Sunday, October 30, 2011

Guest Post: My First Pheasant

I had been pheasant hunting several times before, all being unsuccessful. But then my dad and I got an offer for a youth pheasant hunt on a game preserve near Lawrence. I had been looking forward to it for quite a while. Finally though, the time came. We drove down there, met the other two kids, and then got ready for a round of warm-up trap. I am proud to say I only missed one. (Several of my shots were from port arms, too.)

After that, we started walking through some milo, and a few birds got up. However, I didn’t have good shots on them. Sometime near the end, on the very last milo strip, a perfect bird got up, moving slowly into the wind. I shouldered my gun and brought that bird to the ground. Later, I cleaned the bird all by myself. In fact, it is on the smoker right now for dinner tonight. I had a super amount of fun and hope to do it again, this time a wild bird over one of my own dogs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bird Dogs, Coyotes, and Bears... Oh My!

As a longtime bird hunter, I'm used to seeing coyotes from afar -- glimpsing, really, as these prairie predators aren't much for human interaction.  That perception changed this weekend.

Saturday morning, Jack and I decided to chase some prairie chickens in the Flint Hills -- mainly as an excuse to get out and exercise LuLu and Vegas.  We were about a half-mile into our first walk, and the dogs were running a hundred yards or so out in front.  As we crested a hill, I was taking in the peaceful sunrise.

"Dad, what's that?!?" my son Jack exclaimed, with a bit of fright in his voice.  And for good reason.  Up ahead, there was a coyote in full sprint just ten feet behind an oblivious LuLu, and closing fast.  Equally as troubling was the second 'yote closing in on my young pointer 50 yards ahead of her.

Instinctively, I hollered and fired a round into the air.  I called LuLu in, and once she realized what was happening, she obediently started coming in to me.  I was closing the distance as I broke my gun and dropped in another 7 1/2 (only then did I realize this load wasn't ideal coyote medicine).

"Rack a shell, Jack!"

By this time, the devil dogs had stopped their active pursuit, but at 70 yards away, they were obviously not interested in leaving.  I aimed a few inches over the lead coyote and pulled the trigger, peppering his ass with birdshot.  That finally persuaded the duo to move on.

Close call!  What's even more interesting is that I got an email from Dan, my Minnesota grouse hunting buddy, with a similar story on the very same day:

...Got out to the "island" where the birds are and was walking up to that huge lone poplar tree and noticed a bunch of dirt at the base. About that same instant Mocha ran up and with both feet at the top of the mound went from 60 mi hour to a dead stop. I was about 15 feet away when a very large black bear head appeared.

I have to tell you it is a bit unnerving staring a black bear in the eye from 15 feet away when all you have is a double barrel full of 7.5 bird shot. I have seen a fair number of bear in the woods over the years but usually it is a view of their butt going the other way running from the dogs and in those instances it is just a cool sight of nature to see. Seeing one raise its head when it potentially feels cornered in its own den by dogs, was a completely different feeling.

I had a few seconds when I actually considered what the odds were if the bear charged the dog, and the dog runs back to me? Do I shoot my son's dog and hope the bear stops for her or do I risk trying to shoot a bear with bird shot? Thankfully we were able to back out of there quickly and the bear stayed put.

Next time I go across that slough I'm going to let you ponter guys get a little ahead of me before we reach the island!

Anyone else out there have any close calls with dangerous, toothy critters?  Any advice?  I used to carry a couple rounds of buckshot in my vest, but I took them out several seasons ago (accidentally chambering one on a bobwhite quail is not pretty).  I think I'm putting them back in my inventory.

Be careful out there, everyone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Montana Dog Report: The Kids Are Alright

Our most recent trip to Montana stands out for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the good dog work we had among our motley crew of 2 pointers, 3 setters, 2 shorthairs and a visla. All did respectably well, and most did remarkably so.

We won't soon forget Sage's nice 250-yard casts and authoritative points -- all from a middle-aged setter that ought to be a lot more hampered by a chronic ankle inflammation than he is. Vegas -- my seven-year-old shorthair that I'd about given up on -- decided to do her best all-age impression and point a covey of Huns at 200 yards, remaining rock-solid when they flushed just out of gun range.

But as far as I'm concerned, the trip belonged to the youngsters. Our first day in Montana, I picked up LuLu, my 18-month old Phantom Kennels pointer. You may remember that I dropped her off with trainer Nolan Huffman back in early June. Since that time, she was under Nolan's expert tutelage all summer and early fall at his Lewistown kennel.

For her first hunt, we ran her on some native prairie bordered by wheat stubble that had produced for us in previous years. While she didn't make game, she handled beautifully and ran with style and aggressiveness.

Apparently too aggressively. That evening, as we were putting dogs on the chain gang, LuLu came out of the trailer unable to put any weight on her rear left leg. Shit. We brought her into the cabin and discovered a 3/4 inch-long (and nearly as deep) gash in the fleshy part of her leg near her achilles tendon, most likely from a barbed wire fence. It was a scant quarter inch from possibly severing the tendon -- easily ending her hunting season and perhaps her career. As it was, she was done for at least a day or so of recuperation.

The other youngster on our journey was Finn, Wes' nine-month-old Berg Brothers setter. I raved about this rascal months ago, and after hunting with him in Montana, I have no reason to change my opinion. He runs confidently, points with a high tail, and seems to enjoy every aspect of the game. There were a couple bird bumps and a heavy-jawed chomp or two, but that's not meant as a criticism. I had to continually remind myself that this dog was seeing his first birds and indeed the first autumn of his life. He's going to be a winner.

When it finally came time to put LuLu on the ground again, she was ready, and so was I. We had decided to hunt abandoned homestead (or "hunstead" as Ben O. Williams and fanboy Jon calls them) surrounded by grass and wheat. Tasty stuff.

With little wind and nearly 65 degrees, conditions weren't ideal. LuLu charged onward anyhow, happy to be on the ground again. I admired her muscular frame and cracking tail gliding effortlessly through the golden grass ahead of me.

Then all hell broke loose. Before she could wheel to a stop, a partridge took flight a few feet from her. And another. And then a dozen. All told, some 75 Hungarian partridge, sounding like a massive creaking, squeaking jet engine erupted from the farmstead. I simply stood there, in stunned disbelief.

Thankfully, I had enough wits about me to track their flight, and five separate coveys put down within a few hundred yards of where we were standing.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chasing those birds, getting points on all five coveys -- many from LuLu -- as well as a nice retrieve or two from her. I think she's going to be a special dog.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Montana Recap

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!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hi From the Backseat.

I'm two hours into a 20 hour trip to Montana. I'm not a night person, so Jon and Wes are manning things til 4am or so, and then I'm pilot.

So much to look forward to... Friends, scenery, and old haunts. But I'm most jazzed about seeing LuLu in action. Nolan says she's ready to go, and I believe him 100 percent. But I'm still nervous. Sort of like seeing your kid for the first Christmas after a semester at college, I suppose.

Here goes. G'nite.

Oh, and I'm writing this on an iPad. Thanks, Mr. Jobs. 'Cept I can't figure out how to add a photo.