Monday, January 30, 2012

End of the Bird Hunting Season Ritual (Part 3)

JANUARY 29, 2012

1 Vote
My last post was about Goose hunting, the place where I’d found this wonderful spot was due to it being my favorite Upland area. Usually, I hunt in the mornings, going out before work, sitting in an office most of the day talking on the phone to bankers, title people, and other Realtor’s. The reason I found the goose hunting spot was because one particular day I decided to get out late afternoon to give my dog a good run. Normally I enjoy to get out early, the light in the morning’s make the getting out of bed worth while. In the late Fall, the sunrise’s are breath taking, the air is crisp, and sometimes down right cold. But generally, it warms as the sun rises and with all the walking makes getting out very comfortable.
This past 2011 season was one of the best I have seen for weather, but the lack of birds made some days extremely disappointing. As you know from my last post, the goose # s are extremely strong, but due to the two harsh Spring snow blast that we have seen in 2010 and 2011, it really effected the upland bird numbers, at least in our area, and from what I’ve heard, in most area’s around the State of Montana.
I’m sure reading these post one must think I get to hunt all the time, not true, I do try to get out when ever I can, and living in an area where one can hunt ten minutes from town, it helps to encourage one to strap on the boots , and get out and walk. But, I have never had the chance to hunt as much as I’ve wanted, maybe a good thing, keeps me hungry to get out when I can.
In the first two post I wrote about starting the season off with my 20 gauge  Remington wing-master, usually until Duck and Goose season starts. Then , I start using my Benelli 3 1/2 inch 12 gauge for waterfowl. But my favorite gun, and my go-to gun for all occasions is my 12 gauge C_Z over and under.
This is a gun that is easy to carry on long walks, it is quick to shoulder, easy to shoot. Even while out upland hunting I always carry a box of Steel shot just in case Ducks or Geese appear.
This past season I saw the fewest numbers of Huns I’ve seen in over twenty years. It must be due the the huge snow fall we had late in the Spring of 2011. But, I did manage to get into a few covey’s, not in their usual places, but in a new area that I started hunting  just this past season . Scouting out this new property meant to drive the entire farm. It had two small creeks on the property and near these creeks are were I found the birds. Food , Shelter, and Water is a good starting point when looking for Huns, it usually pays off, and this past season was no exception. As I was driving and looking for signs of birds, I found a small dirt road that paralleled a meandering creek that cut through a alfalfa field, and near the main gravel road, it wound it’s way through a wheat stubble field. It did not take long, as I came up and over a small hill, there they were, 25 or so Huns running for the shelter of  the Alfalfa field. I stopped and loaded the Over and Under,  let the dog out  and she was on them like white on rice. The covey had started to break up, but the chirping of the  one of the adult bird’s warned them to fly now, and almost the entire covey flew in unison to an area on the other side of the creek. As they rose I took one of the birds that had gotten up nearest me, Pearl brought it back to hand, but quickly was nose to the ground, birdy and working the area near where the covey had risen. I was thinking that maybe she was still smelling the covey from before, with so many birds they leave quite a scent trail. So, I started to walk in the direction of where the covey landed. Pearl was persistent, working the area with her nose to the ground in a quick back and forth motion not giving up. I turned to call her when the “sentinel” adult bird  flushed and flew right by me , he fell on this side of the small creek, and Pearl retrieved this one with a smile on her face, she knew she had done her job.
We crossed the snake like creek on a bend just near where I had marked the covey had landed. Much to my surprise my black lab did not seem to find any scent. So, of course we walked the entire area, nothing, it seemed as though the 23 birds that remained had vanished. I don’t give up easy, so we walked , back and forth for up to close to half an hour, my dog was starting to give me that look,  like  ”buddy, they are not here, lets go” . It was a warm morning so I was thinking these birds could be in one of  two places, in and around the Alfalfa field where it is cooler, or they ran for the small patch of CRP  just beyond the Alfalfa. The Alfalfa wasn’t yet cut so it seemed like a logical place for the birds to hide. We zig-zaged our way quickly through the uncut grass, Pearl once again was looking back giving me that look, so we headed into the small patch of CRP, Pearl was racing through the tall older CRP with a huge smile and  her tail was really going. Just then I saw a Hen Pheasant rise just above the grass and drop down to the same spot, Pearl was racing around in a frantic pace, when yet again in a different spot another Hen Pheasant did exactly the same thing. Just then Pearl ran to me with something in her mouth, it was a small chick Pheasant, I told her to drop , and she did, the chick scurried off to join 6 or 7 other baby Pheasants all running for their lives to join their mom. It was strange to find at the end of  September Pheasants still on their nest. This was a breeding area, so I quickly called my lab and we headed out of there and back to the car. Due to the huge snow fall in the Spring, it appeared that the Pheasants were trying to make up for the kill off in the Spring, and were trying to have a late second clutch. The rest of the Huns got away that day, but I did return a week later, and it turned out to be a carbon copy of the first day. Shot two , and the other’s vanished….
