Sorry for the long absence....lots going on in Brown Dog Land, all of which I hope to catch you up on soon, but sometimes something happens that just presents an opportunity to share some valuable info...even if I hope you never need it.
I have always heard there are two types of dogs, those that learn from their first experience with a skunk, and those that never learn. It would appear I have the latter, or I just have a very unlucky dog who just "encounters" them accidentally.
Last night right before bedtime, Roux had just such an "encounter", so my wife and I had that to deal with in the romantic glow of the outdoor floodlights at nearly midnight. It least it wasn't 20F like the last time this happened. Thankfully, I long ago assembled a "skunk kit" that made dealing with it at least quickly accomplished, albeit still unpleasant. The key to getting rid of the stench is dealing with a spraying event as quickly as possible with an appropriate concoction....forget the tomato juice, it doesn't work, and just leaves you with a skunky dog that looks like a Bloody Mary. There are commercially available de-skunking solutions, and they work reasonably well. However, I assembled my kit for less than $15 and it goes with me wherever the dogs go.....
Skunk Kit Components:
1 small bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid
1 small box of baking soda
1 large bottle of hydrogen peroxide
1 pair dishwashing gloves (you don't want the skunk smell on you, also the peroxide can irritate some people's skin...sure does mine)
Plastic container with sealable lid (wash basin and storage container all in one that takes up little room)
Enough supplies to deal with 2 skunking events (God forbid)
Fits in container with room to spare!
Compact and Portable!
Identify if possible the areas directly hit by the skunk spray.
As quickly as possible, lightly spray your pooch with water to get the fur wet.
In the plastic bin, empty one box of baking soda and add several healthy squirts of Dawn.
Put on your gloves and empty the peroxide into the soda/detergent mixture and mix thoroughly with the disposable wipe.
Begin washing/scrubbing your dog with the wipe soaked with the solution. Work as quickly as possible while the peroxide solution is fresh. Avoid getting solution in eyes and wash out thoroughly if occurs.
Once you are satisfied with your work, allow mixture to sit for 5 min or so. Rinse and repeat. If you are efficient you will have enough liquid to do 2-3 washes. Rinse completely and allow dog to dry, preferably confining to his kennel to prevent spreading the odor and to think about what he has done.
You may find you need to repeat the next day to further decrease the odor, but it is generally MUCH improved from Day 1. Be warned, despite doing everything right, you will always seem to get a little "renewal" of the odor every time your dog gets wet for a while, but it just reminds you it's best to be prepared!
Good luck and I hope you never need this information! September will be here before we know it...
Brown is Beautiful (even if it smells a little skunky)
Roux and I got the opportunity to accompany a close friend's oldest son and his friend this morning on a permit hunt on "Public Land Ohio". We had the longest walk in our section of the marsh, but it was well worth the effort!
We saw lots of birds of all flavors before shooting hours, and the action was reasonably steady throughout the morning. Lots of shooting on the private marshes, and I have to believe we did as well as anyone on the public marsh. We managed 6 teal, including 1 GWT. Mid-morning a small flock of geese locked in on my big spread of 2 goose dekes and the boys both doubled as I "watched". Im not really that generous, I just couldn't shoot back over their heads...but no matter, 4 geese was enough weight for the trek back to the truck!
Roux was a workhorse, as always, making it just look easy. Im blessed to have such a great hunting partner.
Roux cleaning up the Big Birds like a Pro! (click to watch video)
Thanks for an excellent morning, Gentelmen!
No limits by any means, but for public land in a state with precious few ducks, it was a banner day. Many thanks to these fine young men for inviting an Old Man and a Brown Dog for a most memorable morning in the marsh! Get out there and enjoy it, OUR time is finally here!!! Getducks!
I hunted Magee Marsh today with one of my best friends. This is a lottery hunt sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Magee is a beautiful marsh that adjoins Lake Erie and the ODOW does a great job managing the facility. You draw for your blind from a wooden box of ping pong balls and hang your tag on the map. We drew a open hole just off the lake, that hadn't been hunted all week. We were excited as the weather has been stale, and any birds have "been there, done that" for 3 weeks now. We enjoyed the "train ride" of boats to our hole in the marsh... Hunting at Magee can be stellar or glacial, like any duck hunt, especially in Ohio. However, Providence shone down on us today, as not only did we have birds, we had the best kind...birds that WANTED TO WORK. We ended up shooting 5 beautiful gadwalls and should have had several more if our shooting had been better and our attention more on the hunt than on enjoying excellent conversation. Roux was a stud, as always, making it look easy.
Another great day in God's creation, spent with a great friend. I laughed until I hurt, and we enjoyed fine cigars and good coffee. The number of birds paled in comparison to the time spent in the blind, however.... We arrived back at the check station to discover that only 12 birds were shot on the whole marsh. We got plenty of looks as we carried our strap to our truck. Until next time.... Brown is Beautiful.
Talk about a fairy tale story...when Bill, Seger, Roux and I settled into our spot on a North Dakota pothole on the morning of October 10, Roux was 2 birds short of 1000 career waterfowl retrieves. I shot a gadwall early that Roux made short work of, and Bill and Seger collected a fine mallard. As if God himself sent them, a pair of drake pintails worked perfectly into the decoys shortly thereafter and we dropped both. The wind carried my bird out 70 or so yards while Seger brought in Bill's drake, as Bill wanted to film Roux. He made a perfect retrieve, like so many others over the last 5 seasons, and I admit I got a little choked up. I have had several people ask me why I bother keeping track of numbers. Truthfully, I guess Im not sure. While numbers may not translate to natural ability or to learned skill, I do feel it is a yardstick of experience and opportunity. Certainly, I don't feel he is better than any other dog based on those numbers alone, and I am sure there are plenty more skilled out there, but he is mine. I also realize 1000 may not compare to the numbers racked up by dogs in duck-rich states that hunt every day, but for a weekend warrior from Ohio...well, I couldn't be prouder. From the puppy nobody would take to the dog nobody could buy...its been a great ride, and we are just getting started, Roux-ster.
