Friday, February 13, 2009

how long have i been asleep?

wow, time certainly flies doesn't it! i thought this would be easier to keep up with, but procrastination has always been one of my stronger qualities and i've slipped on my blogging. it's certainly not from lack of activity, nor from any lack of my enthusiasm for Vera. she is a wonderful dog, and we finished out a very good season this fall. i still hope to get her on some rabbit hunts in the next few weeks, and will try my hardest to write about them.
in the meantime, i'll try and jog my memory and recall some of our adventures since the last writing.

this last weekend, some friends and i took a trip up to basket lake. we used to make this trip with regularity, and it was good to hit the familiar trail again. since my first winter trip some 15 odd years ago, my gear has grown considerably. while i used to muscle a few days worth of comfort on my back, or in a small sled, i now rely on horsepower-whether by snowmobile or dog. this trip is somewhat sacred to a few, myself included, and it is the unspoken rule that stinky gas fumes are not invited. so i harnessed up my two largest mules, hank and vera, and attached them to my homemade 12' toboggan that held a small warehouse worth of sporting goods, food and liquor. after some delicate "schooling" on freight dog behavior, we hit the two mile trail with vigor. i had vera in place as lead dog, and she pulled enthusiastically, coaxing an unsure hank into a steady rhythm. together we ate up the trail, stopping only once to visit with a fisherman along the stream/trail we were traveling. he was impressed with the sizable load, and i can only imagine equally impressed with the dogs pulling it.
when we reached the end of the first trail, i unhooked the dogs and shouldered a pack for the trip up "the hill". this is where we begin an 800' accent on a 15% grade through a mass of blown-down trees and brush. my friend and i made the climb, with the now freed dogs showing renewed energy bounding here and there, with no discernible trail for them to break. we reached basket lake and recognized our old campsite as home. during the next trip up, i was the mule and caught the dogs reveling in my misery as they bound effortlessly, freed of the load. damn dogs...
the next day found us fishing on a nearby lake, where the dogs - hank and vera, lucy
the lab, and lanie the golden - all played and got into mischief. vera's favorite and repeated trick was knocking my friend eric's fishing rod into the water, spool and all. he was very patient, and here is a pic of him having a talk about frozen fishing line with her. we had much success, catching many northerns in the 5 pound range, most released, one kept for the oil and pan. the dogs settled in, each finding a spot of their own to watch the action. while the fishing slowed, happy hour commenced and we soon found ourselves just enjoying the day. one highlight was eric catching a fish that i had failed at...and returning my lost jig in the process. my lucky jig is the red one, still stuck in the greedy hammer-handle. with the jig and fish returned to their proper places, we turned to find hank doing some fishing of his own. i took a short video before putting an end to his thieving ways. as the sun dropped, we headed back to camp for our final night. the dogs and i slept soundly after a long day on the ice and a supper fit for a man twice my size. we awoke to a beautiful morning and reversed our course back to the truck, the dogs now falling quickly into line towing a sled lightened by extended happy hours and large meals. a complete, more eloquent version of our trip can be read by clicking here. and more videos may be found by visiting my youtube account, found here. that's all for now, tim.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

a fine little dog i've got

Saturday morning found us back at korpi road. I knew there would be birds in the alders, and wanted to start the day with some good finds. The brush was dripping with last nights rains and I gave the gun a good coating of oil and geared myself up with some waterproof chaps and boots.
It took Vera a
bout 45 seconds to lock onto her first bird of the day. She was amazingly steady for a young dog, never moving as I charged past. The bird, a woodcock, jumped from the ferns and began zigging and zagging away low to the ground. Hmmmm. I missed my opportunity waiting for the bird to climb above the cover as they are supposed to. This bird hadn't read the proper book evidently.
Woodcock fly in zany patterns. A common, fun belief is that their brains are upside down. When they first light, even they seem confused as to what's happening and climb and stall like an airplane with engine trouble. This often proves problematic for a shooter, trying to follow it's antics with the bead writing jibrish in the sky. The truth is they fly amazing migrations year after year, often landing in the same covers time after time. And if the gunner has patience, they do level out eventually, offering a decent shot for a decent shooter.
We found 6 or 7 birds in that cover, shot at some, cursed others who didn't follow the rules. It's a small cover, and we were done in 20 minutes or so. I could stay and continue to find them, they don't fly far, but choose to leave for fear of chasing them out. It's nice to have a sure thing!
We moved on to another cover I hadn't hunted in years. It belongs to a friend, not physically, but he did find it years ago when he was chasing his then-young shorthair around. She has since aged beyond the hunt, and a young lab now accompanies him. I didn't think he'd mind us making a sweep through and pulled off the highway. We found a grouse right-off, thundering away with Vera
in hot pursuit. Then a walking point, where Vera tracked a grouse with delicate steps. It erupted right where it should have, flew where predicted, stayed on course, and still walks this earth. Hey, this blog is about Vera, not my shooting after all!
We ended up finding 6 grouse and no woodcock (why I don't know, it was beautiful cover!) and pulled the pin as the sun pushed the temps into the uncomfortable range. Later that night the aforementioned friend called and asked if I would like to join him on a hunt Sunday morning. Of course I agreed!
We met at 7 a.m. at my house, loaded the dogs and coffee and pointed ourselves west to another of his magic spots. He had Lucy, his yellow lab with and was eager to find some birds for her. She has proven herself on big water, Lake of the Woods, retrieving ducks in all conditions and will soon demonstrate her breeds versatility flushing grouse and woodcock.

