Thursday, February 9, 2017

Still Learning Stuff

 I find it both fascinating and encouraging that after 32 years or so of trying to get a shotgun pointed at a flying, wild game bird, I am still learning.  I am not sure if the chess masters learn every possible move within the game, but they must see a lot of the same tactics over and over.  At least the master checkers players, I would assume.  Tic-tac-toe for sure. Regardless, if we knew everything that bird hunting had to offer, it wouldn't be as exciting and fresh.

Now that I am OFFICIALLY done hunting for this season (I considered the final weekend of the Nevada chukar season last weekend), I can reflect on what transpired, both good and bad.  I managed to fit in a little bit of work around a lot of driving, many nights in cheap motels and a lot of hours in the Toyota listening to a balance of election bickering, fantasy hockey talk and new Chainsmoker songs on XM radio.

Woodcock. I finally conceded that the woodcock hunting around our grouse camp in Minnesota will never be as good as it was back in the late 80s and early 90s.  Sure, you can time the flights just right for a couple of days and feel like the birds are everywhere.  We moved plenty of woodcock in October to feel good about shooting a few that the old dogs had nailed, but it wasn't like the good ol' days, when the season opened on September 1st, the limit was five a day and guys shot a box of shells before noon.  No wonder all of our dogs went deaf at age eight.

Speaking of deafness, it is making an appearance. Oddly enough, it showed up in my Dad at age 70 this fall and by golly, I can tell that my hearing in my barrel-facing left ear, isn't as good as my leeward right ear.  Not a major deficit yet and no, I haven't worn ear protection bird hunting. Shooting skeet yes, but not afield.  I may regret that, sooner rather than later.

Wild Bobwhite. Nearly extinct.  Release birds only.  All on private land. Texas.  Habitat loss.

I have heard the doom and gloom, since I was old enough to read outdoor sporting mags.  I had no desire, nor the money to travel to Texas or Georgia and pay to hunt quail.   But, with a little guidance from a quail-crazy friend, some good luck, and one foot after the other, I had a great Kansas trip hunting bobs.  They were just as dog-friendly as grouse and woodcock up north and it was a special hunt as my two old setters were a perfect team. My only regret is that I didn't take Dad.

Chukar.  My chukar addiction was not quenched this fall, whatsoever.  I only had one real chukar trip this fall and I wasted a lot of time in new spots and previously successful areas were not as bountiful as previous years.  Other trips were cut short due to winter weather or bad roads.  I learned that the season can be pretty much over with one heavy snowfall. I don't mind hunting in snow, but at some point, you start to feel for the birds and the dogs.  It has been a long winter in parts of Idaho, Utah and Nevada and I hope spring comes early.

I learned that not everything from California is bad.  California / valley quail are pretty neat birds.  It is common in Montana to cringe, whenever the California moniker is used, but when a wintry chukar hunt forced me to veer south into the quail country of southern Idaho, I fell in love with the little bird.  In fact, my 13-year old setter Tess, finished her season, and possibly her career, bringing me back a valley quail that I could not find in the brush.   I was proud of her and was able to check a bird off the life list.

As of now, the bird season in Montana is only six and a half months away.  I can't wait to enter another season and learn a few more things.