Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Documentation of a Shooting Funk

Here's a short video of Ike pointing a single after he had found the covey and we have some other singles work, some photographed below. I was in a bad funk, wasn't thinking clearly, couldn't pick out a bird, all bad mojo. I recovered before it got really bad. I was shooting IC/Mod, and usually #9's in the first and #7.5's in the second for quail. I've since switched to Skeet/IC and standardized on #7's most of the time. Have had great success since making the switch.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Pictures from a Quail Hunt


Ike again...

Dottie backing Ike...

Close-up of Ike, I could actually see quail running in the brush.

Dottie after we split the covey...

Finally back home...

Ten minutes into the hunt, Sage finds birds...

A friend's lapdog that accompanied the hunt. While she may not look like much, she did locate a dead quail that eluded the two other dogs on the ground.

Can you spot Ike on point?

Here he is again...

And again...he has just been pure murder on birds this season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coveys of Seasons Past

For the quail opener I did as most of us would do: I went and looked for coveys I had found and documented over the last few seasons. In just a few pieces of public I hoped to find 11 coveys, all within a few miles of eachother. It wouldn't be easy, but if I found half of those it'd be a great day.

After a cold sleep in the truck I arrived at my first spot to see that the corn on the south side of the tree-filled draw had not yet been harvested. Better to leave those birds alone until after the harvest. Scratch two coveys from the list. Hit the next spot just down the road, again, corn still in. Scratch two more coveys.

Spot number three should at least yeild some hunting opportunity, as it was always wheat or beans, and lots of pasture ground. There had been as many as four coveys on this spot, but I had never found more than three in a day. I hunted what I call the lower part first, where I had once found three coveys in just an hour or so. Sage got the call, and despite a good run, we found no birds. Time to hunt the high side. It's basically a long walk through some rather unlikely pasture strip to get to this back corner that is packed with cedars, and is surrounded beans and CRP, with a nice little pond to boot. Sage winded and went on point just as we approached the back corner. He must have caught the birds on their way back from feeding, because they flushed from the sparse pasture grass before I could approach within gun range, despite Sage's flawless manners and long nose. I marked them down along the dam of the pond, and we got some good singles work. The wind took a toll on my shooting, but we did put a bird in the bag...a very small rooster bobwhite. That made the walk out seem a little shorter. So, one for eight so far, and Sage was hunting strong.

Spot number four has in the past held as many as three coveys. Unfotunately, a portion had been removed from the WIHA program, so we lost access to one, maybe two coveys that was usually found on the fringe. Sage ran again, and again, depite a thorough search, we found nothing. I was beginning to think the spring rains had taken a toll on my birds. Well, I was here, so I decided to hunt some new stuff across the road. I had never hunted it before for two reasons, 1) I never needed to, and 2) the bank of the road was very high and you couldn't see over it to examine the land. Silly, I know. But upon initial inspection it seemed potentially productive, a standing bean field meeting a picked corn field, with at least two tree-filled draws. We hunted all the way around, and on our final push back to the truck Sage went on point, then relocated 10 yards, and slammed into a (for him) very stylish point. The covey erupted straight up and headed over the trees. I managed a sluggish shot, and no birds dropped. I was beginning to feel the pressure of sliding into a shooting funk. We also failed to locate any singles, but the draw was thick with trees, underbrush, and thorns, so I didn't dwell on it too much.

I decided a relocation was in order. So I hustled an hour away to some other stuff I had hunted in the past; it was on my way to where I wanted to crash that night anyway. I picked an unlikely quarter section of cut milo and pulled in. I hadn't hunted it before as it was wheat stubble last year. I could see leaf-barren tips over the high center of the terraced field...a tree row bordering a milo field, which in my mind is quail paradise. It was Ike's turn, and deliver he would. In that half-mile of border, where trees and agriculture meet, Ike found and stood three healthy coveys of quail. The first came on his initial cast from one corner towards the other. Two hundred yards ahead the Astro called out what I believed to be an inevitability--Ike had found birds. After an attempt to fly directly up my nose (I missed two very close crossing shots) they glided to private CRP through the trees. At the end of the field where the milo gave way to harvested beans, Ike found covey number two, which we scattered into the milo and had some good singles work, and I took two birds for my freezer. I couldn't believe how far those birds were willing to run; Ike found one single more than 300 yards from the edge in the milo, he had run the whole way. I nearly stepped on one single and he flew back to near where we found the first covey, so I thought that would be a good training opportunity to further encourage Ike to run the edges in search of quail. He linked up with the edge beyond the single and made a nice cast backwards and went on point. Perhaps another single I missed? I stepped in and a dove flushed from heavy cover 15 yards ahead of his nose. I didn't think he pointed the dove, that's a long way. One more step and a single quail flushed, again too far from him. One more step and covey number three blew up, and I took a single going away.