We set out on what was to become a 4 hour hunt in one of the many long-abandoned mining areas that dot northern minnesota. Every inch of ground is ideal habitat for grouse and woodcock, and we soon found many timberdoodles at home. Vera really came into her own today. I was a little concerned with how she would react with another dog running with her, especially one that is prone to flush rather than point. But she slammed her points and held them tight, even with myself stumbling past her and Lucy rushing in for the flush. She was focused, covering ground easily and working between the two of us. Never once did she show her age, it seemed as though she had been doing this for years.

We found many woodcock throughout the day, as well as a half-dozen or so grouse. I won't spill the beans on the total kill, but we each had weight in our vests at the end of the day. The only downer of the day was losing Gunther's bell. I'm not sure if Vera snagged it on something or what, but it's now gone. Pictures are a great reminder of a great dog, but that bell really brought him back to life. So, I guess I'll clear some room in the old noggin for a new sound, one unique to Vera.

Monday, September 22, 2008


After spending saturday with the kid doing yard work, and saturday night playing with the band, I finally slipped away for some bird hunting sunday morning.
It's been 6-7 years since I really chased upland birds and a lot has changed. Other than the obvious, which is my old covers maturing, was the addition of a million (o.k., that's a slight exaggeration) NO TRESPASSING signs. One of the larger land-holding companies in the area, other than the mines, is Potlatc
h, a wood-products company. They own thousands of acres which are logged in a steady rotation, providing endless opportunities for us bird-doggers to chase chickens and doodles...This land has always been open to hunting, and I believe the only reason they are allowed to hold such large tracts is if the land is open to recreation. But of course there are ways around everything and Potlatch began leasing their property a few years ago to deer hunters. I could rant about how unfair this is but I promised myself to keep this blog as rant-free as possible, so let's just say I moved on to some new cover.
I found many wonderful spots that should have held birds....Vera worked enthusiastically and we covered ground, spending 1/2 to an hour in each spot, methodically gridding the aspen and alder. I found myself talking out loud, wondering where the birds were. It is still too early for great hunting, the leaves are still on and the grass and ferns reach waist high. But still, come-on, the birds should have been there!

The temperature quickly rose to over 60 degrees, my usual limit. But I pushed on, unable to drive past likely cover. Vera was tiring, and I couldn't keep her watered enough. We stopped at one point and she took a swim in the Little Fork river, fetching sticks and wading in the cool water. This break revitalized her for another hour, but by then the temp was pushing 70 and we were both feeling it's affects.

I pointed the truck home and drove with my mind in overdrive. I need to find Vera some birds. I felt like a failure. I remembered back to the years that held grouse, lots of grouse. How easy it was to turn the dog loose and expect a point within minutes, in any type of cover. I remember stopping for lunch in a young pine plantation, only to find it full of grouse. Old timber, young cuts, it didn't matter. There were birds everywhere.
Closing in on home, I find my truck exiting the highway and heading towards the Korpi road spot. With the temp in the seventies and a very tired, hot dog I don't expect my luck to change but turn onto the single-lane gravel road. I cross the railroad tracks and pull into the old gravel pit, navigating around the piles of refuse and beer cans to park next to a small pond. I like parking here for two reasons: 1. If some dandy comes out to shoot old televisions my truck is protected by the surrounding sand piles and 2. The pond is a r
efreshing treat for the dog when we return to the truck.
We work the first alder swath without a flush and backtrack to approach the second cover into the wind. Vera heads into the mess of raspberry bushes and alder with renewed enthusiasm as I walk a little further looking for easier access. A woodcut jumped ahead of me when I enter the cover and I instinctively shoot, dropping the bird more by accident then skill....In any event, Vera came running and I walked her a few yards downwind and told her to "fetch it up"....lacking experience, she looked at me and stood there wagging her tail, eyes asking me to throw something for her to fetch...."bird, where's the bird?", "find the bird!"....I took a few steps into the wind and she took the lead, snapping into a rigid point within steps...."dead bird, fetch it up!"....she cautiously took a step, pointed again and pounced. Man was she proud carrying that bird around! I let her parade a
round for a while, wishing I had an odometer on her tail as it spun in small circles. I called her over and she delivered the bird, dropping it in my hand. "This, Vera, this is what we are after" I instructed. I placed the bird in my vest and we pushed on. She bumped another bird, I flushed another one and missed, and a few more came up out of nowhere without a shot. The heat was really getting to Vera so I made the decision to call it a day, thinking her nose wasn't handling the heat that well and happy knowing I would find birds here for the rest of the season.
We were almost to the pond when Vera made a loop and circled towards me, slamming a point about 5 yards ahead......"whoa, easy girl...." I moved quickly and a woodcock jumped from behind a spruce.....I shot twice without ever really seeing the bird, desperate to complete the deal. We spent some tim
e searching but the cover was more open there and I was confident of a miss, so with a pat on the head and a good girl we hit the pond.
Seeing that point was very reassuring to me that she will develop into a fine dog. I look forward to the temps dropping with the leaves, and the big flights of woodcock migrating to the aspen. And of course finding those darn grouse!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

