On The Road Finally

By the time I finally got Mitch loaded up and in the car it was 11:30am. We discussed the route and decided to take I-29 north to I-90 in South Dakota and head west straight through to Washington. The drive was pretty boring until we crossed the state line into South Dakota. The people in South Dakota know how to keep drivers entertained.

We passed many road signs touting the many sights to stop and see along the way. One road sign in particular was really entertaining. The sign read, “24 hour toe service” for a tow truck company. We laughed long and hard over that one. The other phenomenon we were really surprised at was the amount of pheasants walking along the side of the highway or in the grassy area between the east and west bound lanes. We saw quite a few along the side of the road as road kill. As pheasant hunters, we wished we could have this problem when we’re out in the field hunting.

Because of the late start, we didn’t get as far as I wanted. We stopped in Wall, South Dakota to spend the night. Friday night we went to sleep with temperatures in the seventies and woke up Saturday morning to a cold rain and temperatures around forty degrees. Huge shocker! I didn’t bring anything heavier to wear than a light jacket. Mitch loaned me one of his sweater vests to wear under my jacket for added layers

Mitch turned on the weather channel and got even better news, a winter (oops spring) snow storm with a forecast of five to eight inches on Saturday and another foot forecast for Sunday. So much for sightseeing, the firebird is made for the beach, sunny skies and the top down, not snow skiing. Time to load up and head west. The weather map made it look like we should drive out of it in Wyoming. Guess what? They got it wrong, we didn’t drive out of the snow until we got to Montana. I could not believe how hard it was snowing and in May!

It could only happen to us.

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We Broke Them

Up bright and very early Monday morning, I could only stand it until about 4:30, I had to get up and out of the torturous bed. You would think that after two days of walking over six miles a day across uneven terrain, up and down hills, tripping and yes falling flat on my face that I would be so exhausted I could sleep for at least five or six hours. Not so, that bed was the most miserable experience I have had since my bilateral mastectomy a year ago. That bed may actually have been much worse than my mastectomy, at least when I was in the hospital I was given good drugs. I crawled out of bed and turned on the coffeepot, put in my contact lens and turned to look at the dogs. Both were still sacked out on the bed, neither one jumped up ready for breakfast.

I dragged out the dog food bucket and began filling each dish with dog food. At least the dogs lifted their heads to watch me, so I knew they were still alive. Both dogs just waited patiently for me to finish and bring them their dish. Not excited about food, who were these dogs? I think our dogs love food more than us sometimes. Wow these guys must really be tired. Charlie moved forward and sort of melted off the bed onto the floor to get his breakfast. I turned to Orso who looked at his dish then me then back to the dish, took a deep breath and halfheartedly stepped off the bed for his breakfast.

Each step Orso took reminded me of an old war movie where the Nazi soldiers goose stepped when marching. He would extend his right leg straight out in front of him then gently set his paw on the floor stop, lick the bottom of his paw, then repeat the process with his left leg. His right paw was especially tender and wouldn’t put much weight on it. I grabbed Mitch’s small flashlight and turned it on as I gently spread his pads apart to look for lacerations or any foreign objects stuck in his foot. The pads were fine, with no tears or cracks, but the skin between the pads were raw and inflamed from running around in the dry grasses and corn stubble fields. Orso’s nose and the bottom of his jowls were also red and raw looking. After two steps he laid down and didn’t move. Orso didn’t even look up when I put Charlie’s harness on to go out and pee. That was one pooped pup because Orso never lets me go anywhere without him.

Charlie was just as tired and showed no interest in walking very far. He quickly went about his business and turned around to go back to bed without any encouragement from me. So much for a half day of hunting, the only way Mitch and I were going to get anymore hunting in was to get new dogs. We decided to pack up, leave the hotel from hell and head home. Neither dog lifted his head all the way home.

Orso – Who Knew?