When you have a Brown Dog, the UPS slogan is a handy one to have some fun with. However, sometimes it's even more appropriate.
Traditional goose hunting is in snow-covered cornfields, but to be consistently successful, you have to go where the geese are, even if that is a pond in a side yard. We hunted just such a place last week. About an hour into legal shooting time, the geese started coming to the pond they had been loafing on over the last week. One flock came in and we dropped 7, including a lively cripple that landed well outside of gun range on the far side of the pond, swimming to the edge, and apparently expiring on the far shore. Once we had collected the other birds, Roux and I went after the bird on the far shore. As he got within 20 or so yards, the bird made an amazing recovery and took off, as we emptied out, with no effect at such long range. One of my partners told me he saw the bird fly up the road and disappear. Roux and I went for a hike, but to no avail.
An hour later, I was standing in the blind and heard a vehicle come down the road from the opposite direction. A UPS delivery truck passed us, with the driver giving a friendly wave as he went by. A few minutes later, I hear him coming back, and he turns into the driveway of our location. Now, I was certain it was just a Christmas package delivery for the landowner, but he stopped even with us. Imagine our surprise when he produced a dead goose from the truck and delivered it to us in the blind! Seems our escapee had made it a little farther than we thought, crash-landing in the roadside ditch about a half mile up the road!
What can Brown Do for You? (ID hidden to protect the Helpful)
While it didn't make it into Roux's numbers for the season, Brown still gets the credit for the retrieve! Merry Christmas to all and remember...Brown is Beautiful!
I was lucky enough to fulfill a long time waterfowling dream a couple of weeks ago with a 5 day hunt in Argentina with my college roommate. We had booked with Ramsey for his hosted hunt at Las Flores last fall, and had thought of little else since.
We arrived a few days early and spent time seeing the sites in Buenos Aires, which we enjoyed tremendously. We met up with Ramsey and the rest of our party on Monday morning, and made the trip to Las Flores, all eagerly anticipating starting our hunt. We arrived at the estancia to find a very comfortable and rustic brick lodge waiting on us, along with a table full of great food (a fine foreshadowing of things to come). Our accommodations were extremely comfortable, reminding me of any number of nice hunting camps I had been to stateside. Flocks of ducks, doves and pigeons flew by the picture windows in the dining room, reminding us of why we were there.
After a great lunch and time to unpack, it was finally time to hunt! Ducks were everywhere, and it was amazing to see so many different species that I had previously only ever seen in books or photos. In less than 2 hours, we had accumulated our limit and could barely believe the quality of the hunting. Little did we know, this was just a warm-up for the morning hunts!
For the next 4 days we had the most unbelievable hunting anyone could ever imagine. Hunting styles varied based on location and conditions, ranging from standing in head high tule grass shooting decoying and passing birds to standing blinds in the middle of large waterholes to even layout blinds on the sides of small potholes. All were equally effective, as every hunter limited every day...a true testament to the quality of the hunt and number of ducks. Yellow billed and white cheeked pintails, silver, ringed and speckled teal, chiloe wigeon, rosy billed pochards, whitefaced and fulvous whistling ducks, black headed ducks and of course red Ramzillas....a true duck hunters paradise.
The food was plentiful and worth the trip in and of itself. Ducks cooked every way you can imagine, Argentine beef and wine, ostrich, blackbuck backstraps....oh my. The only thing that could top the entrees were the desserts....Certainly, I know I tipped the scales a lot heavier when I returned!
My only regret was knowing that the Brown Dog was sitting at home, awaiting my return. To be sure, he had his head stuck to my suitcases for 2 solid days after I got back. Thankfully, he won't have to wait long before our season opens here.
With summer upon us, it is time to figure out what to do with all those ducks in the freezer. There are many wonderful options, but this is one of my favorites. While it is best with dabblers like mallards, gadwalls, woodies and teal (what isn't?), it is also a great way to utilize some of the stronger tasting divers. The cooking process seems to mellow some of the "gaminess" and makes for a very tasty dish!
2 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil
2 cups of boneless duck breasts, cut into small cubes
Cajun seasoning of your choice
2 tablespoons of butter
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell pepper, diced
Tabasco sauce to taste
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes
1-8 oz can tomato sauce
1-4 oz can tomato paste
4 cups warm cooked rice
The holy trinity of Cajun cooking...onion, bell pepper and celery
Tony's makes everything better!
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season duck with cajun seasoning and sear until well browned. Remove from skillet. Add butter, onion, celery, and bell pepper to skillet and sauté until onions are translucent.
Return duck to skillet and add garlic, chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme and basil, as well as Tabasco to taste. Bring to boil and simmer for at least 1 hour. covered. Add tomato, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Simmer until duck is tender and sauce has thickened to approximately the consistency of marinara sauce.
Serve over warm rice....
Enjoy a bowl of Creole with family and preferably a good Lab, never forgetting that...
Roux will have to forgive me. I went hunting without him...
I had the distinct pleasure of hunting with two of my favorite people this Ohio turkey season. One was my good friend Roger, who has become something of a "project" for myself and my other partner and turkey hunting mentor, Tommy. For the last 4 years Tommy and I (as well as some other very accomplished turkey hunters) have struggled to put a bird in front of Roger. There have been many very close calls, and just about every kind of flukish thing you can imagine go wrong (thankfully no misses, however).
