Cat and treadmill
Cat and treadmill

Feeling a bit surly, laid up with a nasty cold, reduced to scavenging through fields of youtube garbage for something resembling authenticity. Cats on treadmills (hilarious, for a while). The immensely popular FAIL video phenomenon (people seriously injuring themselves with the help of gravity, elastics, and small engines). I need to get out, but…

Youtube has everything. Infinite hunting videos, including a few of mine. Hoping for a find, I searched for “upland bird hunting” videos, and found myself getting increasingly irritated by the overabundance of “shooting preserve” and outfitter videos showing fat rich people shooting birds they won’t have to clean and most likely won’t eat, either.

Then I found a longer video about hunting Huns and sharptail on public land in western Montana. Looked authentic, but had suspiciously good production quality and a soundtrack way inside Puddle of Mud or Solid Waste. Promising. I should have turned it off when one of the Kansan talking heads appeared wearing a Garmin shirt. Halfway through the vid there’s a scene with an English setter absolutely blitzing straightline through some brush with the voice-over, “The dogs are really birdy in here…” Really? Cut to the three dudes in glorious late afternoon Montana rays lumbering leisurely through tall grass. One grabs his Garmin Astro, looks at it for a second, and non-nonchalantly says, “Well, we’ve got a dog on point somewhere close; looks like he’s about 100 yards southwest. Let’s go get some birds.” Cut back to the Garmin guy: “The Garmin Astro has really changed the face of upland bird hunting.” I guess so. Now, as long as you don’t mind the price tag, you don’t even have to know where your dog is. Ever.

Garmin Astro
The $650 Garmin Astro

It should go without saying that this is wrong. What are you doing out there? Why are you hunting birds? If your dog matters to you, why don’t you keep track of your four-legged partner? I see this too often. While running on a trail near my house I encountered a beautiful English setter with a couple e-collars and antennas laced around its neck, sprinting the other way. Over a half-mile later I found his owners, ablaze in hunter orange caps and Orvis chaps. Around their necks hung thousands of dollars of electronic tracking devices, and in the mouth of the patriarch of this bunch was a good ol’ fashioned whistle. He shrieked on it steadily, at least once a second, turning serenity to sheer sonic hell. About three quarters of a mile behind these folks were two other setters romping around the brush on their extended electronic leashes.

Snow and bird dog
Angus and my shadow, snow and e-collar

I shouldn’t let it bother me. I should look at it as a sign that going after wild birds in wild, hard-to-hunt places is fairly safe. I don’t care that these guys with their technology and hired dogs are the ones flooding the Web with photos of tailgates littered with multi-limits on all available species. To be fair, I use an e-collar on Angus, always have. I use it to get his attention and to reinforce our working relationship by helping him stay close enough to me so I can read him. The best thing about it is that I don’t ever need to call him, and we can hunt quietly. This matters to me. Watching Angus hunt, watching him check to see where I am, to see if I might want him to shift directions, watching him apply his superior sensory equipment to the mutual pursuit, watching him creep, point, adjust, get excited: call me old fashioned, but this stuff is way more interesting to me than looking at a 2.78″ diagonal color GPS screen to see what my mutt’s up to.

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