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What does a rattlesnake’s notable sizzle portend when it erupts from underfoot as you gather for the first video shot of the day?

Sonny couldn’t hear it, but I could, and warned off everyone else, dogs first. We poked and prodded from a distance, found the business end, got enough video for the show, then the critter suddenly died of lead poisoning.

[Here’s a preview of our Montana hunt … big sky, indeed.]…

To answer the question, the buzz didn’t stop with the first shot of the day. We were constantly among birds, Sam the pointer and Dudley the shorthair performed with aplomb. After breakfast we swapped the smooth coats for Buddy, my wirehair. Within seconds, he found the first ringneck, maintained a solid point and gave us plenty of time for us to vector to where we last heard his bell. It was the first of many sloppy retrieves as Buddy chose panting and survival over picture-perfect consummation of the sequence.

One find merits mention here, rather than waiting until next year on the show: We’d lost Buddy over a steep slope, our guide Josh finally locating him on point downwind of a blackberry bush alongside a farm road. The chukar sauntered out of the cover and up the road as if he was headed to the lodge kitchen for a cup of coffee, Buddy skulking along in a half-point while maintaining his cool and not flushing the bird. When I caught up, the crunch of bootstseps got the bird in the air and back onto the gravel in a few wingbeats. Then, we aimed for that kitchen and more caffeine, watching the temperature head for the high eighties.

You know it’s hot when hydrophobic Buddy made a beeline for the farm pond and spent the better part of five minutes swimming … something he usually won’t do unless there’s a dead bird floating within sight. Thanks, Buddy.

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Heat: moist, smothering dusty conditions were the order of the day at Little Canyon Shooting Preserve. The sun, a white-hot ball searing dogs and hunters, was still low against the north ridge but sapping energy already.

Under the tangle of head-high wheatgrass the temperature was at least ten degrees more oppressive than the 75 degrees the porch thermometer showed. The thatch of grass suborned any whisper of breeze and locked in bird scent, but Sonny Hairston’s dogs have been there and done that, undeterred by the brutal conditions.

Thanks to cut strips every few yards, gunners were able to quickly reach the first point by Sam, a pointer. A ringneck rattled his way through the tangle and quickly fell to Bernie’s first shot of the season. Berne Moore and friend Jim James came all the way from Kansas City, winners in a sweepstakes we did last year (And this year, too. Go here to enter.)

Later in the morning, Manny made his debut in the field and what a proud owner he has! This 23-week-old progressed through the steps you’d expect over time, but condensed it to about an hour. Birdy on old scent, then a tentative point on the next pheasant, then solid on the next, and even part of a retrieve on the last! Proud and excited (so were we!), he carried that ringneck all the way back to the lodge.

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We are OFF. And I don’t mean mentally. The Awesome Upland Road Trip version 2.0 is under way. A bit of a high school reunion atmosphere in Portland, Ore., as director Tad Newberry and camera operator Lynn Berland convened at the airport, piled in luggage and gear, and everyone met Manny.

Where else for lunch on a trip like this, than the Pheasant Grill in Arlington, Ore.? And yes, I’ve shot some nearby but there are now more chukar in the area than the long-tailed birds. (Factoid: Arlington is where Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinson was born. He was by far the coolest dude to come out of this Columbia River port town.)

The promise of new country is always part of the discussion during the first-day’s drive and we were not disappointed with Little Creek Shooting Preserve near Peck, Idaho. Sonny Hairston and his family have carved a little piece of hunting heaven out of steep canyon walls and rolling benches planted with the thickest cover I’ve encountered.

This is Manny’s first road trip – and beyond a few practice pigeons, his first bird contacts. I am stoked! He shows so much promise, has so much doggy street smarts and is such an indefatigable little guy; if only I don’t bugger the process he should be a cracking-good bird dog.

Okay, okay, just to when your appetite here is a behind-the-scenes clip from our first hunt, featuring contest winners Bernie Moore and Jim James doing the gunning:

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Yep, we gather the crew and head for Idaho tomorrow, the first stop on our itinerary. We’ll be recording hunts for next season’s programs in Idaho, Montana, North and South Dakota on this leg of the Road Trip. In October, we head south and east, and if all comes together in February we will hunt in Georgia.

Watch for the rig, stop and say hello

You know that feeling: anticipation, wondering if you packed everything, how the dogs will do, if camera operator Lynn Berland’s plane will land on time. Maybe not that last one, but that’s the lot of TV producers.

Anyway, I’ll try to file reports here regularly so you can get a sneak preview of next year’s programs as they are made. Meanwhile, don’t forget to watch the new season on satellite, cable, and over the air. Go here for more information.

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Alright everyone, here is the lineup for this season. Dates in the left column are broadcast weeks … find network info/air times here. For over-the-air networks, please check local listings for actual air times/days.

Air date                        Episode title                                Description

Sept 27       Lawyer Creek Pheasants Thick cover challenge Scott and his host, and hard-working dogs weave between the trees in a valley once inhabited by Nez Perce Indians. Destination: ringneck!
 Oct 4       Old Friends Scott’s host gathers coffee buddies and high school chums for a traditional South Dakota block-and-drive hunt with a twist or two. The wet fall creates unique challenges for dogs and gunners.
Oct 11       Laid-back longtails Door-knocking and visiting nearby friends results in some hard-won pheasant hunting among the sunflowers and prairies of North Dakota.
 Oct 18       Best friends Scott returns to a favorite Kansas hunting spot to join Ken Corbet in pursuit of bobwhite quail. Ken brings out some rare guns and shoots them like a pro!
Oct 25       Duke’s debut A young shorthair fresh from Nebraska becomes a hunter in this uplifting story of potential realized, redemption and the beauty of Montana’s uplands.
Nov 1       Open mind, insert wisdom Scott and Buddy both learn from a master trainer, once they shut up and listen! Doug Burnet teaches with every step, every whistle blast and on every bird on this Central Washington hunt.
Nov 8       Good Dog! A young Labrador joins Buddy to course the Montana uplands for sharptailed grouse … challenging quarry in the best of times, a grueling hunt when the temperature pushes 80 degrees.
Nov 15       Mission Creek redemption Scott’s wirehair Buddy is not on his “A” game, but a couple English pointers come to the rescue. Ringnecks galore populate the Ravenwood home place, in the family since the Civil War.
Nov 22       Sage Safari A Serengeti-style hunting camp is perched on the edge of a prairie teeming with wildlife … including pheasants and sharptails. It’s big country and Buddy is up for the challenge, including a 1/2-mile track that ends in an equally long retrieve!
  Nov 29       South Dakota Classic Aberdeen, South Dakota is the setting for a hunt that starts soaking wet but ends in plenty of ringnecks and camaraderie among strangers brought together to raise funds for diabetic kids.
Dec 6       Big sage, big birds America’s most elusive bird, the sage grouse, is the object of a hot, dry, desert hunt in Montana. A few tricks by guide Al Gadoury save the day.
Dec 13       Win some, lose some Pungent bird scent and linear coverts are a puzzle for Buddy, so Scott chooses discretion as the better part of valor and puts him up, relying instead on a local Wirehaired Pointing Griffon to produce ringnecks.
Dec 20       Chasin’ chukars Central Washington’s most famous game bird is the quarry and a gang of dogs is used to find and fly them from the desert floor.

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