Back at a friend's farm, I cleaned the birds and put them in a ziplock bag on a table outside. I knew the girls wouldn't want dead birds in their freezer, and it was cold enough. The next morning I discovered the family lab helped himself to my quail during the night. Dang.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Kansas Pheasant Opener

We changed plans at the last minute for the pheasant opener, fearing the drought had delivered poor bird numbers where we wanted to hunt. Seeing as how the pheasant opener is the busiest tourism weekend in the state, we couldn't get a motel. No matter, the weather appeared to be mild, so we found some state camping access and set up shop.

The lake access allowed a better-than-average view in which to enjoy our favorite brews, and a place to swim dogs in the warm afternoons.

The hunting was good. The first morning we tallied eight roosters, all with dog work, despite only seeing ten or more roosters. Very high success rate, and we only hunted till lunch time. Every single bird had hoppers, and only hoppers in their crops. The second day was tougher; we saw many many birds, but they were grouped up and we only got close to one bird, which is in Tom's freezer now. The "critical mass of pheasants" had been reached; that's the point at which more pheasants actually hurts your hunting success, because all those eyes and ears make the approach nearly impossible, and once one flushes the domino effect ensues before the dogs are even close. I need to go back there now that the weather is cool and the milo should be completely harvested.

Friday, November 14, 2008


In October I spent two weeks in the central Jutland portion of Denmark. It was work, but I managed to have a little fun. The founder of my company lived in a large cottage before he passed. It is very uniquely decorated, rich in impressionist art and other goodies. But, I only took pictures of the stuff that was interesting to me.

This is what I was told is an "orre." I did some more research and others call it a black grouse. It's apparently a very large upland bird found in the Scandanavian part of Europe. I'll do more research and make another post.

The deer there are much smaller than in the US. Here is a proud wall of trophies.

Of course, huns! While I was there I met a colleague from the Czech Republic. Apparently they see huns all over the place, and pheasants as well. I'd really love to hunt huns in their native range some day.

The pheasant: a royal gamebird known and hunted throughout the world. The one on the right was undoubtedly the largest rooster I have seen in my life.

Bikejor Video

We don't usually go this fast, but I only had one hand to break with. They like the colder weather much better!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Have you ever stuffed yourself full of a steak dinner? Sure.

What about when the waitress comes by with the tray full of desserts? They look delicious, right? Your date says they look good, but she's full. Translation: "I want some of that chocolate thingy, but I prefer not to look like a pig."

Such was the case on the way back from Montana. We had bagged sage grouse, sharpies, and huns. I killed three new species of birds. What else could I ask for without looking like a pig? Well, a prairie chicken or two wouldn't hurt, right?

So, back to the sandhills of Nebraska! Dogs were weary, skinny, and hardened, so throw the Hail Mary, put all six down. Getting e-collars and Astro's on that bunch proved to be a task in and of itself. They were fired up and ready to go for our last hunt of the trip.

Long story short, Ted's knee started hurting, the wind was strong, and I would have gotten lost without the GPS. But, we got our chicken, a few doves, and a sharptail. I also missed an easy double.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Part VIII: Goodbye, thank you, see you next year

The last hunt was bittersweet to say the least. We were slow to get out of bed, dehydrated and with headaches; I'll let you guess why. The morning was cool, not cold, and a bit humid. Having a fullsize pickup and a dog trailer made navigating the mountain roads a bit tricky, especially when we discovered the BMA sign-in wasn't where it was supposed to be. At least we got to see some more beautiful country before we could make a safe turnaround.

