Category Archives: A Dog’s Life

Saving the best goose hunt for last.

Most hunters afield for Sunday’s closing of goose season encountered a lot of birds, including some mixed flocks of Canada and white-fronted geese. FILE PHOTO

Usually we guesstimate numbers of geese in a sizable flock. But I know Sunday one particular flock held an even 60 small Canada geese and three white-fronted geese.

I know because they were floating in front of me, spread well enough for a good count.  All were within 30 yards.

Though that’s easy shotgun range I couldn’t shoot. I already had limits of both species, and was spending the rest of Sunday morning enjoying one of the best waterfowl shows I’ve ever seen.

And to think, I almost didn’t go afield that last day of goose season.

For weeks I’d planned on taking a landowner’s friend on his property in Butler County. He backed-out too late on Saturday for me to make new plans.

It wasn’t until about 8 a.m. Sunday  that I decided I’d go hunt a local pond on Sunday, as much to spend a few hours afield with Hank as any realistic hope of getting geese.

I’d scouted the pond Friday and saw no goose tracks or droppings.

The last of 18 floating decoys and 36 shell decoys weren’t out until about 9:30 a.m.  Twenty minutes later I was surprised and delighted to see a small flock of big Canadas heading my way, battling the howling wind.

My first shot was  miss. My second dropped a big goose on the opposite shoreline.

I gave Hank the OK to be off on the retrieve.

He was half-way across the pond when a flock of about 30 Canadas came in sight from the east. About half set their wings and coasted towards the decoys.

Checking, Hank had made it ashore and had flattened so he wouldn’t spook the approaching birds.

Two fell after three shots. I gave Hank a hand-signal to fetch the first bird, then let him grab a gimme floating near shore. He loved trailing the third  bird 100 yards out into a bordering pasture and making that retrieve, too.

Limited-out on Canadas, I decided to just sit back, sip some coffee, eat some snacks and see if anything else was flying.

(I quickly learned that at least one Lab prefers Girl Scout shortbread cookies dunked in creamed coffee compared to dry.)

The last hunt of the season provided a limit of three Canada geese and two whitefronts, and memories of thousands of more birds seen. PHOTO BY KATHY PEARCE

I’d left the gun loaded on remote chance I’d see a snow or white-fronted goose. In about 13 years of hunting the pond we’d taken only one of each species.

Soon I’d find this wasn’t just another weekend. One time I looked north and saw a scene that reminded me of Quivira’s Big Salt Marsh as many thousand geese lifted into the air from a distant crop field.

I’m guessing I’d found myself in the middle of a major migration. Others did, too. Most goose hunters I talked to did very well in south-central Kansas that day.

Looking out from a lay-out blind, another flock of Canadas was only  minutes away at the pond I was hunting, with eight or ten landing at the edge of the decoys before flying off.

To my huge surprise, the next flock along was about a dozen whitefronts, squealing their familiar series of high-pitched honks.

Somehow two fell at one shot, filling my limit of those, too.

We enjoyed five more flocks coming to the decoys, all with birds down on the water.

One flock had a sandhill crane trailing behind, the first I’ve seen up close in Harvey County.

The 60 small Canadas and few whitefronts dropped from an estimated 400 birds milling above the pond. They came when I’d already gathered, and stacked my shell decoys in a big blob on the shore.

At the time I was just laying on the short grass pasture, a dog the color and size of an angus calf, every bit as visible, too.

In between flocks I worked to gather the rest of my rig. At one time I had just the floating decoys sitting on land, and a small flock of Canadas lit amid them, too.

It was about noon when we finished the last of the coffee and cookies, and I brought the truck to the pond’s edge for loading.

After clearing three gates, a barn lot and farm yard, I looked back and watched about 200 geese landing on the pond.

It’s always kind of sad to see five month’s of hunting seasons end, but this one certainly sent me out with a smile.

Best-ever dog poem, dog update

According to the Chinese I was born in the Year of the Dog. Can’t argue that fact, since canines have been a vital part of my life since before I can remember. I’ve played with them, trained them, hunted with them, cherished them and mourned them.

And I’ve written much about them and read even more.

By far, the best I’ve heard or read comes from an unlikely source. It’s a poem actor Jimmy Stewart wrote and read aloud on The Tonight Show in 1981. It’s about his dog, Beau, and is more touching and masterful than anything I could write in ten lifetimes.

