South Fork Dogs!

My recent article in the – describing the ‘driven’ Pheasant shoot at South Fork Hunting Preserve – highlighted a few of the wonderful dogs we encountered. Because of space limitations for my article, I could not include many of the beautiful canines that were present. So, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a montage of some of the other ‘companions’ Frances photographed. Thank you again to Jacob and Colby and all the owners and handlers who gave us the chance to get to know their wonderful hunting dogs – or soon-to-be-hunting-dogs!

A Custom Quality Double Gun and a Continental Hunt Amateur

Dan Zimmerman, Editor of, was kind enough to quickly edit and schedule the article about Saturday’s Continental Pheasant hunt at South Fork Hunting Preserve. The story recounting the combination of the Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade 20 Gauge Shotgun, South Fork property, our four-legged companions and my far-from-perfect shooting – all captured in the wonderful photographs by Frances – can be found here!

Shotgun and Pheasant

Freezing for Fun, Part 1


As we pulled out of the driveway in Lubbock, Texas, the ice pellets started rattling off the windshield of the station wagon and the north wind bent the trees toward the ground. James Herriot describes the winter wind in Yorkshire, England as sometimes being “lazy”; it can’t be bothered going around you and instead goes straight through. This is an apt description of the north breeze on the Llano Estacado in December. It’s the type of wind that brings tears to your eyes, and not from a nostalgic feeling. This wind also marks the time when most of the playa lakes are frozen over. “Most” is the key word, because the few not covered with ice are the places where waterfowlers’ dreams are made.

Our trip out of Lubbock was taking us north towards the town of Hart. As we pulled onto the highway and into the teeth of the north wind, the car decided to fishtail and the driver – my major professor, mentor and friend, Robert Baker – had to fight the wheel to keep from going into the ditch. He looked back at the two of us in the rear seat and said, “We might have to forget this for today.”  I held my breath as he kept driving, hoping he would decide to go on. Finally, the road seemed to clear a bit and the icy crunch under the tires changed to a watery hiss. He nodded his head as if to say, “Relax Mike we’re going on.”  This trip was like many others with Robert and his cronies. He was the brains behind the operation. He did the scouting, the P.R. work with the farmers and ranchers, and made the tactical decisions of when and where to hunt. I was always extremely grateful when I was included in one of his expeditions. He was one of the best (if not the best) natural wingshots I had ever seen. For example, at one time he had an incredible unbroken string of doubles on mallard drakes.

This hunt did mark a departure from the usual program. We had a visiting professor, Wes Brown, from the University of Michigan who was joining us for this morning’s hunt. Unbeknownst to me, Wes was a widely-respected bird watcher. Indeed, when I related this story to a common, non-hunting, friend of Wes’ and mine, he was surprised to hear that Wes had participated. As we skimmed northward, the talk was of biology and hunting, but mostly about the latter. Besides Robert, Wes and myself, another graduate student, Rodney Honeycutt was also participating in the hunt. The last member of our party was one of Robert’s Golden Retrievers, Sonja. I always marveled at the love of hunting displayed by these dogs. The way they would sit at the water’s edge, feet immersed in the slushy substrate, and tremble with excitement and cold. I have been told the special circulation in dogs’ feet keeps them from suffering from exposure, as a human would, but I really believe they would gladly sit and freeze to death waiting for the next retrieve.

It was still dark when we reached the gravel road leading to our playa lake destination. It had been chosen because its topography helped the north wind keep a protected area free of ice. This open stretch was an ideal landing spot for waterfowl looking for a place to rest. The four of us positioned ourselves along the edge of the lake near the stretch of open water. As the eastern sky began to turn a brilliant pink, we heard the whisper of distant wings. By the time the whisper had become a rushing noise the ducks had appeared in wave formation. I don’t recall who fired the first shot, but once begun, the firing never ceased. The guidelines for the morning required that we shoot only mallard and pintail drakes. There were various ‘fines’ levied for the indiscretion of shooting any other class of duck. These ranged from $20 for a female mallard or pintail to $5 for males of other species. The fees were paid into a fund used to buy Christmas hams for the landowners. Being the least capable shot and duck identifier, it was predictable that I would end up paying $5 for dropping an American Widgeon drake.


Next week: We finish, Freezing for Fun

Pheasant Throw!!

Shotgun and Pheasant

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…until I finish my write-up that is…

Stay tuned for the series I will be sending your way, but for now thanks to Colby and Jacob and everyone else at South Fork Hunting Preserve for the fantastic time at their Pheasant-Throw.

And, thank you again to Jérôme Lanoue, Ken Buch and all the Master Craftsman at L’Atelier Verney-Carron, who crafted and provided me with the amazing Verney-Carron Azur SD Eloge Grade 20 Gauge Shotgun.

It works incredibly well on ‘driven’ pheasant!

