Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jim Bo: a three and a half year old chocolate lab that would save my arm from surgery....

The Chronicles of Jim Bo
By: W. S. Allen
With all the agility and dexterity of a 6’3” circus clown trying to extricate himself from a three foot clown car while playing Yankee Doddle Dandy on a kazoo, I moved the last tumbler on the padlock to its proper position. Like magic the lock came alive, reminiscent of a fantasy movie where a wizard waves his wand and limestone Gargoyles come to life to fight a clean shaven, twenty something GQ model whose sole purpose in life it to save the princess, ingratiate himself to the King, steal her dowry, and sign autographs for the rest of his life.

The lock opened and fell into my hand releasing both ends of the large chain that served to aid the gate in fulfilling its purpose of either keeping something in or keeping something out and on those very few special occasions of letting someone in. In this case it was the later. Once through the portal I helped the trio of lock, chain, and gate resume their vigil as I started to drive slowly down a one lane path venturing deeper into the realm of the Teal, Pintail, Gadwall, and Spoon Bill.
I’d ventured to Capano Bay on the Gulf of Mexico for a weekend of duck hunting with good friends and great dogs. Capano Bay is just one of many large estuaries on the gulf coast of Texas that are the winter home for a majority of the Central and Mississippi fly ways waterfowl. At any one time you can see upwards of 50 thousand ducks on any one of these large estuaries and the several hundred brackish lakes that surround them.
Our host for the weekend had instructed me to follow the “yellow brick road” until it ended at a bungalow that would be home for me and three of my friends. As I drove I couldn’t help notice that Capano Bay was getting closer and closer to my truck. I began to wonder if I might not need scuba gear. Just as I was about to start holding my breath the road took a sharp turn to the right and my view of Capano Bay was replace by a white wood frame house on stilts not more than fifteen yards from me getting my feet wet.
Our guide JT Davis was there sitting on an ATV waiting on someone, anyone to show up. I was the first to arrive so JT showed me around the place. After a tour most realtors would envy JT smiled and said.
“Ya’ll be ready and I see you at 5:30AM.”
As I looked out on Capano Bay I heard his ATV start up and drive off. I decided to let Daisy and Bailey enjoy the bay for a while. My dogs came along but Daisy was a little under the weather and Bailey hadn’t walked the high wire without a net so she was going to be grounded for the weekend. She would’ve probably done well but these were people who had dogs much older and more experienced than my pup and her enthusiasm took some getting use too so she got a pass.
The minute I turned them loose they headed straight for the water. Bailey had never been in saltwater before and she couldn’t quite figure out why this water tasted funny. After a taste or two she decided she didn’t care for taste but it felt good, one out of two aint bad.
We were having a great time with bumpers flying and dogs swimming. One of the joys of life is watching a lab in water. They seem to belong there, not bound to the land and yet not quite aquatic, comfortable and adept in both. They revel in the chase of either a downed bird or a plastic bumper as long as it’s surrounded by water. They want to chase it and bring it back to you. It doesn’t matter whether they have to run or swim to achieve their mission, regardless of their personal safety or wellbeing they will do what they were trained and love to do. Not a bad philosophy for all of us.
Just as my arm felt like a trip to the emergency room was in order the cavalry arrived. With it came Jim Bo a three and a half year old chocolate lab that would save my arm from surgery. The three dogs had known each other for a long time and were great buds. After the prescribed amount of smelling and tail wagging it was time for Jim Bo to do a few drills so he would be ready for the morning hunt. I took my dogs inside and watched through a window.
Dr. Faith Rothermel was Jim Bo’s owner and best friend. Faith grabbed a hand full of bumpers and walked about a hundred yards throwing bumpers left and right as she went until the thirty or so plastic tubes were arranged just the way she wanted. She then called Jim Bo over to her side and started the drill.
First she would direct Jim Bo straight ahead and then stop him and turn him left or right depending on her mood and Jim Bo would do exactly as he was instructed. A better drill I’ve never seen. With the slightest signal, all but undetectable to the naked eye, he would change course and move to satisfy Faith’s every whim. He seemed to move with little or no effort as if he were out for a late afternoon stroll picking up bumpers as he went. What a wonderful performance of dog and trainer, a hunting team of excellence. As I watched the perfectly choreographed duo my excitement grew. When Jim Bo brought every bumper back to Faith, she rubbed his head a couple of times and kenneled him.
At diner the conversation wasn’t about how tasty my salmon looked or how wonderful the restaurant was. Our conversation was centered on Jim Bo and his mastery of the art of retrieval and his over whelming desire to please Faith and to bring her anything and everything she asked of him.
After Jim Bo’s performance the only thing we needed was the morning temperature to be in the lower thirties and a nice 15 MPH wind. If Mother Nature looked favorably on our undertaking we were sure to have a great day of duck hunting on the Gulf of Mexico.
The moment the annoying claxon started blasting at 4:30 AM I listened for the wind. There were no trees so the tell tale signs of leaves rustling was conspicuously absent, however, the window panes were rattling softly. A smile miraculously appeared as I rushed to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
I was all but giddy as I prepared for the hunt. The wind and finding out I hadn’t forgotten anything seemed to me to be a good omen. I put on my waders and waited for JT to show up in much the same manner as a 10 year old waits for Christmas morning. I must have asked Faith a hundred times how was Jim Bo. Just before my fellow hunters were contemplating locking me in a closet JT arrived.
After the usual good morning greetings and one more inquiry of Jim Bo’s condition, we loaded up on two chariots cleverly disguised as UTVs and headed for, at least that day, a little slice of heaven complete hopefully with Red Heads, Spoon Bills, and Gadwalls.
Once settled in the blind all we could do was keep checking out watches to see if shooting light was any closer than the last time we checked. I took the opportunity to inquire about Jim Bo.
The most wonderful sound in a duck blind besides the command to “take um,” is, “lock and load.”
I looked out over the brackish water at a beautiful sunrise as the excitement grew. Off in the distance several specs dotted the morning sky. With mounting anticipation I watched as they got closer. I was still watching when JT shouted.
“Take um.”
In an instant my gun was at my shoulder and I was squeezing the trigger. In unison several explosions erupted from the small reed covered sanctuary. One bird down, then another, and another then a deafening silence fell over the water.
Faith watched each bird to see where to send Jim Bo first, after she made her decision she pointed not so much with a quick point of her left hand but with body language that was all but indictable. Jim Bo staring intently at Faith was up and gone in a blink of an eye. He was poetry in motion as he collected one duck after another. His tail gave away his mood as he brought Faith each duck.
He hadn’t shaken completely until JT whispered “steady, steady, and then a long pause filled with all but unbearable excitement before he finally yelled “take um.”
This time there was but one lonesome duck and being the great shots that we were, we all mist. A whine echoed from the far end of the blind it seems Jim Bo’s wasn’t impressed with our shooting abilities. The more we missed the more he whined. I asked Faith was he alright? She informed us that when a shotgun goes off he expects to swim and if he can’t he is very unhappy.
About 8:30 a brace of ducks happened by and our shooting was unproductive, Jim Bo’s disappointment could be heard all the way to Cancun. I was about ready to give him my gun. Jim Bo spent the rest of the morning swimming and whining.
I’ve spent many wonderful hours on the water waiting for a duck to fly past but the time I spent watching a chocolate lab swim and yes whine were among the most memorable. He was a joy to watch and I was honored to spend a few hours sharing his love for the hunt.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cabin Fever Combat: Shake off those winter blues by pre-scouting new hunting locations