This was our first hunting trip in two years and the first time I would carry a gun in three years. Last year we didn’t go hunting and two years ago we were hunting quail. Quail are hard for me to shoot, they fly up so fast that by the time my heart stops racing and I realize what flew up the little birds are long gone and way out of range. So I carried a camera two years ago and had much better luck capturing the moments through the lens than with a gun. Two years ago was also the last time we had AJ, our black lab, to help us search out birds. We lost him the week after we came back from that trip. Now we’re down to just two dogs, Charlie, our ten year old german shorthair/lab mix and Orso, our eight year old chocolate lab. Charlie is a good hunting dog, great nose and fast. Orso on the other hand, has preferred to walk behind us letting us beat down the path for him enjoying the outing rather than getting out there looking for birds.

Saturday morning brought clear skies bright and sunny with a fairly strong wind out of the north that felt quite biting. Our group consisted of six hunters, Mitch, me and longtime family friends that spanned four generations. The oldest in our group was eighty-nine and the youngest was fourteen, a wide range indeed. We thought that since Charlie is now ten he might be a little slower and Orso was just along for the ride. Even though Mitch is ever the optimist, saying this might just be the year that Orso gets it, I am the skeptic saying, remember we only have one dog that hunts. We started off working a long strip of tall grasses, Mitch on the outside edge on the left, me just to his right in the grass and the other four spaced out to the right across the expanse to the outside on the right to block any birds from running out and escaping unscathed. The dogs ranged back and forth between us trying to pick up that elusive wonderful scent of the pheasant.

We hadn’t gone fifty feet when Charlie stopped and went on point off to my right in front of the father, grandson combination. A pheasant flew up and caught the wind to fly across my position, the grandson fired off a round and winged the bird, I shot right after and helped bring it down, with Charlie racing hot after the downed bird to make the retrieval. After two years, nothing has changed, it doesn’t matter who shoots the bird the dogs always bring them back to me. A good omen, finding a bird so quickly.

The big surprise came about twenty five yards farther as we walked the field. Orso stopped and stood stock still with his ears cocked up and forward staring at something.

I gave the command, “Get him Orso, okay.” Nothing, Orso just stood there looking at the form in the grass. I gave him the command again, this time with more emphasis, “Okay Orso, get it up!”

Orso moved forward and the bird flew up and to the left trying to catch the wind. Three shots rang out winging the bird but no one got off a clean shot. The bird flew down the hill across the road and into the trees on the other side. Mitch ran toward the spot where the bird went down with Orso following behind him. They crossed the road and worked their way down into the draw where the bird went down. The rest of us stood where we were not moving, waiting for Mitch to resurface. Charlie even came and sat down beside me waiting, taking a rare rest break. About five minutes later I spotted Mitch coming back up out of the draw fifteen feet farther west than they went in and next to him was Orso carrying the bird. Orso had rooted the bird out hiding in the grass next to a tree, went in and grabbed the bird, just like a seasoned hunting dog. Orso trotted back up the hill straight to me bringing his prize, head held high.

After eight years Orso was finally a real live hunting dog. Miracles do happen.

The Hotel Room from Hell

Once a year maybe two if we’re lucky, we head to central Nebraska to go pheasant hunting. For the last five years we’ve stayed in a little town in central Nebraska at a national chain. The rooms have always been clean and the staff very friendly. Last year we didn’t go hunting because I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had my surgery about the time we normally go hunting. When I called to reserve our room a man answered with a very heavy accent that made conversation a struggle with a lot of repeating on both our parts. I was just hopeful that I had actually made a reservation and there would be a room for us when we got there on Friday evening. It turned out that we would have been better off if we haven’t gotten the reservation. The name had changed and was no longer a part of the chain. The man at the front desk was the same one I spoke with on the phone. In person he was not very friendly, I don’t think he ever smiled in his life. He spoke loudly and repeated everything I said. Granted I had a difficult time understanding him. I tried but I am not good at accents. He gave me the room key cards and pointed to the direction of the room.

