Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Can We Just Hunt Already?

Better than the forbidden tailgate photo? Perhaps. But, someone still chirped about it when it was posted.

When did the study and discussion of bird hunting become bigger than the hunt itself? Waxing poetic is fine and it sells magazine articles. However, there should be some muddy boots, snoring dogs and some bird guts in a bucket after a long day too. Embrace the legacy of the hunt for what it is or else take up tennis and fly fishing. Here are some current trends that will probably come and go with a little luck.

Field-to-Fork. Prairie-to-Plate, etc.  Why is this a thing? Is it novel to shoot a bird, clean it and cook it?  We all have favorite recipes and we often experiment with new ones.  Hunters have been cooking their own game for years.  I guess it is a good thing that urban folks are embracing the hunt from a food perspective. But, I am not sure it needs a catchy name or corporate mission statement.

Pluck it schmuck.   Speaking of cleaning your own birds, I have seen some social media posts this past autumn calling out others who skin birds versus plucking them. “You are doing the bird and yourself and your family a disservice!” “Skinning birds is breaking game waste laws!”  Stop.  You just killed the bird, plucking it isn’t akin to catch-and-release fishing. We also know the difference in the final product and appreciate the advantage of leaving the skin on.  But, it also depends on the end game.  For roasting, yes, skin is in.  If you are making chicken nuggets out of your birds or a sweet-and-sour stir fry, it doesn’t matter.  If you want to pluck eight Huns, three pheasants and four sharptail after that long drive home from a banner day in North Dakota, knock yourself out.  I am skinning and grinning in that instance.

Fit-to-Hunt, Chukar Cardio Club, Feel The Rut Supplements……... I relate to this Olivia Newton-John “Let’s Get Physical” mission at some level. I am probably more skewed this direction than the guy that roads his dogs with an ATV and is carrying an extra 50 around his mid-section. But, if you are the same guy posting photos of yourself at the gym, this goes hand-in-hand with your narcissistic side.  Do you even lift bro?  I do work out nearly every day, some of which is at high-elevation, but no one else cares. Maybe the dogs do.  If you are in shape, they get to hunt longer. Staying in shape for hunting should be as routine as eating the birds you bag and doesn’t require a Facebook Group.

Instragram Judge and Jury.  Similarly to the plucking folks, there are a few strong opinions on the Internet, always quick to point out the injustices of the world, one being the dreaded tailgate photo. “Shameful”. “Barbaric”. “Unoriginal”.  I understand that stacks of birds can appear to some folks as wasteful and disrespectful. The truth of the matter is that tailgates are easy.  Often, birds on the ground or ones held up by hunters don’t show up well in photos.  For those of us that use photos as part of our hunting journals, there is some record-keeping advantage to those lined-up roosters and Huns. Looking back at my old photos of ruffed grouse hunts, I can quickly verify the peak years of the grouse cycle versus the bottom.  As far as being original, I am not sure there is anything original anymore.  The grouse/woodcock with a leather bird strap or pheasants hanging on barbed-wire, yup, been done. Often. While a tailgate photo may never make the cover of an upland magazine, it isn’t destroying bird hunting as we know it. Trust me, I love and respect those birds as much as you do. 

I am looking forward to the day where we can once again simply hunt for the love of the birds and dogs, not question someone else’s style or motives.   Unethical and illegal actions need to be addressed. There is no tolerance there. But, let’s not make our passion as hateful as politics and as complicated as an Ikea dresser.  Load up the dog, grab the gun and just go hunting.   
Next episode: The invention of the term Prey Drive and dog breeders’ love of it. Also, we search out the three upland bird hunters that do not have a podcast.

Dad and some ruffs circa 1966. Field to kitchen, if you will. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

End-of-Season House Cleaning

Letti's first Hun that she pointed and retrieved in September.  I am glad I didn't miss. 

My unfinished basement, where my unfinished den is adjacent to the incomplete home-gym, shows a season of neglect.  September 1st through January 31st to be exact.  After each upland adventure, I would quickly unload the truck, clean and package birds (if I was so fortunate) and hurriedly stash my hunting gear and road trip-leftovers downstairs. After five months of this run-and-gun behavior, the basement looks like a combination of a college frat house and a rummage sale.

So, a very small part of me- very small- is almost glad the 2018-2019 bird season is over.  Time away from family, a console full of gas receipts and hours of driving lonely roads in the dark does takes its toll.  After a quick analysis of my hunting journal, a few aspects stand out.


Montana Huns.  The report of their demise was not greatly exaggerated.  Poorest Hungarian year in twenty years according to my records.  A terrible drought with very low brood numbers in the summer of 2017, followed by a long winter, played a role in poor numbers this season.  Pheasants were OK in Montana, sharptail were also down, but not as severely as Huns. Surprisingly, the blue grouse were off by about 50% as well. Very few juvenile blue grouse were bagged compared to adult birds.

Eastern Idaho Chukar.  I had thought chukars in the eastern side of the state would have rebounded from their wipeout after the wicked winter of 2016-2017. When biologists tell you that 90% of the birds were lost to winter mortality, pay attention. I like to think I can always walk my way into birds and a good hunt, but not this time.

Minnesota woodcock and weather.  I was about a week or two late for the peak of the woodcock flight at at the grouse camp.  Fortunately, the ruffed grouse had rebounded from the dip the previous season. Unfortunately, an early October snowstorm locked things up for most of my hunt.

The pup's retrieving.  Needs work, as her mouth was a bit rough on birds. But, I hadn't worked a lick on retrieving, so more my fault than hers.

Grouse were up in Minnesota. Unfortunately, we had a foot of snow during my trip.


Wyoming Chukar.  Could be a sleeper state.  To be continued.

Kansas Walk-In lands.  Program continues to grow and supports a lot opportunity for both pheasants and bobwhite.

Idaho California quail.  Chukar get my attention, but lower on the mountain, the valley quail are a lot of fun. And they never weight down your vest, even with a limit.

The new truck camper.  Waking up in bird camp, not having to check out of a hotel room or pay pet fees was pretty slick.  While I had to be careful to not get the rig stuck or in an area with low-clearance, it was a treat to come back to the truck at noon, heat up some coffee and fix a hot lunch out of the wind. Napping wasn't allowed. OK, just once.

The 28 gauge.  I continue to shoot the smaller-gauge gun more, my 20 less and less.  I seem to shoot the gun better;  probably as simple as it being lighter and faster.  There are some fringe benefits as well: shells weigh less in the vest and I am a digging fewer pellets out of each bird.

The pup's natural ability.  I bought the Ryman setter mostly for her engine.  I wanted a work horse, not a race horse.  Her nose is good, her temperament is gentle.  I look forward to the next chapter with her in just seven months. 

Counting up the shots taken for the season. The numbers aren't as important as the memories.