Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve Hunt { Sharptails }

It was warm day for this time of the year in Montana, (40*) Christmas Eve, 2010. I was going to start my day with a brisk walk and a quick hunt, to allow my black lab "Pearl" a chance to get out and run. She has been house bound due to the crusty snow cutting her shins a few weeks back. I awoke early as usual, it was a beautiful sunrise, music playing, drinking coffee, and, working on the computer. After a few phone calls, text messages, and, more coffee, it was getting close to mid-day. Not a good time to hunt on such a warm December day, it would be better towards the very late afternoon when the sun is lower on the horizon.
It was around 3:00 pm when I finally tied the last lace to my hunting boots, Pearl was watching every move I made , and barking with protest in her voice that I was moving much too slow.
We had the farm to ourselves that late afternoon, the question was, which direction should we start? I did not think it would be very productive hunting, but, it was good to be out and Pearl was ready to have a good run. The snow was not too deep, only 3-4 inches covering the base of the "CRP" grasses, walking was OK. It seemed too late in the day to go for a long walk , so I decided to just walk the fence line , who knows , in the past Pearl and I have run into Pheasants, Sharp-tails, and Huns . We entered the field, and much to my surprise, thrusting upward out of the uncut grasses flew a Sharp tailed grouse, then, 3 more in staggered rises. All four birds were just out of range, typical of "Sharpies" that have endured substantial hunting pressure. They flew toward the thickest part of old "CRP", which is comprised of native grass, with clumps of alfalfa, inter mixed with wisps of wheat here and there. Pearl saw the birds fly, she ran to where they had risen to investigate the smells, and to see if there were any left overs. Once she caught the scent, she started working the area as quick as she could, zig zagging the area to make sure there were no sharpies left in the parameter. She then came back to me to assure me that this part of the field was empty. She was so excited, wearing a grin so large that her white teeth glistened, and her big red tongue hung off to the side of her mouth. I don't know where pearl learned this, but you know how athletes celebrate by jumping in the air and do a "body slam", either chest to chest or side to side. Well my dog after getting on scent always runs to me and jumps into me, not upward, but a body slam into my thigh and waist, with the side of her body. Then, she races off to start looking for more birds. Hey, I don't mind enthusiasm, better than having a dog that is not that into it!
We followed the Sharpies to the thicker part of the tall grass, pearl was showing lots of sign that birds were in the area, they must have been running, I thought. As I looked down to look for tracks, I noticed what appeared to be an area that was just disturbed. Mmm, I thought, maybe a covey of Huns, those four birds could not have made a disturbance this extreme. Just then, pearl started running with her nose attached to the ground, she must be right on a running bird. I was watching pearl work a bird, when out of the corner of my eye; I started to see Sharp-tails getting out of the grass to fly to a safer spot. At first, I saw what I thought were the four that showed earlier, then, I saw a few more, out of range and to the right, then, way over on my left 10- 15 birds got up, all out of range. Wow, many more birds than I'd ever seen here, then, right in front of me, just out of shooting distance, there must have been 25-30 sharpies that pretty much arose in unison. I did not have a good shot at any of them; all I could do was watch in amazement, of the spectacular sight, of sharpies getting up all around us. Pearl was running like crazy back and forth, picking up scent in all directions, my job was to watch and see where they were landing. They did not fly too far, pearl and I were in pursuit, but, birds kept getting up off to my right , of course just out of shooting distance. We worked our way over to the right, and as we did, more birds were getting out of the grass on the left side of us. It was a sight I will never forget, I wasn't even disappointed that they were out of range for shooting, it was just incredible to witness.
Pearl and I worked our way toward the main area where most of the birds landed; I was thinking this might be ideal situation to be able to shoot "singles".  But, it appeared that the majority of the covey had either kept running off the property, or flew again, and I did not see them, but the majority of the birds had vanished. I did manage to make a long shot on a single, and brought him down. It felt good to at least, have a "bird in hand". We started to work our way back to the car, there was plenty of acreage left to hunt. I saw a few flush off to the left and fly off. We walked for quite a while not seeing any more birds, then, pearl diverted off to the left in hot pursuit for around sixty yards and then stopped. I was standing just above a small gully looking at pearl work and then stop. As she stopped, a "rooster" exploded from her feet, flying like a missile, dissecting the gully, flying from my left to right. It was a difficult shot, but I fired both barrels regardless, not even ruffling a feather. (Merry Christmas Mr. Rooster!)
The sun was setting, the car was still 20 minutes away, and it was time to head home. On the way back, pearl would catch scent, then it would fade, we would keep moving fast toward the finish line. I'd given up and was ready to call it a day, and what an absolutely amazing late season hunt it turned out to be, when, just near the car where we had started, another sharp-tail rose to flight, this time he was too close. Pearl proudly retrieved the mottled colored bird to hand, and it was a great finish to an incredible experience.
Merry Christmas, I'm having sharptail for dinner!
Follow along @ http://www.aguasdelmundo.net/ ( Daly Blog)

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