We drove around the building found the room and started unloading. Evidently the new owners were economizing. The room was tiny with one bed, my mistake, I usually ask for two beds but having missed a year I forgot. There was a piece of cardboard taped to the wall presumably covering a hole. Spackle and paint must be very rare in this part of Nebraska. There was no in-room mini coffeepot, good thing we brought our own. The towel bar over the sink had no bar, just the two mounting brackets supporting the missing bar. The sink stopper was lying on the sink next to the sink, not in the drain for some reason. There were two bath towels, two hand towels and two wash cloths. One roll of toilet paper and no Kleenexes. There was a small refrigerator that sounded like it was on its last leg. Mitch’s favorite thing about the room was the hand written piece of paper with the new name of the hotel taped to the telephone in the room. Vary classy.

The bed was a full size bed, not queen size bed mind you, a full size. At least the television worked. I walked back to the front office and asked Mr. Happy for a roll of toilet paper and a box of Kleenexes. He handed me a roll of toilet paper and said that I had to wait for housekeeping the next day for the Kleenexes. I said that there were no Kleenexes in the room now and I wanted a box today. He said that I had to wait for housekeeping tomorrow. Customer service 101 was a class he evidently skipped. I walked back to our room toilet paper in hand and started to get ready for bed when I realized that I forgot my contact lens solution. Mitch offered up a bottle of water for me to use. Thanks but I don’t that would have worked. I jumped in the car and buzzed across the highway to the Walmart for contact lens solution and squirt cheese for the dogs to hide Charlie’s pill in. I should have bought two pillows and pillowcases, but I hadn’t seen the pillows before I left the room.

While I was gone, Mr. Happy knocked on the door of our room. It took Mitch a minute to answer thinking it was me and that I forgot my key. Anyway when Mitch finally answered the door the dogs bounded out in front of him and out the door before he could stop them. Mitch always thinks that everyone loves dogs. He looks at our dogs as big friendly dogs that love everyone, he forgets that a lot of people are apprehensive around dogs, especially large dogs. Mr. Happy was a few feet away from the door with a plunger in his hand thinking that because I asked for a roll of toilet paper I must have clogged the toilet and we were under water. He took one look at the dogs romping toward him only seeing giant brown monsters with poisonous venom dripping from three foot long fangs coming to eat him. He waved the plunger back and forth in front of him like a light saber warding off the evil creatures of darkness. Of course by waving the plunger at the dogs Charlie saw it as a threatening act causing him to bark and growl at the man. Orso just wanted to be petted by someone new and just kept moving toward the man. Mitch got them under control and shooed back into the room and turned to Mr. Happy. He asked if we needed a plunger to which Mitch politely declined.

I came back contact solution in hand and finished getting ready for bed. That’s when I realized I should have bought pillows. The bed had two pillows on it, one small pillow and one smaller pillow. The bed had a definite tilt to it. The foot of the bed was higher than the head of the bed. Sitting on the bed felt like sitting on quarter inch plywood laid over springs, not comfortable at all. To top it off, Orso was disoriented and clingy, making himself at home across the foot of the bed, shortening the length of the bed by two feet. Mitch on one side, me on the other and here comes Charlie making himself comfortable between us. A full size bed is large enough for the two of us, but add in one hundred eighty pounds of dogs and the bed gets really small very quickly. Charlie wasn’t happy with the hardness of the bed and kept squirming around flopping on my stomach. We laid there for about thirty minutes listening to the refrigerator cycle on and off. I finally couldn’t take it anymore got up and unplugged it. Between Orso at the foot of the bed, Charlie squirming around in the bed and a bed that felt like sleeping on plywood neither one of us got more than a couple of hours sleep. If I hadn’t been afraid of what disgusting things had been ground into to the carpet I would have slept on the floor.

We lasted until about 4:30 in the morning, that was all my lower back could take. I got up and noticed a puddle of water on the credenza next to the refrigerator. I looked down on the floor at the shotgun cases directly below the fridge and saw that two of the four cases were wet. Great. Neither one of us thought about the refrigerator defrosting when I unplugged it.

