Unwritten Rules (final excerpt)

This is the final excerpt from my story, Unwritten Rules.

Along with the dog rules are the people rules, handed down from father to son, and just as absolute.  The first people rule is, “Don’t slam the doors!”  As soon as the trucks pull up to the first likely spot at sunrise, the first one out the door is Mitch’s dad.

He whispers hoarsely, “Don’t slam the doors!  It’ll scare the birds.”

Yeah right.  For 364 other days of the year, cars and trucks travel the same roads and I would guess occasionally stop.  I bet the doors even get slammed, but on the 365th day of the year this means hunters with guns are going to shoot them.

Now the whole time he’s whispering this, the dogs are prowling back and forth, sniffing and whining, anxious to do what has been bred into them for generations.  The rest of us are banging and clanging, getting rigged up.  Putting on extra jackets, loading our guns and putting everything we think we might need in our pockets.  Gearing up and the dogs don’t scare them away, but car doors do.

Which brings me to the rule, “Pockets, hunters have to have lots of pockets.”   So far this is the only rule that makes any sense to me.  There is a pocket for your Kleenexes, very important, you know for runny noses or the call of nature.  Even though I try to avoid going outside unless there is no other alternative.  You have to have a pocket for your hunting license; you don’t want to be caught without it.  Conservation officers have absolutely no sense of humor.  I also think that having a pocket for my camera is equally important, even though I’ve been threatened a couple of times if I didn’t put the camera away.  Then there’s the dog treats, they have to go somewhere.  Gum and lip balm also need their own pocket just as much as extra shotgun shells.

Then there’s the ever-popular “Pheasants don’t care what you look like” rule or more commonly known as “Nobody bathes before hunting” rule.  That was the statement made to me, when I set the alarm clock for an hour earlier than we needed to get up.  Not me, I don’t care what I’m doing or where I’m going, I always shower, put on makeup and fix my hair (for all the good it does me) before leaving the house.  I was brought up on the old adage, “always wear clean underwear, because what if you’re in an accident.”  My mother also always said, “Vanity, Thy name is Susan.”  Whatever!

And lastly, there’s “Sneak up behind the birds” otherwise known as “The long way around” rule.  If it’s more likely the birds are in the draw or field ahead of us, then why on god’s green earth do we go almost a mile to the left and circle around to come up on the backside of the draw and work our way back across the field with the sun in our eyes?

This from a bunch of men who will drive around in a parking lot for 15 minutes looking for a parking space by the door, so they don’t have to walk any farther than they have to.

Another hunting trip looms on the horizon and I can’t wait to learn more new “unwritten rules”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my stories, they really have happened.  Come back and look for more to come.

Hello Monday!

I am so glad the weekend is over. I just wish it would stop raining long enough to dry the yard out so I can mow and plant my garden. But mainly because I have water dogs that don’t like the rain. Orso, our ninety pound lab will walk under the umbrella with me in order to not get water on his head. Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk with a dog that tries to pee and walk at the same time? Sissy dog. They can be dancing on three legs because they have to pee so bad and rush to the door to go out. When I open the door and they see the rain, all three of them just stand there and look at me with the same expression, “Are you kidding me? You want me to go out there in the RAIN! I can hold it.

And God forbid there is lightning or thunder. AJ, our black lab, super hunting dog, the best in the field I’ve ever seen, pants and shakes and becomes my third leg. I have started giving him doggy drugs, just to calm him down. The way he wolfs them down, I may try them myself.

My fingers are crossed for sunshine.

Unwritten Rules (first excerpt)

Somewhere out there is the book of unwritten rules for hunting, and one of these days I’m going to find it.  In it are the hard and fast wisdoms that hunters have lived by for eons.  I don’t know all the rules yet, but I have learned a few.

To begin with there are the dog rules.  Dog rule #1 is “Hunting dogs are outside dogs.”  Oh please.  The idea is that if the dog stays inside he gets soft and spoiled.  Buddy is a large Labrador retriever and his place is in the house with us.  Buddy goes just about everywhere we go.  He is our constant tag along.  He also gets bathed regularly.  One of my pet peeves is a dog has to be clean.  It makes me crazy when I pet Buddy and my fingers get that film from a dirty, oily coat. So not only is he a house dog, he’s also a clean house dog.  He also has as much, if not more heart and drive in the field than any “outside kenneled” dog.

And then there’s one of my favorites, dog rule #2.  “The dog sleeps in the truck.”  Not my dogs.  My first hunting trip was almost my last.  When night came and time to turn in, the first real argument flared up.

