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.