Swedish glogg.  Served warm with fruits and nuts – raisins, apricots and almonds - this brandy-wine and spice drink can be traced back to an old country family recipe passed down from generation to generation.  

    In between the two holidays, we will take the bird dogs to several of our favorite spots close to home –and perhaps a few others north, south, east or west to hunt ruffed grouse.   Nowhere in particular and as No. 1 son often proclaims, “with low expectations”.

    So, as the boss and I anxiously await the return of our boys, we’re reminded of the classic seasonal lyrics, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.  For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.”

    From our family to yours, enjoy your holiday traditions and quality time spent with your own folks.

Photo by Erik J. Blomberg:  A boy named Sue looks forward to a visit home this Christmas to visit his sister Sage and other kennelmates.

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Skybuster

Vignettes from an Old Brain

September Warm-up

I don’t know about you, but I spend time every September attending to my physical conditioning in preparation for the grouse opener.  Given the precious few days available to pursue my favorite quarry, I’m in the woods all day long with a brief respite for lunch.  Conditioning is important for everyone, especially those of us who are advancing in years.  There is nothing more aggravating than pulling up lame with a muscle cramp.  Unfortunately not everyone at grouse camp shares my concern for physical fitness, and might arrive with no advanced preparation for the rigors of brush busting.  Last year I had to endure constant whining from one of my hunting buddies who couldn’t keep up.  His antics were embarrassing, to say the least, and cost me several hours of productive hunting time.  This year I have taken steps to assure such behavior is eliminated with that one particular individual, so that I’ll be able to focus on the business of grouse hunting unencumbered.  Here’s a copy of my letter:

Dear Dan:

I look forward to our week together in the grouse woods this fall.  However, given your lack of attention to physical conditioning, I thought it best to write this letter while there is still time before the opener.  To be blunt, your slovenly behavior around camp last year, what with your constant complaining about sore feet and joints, frequent cries of agony when ambling about the cabin, groans in the night, not to mention your inability to keep up with others during the hunt will NOT be tolerated.  The specter of dragging your dead carcass out of the woods, you having stroked-out from fatigue, is unbearable not to mention a waste of good hunting time.  

You have four weeks beginning today in which to focus on good field conditioning.  And to insure your compliance, I have set the following incentives should you show up at camp unprepared again this year:

Breakfast:  While the rest of us are enjoying bacon, eggs, and toast slathered with butter, you will be allowed a multi-grain cereal with skim milk.  The cereal is a home made concoction of various grains, seeds, and raisins we’ve dubbed “Colon Blow”.  Results guaranteed.

Lunch:  Normally served in the field and prepared before hand, you will be allowed one Power Bar and a diet Pepsi, while the rest of us enjoy smoked turkey sandwiches, slathered with mayonnaise, and topped with sliced home grown tomato and crisp leaf lettuce.

Dinner:  Always a treat at the cabin, we’ll savor grilled T-bone steaks smothered with mushrooms sautéed in butter, and served with a mix of pan-fried potatoes and onions.  Your dinner will consist of chipped beef mixed with a diet cream sauce and served over one piece of dried toast.  

After Dinner Aperitif: This year we will be serving a vintage Port to compliment our imported cigars.  You can enjoy another diet Pepsi with your usual pipe full of Olde Bruin Dung… alone on the back porch of course.  

Given your usual culinary debauchery, as witnessed by your hunting companions in past visits to grouse camp, I’m sure the above measures will produce the intended result.  Sometimes Dan, I think you’d rather eat than hunt!

To assist you in getting started on your journey to better physical condition I am enclosing an old Jane Fonda exercise tape.  Yes I know, as a Vietnam vet you’re still sore about Ms Fonda’s visit to Hanoi, and her photo-op in an anti aircraft battery.  But you’ve got to admit she’s in great shape!      

J.J. Drivel

P.S.  It is not necessary to wear leotards while exercising in front of your TV with Jane.

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mobeasto123

The first Point on a ruffed grouse...

