Monday, October 29, 2012

Road Huntin' Slobs

We were sitting on the couch, as we had just finished lunch after our successful morning pheasant hunt.  The morning temperatures had been in the upper teens, probably closer to zero with windchill. So, it was nice to take  a little break, warm up and come up with the game plan for the afternoon, which featured Huns and sharptail on the menu.

We were based in northern Montana at a quiet farmhouse, miles from a small town, hundreds of miles from something classified as a city.  On an average day, two or three vehicles may pass by, so when shotgun shots rang out, just outside the house, we rushed outside, as if we were under attack.
As my host headed down the driveway, additional shots were fired, in a slough adjacent to the gravel road. Surprised to see anyone home this weekday afternoon, the road hunters attempted to race back to the truck, ejecting shells as they jogged to the awaiting getaway car, its engine still running. My host was more cool-headed than I predicted, explaining that no one is allowed to hunt near the farmyard, especially without permission.  The "hunter" in the backseat, quickly tried his best to diffuse the situation, by offering us a cold beer from the 18-pack at his feet. The driver, who was let of the hook since he was from town, offered a number of excuses, the most memorable being the doozy in which he "had meant to ask permission, but didn't want to bother anyone during work hours".  The leader of the dumb-pack had continued to ramble on, telling my hunting partner where else we could find roosters on my host's land.  Thanks.

What is lost in the whole issue of seeking permission first, is the overall impression that road-hunting types make on non-hunters and more importantly, the farmers and ranchers that own the land.  I always have been curious about the rural folks that have to erect no hunting signs on their driveways and next to their homes. Now I know why.  Guys like this give all of us hunters a bad name.  If you fire your gun near my house,  can I trust you to not shoot the windows out of my combine or to not sprinkle lead into my herd of milk cows? Doubtful.  Instead of enrolling their entire ranch or farm into a hunter access program, based on one encounter with knuckleheads, you and and I are also banned from running our bird dogs or taking our sons or daughters deer hunting.  Beer cans and shotgun shells on the road tell everyone that hunters are slobs and they don't have respect for the countryside or those that make it their home.

This is preaching to the choir, but hunting on private land is a privilege, not a right.  Shooting off roads and littering is endangering the future of our sport.  Please clean up your act.  Even during work hours.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Easy Pheasants. Get 'em while they last.

Opening weekend is always half social event, half hunting.  The birds are young, plentiful and uneducated.  The opening-day hunters are out in full-force, staking out their "A" plan before dawn.

This opener was no different.  As we sat in the truck, listening and watching arrogant roosters as they flew from the stubble into their refuge in the CRP, it was evident that we would be seeing plenty of birds. The three of us had seven dogs between us, trying to decide which three or four would get the call this morning.  The only other decision was how long to sit in the truck before letting them loose.

We waited until 7AM.  The first bird was brought to hand at about 7:15.  By 8AM, we had five birds in the bag, the dogs doing their best to stay focused, despite the wave of overwhelming bird scent.  The morning hunt was casual, despite being our first outing for ringnecks.  We enjoyed ourselves, taking photos of the young dogs earning their first wild birds.  By 9AM, we were walking the road back to the truck, trying to keep the dogs from needlessly pointing birds that would be there tomorrow.

Before you declare this post as boastful, keep in mind it is far from an ideal day.  Shooting opening day roosters is not the challenge.  Young birds that sit tight for a pointing dog are fairly easy sport.  And who wants to be done at 9AM?  Some of the dogs hadn't left their kennels yet, wondering what they did wrong to draw the short end of the straw.

But, as anti-climatic as opening day can be, it won't last. In fact, day two is typically 30% more difficult than day two and day three, well, no guarantees of limits anymore.  As roosters are bagged and the others become wise in a hurry, pheasant hunting changes rapidly.  Snow can come by Halloween and some days, it is difficult to have a bird sit tight for a trained bird dog.  I won't complain about the easy pheasants; from here on out, they only become more challenging and a lot more rewarding.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I Bid Thee Blue Grouse Farewell

I have always stated that one needs to hunt blue grouse intently the first few weeks of the season, which  opens September 1st. Typically, at those elevations that blues call home, it can snow anytime in September.
This fall, summer won't end.  The heat and drought have even made an impact at 8,000 feet and higher.  It has been 80 degrees on the prairie and about 70 at timberline, which are both at least ten degrees higher than normal.  It is nearly impossible to carry enough water for one dog, let alone two.  The elk wallows are only mud, the creeks down to just a trickle.
But, the birds are still up there.  It was nearly a hopper-free summer, so the blues are focusing on berries and greens.  As a result, they are feeding in the woods more often than in high-elevation clearings. It makes for sporty dog work and more difficult shooting.
As of last weekend, we were still moving plenty of dusky (I still prefer blue) grouse.  It appears that they had a great hatch, as the broods we found were large.  Another nice bonus is the good number of ruffed grouse we are also seeing at the lower elevations.  Since ruffs are included in the daily bag limit, most of them had to be left alone, as we climbed back down the mountain with our three blues in our vest.  Regardless, it was good training for the dogs and nice to see the "partridge" doing well.
As the calendar turns to October 1st and the upcoming pheasant opener this weekend, I am now saying goodbye to the beloved blue grouse and the beautiful country they inhabit.  It is bittersweet, as I will miss the wonderful bird, but also look forward to the autumn that remains.