We decided to hunt a large patch of grass laying on the top of a plateau. The edges gave way to rimrock, and the hills were straight and steep as the descended to the surrounding pasture ground. I'm not sure if it was the proper rotation or not, but Sage and Dottie were put down for our last hunt in Montana. I think we were both anticipating sharptails, as we had plenty of success on them, and wanted to end our trip on a high note. We hunted along the two track following the edge of the field.

It wasn't long before the Astro chirped, and we perceived Sage on point ahead of us.

The point yielded no birds, and Sage hunted further into the field as we walked tired, lazily, and content regardless of the outcome. It wasn't long before I heard the familiar chirped again, indicating Sage on point 150 yards to our flank in the field. I used the device to get a bearing on his direction, and I started my approach towards him, anticipating a premature flush of sharptails already weary from hunting pressure. I saw Sage and knew he had birds. As I approached a covey of huns flushed tightly together, shrieking as they accelerated away from the danger. They were within ethical gun range for a 20, but they were so tight that I made the snap decision not to shoot, as it would have felt like flock shooting. I knew we could pick them up again, maybe from a different angle, and both of us could get clean shots. The birds flew towards the rimrock, and we lost view because of the crest of the hill as the edge falls off. We both thought they sat down right on the edge, and with the topographical boundary, that they'd have nowhere to run. We crossed a barbed wire fence as quietly as we could, and kept the dogs close. We walked all the way to the edge, and no birds. Then, Sage when on point again right at the edge.

I crept to the edge, fearful of the rock giving way, and peered over the dropoff. Then I noticed a porkie in the rocks below me; Sage must have been smelling him. We worked the area over again, and now Dottie pointed.

Just the porkie, again. We worked around the edge some more, and paused to take some pictures.

We hunted a little more and managed to put up one sharptail with no shots fired. I was pleased, nonetheless. Looking back, I'm not sure if I'll ever get to do something like this again, at least not until after I retire. Ten days away from home and work is tough to leverage. But there's always hope. Next time, I only have one wish: better weather.

Goodbye Montana. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Part VII: Just pictures

Setting off in search of huns...

Initially, we found lots of pheasants, and had plenty of quality dogwork.

Dottie has pointed almost every gamebird in the US. She nailed her first covey of huns, like she has most of the other birds she's hunted. A proud owner...

Sage was late on this group of sharptails that busted ahead of our approach.

"If I stand still, maybe they won't see me..."

Can you find the dog on point?

A closer shot...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Part VI Videos

I apologize for the poor quality, but these were both taken with handheld point-and-shoot digital cameras. In the first clip Ted films me shooting a sharptail over Doc's point. You can see how well the other dogs backed--we had a total of four on the ground.

In this second clip Ike tallies a nice find, and Ted kills our limit sharptail over him. You can see a secord bird flush as the first is falling.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Part VI: WTF Just Happened?

Note: This trip encompassed 10 days. This post is dedicated to one hunt lasting only 90 minutes. I hope I never forget this particular hunt.

From Lewistown we decided to hunt an area that I found using Google Earth, and posted about earlier in The Gems of Internet Scouting. After a brief hunt that only produced pheasants we decided to move on. We set our sights on a big piece of state land where we thought we'd find sharptails. They had been easy to find, and after frustrating ourselves with huns it would be nice to shoot the gun some more. Up until this point we were only running two dogs down at a time in the interest of preserving our hounds over the long term, and keeping things simple. I also believe that there is a steep curve of diminishing return running multiple dogs. But, the weather was slightly cooler, there was actually a humid breeze, and the land was large and featureless. So in a moment of rushed judgement down went Ike, Doc, and Ted's Dottie and Vegas. "F*** it."

The field was like a table top with the edges falling off into lower pasture land. I followed the edge of a ridge and Ted stayed to my right, bisecting the field as he walked. Doc was off to the races, but I could follow him with the Astro as he hunted beyond 400 yards. I noticed the grass seemed to have been planted as it was in tight rows. After a few hundred yards with no action I thought that even the sharptails would now elude us. And then it started. Bird busting one, two, three at a time here and there. The wind was at our backs, and the two bigger running setters each ran beyond these birds. After a few wild flushes the temptation became too strong and Ted dropped a double. I think that is when it started.

