Category Archives: A Dog’s Life

Video highlights program that creates four-legged game wardens

Since about everybody hates poachers and about everybody loves dogs, this video of the Indiana K-9 Resource Protection Program.

YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO.

The video may be from Indiana but it has some close ties to Kansas. The very successful Kansas K-9 program is modeled after what’s been done in Indiana for quite a few years. In fact, the wardens within our program, and their dogs, get much of their training in Indiana. Several other states use the Indiana training program, too.

Kansas’ four-legged game wardens have played key roles in hundreds of cases, ranging from finding key bits of evidence used to help convict poachers to tracking down felons on the run.

Kansas game warden Chris Stout, of Wellington, makes an appearance on the video and furnished the link.

 

Sometimes, pheasant planning works

Pheasant hunters are some of the greatest planners in the outdoors.

There were WWII island invasions with less details than some of the pheasant drives I’ve been on, with hunters coming towards a cover from all directions, a push with wingmen to be exactly 41.237 yards ahead of the other hunters. Unfortunately, pheasants are really bad and falling such plans and normally find plenty of ways to run, flush wild, hold tight, fly the wrong direction….of the scheming gunners.

Friday, on Kansas’ last day of the season, all went as planned for me and my ancient Lab, Hank.

For about the past three weeks we’ve been dibbling and dabbling on some pheasant hunts at some fantastic spots in Harvey County, normally only hitting a covert for  a half-hour to an hour, taking a bird or two and then heading home happy. Even as late as Thursday morning,  we only hit a patch long enough to take a pair of roosters, including one with Boone & Crockett tailfeathers, before resting the field in advance of Friday.

So for Friday, the season’s last day, and possibly Hank’s last pheasant hunt (he’s about 13) we went for broke, heading to  the best spots I have in Harvey, Reno and Stafford counties.

Hank, with the four rooster limit from Friday's hunt the last day of the Kansas pheasant season. The photo was taken Sunday afternoon.

Hank, with the four rooster limit from Friday’s hunt on the last day of the Kansas pheasant season. The photo was taken Sunday afternoon.

About 8 a.m. we did an early raid on a roosting area that’s basically at the edge of a friend’s yard. The first rooster was holding tight, flushed close and fell dead. The next took a little trailing by Hank before the flush, then a lot more after the shot. With super-dry conditions, it took the old dog about 20 minutes to catch up with the wing-hit bird. With a self-imposed two bird limit on that property, we headed west.

Grass where I’d seen five or six roosters a month ago held just a hen in Stafford County. After lunch in Sylvia, I passed on a chance to hunt some CRP in Reno County because of the field’s immense size and thickness. I could tell Hank was already tired, so we headed back towards home and Harvey County. We got to the property, which was across the road from where we’d hunted that morning, with about 90 minutes of daylight left. Basically I was counting on the final 20-30 minutes.

For most hunters the pheasant season that closed Friday was the worst of their lives, but there were some good pockets of birds scattered about. Michael Pearce found his best hunting of the past several seasons in Harvey County.

For most hunters the pheasant season that closed Friday was the worst of their lives, but there were some good pockets of birds scattered about. Michael Pearce found his best hunting of the past several seasons in Harvey County.

Hank and I took a seat near the field’s north end, where pheasants often traveled back and forth between the lush grass and a neighbor’s soybeans. We’d seen three roosters sail into the grass when we got up with a half-hour of season remaining, quietly walking along the field’s western edge, so we could work it into the northeast wind.

Two more roosters sailed in about the time we started the season’s last push.

Most longtime hunting  dog owners will tell you scenting conditions improve greatly just before sunset. Friday was no exception. Hank hit scent where we’d seen one of the birds land and started trailing, and 50 yards further it came out of the grass cackling. It’s partner had landed about 60 yards away, and Hank was hot on its scent when it flushed and also fell.

