The TV weather guy said hot and dry, but we know how trustworthy television folk are. We woke to cold fog, thick as any on a vampire movie set.
But Bob Tinker was undeterred, loading horses and dogs into his trailer for a long drive in the general direction of the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands. By the time we pulled through the barbed-wire gate onto a vast, unbroken prairie, a bright yellow ball was rising from behind the eastern ridge. Problem one, gone. This episode of Wingshooting USA will be pretty, if nothing else.
Here’s a behind-the-camera glimpse of how this rodeo works. In this case, I’m running the camera and take all the blame for the shakiness! Amber is after a small covey, Bob wrangles horses, I try to stay on the horse while shooting some video. Tad and Lynn run “real” cameras on the ground:
Problem two: staying in the saddle while following big-running setters. With help from wrangler and fellow hunter Amber Funk, I was up and ready – in theory. But I could use both hands to death-grip my saddle and reins, unlike Tad Newberry and Lynn Berland, who toted high definition video cameras. (My wife, a former competitive rider, still gets the same advice from me when she heads for the barn: “stay on top!”)
The sea of grasses was rich in life, from tiny blooms to sharptail grouse that held surprisingly well for our stampede. The drill went like this: point-tumble off horse-pull shotgun from scabbard and load as you scramble toward the bird. Once in a while, everything went according to plan and a bird fell to earth.
The first bird contact of the day was also the most memorable. Solid point by Ruger, a seasoned English setter. After untangling boot from stirrup without incident I flew a small covey of sharpies and two shots yielded two birds. I should have quit while ahead but that’s a story for another day.
If you ever get a chance to hunt ahorseback, do not hesitate to emphatically respond with a yes. Sore butt? Sore knees? Not if your stirrup straps are the right length, says Tinker, and I am living proof. You’re nine feet off the ground … a commanding view to say the least. You see dogs from afar, plot strategy from on high, and the view is incredible! And imagine someone else (my horse’s name was Joker, but he wasn’t) doing the walking and carrying … of me!
Birds erupted wild in many cases, often flushed by Bob’s steady horses as we passed. Other times, Amber and I alternating, we pushed them into the now-cloudless sky and actually brought a few to hand. That night, we dined on sharptail breasts wrapped in bacon and grilled over coals at Horsefeathers Lodge, Bob and Kayla Tinker’s beautiful stone lodge.
Our feast began with a toast: to the people we hunt with, the incredible resource, and the fact that nobody fell off.