Here at Duck Junkies, there is no off season. So why sit and sprout roots in your arm chair or couch after your season ends. Use the winter months to pre-scout some new hunting locations.

This winter over here in New England it's been one of the coldest and snowiest in years. With the cold temperatures, the lakes and ponds locked up early this season. With plenty of SAFE ice around, I like to take advantage of the accessibility of some of the area watersheds that offer hunting opportunities.

Safety is of course my first and foremost concern as it should be yours. As a waterfowl hunter, I always dress for the weather and let someone know where I'll be. If you do plan on trekking over any frozen body of water, be sure that the ice is safe. Stay away from inlets, outlets or moving water where the ice may be thinner. A good topographical map can provide you with this information. Another good reference is an Ice Fisherman. Since they're drilling holes through, they'll know how thick the ice is.

To find a location to scout, for private land I'll refer to topo maps and for public, the State Hunting Guide which usually lists public hunting areas, and the maps for any particular region. Here in Connecticut, the DEP website actually provides topo maps of each public area. You may be surprised to find many locations listed as public access that are overlooked by a majority of hunters due to either remote locations or just not a popular spot. I tend to look for small bodies of water or marshy areas that are within a few miles of a major waterway which waterfowl will tend to migrate down.

Now that you've chosen a location to scout, how are you getting in there? Here in the northern half of the lower 48, deep snow can be an issue. My favorite way is snowshoes. It may be a lot of work breaking a trail but it's well worth the effort and it keeps you in shape. Hunters that have access to snow machines may find that parking the sleds and getting out on a pair of snowshoes will give you a better perspective when scouting the areas. For the hunters down in the more temperate regions of the country that have open water year round, leave the boats with the mud motors and outboards home if you can, put a PFD on and paddle it. You'll be surprised on what details you might miss by just motoring around from spot to spot.

So what do you do when you get there? I like to walk the perimeter of the pond, lake or marsh and look for the areas which might hold waterfowl in the fall months. I'll mark these areas on a map or mark a waypoint on a GPS. I'll also make reference of possible blind locations for your fall setups. Mark your parking and access points on the map also. I like to re-visit these locations again in the spring and late summer and take notes of any nesting activity and bird numbers. Bring some good binoculars and a camera with you too. When I get back home I'll transfer all of my info on to and atlas like Delorme's Atlas and Gazetteer which is available for every state and sold in most book stores.

So why become a couch potato in the winter months? Get out, enjoy the outdoors and SCOUT!!!

By Terry Mahoney- CT Pro-Staff