Saturday, November 28, 2015

Just A Taste Of It

I had originally planned to head west for chukars when things started to wind down in Montana.  Those "things" included upland birds in Montana, like Huns, sharptail and pheasants.  Why leave birds to find birds, right? (see previous post on ruffed grouse) I also consider myself an occasional big game hunter, but mostly for the privilege of having deer or elk meat in the freezer.  Horns, not so important to me.  As you probably know. the dogs would prefer that I only hunted things with wings.

Well, I have never been great at delayed gratification.  My alibis were: 1) there wasn't enough snow to really track elk in the mountains of central Montana and 2) there would be plenty of time to shoot a deer over Thanksgiving weekend.  I also wanted to get to Idaho before snows would hinder my chukar hunting amidst the steep terrain.  Out of four trips to hunt chukars the previous fall, I hunted in substantial snow in three of them.  It wasn't a complete barrier to success, but the snow did add a bit of extra effort and danger to the hiking.

The trip for me was a solo one, which was fine.  When it came to chukar hunting, I had learned that it really wasn't for everyone.  The days were long, the miles were hard and the shooting was quite challenging.  When I am alone, I don't mind exploring new ground, with the possibility of completely striking out.  My Dad had the same philosophy for years, as he searched for the holy grail of ruffed grouse coverts, much to the benefit of others.  Now I can return the favor and get my hunting partners into birds with more consistency.

Some things never change, as I had ice-covered highways to travel over and there was even some snow on the chukar hills when I arrived. But, by the end of the first day of hunting, most of the snow had melted or disappeared via sublimation.  It was a fruitful trip overall, as I had found some birds in a new location and crossed off one possible chukar hotspot from the list, as the cover was sparse and we didn't put up any birds.  I made sure the dogs got into plenty of birds before the trip wrapped up as we hunted known milk runs where the only disappointment was my shooting.  

Overall, it didn't do much for whetting my chukar appetite. Now I just need this deer and elk hunting to wrap up.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Ruff Time

The trip to Dad's grouse camp in northern MN is always a bit of a 180 from the Montana upland scene. His camp is a speck of private ground, amidst thousands of acres of public land.  Hence, there is no begging for access, no worry about fence lines and property lines, and very little competition.  This is where I grew up, where my Dad and I have spent 30 years of weekends and holidays.  Dad has pages of detailed hunting journals and his own records of drumming counts and grouse cycle statistics.  In other words, this is our home arena.

The dogs also seem to enjoy the chance of pace.  They get to sleep by a wood stove, they eat table scraps that would feed some entire families and the ground is fairly forgiving, moist and shady, compared to rocky and rugged in Montana.  There are very few stickers and burrs to bury themselves in the long setter fur, no rattlesnakes or cactus to worry about. Wolves are my biggest concern and with gunshots, beeper collars and some loud voices, the odds are slim that one will have an encounter.

We seem to have missed the major woodcocks flights, but encountered a few each day.  Grouse were up slightly from 2014 (5% up according to the grouse professor). The dog work was good; many prairie dogs struggle with pace and range in the northern grouse woods, but with dogs that are both in their twilight, they worked at just the right cadence.

The negatives will haunt me for a year, until I return to Minnesota.  It was actually just one negative: my shooting.  I can still see Tess on point, on the edge between scattered popple and a expansive cedar swamp. As Tess was locked up, I prepared myself for a shot, but stepping into a clearing and onto a slight mound.  Not one grouse rose, but two, giving the grouse hunter a rare, very rare, true double on ruffed grouse.  Boom Boom.  I choked.  I rushed my shot on the first bird and then in a panic, missed the second also. No excuses.  This wasn't my first hunt in the woods. I spent more time in those woods than should have been allowed. If this was hockey, I would have been benched.

It wasn't the only miss or screw-up that I recall from that trip either. Is my hearing fading? If you can't hear a bird flush immediately, you are giving that bird a huge advantage. My reflexes? I hope not. I can still beat my Mom in tennis. Maybe.  Then again,  is no more challenging bird to get a bead on than a fast-flying grouse in thick cover.  Maybe I am just forgetting that detail.  A pheasant or sharptail is not very sporty over a point, compared to ruffs. Woodcock are even a notch below ruffs, especially when the leaves are mostly gone from the landscape. I also had two reloads that didn't fire.  That is also maddening, when you consider you drive 12 hours and might get six to twelve opportunities on grouse per day.  I also spent too much time trying to get video this trip as well.  Attempting to get a dog on a point, a bird flying and a subsequent clean kill on camera, is as tough as it gets in the world of cinematography.  But, my footage of the dogs, hunters and camp shenanigans are priceless.