This past year I did not get out to hunt Pheasants like I usually do, but I did have some fun hunts. I missed the opening, I was guiding fishermen on the Missouri river, my other job, that I have been doing for the past 25 years.  Near town, there was a new ranch/farm that opened up for the public to hunt. I drive by this area on my way to work each day, and it did have quite a few hunters on the property each time I passed. I tried to get on this property most of the season, but each time I’d call it was booked. So, I hunted my old spots, that did not seem like there were that many birds as in years past.
My first opportunity to get out and hunt Pheasants was at the end of October, I ‘d gotten up very early around 5:00 am, my black lab Pearl knew what we were going to do, and followed me every step throughout the house , not to let me from her sight. As I dressed for the morning hunt, my dog was right at my feet watching every move I made , stretching, and barking in protest that I was moving much too slow, she was ready. We arrived to the hunting grounds to find that we were the first ones there, good, now I can go where ever I want. I know this property very well, and headed right to the heart of where I’ve always found birds in the past. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny October morning, and lucky for me the wind was down, it was calm, just the way I like it.
My dog has a different look on her face when she knows we are going Pheasant hunting, once she is in the hunting grounds she gets serious , she knows that these birds will hold. Pearl has learned to stop and listen for movement in the Goose berry bushes, it is not always about scent. There is nothing better than either seeing , or hearing a Pheasant before you dog does and watch her find the bird you already know is there. This day was a classic, the birds were right were they were suppose to be, they got up within range, and I went 3 for 3 , it could not have been better.
I hunted a dozen or so more times this past season, and I always got at least one bird, but compared to years past, this was a difficult season as I have seen in many years.
The Sharptail grouse is a bird that will almost always do well, even on big snow years, due to the fact that they love to perch, high, even in large trees. You can often find sharpies just after a  fresh snow fall , sitting  in large covey’s high in Cottonwood trees, out of the snow.
This past year it was the only one of the big three that I think the numbers were down but not at he same level as the Huns nor the Pheasants, Sharpies are survivors. Living here in Cascade, I often times see Sharpies right in town, perched on the tops of the Fur and Cottonwood trees. Last season were had quite a bit more snow than this season, and last season I ran into giant coveys of Sharpies, their numbers were close to 200 birds. This is generally in December, when many smaller coveys come together to stay warm during the dead of winter. This season has been much more mild, and I have yet to see the covey’s unite, maybe they will not, it is suppose to be in the 50′s this coming week.
I had a few good hunts, one day back in November, I hunted in a CRP field looking for Pheasants, when my dog got very birdy, and stated tracking what I first thought was a Pheasant the way the bird were running.  I was following quickly behind her for a good five minutes, she was right behind something, never loosing scent. We followed the birds to an edge of a stubble field, and much to my surprise up came a Sharptail, I made a good long shot and dropped it, Pearl made the retrieve and we continued in pursuit. She got back on scent and after chasing the birds all the way back where we started, this time three more sharpies got up, I doubled , Pearl made the retrieves, and I was more than satisfied to get three birds before going to the office and work.
The end of the season ritual is the final cleaning of the guns, that will be put away for the next 8 months. I always clean my guns each and every time I hunt. But at the end of the season the guns get a very thorough and complete cleaning, and after the cleaning are heavily oiled to protect against the  rust during the time they sit in storage for another season. It is always a sad day for my hunting partner Pearl when she see's this ritual, and the guns are put in the closet until the next hunting season commences.