With a limit of four filled, my first in several years, I set the gun and vest along a farm trail and just followed the dog as he worked out the rest of the grass. He was still pushing up hens as grayness  settled over the field, including a cluster-flush of about a dozen brown birds at the field’s northeastern corner.

I hated to see the season end, since there’s no promise Hank may be around for the next or at least be healthy enough to hunt.

Well, if there is a perfect hunt for ending a season, or possibly a hunting career, a rare day when all the pheasant planning comes through is certainly it.

 

Old shotgun, old dog, great spot = like old times

I have access to a great spot for pheasants, even this year, and it’s only about 15 minutes from my house. It’s the kind of place you don’t take lightly because access only comes from a very deep friendship with three generations of the same family. That they probably like my old Lab, Hank, as well as me certainly helps.

Since this family hunts deer on the same lands means I can’t access the dense CRP fields and food plots until the last of the doe seasons is over. No problem, January has always been my favorite month for hunting pheasants.

The long-awaited first hunt in the fields happened this morning, and I knew it wouldn’t last long. Hank’s about 13, and dense grass saps his energy fast. I figured he’d have an hour’s worth of power at best, especially with the warm temperatures and heavy winds.

At almost 13, Hank is down to about an hour of pheasant hunting. The shotgun was my father's pheasant gun and so far is two for two this month.

At almost 13, Hank is down to about an hour of pheasant hunting at a time. The shotgun was my father’s pheasant gun and so far is two for two this month.

All through the weeks of anticipating the trip I figured I’d be caring my Ruger over/under shotgun, which brought an end to hundreds of pheasants and quail before I became hooked on waterfowl hunting. But when I went to get it, I noticed another gun. It’s an ancient Remington 1100 semi-automatic with a cheap camo paint job.

It was my father’s pheasant gun up until he died in 1997. Jerrod shot it for waterfowl for a few weeks, hence the paint, before he moved on to a magnum model. Back in the early 1980s I’d carried the shotgun several times when dad wasn’t along. It’s still the only gun with which I’ve shot a limit of four wild roosters, with three shots, while standing in one spot.

When I lifted the gun for the first time in years last night it felt good, and snapping it to my shoulder it pointed exactly where I was looking. I left the Ruger at home.

The landowners had recently seen up to about 40 pheasants in just one part of the place, so I figured we would see birds. Indeed, two roosters and a hen crossed the road at the property’s edge as I drove up.

The land is a 1960′s mix of well-managed prairie grass with a lot of forbs. The fields are framed with brushy fencelines with nice plum thickets and just the right amount of cedar trees.

Hank and I looped around to get the heavy wind in our face and when the food plots were empty of birds we waded into the grass…but not very far.

I think 18 or 20 pheasants erupted from the grass a few yards in front of the dog. As usual, the illegal hens offered slam-dunk shots and several roosters flushed out of range. One did rise within about 15 yards but made a beeline right at the landowner’s house as if it was headed to the back porch, which means I couldn’t shoot.

Fifty yards from there, though, we pinned a running rooster where tall grass met an open lane and it fell amid a true jungle of plums, hedge trees and cedars. It took some time to get Hank over a woven wire fence, and to where he could even enter the thickets. He found the bird at the bottom of a dry creek.

The plan was to shoot one bird each trip the rest of the season, and head for home…but on the way back Hank again started working scent. Probably 100 yards from where his trailing began two roosters flushed inches from his pouncing paws. I shot one and let the other one go.

I’ll head back out a few more times before the season closes the end of the month. The trips will be short for Hank’s sake, and I’ll carry the old shotgun for mine.

But we’re off to a good start – old dog, old proven shotgun, two shots and two roosters in less than an hour. It kind of reminds me of old times.

Retriever/pointer cross, the best of both worlds

Duke, owned by Tom Devlin, is a Lab/pointer cross that points and honors as well as any.

Duke, owned by Tom Devlin, is a Lab/pointer cross that points and honors as well as any.