Great trip overall, one that makes me appreciate where I grew up, how I was raised, and every dog that I have shared those favorite coverts with.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pheasant Games

What is it about pheasants? Why do hunters pack one-star motels and race down gravel roads to beat other hunters to their pre-determined location?  Heck, at some lodges in South Dakota, folks spend hundreds of dollars a day to shoot three birds.  Often over someone else’s dogs. Hunters simply get crazy about pheasants. 

I was part of the chaos and have been for over 20 years.  As I left town the Friday before opener, every dog kennel in truck beds that I saw headed to pheasant country, gave me some angst.  Seeing personalized license plates that read POYNTR, HNTMUP, RNGNEK, didn’t help either.  

But, as it has for many others, it is often about tradition more than the hunting.  The same hunting partners, the same rooster honey holes and the same corny jokes during lunch. “Never have we ever seen a guy miss a rooster over a point!” or "I don't shoot the juveniles, that was the new guy." The only things that change over time are the dogs, unfortunately. 

Once again, I woke up Saturday morning before the alarm. I grabbed my coffee cup and told Ryan and Kale to meet me at The Spot.  Sitting in the truck, for 45 minutes before dawn, I questioned my sanity, vowing to not do it again next year. I mean it this time. The Spot isn’t typically loaded with birds, but it is good enough.  And it was again.  We had our limit of nine birds, with a lot of help from experienced dogs that ranged in age from six to 12.  And, by golly, someone did miss a bird over a point. And to the Holier-Than-Thou types that like to respond with, "Bird hunting shouldn't be about limits", well I agree. Except for pheasant opener. It is often about limits. Even tailgate photos.  Sorry.  If I see someone one hunting at 4PM on pheasant opener, they are either a poor shot or are breaking the rules and are working on limit #2.  Or they really overslept.

By day three, when birds were running, some running ahead and flushing wild, things got sporty. And when an experienced dog plays the game of chase, point, chase, point and you are able to keep up to get a shot at that crafty rooster, then there is a sense of gamesmanship and great appreciation for just how good a dog’s nose is.  That is hunting, not just shooting ,like opening day was.

The only negatives this pheasant opener were extreme winds, (gusts to 50 mph on that Sunday) and the loss of CRP, which has reduced the amount of bird habitat by over 50% the past three years.  The glory days of Montana pheasant hunting might be over, but they are still good to enough to get up really early for, just to get your spot, one last time.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Upland Vest 6.0

I wished I had kept my first upland vest.  It was a hand-me-down vest, from Holiday, a gas station chain based in Minnesota, when they sold a lot of their own sporting goods.  The vests were often brown duck material, with very little blaze orange on them.  Simple, lightweight vests that served a purpose: hold a couple of grouse and woodcock in the rear game pouch, maybe a few shells in the front pockets.   My dad would always warn me not to use the stretched-out, elastic shell holders on the front, as they inevitably would fail while crawling through the woodcock alders.  "I am not going to lend you any shells, if you lose all of yours, " he would scold.  Point taken.

Now vests have evolved into more of a functional pack and less of a fashionable accessory.  I have a number of strap vests on hand (minimal carrying capacity) and a few pack vests too, but I decided to purchase a new one as my go-to bird/shell/water/food carrier has more rips in it than I can trust.  The old pack vest, made by defunct supplier, Mother, held up well and was lightweight. I have a similar vest made by Cabela's, but it also seems to be losing its durability. So, I went shopping for the 2nd most important item of clothing I can think of, second only to hunting boots.which I also seem to have a collection of.....

I did a lot of research and settled on the LL Bean Technical Pack Vest. While the WingWorks came in a  close second, it was nearly double the cost and was built so solidly that it was fairly heavy,  even when empty.  The Quilomene has been around a while, but hangs down lower than I like. Both are bulky, something that isn't always good when hunting in the thicker ruffed grouse or blue grouse coverts.  Tenzing, Pella, and Badlands also have some contenders in the category, but the LL Bean had a size that fit my frame the best.