The night before I roosted a turkey that I thought would be in a very huntable spot for the morning. The three of us were there and set up tight to the bird, which miraculously transformed into three birds with the coming sunrise. The birds flew down early, and soon I could see the trio of big jakes coming up the ridge into the decoys, directly in front of Roger. One bird slowed to go into strut, and when he raised his head slightly, Roger laid him out...official time 6:23 AM! Roger's curse is finally broken, with a very nice jake, sporting a nearly 6 in beard. Roger has not had a lot of good news in the last year, so that made this morning even more special.
This will be a favorite photo of mine for the rest of my life...
After photos and a little drive around, we decided to head to breakfast, and then try another spot to fill my last OH tag (I had shot my first bird the day prior, another good story for another day). We were back in the woods by 10:15, and struck a gobbler at 10:20. We quickly set up, and amazingly a group of longbeards marched out of the valley and towards the decoys. Tommy drove them crazy...5 longbeards gobbling simultaneously in your face is very loud and somewhat unnerving! They began to get nervous, and I picked the closest bird to me, rolling him with my 20 gauge and Heavyweight 7s. 10:43 AM. Two flash hunts in one morning.
More photos, and a stop for celebratory beers followed. Still home before 1 PM!
Tommy and I. I can't say enough good about my friend, on so many levels. This is very special to me, to say the least.
Roger and I with our birds. I can't imagine a better morning.
Thanks and congratulations to all. Now I can't wait to get back out, trying to "pay forward" the gift I was given for other friends!
Don't worry Roux, I still think Brown is Beautiful.
As I sit here, deeply saddened by the fact that waterfowl season is over for Roux and I for a while, I have to pause and think about what a GREAT season it has been.
It's easy to get hung up on bird numbers, and those were great for us this year. I know my hunting parties took more birds than we have in several years, and my personal numbers were an all time high. More importantly, Roux had his best season ever, topping 300 retrieves for the year, nearly doubling his career numbers in one season. Not too shabby for a Brown Dog and a weekend warrior.
Those numbers are fine, but they are not the ones that really matter. Roux and I got the opportunity to hunt 5 states this year, but even that pales in comparison to my favorite figure. In reviewing our journal from this past season, I learned that Roux and I got to hunt with 52 different friends, old and new, this season! Sure, most of our hunts were with a core group of close friends, as it should be. However, we also got the opportunity to hunt with a large number of kids getting started in this great sport of ours, and that makes me very proud. We also got to hunt with some friends we don't get to see nearly often enough, and many of those have enough experience to fill volumes of duck hunting journals. We even got the chance to hunt with two international hunters from Malta (see "The Southern Swing" entry). I was honored to be able to spend time with them and hear their amazing stories from around the globe.
When it comes down to it, THESE are the numbers that really matter. Expanding our experiences, making new friends, rekindling old ones, strengthening the bonds between close friends, and especially spending time with a great dog...THAT is what it is all about.
Brown Dog and I bringing in the last birds of the season.
For the last 8 or 9 years I have packed my bags at the end of Ohio's waterfowl season and headed south, following the ducks to one or more southern states for one last hunt. I have had great hunts and made great friends in Tennessee, Missouri, and Mississippi. This has affectionately become known at my household as "the Southern Swing", and I look forward to it every year.
This year, Roux and I continued a tradition started last season by heading back to my home state of Mississippi and joining Ramsey Russell at Willow Break Hunt Club north of Vicksburg. I was interested to learn on our arrival that we would be joined later in the week by two of Ramsey's friends and clients from the Mediterranean island nation of Malta! Seems Ramsey met Stephen and Patrick, international hunters and bird collectors, on a Russian duck and capercallie hunt, becoming fast friends. These gentlemen had booked a successful Alaskan King Eider hunt through Ramsey, and were returning to Malta with their trophies via the Great State of Mississippi. (I was reminded of Charlie Daniels' "Uneasy Rider"..."I wonder if anybody would think I'd flipped if I went to LA, via Omaha"...but who am I to judge?) Even more interesting to me was that they were heart-set on shooting Mississippi Wood Ducks to add to their collection. Now, I think we take these gorgeous birds for granted, and they are no more common on Malta than King Eiders...so I suppose it all makes sense.
When they arrived in camp Tuesday night (several days late due to notoriously uncooperative Alaskan weather and flight delays), greetings and toasts were made to a successful upcoming hunt. It was amazing to me how quickly bonds were made and common ground was found among hunters who called their homes thousands of miles apart, despite obvious language barriers. (I must admit, however, that their English was MUCH better than my Maltese!) I knew they were comfortable with us when Stephen gave me crap for snoring too loud.... I didn't hear anything.
Over the next several days Ramsey and I got to hunt with Patrick and Stephen, and were impressed with their comfort (and success) shooting borrowed shotguns. Certainly, a targeted bird was in dire straits anywhere close to these guys! They collected and marveled at the beauty of our gadwalls and ringnecks, taking several to add to their trophy rooms. Interestingly, Patrick had never taken a Canada goose, and one obliged him by dropping in a cypress break at his shot. They took photos and videoed all aspects of the hunt. It amuses me that Roux and I will be featured in these guys' vacation films, shown back in Malta, but we were happy to help.
Trophy Gadwalls and Ringnecks headed to Malta!
Mississippi Mallards and Gadwalls!
Finally, after several days of trying different locations, we got them into the wood ducks, with each of them collecting several of these highly prized birds for their collections. They could not have been happier. I was thrilled Roux-ster and Ramsey's Lab, Cooper, were able to help them retrieve their trophies.
Patrick and Stephen with their trophy Wood Ducks!
