Cold, drizzly weather kyboshed our first day in Mott, North Dakota, a return engagement to Tailfeather Inn. We were, in effect, doing exactly what you would in the same place at the same time: freelancing. But after eight days on the road, we savored a late morning and mellow day of laundry, football and downtime.
We did have a slight advantage in that our host Mark Wiegand had opened the lodge early so we could find sharptails in a ringneck-centric town. He and friends Kurt and John had scouted and researched some starting points for our quest and they deserve an “A” for their work. By next morning, we were primed for the hunt and the weather was friendly.
Joining our mob was Joe Exum, my friend and owner of Happy Jack dog products company. Joe wanted a true western hunt for wild birds and he was not disappointed. Just ask his knees.
This season we’re airing an episode titled “Laid back longtails,” shot at Tailfeather Inn last year. It’s an apt description for the relaxed approach to hunting near Mott. Make some calls, stop some trucks, drive some two-track, and poof, you’re in sharptail territory. North Dakota has a lot of walk-in private land (called PLOTS in this state) that makes it easy for visiting hunters to find some space, and we took good advantage.
Vast, green prairie adjacent to standing corn was our first destination. With six dogs on the ground, it was often more like a rodeo than a hunt, but what the heck? Some false points, exciting tracks, and soon sharpies were flying – at a distance. Likely hangouts (high spots in most cases) yielded birds but always out of range.
A wild covey flush finally produced one bird in the bag for John, and Joe got his first shot at America’s native grouse too. Plenty of ammo was expended, all of us chuckling over the number of misses per bagged bird that day.
While I counted to ten over and over at puppy-like behavior and a lost Buddy, the mother-of-all-covey rises erupted, me in their midst. Isn’t it a proven scientific fact that an open unloaded gun and shooting glasses dangling uselessly around one’s neck are sure flush inducers?
Our next stop was national grassland that may as well have been in Canada from the distance driven by our motley caravan. Rolling hills and lingonberry bushes offered a different challenge to dogs and hunters. Many pairs of sharptails exited the draws as we entered from the other end.
As the pumpkin-colored sun settled over distant badlands, our crowd was arrayed from bottom of draw to top of ridge, trudging truckward. A lone sharpie chucked, panicked, from the shrubs near John. The bird traversed the slope and every hunter, who emptied their gun as he streaked past. The last hunter was Joe, a North Carolina native who proudly claimed his first western game bird when Tom’s Brittany delivered it to hand.
Manny’s moment: Some CRP ground produced dozens of pheasants (out of season), and eventually grouse. A few points, a cute back by Manny. He’d barreled through the mob scene from upwind. Tom’s Brittany locked up while Manny passed him from upwind. He evidently caught a glimpse of the point and slammed into his own … 180 degrees from “right” – his high tail proudly calling attention to the Britt’s nose, 10 feet away. Where’s a camera when you need it?