Mitch took the shotguns out of the cases to see how wet they were, salvaging three. One of mine, my back up shotgun took the brunt of the water. He dismantled it to dry out. I turned on the water in the shower turning the knob all the way over to the hot side in order to get the water warm enough, pulled the flow knob to shower and can only say that the best part about the shower was that the water was wet. I realized I forgot soap and reached for the bar of soap offered by the hotel. I picked up the package to unwrap it and discovered that it was already open and the bar had been used. Super disgusting.

It was going to be a long three nights. This trip was starting off a high note for sure.

Skunk De-Skunker or A Public Service Announcement

Pheasant season is right around the corner and if your dogs are anything like ours, they get into a lot of thick tall grass searching for the elusive scent of a pheasant. Often other creatures pop out of the underbrush, such as rabbits, deer and on occasion, a skunk. That happened on one hunting trip. The dogs were hot on a pheasant that wanted to run through some prairie grass and would not break cover, when the dogs stopped short. As I caught up to Charlie and Orso I could make out something black sticking up in the grass and the dogs were barking at it. I just barely made out the shape and screamed, “Skunk! Leave it –leave it!”

I back pedaled as fast as I could to get out of range, but Charlie and Orso were not so lucky. As Charlie turned the skunk sprayed them catching Charlie on the right side of his face and shoulder, Orso got sprayed on his shoulder. As bad as the dead skunk stench smells when you are driving down the road and get a waft of the road kill aroma, a live skunk spray victim smells worse. It is a cloying sickening sweet, decaying smell that gets in your nostrils and won’t go away.

We took the dogs back to the hotel and first put Charlie in the tub and used all of the shampoo we had scrubbing, rinsing and repeating over and over until the stench was not as overwhelming as it first was. A trip to Walmart for more shampoo and it was Orso’s turn. Even though we were able to cut the stench down with the multiple baths, the stench was still there when you got close to their heads and shoulders. It took almost six months for the smell to completely go away.

After we got back from our fateful hunting trip, we decided to put together a skunk de-skunking kit. In the October 2008 issue of Gun Dog Magazine there was an article about skunks and dogs and it listed a de-skunking recipe. Below is the list of ingredients and instructions for anyone that takes their dogs hiking or hunting and just might need this.

16 ounce bottle of Hydrogen Peroxide (For best results, change out the any unused Hydrogen Peroxide on an annual basis. This is the keep it fresh and active in case you have to use it.)
1 pound box of Baking Soda (transferred to a waterproof container
Dawn Dish Soap
Latex, plastic or rubber gloves (several pair)
A plastic or metal two-quart or larger container to mixing the ingredients (we used a gallon ice cream pail)

Measure one or more cups of baking soda into large container. Add 1/2 cup or more hydrogen peroxide to form a paste. Expect mixture to foam somewhat. Squeeze one or more ounces of liquid soap and while wearing protective gloves, hand mix the ingredients until smooth and slightly runny.

Hand rub mixture into dog’s coat with a massaging motion concentrating on the region where most of the skunk oil is located. Leave mixture on dog for 10 minutes or more. Then rinse with ample fresh water. Avoid getting the mixture in the dog’s eyes. Flush well with fresh water if it does get in his eyes.

Rinse the dog with plenty of fresh water.

NOTE: Do Not mix the solution before it is needed. It is unsafe to store this mixture for any length of time, so mix only when needed, apply immediately and discard afterwards.

We haven’t had to use our kit yet and hope we never have to, but we take it with us on each hunting trip. Of course I probably should do that on our hiking treks too.

Our Sunday Hunt

While Saturday was cold and raw, Sunday was just brutal.  The high temperature for the day was at 4:30 in the morning when I took the dogs outside after they ate.  It went downhill from there.  By the time we got out of the car to start the morning hunt, the temperature had dropped to about twenty degrees with twenty-five mile an hour winds out of the northwest.  I seriously doubted our sanity.  I had on a turtleneck, button up shirt, insulated vest and an insulated field coat on top and pants and insulated over-pants on the bottom.  I also was wearing silk glove liners and insulated shooting gloves.  It wasn’t enough.  That wind just cut right through me.