Mitch’s brother said, “Buddy has to sleep in the truck.”

I said, “No, he sleeps in the room with us.  Just like at home.  Besides, it is cold outside and sleeping in the back of the truck will just make him stiff!”

Sleeping in the truck makes the dog tough, not a sissy, like Buddy.”

I said, “If sleeping in the truck makes him tough, then you sleep out there and see how you feel in the morning.”

That went over like a lead balloon.  We went back and forth arguing almost nose-to-nose, but being more stubborn and hardheaded, Buddy slept in the room with us.  Mitch wisely chose to fix himself a drink and take a shower to clean up for dinner.  I guess he figured that if he didn’t see it happen then he couldn’t be called to testify in court.  For the rest of the trip I had to listen to the sniping, “Poor Buddy, he might get a blister.”

Another good dog rule is dog rule #3.  The dog is supposed to retrieve the bird to the one who shot it.  Well not my dogs, it doesn’t matter who shot the bird or who’s closest to the dog when he finds it and starts carrying it back.  The dog will run across the field past everybody in his path to bring me his prize.  My dogs always bring everything back to me.  Of course, this always causes a few caustic remarks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first excerpt; come back soon for more.

Training – But Whom? (last excerpt)

Another thing we discovered was Buddy’s fascination with cattle.  As we drove to the friend’s farm, every field we passed had cattle grazing.  Buddy paced back and forth like a caged lion in the back of the station wagon, and depending on which side of the road the cattle were on, stick his head out of the window and bark nonstop.  This created an interesting rocking motion of the car speeding along the highway.  I’m sure Mitch enjoyed the extra challenge to controlling the car.  It kept his driving skills honed.

We arrived at the friend’s place and Buddy got his first look at cattle up close and decided running after them was way cool, especially when I still held the leash.  Do you know what happens when the line plays out as a 95-pound dog running full bore away from you with a 30-foot tether attached to you both?  I learned a valuable lesson that day.  LET GO OF THE LEASH!  When that leash snapped, I went flying and landed on my face in the middle of a cow pasture about 4 feet ahead of where I originally stood.  It felt like I flew 20 feet.  I’m glad I take calcium every day.  Strong bones.  I think field training progressed as swimmingly as retrieval training went.  That’s Buddy, and we love him.

This is the last excerpt, I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories so far.

Training – But Whom?

This is the second excerpt from the story about Buddy, my first hunting dog.

Next, we bought a canvas-training drop, a cylindrical object about ten inches long with a loop on one end. The loop would enable us to sling the drop without handling the body and ruining the scent.  Besides, I didn’t want to touch the drop after it had been sitting in pheasant-body fluids.  Next came the gross part.  Mitch put the drop in a large Ziploc bag with the pheasant wing parts and sealed the bag.  He left it for several days up high, on the top shelf so the stink (oops) scent would soak through the drop.  Personally, I can’t imagine that any dog would want to put something so smelly and probably foul tasting in its mouth. I was wrong.  Buddy thought that the drop was the next best thing to sliced bread. I have since learned that the grosser, the better, for a dog.

Mitch started off by throwing the drop about 15 to 20 feet away, (I didn’t want to touch it), then I would let go of Buddy’s collar and tell him, “Okay!” and point at the direction the drop was thrown.  Buddy did great at the going and finding the drop, but still didn’t understand, “Bring it back”.  So we had to devise a way to get Buddy to come when called.

I came up with what I thought was a simple, brilliant idea.  My plan consisted of tying a lightweight nylon rope to Buddy’s collar.  Then Mitch would throw the drop.  I would give Buddy the release command and as he would run after the drop, I planned to feed the rope so that it would trail behind him.  When he grabbed the drop, I would start reeling in the rope, at the same time calling, “Buddy come!”

I figured that if we repeated this several times, then Buddy would start to come back on his own.  That was my plan, really simple, the only thing I needed was for the dog to cooperate.  Well, when I tried to tie the rope to his collar, Buddy kept grabbing and biting at the rope, thinking that this was a great game.  The rope got all tangled up around my feet and hands.  As I pulled the rope away from Buddy and told him, “No let go,” Mitch threw the drop, thinking I was ready.  Buddy took off after the drop and so did my ring finger on my left hand.  The rope had wrapped around my hand and finger and I had no choice but to follow also.  When Buddy finally stopped and I untangled the rope off my finger, I stood there in the middle of the yard crying out loud like a little kid.  I had a pretty deep rope burn across my finger and it bled a lot.  At least it bled a lot to me.

