If you are old enough to remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports, you distinctly recall Jim McKay uttering the words “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat”. While a tough day in the field doesn't rival an epic crash on the Giant Slalom, it does occasionally make us question our choice of hobbies or sanity. When entered into my hunting journals, this season had no shortage of peaks and valleys when compared to previous years.
Singing The Blues
The opening day of the season on September 1st, found us in blue grouse country. Dad was only three months into his warranty period on his new knee, so we planned to take things easy. Five miles and 2,000’ feet of elevation later, I reminded him not to overdo it on the first day. Too late. He wasn’t able to walk the next day, let alone hunt. It was a strange day as we moved about a dozen blues, but many of them blew out of trees, not offering much dog work. We each shot a bird, so we were not skunked. I returned to the woods and Dad’s RV two days later and had a great hunt in the hills. I found plenty of birds and had fairly open shooting over points. If you haven’t hunted blues, it is great sport, in majestic country for a bird that is wonderful on the table.
|No snakes and usually 10 degrees cooler than the prairie|
Hunting For Cover, Not Birds
As I moved north on the Montana prairie, it was good to see that the birds bounced back nicely since the dreadful summer of 2017. The drought that season virtually wiped out all reproduction for Hungarian Partridge and sharptail. (Pheasants fared slightly better) This fall, sharptail were abundant and seeing three or four coveys of Huns a day was the norm. Shooting a limit of Huns isn’t always the goal, but when it occurred over the 6-month old pup, I made no apologies. The light really came on, as they say. Unfortunately, the continued drought reduced the habitat for the birds on the landscape. The lack of grass resulted in more haying and more grazing. A definite double-whammy which may carry over into spring 2022 nesting.
Its Ruff Without Woodcock
The trip to the grouse and woodcock cabin in MN also produce mixed results. The woodcock had already come and gone, but the hunting for ruffs was decent. I hunted some untouched ground via my fat-tire bike where I only saw the tracks of wolves and some old whitewash from timberdoodles. The final day I shot a true double on ruffs, which I don’t recall happening in 40 years of hunting in the north woods. I won’t bore you with the details, but that mental image will stick with me for a while.
Everyone Wants a Rooster
Montana pheasant opener: Plenty of birds, good dog work, but too many people. I have hunted the same spots in NE MT for years, but this was the first opener in which vehicles and RVs were strategically parked to reserve spots. People were trespassing with reckless abandon. To the guys from Idaho said they new it was private land and didn't care, we need the opposite of an R3 program for folks like you. I keep saying I am going to avoid pheasant opener, but 30 years later….
Burned In Hells
Idaho chukars. The first day was a disappointing bust as our destination was a black moonscape from the wildfires this summer. We saw a few birds, but their remaining cover were rock piles. On day two, I fell on frost-covered rocks and put an ugly ding in my 28 gauge. Good thing I packed an extra 20 gauge and shells. Finally, on the third day, our luck changed and we found a supercovey of birds in some rugged country, miles from the nearest road.
|I think about chukar country 12 months a year.|
Kansas quail. In southern Kansas, we had a great start on bobs, on a bitterly cold, snowy day. I was able to hunt both dogs, who worked as a team. I moved five coveys and shot a limit and I am glad I did. The next morning, when we had bluebird weather and high expectations, I never saw a covey. To make matters worse, Lena the pup, found a trapper’s leg-hold unit and howled until I ran over and set her free. An event like that really puts a damper on your enthusiasm. After seeing a snare in the same area, I was more than content to call it a trip and make the 15-hour drive back to Montana.
|Legal on public lands, but not a lot of fun for bird dogs.|
We had just the right enough snow for a Montana Hi-Line pheasant and Hun hunt so I took a break from chukars and went north. Overnight temps were around zero, so I rented a dog-friendly motel instead of hauling the RV. While I was mostly after Huns with a side of pheasants, I could not get close to the Huns. They flushed wild repeatedly from the hard-packed snow and eventually I gave up. The Huns were acting more like pheasants. I moved to slightly heavier cover and focused on ringnecks. The tight-sitting roosters and hens were great practice for a young dog. The hunting was good, the driving on icy roads was not.
Wyoming chukars and Hungarians. When a rancher tells you he has never seen a bird hunter before, you chalk it up as a plus. Due to a dry spring and summer, amidst an already arid climate, the bird numbers were down from previous years. But, the weather in South Montana was balmy until the very end of the season, while snow was piling up in my Idaho haunts.
My final bird was a Hun, over a point by both dogs at sunset on January 30th, along the snowcapped Rocky Mountain Front. I ended that day and my season with one chukar and one Hun which doesn’t sound like much of a day. But, when you look at the big picture of finding wild birds in wild country with your own bird dogs, there are always more good days than bad.
|Final bird of the season. Now we wait.|