As the hunt progressed, I was amused to see how quickly they adapted to hunting "the American way" and I knew they were going to fit in when I heard "up yours" and "that's what she said" in heavy Mediterranean accents! I nearly doubled over laughing! It was my pleasure to meet these true sportsmen and I'm honored to call them friends and brothers in this great sport of waterfowling. As always, Ramsey was a gracious host, and Brown Dog and I appreciate his hospitality. We are already thinking about next year's "Southern Swing"!
Duck hunting is a great pastime on so many levels, but I think one of my favorites is getting to watch "firsts". A kid's first duck, a puppy's first retrieve, a first double (or even better, triple)...they are all special.
A couple of weeks ago, I got to experience "firsts" over and over. My old college roommate, Laurence, and I try to hunt together every couple of years, and we were overdue. When we were discussing where to go we decided to go somewhere he had never been. My buddy is a longtime duck hunter, with puddle ducks galore to his credit. Big water duck hunting, REALLY BIG water duck hunting, however, was a different matter. We decided to hit the Atlantic Ocean for sea ducks, and contacted my buddy Jeremiah Brooks of Ocean State Outfitters.
Roux and I set out driving from Ohio, and met up with Laurence at the Providence, Rhode Island airport. Soon enough we were settled in at the hotel, prepping for the next day in the salt.
The next morning, the "firsts" began. Jeremiah set us up in his boat blind, next to some large rocks at the mouth of a bay. I got to watch my buddy drop his first sea ducks, including a beautiful drake common eider and a stunning old squaw drake as well as a common goldeneye. I even checked a first off my list with a great old squaw drake, a bird that has eluded me on three other sea duck trips. Roux was a workhorse, fighting tidal currents and submerged rocks to retrieve our prizes. I couldn't have been prouder.
Happy Duck Hunters!
My (and Roux's) first Drake Old Squaw!
The second day was a continuation of new experiences. Laurence got an opportunity to shoot divers
out of a 2 man layout boat, dropping his first bluebills and buffleheads ever. I was lucky enough to get my first greater scaup, a species we don't get often at home. Jeremiah and his wife showed us some real New England hospitality that evening, home-cooking a true surf and turf of steak and steamed lobsters...we ate until we could barely stand!
Day three was an unique experience for sure, just as Jeremiah had promised. We climbed out of the boat and climbed up huge rocks in the bay, sitting a good story and a half above the water, watching longlines of eider decoys bob up and down, well below us. Shooting was festive early, allowing us the unique opportunity to shoot DOWN on incoming eiders. Laurence got to shoot his first scoter, as well as collecting a banded hen eider. To say he was excited doesn't do it justice! Brown Dog had a blast, retrieving sea ducks and even his favorites, Canada geese, which got "just a little too close" to our hide among the rocks.
Roux surveying his domain
We wrapped our trip up by eating one last huge seafood meal, and reluctantly packing for the travel home. Many memories and many firsts on a very special trip with a great friend and a truly professional guide. It was a thrill to know every species my buddy took on this trip was one he had never shot before! We have already decided to continue the "firsts" theme this summer...with a trip to Las Flores Argentina with Ramsey Russell's getducks.com! All new territory there for sure!!
Next time you plan a trip, consider something you haven't done before and remember...
For my 20th anniversary to my wonderful wife, I wanted to do something special. We wanted to do something a little different for us, and something we would both enjoy. Long story short, Ramsey Russell with getducks.com hooked us up with a great trip to the Mexican Pacific coast, which just happened to also offer great duck hunting! We invited two other couples to share in this little piece of heaven. The resort was beautiful, and we were greeted to our view of the Pacific from our balcony... We spent the late afternoon and evening enjoying the sites and a walk down the beach Did see some birds but we were looking for something bigger For the next 4 mornings, we were treated to some of the best duck hunting I could imagine, within 1.75 hours of the resort. Limits for all of us every day, and generally within 1.5 hours. We were often back to the resort before our ladies had finished breakfast! A few select pics.... Regarding birds, we were able to shoot quite a mixed bag. We shot lots of shovelers, teal (all species), wigeon, pintails, bluebills and even some black-bellied tree ducks. The rest of the day was spent either sightseeing, shopping with the ladies, or just doing NOTHING at the pool. I NEVER get to do NOTHING, so this was a special treat! Evenings were for enjoying the UNBELIEVABLE sunsets and eating amazing seafood..... Not sure which sight is more beautiful, but then again, I'm biased... We returned home reluctantly, for sure. It was an unbelievable trip on so many levels. Certainly it wont be the last time... A quick word on security/safety in Mexico. The American media and the Dept of State would have you believe you cant safely poke your nose off the plane anywhere in Mexico. At least where we were in Mazatlan no one even looked at us sideways. We encountered plenty of other Americans and Canadians who wouldnt go anywhere else... The shops, resorts, restaurants were very friendly and safe. If you are looking for the perfect couples trip (and to get in a little duck hunting too), look no farther!!
This makes my third season hunting with my own dog. I know many of you have far more seasons than that with your dog(s) under your belts, and could probably do a better job of writing this than me, but here goes nothing...
Having a dog has given me a way to enjoy this sport year-round. With a dog the season never really ends. You can justify all kinds of excuses to get out of the house because of a dog. Training days with friends in the spring and summer, trips to a local lake to swim, hunt tests, and many other activities start to crop up on your personal calendar that you might not have otherwise considered. Don't forget the opportunity to rationalize all kinds of new gear, in the name of your four-legged companion either! Dog blinds, stands, ladders, collars, vests, training gear.....ahh, the life of a gear-junkie!
Having a good dog helps secure invitations. Word of a good dog spreads quickly (be careful, the inverse is also true!), and often you may get calls to hunt and it may not be that important to the inviter that you go or not. "What time can Roux be ready?" is frequently asked of me...I try not to get offended.