Mitch kept saying, “I thought you were ready, I’m sorry, I thought you were ready.  I’m so sorry.”

So to this day, we have a retriever who doesn’t retrieve – at least not on command.  So much for plan A.  Now I think I know why nobody claimed Buddy. 

Another thing we needed to find out about Buddy was whether or not he was gun shy.  It makes it tough to hunt in the field with a dog hiding in the back seat of the car because he’s afraid of gunfire.

We decided to take Buddy out with us to shoot some clay pigeons and see how he reacted.  We finally had a success in training.  Buddy wasn’t the least bit gun shy.  In fact Buddy loves guns so much that when you pick up a gun he starts running back and forth in front of you panting with excitement.  Then if you don’t start moving quick enough for him, he starts barking a high pitched shrill, plaintiff bark, as if to say, “Get the lead out!  Let’s go!”  When Mitch threw the clay pigeons and if I missed, which happened often, Buddy would run out to hunt for and find where they dropped.  When he found one, he would bite it in half.  Yuck, eating baked clay, only a lab!  Then he would come back to us and start the whole process over again, run around like a loon and bark at us.  There’s nothing like a quiet day outside.  Next up on the training agenda began actual fieldwork.  Since the retrieving idea of mine turned out to be such a rousing success, Mitch’s mission became a challenge to come up with a workable plan.

Buddy still didn’t come when called unless food was involved, and that presented a bit of a problem.  Mitch explained that the labs he hunted within the past had a tendency to range too far in front of the hunters, so when the dog flushed a pheasant, the bird was harder to shoot because of the distance between the bird and the hunters.  He wanted to keep Buddy closer to the hunters while he ranged back and forth in front of them.  So Mitch sewed (yes, he can sew, quite well by the way,) a 30-foot leash out of the same material used for leashes you can buy at the store. 

Making our own turned out to be a good thing, since Buddy has chewed through about 4 leashes by now.  Buddy likes to carry his leash in his mouth when he’s walking, and when something is in Buddy’s mouth; it’s just natural for him to chew on it.

We drove to a friend’s farm to let Buddy experience a taste of fieldwork training.  We attached the long leash to Buddy’s collar, got out the training-drop and a shotgun for Mitch.  Mitch explained that Buddy would range along in front of us with the leash dragging behind.  This way if Buddy got too far ahead we could run up and step on the leash and stop him, plus dragging around a 30 foot leash would slow him down some.  Then as we walked along in the fields, Mitch would throw the drop out in front of Buddy and then shoot the shotgun in the air.  This would be to simulate shooting a pheasant in the field.  Gun go off, bird drop, Buddy retrieve.  Sounds simple!  Okay sure.  I’ll give it a try, what’s the worst that could happen?

It slowed him down a little, but you try running up on a runaway dog that weighs about 95 pounds now and oblivious to everything around him but his nose.  Then I have to try to stomp on the black leash dragging back and forth in the underbrush.  I’m really glad nobody had a camcorder out there.  I didn’t realize how many different ways I could fall down.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this story so far.  Come back for more.

Training – But Whom?

This is the first excerpt from another one of my stories about my experiences learning the ways of hunting and training dogs.  I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve always wondered who was training whom.  When we acquired Buddy, we didn’t know any of his history.  We had our suppositions and made guesses based on his physical appearance, overall condition and hardheaded stubbornness.  He knew some basic skills, such as sit and down, but come wasn’t in his vocabulary.  I’ve learned that Labrador retrievers, especially male labs, are the most stubborn, hardheaded dogs around.  They have the sweetest; most laid back dispositions, but lord they are stubborn!  Buddy wasn’t even discreet about being stubborn.  A scar about three quarters of an inch wide ran almost half way around his neck, like a collar that was too tight for too long.  We didn’t think Buddy was abused.  Neglected maybe.  But he is a very social dog.  He doesn’t want to be left alone; he prefers to be with us all the time. He enjoys being around people.  Whenever Buddy meets new people, he walks up and leans into them and shoves his head against their hand.  Of course, it took us a while to realize what we thought was friendliness, was in reality that Buddy viewed everyone as a potential food source.  His pet-me-pet-me attitude was really an opportunity to get a handout.

Mitch and I began mapping out a training schedule.  I had never trained a dog for hunting (obviously) and it had been a long time since Mitch had worked with any dogs.  Plus we’re both pretty much rank amateurs, so, needless to say, Buddy wasn’t going to be one of those dogs you see on the hunting shows on TV.

