Greetings loyal readers... and my apologies for not being so loyal to the blog. It's not that I haven't wanted to write or that I don't have anything to write, I just haven't found the time to write it.
Thankfully, much of that busyness is hunting induced. Barely the middle of October, and I've managed to witness my dogs point prairie chickens, pheasants, bobwhites, woodcock, ruffed grouse (as much as any dog can get a point on those bastards), Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse, and an errant sage grouse in three states. Combine my hunting pursuits with being a (more-or-less) productive father, husband, and societal contributor -- well, something had had to give.
Apologies aside, I'm back from our annual Montana trek, and it was one for the ages. Advance bird reports were tepid at best, so we really didn't know what to expect. Boy, were we pleasantly surprised. The weather, the dogs, and the birds all conspired to give us ten full days of exceptional hunting. In fact, I can't think of a single field we walked that we didn't move gamebirds.
So why'd we fare so well? A few thoughts.
- The weather was perfect. Most of the state was suffering under dry, 80-degree weather and as soon as we crossed the Montana border, it rained more than an inch in 24 hours. The rain left after that and we were treated to lows in the 30s and highs in the low 60s for the rest of the trip. Scenting conditions soared and we could afford to run our dogs the full day.
- Our timing was perfect. Guides, trainers, and biologists we talked to reported seeing fewer than normal birds in September. That's partially because of the heat and lack of rain, but it's also because the area we hunted had a late hatch (thanks to a very wet and cool spring). Conventional wisdom holds that young birds don't give off much scent. By the second week in October, the birds had a chance to grow -- even though we took a lot of young birds with immature plumage.
- We know the area. It's the fourth year now that we've spent at least part of our trip in this part of the state. And not unlike home, the more you hunt it, the better you know it. We've got a nice list of honey holes, and we're more adept at quickly identifying what sort of terrain attracts those prairie birds, which means it's easier for us to find new hotspots. And there's so damned much public land that you don't want to get into the habit of doing more driving than hunting. Montana is a BIG state.
Of course, the birds were only a small part of the fun. The scenery was simply stunning -- God used the whole color palette when he made Montana. We marveled at the precociousness of some new pups and the determination of our senior dogs. We met some new friends and caught up with old friends. And like any hunting trip, we ate well, drank well, and slept well.
I'll have a more thorough report in the coming days... just as soon as I catch up at home and at work!