Through the years I’ve hunted over a few hundred bird dogs. Most were purebreds, and some from bloodlines seemingly as long and legendary as  that of England’s royal family.

I’ve also hunted over some mixed breed dogs, too.

There was Duke, a terribly ugly Boston terrier/pekingese/rat terrier mix that was heck on chasing rabbits and treeing squirrels.

There was also Goldie, a friend’s yellow Lab and English pointer cross that had about as much drive as the Cowardly Lion. She probably only pointed one bird for every 20 found by my Brittany, Rose. But it seemed every time Goldie did point it was a rooster pheasant…never a quail, never a hen pheasant…go figure.

And there was also Brillo, which I think was a cross between a German shorthair and a German wirehair. That dog was death of working running pheasants. Slow and steady, it was rare when she took up a trail that didn’t result in a solid point.

And a few weeks ago I got to spend the afternoon with another Duke, a “kennel accident” owned by Tom Devlin. This Duke is a Lab/English pointer cross that basically just looked like another case of an unplanned meeting between a pure Lab and a something else.

Duke Devlin, though, seemed to get the best of both breeds. He pointed as well as the good Britts and shorthairs with which he shared the fields and found more than his share of the wild quail and released pheasants and chukars. He honored the points of the other dogs as well as they honored his.

Duke's Lab lineage really showed with his excellent retrieving.

Duke’s Lab lineage really showed with his excellent retrieving.

Where he really excelled, though, was once a bird was shot down. It made no difference if it fell 15 or 150 yards away, Duke was probably the dog that brought it back. I can’t recall not finding any downed birds for which he searched.

I wonder, though, how well Ol’ Duke would do on a duck hunt. I’m guessing he’d probably do just fine.

 

Ol’ Red cracks 300,000 joyful miles

It happened as I’d hoped, on the way home from a fun hunt. OK, so it may have been better if Ol’ Red had been carrying a few limits of mallards or a nice mule deer buck, but we’d been into some nice bucks chasing does on Sunday morning.

Anyway, it was about half-way between El Dorado and Newton that my beloved ’95 Ford F150 rolled over 300,000 miles. All of those, by the way, are on the original motor and transmission, radiator, AC, water pump…..(yes, I know I’m now jinxed for a massive break down.)

When we bought the truck in ’97, with about 20,000 miles, I said my goal was 200,000. Even before I hit that I’d pegged 300,000 as an obtainable goal.

The ol’ truck runs sweet on the highway, starts like a charm and looks like…well, a hunter’s pick-up that’s been outside all of its life and far from babied. It has more rust than some junkyards, some sizable holes in the lower body, peeling paint, faded paint and missing paint. Ironically, it got it’s first sizable dents just two or three years ago, in the same week.

Though the truck’s not much to look at, the memories it carries sure shine in my mind. Jerrod was 10 when we took it on his first big game hunt, a muzzleloader trip for cow elk in New Mexico. We hit a blizzard going and he heart-shot a 2 1/2 year-old cow the next morning.

I once came  back from fishing in New Zealand and found a photo on the dinning room table of one large, horizontal blob of mud and three vertical blobs just as muddy. Lindsey and two friends had tried to sneak Ol’ Red out to do some four-wheeling in the country. From the looks of the photo, and the stories they later told, it’s amazing any of the four survived.

We took it as a family on fantastic vacations in Montana and other states. The old Ford was about on auto-pilot in 1997, the year I made scores or trips to our family farm to help care for my father in his final stages of cancer.

These days it’s mostly just me in Ol’ Red, and a lot of time Hank, my gray-faced old Lab is stretched out on the seat beside me. Truth is, there’s probably enough black dog hair crammed down into the crack in the seat to start a few new puppies.

This week it was a movable photo blind at Quivira as I got good photos of Monday’s amazing sunset, sandhill cranes, trophy whitetails and more.

I have no idea how many more miles the beaten old truck has in it. I only log about 8-10,000 per year.