We reached a fence and opted to circle back around to the truck. Ike made a long cast down the fence line and established point. Doc saw and hunted towards him and birds broke as Doc crossed the fence. At the end of the fence we turned right back towards the truck, into the wind. It wasn't long before we saw this in the distance ahead...

Ike instinctively honored, as he has since he was a pup, from a hundred yards or more. As I went beyond Doc's nose Ike probably started creeping, but I didn't notice. I cleanly killed the sharptail and as Doc attempted the retrieve Ike rushed ahead in search or more birds.

Then all hell broke loose.

Ike would point, and Doc would bust the bird. Then Doc would point, and Ike would bust it. We lost several birds like this. All the while I'm screaming at the top of my lungs in the wind, trying to get to the e-collar transmitter, or the camera; it was pure madness. Doc and Ike, in their competitiveness, even stopped ignoring the e-collar on the light setting, so it went up. This went on for what seemed like a while, but was probably only five minutes. Right there we ended up having a harsh training session on "whoa." I have never been so red-faced in the field before. My voice was hoarse. Even now my blood pressure goes up just thinking about it--I was so angry. The most frustrating part is I knew that both of them knew better, and they chose to ingore me, and for that the "team" suffered. Frankly, I felt embarassed in front of Ted.

Eventually the dogs put it together and we were able to finish our limits with good dog work. We even got some video that I'll be posting later.

Not bad for a short walk under the Big Sky...

I'm not sure why I took this picture; I wasn't particularly pleased with either of these no good butt sniffin' bird bustin' biscuit eaters.

Now THIS is a gaggle of birds. Count 'em, six sharptails in one hand!

We unceremoniously posed for pictures, put the dogs up, and cleaned birds only trading a few words between eachother. Then we sat on the tailgate each sipping a cold brew. I think we were both reflecting what just happened for a few minutes, and I broke the silence with "that was the most stressful limit of birds I've ever shot in my entire life." Ted agreed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Part V: Lewistown!

From the Hi Line we pushed towards Lewistown. We wanted to hunt larger expanses of land for huns, as opposed to the birds that seemed tied to structure in the northeast. We thought it would cut down on driving between spots and wasting the cooler part of the day. We also hoped to make it into the mountains for some grouse. On the way we drove through the Missouri Breaks...quite an odd place.

We found an area that had some state land we could camp on, and were exicted to see a covey of huns and some pheasants from the road near where we planned on hunting. Ted cooked the sage grouse for dinner. He, and the dogs, thought it was edible. As we prepared to hit the sack the coyotes started their evening calls. Ted spotted some just a couple hundred yards way with his night vision scope. That night he slept with his .357. Being without a pistol, I slept with Ike and my shotgun.

The next morning Ted flushed a pair of huns out of our camp as he exited his tent. We reckoned it was going to be a good day. In short, the pheasants were numerous, and the other birds were tough. Even the coyotes wouldn't come out and play during the heat.

Looking west towards our camp...

Looking north, towards camp...

"Point! Somewhere out there..."

I'm not big on hero shots, but both dog and hunter really earned this hun.

Trying to call in 'yotes in the heat of the day...

Part IV: Downtime

I'll be honest: after hunting three days in the northeast corner of Montana we were discouraged, or at least I was. Not by a lack of birds...I knew finding them wouldn't be easy considering neither of us had hunted huns before. But we were finding them. Four coveys in one morning, in one spot, on the last day! The beater was the weather. The highs were in the low 80's every day so far, the sun was hot, and it hadn't been very windy. So, we were sure to be in the field at daybreak, and were usually done hunting by 10am. That left a lot of time for napping, scouting, and hanging out.

On our way west along the Hi Line, we stopped at a reservoir to have lunch and let the dogs go for a dip. They were beginning to get rank anyway and would enjoy a chance to cool off. Ted cooked some massive burgers, with an even more massive slice of tomato on top. Delicious.

Air drying...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Part III: Hot and Hotter

After a long cast to the north from SE MT we found ourselves near Circle, MT. I knew the pheasant hunting in that part of the state was pretty good, but I wasn't sure about sharpies or huns. I knew they'd be there, but in what kind of densities? No other way to find out than to put dogs on the ground and investigate.