End of the Bird Hunting Season Ritual (Part 2)

End of the Bird Hunting Season Ritual (Part 2)

JANUARY 28, 2012

1 Vote
From my first post I spoke about my early season hunting and how I started the hunting season with my Remington Wing Master 20 gauge. Most years here in Montana the Duck and Goose season starts the first week of October. This is generally when the 20 gauge is put away and my Duck Gun is brought into action. This is a Bennelli Pump, 12 gauge that can shoot 31/2 inch shells , that I feel more confident when shooting large Canadian geese.
I really enjoy shooting ducks, mainly because I like eating  most species that fly through Montana. This past season here on the Missouri river it did not seem like the Ducks stuck around very long, we would get a storm out of Canada that would move birds into our region, and it seemed like within days they would move on. 25 years ago here on the Missouri River near Cascade, we would have Ducks all over, Mallards were common, you could find them from Ulm all the way to Holter Dam. It was easy to go out and get a limit of Green Heads, and even a few Wood Ducks would be in the back channels along with Pintails, Red heads, and Widgon. This past season it appeared that the ducks did not stay around like the did in years earlier, my feeling is that the weather had alot to do with the ducks moving onward.
Speaking with another Realtor in our office who grew up near Cascade and has been waterfowl hunting the area for the past 50 years, he remarked that when he was a kid the Missouri River was full of Mallards. Thick with Mallards and other ducks, but he said, this area had very few geese. A few Snow geese would pass through , but he said , the Canadian geese were a novelty. Interesting, because today this area is has a huge population of Canadian geese, there are many more geese today than there are ducks.
Now for me, I prefer to eat a Duck over a Goose, now that’s just me, but, if there are few ducks, and many more geese, well I’m one to be “when in Rome”…In the area around Cascade we have a perfect environment for both gain eating ducks and geese. this area is just at the beginning  of where the Great Plains meets the Rocky Mountains. On the Eastern part of our Valley, it is flat with mild rolling hills that are golden brown with wheat fields , inter mixed with CRP, that unfortunately are coming to the end of there contracts with the Federal Government . The CRP are farm lands that were “let go” without farming, and farmers were paid not to farm these fields. This was a huge bonus for upland bird hunters, the fields grew wild and the crops would mix with wild grasses, giving great cover and food for all the species of Upland birds. It will be interesting to see what develops in the next ten years as almost all of our CRP land are brought back into farming.
One of the reason’s this area is a perfect waterfowl environment is due to the Missouri River. All along the river, are the grain fields, but, this is not enough just to have the food. The birds need a safe place to “roost”, or rest and sleep at night. This rich aquatic environment of the Missouri has over the centuries developed Islands, big and small, that give a safe refuge for the waterfowl from predators like fox, coyotes and Man.
This past season I set up a blind in an area that was on one of the main flying paths that ducks and geese would use to fly from their roost to feed in the wheat fields, and later in the day, would change fields due to wind, or hunting pressure in the fields. I had some great days, but I was disappointed in the numbers of ducks that were in the area, but the number of geese made up for it, and most days the goose shooting was fair to good.
While upland hunting one afternoon, in an area that I usually use, I noticed that a great number of geese would fly off there safe spot on the river in-which they use during the heat of the day to rest and digest there morning feast, and would fly in a bee- line to a  wheat field some two miles off the river. The line that they flew was directly over the field I usually hunt for Pheasants, Huns and Sharptail grouse.  My dog Pearl and I hid near a fence line and watched as platoons  from 10-50 geese flew over, very low just coming off the river. This went on for a good 45 minutes, as platoon after platoon kept coming,  at times filling the sky, and, the honking as they flew over was near deafening with so many of the noisy Canadian flying to enjoy their last meal of the day. I knew not to shoot more than two, just because I knew I’d have to carry these large birds back a mile or so to the car. It was a perfect set-up, as the big Canadians came off the river, they were flying right into a blinding sunlight, and against a strong South Westerly wind, low and hungry. I took two birds in two shots, Pearl made the retrieves, and with the sun just starting to set  we started the walk back to the car. On the walk I made plans for the next day, carrying the birds was the most difficult part of the hunt. I decided to empty my decoy bag, and use that to transfer the heavy geese , it would be much easier to use my big canvas backpack of a decoy bag to move the geese out of the field.
The next day, Pearl and I arrived around the same time, late afternoon, same conditions, wind was out of the South West , and it was really blowing, the sun was low on the horizon, perfect. I wore clothing that would blend in with the yellow-golden grass and wore a tan hat a a light brown camo “Buff” to hide my face. I had found a ditch just below a hill  that was right on their path, it would be a perfect ambush spot. It was warm for November, Pearl and I waited basking in the warmth of a rare November Montana afternoon. Then it started, the sound was impressive, thousands of  geese sounding off to start their last feed of the day. Pearl was focused, listening the constant honking of what was flying toward us, trembling with anticipation, ready to retrieve the xtra large game-birds. They were flying right towards us, it was a wonderful sight, the first group had around 12 different platoons, some were out of range to our left side, and a few flew just out of range on our right, but the majority were heading right at us, low, slow, into the sun and wind. As the first platoon was in sight just above the hill , Pearl jumped up when she saw them, I grabbed her and settled her only to look up to see the geese were just overhead. I shot two, and they fell very close making a very load thug as they hit the ground. The birds were so low that they were “blown up”. The breast had quite a few steel shot, and the guts were exposed and hanging out. Pearl unfortunately got a good taste of the demolished birds, and did not run right back with the geese, but rather had stopped with the bloody goose, and, had it in mouth and was thinking this was pretty tasty. Hunting stopped right then and there as my bird dog and I had a close encounter, eye ball to eye ball, and a serious conversation about proper etiquette concerning  retrieving. I put the blood ridden goose in the extra large backpack, and had her retrieve the other goose, with me hot on her heels to ensure no funny stuff. She got the message, and we settled back down into our ambush mood, it didn’t take for about two minutes and the platoons were flying on a direct line right at us again. This time I stood just before the geese arrived, flaring the giant birds so they would rise and fly off just a bit , an easy shot , but one that would only kill and not mutilate. I double again, and we were through, it was time for the load carrying walk back to the car. The platoons kept coming and coming the entire time Pearl and I walked the mile or so back to the parking lot. From the time we started and returned to the car was well under two hours, this became my honey hole for goose hunting. I hunted this spot 7-8 times more during the season with the same results, as long as the sun was out , and the wind was from the usual South West, it was a great spot.
I’ll finish with (Part 3) next time (Upland)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Driving on the other side (Part 21)