I might break out the Filson strap vest this fall in MN, but out west, whether chasing sharptail in Montana or chukars along the Idaho/Oregon border, a larger option is necessary.  When you find yourself three miles from the truck at 1PM, it is essential to have your lunch and plenty of water for the dogs on your person.  And, being able to carry a few birds back home with you is also plus.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Early Indicators Suggest.....

Quit your jobs, cash out your 401K and tell the wife that you are getting back with the band.  It is going to be the best bird season in decades.

Well, maybe above average.  Yes, it is only late July, but I am starting to see a number of broods of various species so it definitely won't be a bad year. Sure, we can still receive damaging hail, prairie fires or forest fires (there is a blaze currently growing in Glacier Park), but overall things look good.

Pheasants--typically pheasant chicks in central Montana are the last to show themselves as the hens do a good job of keeping them hidden in tall cover. My sightings, unfortunately, are those young birds that were killed by vehicles.  When you see a lot of road-killed birds, it often indicates a good hatch. The only concern is with the birds that hatched after July 1st. We had a good, early hay crop and a lot of it was "put down", as ranchers say, earlier than normal.  Those birds that nested in CRP, grain or in thicker brush, should have done fine.

Hungarians--I have seen quite a few nice broods in my 20 mile radius from home.  This might be the best success story in central Montana this fall.

Sharptail----I haven't done much recon with dogs in the field yet, as I hate to bust up young flocks when they are this young.  August 1st is when I feel safe putting away the leashes.  But, I did see some young birds feeding in recently cut alfalfa recently. Only six or so, but better than nothing.

Blue Grouse---I have seen plenty of blues while on my mountain trail runs.  While my hopes are high for a good mountain grouse year, I am also witnessing dogs that are starting to show their age.  Granted it has been warm, but when the dogs fall in line behind me, I know they are tiring...fingers are crossed that they will be in game shape by September 1st.

Ruffs---same as blues.  Have seen plenty in the lower elevation foothills when hiking and when fishing.

Sage grouse---haven't seen any, but I haven't been in their prime habitat either. It still sounds like Montana will have a limited season, with only certain areas open to hunting, for the month of September.

I did some chukar scouting in Idaho while in the area for a race in June and was pleasantly surprised. I did see two coveys of full-grown birds, without chicks, so I have no idea what that indicates. I even heard some birds chuckling during the race and was probably the only runner smiling during the miserable ascent.

My friends in MN expect a similar grouse year to last. The drumming counts in northern MN were pretty much even from last year, so like last year, there were enough birds to make it interesting. The weather was decent during the hatch, as well. I just need to time the woodcock flights better this October.

While you probably shouldn't leave your wife or fake your own death this autumn, but as bird hunters, every fall is a good one.

Young-of-the year ruffs as of July 21st.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hatch Hopes

We are now entering our second stage of bird hunter worries: the spring hatch.  I fret from November-March whenever a blizzard wreaks havoc on my favorite uplands.  This past winter was pretty darn tolerable from chukar country out west all the way to the grouse woods in Minnesota.  Of course there were pockets that got hammered by a spring blizzard, but for the most part, the vulnerable birds like pheasants and Huns did OK.  The natives like sharptail and ruffs, always survive to some extent, even in the worst of winters.

Now we are entering phase two, which can also make or break a season for bird hunters.  There seems to be an abundance of storms, almost daily here in central Montana.  We haven't had any killer rains which create flash floods wiping out nests completely.  Multiple days of cold, wet weather hasn't occurred either, so that is a positive.  It has been warm enough to foster good insect growth, so once the chicks do break out of their eggshells, they should have plenty to eat.  The countryside is green with plant growth, so the cover should be good for both spring nesting and for hunting this fall.

I feel for the folks in the south, especially Texas. They are just trying to save their houses and livelihoods from the endless severe storms and flooding. Upland bird populations are the last thing on their minds right now, so in some respects this post is petty and selfish.

Keep your fingers crossed for the next few weeks. Not too much rain and no devastating summer hail storms. There will always be successful hatches and subsequent good hunting come autumn in certain regions, but with a little luck, we will all have our wishes come true.

