Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Proper Preparation

If you’re anything like me, you read all the “expert” advice telling you to organize your hunting gear well before the beginning of the season. As so many hunting guides and outdoor writers suggest, “check and recheck all necessary equipment on a rainy spring day, on a sweltering summer evening, or during halftime of a Notre Dame football game."
And if you’re exactly like me, you acknowledge the validity of the advice and promptly ignore it.
I suppose that’s why the first day of pheasant season found me reaching into the pocket of my vest for a few samplings of number 6 and instead finding an old Almond Joy, a spent cartridge, and the grocery list I lost back in December. The cartridge reminded me of the last hunting day of 2007 while the grocery list reminded me of the many times my wife is right and I’m wrong. The Almond Joy simply provided me a nice morning snack on the first hunt of 2008. The chocolate was chewy and the almond certainly could have been more joyful. Still, a good find.
I’d like to say I was a bit more organized for the start of big game season, but alas I was again not as dutiful as the expert said. The good news is I remembered my tag; I packed it neatly into my “deer hunting only” pack that hangs on a nail in the garage. I know that’s where I had the tag because I put it in the pack the day I got it.
Just imagine how sorry that buck would have been had I not left the pack hanging on that nail. To make matters worse, I had no Almond Joy with me.
But I live for waterfowl season, and yesterday I decided to organize my decoys, add weights to the ones needing to be replaced, untangle the cords, and even apply a little touchup paint on those bright green heads. As for my goosin’ gear, I planned to fill every shot sleeve with a dose of 3 ½ inch BB shells.
Who am I kidding, I’ll do it when I get out to the river.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A day to remember

After a couple weeks of seemingly working every waking minute, the stars aligned and I got out for a day of bird hunting. And what a day it was! Early Saturday morning I hit the road with Paul Reinker, of MSJ field staff fame. Our destination was the ranch of an acquaintance in the Powder River country. Upon arriving we were pleasantly surprised to find the ranchers claim of having, "Plenty of birds" to be an understatement. Never before had I seen the sheer number of pheasants that this ranch held, nor had my much more experienced (aged) hunting partner. Despite diligently passing up a number of shots in favor of solid flushes from our young golden retriever, we both found ourselves with limiting trios in little more than an hours time. The mornings hunting was only topped by the bowls of chili awaiting us at the ranch house.

Thanks to Paul & Kristi Mobley of Twin Buttes Outfitters for having us out, your hospitality was greatly appreciated.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For

It has been a warm fall on the uplands. I have had too many days where the dogs were whipped by noon from hunting in above-normal temperatures. As a result, I was often cussing the balmy weather, looking forward to cool days and cold nights.
Well, it changed and it changed dramatically. On Thursday, I was hunting sharptail in a tee-shirt. This Sunday, the 2nd day of pheasant season, it snowed over eight inches in eastern Montana.
Hunting was bearable and even enjoyable, despite the constant snow in the face and the brisk north winds. The birds sat tight, unable to run in the snow, making for some great points by the dogs and some easy shooting. It also forced a lot of hunters into the bars, to watch football, giving us less competition afield. I love hunting late season pheasants, but I don't think it needs to happen in mid-October.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pheasants Forever

Pheasant season has always been, in my family, what fishing was to the Maclean family of A River Runs Through It. Dad loved walking the ditches for ringnecks and would rather have hunted pheasants than just about anything. Because the opening of pheasant season usually came within days of my birthday, I could count on a small, square, heavy box poorly wrapped by dad full of 20 gauge shells.
Long after our last hunting lab was gone, dad and I would still walk the ditches and fields for his favorite quarry, ever cautious that a wounded bird could easily hide and disappear from sight only to die later. We pulled birds out of shrubs, out of log piles, and left no leaf unturned in retrieving fallen birds. That was his way.
Dad’s last shot at a pheasant got away. It dropped once and just about as he was to retrieve it, took off again. Once again dad shot the bird down, and once again it found the power to get up and scurry away across a small ditch, through a little patch of weeds, and then took flight.
Dad died a year later, still regretting that he hadn’t been able to retrieve that bird. I think he knew it was his last opportunity and wanted to bring one more bird home to mom.
But in a lot of ways that pheasant summed up dad’s life: despite a long battle with cancer, he kept going. We’d both been shot hunting at different times, but kept doing it. In the end the bird did the one thing that dad wished he could—it made it away.
I look forward every year to my birthday and the start of pheasant season, still missing dad, still looking for that pheasant, and still enjoying every walk and every ditch.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Torn Between Two Loves

Craig, MT. I never fish in October. Or September for that matter. Once autumn arrives, I trade my days on the water for days behind bird dogs. But, I combined a little business in Helena with pleasure on the Missouri.
While the Mo' has never been good to me, I still enjoy the consistency of the place. Nice drifts, plenty of room for working on your long casting game and the potential for a femur-sized brown. It can be crowded, for sure, but there is a lot of water. And it is October.
I never saw any of those big browns. Just small rainbows that felt sorry for me and wanted to let me know that the day was not wasted just because I wasn't chasing birds.
But, the inner pain I was feeling leaving Tess and Abby on the couch at home was only made worse when I was surprised by nearby shotgun volleys. It took me about 30 minutes of fishing to realize that waterfowl season opened on this Saturday. Anyway, thanks guys.
That made my decision easy: time for a quick burger at Izaak's and then head back home. I need to get those dogs out on Sunday........