I realize that the truck isn’t worth what one monthly truck payment might be on a newer version. Right now insurance and taxes are pocket change.

But for the first time in 16 years I’m actually beginning to think of myself in another truck a year or two down the road.

No doubt, though, no other vehicle will ever carry as many memories as Ol’ Red.

Timeless pic of boy and his dog, now means more than ever

In this great photo of boy and dog, a nine-year-old Zach Tuttle gets a drink while his two-year-old Lab, Buddy, slurps up the leftovers at a Wichita park. Zach is now a grown man and, unfortunately, Buddy has recently passed. PHOTO BY JEFF TUTTLE

 

When Jeff Tuttle, a friend and former Wichita Eagle photographer, showed me this photo many  years ago I labeled it a “day-maker,” and one of my favorites of all times.

It means a lot more now than ever before. Buddy, the happy dog in the photo, had to be put down over the weekend.

In the photo Jeff’s nine-year-old son, Zach, is getting a drink from a fountain at a local park while his two-year-old Lab  is slurping up the leftovers after a rousing, and unique, game of fetch. Jeff had taken the inseparable pair to the park and pitched tennis balls to Zach to hit with a bat to work on the boy’s swing, and to wear some steam from what seemed a nuclear-powered puppy.

Buddy came to the Tuttle family after they’d just lost another dog. It was love at first sight, lick, wiggle and pounce for boy and dog. Jeff and I used to joke that we wondered who was happier when they got together, the kid thinking “I gotta Lab puppy!”  or the Lab puppy thinking “I gotta a kid!”

True “dog people,” the Tuttles thankfully let Buddy hit their household like the hurricane Lab puppies can be. Of course that included muddy footprints on the floor and furniture, an aerated lawn, missing food from the counter, chewed up clothing and keepsakes, expensive vet bills….and more love, laughter and fun than a winning Powerball ticket could ever purchase.

Zach, by the way, is now off at college and doing very well as a student, as an athlete and, more importantly, as just a good young man. That’s to be expected, of course, because I’ve never met a child raised by a fun-loving dog that hasn’t turned out to be stellar.

Having Buddy in his life surely taught Zach life lessons on responsibility, persistence, the true meaning of unconditional love, that laughter heals and that the best things in life are often the simplest things in life…you know, like the joys of a baseball bat and a tennis ball.

Though he’s gone, Buddy is still teaching Zach that it’s OK for men to cry, that love and memories never really die, and that sometimes we have to endure painful choices to ease the pain of those we love.

Tears are in high supply within the Tuttle family, but they’ll eventually be replaced by laughter. Some will be because of memories of a goofy dog now past. Many more will be from whatever puppy they next bring into their lives. While he said it’s hard to think about life without Buddy, I was happy  to hear Jeff say it’s even harder to think about their lives without a dog’s love.

Somewhere out there is probably a puppy with no idea just how good his or her life is about to get. If life is fair to all, hopefully the dog will even end up with a few of its own grandkids that’ll need training, too.

Rest well, Buddy,…you set the stage for many generations of joy.

 

Training to fetch utilizing instincts and pack desire

Over about the last year, several people have tried to teach Lindsey’s dog, Lady Bird, to retrieve. As well as fun, our daughter hoped it would be a way to burn some energy off her beloved Australian shepherd.

Two days before this photo Lady Bird cared nothing about retrieving. A little training utilizing her instincts now has her fetching very well.

Since I have “a way” with dogs, a couple of times Lindsey had mentioned it was my job to get Lady Bird trained. Well, a  week ago the probably three-year-old dog that came from a shelter would chase anything thrown, then just stare at it before trotting off.

Now, Lady bird is fetching tennis balls with as much enthusiasm, and style, as some Labs or golden retrievers…we’re talking charging out and back, holding the tennis ball until it’s taken from her mouth, then prancing up and down with an obvious “throw it again, throw it again,” look on her face.