Shaking my head at our insanity, I grabbed my camera and headed out with Mitch and the dogs.  Trying to catch a scent of any birds in this wind was going to be sheer luck on the dogs’ part.  AJ flushed the first bird which Mitch shot and AJ retrieved it with Orso in hot pursuit.  Maybe there would be birds in spite of the bitter conditions. 

As we rounded an out cropping of trees that opened up to a small field of knee high prairie grass.  I walked on the outer rim while Mitch walked along the tree line.  As I got to the middle of the field I noticed that all of the dogs were with me (sans gun) and Mitch was nowhere to be seen.  I thought to myself, what was the number one rule of hunting?  Stay with the dogs.  I hoped that the dogs wouldn’t find any birds, because I sure wasn’t going to kill a bird with my mind.  I kept calling the dogs back to me hoping to stall and Mitch would miraculously show up just as the dogs flushed some birds.  But no such luck.  Charlie flushed one into the tree line at the edge of the field and I found myself running to where the quail flew despite the fact that I only carried a camera.  Old habits.  Mitch finally showed up just as AJ flushed a small covey of about five quail.  Mitch shot two into the trees when a third one flew out over my head and as Mitch swung around for the shot I quickly dropped to the ground to avoid either being shot or slapped in the head with the gun barrel.  He got the bird, by the way.

So far the day was shaping up to be a very fruitful harvest.  The only drawback was the bitter cold.  I headed down into the draw to try to escape the wind, but by then my hands were too cold.  They hurt so bad even with the gloves on I was afraid that I could cause some permanent damage so I told Mitch that I was going to head back to the car and warm up.  Walking back to the car I heard a noise behind me so I turned to look back and there was AJ, who lives to hunt, walking along with me.  He had had enough too.

I think that AJ and I are the wiser of the bunch.  But that’s not saying much since we all went out there to begin with.

Orso Finally Got It!

We went hunting in Central Nebraska this past weekend.  The original plan was to hunt pheasant but there were no pheasant, so it was decided that we would hunt quail instead.  Pheasant are not an especially hardy bird at the best of circumstances and with the severe drought have not fared well at all.  Now since it was determined that quail was the only option to hunt I decided to forgo carrying a shotgun and carry a camera instead.  I am not fast enough to shoot quail.  On the occasions we have flushed a covey of quail in past hunting trips, I was always startled at the delicate fluttering of birds and as soon as I realized that I could shoot at them, the birds were way out of gun range.  So I figured I would stand a better chance of getting some shots of the dogs and Mitch with my camera than hitting a quail with my gun.

Saturday was cold and cloudy, with temperatures in the forties with a mild breeze, making day seem pretty raw.  The dogs headed out with Charlie ranging a bit too far in front as always.  We have to call him back often otherwise he’ll flush a bird three counties away.  AJ wandered a lot slower and more methodically this year, his age showing.  Orso as usual headed off lumbering along just happy to be out with everybody bumping into the closest body to wherever he ended up in the field.  Charlie was the first to flush a bird and Mitch actually shot it.  I was shocked.  I didn’t really think that any birds would get shot the entire weekend.  Charlie fetched the bird up with Orso sniffing away at this new creature.  He has shown no interest in pheasants at all.  But this new one smelled pretty good to him. 

Orso started off and actually put head down and used his nose to search for a likely scent.  This was a bird he liked and wanted to find.  Who knew?  Orso wandered farther into the field head down, stopped for a brief moment then lunged forward catching a bird in his mouth before it could fly.  He came trotting up to Mitch with the bird in his mouth, its’ little white head poking out to the side.    He did this not once but three times.  Orso had great success at quail hunting.  He only needed us to carry the birds after he caught them.

Maybe there is hope for him yet.