It is said that you should never insult a man's gun or his dog. I think further emphasis ought to be on the dog. Insult a gun in the presence of its owner and he will be mildly offended. Insult his dog and you better be prepared for a roll in the dirt.
Such loyalty, I believe, is merely a reciprocation of allegiance. Dogs will do anything to please us (though it helps if there's a bird in it for them), and as they quest for game we derive the same great enjoyment that's been experienced since man first partnered with wolf. It makes no difference whether your affinity is for pointers, setters, spaniels or hounds, the thrill of a dog on game is universal. Rivalries persist between fans of flushers and pointers, but rare is it when gundog owners can find no common ground. Hunting dogs are part of our essence—our mental health depends upon them. We probably wouldn't even hunt without them.
As I write this, a springer spaniel is curled at my feet who provides me more joy than he'll ever truly understand. It is a pleasure to watch him hunt, but in this era, especially, our dogs are also our companions—part of the family.
I love having a dog in the house. There's nothing so satisfying as waking up eye-to-eye with a tail-wagging bundle of bliss who believes your return to consciousness is cause for great celebration. Not to mention the delightfully sincere greeting a dog provides every day upon your return from work.
I have owned many dogs over the years, some good, some not so good; however, I have found strong points in all of them. And even when they have disappointed me (a phenomenon precipitously linked to the number of witnesses involved), by the time the ride home was over we were buddies again. When has a quarrel between humans ever found such swift resolution?
If dogs have a flaw to be found, it is in their tragically short lives. I remember the first one I lost, a Gordon setter named Luke who was partaking in his evening meal and simply fell over, abruptly dead of natural causes. It was the first time I ever saw my old man cry. Dad wrapped Luke in a blanket, and we buried him with two 12-gauge hulls and a handful of pheasant tails.
Whether owning dogs is worth the pain of losing them is not worthy of discussion. Of course it is. Just consider the companionship we get from our animals; the realization they are improving afield and our training methods played a small role; and the pride that overwhelms as they trail a running pheasant, bust through ice to retrieve a wounded mallard, hold point while pinning a grouse or howl hauntingly at a treed coon—these are pleasures to be cherished!
It is June now, the month "when champions are made," according to a friend who trains bird dogs for a living. He was referring to field trial dogs, but now is also the perfect time to prepare a pup for its first season. Summer's oppressive heat has yet to arrive, the cover is just the right height and, if you start now, that young dog who has inspired your irrational optimism will be ready to roll on opening day. It's a great time to own a dog. Isn't it always?
Find the Hotspots
by Mike Hanback
The start of the rut can vary by days or a week depending on region. Determine whether the "chase stage" is on by checking muddy fields or creek bottoms for big (buck) and small (doe) tracks that indicate running, then set up in an area like one described below.
Don't hunt over rubs.
Hunt funnels along buck travel routes between feeding and bedding areas laced with lots of rubs that indicate lots of deer traffic to up your odds of seeing bucks.
Transition zones are good bets.
Bucks prowl "break lines" between pines and hardwoods, rubbing and scraping as they move. Same goes for transitions between crops and woods: If you determine bucks are prowling the edge between those two zones, set a stand and sit tight.
The weather is your friend.
My research suggests bucks rut hardest when the temperature hovers between 25-30 degrees. Be sure to check scrapes one to two days after it rains or snows. If they've been pawed, hunt them.
Find fence lines.
Those that link crops with a point of woods 100-200 yards away can't be ignored. No good trees for a stand? Set up a blind on a downwind edge where the fence dumps into the woods. "Small" is the operative word—don't build a Taj Mahal.
Establish a "pressure plan."
Since everybody and his brother hunts the rut, a thick-cover draw a half-mile or more off a crop field might produce results, even in the absence of rut sign. Once guns boom, bucks will find the sanctuary and pile into it.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »