Sportsman’s Corner: Live from Vermont at the Outdoor Writers Association of America Convention

  • Mike Roche took a break from the Outdoor Writers Association Conference in Jay, Vermont, to write this weeks “Sportsman’s Corner.”  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 10/7/2021 1:12:06 PM
Modified: 10/7/2021 1:12:11 PM

This writer has just returned from attending the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) Convention that was held in Jay, Vermont this week.

My outdoor writing career began when the first Sportsman’s Corner appeared in the Daily News in 1986. Since that time, my membership in the New England Outdoor Writers Association and later OWAA have helped my professional development and brought me in contact with a lot of talented communication professionals.

When the location was announced, it occurred to me that this was accessible and within a time frame that was open so the process to attend began. As it so happens, a friend from my hunting life in New York has a house in Jay that he bought 14 years ago to provide a base for his family’s love of skiing. He has often mentioned that there is good upland hunting in the area, so a plan was concocted.

That plan involved my going to Jay before the conference when upland season opened in Vermont on Sept. 25. As was chronicled in this space last Friday, my older French Brittany Dinah exhibited serious symptoms during that trip that included falling down, circling, twitching eyes, and a head tilt. My first fear of a stroke was eliminated when her appetite was good, and she drank water and was energetic. The trip was cut short, however, and a visit to Adams Animal Hospital led to a spot-on diagnosis of idiomatic vestibular dog disease AKA “old dog disease” by Dr. Temple.

The good news was that most dogs recover fully with the head tilt being the most common long-lasting effect. The bad news was that Dinah would be “on the shelf” for two to three weeks.

Originally, OWAA executive director Chez Chesak had asked if I might be willing to take a writer out hunting grouse and woodcock. Since I really enjoy guiding others, it was seriously considered but my pre-conference scouting, and the typical early season issues of warm temperatures and dense understory has not given me the ability to be confident that the experience would be up to my high standards with regards to finding birds so that idea was scrapped.

So, Sunday found me again driving the Silverado up Route 91 for the 200-mile jaunt to Jay, this time with just one dog box. My friend and host Dean Scudder was waiting with his new Brittany pup Dolly, who he was gushing about. Dean and his wife had done a great job training the pup and her level of obedience was high. She also seems to be way ahead of her age with staunchness on point and she had been great finding and holding grouse.

We decided to go to a couple of his covers with Laney. The first cover was “very thick” alders as Dean described it and he mentioned that one common friend would not hunt there because of the heavy cover. One hundred yards in, that became a factor as the thick alders, combined with thigh-high understory, made Laney impossible to see and she, in turn, could not see us.

We stopped to change direction and suddenly there was no Laney. Normally, that would not be an issue but in my haste to get the trip underway and with the changes created by bringing one dog and leaving the other, the controller for the Sport Dog Upland Hunter collar was left behind in Orange.

My belief was that since Laney has always been close working this first outing of the season would be fine without the ability to control the beeper. That control allows me to turn off and on the beeper. When that is done, a distinctive tone is emitted that allows me to locate the dog. Also lost is the ability to communicate with the dog using the tone setting on the collar which the dogs have learned means I want them to come to me.

Suddenly, with thick cover and no idea where Laney was, yours truly was concerned. For 15 minutes I called her name and “Come” and also used two whistle blasts, which are also used to get the dogs to come in. Believe me when I say that my mind was racing and the fear of losing the dog became real.

The horror stories of lost dogs told by so many upland hunters came to mind and it struck me that I do not have a tag on her collar with my phone number. The only way to identify me as her owner would be her rabies tag or the Town of Orange dog license.

Fortunately, she did ultimately return, and huge sigh of relief ensued. It was still a challenge to keep her close and, when the forecast for the next day was steady rain, a not-so-quick trip to Massachusetts was undertaken to get the controller. Lesson learned!

The conference has proved to be better than anticipated. Back in the 1980s, a trip to attend the OWAA conference in Duluth, Minnesota had been undertaken but my plans to become more a­ctive as a writer were chang­ed when other life choices prevailed.

The two keynote speakers have been exceptional. Monday, Doug Ladd’s “Can Communicators Catalyze a Sustainable Future for People and Nature?” was eye-opening. He did a fantastic job of taking the history of the natural resources of earth and making it possible to understand how we got here and what that has meant to the natural world. He used a lot of hard data to drive his point and that included studies that make it clear that humans that interact with nature live longer and more productive lives!

Tuesday, Mamie Parker, who was the first woman of color to lead the fisheries section of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was the presenter and she did an outstanding job of helping me, and the assembled writers, understand what things need to happen to make the outdoors world more open and inclusive to all people, not just the traditional white males but women, people of color, indigenous people and everyone who has the interest and ability to participate in and lead us all forward in our mutual appreciation of the fish and wildlife resources and all things that pertain to the natural world.

An unexpected benefit of attending the conference has been a chance to reconnect to some old friends and also meet some really interesting people from across the country. It is always fascinating to me how often a conversation with someone you meet will quickly come to a common friend or place. The outdoor world is made up of people who are involved and do things that tend to involve a common group of dedicated people who have committed themselves to making a difference in the outdoor world.

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the MaharFish’N Game Club, counselor and director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor for over 40 years and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at

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