The Greatest Chase

I’d been standing next to a cattail patch 30 yards long and ten yards wide for more than 10 minutes when I thought I might have seen a glimpse of the duck Lola was after. I moved to improve my view.

Lola was in a frenzy. She’d been running ever since the green-wing teal I’d sailed had hit the water. When my eleven-year-old retriever first caught up with it, the bird made it into the air with feet dragging.

After a 50 yard chase, Lola and the bird disappeared behind a large cattail patch. I knew I’d have to shoot the bird again if Lola was to retrieve it, so I waded the 150 yards from the blind to the patch as fast as I could.

Now I was trying to confirm the presence of the bird that Lola knew was there. Getting a glimpse of the little duck was important. Because once I saw it, I would be as determined as Lola.

That’s when the bird swam out of the cattail about 25 yards from me. I raised my gun, but Lola was in the way. And, she hadn’t seen it with anything but her nose.

I moved quickly to the other end of the cattail with renewed belief that the bird would soon be dead.

Another ten minutes passed before Lola circled my end of the cattail. With Lola thrashing cattail with her body and tail, the duck was forced from its hiding spot and popped into an opening.

“Pow,” the chase was over.

Lola picked up the bird and began to slow-walk towards the blind – her best home run trot. For a moment I considered taking the duck from her, but she needed to carry it back herself.

The entire retrieve had taken about 20 minutes and Lola was running almost the entire time. My reaction was over the top. Funny how the energy of a dog can transfer so easily to a human.

Lola and the Bald Eagle


When the bald eagle (above) attempted to steal a ground squirrel from the golden eagle in the second and third photos, it became an aerial battle.

Yesterday, I feared I’d be seeing another, more personal battle – over a teal that I had just shot. As my retriever, Lola, approached the downed bird, my hunting partner, Tom Billingsley, uttered the words, “Bald eagle,” as he looked upward.

Sure enough a bald eagle had just passed overhead flying in Lola’s direction. It was an eagle we had seen many times in the past. As the bird dropped lower and circled Lola with the dead green-wing teal,  I felt some trepidation.

My next thought was that Lola would probably just give the bird up, but what if she didn’t? I was thinking about firing a shot into the air to scare the eagle away.

Then a pair of teal flew past and I fired at the birds twice. One of them seemed to be wounded and the eagle immediately took up the chase, leaving Lola to retrieve the dead bird that lay in the water at her feet.

IMG_0022 Lola teal by Joe

Photo by Joe DiDonato


I was happy to have my dog back unharmed.

No kidding.

Boar Hunt Day Two

Monty set his  alarm for 5:15 AM and it actually woke him up. I’m sure it wouldn’t have woke me, but Monty did.

During breakfast, Jammie asked me if I wanted to hunt without dogs. I accepted his offer to moderate our dog use in order to increase the chance that I might have a chance to spot a pig and shoot it at a distance without dogs.

Not that dogs are a bad thing, but I explained to Jammie (as diplomatically as I could) that I’d rather shoot my animal in a peaceful setting if possible. A nice two hundred yard shot at a standing boar would be ideal.

We tied the dogs in the back of the Ranger so they couldn’t get out and chase. Then we drove the ridge tops for about an hour with no success.

It’s hard to say just how far away a pig may be when a dog smells it. The wind direction and speed, the speed of the vehicle and the topography must all come into play. When the dogs started clawing the bed of the truck and otherwise showing their urge to chase, it wasn’t clear where a pig might be. Looking back upon that moment, maybe we could have figured something out if we stopped the truck and checked the wind direction.

However, the excitement of the dogs made their release seem like the best option. When I said “OK, let’s let the dogs loose,” Jammie replied, “They’ll catch a pig.”

“That’s OK,” I responded, “I don’t want to deprive them of the opportunity.”

And, away they went. We weren’t far behind, attempting to follow in the Ranger. It wasn’t long before we found them raising a ruckus a few hundred yards up a draw.

When we reached the dogs, they had a boar in an ideal situation. The pig was surrounded in the open at the bottom of a narrow draw.  The boar was so preoccupied with the dogs that it probably didn’t notice our presence. Jammie told me to get ready and he’d let me know when it was clear to shoot.

The last thing we’d want to do was hit one of his dogs. When he gave me the OK to shoot, a bullet was immediately sent into the pigs vitals. But it didn’t go down immediately. Although the pig was probably dead on its feet, a second shot definitely finished it off.