My dog ''Hunter'' now a 2 years old Brittany has been At the trainer a big part of the year First to intoduce him to tri-action.. After that to try to make point Birds and Also Fetch... Got him back in mid july this summer ... Since that I'v worked him on pigeon at home and also chukkars with great results he was pointing and steady at a good 60-80 feet of the birds.. But on those ruffed grouse was just doing everything wrong.. Bumping bird everytime.. With no sign of progress... I was a bit sad about it cause he was also pointing woodcock but was refusing to point Ruffies. The hunting season began and everyday out he was flushing 3-9 birds.. I became nearly crazy about why the hell was he doing that.. Sometime I was understanding that the wind condition could affect the result but not everytime...  I called my trainer a few times about  it, he was helping me a lot but the results were not there..  I had a trip to my Camp set with my freind on october 22th.. The week before have been an horror 4 time out and everytime pointing 4-5 woodcock and flushing 5-6 Ruffies.. So I told my friend not to be so confident about How many Ruffies we were going to see or shoot  in this week-end..

So the saturday Morning we woke up about 8h00, took a good breakfast with a good dark Perco coffee.. We then went out with my Dog.. We walked about 1 mile around the Camp and decided to change of spot.. So we took the Quads and drived a couple miles down till we reached a Big Creek between to mountain.. So we decided to go in it..

We made about 1/2 mile till I had to pee.. So I told my friend to go on with my dog by the time I do my job... When I got back to my Friend he was Steady like a Statue and My dog too with his little leg up in the air.. So '' What's going on dude'' I told my Friend.. ''I dunno Hunter was there like pointing and when I went next to him A Ruffed Grouse came out of nowhere an flewn away'' said my friend. I said '' WHAT ???? you were surely dreaming man''

''No I'm sure about it, it was a ruffed grouse''  My dog was still steady at this moment so I came up to him and praised him for his effort..

We turned around in the direction my Friend saw the bird going maybe the dog could point this bird again... about 50 feet from the original point my dog goes on point again steady like a Rock.. I just could'nt believe my eyes... Was it possible ??? I get by the dog and up on front of him till the bird Flushed ..Bang Bang.. Down was my First ruffed grouse pointed by my dog...  Still the dog was steady to the wing and Shot and was waiting on me So the time was to Say ''FETCH'' like a pro he goes and bring back this Oh so desired Bird to my hand..

No need to says that the dog had a whole lot of ''Goodboy''

and Hugging for about 5min.. We than went back to hunt and the same thing happened 6 times in the same Day with no flush or bumping from my dog...

Since that Day he just have not miss any ruffies..

That's it

David

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Wisconsin

WOODSMOKE..........

         A gentle dawn breeze lifted the smoke from the woodstove.  Across the prairie field it drifted, a ribbon of vapor in the moonlight, revealing a path leading back to the stove.  A quarter mile later, it disappeared with the wind into the neighbor’s woods.  

    From the pines across the road a lone dove’s soft cooing welcomed in the day.  A hound dog bayed mournfully from the west – chasing rabbits in his field of dreams.  I paused and looked up on the way to the kennel and noticed stars sparkling in the pre-dawn darkness.  Along the eastern horizon, daylight struggled to overcome the night.

    While retrieving another piece of firewood I stumbled in the dark, but caught myself.  No. 2 son cut and split a month’s worth of fuel recently from a larger pile of logs, thanks to neighbor Jim, my in-laws and a couple of nasty windstorms.  The outdoor boiler eats firewood by the oak, maple, birch, pine and popple cord. Over the course of a heating season, we move wood from the pile side of the driveway to the opposite stove side – and slowly the large pile dwindles.  It’s a race to the finish - winter versus the wood pile.  This time around the sun the pile of firewood dwindles at a slower pace than normal.  So perchance, winter will fade away before the wood supply.  But then again, this is anything but a normal winter.

