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Posts Tagged ‘sharptail grouse’

Oh yeah …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, getting the good stuff up top: This was yesterday’s bag for Buddy, Manny and me. Al Gadoury of 6X Outfitters, who you know from his appearances on the show, led me – for fun – to some very fun hunting near Lewistown, Montana.  Thanks Al!

Al’s setters and Lab Bella worked hard, as did my guys, in increasingly high temperatures. Some nice surprises in strong coveys of Huns, and almost a dozen single and double flushes of sharptails within range of Al. Oh yeah, he limited on roosters too, with most of the sharpies within range falling to his classic side-by-side.

A good time was had by all. Hope your season is going as well. Where will the Aliner park next? Watch this space!

What a place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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After a night of epic thunder and lightning and an epic example of restaurant arrogance  (Grand Hotel, Big Timber, Montana), we were ready for a return to adrenaline rush and scenic beauty. Do you know that feeling? Let’s get on with it!

Instead, we were greeted by low-lying, dank fog. The moisture lingered, soaking pants, socks and dogs but keeping temperatures cooler, longer,until the sun broke through and remained the rest of the day.

[Man, nor hunters, do not live by bread alone. But we broke bread in some spectacular places, including this one. Did it bring us luck?]

The Montana icons had been summoned, either by Hollywood or pure unadulterated luck: Cattle framed by rugged mountains, buckaroo (actually, buckarette) and border collie performing as if to a script. One recalcitrant bull briefly challenged us as we opened then shut (quickly and with furtive backward glances) a wire gate across our road.

Oh yeah, the hunting: big sky? Sure. Big fields, absolutely! This was the Hun-rich shorter cover we’d not gotten to earlier. But it was lunchtime before we saw a bird. Not for lack of trying. We ran most dogs through square miles of territory, hope piled on hope as Buddy, Biscuit and Ellie all promising partridge while delivering meadowlarks.

Another drive, more gates, and the slot machine called Montana started paying out. A small covey here, pair there, and every once in a while a sharptail adding spice to the prairie stew.

Manny’s moment: After enough birds to make a TV show interesting, guide Al Gadoury offered a return to a familiar patch to showcase 23-week-old Manny’s budding instincts. A sharpie passed overhead as we geared up … a portent? Manny ambled and streaked alternately through known sharptail habitat, locking into a beautiful, leg-up point. As we neared, we saw his little puppy head threaded between the bottom two strands of a barbed-wire fence along the county road.

Trepidation soon absented itself, as we decided nothing good could come of a shot across the road, or unidentified critter that might spray or inject nasty quills.

But by the time we turned for the trucks, the pup had bumped, pointed, stopped-to-flush and otherwise discovered at least a half dozen sharptails, even delivering many of them to (close to) hand. Good boy!

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It goes on forever, or so it seems.

It goes on forever, or so it seems.

What hits you first is the quiet.

A weekday on this South Dakota prairie must be today, what it was when Lewis and Clark traversed it 200 years ago. Stillness, interrupted periodically by the soft luffing of the occasional breeze. But mostly silence. 

One, two centuries ago, you could feel the deep, visceral rumble of a bison herd, audible miles away because there is nothing competing with it out here. Today it doesn’t take much to hear it in your mind, if not your ears. But once the dog is out of the box, the quiet is punctuated by collar jingles and panting as he courses the limitless, featureless hills.

Stealth became the strategy for the hunt as well. Last visit, nervous sharptails flying at the clunk of a truck door taught me to be a bit more stealthy. I park a half-mile from the likely looking knoll, take Buddy’s collar off, and keep the whistle in the pocket.

On cue, Buddy locks up. Skylined on the hillock, he creeps, vectoring the faint scent. In an echo of the day, the birds flush on virtually silent wings.

A couple more seasons, and maybe we’ll both figure out sharptails.

Rule #1: Go to South Dakota and see for yourself.

Rule #2: Tell me where else you’d go wearing a new pair of Irish Setter boots, and you might win them and a hunting jacket too. Right there, in the comments, is where you do this. Now.

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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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