Prepping for interstate and intrastate bird hunting adventures
A South Dakota bow hunting adventure in the fall of 2012 with Interstate Sportsman Radio buddies Brock Ray and Shane Kennedy left me wanting more; specifically, I wanted to hunt pheasants and sharptail grouse in South Dakota! I had been planning the return trip all summer long and was looking forward to getting my two Brittanys, five-year-old Carrot and 18-month-old up-and-comer, Mocha, into some true wild bird country. The folks at Ruff Tough Kennels sent me some new product to field test and it everything was coming together nicely.
But, as plans go, plans fall through. It seems the lodge I selected for this year’s hunt was over booked and finding last minute lodge accommodations for October in South Dakota would be nearly impossible. Option 2: I considered doing a South Dakota DIY solo trip. A few friendly contacts on the Upland Journal website’s “Upland Talk Bulletin Board” passed on some valuable information and public land suggestions, but the whole prospect of going alone to a foreign place and operating out of random motels like a vagabond seemed daunting if not impractical.
Welcome to Conditioning
Everyone knows that pre-season conditioning for bird dogs is a must. The problem is that the summer months, and even September, can be too hot and humid for serious training. I did the best I could by working the dogs on cool mornings and evenings and kept the sessions short- usually no more than 15-30 minutes; and I took advantage of small creeks where the dogs could jump in and cool off.
I was very impressed with the Ruff Tough’s portable kennels but I needed a way to secure them in my topper-covered pickup bed. There are several well-made truck bed storage systems on the market but none of them suited my needs. So, being a tinkerer, I was compelled to design and build a kennel carrier system for the back of my Tacoma. I started with a plywood base and fabricated rolling kennel “trays” that could pull out and retract on hydraulic closers as needed. The concept behind the sliding trays was to allow easy access to the kennel crates while standing at the tailgate without having to endure knee grinding crawls into the topper. Any time I would need to crate or uncrate a dog, I could reach in and pull the kennel tray toward the tailgate, access the dogs, then let the kennel slowly retract to the rear of the bed where it would be held securely leaving the front end of the bed free for storage. I also fashioned sectioned slots to hold shell boxes and installed hooks on the sides and ceiling of the truck topper for hanging whistles, gear, and each dog’s respective e-collar and transmitter unit.
I officially accuse myself of being a vest junkie, but my all-time favorite upland vest was a Filson Original, Style 32. Sadly, that vest is now buried three feet underground with my beloved Brittany, Nena. I miss Nena every time I go bird hunting and I also miss that old vest. So, when Filson came with a new lightweight soy wax version of their Original Tin Cloth vest, I had to have one. Anybody who’s worn a Tin Cloth vest or jacket can attest to their quality and durability but breaking them in requires time, but I found the new soy wax vest had a broken-in feel with the perfect amount of pockets. Using some scraps of blaze orange material, I had the vest retrofitted by a local seamstress to compliant with Pennsylvania’s blaze orange regulations. It’s perfect, and I expect it to be a faithful hunting partner for years to come.
Building a Better Dog Crate
Ruff Tough Kennels are kinda like a Vari-Kennel on steroids and they turned out to be fantastic addition to my upland travel gear. These portable kennel crates are well designed and super strong (watch the video). One of the best features is the proprietary kennel door with dual latches that allow the door to swing open to the right, or left, as needed. The kennels can also be stacked on top of one another or tethered together side-by-side creating a stable single unit. Another super convenient feature is Ruff Tough’s accessories tray that snaps right on top of the kennel unit. The accessories tray is where I keep random items organized like check cords, dog food, GPS collars, spare hunting clothes, etc… Both Carrot and Mocha found themselves at home in these kennels and traveled comfortably for hours at a time. Ruff Tough also invented a unique water dish for dogs that holds a full gallon and even my unruly Brittanys did not manage to tip it over.
When the 2013 bird season finally opened, I couldn’t wait to hit my old favorite pheasant spots around home and explore some new grouse covers upstate. I’ve been able to bolt from home at a moment’s notice and follow the woodcock flights and take quick jaunts upstate. I might even hunt in my neighboring state of Maryland? I take great pleasure in the aesthetics of the hunt, being organized, and utilizing effective gear items- all things that make it a pleasure when traveling to hunt. Look for a silver Toyota Tacoma coming to a cover near you.