    The kennel is connected to the woodstove.  Hot water from the steel jacketed reservoir that surrounds the firebox circulates through plastic hose buried in the kennel’s cement floor.  From room to room, kennel box to kennel box it flows.  Our dogs have learned to embrace the comfort of warm concrete.  Each room has its own thermostat and the puppy whelping room stands warmer than the rest.  You see, we were blessed with a robust litter of ten German Shorthairs pointers in early January – when the cold winds howled and temperatures dropped below zero.  Mother and the pups faired handsomely, as the whelping room never fell below eighty degrees for the first 5 weeks.  This eighth generation represents nearly forty years of bird dogs from a kennel bearing the name of the township in which we reside.  By week’s end, all pups will be spoken for and nestled in new family homes.  For the next dozen years or so, they will become important family members to others.  Some will return to this place along the creek for a visit, if only to show us what they have become and where they hope to go.  Their proud owners will entertain us with stories, of both good and not so good exploits in the field and in the backyard - and like proud grandparents we will fuss over them for a while and wish them well on their way.

    A new beginning.  Puppies, like returning migrant birds, awaken our senses after a long winter.  Young pups may tickle our fancy, but so too does the promise of spring flowers, warmer breezes and bare ground.  When the clock strikes March, spring will be knocking at our doors and not a moment too soon.  Despite the mild winter, I for one have grown weary of feeding the woodstoves.  Here’s hoping winter slips away gracefully, like the gentle wisp of smoke that greeted me earlier this week at the woodstove.

Ken

post-3-53271-kennelxmas1.jpg.3407fecb04b

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Peent

Lars and Area 51.  

This happened years ago in a north central Minnesota county.  Not way north, not way south.  That is all I'll say about the location but important I feel to let the reader picture the habitat in their minds.  

I had been looking for some good hunting grounds on public lands, particularly targeting those large tracts of real good habitat that we know are the areas where many broods of grouse can be raised in.  So, not just a small 15 acre covertype, I was looking for big land.  But not too big that you need a week to get around.  Big enough to grow some grouse.  

I was also looking for areas that were a bit off the beaten track.  Things I look for are tough access, tracts that you need to get your feet wet getting into.  Another key is limited parking.  From experience I understand that this kind of habitat are pure gold, and I was thinking of a vest full of plump birds bouncing around with spent 20 ga. shells and a tired stinky setter.  

Well, I found just such a spot.  Access was locked up by private lands on all sides, except on the south where a narrow muddy minimum maintenance road allowed me to get close.  Even better was the big sheep dog that lived at the old trailer where the township road ended and the narrow path started.  The first time I pulled in his bark about made me jump out of my skin and I think he knew it from my expression.  He never failed to greet me with a sharp bark after that.  I am certain he enjoyed that game much more than I did.

Did I mention this path was narrow?  So narrow in fact that If you met someone, one of you had to stop, pulled over tight.  Both sides of this trail dropped off to deep ditches that were dug for the road.  And it had a slight crown to it, enough to make you pucker when it was greasy out.  I wasn't going to find any out of state trucks with dog trailers on this road.  Or much of anybody for that matter.  Or so I thought.

I had looked at this area from the sky, using aerial photos so I kind of knew what I was getting into but not really.  As with every new spot, it always takes several times in to get the lay of the land and figure out the most efficient way to hunt it.  Or the way not to hunt it can sometimes be more important.  I was about to learn about the latter.  

To picture this piece from the photo, one would see the road of course, along the southern edge, but not the ditch.  Peering out my window as I drove along I could see that the north side of the road ran this ditch that was probably 15 feet wide or maybe a little better.  And it was deep.  I could tell because the water was clear and dark.  Finding a suitable spot to pull over that would allow anyone to get around me, I jumped out and explored a little bit and managed to find a small wooden bridge that someone had built to cross the ditch.  Gotta love those deer hunters.  No grouse hunter I knew would go through so much effort just to shoot a couple grouse, and deer hunters usually meant decent access.  Things were looking up.