Dogs provide endless photo opportunities. Some dramatic, some comical, but there is always a dog picture to be taken. Im certain I have missed some shooting chances at birds because I was shooting photos of the dog instead. He just takes it in stride...much like my kids do when my wife breaks out her camera.
Roux even graciously allows me to have my photo taken with him every now and then
Dogs recover game that would likely be lost otherwise. This is REALLY why they are there, isn't it? While we all strive for birds feet-up and dead in the decoys, we all know sometimes this just doesn't happen. This is where a well-trained dog earns his keep. I have seen my dog, and many others, pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat time and again, finding birds humans would have never come close to. This also becomes a great source of pride for the owner as well. The last weekend of our first split provided two such instances for me:
First, my partners and I lightly knocked down a drake mallard that sailed l-o-n-g into thick weeds in a flooded crop field. We had a decent mark on the bird, but knew our chances of chasing a lively duck down in that stuff were slim. I looked at Roux and he had a line on the bird, but I knew his line of sight was hampered by the brush in the field. I sent him out, and he stopped, looking back for direction, after about 175 yards. I kept casting him back, until he was just a small brown speck to my old eyes. One more cast and I saw him whip his head around, staring into a patch of smartweed about 30 yards wide. He dove in, and the weeds shook for a minute, and he emerged with a fat and very much alive drake in his mouth. We all stood and applauded!
Nice job, Roux-ster!!
The following day, two friends and I hunted a lake from a boat blind tucked way back in the reeds. Roux's view in front of the blind was severely hampered by the vegetation, but we made the best of it. Midmorning, one of my friends knocked down a goose, which splashed down about 60 yards from the blind, off the left front corner. The goose's wing was broken, but his legs sure weren't! Another partner was able to smack him on the water pretty hard, but the goose was still cutting a wake for the main body of the lake to our hard left. I lined Roux as best I could and sent him, figuring he would either run the goose down, or we would pick him up in the boat if not. He hit the water, looking for the bird, and once he got to the edge of the decoys, picked him up about 50 yards or so farther out. What ensued was a great race. Roux managed to slowly close the gap on the bird, eventually getting within 6-8 feet well over 100 yards or more from the blind. The goose attempted to dive, but was caught by the wing tip by a very determined brown dog. Roux slowly began spinning the goose back toward the boat, bettering his hold by a few inches every chance he could. He pushed the big bird all the way back to the blind, proud as a peacock, saving us a long chase on a lake with electric motor use only. With the headstart the bird had, we might never have caught up. To say I was proud doesn't come close...
Goose thought he could out swim the Brown Dog. Silly Goose.
A dog has taught me that there is so much more to this than just shooting ducks and geese. There is the pride you have when your dog does something spectacular. There is the humor and embarrassment when your dog does something not so spectacular (a certain NY skunk comes to mind). There is the look on his face when you drop a bird, and he is bursting to be sent and retrieve the prize. There is also that look on his face when you totally muff the shot and he glares at you like, "seriously??". There is the smell of wet dog, that is usually not desirable, but becomes a welcome part of every hunt. I could go on and on and on, as I am sure any dedicated dog guy could.
Bottom line, I hunted many years without a dog of my own, but I am not sure how or why. I also worry about my waterfowling brethren that prefer to hunt without a dog. I am to the point now, that if my dog is not hunting, I have to think twice about if I even want to go. To quote my buddy Ramsey, "waterfowling without a dog is like honeymooning without the bride." I couldn't agree more.
To be sure, Brown (or whatever color you have) is Beautiful!
The longer I live, the less important my birthday becomes to me. Don't get me wrong, I would far prefer to keep having birthdays than the alternative. In my head, I am still 20 years old, with endless energy and enthusiasm, but all to often my body reminds me that this just isn't the case. Birthday gifts and parties only seem to remind me of the painfully obvious fact that I am just getting older. I would just prefer the company of those friends and family that mean so much, no need to draw more attention to the day than necessary. Well, I say that, but some presents are REALLY cool...
Roux and I were invited to accompany a good friend and his son on an early season goose hunt in New York (I have found having a good hunting dog all but guarantees hunt invites). We would be hunting with another good friend, Craig Southard of Southern Tier Outfitters. When I checked the dates, I found the second day fell on my birthday. When it was made clear that I would be home in time for birthday dinner with the family, my permission to go was issued. I couldn't wait, as I always enjoy my trips to the Empire State.
We arrived on Friday night, and quickly got our gear arranged and ready for a early wake-up call. Saturday morning, we made a hour long trip to a cow pasture and pond which sat high on a hill overlooking a deep valley. I can say without hesitation that this was the most beautiful place I have ever goose hunted, and that says something. We busied ourselves setting and grassing our blinds and placing our decoys. The farmer's cows provided some amusement and frustration, but we were able to finally move them out of harm's way.
Not a common problem
Soon the geese were flying, some coming over the hill behind us and dropping into the decoys, but most came from the valley. This may have been one of the neatest things I have ever seen, watching geese flying down the valley, well below our set-up, and turn coming up the hill below us. It is not often you get to look DOWN on geese flying into your spread! Only at the very last minute would we sit up and fire, raining geese into the pasture. Roux did a great job hauling back some of the biggest geese I have seen in quite some time. In short order, we had 24 geese on the ground, a lot to be sure, but well short of New York's new 15 bird/man/day early season limit. Still, it was plenty for us, and the birds appeared to be done flying anyway. We made our way back to the hotel and after a great dinner and some adult refreshments, we were ready to hit the sack.
Roux knows how important it is to be well hidden!