The proverbial light bulb clicked on in both of our heads last Saturday afternoon. I noticed Lady Bird in our backyard, tossing the ball in the air, then trying to pounce on it as it bounced around. If she inadvertently knocked it a few yards she really charged after it.

So I took the ball, slammed it down and watched as she pursued it until it was caught. The next time I did it, I started running away and calling to her excitedly a split second after she had the ball in her mouth. Bingo. Her desire to chase, especially a member of her “pack,” kicked in and she caught up in a hurry.  I eventually ended up on the ground with her, lavishing the dog with praise and petting. (It helps that she may be the most affection-craved dog I’ve ever met.)

We repeated the same sequence with the same result a few more times. After three or four throws it seemed obvious she’d figured out that if she brought the ball back she’d get lathered in love and eventually get the joy of chasing it down again.

We stopped after a few more throws to keep up her enthusiasm, and I made sure she couldn’t reach the ball inside to keep it special. Early the next morning, when her energy and enthusiasm were both high, we went out again and she again retrieved like a pro.

The next day I bought a tennis ball launcher to give me more leverage in my throws. She did probably a dozen 60 to 70 yard flawless retrieves at a park this morning.

No doubt she’s got the hang of it, and Lindsey has found a way to exercise the dog on days she doesn’t want to take Lady Bird on a five mile run.

It was all a matter of utilizing her instincts to chase the ball as prey or an animal to be herded, to run with members of her pack (me) and a big desire to please the pack leader.

And her pack leader certainly enjoyed the chance to train a good dog while pleasing his daughter.

 

Dogs’ expressions better than a polygraph

If only dogs played poker maybe I could win a hand or two. You can tell everything they’re thinking just by looking at their face, especially if it’s not looking at you.

Home from work Monday afternoon I found a set of whitetail antlers in the middle of our living room floor. They’d been in the basement that morning.

Lady Bird’s face seems to be saying “What deer antlers? Oh, those deer antlers…what makes you think I brought those hefty things up from the basement? I think the miniature dachshund did it!” Like most dogs, her face is a dead give-away that she’s guilty.

Lindsey’s, our grown daughter, dog, Lady Bird was bouncing all over the house, happy someone was home when I came in the door. In and out of the pet door she went two or three times, around “the circle” of the living room, dining room, breakfast room and kitchen she pranced….until she saw me stop and pick up the antlers.

She instantly shrank down and wouldn’t look at me. I hadn’t said a word, I was just holding the antlers.

The Australian shepherd couldn’t have looked more guilty if I’d have caught her coming up the basement stairs with the eight-point antlers in her jaws.

When I said her name, she rolled on her back, put her paws in the air as if she was holding them up to be paw-cuffed.

Many dogs are like that, especially Labs. I can walk in the door and Hank, my black dog, will cower a bit when he’s done something wrong.

If I walk over to a shredded paper or whatever, I’ll soon here the tell-tale slaps of the pet door as he’s headed outside. If it’s really something big he’ll trot out to the kennel he hasn’t been confined to in ten years. There he’ll crawl inside the dog house with just his snout showing. It’s like he’s put himself in solitary confinement, and is waiting for someone to slam the door on a life sentence.

Ruby Tuesday, our very miniature dachshund tells on herself with her other end. When she’s guilty she runs to hide under a bed, often leaving the back half of her very guilty body sticking out into the room.

The look on some dog’s faces is as much proof of innocence as guilt. If there’s a mess, and Hank sits beside it as I walk up, and looks at me with a lowered face I know he didn’t do it. We call it his, “Please don’t blame me for this one…” expression.

Location of the crime scene is also as good as an eye witness to the crime, it seems.

Ruby takes her bounty to the intersection of two hallways. Find a ripped-open baggie of dog food I foolishly left in open luggage on the floor between two specific trees in our backyard and you’ll see Hank’s tail tucked as he slinks into his kennel.

Lady Bird shreds paper right in the living room, but is kind enough to carry out her dozen or so toys to all parts of the yard while we’re away.