Again, to look at the area by photo you would see the road and small patch of young aspen just beyond the ditch.  This patch was about 8 to 10 acres in size and aged appropriately for grouse and woodcock hunting.  But beyond this small patch, to the south layed a huge island of aspen and other mixed hardwoods surrounded almost entirely by a shrub swamp.  The trouble was, it was at least a quarter mile of shrub swamp between the small pocket by the road and the promise land.  This promise land (that I would later name area 51) was a good 400 or so acres of timber with what looked like a logging path down the middle and spur roads going east and west  every so often.  It was logged, managed well it appeared, with all three age classes present in block fashion.  The access for the timber harvests was coming in from the private land on the north side.  Land that I know who owned and also knew they weren't bird hunters but one of the largest ranchers in this part of the state.

My grandparents owned land years ago adjacent to this landowner, several miles away from this particular spot.  I still remember my grandmother talking about the squabble they had gotten in about a fence line or something.  This was many years ago when prairie chickens roamed the land not far from this very place.  They are long gone now except for a small remnant population that will not be with us much longer I am sure.  Anyway that is neither here nor there, but our family ended up selling my grandmothers farm to these ranchers, probably not many years after this story took place.  Or before.  I can't really remember.  But I didn't feel comfortable asking permission to cross his land and he had a reputation of not letting anyone hunt it because he was trying to lease it out to deer hunters.  

So here I am on this two track, unloaded my dog Scout, who was just a mere pup at this time.  We collared up and crossed the bridge and off he went to explore the small patch.  Right about then I hear an ATV putting towards me.  I knew I was on public land but sometimes the lines and such can fool you so I was prepared for anything.  Pretty soon he shows up, a great big grizzly of a man on an old honda three wheeler.  If you have ever seen a viking, that would be this guy.  Not a purple viking but a great big Norse type viking with long red hair and a huge beard.  He was tall, rawboned and gruff looking.  And by his side was a dog that made me think of the Hounds of the Baskersville story.  A draughthair I think, but as tall as the atv and shaggy looking.  

I met another viking several years later while grouse hunting who looked like he could be brothers with this guy, but that was way up in Kooch county and he had big black lab with him.  But ironically they both said the same thing to me when I met them.  I mean seriously.  The exact same phrase and it was three words that I took straight to heart.  "Don't pet him".  

The Viking turned out to be a pretty nice guy.  He owns property across the narrow two track, what turned out to be a small parcel with a little ramshackle shack tossed together on it.  He was a deer hunter, coming in on the trail after putting up a deer stand I presumed.  It was his bridge that we had crossed.  Pretty soon I have a point to the northwest and I have to leave the great Norseman and his trail to find that pup and stop the beeping.  I am pretty sure we got into a pile of woodcock in that small patch because in the future it turned out to be a pretty consistent woodcock hole.  

Anyway I get to the northwest side of the  small patch and look across this quarter mile of sedge meadow and willow, rung with alder, and I can see this timbered promise land way over there to the north.  Whats a guy to do but slog out there, so that is what we did.  It was one of those walks where later in the day you wish you would have eaten a few bananas because you just know cramps are on the way.

We got to the edge and it looked promising so we started out following the western boundary up against the shrub swamp.  There was a narrow strip of lowland hardwoods, perhaps a chain or two wide that ran all along that western edge.  Inside the lowland hardwoods was the aspen and that is where my young dog drug me.  We hunted all through that stuff going from younger to older aspen, looking to be about 10 years apart and just what the books say we should be hunting.  And there were grouse in there but this was peak or nearly peak year, I expected to be fighting them off with a stick, and filling my pouch with the meat from the gods.  It didn't happen that way.

I don't remember if I killed any birds as we went north, but I know we did see some.  Or Scout saw some at least.  Once I convinced him we should turn back to the south, I stumbled upon the main logging spur and it made my work easier.  I do remember thinking that this path sure looked like an atv had been on it some, and with the three tire tracks, I was beginning to think that the viking had been back there.  But how the heck did he ride that thing across that swamp?  

