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Posts Tagged ‘prairie chicken’

On top of everything else, Gov.  Mike Rounds stopped in the pub and visited for a bit!

That’s just how things work in my second-favorite state, South Dakota. Secret public spots shared by good friend Joey … incredible hospitality … and the birds. THE BIRDS! Ten miles from Pierre on the Ft. Pierre National Grasslands, is a place wild beyond imagination. Unplowed prairie like the pioneers found, water, cover, crops nearby and a flourishing population of ringnecks. And sharptails. And did I mention prairie chickens?

After a week on the injured reserve list, nephew Manny was out of the box and hunting before I could get the e-collar on his uncle Buddy. Both were glad to be moving – fast – after a long day of travel from Wyoming. Into the tough cover, the rattle of dry grass, and … silence! As deafening as a thunderclap, the quiet was soon interrupted by our jaws dropping as we found Buddy on point. Manny slid into a beautiful back, and a very young rooster cackled skyward. A second or third hatch? Anyone know what the bird situation was in the area this fall?

Here’s the country:

Joey is a deadeye and dropped the bird at 40 yards. A bounce, two dogs vectoring for it, and nothing. Buddy’s a lackluster retriever, especially if he thinks someone else will pick up the slack. Evidently even Manny fits that bill. Redirected into the thick stuff, and again, nada. A delberate track toward the next patch, though, scared the wing-clipped bird into a race ultimately won by Buddy.

We celebrated with a tall cold one at a local pub, and as we shared videos and toasted Joey’s recent wedding, in walked friend of hunters Gov. Mike Rounds. I hadn’t seen him since our interview at the SHOT show, so a lot of reminscing took place. He’s served South Dakota as governor for eight years, is term limited-out,  and will soon have a little more time for … hunting! See you in the field Mike!

And here’s our bag:

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Limitless ... vast ... grateful for horses

I’ll probably title this episode “Did you ever have one of those days?” Because I did. Lucky there were no barns with broad sides on the South Dakota prairie, because I’d have missed them, too.

Was it the odd-sized prairie chickens and sharptails? That microsecond’s hesitation as one wonders if it’s a hen pheasant? Bow legs from riding the horse? Nah, I was just shooting even more poorly than usual … which is dismal on a good day.

So was Amber. Normally a wrangler with Tinker Kennels and Horsefeather Lodge where we stayed, she’d been dragooned into serving as second gunner on this day. New job, two TV cameras following her, still responsible for the horses on many occasions and then expected to shoot straight.

Lemme tell ya, she was handling the pressure damn well, considering. Here’s a shout out to Amber – YOU ROCK, girl.

Even the birds we hit were hit softly … single magic pellets felled sharpies and chickens, but we only learned that after long searches for grouse that glided over ridges and died gently, as if laid to rest by a taxidermist. I was grateful for every one of them.

We flew dozens of birds on the open grassland, many wild, a few under beautiful points by Bob Tinker’s setters, and even some pushed out by the rock-steady horses. At times, it was easy to imagine walking next to a Conestoga wagon as our forefathers did, small dots on a green sea, headed for the promise of Oregon, hungrily watching the wild supply of camp meat flush at our feet. Why did any of them continue past such riches? [Historical note: the conventional wisdom of the time was crops wouldn’t grow on the prairie … hah! Thousands of corn and wheat, sunflower and barley producers eventually proved that theory as bunk.]

The show will be very exciting thanks to my lousy marksmanship. You’ll see a week’s worth of points and flushes, a box of shells expended and one day’s worth of shots that connected. But in a strange way, that made the day even better, instilling in the incredible fertility of our prairies when well tended, and the connection to our ancestors one can only get when pursuing the same coveys in the same places they did on their way to a new America on the westward edge of the continent.

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