One of the reasons the girls choose to stay where they did, was due to the fact that they would have an individual cabin, and, the fact that the cabin they choose was right on the lake with a stunning view. As they drove through the small town of  Moana, they noticed that one Pub seemed to be the hot spot and decided to check it out. The Pub's of the South Island had changed from the years past. In the old days, each Pub had two sides, one for women , and the other for men, usually there was a bar in the middle where both could eat, drink and mingle. These days most people just went to the bar in the middle, wow, now that is progressive. This Pub was a DB ( Dominion Bitters) Pub, the most popular drink in this part of the South Island. Jane and Kelly get a table instead of sitting at the bar, they were there to eat, they thought they could drink later. In the Pub's they almost always serve food, good food, and lots of it. The menus are typically pretty similar, Kidney and Steak Pie, Lamb Stew, Fresh Fish and Chips are always available, and typically a special of some sort , what ever is in season, tonight it was Venison ( Red Stag) in a cream brandy sauce.
Both Jane and Kelly had one thing in mind , and that was to eat, after smoking the red bud that Billy had given Jane, both girls were starving, and were focused on food. Everyone else in the bar were focused on the two women who just lit up the Pub with their beauty. The waitress appears with a small pad and an active pencil that is tapping the pad in a rapid pace. Whataya have girls?"Jane looks up to say" ah, menus please" The waitress with a look of discuss says, " it's written on the board behind you, there is fish, stew, pie, or if you'd like the special is bambi". Jane ops for the Fish and chips and Kelly the Lamb Stew, Jane ask for bread as well. At the bar, there were two young men who did not appear to be locals. They had wild sun bleached blonde hair, they were both dressed similar, with baggy canvas pants, loose fitting short sleeved shirts and Teva sandals. Jane noticed the two after she  had eaten three of the hot , fresh rolls that came accompanied with real butter. "Kelly, check these two dudes sitting at the bar behind you, they don't look like local's" says Jane casually. Kelly turns around to have a look, then turns back at Jane and says, " they look a little young, don't they"? Jane with a look of surprise replies, "since when did you get so picky'? Kelly with a defensive tone adds, "well don't they"?
The food came nun too fast for the weary travelers, both girls devoured their food  in what seemed just minutes, Jane with a devious smile lets out a small burp, and says, " that hit the spot"! Kelly sighs and says, "Oh man, I needed that , it was delicious.' Jane bends her head back and has a big laugh, only to return to see both tall young men standing directly behind Kelly's chair. " Good evening ladies, can we buy you a drink" came from the one of the surfer looking dudes, that appeared to have an Australian accent.
Back on the East coast, Billy enters the dinning room to find  Kate Granger sitting at the bar smoking a cigarette  with a enormous glass of red wine parked just in front of her. Billy is stunned to see the women he met earlier who was decked out in a loose fitting Logan green outfit  to now be looking absolutely ravishing. Kate wore four inch heels, a dark green emerald dress that was sleeveless and the front cut in an exposing V, it came to just below her knees. She was lightly made up, and wore diamond ear rings with a matching necklace , ring , and bracelet. Kate Granger was a stunner, Billy was speechless for a few seconds until Kate broke the silence with , " Billy , welcome, would you like to have a glass of Red or White wine"? Bender could feel hid heart pounding in his chest.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

