Sunday, November 20, 2016

Four Tough Days

   It all started as a duck hunt. While on vacation hunting pheasants for nearly two weeks I had watched these mallards do the same thing every day I was in the area. They would come of the roost at about 9:00 in the morning and trickle into this slough until about 11:00. There were lots of them. It was a couple miles out to where they were. All on foot of course. I had been sort of saving the shoot for when I had time. I only get a short time to hunt pheasants so I figured as long as the weather held those ducks would probably wait. Well I was wrong. With my pheasant itch scratched I finally decided to walk out to the little slough. Having seen the ducks go in there the day before I was sure to have a quick shoot and be on my way to more upland adventures. Well waterfowl being what they are at 10:00 I had seen zero ducks. Not even a single bird. At 10:30 I decided to walk out and go check the roost. Sure enough the roost was empty. They had moved out the night before ahead of the cold front that was coming. I should have known. I thought I would have one more day before the front got there. I was a little frustrated with myself for not hunting them when they were there, but I knew putting it off could result in this. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I regrouped and went about the rest of the day chasing long tails.
    The grass grew high and thick this year in Utah, and Southern Idaho from the rare rains that fell last spring. We aren’t used to these conditions here and my family and friends have all shared their struggles in the unusually thick cover. It isn’t as fun. You don’t get to watch your dog as much. You cant see him most of the time, and for me that is a big part of the magic of the hunt. Don't get me wrong the sun still rises and sets over the same breathtaking landscape, but without visibility of the dog something is lost. Multiple times I myself have had dogs on point, followed the tracker to them, worked the flush only to see the bird squirt away on foot through their secret network of little trails under the heavy growth. It is frustrating to dogs and hunters alike. This isn’t South Dakota. The fields aren’t full of birds. There are only a few birds, and they are tough to find on normal years. Getting them out this year has proven difficult and at times mentally defeating. A flushing dog would be a better choice maybe. (Don't tell anyone I said that.) We have somehow made the best of it, and have been walking back to the truck with tail feathers protruding from our game bags more times than not.
It is late season now and Tic was rested so I put my old friend on the ground, and sent him on a cast to enjoy the cool afternoon. It has been a warm fall. It was so nice to walk without sweating. Tic had more energy too and was really working his guts out for me. It is no secret that Tic has a thyroid problem and is on medication for life to treat it. He is not the same dog he was before the health issues, but he gives me a good days work and is still a bird finding fool. It isn’t as refined as it once was, and he gets in his own head sometimes, but he is still my best bud, and I trust him completely with the hunt. As I would expect he did a great job covering every inch of ground until he found point. He would point several times, but he was color blind this day. Though I enjoyed watching him work hens we were still looking for that elusive rooster when the sun sank behind the mountains. Tomorrow would be a new day and I was confident we would find roosters.
    I try to rest my dogs every other day when I can so Sunnie would get the call on day two. She is by far the better of the two these days.(don’t tell Tic, or Angie I said that) I have so much confidence with her out front. Her beauty and grace as she floats over the landscape is second to none. I try to hunt her in shorter cover for that reason. I love to watch her work the wind, and every now and then she does something really amazing. This was not now or then but after two hours of watching her work everything from grass to sage and even cattails she finally stopped. She had crawled into some cattails and went on point. As I started in to her a rooster jumped and shot out behind me. I turned and stumbled but found my feet quick enough to put the pattern on him. At the report of the gun three more roosters and two hens went. All the roosters were out of range. I hustled to where my rooster had fallen. The ground was nearly bare but he was nowhere to be seen. My heart sunk in my chest as Sunnie searched relentlessly for the downed bird. I had seen this before. The thing I hate worst about hunting is losing a wounded animal. It is a fact if you hunt long enough, even while trying to do everything right, you will at some point lose one. I hate it! After an hour of circling we gave up. My heart was heavy and not only had we lost a nice bird but I was sure we had seen every rooster in the state just fly away. I am nothing if not determined. I convinced myself that time had taught me to just keep covering ground and eventually the luck will change. “Hunt like you know they are there” I kept telling myself. Around noon my belly started growling so we started back to the truck to get some lunch. As we were walking down an old Agricultural access two track road I saw a rooster flying. He landed 50 yards in front of us, and as we came around the bend in the road I could see him standing on the road looking at me. I thought “Wow, this one is dumb, Finally!” The wind was at my back so I backtracked to where he couldn’t see me deciding to get the wind right so Sunnie could have some of this. We went around where the bird had been and worked back to it with the wind in our face. Sure enough Sunnie locked up as confident and beautiful as ever. As I walked in I could see part of the bird's tail sticking out from under the edge of some cattails. I thought how has this bird lived this long. He is dumb. He was in a thin band of cattails just off of the two track with a pond on the other side. I wanted to avoid the water retrieve if possible so I tried to work in between the bird and the water to flush in a better direction, and I was about to find out how he had lived this long. As I took my last step I slipped a little and the bird took that opportunity to run behind me. When I tried to turn myself around he flushed. My feet got tangled in the cattails and I tripped and fell down twisting my knee as he flew to safety. Sunnie gave me the look. I have never been more grateful that dogs cant talk. I was injured enough without her giving me the business. My knee seemed okay but my Ego was a little bit injured. Age might be catching me a little. I have always had great feet, and could turn and shift them as well as anyone, but now I was starting to question myself. After lunch we went on about hunting. I tried hard not to get discouraged. Sunnie kept the tempo up and helped make it easy to keep going. At about 4:00 she hit the brakes and stood in the middle of a grove of Russian Olive
trees. This is another trick I have seen before, but more times than not I am able t get the rooster flying through the trees. As I got close the bird flushed. It was a nice rooster. He put a tree trunk between he and I and never gave me a shot. FRUSTRATED! At this point only one thing could save the day. I went back to the truck and drove straight to the closest Ice cream vendor. I got a thick Caramel Cashew Malt on my way home. It is a well known fact that you cant eat a Caramel Cashew malt and be sad. It helped some, but I was already thinking about tomorrow.