Bird hunters are a demanding lot; we want adequate moisture for good green-up, but not so much that the spring hatch is  a washout.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Never Too Early To Plan

Fall is not in the air. But, for some reason my mind is wandering to September already.  Four months away, for Pete's sake.  Today during lunch, I spent 50 minutes of my 60 minute break (the beauty of living three minutes from the office, in a small town), taking inventory of my 20 and 28 ammo.  Mundane stuff, like combining open boxes, organizing on shelves by shot size, and trying to decide if I am going to shoot my 20 less, which depends on how much I hunt pheasants this fall. Do I carry my 28 more often in the steep chukar hills this season? Did I fare better with 6 or 7 1/2 shot..........back to work, lunch is over.

I did steal some company time, day-dreaming on what trips to take this autumn and when.  A Minnesota setter-man, fellow Norsk and willing fast-walker, has committed to hunting more out west this fall and our plan is to take more video.  Photos are great, journals are essential, but quality video is becoming increasingly easier to produce. The plan today isn't to try and sell this to folks or to make prime-time reality TV, but you never know.  If people enjoy watching the Kardashians go shopping or arguing over espresso, then the viewing public may also enjoy watching us search through the truck for toilet paper substitutes or cleaning woodcock in the headlights at dusk.

So far, the only concrete events we have booked are:

An early September blue grouse hunt.  Maybe even camping up high while doing it. Roasting a grouse or two over a fire.  Only concerns are carrying enough liquid for two days of dog water and whether or not there will be any fire restrictions this fall.

Sharptail near the Canadian border, mid-September. The days will begin to cool and the grain should mostly be harvested and in the bin.  Matt will have a setter pup to get into some birds and young sharptail are a great training tool. Probably only second to Timberdoodles.

Grouse and woodcock in Minnesota.  Even if the ruffs' cycle is toward the bottom, there are still enough birds around to make the trip worthwhile.  Staying at my Dad's grouse camp is rustic, cheap and is smack dab in the middle of all public land.  No knocking on doors for permission or racing other hunters to a spot each morning.  This will occur mid-October, give or take, depending on woodcock flights and leaves dropping.

A late-season pheasant hunt. Really late.  In the snow.  The hunters have vacated eastern Montana and the Dakotas. Shots are fewer and farther, but each bird is more rewarding.

Chukars in Idaho/Oregon.  This is a December or January event, when upland hunting is winding down in Montana. I am looking forward to chasing those crafty buggers more than anything this fall.  Hopefully, my old setter girls can handle it one more season, too.

There will be many other last-minute adventures too. If the sage grouse season is open this fall (stay tuned), I might take a walk in the Big Open, not caring if I shoot a big bird, but just to say I hunted them.

There will be plenty of Hun hunts around central Montana too. Those will occur in fairly random, barren tracts of land, that don't get a lot of attention.  Stubble fields, range land, and short grass prairie will all be in play.  Plenty of acres to cover.

The odds are also in favor of a mini-Montana road trip as well. Four or so days, toting the camper around the back roads of Montana, will find me hunting new coverts only, never knowing if I am going to come across a stray rooster, sharptail, Huns and possibly, all of the above.  The hunting is often only half of the fun. The other is immersing oneself in local cafes, taverns, bake sales, and whatever appears to be the hub of rural activity.

Now about that wedding in October that I was invited to...not sure I can make it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

West vs East

I was invited on a turkey hunt / business trip last week by a colleague.  I had not ever hunted Easterns, only our "dumb Merriams", as the joke went,  and the Osceolas of Florida, so I gladly accepted. It was a good trip, although I did not bag a big Kansas bird. We heard a few, saw a couple, but had more bad luck than good.  The first bird was run off by coyotes at dawn, the second gobbler was shot by another hunter on public land just across the fence and the final Tom, just didn't need our fake hens more than his real ones.  That is turkey hunting.

Hunting on the Kansas/Missouri border was new and interesting.  I left with a reminder on how things differ out West.  In Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, we measure everything in miles. Sections.  Hours of walking.  The farther you trek east, the smaller things get.  Hunting properties are 80 acres.  Maybe 160.  640 acres is huge. Often a complete farm to some.  Fences and roads seem to stretch every direction.   All of the private lands open to hunting were littered with deer feeders, growth supplements and game cameras.  Deer are king, turkeys and waterfowl are a close second.  Every conversation with other hunters resulted in a discussion about racks and the eventual cell-phone displays of big bucks that are on the short list for next fall.

