Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Snow Drift Hustle

By the time I reach the southeastern corner of the quarter section Ike is already at the northeastern corner, and of course, on birds.  He's always been the kind of dog that I would catch glancing in my direction as he crossed hundreds of yards to the front.  I'd think with the heavy snow cover, and the thick freezing fog, that Ike would be more likely to work closer in an attempt to stay in touch with me.  There is a thin layer of crust on top of the snow that compounds the now difficult task of putting one foot in front of the other.  Every step I'm convinced the surface will hold, and just as I lift my rear foot my forward foot crunches through.  But that doesn't seem to slow down Ike. 

760 yards.  Seven-hundred and sixty.  Yards.  I'm already out of breath.  I've unzipped my jacket and removed my stocking cap despite the temperature in the teens.  Ike is as honest as they come, and I know he will hold as long as it takes for me to get there.  But no self-respecting wild bird is going to wait for me to come shoot him.  No way.  Doc has hunted in another direction, but I know I can't lose him.  So, I do what I must.  Break open the gun, pocket the shells, put the head down and start truckin'.  Every minute I check the Astro to verify that Ike is still on point.  I'm taking too long.  As more time passes the thoughts of a cynic emerge, "maybe he's in a trap"..."maybe he's stuck in a snow drift"..."maybe he's fallen through the ice into the pond."  Closer now I crest the hill and search for Ike.  Through the stars I see the wooded draw where lives the covey we've met before.  A few more crunching steps and I see Ike's tail swirling as he trots around smelling the ground.

Damnit!  They're gone.

I stop and turn to collect Doc...a few hollers and he's on his way to meet us, although he stops every hundred yards or so to listen for our bearing.  The fourth time the Astro chirps I expect to see Doc "on point" again, but this time it's Ike.  He's into the pasture now, solid.  "Now we're in business."  I fight throug hip-high drifts to cross the not-so-taught fence.  I close the distance, fight through another drifted low area, and Ike remains...steady, honest, intense.

I'm just close enough when the covey flushes from the base of the tree. Most of them fly straight away keeping the tree between us, but a pair peel to the left. Ike sees them and drops his center of gravity and watches. The first shot splits the pair--I was thinking double. The second shot finds the lead bird, but she's not dead.  Ike makes it there quickly and I find him head down up to his shoulders in snow, so I dig and make the retrieve.

Two hefty thumps on his ribs and a "good boy" and he's off again.  The next time I see him he's on another covey.

And like the first most of this covey escapes behind the tree, but a pair offers crossing shots and this time I kill him cleanly.  A short while later Ike finds another covey and I take another bird.  Three quail and it's time to call it quits.  My water is frozen, both dogs have cut pads, and I'm glad, because I'm ready, too.  It feels like the late season and it's only December.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Other Kansas Hunting Dogs

Wes and I came across this interesting rig and motley pack of hounds at a gas station in the dark hours before legal shooting time.  I've seen vehicles like this on country roads a few times here and there.  From what I can gather when the driver spots a yote' he pulls a rope or chain run to the cab via a pulley system.  This releases the door and the dogs charge into action.  The greyhounds are the chase dogs that close the distance and surround the coyote, and the wolfhounds move in for the kill.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Today's Installment of Questionable Logic

"A toll's a toll, and a roll's a roll.
And if we don't get no tolls, then we don't eat no rolls. "

Translation: nothing worthwhile comes easy. Or, you reap what you sow. Or, you get what you pay for. There's probably a dozen adages that aim to teach what some refuse to accept as truth. I wonder what bird hunting would be like if shooting a limit was a foregone conclusion? Not very fun, I suspect.

Unlike most--who get their start with their fathers and grandfathers--I started hunting later in life. In-state tuition and an esteemed college of engineering pulled me to the middle-of-nowhere Kansas State University. I was a product of suburbia and, since there were no wild trout nearby, I spent the first few years chasing girls and drinking beer, usually in that order. Naturally, I met a lot of kids from rural Kansas (K-State is historically an aggie school) and was taken on a bird hunt or two.

Like all bird hunters I vividly remember the first bird I "earned." That inaugural season I borrowed shotguns here and there and hunted a lot by myself--and none of us had dogs. We didn't know to pick up a WIHA atlas, so we just hunted the same piece over and over again: a quarter section of CRP bordered by a grain field. We saw lots of roosts, but after many hunts we still hadn't seen a pheasant. We're talking many trying hours stumbling aimlessly through the CRP (sometimes slogging through snow or rain), looking down for sign, pausing to listen, doing anything we/I could to stack odds in our/my favor.

One blistery January evening I was alone walking the edge against the grain field with a borrowed Remington 870 Express. The sun was just dropping below the cloud cover on the horizon when I paused to listen. Just then a rooster exploded right in front of me and made a hard maneuver to the left. The trigger pull sent a bright flame out of the barrel and the dragon's fire anchored my bird in the grass. That evening I broke our house mom's rules by bringing the bird into the kitchen to pose for a picture, like it was some sort of trophy deer or gobbler. Well, it was a trophy to me, and a significant emotional experience. I've since killed many more pheasants, but none came after as much effort as that first bird, and no bird has given me a bigger smile (dogs are another matter). The successes after small failures stoke the fire to drive longer and walk further. If ever this thing I do becomes easy, and I don't think it ever will, I'll get bored and move on. After all, nothing worthwhile comes easy.

First Impressions

In the past four weeks I've managed to hunt nearly every corner of the state and get an idea of what bird numbers look like for Kansas this season. Generally speaking, bird numbers are up year-over-year, at least specific to quail. I don't think birds are back to where they were during the '05/'06 season, but with a little help we could be back there next season. I very much doubt pheasants did as well as Pheasants Forever or the KDWP would have you believe. But, this wouldn't be the first time folks were over-emphatic in regards to our bird numbers. "Consipiracy"...probably not, "optimistic"...you betcha.

Some pictures...

On Thanksgiving morning my dogs pointed five different coveys of quail in less than an hour. A few days later I tried again and only found one scattered covey. Weird.

Wes made a hell of a shot on this covey that wanted to run into the woods rather than flush on the edges.

Doc on a single...

We stopped to watch this covey cross a road. They'd peak out one or two at a time and then sprint across the bare ground to safety. Probably two dozen birds in this covey.

Typical find along a Kansas bean field.

Ike found this covey feeding in a corn field just before dark. Wes and I each took a bird on the rise and then left them to re-group before night-fall.