    Day 3, Tic on the ground. My knee was a little stiff but with the help of Ibuprofen I was able to walk. I had gotten with a friend to hunt some public land close to home. Yes, it had come to this. Pen raised roosters. Certainly I could get an easy two over Tic and stop this streak of bad luck. I had some adulting to take care of in the afternoon but certainly we could get our birds by noon and be on our way. I will keep this part short. My friend, Maureen saw one rooster that caught her sleeping and she didn’t get a shot off. I saw one rooster at about 100 yards flying. That's it. I was a responsible adult and went home to take care of business.

     Day 4! Sunnie on the ground. Again! I was really frustrated now. Anybody that knows me well will tell you the harder it gets the more determined I get, and it was only this determination that pushed me forward to hunt again on day 4. I went to my favorite spot in Idaho, and vowed not to return to the truck until we had a bird down. Sunnie was fresh, sharp and looked like a million bucks. She hit point after point, again and again only to see a hen or two flush away to safety. She seemed as determined as I and her search was fast, thorough, and relentless. She had covered 21.4 miles and I had 8.2 miles according to the SportDOG Tek 2.0 GPS before our luck would change. She was working the scent of a running bird in medium grass when by chance the bird took a wrong turn and nearly ran into me. Both he and I were shocked and surprised. He had no choice but to flush at my feet. Somehow I managed to get my feet set, the safety off, gun to my shoulder, get down on the gun and track the bird all on autopilot. The bird crashed to the ground a victim of my bottom barrel and Sunnie dove on it within seconds. I think she knew how desperate this situation had become. She brought the bird to hand and we rolled around in the grass together while I said good girl over and over. As hunting is we would go on to get two more roosters in the next 45 minutes both pointed and both flushing behind me. I was singing all the way home, and the world seemed normal again. Maybe I’m not old just yet.

1 comment:

Thomas Venney said...

If there were no curbs put on hunting, most of the species would have disappeared from this earth, especially migratory birds. Permission to hunt is given only if you have the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp with you mailhunting