(Originally from 2008, this essay might serve as a good warmup to this season …)
Contrary to popular belief, Kansas is not as flat as a pancake. A geophysicist actually analyzed satellite photos of the state, and the equivalent electron microscope view of a real hotcake and proved it.
He could have visited Ravenwood Lodge near Topeka for the physical evidence. Lying along a lazy, muddy Mission Creek, my friend Ken Corbet’s place offers that rare combination of fields, prairies, hilly woods and manicured fields that make a morning’s hunt seem like four different outings.
Hunting from the cozy, charming, beautifully-restored Mission Creek Lodge that’s been in the Corbet family since the Civil War, Buddy and I logged some quality time coursing the terrain with ringnecks on our collective minds.
A red squirrel was the first game spotted, and I had to remind Buddy of his job. Whitetail tracks dotted every muddy path into the beanfields. Hawks circled overhead hoping I’d flush something for them, too.
In baseball, they’d call this bluebird weather. A far cry from two days before when winds were steady at 60 m.p.h. on the South Dakota prairie near Lake Oahe. Enough breeze to make it interesting for Buddy, though.
The shade was beckoning once the sun got high enough to matter, so we skirted the fields and walked what could have been a New England grouse covert. Ancient, gnarled catalpa trees shed their leaves with every gust. First one, then a shower.
The silence was different than the vast prairies a few hundred miles north. Each step broke the quiet with a satisfying crunch on the dry leaves covering the forest floor. But no birds.
I thought the roosters would be far from the risky, exposed fields until I remembered the pond in the center of a tall grass meadow we’d featured on my TV show. Buddy vectored into it through ankle-deep water just like he’d been on that shoot, though he wasn’t even whelped yet. Silent wings carried a hen skyward. Then another point and I walked up a second. Upon my release, Buddy stood fast. Another hen rose, inches from my boot toe. He remained frozen until a third female shot into the air.
Two roosters flushed wild, simultaneously, clearly seeking company as something threatened, close enough only for a Hail Mary shot (wouldn’t you?). Marked for a downwind approach, I heard Buddy’s Tri-Tronics beeper and gave thanks for this miracle of modern technology. Head-high grasses blocked any chance of finding him without it.
I practiced what I’ve preached on numerous occasions, and approached the point from an obtuse angle to help Buddy stand the bird. As I narrowed the gap between his nose and my Irish Setters to ten feet, up came the ringneck, flying low and slow just the way this cross-dominant shooter likes them.
Once again, a pretty good retrieve by Buddy reminded me that sometimes, dogs have very long memories. We’d fallen behind on that phase of training thanks to my social call on the doctors and nurses of the local hospital last month, and hadn’t returned to school yet.
The pond was where pheasants wanted to be on that warming afternoon. A circling tail, nose to the ground and intensity of purpose signaled a running bird, Buddy hot on his trail. That’s the best you can expect from a pointer on runners and when the rooster from right to left the gun barked and Buddy again impressed me with his memory, dropping the bird at my feet.
You really should get more information on this wonderful place – see the link to the right.
And tell me where you’d wear your new Irish Setter boots and jacket and you could win a pair, like Dave C. of California just did. Jot a note in the comments section below, and you’re entered in the random drawing.