Thursday, September 25, 2008

Montana and Back, Part I: The Sandhills

Friday, Sept 11, 7AM

Arrived at Ted's house with Sage, Ike, Doc, and gear...pouring rain. We both got pretty wet loading up the truck and trailer. As we hooked up the trailer, we discovered the lights were not working. I had already spent four evenings trying to fix the failed wiring, and eventually replaced everything. It worked fine on my truck at my house. We tried a couple things, but didn't want to tear into it in the downpour, so we packed a digital multimeter and some electrical tape and decided to hit the road and fix later. In messing with the wiring, I got completely soaked and had to change clothes. We were on the road by 8 AM.

Five hours of driving in the rain and we were in Grand Island, NE. Lack of options and wanting to push on, we stopped at Wendy's for lunch. What a horrible experience--that's all I'll say. The plan was to park in the Wal-Mart lot and fix the trailer, but when we left Wendy's I noticed the lights were working. Nice! On to Halsey, NE.Road warriors...

We decided to hunt the Nebraska National Forest on the way to break up the drive and get the dogs a taste of the birds they were to encounter in Montana.

Before any "hotspotter" fingers are pointed, I'll explain something. The forest is well known, hunted by quite a few folks already, and frankly is very tough hunting. We worked hard for the birds we took, covering many miles in the sandy prairie, up and down hills, sweating and tired the whole time. On top of that, the dogs had to be flawless on birds for us to be successful. Not may people have the mettle, physical and mental, or the dogs for this place. We spent the Friday evening scouting, running dogs, and shooting any doves that we encountered. We didn't see any grouse, and I was concerned we were in for a tough day tomorrow. We stayed in Thedford and had dinner at Stub's. They don't have mashed potatoes in the evenings, only for breakfast. Huh.

Ted and I were up well before first light the following morning, and I think I lost a filling on the broken up asphalt road into the forest. I'm sure the dogs had a headache. My Ike and Ted's Vegas got the first call of the trip. We both had high hopes for these two. I expected Ike to be the dog of the trip because of his wide range and reliable nose. He's also the toughest dog I've ever hunted behind. Vegas had lived in the shadow of Ted's other dog, an older pointer, but he had been hunting them seperate last season and she was becoming a strong bird finder, and she was already the best "dead" hunting dog we had in our trailer.

The ground and vegetation was heavy with dew from yesterday's rain. In just a few minutes we were soaked to our waists, and Ike was actually cold and shivering. Not long into the hunt I took this picture...

The sandhills is the most surreal place I have ever hunted. Because the terrain is so uniformly dynamic, you can easily get turned around, even with a GPS. Early in the day we used the sun to keep track of our heading, but as it rose we depended heavily on the GPS to keep us pointed in the right direction. This flat spot offered our first sharptail encounter, a bird that flushed wild ahead of Ike just as he established point.

Then we started to connect in this low area; both Ted and I were able to put sharptails in the bag on account of Vegas; my first sharpie!

We also each took sharptails at the top of the ridge following the draw. There seemed to be no discernable pattern to the birds. They were high, low, in flat and in hilly areas, sun and shadows, too. On the way back to the truck Ike pointed a large covey spread out in a flat area from quite a distance. They broke, and of course I wasted my two barrels on the first birds that got up, and was empty for the birds I nearly stepped on. By now, I should know better.

We re-dogged with Doc and Bode. Doc belongs to my buddy Wes, and Bode is the Garmin DC30 coverdog, owned by Ted's friend Bronson. I have no idea why these guys trusted their companions with hooligans like us. We struck out in a different direction from the truck and were quickly into more birds, several flushing wild ahead and far to our flanks. Doc did point one covey, but again they broke too soon. I think the high sun and the heavy winds had them skittish.

One nice thing about the sandhills is that there is at least one windmill in sight from every peak, so you can water your dogs at nice intervals. But, the cows like them too.

It's important to keep your dogs watered, both from a hydration and scenting standpoint.

After the heat was too much, we turned our attention to prairie dogs. All the shots we took with Ted's .223 were over 200 yards. There were a few close calls, but no kills.

1 comment:

Shawn K. Wayment, DVM said...


Sounds like you had a great time!

Can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip!