Wing shooting is as natural for Stan Johnson as waking up in the morning. Since he was twelve years old (and let’s just say he’s past retirement age now), he’s been out in the wilderness, soaking up all the camping, hunting and fishing he can get. And he’s not even close to getting bored yet. “I’ve been hunting in Mexico now for almost 40 years,” he says. “When we first started hunting down there we just hunted ducks. We’d sneak up on ‘em and hopefully get a shot.” But Stan and his buddy Mitch Mitchell realized pretty quick they weren’t going to get real far without a dog unless one of them felt like swimming. Mitch was the first one to get a dog to go with them (the great Max), and then Stan jumped on board. He’s now with his second dog, Cruz (short for his AKC name, Pirates Caribbean Cruz), a 6-year-old black lab Stan got when he was about two.
“We’ve got a cabin 30 miles south of the border, and they have one of the best wild pheasant populations in North America.” Not to mention that there’s also a ton of wild quail, duck and dove and very little hunting pressure -- basically a wild hunter’s paradise. But as Stan and Mitch’s hunting has matured over the years, they’ve also ventured into more rugged and difficult terrain. “The dog work becomes more satisfying than actually the hunting,” Stan says now of his time in the bush. “Working the dog is just a huge part of the whole experience.” That’s almost an understatement when Stan explains the terrain they now hunt.
They usually start their mornings in the cotton and milo fields (which can be very hard on a dogs eyes), but as the heat of the day comes on and more predators are out, most of the birds will move down into drain canals (outlets that feed the fields) where the brush is so thick, it’s impossible to see Cruz once he charges in. “We’ll hunt along the edges and throw stuff down to try to get ‘em to flush up,” he says. But Stan is adamant that without sending a dog down those drains it’s just impossible to flush the majority of the birds out. “The dog has double duty flushing them up and then making the retrieves.”
It’s been tricky for Stan and Mitch to keep their dogs’ clear of injuries based on the terrain they work in. They’re both religious about flushing the eyes, and Cruz has gotten seeds in his eyes plenty of times in the past. Mitch has spent over $400 at the vet dealing with eye injuries to his dogs. After a few times of Cruz coming home from hunts looking like a raccoon -- “totally raw, scabbed up and looking terrible” -- he decided eye protection was critical for Cruz if he was going to keep working that kind of terrain.
“I tried to invent stuff, I tried Doggles,” he recalls. “But nothing worked until I found Rex Specs.” As one of our most avid hunters, Stan continues to help us test the product in the drains and fields and is playing a key role in providing feedback to ensure our goggles won’t come off the face or get stuck across the eyes when a dog isn’t visible to its handler and in deep brush. Stan looks at it just like he looks at the value of training for his dog. “I’m not a professional [trainer] -- I’m a handler,” he says. “The value to me as a pure hunter is having someone train your dog up so you can control your dog out in the field.” And in the field Stan hunts in, Cruz is on a blind retrieve any time he’s in the drains. And seeing his dog work (and lining up the prizes at the end of the day) is what continues to put a smile on Stan’s face. Next week he's off to Argentina for some of the best wing shooting in the world...we don’t expect he’ll call it quits on hunting anytime soon.