Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Season That Wouldn't End

Growing up in the icebox of northern Minnesota, I didn’t fathom hunting upland birds after Thanksgiving, let alone January 1st or into February. We got our licks in though, hunting steadily from September 1st (woodcock only) until deer season in early November shut down the setters and hunters.  There were a few years where the snow didn’t accumulate to levels that impeded our search for December ruffs, but usually Thanksgiving was the tail end of our season.


When I finally ended up in Montana, the climate allowed for ample pheasant hunting until January 1st, many years without any snow on the ground. The birds were as crafty as heck in the late season, but it didn’t matter. Hunting pressure was nil and the dogs were in prime shape.  The four-month season offered a lot of variety from blue grouse at 8,000’ in September to Huns and sharptail in October. Pheasants were the primary quarry the final half of the year, which often varied from the easy birds of the opener to tougher days of busting cattails and deep snow. Four months of bird hunting seemed adequate.


When chukars, and to a lesser extent quail, entered the picture, instantly an additional month of hunting and road trips were attained.  Idaho chukar and valley quail and Wyoming chukars and Huns, had become my addictions. While I have traveled to Kansas and Arizona as well, they weren’t getaways that could be done on a long weekend.  I could be in Wyoming chukar country in four hours, so why wouldn’t I sneak to the Cowboy State as often as I could?


And, sneak I did this season (often alone and wearing a mask). For all of us in the North who value a good ice-auger more than golf clubs, winter weather can shut down the hunting season or make the travel back and forth miserable. We tell our spouses, “one more hunting trip is needed before the snow flies”, a line I used repeatedly this fall. Four trips in a five-week span were made to Wyoming, with varying results each sojourn south.  My goal was to find birds in a new location each trip, so I did cross off some areas about as often as I successfully scribbled Chuk on my maps. 


I also made two trips to Idaho, both of which were enjoyable as I took two different hunting partners to see the majestic Hells Canyon. Hunting in that scenic terrain, with all public-land, is hard to top.  No fences, no permission needed, the only requirements consisted of being in good physical shape and remembering which ridge the truck was parked.


When January 31st came and went, I had partially cleaned up my bird hunting Ready Piles in my den - collections of things I used so often that I really never unpacked from each getaway. Dog collars, my 28 gauge shell bag, dog food and boots I rotated based on the upcoming terrain, were always at the ready.  But, when I realized Nevada’s chukar season remained opened until February 7th, I quickly restocked. While a winter storm was going to impact the home front in central Montana, northern Nevada was downright balmy, with temps in the 50s.  I would worry about returning home later.


It was my first trip to Nevada, outside of many work trips to Las Vegas, which really do not count.  Like many expeditions to a new area, one wastes a lot of time scouting and finding the birdy ground.  Letti did her part and found plenty of Huns the first day and finally struck gold with chukars on the second.  It was an enjoyable, albeit short trip, but I hunted into February for the first time in my life, so what’s not to like?  The season ended abruptly, as I drove the final 300 miles on ice, all the way to my doorstep.  But, I had to make the final trip, before the snow came.