Monday, February 6, 2012

Winners and Losers: Catagory 2

I woke Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m. to the sound of dueling doggy head shakes.  It sounded a bit like a covey rise, consequently scaring the crap out of me - not unlike...well...a covey rise.

There's been a lot of discussion lately on a Facebook thread I've been following that circles around the issue of outfitting the perfect bird hunting rig.  As this is one of my favorite topics, I thought I'd share a little detail on some modifications I've been working on with my own rig over the past year or two that have given me some great results.

Category 2: The things we do to spoil our bird dogs

First disclaimer:  As with all things related to outdoor outfitting, there are as many opinions as there are options.  I respect all of them, as there are different circumstances for every individual.  My goal here is only to illustrate some tools that have worked for me in cracking the code to developing efficient and uncluttered days in the field. 

Second disclaimer:  I fly fish, and as I get on in years, enjoy doing so from a boat.  Consequently, my life from the bow has influenced a few fundamental practices that have transitioned their way into my bird hunting.  I loathe equipment for the sake of gear.  More often that not, it just tangles up in my fly line.  Rather, I prefer to outfit myself with a few pieces of equipment that I consider essential and are positioned perfectly to accommodate my personal comfort, that of my hunting companions, our dogs, and most importantly, my laziness.  Now, let's get after it!

After many years of using air travel crates as the primary means to move my puppies about the uplands, I grew a little tired of constantly moving crates up and down the stairs from the house to the truck in preparation for a day in the field.  Over time, I began dreaming of getting crates for the truck that I could keep there all the time, so as to reduce the amount of shuffling around.  At the same time, I met and started spending a lot of time with now hunting buddy Dr. Shawn Wayment, DVM, author of Setter Feathers and Groused Tales.  He had what I thought was a terrific aluminum dog box suited to hold two dogs.  It had been in the back of his "untopped" truck bed for several years and still looked like new, so I was confident it was durable.  I also knew these weren't going to be cheap, so started squirreling away a few nuts for the eventual day when I'd be able to add this accessory to my rig.

Phase I: Shelving installed with Air Crates
The Birddog Doc's dog box was made by Deer Creek, a division of Delphi Products.  I contacted the company and was introduced to Cindy, who turned out to be my partner in engineering the perfect solution for my dog box.  They had a number of standard designs and were willing to accommodate a few changes as customizations.  In fact, I can't say enough about the attention to customer service both during the design and building phases of my dog box.  Cindy did an excellent job of keeping me from making too many customizations that would throw the box into another cost dimension that my budget couldn't consume.  She also went to great lengths in helping me to understand the value and safety reasoning behind trying to reduce the headroom of my crate vs. that of air travel crates.  I learned that one of the primary reasons car travel crates have lesser headroom is to encourage your dog NOT to stand up in them.  This puts the dog in a much safer position while traveling in the event of an emergency situation.  Put another way, if they're not standing up, they have a much better chance of reducing injury or surviving an automobile accident.

I settled on Deer Creek's basic Uplander Flat Top No Storage model. The box needed to measure no wider than 52" outside width in order to fit into my truck bed that also had a topper on it.  A note of caution here: Take extra time to make sure you accommodate for any changes in angles needed when loading your dog box in your truck.  Deer Creek was careful to point out the experiences of several customers that had bought boxes thinking they could get them into their truck bed based on the width between the wheel wells.  However, when the box showed up, because of taper on a topper opening and a Truck Vault or other shelving that was installed, the clients couldn't angle the box to such a degree as to get the box to fit through the tailgate, requiring them to remove the topper to get the box to fit.  That makes for a permanent addition in the bed.  This could be okay for some, but I needed to be able to remove my dog box from time to time, and I wanted that to be easily accomplished.

There were a few custom items I wanted added to the dog box.  One, because I hunt in warm areas, I wanted a high cfs fan installed into the back of each dog compartment.  I also wanted it wired to my truck.  Two, if I could figure out a way to never have to crawl in the back of my truck again, I wanted to do it.  So, I asked for the switch to turn on the fans to be mounted on the tailgate end of the crate (pictured above), and I wanted a small reaching rod to be designed to open and shut the side compartment windows of the crate while standing at the tailgate.  Those simple two inexpensive options have made my life a lot better as well as making my dogs' travel time much more comfortable and safe.

I cannot say enough about the quality of the dog box I received from Deer Creek.  They are smooth sided aluminum with some diamond plated trim and all the sharp edges smoothed out.  There are several optional colors for the smooth siding.  I elected to go with white so as to reflect as much heat as possible.  They are made with double wall construction and 3/4" foam insulation between layers of wood.  The unit I selected has two dog compartments that are 44" deep, 21" high, and 22" wide.  They comfortably accommodate my 75 lb GSP and 35 lb Pointer.  In fact, an unintended benefit of the deeper compartments is that I have experienced no problems storing two additional dogs in each compartment. This is perhaps a little confining for my GSP, but fortunately I hunt with friends that have small dogs that fit nicely with him.  Were I to do it over again, I would have gotten the 46" deep unit.

320 cfs high output covered fans mounted in each dog compartment
My truck bed already had shelving installed which I built myself last year.  I'm not a fan of storage drawers as it might give me a false sense of security that it would be okay to leave things in there long term.  Instead, I built a strong shelf to support a substantial metal dog box, one that would allow me to store things underneath it.  There is space to accommodate several soft cased guns, two collapsible sports chairs and various other longer objects.  I was careful to offset my shelf to lock in stored items like water jugs, hunting gear bags, my bird bucket, and cooler when the tailgate was shut so they wouldn't slide around.  Lastly, I installed indoor/outdoor carpeting on the shelf surface for comfort while crawling around and to match the coolness of my BedRug Truck Bed Liner (quite possibly the most amazing truck accessory I've ever owned).

This is the third truck I've owned to have a BedRug installed in it.  Frankly, they've out performed the vehicles in two instances.  I work in the energy business traveling gravel roads hauling equipment, tools and various other sharp objects around, all at a rate of about 60k miles per year, and that's before my hunting exploits.  Friends, these things are durable.  Additionally, they offer an insulated layer that, combined with the insulation of my topper and my dog box, makes it amazingly comfortable for the dogs on cold days.  On sub zero hunts, when I button up the box windows and doors, I frequently feel a burst of warm air coming from the dogs' compartments as they exit for the field.  Plus, on hot days with the topper windows open and dog box fans blowing, the bed of the truck very nearly never gets dangerously or unbearably hot.  And last, they are infinitely more comfortable to crawl around on when compared to Rhino Lining.  It's not uncommon for me to be seen taking a nap on my BedRug lined tailgate.

The bird rig today, yet always being refined
I have a few other essential items in my rig that over the years have proven to be things I use every time I hunt without failure.  My water jug is a simple five gallon unit with a tap and handle. It doesn't take up much space, can be moved to the edge of the tailgate easily for pouring water into a bowl, and when I get home at the end of the day gets emptied at the tailgate and stored immediately for next time - easy peezy.  Folding chairs are a must have, not only for bird hunting but also for fly fishing.  They allow me to rest in relative comfort between walks, and boy do they come in handy come time to put on or take off waders.  A galvanized bucket is an item I have found tremendously valuable for all sorts of uses, storing dog supplies that I need to quickly get my hands on like dog boots, duct tape or e-collars, and collecting trash from throughout the day, but this is probably my most favorite use.....

Now that's what I call a bucket of chicken!

Be good to your friends.  Get the extended cab and for crying out loud bring them a chair.