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April 2014 HO Cover


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Recent entries


Through the Lens

The Rain Came Pouring Down

Mon, April 07, 2014

None of us wanted to see the flooding that the heavy rains brought last week, when some areas of southern Illinois received as much as ten inches of rain in a twenty four hour period. WSIL-TV did a great job of showing us just how much damage that rain brought with their fly over of the area. Click here to see the video

Once I knew that some of the flash flooded roads would be open again I set out in search of a few waterfalls in the bluffs. Pretty much every litle nook and cranny had run off rushing down.

Rocky Bluff Trail at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is not only a wonderful hike this time of year, filled with gorgeous wildflowers, mushrooms and wildlife, but also is home to a lovely set of falls that are very close to the trail head.

Given my issues with balance, and staying upright on flat dry ground, I decided that although there there were lots of angles and more falls hidden along the trail it was only prudent to be a little careful on the slick rocks and not get too crazy about climbing around trying to get a “just perfect” angle on things. If I had taken someone along I would have been a whole lot braver, but alas, that wasn’t the case; so I had to satisfy myself with the more accessible views.

From there I zoomed off to Ferne Clyffe State Park - home to another waterfowl that’s easily accessible.

At Ferne Clyffe there are also lots of smaller falls that can be seen seasonally scattered along the trail to the main fall.

It was a wonderful day in the spring woods - even more so because I made it to at least a few waterfalls without getting washed off a road or falling off a bluff!


Searching for Strutters

Thu, April 03, 2014

It’s the time of year that most of my fine feathered waterfowl friends are finally leaving. There are some stragglers here and there, some migrants of other birds still passing through, but it’s time to seriously turn my eye on the turkeys and the show they put on this time of year.

I’d found a nice flock a few days ago, and they were beginning to show off, but I just couldn’t seem to get any decent images out of the crowd. Time to start following and keeping an eye on them. Granted yesterday morning weather - drizzly, a little thundery, overcast and breezy sure as heck wasn’t what you would consider optimal photo light and weather.

That’s the thing about photographing wildlife - we have to do it on their terms. No studio, no control over the environment around us. While I doenjoy opportunities n that perfect early morning and late evening light, sometimes you just hav e go while the creatures are doing their thing and I’m the one that has to make the adjustments. Storm sack the camera, wear my Prois Eliminator jacket, so that I can drop the “duck tail” and keep my fanny dry while sitting and hope for the best.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this a day or two, maybe because I’ve paid attention over the years to what the older folks taught me, but I just knew in my gut that while it was crappy weather weather by most photographers standards, I also just felt in my gut that it was going to be a good creature day. 

Thankfully, my gut was right and the flock I had spotted early this week was cooperative and definitely in show off mode! There’s just something incredibly special about sitting in the spring turkey woods, listening to the rain drizzle, the thunder rumble, and the turkeys gobble and yelp. Gives one a feeling of accomplishment for just having survived a long hard winter and buoys up the spirits that another wonderful year of outdoor treasures lies just ahead.

Say what you will about my sometimes unconventional approaches to getting close to the creatures and raggedy calling skills; when they walk right over top of me, I can’t help but think my system works pretty well.

Now, if these boys will just continue to cooperate in the coming weeks, I’ll be set!


Honor to Whom Honor is Due

Tue, March 25, 2014

“Honor to Whom Honor is Due” is more than just a well-intentioned phrase to members of not only Retrievers Unlimited, HRC but also the parent club, The Hunting Retriever Club.  Retrievers Unlimited prides itself on giving credit where credit is due, living by the thought that success for one is success for all. The club is more like a family than a just a group of dog lovers and duck hunters.

In November last year the club experienced a tremendous loss, as did the entire HRC community, with the passing of well-known retriever owner, handler, and breeder, Deb West. West was a Life Member not only of Retrievers Unlimited but also of HRC.

As the club began to recover from the loss of their valued member it seemed only fitting that the spring hunt test be called the Deb West Memorial Hunt Test. 

Retrievers Unlimited considers River King State Fish and Wildlife Area as its home grounds; not only are the majority of the hunt tests hosted by RU held there, most all twice monthly training days, and other club events are also held there. The club has always received outstanding support from the DNR staff at “Peabody” or “Pit 3” as the site is called by locals; in reference to the sites history as part of the Peabody River King strip mine.

A part of each hunt test is the Saturday evening banquet that always includes fun auctions, raffles etc. as a fund raising effort for the club. A portion of the proceeds from The Deb West Memorial Hunt Test will be donated to the HRC Foundation in memory of West.

Enter the site superintendent for River King SFWA – Mic Middleton. Middleton worked tirelessly with West on many RU projects, as well the other conservation groups that West held dear such as Kaskaskia Delta Waterfowl, Mississippi Valley Duck Hunters, and other retriever and waterfowl related groups.

When Middleton became aware that the spring hunt test would be in Deb’s honor, he quickly asked if he could make a donation to the banquet. Middleton is also a call maker, and handcrafts calls in the old school style.

Middleton has always done everything that he could possibly do to ensure that RU had good grounds for training and hunt testing, he has supported the club in a multitude of ways that went beyond simply that of DNR site manager.  Middleton is clearly part of the RU family.

His fine old school style handcrafted calls are a relatively new venture. Although Middleton only started carving calls barely a year ago, his calls are already becoming sought after and are winning awards.

Middleton’s donation of the one of kind “Deb West” call is much more than simply a call donated to a banquet. It was crafted with care, kindness, respect and memories of the woman who gave so much to so many in the waterfowl and retriever world. It’s wood and brass old school styling guarantees that it will last through many generations of hunters. And with it, perhaps, just perhaps, comes a tiny bit of Deb to travel to the river, the marsh and the frozen fields with its owner, and a little bit of love for the waterfowl of the Mississippi flyway from the maker. 

I’m going to be perfectly honest here – there may have been a few tears and few hugs,and certainly a story or two about West shared when I picked up this beautiful call for the banquet.  Thank you Mic Middleton for such a wonderful remembrance of the lady that taught so many of us about waterfowl, waterfowl hunting, waterfowl conservation, and the pleasure one has hunting with a well-trained retriever.

The hunt test grounds will be open to the public, flights will have gallery areas for the public to watch the dogs competing. I encourage everyone who knew Deb West, learned from Deb West, worked on a project with Deb West, or simply loves watch a good retriever “do the work”, to join us at the Deb West Memorial Hunt Test, as we honor someone to whom much honor is due.



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