Sunday morning (my birthday) rolled around much quicker than my aging body would have liked, but thankfully we were hunting only minutes from where we were staying. We made the short drive to the field, pleasantly surprised to see the blinds already placed and hidden and the decoys sitting in the heavy fog shrouding a cut oat field. The blinds were practically invisible in some standing alfalfa just off the oats...a perfect set up. The fog was so thick that sunrise was barely detectable. However, it did not deter the geese one bit. They came generally in small flocks, heard long before they were seen. They seemed to materialize out of the fog, only 60-70 yards out when finally visible. They coasted right into the decoys, and were met with withering fire from the blinds. VERY few birds actually made it out of the field unscathed, and our pile of birds quickly grew.
New York Geese are BIG!
A flock of four came in low off the right side of the decoys, and we fired, dropping all four. Roux charged out to start cleaning up, and the first bird back to the blinds sported a leg band! Normally, this would be when some game would be devised to allow claiming the prize, but my good friends all smiled and wished me "Happy Birthday!" I was humbled by the generosity of the gesture.
A Little Birthday Bling!
We ended the day with 21 geese, making a total of 45 for my birthday weekend. I reported the band, and found my bird was banded in 2010 along the St Lawrence River in southern Ontario. What a great trip, a perfect birthday for sure. Without a doubt, great friends and great dogs are what make this sport we call waterfowling what it is!
I used to be a diehard deer hunter. Sitting hours on end high up in a tree, all by myself, waiting for the buck of my dreams to sneak by, was how I spent just about any time I could get away. I still like to deer hunt, but it is now more of a way to pass the time when waterfowl season isn't open, as well as to insure the stockpile of tasty venison doesnt get too low. As I tell my friends, I used to think I really loved to hunt, but what I have learned is that I really like to get up early on cold mornings to drink coffee, smoke cigars, watch dogs work and maybe shoot a duck or a goose every now and then. Some of my favorite moments not spent with family have been with good friends in less than exotic locations doing just that. Early season is generally a very festive time with my hunting friends. Often we enjoy hunts for resident geese, in standing corn, where we can hide sometimes 10 or more guys. How we manage to shoot anything is a mystery, as we are generally too busy laughing and trying to keep our cigars lit than actually looking for birds. The same could be said for dove shoots in big cut silage fields, taunting each other and critiquing shooting performance. It is a social event beyond compare. So I guess that is what made this hunt very different, but still very enjoyable.
After a nice goose hunt with a close friend on Friday, I made plans to hunt with him and another partner on Saturday, the opening day for teal. However, one guy "never got the message" (or so he says), and partner number one remembered at the last minute a family commitment that would preclude him from hunting. With these developments, I had two choices: sleep in or go by myself. While tempting, the choice was easy. I have a hard time NOT hunting when season is open, the days of sleeping in are over until February. Roux and I headed out and set up on a small farm pond in a cow pasture. We made short work of getting set up and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise all to ourselves. Soon after sunrise, a large flock of geese gave us a look, but circled and headed out, safely out of range. I was troubled by this development, and was looking around to see what the problem was, when a small flock of geese came from over my right shoulder. I sat up and shot twice, dumping 2 geese into the pond, swung on a third but my gun wouldn't fire...seems I was enjoying the sunrise so much that I only put 2 shells in. I must be slipping... Roux made 2 fine retrieves to hand.
Bringing one back!
We barely had time to congratulate ourselves and get back in the blinds when a small duck buzzed the decoys and banked back around, showing his big blue shoulder patches. When he passed me again, I fired as he crossed the pond levee. I could see he was hit, and I watched as he crash landed 150 yards out in the pasture. I stood up to line Roux up for a blind retrieve, but a honk over my shoulder made me hit the deck. Another small flock of geese was making a bee line for the pond, and I let them get out in front with feet down before I sat up. An honest triple followed, and my limit of geese was done. Roux looked at me and waited for the call to go. I sent him and he made three beautiful retrieves, ferreting one goose out of thick weeds on the opposite side of the pond. Next we walked to the pond levee and I lined him up on the last place I saw the teal. I sent him and 2 whistles later I saw his head whip around and his tail go crazy. He lunged into some tall weeds, and trotted back with a perfect blue wing teal in his mouth. I looked at my watch, 7:40 AM. Not a bad morning, for sure. We hastily took some pictures and picked up, hoping to leave any other birds wanting in undisturbed.
Roux was very proud of himself. I was proud of him, too.
I dont hunt waterfowl very often by myself, far preferring the raucous company of the best friends a guy could ask for. However, this hunt was very special to me. Just Brown Dog and me, doing what we both love so much. Not sure I would change it, even if I could. My only regret was that my only witness to shooting 6 birds with 6 shots was Roux...and he ain't talking. Oh well.
Most people love summertime. I suppose somewhere in me, I do too, but I generally view it as something to be endured until we can get back to what is really important in the fall and winter. June is nice, the kids are newly out of school, and the weather is warm without usually being oppressively hot. It's good to be back outside and backyard grilling and family time is refreshing. July is okay, Fourth of July cookouts and fireworks are wonderful, but I am already growing weary of cranking the lawn mower and it seems I am on a never-ending battle with an impending crabgrass takeover. Duck season seems forever away, and the biggest hurdle is my nemesis, the month of August. By the time August 1 gets here, I am done with summer. I have once again lost the crabgrass war, and have generally enlisted some enterprising high schooler to mow the yard. It is generally hotter than I care to think about, and my interest in participating in much more than a skeet shoot after dark is at a minimum. The REALLY cruel thing, however, is that TIME STANDS STILL!