The first thing we decided Buddy needed to become familiar with the scent of a pheasant.  For some odd reason Mitch’s brother, Troy had some pheasant wings, feathers and all, in his freezer.  Don’t ask me why someone would freeze body parts with feathers, but he had them.

Next, we bought a canvas-training drop, a cylindrical object about ten inches long with a loop on one end. The loop would enable us to sling the drop without handling the body and ruining the scent.  Besides, I didn’t want to touch the drop after it had been sitting in pheasant-body fluids.  Next came the gross part.  Mitch put the drop in a large Ziploc bag with the pheasant wing parts and sealed the bag.  He left it for several days up high, on the top shelf so the stink (oops) scent would soak through the drop.  Personally, I can’t imagine that any dog would want to put something so smelly and probably foul tasting in its mouth. I was wrong.  Buddy thought that the drop was the next best thing to sliced bread. I have since learned that the grosser, the better, for a dog.

Come back for more.

Nothing to Wear (final excerpt)

This is the second half of my story, I hope you enjoy it.

Thankfully, Mitch went shopping in a military-surplus catalog and bought me a desert-camo field coat with a heavy liner. At least I’ve got a warm coat to wear.  But what else do I take? No matter what kind of weather I pack for, it will be wrong. Mitch has told me stories about past hunting trips, where it rained the whole time they were out there, and he slogging around in ankle deep mud, or when he went to bed with the temperature in the 50s and woke up with the snow so deep, they had to shovel a path from the motel door to the trucks. Another time, he wore everything he brought because of bone-chilling cold.  I’m naturally cold blooded, so I decide to take everything I already own that could somewhat resemble a “hunting ensemble”  just to be safe.  Heavy coat, liner, pants and over pants. Extra socks, so I can wear two pair at a time, even though my boots are too snug when I double up. Long-sleeved shirts. Bandanas to cover my face from the wind. Gloves, and a hat.  And I hate to wear hats.

Mitch looked at the array that I had laid out on the bed. “You only get to take one suitcase.”

Is he serious? This won’t fit into one suitcase, or even two. I couldn’t believe his hard line. “I haven’t even laid out  my non-hunting clothes yet.”

“What do you mean, ‘non-hunting clothes’?”

“Well, you know, clean clothes to wear to dinner after we get back in from hunting.”

“You only need one or two extra shirts and one or two pairs of pants for that, all week,” he said. “You won’t wear them along enough to get them dirty.”

I just looked at him like he spoke a foreign language. So he explained, “When we get back at night, we shower, go to the Pizza Palace–the only restaurant in town that’s open at night–eat, and then come back and fall into bed. That will be the extent of our evenings.”


I tried one more time. “One suitcase for hunting, one for street clothing and my makeup case.”

“Makeup case? What do you need makeup for? We’re going hunting, not to the mall. The birds don’t care what you look like.”

“I care,” I say. My mother always said, “Vanity thy name is Susan.”  Besides, what’s it to him if I wear makeup?

He took a deep breath, looked skyward for patience, and explained that space is at a premium. “We’re driving in a station wagon. We have to take the hunting gear—the dog, the dog’s food, the guns, the shotgun shells.  We’re talking about putting the large trunk that holds all of the shell belts, extra boots, the heavy coats and light weight jackets, my suitcase, your suitcase, dog food bucket, dog bed, the dog and oh yeah, the shotguns are a must, into a space that is about 4 foot by 7 foot.  All of that—and us—have to fit into the station wagon, otherwise there’s no point in going.  If you can get it down to one suitcase for hunting and one suitcase for street clothes and makeup, then you can take it,” he says, exasperated.

So I have him at two bags. One more won’t matter, if he doesn’t know it until the last minute. Then it will be too late.  I know it sounds lame, but I like to have clean clothes for each day.  It’s one of my “few” faults.  No problem, this will work.

I put back all of the sweaters and most of my sweatshirts and tightly squeezed them all into my two suitcases and makeup case. Everything fits, except for my heavy field coat. Hopefully, nobody will notice that I’m wearing the same shirt more than once.

I watched Mitch pack, how he buttoned and carefully folded his shirts. I paid close attention to the way he rolled his pants and stuffed extra socks in his boots. When he was done, I saw amazed how much he could cram in one suitcase. There was still room.

Next year I’m hiding my overflow in his bag. By the time he figures it out, we’ll already be at the motel.

After all, I’d hate to go all that way with nothing to wear.