End of the Hunting Season Ritual (Part 1)

Last week here in Central Montana the Hunting season for Ducks and Geese came to a end. The general "bird season" ended January 1st, that is for all upland birds including Pheasants, Hun's, and Sharptail Grouse. It is always a sad week for those who love to hunt, and for bird hunters, it is that time of year to prepare your guns for the eight month lay-off of being stored away, for yet another season which will resume on the first week in September 2012. I use three different shotguns during the hunting season. In September, I usually start hunting with my Remington wing- master, 20 gauge, upland model. I have had this gun for 20 years, it still has an excellent action, and over the past 20 years it has only jammed once, due to heavy shooting and my lack of cleaning the gun properly. It is an extremely light gun that is easy to walk with during the heat of September while I hunt Doves, Hun's, and Sharpies. In September I will hunt only early mornings, or, evenings due to the normal heart of the long September days. My black Lab Pearl does not take the heat well, and frankly, nor do I. Most birds are feeding in the cooler parts of the day, so this works out all the way around.
One September many years ago, I found an area with quite a few Mourning Doves that were resting on telephone lines right above a wheat stubble field that was freshly harvested. In between the field and just below the telephone lines was a irrigation ditch beaming with clean, clear water. The road I was driving was small gravel, it was a perfect place to expect many more doves in the field itself, than just the twenty or so birds I was seeing resting on the wires. There was a farm house at the far end of the wheat field, I dove in and asked the farmer if he minded me walking his field to shoot some doves. The cover-all wearing farmer was extremely friendly and told me to help myself.  I started just near the house, all shooting would be away from the house, so I could feel free to shoot and not worry about  shooting towards the white, red trimmed ranch style house.  The field  itself was around 60-80 acres, it was great bird cover for stubble, it was thick and golden in color, cut long with a good  five to six  inches standing erect toward the sky. My first few step got doves to flush, much like Quail, or, Hun's, small covey's of six to ten birds erupting quickly from the golden cover, and diverting into smaller pairs in all directions. I doubled on the first flush, my heart was racing trying to stay focused thinking of just how many birds there might be hiding and feeding in the newly cut wheat. While my black lab Pearl was retrieving the two downed birds, she flushed two other covey's, these two groups flew wildly in all directions, just out of shooting range. I called Pearl back, we rested for a short while and the resumed walking in a different direction. In less than three minutes we were into Doves once again, this time there was around five or six small covey's, I doubled once again, marked the downed birds and watch the lucky ones fly to the south eastern part of the field, and much to my surprise, land and presume feeding. This field was a Dove magnet, it had everything  they needed, it had good quality food, the stubble was long and thick for cover, there was water right there, plus gravel, and , the wires were a perfect perch.
It didn't take long to shoot four more birds, I had my "limit" and was more than satisfied for the quality and style of this Dove hunt. It was one of the first times that I was able to shoot doves in the classic rise form that one thinks of while shooting upland birds. Since this experience, I have looked forward to the early season, and spend my days trying to replicate this very special experience. It's never easy, the fields are rotated, some years are dryer than other, conditions are never the same, but , I continue to pursue the perfect dove field once again. (Part 2) on a later day...