My questions were answered once we reached the southern point and I could look across to the smaller pocket of aspen where we had started.  Someone had laid out a quarter mile of pallets, some stacked two or three high as they sunk into the swamp.  If I had stayed on the trail where I met the deer hunter, I would have ran right into the wooden highway.    I remember shooting a grouse right at the trail head or pallet head if you wish, before Scout and headed back to the truck.  So I knew the area held grouse, but I didn't know how to hunt it effectively.   The viking had his own little private highway into the promise land, and now so did I.

I crossed the wooden pallets several more times in the next few weeks looking for grouse that I know had to be back there.  We were just a couple years off from a peak year.  The population hadn't crashed hard, it had fallen off a bit.  And this was grouse mecca, prime habitat.  Prime enough that it doesn't really get much better for raising broods.  I kept telling myself that there should be at least 80 or so grouse back in that good stuff hanging out somewhere in that aspen.  

Remember, this was per-enlightenment period as I like to call it.  I spent a bunch of time in the aspen saplings, pounding and crashing in there chasing my dogs.  We bumped into a few grouse but never really found it to be what it should have been.  The best I saw was along the western edge right in that mature lowland hardwood edge.  And we found grouse there mostly in the middle of the day when they were lounging about under deadfalls, heat of the day.

Then one day I was driving by that spot, not really sure where I was going to go, but  just looking.  I had about given up on the spot and its 80 grouse as I had roughly calculated it must hold.   But I somehow ended up on that slippery narrow two track and low and behold there was a vehicle parked along the road.  I knew right away who it was because it was a unique hunting vehicle that I would guess only a very small number of grouse hunters drive, and I also knew it to be this LODGE member.  Because I knew him.

I'll call him Lars to protect his innocents, and to respect his privacy.   I knew Lars because I used to work with him.  He is a natural resources professional, or was, he retired several years back.  I would venture to say that he is the reason I am doing what I do now because of the impact he made on me.  All around great guy that was a blast to work with, and always made the job fun.  I knew his passion was grouse hunting and it must have rubbed off on me.  He hunts with a golden and the main reason I had a golden too now.  A great grouse dog that just passed last spring.  Lars had told me about LODGE and showed me his cards.  I signed up one year but I just didn't have the ambition to keep up with the numbers and notes.  

Anyway, I saw his vehicle and pulled up and got out of the truck.  Pretty quick I heard a shot or two coming from way east of the aspen mecca.  Then another two shots, still way east.  I probably stood there for at least an hour, kind of hoping he was coming back but it was clear he was moving away from me and the two track.  Lars likes to hunt large covers, like one big one a day and not hop around so I was pretty sure he was back there for the day.

Before I left, I looked at where he had went in and it wasn't the wooden road, it was along an obscure ditch bank that was dug long ago to drain the swamp and the land north of it.  And here goes another side bar, bear with me.

I had an uncle who only had one leg.  In fact, I was named after him.  Or middle named after him anyway.  And I think he was probably my great uncle.  He was, on my fathers side, my grandfathers sisters husband.  He had fought in WW1.  I think that is how he lost his leg but that story escapes me now.  Anyway when he died they buried him in the Cemetery the next township up from the afore mentioned area 51 as I was calling it now since I couldn't find the grouse I new had to live there.  Anyway when uncle Charlie died I was maybe 11 years old and a trumpet player in the school band.  My dad thought that qualified me to play taps at his funeral.  I was nervous as heck but I stood up there and blue that trumpet  and out came taps, nearly perfect and it reduced everyone there to tears by god.  I think it still reduces those that remember to tears when they think of it.  This deed didn't go unpaid because a few years later I received several guns from his widow.  A 22 I cherish and a marlin 30-30 lever action I don't carry much but my sons do.  

