feature By: Scott Linden, text and photos | January, 21
What if you took a moment before setting out on a hunting trip, maybe planned just a bit more, got somewhat organized? I can almost guarantee it would be a better trip. Believe me, I speak from experience – learning the hard way so you won’t have to.
Next, a more practical lesson: Take a duplicate of anything that would – if lost, missing or forgotten – kibosh your trip, force you to go home or worse yet, watch your buddy have all the fun. This category includes shotgun, ammo, license, boots, glasses, medicine and dog (don’t ask how I know this). Along the same lines, before you go, test everything that is critical. I’ve found shredded space blankets and leaky water bottles in my vest and had a boot sole tear off on a chukar hunt. Talk about buzzkill.
OK, you have the critical stuff. Now, on to the things that have helped me maintain most of my sanity while hunting in 26 states with few regrettable incidents (other than questionable taste in hunting partners).
Your four-footed companion
Teach your dog to drink from a bota bottle or the modern-day equivalent, a backpack-style hydration bladder. You’ll carry more water comfortably and can share one source for human and canine.
Some dogs won’t eat much on hunting trips, and on long trips they will eventually deplete their energy reserves. Palate pleasers buried under their usual rations might help. I carry wet cat food and probiotic powders such as FortiFlora from Purina. But wait! Immediately following a hunt, give your dog Glycocharge with his water – rebuilds muscle cell walls for tomorrow’s hunt. Then feed your dog 90 minutes after that.
Carry a little kit of dog-emergency items in the field: duct tape, distilled-water eye and wound wash, Q-tips, antihistamine and pain reliever for insect and snake bites, hemostat, a roll of gauze, some of those blood-clotting pads and EMT Gel. These might enable you to continue a hunt or stabilize your hunting buddy’s condition until you can get to a veterinarian.
Stress relievers. Take a chew toy . . . for your dog! Travel is stressful for him, no matter how nonchalant he appears while lounging in the driver’s seat waiting for you to kiss your spouse goodbye. (You did remember to do that, right?) Chewing is one of the few ways he alleviates anxiety, and a toy beats your steering wheel every time. Long road trips may not find you in a convenient field in which to run your dog, but a session with a Chuckit! tennis ball thrower will help. Fairgrounds, schools and ball fields, even the back parking lot of a shopping mall early in the morning get you away from traffic to lob a few.
Treats – for both of you. For long trips, it pays for both of you to eat strategically. Humans fuel their hunt with simple carbohydrates for quick energy, but over a few days, your go-to pocket pick-me-up should also have fat and protein to build endurance for the next day’s trek. Dogs, on the other hand, get instant energy from fat. Their in-field snacks should be short on volume and long on fat. Raw egg yolks in a squeeze bottle or cooked versions from a plastic bag, beef fat or similar goop may be messy but will keep him firing on all eight cylinders. Just don’t confuse your snacks with his.
Dry dogs are welcome in my truck cab. Those synthetic chamois “towels” are more absorbent than cotton and dry faster. A soft bed for him will ensure a good night’s sleep. I like grass hay, and lots of it, thick enough to prevent bones from contact with the crate bottom (minimizing joint stress). Hay breaks down more slowly than straw and makes less dust. If you’re staying in a hotel, invest in a foldable fabric dog crate. Manhandling a metal or plastic crate up stairs or down the hall can quickly turn you into a “cat person.”
Getting & going along
A thermos of coffee gives you one more dose of caffeine later in the morning or to share with that cowboy you meet at the wire gate. I’ve poured a cup for game wardens, biologists, folks I met in a walk-in area’s parking lot … and never regretted it. After a taste of my brew, my companions might regret it, though.
Take chargers, spare batteries, 12-volt adapters and user manuals for all your electronics from dog collars to your mobile phone and everything in between. Add reading glasses if you’re over 40.
Comfort & joy
Pack a bandanna. Silk is softest and warmest – get a big one like real buckaroos wear, available at farm supply and western stores. It’ll keep your neck – and, in turn, the rest of your body – warm. There are a multitude of other uses around camp from sweatband to oven mitt.
Suspenders are not only natty, they are practical. You’d be surprised how much better you climb hills and stride long distances when your pants aren’t falling off, fighting you at every step.
A strap vest with a waist belt changed my life. Shifting water and ammo weight from your shoulders to your waist does wonders for your gun swing. If you should actually hit something, ditto for a few birds in your bag. Hint: Find a strap vest that carries water up high, between your shoulder blades. Physicists might be able to explain why, but it feels like even less weight on my waist – always a good thing.
Safe & soothing
Forestall late-night leg cramps by hydrating frequently in the field and post-hunt. I like a tablet called “Nuun” added to water to replace electrolytes sweated out on a long hunt. Stretching, potassium, magnesium and Hyland’s tablets are part of my bedtime routine. (For humans only, please.)
All the rest
“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a cliché I often ignore, and here are a few reasons for that: I’ve donated aerosol tire sealant to several travelers on lonely dirt roads. (I hope they got to town.) On a sharptail hunt, my shooting improved dramatically (OK, nowhere to go but up for me) when I tightened up my chokes – don’t forget the wrench. A headlamp trumps handheld flashlights while plucking, cooking outside and answering nature’s call in the wee small hours.
Spare firing pins and a little duct tape help even this music major get a shotgun back up and running sometimes. Tether to yourself or your vest everything that you otherwise might drop or leave on a rock in the middle of nowhere: whistle, GPS, collar transmitter, camera. Don’t ask why I know this, either.