Nothing against how others hunt.  Or where they hunt.  I am just grateful for all of the open space and variety we have in the West.  There are many places in Montana where I could walk in a straight line, all day, hunting on public land.  Our seasons are over four months long and involve numerous species of big game, along with another seven species of upland game birds.

I also tried the grits (nothing to brag about), sweet tea flowed everywhere (not too bad) and the humidity was miserable for April.  It was a good trip overall, but I was glad to be back in Montana, where I can chase our "dumb" turkeys again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Playing It Safe With Another Native

Maybe I am just getting older, maybe slightly less of a "killer" or maybe I have seen things occur in the past that I envision happening again with other species.  Woodcock numbers have definitely declined since the mid-eighties, when they were so thick in northern Minnesota that if we didn't shoot a limit of five daily, it just meant that we had to be in church until noon that Sunday.  Now, the limit is three, the season is shorter, and we only shoot Timberdoodles to reward great dog work.
Sage grouse, well, their plight is very much center-stage right now.  While there are still very healthy populations across parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, that season could be shut down permanently   at any time.

It didn't really hit home until last season, when some nonresidents at a local hotel had their dogs staked out while the pooches were being fed and their owners were swapping stories.   I was jogging with my own dogs so I walked over to converse.  Long story short, they all had found a fair amount of success in central Montana, hunting sharptails. All four gentlemen were headed home the next day with their four day possession limits of grouse.  In other words, four birds daily, for a total of 16. Completely legal.  64 sharptails taken out of a state as large as Montana, is not "biologically significant", as most upland bird experts or biologists would attest.  I concur.

However, is this one of those situations where we are proactive and play it safe, for the sake of the native bird and future generations?

I only have my first-hand, anecdotal evidence to base it on, but it does seem that Montana is increasing in popularity as a destination for prairie bird access. Similar to prairie chickens in South Dakota, wingshooters from all over the country make a trek to experience wide-open country that they don't have back home.  One difference is that the prairie chicken bag limits are smaller, at three birds allowed daily.

While CRP has been a huge boon to pheasants, it has also boosted sharptail numbers in many areas of Montana.  There was near-panic when pheasant numbers have begun to nosedive in South Dakota, following the loss of CRP acres the past few years.  The governor has called pheasant "summits" and Pheasants Forever has even opened their first regional office in the state.  If only sharptail would receive 1% of the attention of pheasants.  (do not take this as being anti-ringneck. I enjoy hunting pheasants as much as anyone)

My proposal? For now, treat them as conservatively as pheasants.  Three birds daily, three day possession.  In most views, that is still adequate, even for those folks that have to cough up plenty of cash for an out-of-state license.  And, if you consider that with pheasants, we are only shooting the males, bag limits that are equal might still not make perfect sense.  So far, I haven't had many takers on my suggestion, but contact me via email if you have any thoughts, for or against.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Things I Wish For

I wish states like Montana would quit stocking pheasants.  Invest those dollars into habitat.  There has never been a study that shows that released, farm-raised birds are successful. Habitat.

I wish all bird hunters would pick up their empty hulls.  I like to blame this on auto-loaders, ejecting shells out of reach or out of sight.  However,  I have also seen hunters break open their double, make a conscience effort to grab their empties and then toss them on the ground. Then again, people roll down their truck windows to throw out bottles, so I guess it is simply part of their makeup.  The shells might degrade over time, but not in our lifetime.

I wish CRP guaranteed some type of public access when it commenced in 1985. Yes, I know it is private land, but taxpayers are funding the program.  And when that CRP is used for a commercial hunting operation, well, that seems like we are being duped.  e.g., South Dakota Hunting Lodge.

I wish my favorite hunting boots would be a model that is made for more than one season.

I wish road hunters would park it. Get off the machine, get out of the truck and see some country. Stop making all of us hunters look lazy. Where I hunt in northern MN, the newest generation of road hunters looks at me funny because I am not riding a four-wheeler. That is all they know.
Dad up high hunting blues. Definitely not a road hunter.

I wish outdoor writers would be more creative.  Quit using terms such as ditch parrots.  Late season pheasants are sporty as heck. Don't hunt them opening weekend, if you find them below you. And don't wax poetic about bourbon, Scotch and Hoppe's gun oil. It has been done already. Since 1940.  And enough of the word epic, please. Sandwiches and 28 gauge reloads are not epic.

