Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dog Dangers

For those of us that love our dogs like children, we treat the animals as such. We cringe when we are forced to leave them overnight in a kennel, would prefer that they never are transported in a dusty dog trailer and definitely wouldn't let them ride around in the back of an open pickup bed.
No matter how hard we try, there are still risks out there. On a recent hunt in central MT, it was full of bizarre events, causing me to question if I was crazy for hunting the Montana prairie. I made it home after a couple of close calls, either of which could have been tragic.
The first oddity was a coyote that was as brave as any I have seen. Maybe it was young and naive, maybe it had rabies. Regardless, it was a predator that was fixated on my two, white, setter girls, oblivious to the fact that a human was with them, giving them water, as it slowly creeped closer. At 40 yards, my partner said, "You'd better shoot", so I did. That finally averted the coyote, but then the dogs were confused, taking off in pursuit of the wounded predator. Moments of chaos followed, with my dogs finally at my side, fortunate that the coyote didn't put up a fight in its last stand.
Later that day, with blue skies and a temperature near 65, I was enjoying myself, watching the dogs work the edge of a stubble field for Huns. Perfect weather for hunting and as I found out, a perfect day for rattlesnakes. Typically, one hears a rattlesnake before he sees it. In this case. the rattler was coiled like a cobra, slightly taller than the grain stubble, catching my eye just as Tess and Abby both neared it from opposite sides. Instinctively, I cut it in two with a shot from my 20 gauge, the dogs not realizing what the commotion was for.
Throw in a porcupine that could have presented more of a hassle than a danger and a deep, open well, there was plenty of excitement to be had. No, I don't shoot everything I see when afield. The porcupine was spared, in case you are wondering. But, when events unfold in just seconds, as in the case of a fearless coyote or an angered snake, one has to react quickly.
One more reason why I like my dogs to hunt closer than some. I would take a bit of uncovered ground over a dog that has to brave the dangers alone.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Northern Hospitality

For most of us do-it-yourself hunters, we are quite accustomed to fixing our own meals afield, making shelter for a night or two of sleep and most importantly, finding a quality place to hunt. This weekend was a nice change for me.
I was the guest of Jacob and Sarah Dusek, proprietors of Sage Safaris, north of Havre, MT. I told them not to fuss for my visit, but upon arrival, I was shown my deluxe wall tent, with the wood stove already stoked, the lanterns already lit. I wish my elk camp was that comfortable.
The next day, Sarah had a superb breakfast ready at 8 o'clock, as we watched antelope bucks in rut, chase each other across the sage. We literally began hunting as we stepped away from the camp, Jacob directing me toward areas which often held Hungarian partridge and sharptail. The dogs' first point of the day nearly fooled me, as the Hun-sized birds were actually young pheasants. I quickly put my gun down and thanked Tess for doing her best anyway.
In the course of the morning, we did see sharptail and Huns, along with a bunch of pheasants, including some mature birds that had the audacity to squawk at us, seemingly knowing that they were safe until the October pheasant opener. My shooting was a little rusty, but good enough to make the day a success. The dogs did well, despite the day warming quite rapidly.
Being five miles from the Canadian border, the Duseks do see their share of winter. Jacob explained that they had a moderate winterkill in 2009-2010, with deep snow that lasted from December until March. Seeing as many birds as we did, was a pleasant surprise. Jacob has also done some upland improvement on his family farm, planting various food plots and limiting the grazing of certain vital winter habitats.
My mind was on lunch as we hunted our way back to the camp and as expected, Sarah's midday meal, didn't disappoint. Stuffed pork loin, fresh vegetables and some very tasty banoffe (google it), was as good as any big city restaurant. Being pampered isn't a bad thing. However, I did draw the line at Jacob's offer to clean my birds. Some things hunters must do themselves.

My only complaint of the entire trip was noisy neighbors. At about 3:00AM, I awoke to the loud discussion between three different groups of coyotes. One group was so close to camp, I had to yell at them to knock it off. Upon hearing a human scolding, they did stop their starlight serenades. I will take coyotes over big-city sirens and car horns, any day.
Thanks for the great time Sarah and Jacob.