You may wonder what all this has to do with anything but I found out by talking to my father several years ago that when uncle charlie got out of the military, he took up with a company and operated a dredge that drained much of this land in this part of the country.  So it is highly likely that he was the one who dug this ditch and piled the tailings up on either side of the ditch, the very piles that Lars was walking down and shooting all those grouse I had claimed for my own!

I'm going to try to finish this story up, we'll see if I can!

Uncle Charlies ditch ran perpendicular to the narrow road, north and south.  It drained into the road ditch.  I went back there several days later just to see what all the shooting was about.  I don't make it a habit of hunting other guys stuff on purpose, so please don't ding me for that.  I wanted to see what was back there.

Now this ditch is located alongside area 51, but doesn't connect to well unless you like wet boots.  So I was pretty sure that Lars was walking up the ditch, which is wet on either side for part of the way then the ground got higher, turning into an area of mixed hardwoods, real scrubby aspen, and then a pocket of balsam fir.  This is somewhat south for balsam fir and I was a little surprised to see some in that country.  But what else I saw is what opened my eyes.

The cover was open, easy walking especially on the ditch.  And it was loaded with easy picking grouse food.  The high bush was everywhere, hanging in great big globs of red fruit bundles that I browsed on.  There was dense low hazel growing in clumps in the sandy tailings.  The cover was so open that the grouse I moved were easy shooting.  And the walking was pretty easy too.  A bit farther over, in an upland ash type, the cover was lush and green even this late in the fall.  Hardly any brush, but occasional clumps you could move around easily.  And the grouse were taking advantage of all the food and cool shade despite the lack of real good protection cover found just a short flight away.  Birds I moved mostly flew towards area 51, they knew where they were safe.

This was the ecological trap that the wildlife biologists had been writing about.  An area too rich in food for the grouse to ignore, but easy for predators to snatch them up.  I told my self right then and there that this is the way to hunt grouse.  Find the sinks, the ecological traps within the great cover and go there.  don't bother walking miles of tough walking, tough shooting aspen saplings just to scratch out a few here and there.  If you go to a grocery store to get some milk, do you walk through all the isles first or go right to the coolers?  

Well Lars certainly didn't become successful as he is by beating himself to death in the classical sapling sized aspen stand we have all grown used to hearing about, but one thing is true.  Grouse absolutely need that stuff to raise a family in.  That is where the great numbers of chicks are raised, and where the grouse live 80 or 90% of their lives.  Without that, you will not get high numbers of birds.  But you don't have to hunt them there.  Nearly every cover I look at now involves great brood cover and somewhere in that cover lies the trap.  Some are better than others, some harder to find.  But once you find them, recognize them for what they are, mark them of google earth, and go back each year until your cover, and the grouses cover is blown.

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Irishwhistler
Posted for Carver

"JUST A WALK" With My Lab

by Mike Enright

My morning started at 03:00 AM with a farewell kiss from my wife Lisa and daughter Megan as they left to catch an early flight to Chicago, another trip dictated by a passion for Irish Dance.  Both of my daughters are Irish Step Dancers and my wife is a dedicated "dance Mom".  My youngest daughter Shannon remained home with me.  I went back to sleep for a couple of hours.  The alarm seemed to come fast and I left the comfort of my bed to spend some "quality time" with my Labrador Retriever "Cayden" before leaving for work.  I worked Cayden on a few marked retrieves, got him his first meal of the day, and made sure he had plenty of water for the day.  I woke Shannon and as soon as she was ready, brought her to her friend Jessica's house where she would spend the night.  When I returned home from work, it would be just me and Cayden at the "castle" tonight.