The pig was a boar of about 200 pounds. It had a good set of choppers and a couple open wounds – signs that it had been fighting recently – apparently in competition for the rights to breeding a sow.

Here I am with the boar.

Here I am with the boar.

This was my first-ever mature boar killed with rifle and also my first ever pig killed with the use hounds. I’ve killed a couple of pigs with bow and arrow and also a couple of pigs on Catalina Island with my rifle. I guided hunters for several years, but left the shooting to them.

The hounds made the hunt exiting and got my adrenaline going, but I doubt I’ll hunt this way again. If they were my dogs, it would be different because the dogs would be more personal part of my participation. I can understand why houndsmen enjoy training their dogs and are enthusiastic about the chase. Hound dogs are very attractive animals with a great temperament.

The dogs love the hunt and thrive on the chase. They charge the pigs and face danger each time they come within reach of the boar’s teeth. I particularly liked the way they laid back on the grass and stretched while relaxing once the hunt was over. Their post-hunt regimen stood in sharp contract to the attitude they displayed during the melee associated with the catch and was consistent with the attractive qualities of other hunting dogs I’ve known.

I’m glad I didn’t deprive them of the opportunity to do what they live for.

A Different Kind of Deer Hunt – Thanksgiving Whitetails

Any trip is better when it includes some hunting.

That’s an extra reason why I was excited by the idea of visiting my step-daughter, Shannon,  and her husband, Tim, in Virginia for Thanksgiving. They live in Southampton County, an area with plenty of whitetail deer. And they can hunt right behind their house.

The trip itinerary was loaded, deer hunting, Thanksgiving with relatives and a visit to USNA, my college alma mater that I haven’t seen in 42 years. With luck we would even sneak in a quick Washington tour.

Granted the hunting would be limited to a tree stand at the west end of their 15 acre farm, but they are adjacent to a large wooded parcel owned by a paper company, so deer are present.

Our midnight arrival at Dulles International was a rough start. My shotgun remained in SF, not to arrive until the AM on Monday. The temp was below freezing and the wind was howling. It took us about an hour to reach the rental car lot.

I had forgotten about the hazards of navigating around the Washington area. The iPhone GPS was a bit confusing and on the poorly lighted highways we made one wrong turn after another. Add to that the surprise toll road and we had all the ingredients of a travel nightmare.

The 3.8 mile drive to the hotel took about an hour. At 3:30 AM we finally settled in. I nearly blew a gasket the next morning when the United Airlines luggage hotline told me they’d get my missing luggage to me, “in four to six hours.”

By about 11AM, we were finally underway to Annapolis and a quick visit to the “Yard.”

After more than 42 years, I made my return. Things do change, like the addition of a metal detector scan at the gate for all visitors. Had to return to the car to drop off my Swiss Army knife while Linda waited impatiently.

The Navy Yard at Annapolis has changed, but felt about the same as it did when I was a Mid. The gray walls of Bancroft Hall were no more inviting, but the Midshipmen were basically the same and I felt at home walking amongst them.

Snapped this shot of Linda and I at the Tecumsuh statue at USNA

Snapped this shot of Linda and I at the Tecumseh statue at USNA. The statue is a replica of a wooden statue taken from the USS Delaware.

Even picked up a few souvenirs at the Midshipman Store before departing. Linda was more impressed with Annapolis than the Academy. It is very quaint and also very old with lots of history.

By 3:30 PM we were on 95 South (along with everybody else) heading to Southampton County. We arrived at Tim and Shannon’s about 7:30 PM on Monday.

The weather went from cold to wet. Two days of constant rain made my initial efforts to hunt a bit challenging. Since Tim and Shannon are not hunters, I needed to find some VA hunting regulations. A Tuesday trip to Walmart produced. Surprise, no license required for the landowner or immediate family in order to hunt deer on one’s own property. (I took that to include “step” parents.)

I knew in advance that I would be limited to shotgun for hunting deer. That’s the law in Virginia. I used my Beretta O/U with a slug in the upper barrel and turkey load in the lower. Not sure if the turkey loads were important, but that was my choice. Squirrels were also legal and I had several opportunities, but passed on them.

A 5 gallon bucket, purchased at “The Tractor Store” became my interim hunting seat until the tree stand could be erected. On Wednesday morning I was hunting shortly after first light. Although a bit wet, I would not have surprised me if a deer showed up, but none did.

Tim had purchased the stand from and chose it based upon Amazon’s rating system. They purchased the Gear-guide 16 foot 2-man strand rated for up to 500 pounds. The instructions suggested that three people raise the stand. It took a couple days and two trips to town but I finally got it up against a suitable tree – by myself – on Friday.