random pics

no hunting today so i thought i would post some training pics from this summer

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


O.K., so I let a few things get in the way of hunting this week....On monday I spent some time in the recording studio working on one of my other interests. Tuesday afternoon was spent with my daughter exploring the woods behind our house, having an
adventure, as she likes to call it. So with dance class to attend on thursday, and more adventures planned for friday, today was for Vera.
We were in the woods just down the road from home by 4:30....and it was HOT...we had hunted for about 30 minutes with one grouse flush (heard, never seen) when I led her back to the truck for some water. I normally carry a water bottle with me but somehow forgot it in my rush to "get-a-goin". After reaching the truck I realized I had also forgotten my camera, and made the decision to return home for these items.
The next spot was an old mine-dump...I live in an area of minnesota known as the "iron range" where open pit mines dot the landscape and our economy relies heavily on the worlds need for steel. As these mines move their operations they leave behind areas that quickly fill with wildlife. Most areas are closed to hunting (thanks to the actions of a few knuckleheads) but this one is open and convenient. It sees alot of atv traffic, but I avoid the trails anyway so it's really not a concern of mine.
The mines leave the earth bare when they move, and most tree growth is stunted and sparse. This makes for much easier walking than in the new growth found in clearcuts that I frequent. Vera seemed to prefer the thick cover, however, and I followed happily hoping for some bird finds. Here's a little video of some of that cover.

Perhaps saturday will be our lucky day......

Monday, September 15, 2008

first hunt, second woods

With the rain increasing at times, I abandoned my original plans of driving 30 plus miles to some bigger cover and instead point the truck back towards home. I had been eyeing-up some cover a few miles east of my house, and with a quick check of the plat book I committed to the 40 acres. The east line of the old clearcut is a non-maintained fire trail, a road the DNR uses to access big woods in the event of a fire. This particular road also lies due east a few miles of the site of Paul Wellstones plane crash, a prominent and much-liked political figure in minnesota who died far too early in his career.
I was surprised to see a vehicle parked there, not too many people tolerate rain for the chance at a grouse. And since most folk in these parts prefer to shoot them off of trails, the odds of even finding one in this weather were slim. I assumed it was a young kid, remembering hunting myself in the rain although this person was a far better judge of cover than I was. I think my first woodcock hunt was in mature red pines, with a gun-shy dalmatian for company....
Since I was assuming a trail hunter, I had no problem moving back down the main road and entering the 40 from its center. Before I had even left the right-of-way, a woodcock flittered towards me and immediately landed a mere 20 feet away. Vera had "bumped" it, a non-offensive term we use to describe our beloved dogs screwing up...My brain had many misfires....shoot, no! don't shoot!....woodcock doesn't open for another 6 days, and it was bumped after all....I called Vera and worked her down to the marked bird where it flew off without her ever catching scent...rather than encouraging her to work old scent, we headed into the 40. A few yards later another woodcock, this time bumped by myself. Another brain misfire...
We worked that piece of woods for an hour or so without any more flushes...I swore I could hear grouse flushing occasionally, but wet dogs shake alot and to eager ears it often mimicks a grouse flush. Although the temperature was around the 50's, I worked up a sweat walking through the brush. After stumbling out onto the road by accident, I called it a day. The rain was increasing and the dog had worked well, time to go. Besides, this coming week looks promising from a weather stand-point, and I promise myself to not let work get in the way.....