Hank, by the way, is actually pretty excited when I walk out side and see the toys so well scattered….he knows it’s his job to fetch them all to me on the porch, one playful retrieve at a time, while Lady Bird bounces along beside him.

Watching them, the look on my face probably shows all is forgiven.

Casts and blasts for the 2013 Master National hunt test in Kansas

A Lab hits the water on a Wednesday practice retrieve. About 700 of America’s top retrievers are in Kansas for the 2013 Master National hunt test at Flint Oak.

Lovers of good working dogs need to give serious consideration to spending some time at the 2013 Master National hunt test at Flint Oak. The event that has about 700 of America’s top retrievers is scheduled to run from Saturday through Sunday, Sept. 29. Here is some more of what you need to know -

– Flint Oak is about eight miles south of the town of Fall River, which is about 90 minutes east of Wichita on Highway 400. Following Fall River’s main street south will take you to signs that lead you to Flint Oak. The address is 2639 Quail Road, Fall River. Signs should indicate parking areas and where the public can find gallery areas for watching the dogs at work.

– The public is asked to wear mellow, natural-looking colors so the dogs aren’t distracted. White is especially discouraged. As with golf, the gallery is also expected to remain relatively quiet when a dog is working.

– There is no charge for watching the tests. Food and drink can be purchased and toilets will be available.

– Daily tests are scheduled to run from about 8 a.m. until about 7 p,m. Testing will probably wind-up early on Sept. 29.

– Cell phone coverage is spotty on the Flint Oak grounds.

– Roughly 600 of the dogs at the event will be Labs, about 45 golden retrievers, about 14 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, about 14 are flat-coated retrievers, two are Boykin spaniels, one is a Nova Scotia duck toller, and one a standard-sized poodle.

– The Kansas-based Sunflower Retriever Club is hosting the event, and have provided much of the organization and volunteers.The club is dedicating their efforts, and the greatness of the event, to the memory of member Marcia Traylor. An avid club and retriever supporter for years, Marcia was tragically killed in an auto accident about two years ago.

Personally, I’ll always owe a debt of gratitude to Marcia. Knowing I was looking for a quality Lab in 2000, she called me when she heard of a solid litter in Missouri. Marcia also put in a good word for me with the owners of the litter, who were very selective in where their puppies went for homes. Her kindness made my life far better than before.

– Look for three articles, and about 100 photos about the Master National hunt tests in Sunday’s Wichita Eagle and on www.kansas.com/outdoors.

A Woman and her Dog…and their growing pile of antlers

Amber Stimatze and Winnie with some of the antlers they found Tuesday afternoon.

Amber Stimatze is a self-described “rodeo brat” from St. John, who has always enjoyed working with animals.

It’s hard, though, to call what she’s doing with Winnie, a young Labrador retriever, “work.”

Whenever they get the chance, the pair are out walking the central Kansas countryside looking for antlers that have fallen from whitetail or mule deer bucks earlier this year. With keen, experienced eyes and binoculars, Stimatze is pretty skilled at finding them. Winnie is the real pro, though, because she uses her sight, scenting ability and some unique training to help her find and fetch antlers.

Winnie comes from Roger Sigler’s Antler Ridge Antler Dogs kennel in western Missouri. An accomplished animal trainer for several decades, Sigler and his family have nearly perfected the ability to produce pups with the natural ability to search for antlers. Their unique training techniques helps those pups reach their antler finding potential.

Winnie, a specially-trained antler dog, fetches a shed mule deer antler she found Tuesday in Edwards County.

Sigler said he’s placed antler dogs in about 40 states, and that their dogs are continually improving because of a selective breeding program.

Tuesday afternoon Winnie and Stimatze teamed up to find 17 antlers in a few hours.

You’ll be able to read a lot more about their hunt, and what it takes to make a good antler dog, on the Outdoors page of Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, or at www.kansas.com/outdoors.