Our Thanksgiving dinner would be traditional. Tim brined a twelve-pound bird, in preparation for the seven-hour smoking process. We sat on buckets and hunted for an hour at first light on Thanksgiving morning. The roosters were crowing, crows cawing and goats bleating. No sign of deer.

Two man tree stand where we hunted.

Two man tree stand where we hunted.

I managed to assemble the tree stand, but not hoist it. Any more hunting was put off until Friday. The turkey, dressing, gravy, salad and apple pie hit the spot. Friday morning I was back on the bucket. Morning temps were in the 20’s, but I had plenty of clothing.

Linda and I took morning walks each day and met a few of the local hunters along the way. We even spotted a few interesting tracks.

Linda on one of our walks

Linda on one of our walks

pivot corn and timberIn the photo above, the cornfield, pivot and thick woods show the reasons why whitetail deer are doing well in Southampton County. A variety of deer foods, water to create habitat and escape cover are essential.

On our walks Linda and I saw evidence of successful hunts.

On our walks Linda and I saw evidence of successful hunts.

It was nice to see the flycatchers, cardinals, king-birds, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks that were present. The crows were loud. No deer again on Friday. After another trip to Lowe’s, I finally finished the assembly and hoisting of the stand.

Eastern kingbird in Shannon and Tim's front yard.
Flycatcher in Shannon and Tim’s front yard.

On Saturday, Tim and I climbed the ladder and sat patiently. Still no deer. An interesting twist in Virginia deer hunting is the use of hounds. We heard dogs many times while hunting, but we didn’t see any until Saturday.

The technique, turn the hounds loose at one location and let them sniff their way through the thick briars to put any bedded deer in motion. Most of the dogs were beagles, but I also spotted a couple odd looking mutts.

We found this bobcat track along a dirt road. Bobcats, raccoons and deer are three of the primary pursuit game animals in Virginia.

We found this bobcat track along a dirt road. Bobcats, raccoons and deer are three of the primary game animals pursued in Virginia.

I’d spoken with several local hunters that Linda and I met on the roadsides while walking. Several of them were cruising roads searching for their dogs. The dogs were fitted with radio collars and the dog handlers used hand- held and truck-mounted receivers to keep track of the dog’s location. It appeared that the dogs tended to stay out all or at least most of the day.

The hunters were on stand and waiting for the disturbed deer to pass by. We saw the results as occasionally a truck would pass by with a deer in the bed. We got word of some nice bucks being taken.

Hounds, like this Walker hound are used to hunt deer, raccoon and bobcat.

Hounds, like this Walker hound are used to hunt deer, raccoon, rabbit and bobcat.

On Saturday afternoon a pair of beagles walked under my tree stand and headed towards Tim and Shannon’s chickens. As they closed in on the free-ranging chickens I feared that something bad was about to happen.

After failing to catch the beagles and deter a dog-chicken conflict,  I elected to look for somebody more familiar with the problem. When one of the neighbors volunteered to help, we managed to pull a chicken out of the mouth of a beagle. We’re not sure if the chicken survived, but we did find the beagle owner.

Shannon and Tim's small farm with chickens and dairy goats.

Shannon and Tim’s small farm with chickens and dairy goats.

The day ended at sunset and another beagle under our stand. The last one caused no trouble. An interesting law in Virginia closes hunting on Sunday, so Saturday was the last chance to hunt before we left.

Sunday was spent relaxing and visiting Williamsburg. I celebrated the hunt by ordering a game pot pie at a Colonial Inn. The meats included venison, rabbit and duck. It was excellent, in fact, I’m planning to look for the recipe.

Shannon and Tim in front of the  King's Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

Shannon and Tim in front of the King’s Arms Tavern in Williamsburg.

Monday we drove back to DC and managed to visit the Washington Monument and others  – something Linda had never done.

Snapped this photo in front of the White House.

Snapped this photo in front of the White House.

The trip didn’t produce a whitetail, but it did lay the groundwork or a future opportunity.

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert after a five-day visit, but my impression after a few days of hunting was  positive. In Southampton County, populations of deer, turkey and other game are enhanced by the summer rains and crops that include corn and soy beans. From the hunter’s prospective (in clear contrast to California, where game is spread out) habitat in this Eastern states has  potential to hold game at densities that enhance hunting on small parcels. In addition, land prices appear to be moderate,  making ownership potentially affordable for hunters.

