I don't recall this trouble last year, but then again, I didn't go right from Montana pheasant opener to grouse and woodcock camp either. A bird is a bird is a bird. Smell the bird, point the bird. It isn't rocket surgery, as my college buddy used to misspeak.
The trip started from central Montana where I leave roosters for more roosters and much better access. Lewistown is a bird hunting mecca where most of the pheasant ground is tied up to Bozeman-based guides and we are left with slivers of public land. But, enough of that whining. My eastern Montana pheasant opener is a tradition since the 90s, otherwise known as the era of Guns and Roses, Zubaz and Stroh's beer. I miss the Zubaz the most. The hunting is easy, the bird work is more like training and the afternoons are spent hunting Huns or sharptail once limits are had. I used to get a tribal license or cross into North Dakota for a fresh, new limit of birds in the afternoon, but that was when I was younger and more was always better. Unless it involved Stroh's.
|Pheasant opener with the boys. Tradition or competition?|
I departed Montana, seeing a bunch of birds in North Dakota along the way. Doesn't anyone hunt the Bakken anymore? With empty oil fields and fairly quiet roads, it seemed like the pheasants in western ND were going to waste. I will keep that in mind for later. I encountered snow-covered roads in mid-Dakota, but that was par for the course. When I finally hit grouse camp at dusk, I was doubly impressed. The leaves were about 80% off the trees and Dad was on the porch pointing to a grouse in a tree next to him, eating mountain ash berries. That was a good sign. By morning, there were two ruffs, fighting over berries. Even better.
Despite Dad being a 70-year old wingshooter, our first morning hunt turned out to be a five-hour jaunt, in his typical fashion. One bird leads to another, one covert connects to another. We moved plenty of birds and had good dog work from Blue and Tess, a team of 12 year-olds that know their stuff. They don't compete, they honor each other flawlessly and they don't crowd ruffs. We moved about 11 birds and bagged five. Not a bad start to a trip.
|When the grouse are coming to us at the cabin, the peak of the cycle is getting close.|
In the afternoon, I let Tess rest, giving Abby, the "youngster" at ten, the floor. To cut to the chase, so did she. She bumped a woodcock and a grouse like she was in a hurry to see the things fly. I grew up in hawthorne and alder country and can bust brush with the best of them. But, I had a heckuva time getting to her beeper in time to get a shot off. Day two was a little bit better, but I still felt like Abby was creeping in on the King when she didn't need to.
Many dog men have said hunting running roosters will ruin a pointing dog. I have never bought that theory completely, but I was wondering if the pheasant chase we did a few days earlier, did have an impact on my seasoned setter. I admit, there are a few times over Phez Opener 2016, where I encouraged Abby to break point. A bird was locked up tight, in thick cover and wouldn't budge.
OK, Abby! Ok.
There are also those running roosters in CRP which encourage chasing, relocating and more chasing. We are nearly trying to create a flushing dog out of our pointing dogs. That is not what you want in the grouse woods.
Day three was better. I think Abby was slowing down and treating ruffs with the respect they deserved. I had to leave that afternoon, but one bird will haunt me for another 12 months: Abby's beeper was going off in a distance and she wasn't moving a muscle. I made it over to her and saw the gray phase grouse on the ground. I reached for my phone/camera as the bird flushed, giving me a shot that I could have made, but failed. Dad would later kill that bird. My bird. Abby's bird. Truly the King of Gamebirds.
|Abby, Tess and Blue with their Day One bounty. Oh, and Dad likes a neat stack of firewood.|