Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Da Hunden Stormen

I can't remember the movie where I heard the title. It was supposed to be a comic translation for dogs the Germans used in Dubya Dubya Two (I'm sure it's wrong)...but I remember it made me laugh. The same can be said for Scar and Rebel, a solid and dependable pair of guide dogs loaned to us for our trip to Montana by a close friend and hunting buddy. Scar, aptly named for an injury sustained to his head during birth complications, is a goofy Vizsla that feels most at home in your lap, or hunting running pheasants. Rebel is an almost entirely roan short-hair, not very big at all, but with astonishing ground speed. Together, they're the hap-hap-happiest brace of hunting dogs since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye. They even play jokes on eachother. For example, they shared a hole in the trailer for the trip, and Scar would purposely block Rebel's entrance by holding up his paws, like a defender blocking a point guard's passing options. Like I said, lots of laughs.

Anyway, neither had ever smelled a hun or a sharptail before, but you wouldn't have known it. Both broke free of the closer hunting patterns more suited to preserve birds and ranged through the prairie. We shot huns, sharpies, and pheasants over both dogs. This post and picture is my tribute to them. They, and their owner, are always welcome in my truck.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Sage always waits until the last minute to pick up the WIHA, every year. And as you can see, he usually falls asleep before he's even opened the cover. I wonder where he gets it from?

Photo credit goes to Wes Carrillo.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Big Covey(s)

Later that afternoon we found a spot so full of good looking cover that it was almost overwhelming. Our eyes were filled with lush shortgrass prairie interrupted by the small fingers branching off a large coulee. I wish we had found it earlier in the day; it would have taken all seven dogs and a couple days to hunt it all. There didn't appear to be much biodiversity in the grass, it looked rather uniform, but it should hold birds.

As we did that morning we opted to run Dottie and Ike. Very quickly into the hunt, while coarsing the edge of a ridge, Ike and Dottie crept into points, a shared find, just ahead of us. The wind was stiff into their noses and that meant the birds would either have to fly straight into the wind or peel off and give good crossing shots. As before, the birds didn't let us reach the dogs before they flushed and flew straight away. Even into the wind they accelerated very quickly and I barely managed a sporting shot. I saw Ted's bird drop but I was unsure if mine had found it's mark. Then Dottie, as she usually does, pointed my dead hun.

I had watched the large covey circle way back behind us and sit down out of view in a cut wheat field. We doubled back to the truck to put another dog down, Vegas, and continued our hunt on our original bearing. Ted took the bottom of the coulee and I tried to stay on the ridges. We made a big circle and oddly didn't see another bird, or even any sign of birds. On the final leg of the circle I convinced Ted to try to find the huns again. Still a few hundred yards from where I thought the birds landed Ike went on point on the edge of the wheat field in a rather sparse pasture of sage and heavily grazed grass. A covey lifted between dog and guns and again we each took a bird.

Back at the truck we inspected the crops as we cleaned birds. The first pair had crops full of greens and grass seeds. No wheat at all. The second pair had nothing, which left us confused. Either the covey processed the contents of their crops in an hour, or it was a different covey. I'm still undecided, but I guess it doesn't matter. It was a great day to be in Montana.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Initiation

The first day started off a little rough. I had done a ton of research on areas that would likely hold birds. I studied satellite imagery of many plots of state land, BMA's, and BLM land. I identified plenty of places to turn a dog loose with good chances of finding birds. However, we quickly learned that there is no substitute for boots on the ground. Most of the places had been overgrazed to varying degrees. Even most of the BMA's didn't look good, especially in comparison to the adjacent private lands that weren't open to public hunting. But if we drove enough we'd find a spot that looked worth the effort.

The first spot was a small patch, maybe only 40 acres of prairie grass bordered on two sides by wheat fields and nestled below some sage-covered hills. Ted astutely observed that this piece was probably too small to bother grazing, and that's why it escaped the bovine lawnmowers. As Ike and Dottie raced through the knee-high grass we noticed an old farmhouse over a shallow hill which pretty much sealed the deal for me: I was sure there were birds here. Very quickly Ike made a strong cast to the right and established point--the kind with his rump in the air and his nose to the ground. Two small relocations sent a single hun zooming away and Ike with a question mark hoving above his head. Eh, I can't fault him. First hun he's smelled in a year, and mistakes happen.

We swept beyond the imploded house and along the edge where the prairie grass meets sage hills. Just about to the end Ike went on point, cornering birds between himself and a sharp rise in the terrain. I fumbled my zippered pocket for my camera to document Ike's first find. I decided that taking pictures would assure one of several possibilities: 1) Ike was pointing a badger or a skunk or some other off-game, 2) birds would flush before I was ready, or 3) I would miss an easy shot.

Well, it turns out it wouldn't take a camera to guarantee possibility number three. Ted and I calmly approached Ike and Ted gently whoa'd Dottie into honoring, as I'm sure it was tough for her to see Ike through the grass. Before I was ready birds were in the air, screeching, and hauling ass. I remember seeing legs and wings, and being completely taken by surprise. I shot twice; maybe I picked out a bird, maybe I didn't. I'm sure I scared them pretty well as they rocketed over the sage hill. "Quail on steroids" might be an understatement. Ted, on the other hand, began the best shooting performance I've seen. I think he only missed once the entire trip. Anyway, Ted bagged hun number one and we unsuccessfully tried to locate the covey over the ridge. No matter, it was a great start to a memorable trip. As we were driving out we met a few bird hunters up from Livingston looking for pheasants. Apparently we are nuts for having driven all the way from Kansas "just for huns." Oh well, I've been called worse.