A Boy, His Puppy and A Pheasant

Quotes of Note: Don’t Wound Lions!

This may be the understatement of the century from W.D.M. ‘Karamojo’ Bell.

“The reason of the high mortality among those who hunt lions casually is, I think, the simple one of not holding straight enough…This frequently results in flesh wounds or stomach wounds which very often cause the lion to make a determined charge; and there are a great many things easier to hit than a charging lion.” The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter

Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter Cover

Dove Tales – Part 2


As typical of the hunts that went on at this favorite site, I remember one that occurred when I was eight years old. We chose our positions carefully and I edged my way into a clump of Johnson grass. I tried not to break the dried stalks so they would close back around me as I slipped in. The levee curved around the east side of the tank and my position halfway down the side of the dam meant that I could not see birds coming from the east until they were on top of me. Just after we settled in, and while my brother was still walking to his position along the creek bed behind me, I saw a group of four dove coming in from the west. At that time, I had a .410, pump-action shotgun, so I waited until they were nearly in my lap before I punched the safety button, stood, threw my gun up and fired. I missed. That was pretty normal for my first shot of a hunting session, because I usually was still trembling from nervous excitement, and was very likely to aim where my intended victim had just been. My lack of musculature meant that I was unable to pump my .410 while it was mounted on my shoulder. Thus, I had to put my safety on again, drop my gun butt to the ground, make sure the muzzle was pointing away from me, eject the spent hull and feed in another round. The speed at which dove can get out of an area effectively turned my gun into a single shot. This was later rectified when my Dad traded my pump in for a .410 semi-automatic. Of course, this did not change the fact that I was throwing very little shot at the birds. That did not change until I gained a few pounds and was given my, much heavier, 20 gauge A-5.

As the birds swung over the levee behind me, I yelled to my Mom on the other side. This was our system for letting the person behind us know that dove were imminent. The obvious weakness with this system was that the person being yelled at almost always looked back just as the dove were flying overhead and thus missed seeing the birds – that is until they once again faced forward and caught a view of their rapidly retreating tail feathers. Almost at once, I watched my Dad across the stocktank turn and fire at some birds coming from behind him. The forward momentum of the now dead, lead bird caused it to fall into the stocktank in front of him. My Dad held any further shots because it would have meant firing directly at me. The three remaining birds were flying almost eye level with my position. I waited until they were sliding just left of me before I stood to fire. This time the leading bird dropped in a burst of feathers and thumped onto the top of the dam. I jogged up the slope and picked him up, all the while listening to the shots from my Mom’s and then slightly later from my brother’s, more distant, hiding place.

Just as I slipped back into my natural blind, I heard my brother fire twice and my Mom yelled “Michael, over you!”. I turned and threw my gun up at the formation as it crested the rise of the dam. I could not get onto the first three of the birds coming over the verge. I kept trying to swing on them, but would almost tip over backwards on the downward slope. Luckily there were five more to come and I finally fired at the sixth in the line. I did not drop the dove, but he did start a leg-down, wounded glide toward my Dad. My father waited until he lit, jumped him and then busted him as he fluttered off. “Well,” I thought, “I guess maybe I can count that as ½ a bird.”  The next several shots were solid misses, but on my fourth attempt since the “½ bird”, I knocked a dove into the stocktank. Since it was now getting close to dusk, I left it in the water and watched for more incoming flights. As it turned out, that was the last dove to come my way.

As the sun disappeared, I began picking up dirt clods and lofting them to the other side of the dove floating in the stocktank. In this way, I slowly rocked the body towards my position at the edge of the water. Finally, I lifted the bird from the green slime that always seems to be found along the margins of West Texas watering holes. I dropped the dove into my pocket, feeling it slide down to the bulge made by the other dove. As my Dad came around to join me from his side of the tank, he handed me another bird. He said the ‘glider’ was mine. He said, “I was too impatient to wait for it to sit and die, so I just finished it off for you.”  In retrospect, I realize he understood how much each bird meant to his young son.

As we wound back through the gloom of the mesquite woodland, and eventually into our driveway, I reflected on how tired I could become from just crouching in those weeds next to the stocktank. Of course, as an eight-year old I did not understand the relationship between a three hour long adrenaline rush, and fatigue. All I knew was that I could not wait to have the birds cleaned (dark breasts in a large bowl, hearts and livers in a smaller bowl to prevent their being lost down the sink when my Mom rinsed the feathers from the meat), the guns cleaned (my Dad had ‘let’ my brother and me clean his gun along with our own ever since I could remember), and my bath taken. We relived the hunt at the supper table and I listened as my brother retold how he had taken his four birds with six shells. He would always be a better marksman than I. I was usually jealous of his proficiency, but on that night I was very satisfied with my three Mourning Dove. They would be sufficient until the next time we loaded into the pickup for a ride into the West Texas woods.

Mourning Doves