I was off to my job as a Supervising / Sergeant Game Warden.  My patrol duties today consisted of the supervision of a "special operation" focused on the enforcement of laws and regulations specific to the illegal operation of all terrain vehicles (ATV's).  My agency had received numerous complaints of ATV related environmental impact, as well as reckless operation creating risks to public safety, and trespass related issues.  Interestingly, some of the trespass matters had taken place on State Wildlife Management Areas (WMA's) and State Managed Dog Training / Field Trial Areas.  Needless to say, I was a very popular guy that day when several gundog trainers leaving the area, observed me and my squad loading six ATV's belonging to violators onto a flatbed tow vehicle and issuing citations.  We had used a fixed wing aircraft to conduct aerial surveilance of the area, and had assigned ground units using both ATV's and patrol vehicles  to saturate the area, awaiting response direction from the observer above.  In total, my squad had made contact with twelve ATV operators for various violations, two subjects were taken into custody for interfering with officers, and twelve ATV's were towed.  It had been a busy day for all of the officers involved and most importantly, nobody had been injured during the course of the operation.

Having received clearance from my Captain, all officers were dismissed from the assignment. Like the others, I patrolled on my way back to my home.  I "signed off" the radio, ending my patrol at 19:15 hours.  I could not wait to get changed out of my uniform and make use of the remaining daylight to exercise Cayden.  Poor Labrador had been home all day with nobody to play with.  Even with the change to "daylight saving time", the day was rapidly giving way to the golden glow of a full moon, so tonight's trip to the woodlands behind my home would be "just a walk" with my Lab.

Cayden and I walked eastward through the hardwoods descending the western slope of the Mount Hope Valley.  I looked ahead as Cayden quartered his way through the understory of Mountain Laurel as we ventured toward the floodplain of the Mount Hope River.  Picassoesque abstracts of snow melted into forms by increasing spring temperatures punctuated the forest floor, white contrasting against faded hues of brown and green.  As we continued, I could hear the rushing waters of the trout stream just ahead, swollen with winter's runoff.  This was a sacred place.  A place where I had watched my oldest daughter Megan, land her first native brook trout, when she was still a child.

Cayden arrived at the stream out in front of me and I watched as he entered the cold water.  I sat on a nearby boulder and listended to the water cascade over the rocks that were deposited by the great sheets of ice, long, long ago.  The "peenting" call of the woodcock and their spiral courtship flights, returned me to a time in my youth marked by the "eternity" between ice-out and the opening day of the trout season.  This was a time when only issues of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield could satiate my desire to wet a line.  Many hours were spent readying tackle for the season opener and making plans with boyhood friends as to which waters would be fished on that ritual morning.  "Secret spots", rich with the lore of huge trout, were often determined by their distance from home via bicycle or foot, rather than by their yield of record size fish.  Camping out along side the "honey hole" the night before opening day, ranked right up there with Christmas Eve...full of anticipation!  I call out to Cayden and he comes quickly and heels to my left side, much as if we were training, but I remind myself that tonight is "just a walk" with my Lab.

As we start our way homeward, I decide to walk northward and parallel to the stream.  Just ahead is an old earthen dam of man's design for early industry.  One can still find rusted metal parts of machines powered by rushing waters, during times when flocks of waterfowl were said to have darkened the sky.  I hear the primal cry of a lone "Woodie" as it pitches into the waters pocketed upstream of the dam, a structure that had breeched toward it's eastern end, long ago.  The waters above the primitive dam now vary in depth as determined by beaver, as well as the storms that wipe out their temporary repairs.  Several year ago, I had watched as my wife landed and released a fifteen inch Brook Trout in this very location during a period of high water above the dam.  She and I had hunted for spring turkeys earlier that morning and fished for trout that afternoon and into the dusk...a perfect day!  Cayden sits and stares at me while my mind ramblings return to the present.  His Labrador eyes gaze at me as if to say, "you should have dropped that Woodduck, I want to work"!  "Not today boy, it's just a walk".

Turning westward, Cayden and I walk toward a sun having long set below the horizon.  Golden light cast by the full moon in the sky to our backs, guide us home.  As we ascend the western slope of the Mount Hope Valley, I am in awe of an owl as he flies silently through the overstory of the forest.  I ponder, what prey will succumb to those deadly talons on this night?  I look at Cayden and apologize, "sorry boy, no training today, it's just a walk"...

mfenright9@gmail.com

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