Lola Dioji Shines

The morning’s hunt had started slow, but now I had an Aleutian goose down and Lola was after it.  I decided to give it a finishing shot. The first attempt didn’t do the job so I fired again. The goose slowed and Lola had it in her grasp.

She hauled it ashore and I was impressed. But, my shots had stirred up more geese and they were headed in my direction. I decided to lay down and hope the snow geese would keep coming. There were lots of them, who knows how many, and they were low enough for a shot.

I rose to my knees and fired. Down went the first. I fired again and a second goose sailed down over the rise. My third shot was a miss. It’s not often I get a chance for a triple.

Lola was on the first goose and soon had it ashore and in my grasp. I enthusiatically greeted her to show my appreciation. Dropping the goose with the Aleutian, we headed over the sand hill towards the crippled snow. At about 150 yards I could see it standing and watching our approach.

A few yards later, Lola also spotted the goose. She was off like a white streak. As she approached the goose, it turned and began to run. The running led to a spreading of wings and just as Lola approached it was airborne.

Now losing ground, Lola continued in hot pursuit. The goose was now about six feet off the ground and crossing a wide ditch. It didn’t stop Lola  – she leaped it at full speed. The goose sailed down in the next corn stubble afte flying about 75 yards and Lola was all over it.

I could see her coming, goose in mouth. She ran to the ditch, took a few steps right, then a few steps left and then she climbed in and out running to me at full speed. What a thrill – and this was the dog that wouldn’t retrieve.

Before the hunt was over I’d knocked five geese down and Lola had responded with five solid retrieves  – two in water and three on dry ground. I think my dog is now a retriever.

When Your Dog Doesn’t Retrieve

Duck hunting has been on the poor side this so far this season, but we know that it always seems to average out and that’s what seems to be taking place. This weekend was pretty good hunting and three of us bagged a dozen mallards and a honker on Saturday – and that was the afternoon shoot. We even shot a couple banded greenheads.

So things are looks up and we even knocked down a couple roosters on Sunday morning. Pheasants are scarce these days. A decline in habitat combined with terrible spring weather the last few years has reduced pheasant harvest dramatically.

But the big news this weekend was my lab pup’s failure to retrieve. I can’t figure it out, but she would rather lick ducks than retrieve them. She seems to have a thing for duck blood. If there’s any blood on a bird she immediately starts licking and unfortunately that’s usually the case.

I’ve started working with her at home, trying to get her to retrieve dead ducks, but she isn’t making great progress. She loves to retrieve ball, bumpers…you name it, but not ducks.

Frustrating, but I’ll just have to keep working. Hope I don’t have to find another dog. Two dogs is one too many as I learned over the last couple years, but it’s tough not having a reliable duck dog. Oh well.

Lola on the jobLola looking good, but not retrieving.

Closing the Book on Val (Feb 14, 1994- Nov 25, 2008)


I stood facing away from the other patrons with Val’s leash and colar in my left hand and a receipt for $89 in my right. I tried to maintain some kind of dignity, but there was no way to stop the tears. I’m a cryer, but I thought I might be able to hold it together on Val’s last trip to the vet.

It hit me when the vet stepped into the room – the fact that this was the end for Val. Her official birthday  – February 14, 1994. I always suspected it was really only close to February 14th and the date was moved as a marketing gimmick. It really didn’t matter anyway, so we named her Valentine. (I also wondered if all the pups in that litter ended up with the same name.)

The Vet tried to talk to me, but I just kept repeating, “It’s time, yes it’s time.”

And, she went peacefully.

Val was high octane when it was time to play. She was one of those dogs that never quit – always putting something in your lap, or at your feet. It was annoying, that was just Val.

She was a very good retriever, not great, but she took hand signals well and I could get her to most birds – even if she didn’t see them go down.

She had watery eyes all the time and she hunted pheasants best if I gave her half a benadryl (?) tablet before hunting. I think she had cronic sinus problems, so she didn’t have a great nose.

Like all dogs, she was a loyal companion.

Val’s first retrieve was on opening day of duck season in 1994. Three of us knocked down eight widgeon from a large flock at a salt pond on SF bay. She took after after a couple swimmers and retrieved two of the eight. I think we retrieved seven of the eight, with one disappearing.

Val’s final retrieve took place at Mayberry Farms on the last day of the 2006/07 waterfowl seasson. The bird she brougt me was a double-banded greenhead with a $100 reward band.

Nice upgrade Val.