Friday, August 16, 2019

Treat Autumn As If It Were Your Last

  On a recent work trip, I ran into a gentleman at the Billings airport whom I recognized, but couldn’t quite name or recall how I should know him. Finally, upon our decent into a larger and less-friendly city, it jumped out at me. He was a bird hunter and sporting clays shooter from Billings that I had met about 15 years prior.  Al looked healthy, but so much older.  He had gone from vibrant and athletic to hunched-over and slow-moving. Ever misjudge how long ago certain events really were like I often do? It may seem like six years since I shot my first Mearns quail, but was actually closer to ten. I am planning for a 30-year-class reunion next summer when I could swear I was just wearing Zubaz and making a Duran-Duran mix-tape.
 One of my favorite saws is “Father Time is Undefeated”.  So, as we near the upcoming season, my mind is racing; how can I make the make the best use of my precious fall months? What trips should I put on the precious autumnal calendar? 

All Chukars All The Time. 
This is very applicable when one ponders the issue of aging.  Like elk hunting in the West, it is a young man’s game.  I know I can’t run uphill chasing a birdy setter forever, so I should be focusing on chukars even more than I do.  While I have shot the sporty buggers in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, I would really like to check off Oregon and Nevada this fall.  Or, do I make it an epic quest and try and hunt chukars in all states this fall?

More Time At Bird Camp.  
In my twenties and thirties, I had taken for granted Dad’s humble grouse and woodcock getaway in northern Minnesota. Today, its perks cannot go unnoticed: no hotels or restaurants to roll the dice on, endless public land and always enough birds to make things interesting.  If he was a millennial, Dad would also call it “his happy place”, which is worth cherishing too. 
Grouse Camp. Where the living is easy. 

Blue Grouse Early and Often
While I typically start hunting blues (yes, I know about the dusky-sooty discovery) September 1st because of the heat down low on the flat ground, it is time I respect the hunt for what it is:  ample bird numbers with decent dog work on thousands of acres of public land.  I plan to hunt Montana early in our usual coverts and then move on to Wyoming where a trail run last summer led me to believe that the Cowboy State has blue grouse dying of old age in some very wild places.
Blue grouse hunting. Big country, big views. 

Of course there will be the usual trips to the quiet parts of Montana, looking for Huns, sharptail and roosters.  Hopefully, Montana Huns bounce back significantly, as last season they were few and far between. A day trip to sage grouse country for a bird or two may transpire some cool morning in September. Crossing over the eastern border into North Dakota will probably occur in mid-October, since I was “in the neighborhood”. A trip to Nebraska or Kansas is projected for that period when winter is taking hold in Montana and heading south makes good sense.  Speaking of south, Arizona or New Mexico is always on my radar, but never works out in January due to work obligations. Maybe this year.

Regardless, life is short, dogs’ lives are shorter and each autumn seems to be over in the blink of an eye.  Get out there and enjoy every opportunity you get.    
Hunt Huns when they abound. Weather dictates their numbers more than anything.