I wish that sweet spot in autumn between heat stroke and icy roads would last for months. Not days.

I wish dog trainers would not start putting their pupils on young-of-the-year birds until mid-August.  It seems like they are showing up in rural Montana earlier and earlier each year.  If you recall seeing how young some pheasants look on the opener in October, just think how vulnerable they are in late July.

I wish dogs lived longer.  Horses live up to 30 years old. Some bears have lived for four decades.  I would settle for 20. Although 25 would be better. Hand signals? Heck, by age 20, they would know sign language.
Tess and Abby. 18 years combined. Good and bad. 

I wish it was September 1st tomorrow.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Year In Review

42 Days in the field
Three States (MT, MN, ID)
8 Species (Sharptail, Huns, Blue/Dusky, Sage, pheasant, ruffed, woodcock, chukar)
8 various hunting partners
228 empties in the box (169 28ga, 59 20 ga.)

Since I am most likely finished hunting birds for the year and didn't feel like driving 200 miles on icy roads to drill a hole through the ice to fish, I spent time reviewing the past 4 1/2 months of my hunting journals.  There really wasn't anything that stood out as a surprise, but overall, I am very grateful for what transpired.

One sudden shift in my routine was the lack of pheasant hunting I did.  In fact, I only shot one rooster in Fergus County, where I reside.  I shot some birds in northeastern and eastern Montana in October, but I also made fewer trips that direction this year.  Day trips locally involved blue grouse and Huns, but a trip to MN for ruffed grouse and woodcock and a few trips west for chukars, also ate up some weekends.  Big game hunting can complicate things too, but I only hunted elk two weekends and hunted deer a couple of days around home.  I do enjoy elk hunting, especially having the meat in the freezer, but I also hate leaving the dogs at home.  Of all the bird hunting I do, pheasant hunting access is the most difficult, even in the middle of Montana, so it makes sense that my days chasing roosters diminished.

As an earlier blog post stated, I did hunt sage grouse one day and harvested one bird, mostly for posterity. It was a very keen reminder on how important big parcels of sage brush and the legacy of sage grouse hunting really is. I simply left the truck with the dogs and took off walking one direction in a large flat of sage brush, owned by you and me, administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  The hunt was plenty sporty, as the big bombers gave me a good challenge and kept flushing wildly. One bird was plenty, but I would hate to see that opportunity disappear.

I fell in love again with the chukar and everything it offers.  Again, all public land hunting, with nothing holding me back except daylight and how many miles I could physically endure in a day.  Challenging shooting, beautiful scenery and not a lot of competition.

I had never tracked the shots I had taken in a season, but since I had all of the empties in the garage from each of my outings, it was easy to tabulate the results.  By design, I used my 28 gauge three times as much as my 20, taking the latter out for pheasants mostly and toward the end of my chukar adventures.  The number of shots isn't important, nor is the number of birds bagged. But, over 200 shots on wild birds indicates that either 1) bird populations were strong 2) I hunted a lot or 3) I took a lot of shots because I needed to after missing the first shot.  Maybe all three apply.

Hunting with eight different people was also by design.  For those of us that have hunted since Reagan took office, we have learned that hunting alone is sometimes better than hunting with people that we don't click with.  Since the pillars of upland bird hunting are safety, dog work and brisk walking, it isn't much fun if one doesn't prioritize similarly.  Highlights were taking Ted M. to eastern Montana to shoot his first sharptail and seeing Dad shoot his first wild chukar at age 68.

Dogs.  I hunted harder, longer and more often than normal this season since my setter girls were age eight and ten. Everyday is precious at this point.  The two work together like a machine, backing each other when appropriate and covering ground at the perfect speed and distance.  They worked well in tight woodcock coverts, as well as the wide open of Idaho and Montana.  Tess is starting to show her age, but still hunted hard.  The girls made it through the season without any major injuries, the worse being some minor barbed-wire cuts.  We did have some rattlesnake encounters, but the dogs seemed to keep their distance out of fear or perhaps blind luck.

Overall, it was a good upland bird season. I am saddened that it is over. But, then again, there are a few seasons still open around the country.....