Monday, January 30, 2012

End of the Bird Hunting Season Ritual (Part 3)


JANUARY 29, 2012

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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.
Huns
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….
Pheasants
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.
Sharptails
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.

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