I have long felt that August was, at a minimum, 300 days long. My commutes back and forth to work show me the geese are starting to fly again and large numbers of them congregate around loafing ponds, mocking me, no doubt preparing their disappearing act for the early season opener on September 1. Doves perch on every power line, and the teal scouts start arriving in the marsh, all knowing I am helpless to do anything about it. In order to be able to take time off when I really NEED it off during season, I have to hunker down at work,
and that is exhausting in its own right. The pages of the day-to-day calendar don't get torn off quickly, and I feel like September will never arrive. To confirm my suspicions, my technical staff actually made me an August calendar that proves just what I thought, 318 days!!
I KNEW IT!!!
Roux and I battle with how to make the time pass. We walk and run together in the mornings before it gets hot. We train in the evenings when it begins to cool down. On weekends we have done some hunt tests, which are a bunch of fun and they allow us to pretend we are hunting. However, we both know it is just a game. This past weekend, he just looked at me as I stood with a popper-loaded shotgun and a flock of geese flew over the hunt test pond, with an expression that said "let 'em have it, Dad!". I was powerless to make it happen.
The Brown Dog with some August Bling!
I just have to keep re-assuring him (and myself) that September will get here, eventually, and all these geese, doves, and teal will be fair game again, despite the fact it seems we have both had three birthdays since August started. Does anyone else have this problem, or is it just me? I know Ramsey always says, "it's duck season somewhere", and I am going to have to take him up on one of these south-of -the-equator hunts soon. You can rest assured, it won't be in June or July, it will be in August, because I want my 5 day hunt to last at least 3 weeks!!!
We figured out how to make it through this August day in style, at least.
I always laugh when somebody asks me this one, and I am still amazed by the number of them that are actually fellow waterfowlers. I hear it all the time, about how Canadas don't make good table fare, and I have no doubt this, more often than not, has been the result of a "bad experience" with a knife and fork. I just smile and say, "Yes, I manage to choke them down", all the while seeing if they will offer to give me their geese as well...
My hunting pals and I are fortunate enough to shoot quite a few geese each season, and the Brown Dog loves to carry these 747s around. We have also been fortunate enough to stumble across some very good recipes that make these big birds more than "just edible". One of my very favorites is this recipe for making pastrami from goose breasts, and it never ceases to please! I have converted many of the "geese taste nasty" crowd with this one (including quite a few at the OWA Waterfowlers Bootcamp this weekend), and it is SOOOO easy, you just gotta have some time and a smoker...
First, you need geese! To make this effort worthwhile, I usually will do 6-8 breast filets at a time, and I have done as many as a dozen. Start by removing all the "silver skin", muscle fascia, blood vessels, etc that you can with a sharp filet knife. Remove any shot pellets you can find as well as any feathers that may be in the meat. This really seems to get rid of a lot of the "gamey" flavor many complain about with geese.
Removing fascia and silver skin
Make a brine for the breasts to soak in. My brine recipe of choice is:
1 pint water
3 tablespoons of Morton Tender Quick
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice
(This is generally enough for 4-6 breasts, can easily be doubled if more volume is needed)
*Bring all ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar and Tender Quick
Place the brine and the breasts in a sealable container. If you need to, add additional water to make sure all meat is covered. Seal container and place in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. Shake the container daily or every other day to mix the contents. (For really large batches, especially when it is really cold out, I have used 5 gallon buckets and put them in the garage!)
Into the brine!
Ready for the Fridge!
Time to Cook!
Drain the brine from the container. Often the fat that is still with the meat will get somewhat "snotty" after a long sit in the fridge, but it rinses off. Rinse the meat and allow to sit in cold fresh water for 1-2 hours. Dry the breasts off and apply your favorite meat rub to both sides, liberally coating the surface and grinding it into the meat. I like BBQ rubs, like Rendezvous Dry Rub, but ground peppercorns, Cajun seasonings, even coarse ground black pepper all work...just depends on your tastes.
Rub(s) added, ready for the smoker!
Get your smoker up to 220-225 F, and smoke the meat until the internal temperature is 150-160F (a remote meat thermometer is a wonderful thing). I like to use apple cider in the water pan, but experiment to see what you like the best. Smoking time is generally 4-6 hours.
See you in about 4 hours!
When the meat reaches temperature, remove from the smoker, and allow to cool. Slice the meat thin with a meat slicer or filet knife and enjoy! Large batches can be easily divided up and vacuum sealed, for freezing and serving later. I usually throw a small bag in with my hunting gear to share with friends (and Roux) in the blind. It's good stuff! Enjoy!!
As I sit here, the heat index is over 100F, and the Brown Dog and I are vying for position as close to the AC vent as we can get. I admit it, I grew up in the South, but I don't miss Mississippi much in the heat of summer, and I really despise it when Southern-quality heat and humidity follows me to the North Coast. Sometimes, all I can really do is sit and think of times when I would have given anything for "just a pinch" of the heat that comes in July and August.
Cold and waterfowling go together like peanut butter and jelly. I will never forget the words of my dear old Dad, when I asked him about going duck hunting one day. He was not a duck hunter, and I soon figured out it was largely due to his cold intolerance. He gave a stunned look, and said, "Son, don't EVER get into that. Duck hunters are crazy...just take the coldest you have ever been and add water." I still laugh when I think about that, and I have had more than a few opportunities to learn he was largely correct.
My first layout hunt on Lake Erie was a good example. It was late December, and Sandusky Bay was already frozen tight. We set a 2 boat rig out in Lake Erie in chip ice with winds over 20 mph. Ice water splashed over the cowlings of the layout boat and ran down the back of my neck. Larger chunks of ice ran through the decoys, making maintaining our spread a challenge at the very least. Sitting in the tender was brutal as well and my hand shook violently as I tried to drink coffee. But, we were in the ducks, and all that cold was forgotten every time I sat up to shoot bluebills and the occasional mallard. All I could do was laugh out loud, I was totally hooked.