IF YOU HAVE  ANY INTEREST AT ALL IN DOGS, PLEASE CLICK HERE AND LISTEN.

Hank, with the last bird of duck season. It was a big, drake pintail.

OK, speaking of dogs on Jan. 27 I ran a column about Hank, my aging Labrador Retriever. Here are a few more details.

– The story mentioned we’d do a hunt on a favored wetland the last day of duck season. We did, and the hunting was fair with three of us shooting ten. The last bird of the season, which I shot and Hank retrieved, was a stunning drake pintail. If a season has to end, that’s a good duck to end it on.

– Unlike the story predicted, we did not make it out the last two days of upland bird season for pheasants, quail and turkeys. I had to head to Austin to help our daughter, Lindsey,  with her sweet Australian Shepherd, who had been badly mauled by a pit bull at a dog-friendly restaurant last Sunday. Lady Bird will, thankfully, be fine and narrowly missed being a fatality. The man who brought the pit bull to the place crowded with dogs, and where the scent of food filled the air, did so even though the rescue shelter, Austin Pets Alive, had warned him the pit bull had problems dealing with other dogs.

– Hank and I will probably make a trip or two to a shooting preserve for a few pheasants. He’s also never retrieved a chukar, so I may buy a few of those to see what he thinks, too. Hopefully we’ll make it out a time or three before goose season ends next Sunday.

–Oh, about he photo we ran last Sunday of Hank looking skyward… He wasn’t watching ducks pass overhead. Instead, he was staring at the hand of a nine-year-old boy, Brett Wiggers, who was waving a piece of jerky in the air. Where Brett’s hand went, so did the dog’s gaze. Hank’s as addicted to venison jerky as he is fetching turkeys. Read More »

Casts and Blasts from the article about GPS Collars

Some of the things from Tuesday and Wednesday spent researching Sunday’s article about how GPS collars allow hunters to keep full-time track of their dogs.

Ted Gartner where he most likes to hunt — the wide-open prairie.

- Ted Gartner, of Garmin International,  is very addicted to hunting birds with bird dogs. Given a choice, he’d much rather walk open expanses of prairie for things like bobwhites or sharptail grouse than milo rows or fencelines for pheasants.

- There’s not much middle ground when it comes to English pointers. It seems like they’re either out-of-control, bird-flushing headaches or some of the most beautiful and effective working canines on the planet. It was fun to watch three-year-old LuLu, Gartner’s pointer, doing what she was born to do. The bloody tip from her always wagging tail smacking wild plum and other brush shows she was having a great time, too.

- Gartner was one of several bird hunters who have trekked to western Kansas to hunt lesser prairie chickens last week. News that the feds will probably close the season when they list the birds as “threatened” means time is running out for those that want to experience the great gamebird.  Most have seen quite a few lessers on their hunts, and succeeded in getting a bird.

- Quail were pretty plentiful, with Gartner and host Tom Turner averaging about five coveys per half-day hunt.

LuLu, an English pointer, with a solid point on the quail that’s visible in the leaves.

- The photo of LuLu on point, with the quail visible a few inches in front of her face is one I’ve been hoping to get for many years. Most people don’t realize how difficult it usually is to see the well-hidden birds. This male quail was probably a bit more visible because it felt secure with a small cedar above its head. It was impressive that LuLu held the point for several minutes, and didn’t budge as I literally crawled in to take a series of photos.

- There’s no question that walking in the rolling, foot-grabbing sandhills for lesser prairie chickens or quail is far more physically challenging than any other kind of habitat in Kansas. My hips hurt more than having spent as much time wading through thick CRP grass.

Happiness is finally fetching a coot

Birders have life-lists they value. It’s their collection of every feathered species they’ve seen, no matter how fleeting or how few times, in their birding lives.

I figure a dog should have the same rights. So ever since Hank began hunting at a tad under five-months-old, I’ve kept a mental list of the species he’s fetched. The number was more than 15 species by the time he was a year-old, thanks to some serious waterfowl hunting.

After 10 years of waiting, Hank finally got to fetch a coot last Sunday. Scaled quail and woodcock are about the only Kansas gamebirds he needs for his life-list.

Just this past season he added two more. We got a ruddy duck in November. Sunday he made a biggie – a coot.

The birds have always fascinated the dog. I think it has to do with their slow, water-spraying, wing-flapping take-off so resembling a wounded duck that needs to be retrieved.

(Yes, there’s a season on coots. Yes, they are very edible and the limit is a generous 15 per day.)

I’d always intended  to do some coot hunting with Hank but we always seemed to get distracted by things like mallards, or teal or geese.

Sunday friend Andy Fanter flushed one from some flooded weeds and made the shot. Recognizing the bird for what it was, Hank’s ears perked and his attention was fixed on the floating bird. When I said his name he was off in a hurry. (Well, a hurry for Hank…he’s one of the most mellow Labs ever,… until it’s time to get to work.)

So with coot officially added to his life-list there’s no much more in Kansas that we can add. All I can think of are scaled quail and woodcock, and I doubt they’ll ever come.

No biggie, I’m sure in Hank’s mind he got the most important one last weekend.

Clyde, a one-of-a-kind bird dog

Traveling around the world for sporting assignments for about 30 years has let me meet a lot of characters. Many of my favorites have been dogs.

Clyde the bird dog, left, with his friend, Brad Stout.

Clyde is indeed a character.

Clyde’s a German wire-haired pointer that hunts with Brad  Stout. I’m not sure anybody owns a dog like Clyde. It’s more like a partnership.

Brad said Clyde was just a young dog when some local farmer called and said he had a bird dog he needed to place. “He told me where he was at and that if I didn’t want him he was probably just going to shoot the dog because he didn’t want him,” Stout said. “I really didn’t need another dog, or want another dog, but once I saw him I just loaded him in the front seat of my truck. I don’ t think he’d done that before because he was all over me on the way home.”

Clyde is not a little dog. He’s the biggest wirehair I’ve ever seen, by far, and dwarfs my 85-pound Lab.

But it didn’t take Stout long to realize he’d rescued a danged-fine pheasant dog from death. For many years they teamed-up to guide hunters at Ringneck Ranch, a pheasant hunting operation in north-central Kansas.

Back “in the day” Clyde was quite the dog in-charge, making more than his share of points and retrieves.

Clyde looks on as a guest takes a shot at a rooster pheasant he pointed last weekend.

By the time I met Clyde last weekend he was far more laid-back. “He’ll hunt for a while, find a bird or two and then he’ll just follow in behind me and let the other dogs hunt,” Stout said. “He used to be the first dog to a bird when it was shot but now he just kind of watches. It’s like he knows he’s in semi-retirement and he’ll let the young guys do all of that work.”

Sure enough, Clyde spent much of our two days together following Stout. Then, without our noticing him leaving, we’d look up and he’d be pointing some bird the other dogs had missed. His points aren’t stylish…no lifted paw, no low crouch, no curved body. He just stands there, with his nose giving you a very “he’s right there” indication.

There was always a bird there when we walked in on Clyde’s points and he always was again behind Stout within a few seconds.

My favorite part? When Stout and a client gathered at the back of his flat-bed pick-up for a photo with the client’s camera. Clyde was instantly between the two men.

“He’s kind of a ham,” Stout said as he petted his old friend. “He’s had his picture taken so much at the end of a hunt he knows what he’s supposed to do and where he’s supposed to sit. I think he kind of likes the attention.”

 

Dog beach fun

It’ll surprise some people that I really look forward to trips to Chicago. There’s a lot to like. It’s always a blessing to see our daughter, Lindsey, and the trips give Kathy and me several uninterrupted days together…and in fine Pearce tradition we put the serious feed-bag on every chance we get.

Dogs and dog owners gather daily at the dog beach near downtown Chicago, even in the rain.

Outside of those things, though, my favorite part of the trip are my daily trips to the dog beach a mile or so from Lindsey’s apartment near Lake Michigan. It’s basically several hundred yards of fenced off beach on the lake where people can let their dogs run off-leash. And man, do they ever run and run and run and run…

Friday evening Kathy and I hit the place about the time people home from work were taking their dogs out for exercise. I went back about noon today on my own, sat on a bench amid the beach and laughed and laughed watching the show as sprinkles turned to a rain shower.

Today’s crew included everything from a young mastiff to an old Yorkie. Most dogs were mixed-breeds from local shelters which is extra-cool. A lot were fetching leveraged tennis balls and retrieving dummies from the rolling surf.

No fights, no growling, mostly dogs happily running everywhere chasing and playing with others. I’ve been around a lot of dogs in my life and I think the dog beach is the epitome of canine bliss. Once free from the cars in which they arrive all sprint to the gate and prance until they’re let in…and most hit the beach as fast as their legs can take them.

Of course compared to being cooped-up in small apartments or taken on short-leash walks on sidewalks roaming with the pack du jour at the beach has got to be like heaven to the dogs. The joy in their faces is obvious as they run by.

Sometimes the joy gets a little much, though.

After getting soaked to the skin by waves and rain a woolly border collie-cross pitched itself down in the sand and did a full-body roll for a solid minute, twisting and digging until it was as well-coated as a floured piece of chicken headed to the fryer.

“All trips to the dog beach mean a good bath as soon as we get home,” said the woman who brought the dog. “He can’t help it, he’s just so excited to be here. He’ll sleep most of the day now.”

Dogs find a way to comfort kids in court

This won’t come to a surprise to any of you that know the healing power dogs can provide those who are stressed.

I remember when my mother died when I was 14 my Brittany spaniel, Rose, would just come and lay beside me, snuggling just close enough so I knew she was there. Her eyes showed her concern. That helped heal me more than any of the thousands of words I heard from friends and family.

Locally therapy dogs are used to comfort residents in nursing homes and patients in hospitals. Programs pairing stray dogs with troubled teens have been very successful for both.

CLICK HERE TO READ HOW SPECIAL DOGS ARE HELPING YOUNG RAPE VICTIMS TESTIFY IN COURT.

Thanks to Cheryl Miller for passing this along.

Summer swims = fall and winter fitness

It’s about as far from the frigid days of December as we can get. It’s more than 80-degrees at 6 a.m. Hank’s panting just walking around. But what we do some mornings helps him greatly on morning’s when we’re both shivering.

Summertime swims let dogs exercise while staying cool. It's also easy on the joints, tendons and muscles of older dogs, too.

Two or three mornings a week Hank and I are at the water by the time the sun’s fully up. With decades of practice I’m splashing  plastic retrieving dummies 60 yards or more into the water and making shorter tosses into knee-high weeds along the shore with bulls-eye accuracy.

So it’s gone for every summer of Hank’s life. Water-work is a way for him to exercise without getting too hot. Swimming also puts no extra strain on his joints. That’s really important now that he’s 10-years-old.

Like taking a kid from a bathtub, Hank’s leaving the water re-energizes him and he romps around like a dog half his age as he makes dry fetches. I give him a few minutes between retrieves to just be a dog, which in his case means peeing on things at a mind-bobbling rate.

(I swear, the dog’s claimed more ground than Lewis and Clark and the Spanish Conquistadors combined.)

Though far from the tougher work sessions we’ll have when it’s cooler I’m able to use whistle commands enough to keep him in-tune and listening. Summer hand-signals are simple but it makes sure they’re far from forgotten.

Sometimes we have an audience. Kids often stop and watch. Sometimes I’ll let them toss the dummy a time or two. Most laugh the first time Hank showers them with a good shake.

Ducks and geese often swim over to see what’s going on. Hank  weaves in and out of their midst to get to the dummies. He has no interest in the birds until shotguns are part of the game.

Unlike most Labs he keeps his weight in-check through the year because of the morning swims. As he was when he was a two-years-old he hits the scale at about 84 pounds, is deep-chested and slimmer in the hips and middle than the shoulders.

Physically the exercise puts him at ease for the rest of the day. Having had a chance to do his job for the pack leader (me) mentally mellows him for a while, too.

He spends most of the rest of the day snoozing. Sometimes when I see his paws twitching I wonder if he’s dreaming of ducks or pheasants this fall.

At least he’ll be in as good of shape as possible for a guy his age.

A dog’s eye view of a duck hunt

Wichita Eagle photographer Mike Hutmacher forwarded this cool link to a duck hunt. The interesting part is that it appears the retriever has a camera attached to a collar.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LINK.

I have a similar idea for next fall. Stay tuned.

Man’s bust friend

Another great reason why you shouldn’t  be hiding your marijuana in your dog’s favorite toy. Bad, bad, potbull. Er, I mean pitbull.

CLICK HERE TO READ A HUMOROUS STORY ABOUT A DOG GETTING IT’S OWNER BUSTED.

Game wardens have told me several stories about poachers stashing illegally-taken ducks and their dogs sneaking back to retrieve the hidden birds as the warden is checking hunting licenses.