Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Best Kind Of Tired

A trip to Montana

Sunnie backing her mother
Two years ago we had one of our beloved k-9 hunting and couch companions get sick and pass away before her time. My wife Angie, and I were in desperate need of a good setter puppy and after a few phone calls and text messages I was hooked up with Tim Powell (Long Hollow Setters)and Later Don Olsen(Ashuelot Sunset Setters). Don owned a lovely female setter out of blood lines I liked and had bred to Tim's setter dog that was out of lines I also thought highly of. The best news was that the pups were already born. After convincing myself and my wife that this was the litter we put money down on a pup. I did not know what a great friend I would make in Don, or what a great little dog Sunnie would be at the time. In the time since Don and I have emailed back and forth, talked on the phone many times, and Angie and I have visited he and his wife once. I send him pictures of Sunnie's progress and he sends me pictures of his pup from that same litter. It has been fun for both of us to watch littermates grow up, and develop.
    I had never driven eight hours to hunt birds before. My hunts are mostly less than two hours from my door, but hunting is getting tougher and tougher in my world. It is especially tough for one of my favorite birds to target the ring neck pheasant. So this year when Don invited my wife and I to hunt pheasants with him at his home in Montana we happily loaded dogs in the truck and made the drive. We arrived in town in the early evening, made plans with Don to meet up in the morning, and tried desperately to get some sleep. I don't travel well. I almost never sleep the first night in a strange place. We woke up to big sky country like this.
     In the morning we were greeted at Don's house by the welcoming smile of his lovely wife Marian. Don was off running an errand of some kind, but returned just as we settled in with a cup of the hazel nut coffee that I remembered at first taste from the last time we visited Don and Marion. We had never hunted with Don before, but Angie and I were both excited to start the day. We were joined by Mick a long time friend of Don's and former collegiate football coach. We dressed and prepared to go for our first walk. I was excited to see Don's two setters work. Sadie was his oldest. She was our dog Sunnie's mother. He also had a litter mate of Sunnie's that they had named Skye. We had our dog Tic, and Sunnie with us as well. I was also excited for him to see our dogs in action, and I was really hopping they would look good for him.
Don walking in on his dog Sadie's point
Don is a fairly tall gentleman with a pleasant smile and even more pleasant disposition, and he was proud, and eager to share with us the Montana pheasant hunting that had loved all of his life. I couldn't help but noticed he was holding a shotgun that was as old as I am, and maybe a bit wiser in the way of birds. It was an old 20 gauge savage pump that was probably made around 1970(so was I). The bluing was warn off, and it had little blemishes of rust up and down the barrel. The finish on the stock was thin and even nonexistent in most places from years of following dogs in search of long-tails. There was a small crack in the stock where wood met metal just above the pistol grip, but it only added character to the old gun. The gun is nothing special in the world of firearms, but when paired with his hands it looked like a work of art to me. I asked him how it was choked, and with a smile he said that he wasn't sure he had just always shot it that way. I left it at that. By now I was feeling a little awkward about my beautiful shiny Browning over and under and it's now seemingly overkill 12 gauge bore, but I pulled it from its case anyway, we put dogs on the ground and we were off into Don's world.

   The grounds Don hunts on are not much different than the ones I grew up on. Lots of ditch banks
of heavy grass, some cattail bottoms, and a few grass pastures that have managed to avoid being grazed at least until this point in pheasant season. We saw quite a few birds that first day. The dog work was good but not great, and everyone had a good time. We were able to take plenty of roosters, and a couple of Huns between the four of us. Angie and I were happy. I think Don had a nice time too, but I could tell he was disappointed in the bird numbers. Compared to what I was used to there seemed to be plenty. I understood what he was feeling though. Whenever I invite someone to hunt with me I want to show them a great time with plenty of game, and that just doesn't always happen. To me bird hunting isn't about how many birds are taken. Its about dog work. Its about long walks pondering this simplest of things or the most complex of things while basking in the warmth of breathtaking landscapes, and watching a graceful dog glide over the grounds. Its about the people you meet and getting to know them in a place of common interest. I hope I was able to get my thoughts through to him on this. Angie and I were feeling happy and blessed just to be here, and to do this.
Tic standing point over a rooster pheasant
    On the second day we saw fewer birds. We had opted to rest the young dogs, in favor of the older more experienced dogs. Don's dog Sadie and my pal Tic put on a veteran dog show of class and beauty pointing and backing each other many times. On one occasion Sadie turned in to obvious scent in a hay field and followed it 150 yards out to slam a point. Angie walked to it only to have a nice covey of Hungarian partridge explode from the alfalfa. She was able to connect on one. It was fun for Don and I to watch from afar. I was proud of Tic's work too, he has grown to be a great little bird dog. Tic always gives me eye candy. He is five years old already.
Angie holding up a nice rooster
  The third and final hunting day of our trip was another fairly tough day. We walked a long way before we found both of Don's dogs standing point in some heavy, thick, green grass that was bordered by some tall trees on one side. As we walked in Sunnie honored and it was a classic scene. A hen exploded as we got close and flew to safety. One or two more steps later everything came to life as roosters, and hens went in every direction. We each did our best to take what we could, and everyone got at least one. That would be our only chance of the day for pheasants, and it turned out to be the most exciting moment of the trip.
    Don had other commitments later that day so we returned to the hotel with tired legs and minds in the early afternoon. Angie had some sore feet, and I sat in a chair thinking about the last three days. Then it occurred to me, “I'm in Montana. My 3 day license isn’t expired yet. What the heck am I doing sitting here?” I got on the laptop and quickly found a piece of block management land that was open to public hunting. Twenty-five minutes later I had dogs on the ground.

Sunnie and Tic

    It was so nice to be alone in my element. As I walked and watched the tired dogs keep hunting out of love for the game I felt that bond that I hope we all feel with our bird dogs. I like to think that they were feeling it too. I was proud of them and was really enjoying watching them when Sunnie froze into a point on the edge of a hay field. She was so beautiful standing there. Tic saw her and backed, and I just watched in admiration. After a long pause I walked in. A young rooster jumped and flew straight at a the only house in the area. It was okay that I couldn’t shoot. It didn't bother me in the least to let him go and released the dogs. With a smile on my face and a new spring in my step I followed the dogs for another two hours. We found a several coveys of Hungarian partridge and the dogs really did a nice job. We harvested enough for a nice meal, and went back to the truck finally leaving well enough alone.

   Sitting in the hotel room later that night with a full belly, and my feet up I was so relaxed and content. I was exhausted from travel and hunting, but it felt great. I decided that this feeling is the best kind of tired.

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