On the drive in to a BMA we saw LOTS of young pheasants, simply staggering considering the perceived lack of cover, at least compared to Kansas. We usually have much more CRP and edge cover, but here the only visible cover was wheat stubble cut rather high. Since pheasants aren't in season, we tried to avoid these birds and focus on stuff we thought would hold sharptails and huns. In the first photo is Ted on our first push along a strip of cover splitting two cut wheat fields. Again, the scale of the agriculture is amazing. I think there are plenty of places in western Kansas with similar scale, but it doesn't feel lquite ike Big Sky Country.

A quick circle with Bodie and Doc, the loaner dogs, produced nothing despite Doc's impressive cast to the far reaches of the strip. At least he saved us some walking! Back at the truck the landowner stopped by for a chat. He was incredibly friendly, and even drew some directions on the map where we would find birds. I think he felt sorry for us, and I'm sure he thought we were crazy to come all the way from Kansas to hunt his little piece of Montana heaven. Maybe we are crazy.

Driving to where the landowner thought we should go we encountered our first covey of huns, a large covey that broke out of the ditch and flew a short ways into a wheat field. It wasn't on the BMA, so we made a mental note and proceeded to hunt an field of CRP set between two coulees, again with the Loaners. The farmer said earlier "you can shoot all the grouse you want here" as he pointed to the map. He was right. Doc was the first to encounter birds. His enthusiasm coupled with the lack of wind meant some bumped birds. Dogs were pointing and birds were getting up, and dogs were breaking and putting up more and more birds. I might have wounded a sharpie but I lost focus when Doc instantly located more birds. After the dust settled we noticed Bode was gone, but the Astro indicated he was coming back. He had followed that sharptail more than 200 yards and was making a stylish retrieve. Five minutes later he pinned a lone grouse on the edge of the CRP, which Ted dropped, and Bode completed the retrieve. Bode was quickly establishing credibility, and it was obvious he was going to contribute on an already capable string of bird dogs in their prime.

We tried to locate some huns around some edge cover and grain bins, and beside some good dogwork on pheasants, we were unsuccessful. By then the temperature was approaching 80 degrees so we called it a day and drove to Circle to meet up with two friends of Ted's. From there we pushed to NE Montana to focus on huns. We hunted the next three days looking for huns, and finding sharptails and pheasants. The heat only allowed us to hunt until mid morning, and we'd usually scout the second half of each day. One morning we found four coveys of huns in one spot, so we were having some success. But because they were so spread out and tied to certain landmarks, Ted and I decided to push west and get away from the agriculture to hunt the larger expanses of sage country and native grasses. I think I prefer to hunt birds in more natural landscapes as opposed to ag country.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Part II: Warm Welcome

A short drive from Valentine found us in southeastern Montana, where we both had our sights set on sage grouse. Neither of us knew how much longer they could be a huntable species, so we focused intently on the opportunity to take these birds that are much like pteradactyls--large and pre-historic in their appearance.

Ted has killed nearly every species of upland bird available in the US over Dottie, but he needed a sage grouse. So Dottie and Sage, the veterans, got the call. After fifteen minutes we were about to head out to the truck when Sage located birds far to our flank. As he attempted to relocate he put up several of the bombers. We collected our dogs and were able to find the young birds just over a hill, where we both took our first sage grouse over Sage and Dottie's shared find. A little ways further into the sage and I had my limit of two. On our last push towards the truck, Sage made a long forward cast with the wind at our backs, and located a solitary juvenile in some grass. One hour and two limits of our first sage grouse, not bad!

Now for 70 miles of dirt road on our way north. We were warned to be careful of rattlesnakes; this one was on the road basking in the afternoon sun. No rattlesnakes were harmed during this vacation. This was actually the only one we saw the entire time.

Eastern Montana is extremely beautiful in it's simplicity, vastness, and scale of agriculture. Not to say all of it is wheat wheat and more wheat. That evening we hunted some rougher stuff and were able to find a few sharptails with Ike and Vegas. Lessons learned: 1) there can be a lot of mosquitos--even in arid Montana, 2) prickly pear cactus aren't easily extracted from the roof of a dog's mouth, and 3) you get what you pay for when it comes to most everything, motels in this case.