Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Montana Sharptails

My nearest neighbor on the farm, Chris, who is just a little younger than my oldest boys is a hard core hunter.  He actually lives in Orofino but has land and a little building near our farm.  He probably doesn’t hunt more than I do because he has a job but he frequently takes multi day camping/hunting trips just for birds.  He often invites me to come along but I usually defer as my hands and feet just don’t do well in the cold any more.  However, when he invited me to join him and a friend on a Sharptail grouse hunt in north central Montana I couldn’t resist as I’d never hunted Sharptails.

He allowed me to bring my hunting partner, Ken, along but because of a family trip Ken was taking we would be joining Chris and Dave a couple of days later.  They were hunting five days.  After a 538 mile drive we arrived Wednesday afternoon and after unpacking at a motel we joined Chris and Dave for some delicious grouse fajitas that Dave had prepared at their camp.   

The next morning we drove east for another 70 miles to some state hunting sites.  At the first site Ken took the far right sweep and I was next to him.  Within fifteen minutes Bess was ranging far and wide and goes on point way over in front of Ken.  In less than five minutes Ken has three birds (thanks to Bess) and was thinking how easy this is.  He was thinking it was going to be a short day as the limit is four.  We hunted until noon and I eventually got one but Dave and Chris had no luck.  I should add that Ken and Chris have Shorthairs as do I and Dave a Vizsla.

The next stop entailed a long and a somewhat boring trek.  Ken and I hunted together and didn’t see one bird in about a two hour hunt.  We heard Chris banging away and found later that he had gotten three.  Our last stop was at a management area that required steel shot.  Ken and I had not brought any so we borrowed a few shells from our hosts.  We had hunted for about thirty minutes when I finally got into some birds and in less than five minutes had three which filled my limit.  Chris’s dog, Tick, had a sore foot so I was sharing Bess with him.  As we were heading back Bess made a beautiful point for him and the bird got up fairly close for a perfect shot.  Chris hit the bird on his first shot but not well enough to bring it down and he missed on his second.  Naturally he was pretty bummed out.  Dave had been skunked but he made up for it the next day.
Our bag after first day

Ken and I made the long drive back to the motel, cleaned the birds and had a delicious meal of lasagna that Kathy had prepared in advance for us.  We (including the dogs) slept well that night.

Rain had been predicted for a long time so we were expecting it the next morning.  I donned a light rain jacket and some motorcycle rain pants.  The first field we visited had lots of birds in it but they were very wild.  Chris and Dave were banging away so Ken and I figured they may have limited out.  As it turned out they didn’t get any.  We had taken a couple of long shots at ones passing by but they were pretty much hope shots.  As we were heading back an unpointed bird got up near Ken and he dropped it.  When we were about 50 yards from the truck the same thing happened for me.  

By this time the rain had stopped but of course the fields were wet.  (At the end of the day I was the only one with dry feet so I was impressed with my Irish Setter boots.) Our next stop was at a big alfalfa field.  Ken and I hunted together and it wasn’t long before Bess hit a point.  A pair flushed far out with one turning back and I almost took a shot but it was just a bit too far for me.  The exact same thing happened again shortly but this one was just a little closer in and I was able to drop it.  Bess made a nice retrieve.  As we approached the corner of the field 13 birds flushed but they were at least 150 yards out.  We heard shots from the others so hoped they had had some luck.  As we got back near the truck both dogs got very birdy and Pepper hit a hard point with Bess backing.  A single flushed at close range and Ken dropped it.  He said he didn’t know whether I was going to shoot and I told him I wasn’t about to shoot until he had had a crack at it.  So now we each had two birds.  When we got back to the truck we found that Dave had broken his dry spell and picked up two birds but Chris had not fired a shot.

Bess with 2nd day's limit
The last field was another alfalfa field and this time Ken and I were not hunting together.  Bess make and couple of nice points and subsequent retrieves on two singles following my shots.  That made my limit so I was back at the trucks by 1:50.  I took some pictures and began cleaning the birds.  The rest of the group arrived an hour later and Dave had bagged two more, completing his limit and Chris had picked up one.

We stopped at another field where just Ken and Chris hunted while Dave and I cleaned birds.  They had no luck and it began raining again.  By the time we got back to the motel the parking lot was a series of small lakes.  I was really glad I had gotten all the birds cleaned beforehand.
Dave, Chris, Ken and me

Bess eyes bird falling off bucket
It rained all night and predictions were for rain all the next day.  We had originally planned to hunt three days but decided to leave well enough alone.  For the two day hunt the final bird score was Young Guns - 8, Old Codgers - 13.

Rogers Pass
  We got a fairly early start and encountered rain, hail, snow and high winds.  By the time we got to Orofino it was sunny and 80 degrees. Total miles back to Clarkston was 1,238.  I found out later that Chris had actually hunted a couple of hours that morning and picked up two more birds.  As I said, he’s hard core.  All in all it was a great trip and one I’ll never forget.  M/W


Hallie said...

Bess thinks all that posing is pretty silly.

Is that snow in the last photo?

Kathy said...

Isn't that snow crazy? -- especially coming back home to 80 degrees. That's why travel over the passes is cause for concern at this time of year.

I love the expression on Bess' face where she eyes the bird that fell. That one could be a caption contest.