What a grand time we had! Now that is out of the way, I’ll share a few details with you. I took Powder and Rye on the paired down, lean camping trip for Sharptail and Hungarian Partridge in Northeastern Montana. These early season hunts have marked temperatures in the 90’s, which limits how long you can be out running dogs even more so than the relatively low limit on Sharptail. However, if your shooting is on point, your day can be closed out in a matter of minutes!
We camped within a quarter of a mile of the Canadian border. With the windows on the truck canopy fully open to allow the breeze to cool us and blow the flies out, we were gifted with the occasional call of a Sharptail. I had indeed picked a good spot! Later that night we had a “Blue Super Moon”, which Rye wasn’t too sure of. She did her due diligence to ward it off initially, but in the end she settled to watch it carefully while Powder and I slept.
In the morning we were hunting directly at legal light and were in birds a few minutes later. The girls did their job, and I did mine – we were on the board with our first Sharpie. The covey flew a short way uphill, landing at the fence line directly below where a large raptor had been roosting. Our presence kept the raptor from doing what it wanted to do, and amidst the confusion, the grouse flushed again over the hilltop and to the Northwest. I thought perhaps they had landed short to take advantage of the better cover, but I was wrong. The covey rose as a group out of range. As soon as we resumed our walk, that is when a much larger covey just a little way further up the hill took flight – well out of range. Popcorning to the sky, easily 30 birds if not more. They wanted nothing to do with us. Once they were gone, Rye was still standing…
We looped around the wheat field to hunt the lower portion of the hills to the south. I zigzagged into and out of the various levels of cover for a while then settled on a little higher elevation where a dozen or more deer had been resting. Right in the middle of where the deer had been camped out the girls got birdy. Powder swung wide and to my left. Rye stayed pretty much right in front of me only about 40 yards out, and went on point as soon after the “good cover” turned scrapy and thin. Her tail was vibrating vigorously, so much so it appeared she was flagging! I approached her, and stroked the underside of her tail to steady it. Her body tensed and birds started to fly. Rye stood. I shot and took a bird. Looked to Rye, where she still stood, and I took another shot toppling our third bird of the day, and a true covey rise double. Rye still stood. I was beaming and remembered to shout, “hunt dead”. Powder had begun to retrieve the second bird first, which they carried in together. The softer hit first bird evaded us for a while, but it was Rye who found the young male for me in some deep cover!
Barely five minutes later we were into another covey. Powder was first on the scene. She bumped them, and three or four birds came up. The girls were steady, so I shot and subsequently missed. Powder gave a little chase, and more birds came up. Then a few more. On the last of the covey, both girls stood smartly, and I took a passing shot on a Sharpie with it’s warp drive online and managed to dump it. Rye located the bird and retrieved it to within a few feet and set it down. I’ll take it. She has been reluctant to retrieve whole birds, despite enjoying retrieving all sorts of unusual items. It has to start somewhere!
By the time we had made it back to the truck, the heat was up, and becoming quite oppressive. We ate our breakfasts, and I got to make my coffee. We spent the rest of the day scouting for a new camping spot and hunting grounds.
Sparing you some of the agonizing detail, day two was also an equally great day of hunting and dog work, in particular from the puppy, Rye. We had six coveys of Sharptail within 600 yards of the camp and had my shooting been half as good as opening day we would have been shut out within fifteen minutes of starting our day! But alas, my hit ratio took irreparable damage for the season… Of note, Rye offered to honor Powder a couple times without any intervention or encouragement.
Day three we camped near to the Canadian border again, and had another great day of hunting, dog work, and shooting! Later that morning I got invited to hunt with a couple of friends a few hours away. Me being who I am, and being easily confused with my days and dates left the area 24-hours before I should have… None the less visiting with Eddy and Anita is always a treat, so I have no regrets for making time to visit with them. We left for the mountains the following morning for Rye to have a chance on Blue Grouse – she didn’t disappoint!
The longer I have been into upland hunting, the more I have gotten into quality dog work. It is fun to watch and be a part of. Additionally, it’s safer for the people and dogs involved and typically offers the easiest/best shooting opportunities that can be had for the situation at hand. My journey to learn highly effective and humane techniques has been fairly well documented here in this blog. As I have slowly gained proficiency as a trainer and handler over the years, my dogs have also become better and better in their performances. One hand washes the other. Making the whole experience more and more rewarding.
Next, we depart for a special opportunity to hunt Sage Grouse in the Steens Mountains of Oregon… possibly another story will need to be told?
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I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.