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...