Several years ago, our public land blind had been frozen out for a week or better toward the end of the season. A brief "warm-up" occurred, and a couple of our group discovered several acres of open water in front of our blind, but not the rest of the lake. Even better, the open water was lousy with ducks! These adventurous friends broke ice from the ramp, down the channel, and across the lake to open water. They shot some ducks but were not very well hidden, preventing a real shoot-out. Another friend and I took advantage the next morning, as a cold rain started to fall, with the promise of snow and falling temperatures, motoring a small marsh boat camo'd to the hilt to the open water. We backed against the shoreline and when legal time arrived we started shooting, limiting out on mallards, blacks, and even several bluebills in a little over an hour. The rain never let up and we were soaked to the skin as we had no cover on our little boat. Snowflakes the size of silver dollars began falling on a hard west wind as we made our way back to the ramp. The rest of the lake and the channel re-froze by later that day, not opening back up until well after the season was closed. That little lake was surrounded by houses, and all I could think about was some yuppie couple coming down on Sunday morning to enjoy the fire in the fireplace and a hot cup of coffee, looking across the lake and seeing a couple of frozen waterlogged idiots across the lake, shooting ducks, laughing, and trying to keep their cigars lit. Ahh, good times...
Probably one of the most surprising examples of cold weather duck hunting was this past season in Ontario in early December. Two partners and I huddled in a more or less open boat against the reeds while the wind blew like a gale over our heads. The temperature was in the 20s and I don't even want to know what the wind chill was. Roux sat on the bench seat in front of me, periodically looking at me, like "seriously"??? Snow and sleet squalls rolled through, hitting us in the face like pellets from an air rifle. I noticed a small amount of snow had piled on the gunwales of the boat, meanwhile, a lone mallard swung into the decoys in front of me. I raised and fired, and the drake splashed down. Roux dutifully bailed out into the freezing water, and it immediately balled up into ice on his coat when he climbed back into the boat. I looked to my left and found my shotgun hull had hit the gunwale brass-first, and was now frozen in place, with the rest just hovering in open space....now THAT is cold!
Never saw this before...
As it turns out, my Dad was (as usual) probably right. However, I honestly wouldn't change anything. In fact, I wish I had "just a pinch" of that cold right now....
Welcome to my blog. You could/should rightfully ask, "who is THIS guy?" I'm a veterinarian in Ohio, and a hopeless duck hunting addict. I grew up in Mississippi, went to college and veterinary school at Mississippi State University, and went on to pursue advanced training in small animal cancer medicine at both Colorado State University and The Ohio State University. In this blog I hope to cover a lot of different things....dog training, veterinary issues, widgame cooking, and, of course duck and goose hunting. I look forward to (trying to) entertain and hopefully impart some knowledge. I freely admit I am no "expert" (who really is?), but I am willing to try, willing to learn and willing to teach what I DO know.
With my upbringing, surprisingly, I never really hunted ducks in Mississippi, although I spent every available minute deer hunting, even structuring my classes around deer season. It took a couple of chance occurrences and crossing paths with some (now) very good friends in Ohio to put my duck hunting obsession into play, and I have never looked back. Between layout shooting on Lake Erie's Sandusky Bay and dry cornfield hunting for big Canada geese, (and just a little bit of everything in between) I was squarely hooked. I didn't think I could enjoy it anymore than I did...but boy, was I WRONG!
Being a veterinarian, and a duck hunting veterinarian at that, the logical next step was, you guessed it, a dedicated duck dog. I had always been partial to black Labs, and most of my buddies that had dogs hunted with yellow Labs. I was laying the plans to get a female black Lab when I ended up going in a direction I would never have predicted. As we all know, sometimes things just happen for a reason...
In the summer of 2010, I got a call from a good friend and fellow veterinarian about a male chocolate Labrador puppy he was dealing with out of a very promising litter. Seemed this puppy had issues with regurgitation that was noted as soon as he was switched to solid food...did I have any thoughts?? After discussion of the work done so far, we became concerned about the possibility of a congenital defect that encircles the esophagus, preventing the passage of larger amounts of solid food. I helped coordinate an appointment for the puppy with one of my associates for confirmation of the diagnosis. When this beautiful 12 week old puppy came in, I found myself playing with him, and he dutifully delivered tossed items to hand over and over...I was in trouble. With the diagnosis confirmed, the prescribed treatment was a chest surgery, to correct, if possible, the esophageal constriction. Unfortunately, this was not in the breeder's budget, and made the puppy unsellable. The breeder made the offer that the puppy was free to anyone who would take him and try to fix him. I didnt want a brown dog, and I didnt want a male...but this dog was special. After getting permission from my wife, I made my offer to the breeder, who gladly accepted it, especially from another duck hunter. Thankfully, the surgery, performed by another of my colleagues, was a complete success, and that Brown Dog, now named Roux, became my newest hunting partner.
Signing pawtographs at Willow Break!
As expected, I took a considerable amount of grief from the "Black and Yellow" crowd when the news spread about my Brown Dog. However, Roux soon made believers out of them with his calm but goofball demeanor in the blind, truck or home and his absolute desire to retrieve in the field. Soon, many really started to "get" the Brown Dog thing. The real kicker came in October of 2011 when good friend Mike Peronek snapped a photo of Roux as we bobbed up and down on Ontario's Lake St Clair. He forwarded me the photo, and I entered it in Ducks Unlimited's 2013 Calendar Contest. Before we knew it, Roux was now known as "Mr February". As a reminder to all his skeptics, Roux signs all his "pawtograph" requests "Brown is Beautiful"...in my eyes, it sure is!
Many thanks to good friend Ramsey Russell for encouraging me to publish this blog. I look forward to keeping all posted on our exploits throughout the off-season, and September 1 will be here before you know it. Neither of us can wait!
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