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Posts Tagged ‘Ft. Pierre National Grasslands’

Drizzle. Cold. Wind that runs up your pant legs all the way to your heart.

That was today’s leg of the Awesome Upland Road Trip on the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands, and it was spectacular.

Yes, the meteorological conditions were daunting, but they improved as did our spirits. And the hunting, if you’re into body counts, was so-so. But the experience, as the MasterCard commercials say, was priceless. 

Montana doesn’t have a corner on “big sky.” South Dakota owns a share of that title, and we were under it. Rolling prairie, draws and pockets of cottonwood, buffalo berry thickets kept the adrenaline flowing all day. The term one author used was “sea of grass,” and it’s apt. To the far horizon. “Vast” seems apropos.

If you’ve read any magazine articles about late-season sharptail grouse hunting, you know the descriptors: flighty (pardon the pun), nervous, wary … yes, they were. And we never got a shot at the five or six coveys we saw. We weren’t the quietest of hunters, two dogs and two guys, so chalk one up to cautious birds and good friends catching up. One interesting phenomena – and if you’ve had a similar experience, let me know. We watched one covey fly from a high spot, only to be replaced 30 minutes later by another. Then another. That knoll was a magnet for sharpies. Why, we’ll never know. But it’s marked on the GPS.

Golden cottonwood leaves fell on cue, and red and yellow buffalo berry leaves rounded out the palette. When we got to the pheasant coverts after noon, the spent shells and empty ammo boxes foretold skinny prospects.

For the downwind leg, the birds we saw were few and far away. We savored a few strong false points prompted by three days in the truck, and hen points that went unconsummated; But Buddy was a strong hunter, undaunted by thicket or distance.

He was dogged all day by young Lucy, a four month-old Golden Retriever that should be a strong bird dog if her owner/handler is any indication of nurture versus nature. [The dictionary entry for “exuberance” should have a young Golden as the illustration.]

After his longest hunt of the season, tail tucked and loping rather than racing, Buddy was drawn on the upwind return to the cattails surrounding the big pond. When we stopped jacking our jaws and realized he’d gone missing, the Tri-Tronics beeper was energized and the distant hawk scream drew us to the swampy shore.

Ten minutes later, Buddy was still on point, and a young-of-the-year ringneck soon fell to my companion’s 870. That topped it, I said. Let’s call it a day on that high note.

But there was that one shelterbelt … old, tall, and most dry on this blustery, damp day. It stood between hunters and truck. What would YOU do?

The roar of wings interrupted my stuttering hack through the dry branches and deadfall. My companion shot while I took a bead on the three owls that flushed with the ringneck. Even this colorblind, cross-dominant gunner detected the difference, so held my shot. Buddy completed the retrieve after much ceremony and accompaniment from Lucy the Golden (I’m being diplomatic).

Dog fed, watered and de-burred, it was time to savor a single malt and watch the day fade while roosters cackled goodnight from the abandoned farmstead in the distance. Try it next time.

Try it in South Dakota. Where everyone loves a bird dog, even in the hotel bar. And hunter orange is a fashion statement.

Now, the Irish Setters are drying, the Tri-Tronics collar re-charging, and this writer is all in, as the poker players say. Tell me where you’d wear a new pair of Irish Setters in the comments section below, and you might win a pair … and a hunting jacket, too.

 Scott

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