bird hunting 4.56

It had been awhile since I’d been able to break away from the home and kids to join Charles in the hunting fields, but Saturday, January 28th was on the calendar as a hunting date, in observance of the last weekend of the season. We left town around 5 AM with our sights set on the Kansas border in hopes of pheasants, quail and prairie chicken.

We hit a 200+ acre field around 8 AM on a sunny but chilly morning and walked from east to west through a nice blend of big bluestem and indiangrass. Within 15 minutes Charles and the dogs put up a hen pheasant, a good sign! About 5 minutes later, Mae made a direct approach to a clump of grass to the south of me, next to the road, and locked up on point. Sue and BB followed to the clump, all honoring Mae and pointing to back. It was all girls on this clump of grass and I gave it a swift kick. The clump of grass growled at me and I screamed! I called the dogs off in fear of a skunk, but a big raccoon crept out of the grass and went over the road onto property that we didn’t have permission to hunt.

The southwest corner of the piece we were walking looked promising and we turned towards the north to continue our quest for game. BB locked up on point right in front of Charles. Another raccoon! Charles called all the dogs in to work on their raccoon fighting.

The four dogs take on the raccoon

BB faces off with the raccoon

Our inspiration for getting involved with furred game comes from a few different directions. Charles has always been drawn to using the dogs to their full versatility, but has been egged on by his participation in the forum on http://www.versatiledogs.com/. I’ve made friends online with griffoniers in Germany and Finland who also use their dogs for furred game. Here is a picture from my friend Jenni in Finland of her dog holding a supikoira, also known as a “raccoon dog”:

A griffon from Finland holding a supikoira. Photo by Jenni Ruotimo

I have to admit that watching the dogs fight the raccoon was scary as they each took turns chewing on the snarling, biting, scratching beast. Once I saw that our side had taken some injuries, I told Charles to call the dogs off and shoot the coon. BB took a bite to the ear and Mae to the nose. They are all healing fine now, but the chaos of the fight was a little unnerving at the time.

We continued north along the western border with a scraggly treeline: perfect quail habitat. I never even heard the flush, but it couldn’t have been 10 minutes after the raccoon fight that Charles had a single quail flush and it was quickly placed in the bag. The treeline border was thoroughly searched with no quail covey found so we turned back east once we reached the northwest corner. The dogs were all acting gamey, so we retraced our steps a few times in that corner and spooked up a rabbit that Charles bagged. Sue didn’t hesitate in retrieving it at all, game is game!

The field eastward had a slightly sloping hill with some treelined waterways, so we scoured those for the quail covey, with no luck. The northwest corner of the property was wooded over, so we inspected it, then crossed to the eastern side of the woods. Right on the property boundry at an intersection between field and wood and cropland laid a pile of deadfall trees. One of those places that always has something in it, so we approached it very aware. Covey flush! Around 15 quail jumped up and flew back behind me toward the woods, I lined up a shot as best I could following the excitement and surprise, but failed to connect.

The area was searched thoroughly for a good hour, but we never found the covey again. We expect that they must have slipped on to the other property. There were a couple of more lockups by the dogs and resulting hen flushes, but no other legal game to be bagged.

We had some lunch and hit a few more fields with no results. Charles was out the entire Sunday and saw absolutely nothing. We took it as a sign that game and hunter alike were ready for some time off from each other.

The final day’s bag: raccoon, quail and rabbit

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The Nebraska Sandhills

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Charles, Charity and the dogs started opening day at the usual opening day spot, which is a half-mile wide, flat valley with a set of high dunes to the north, running east to west, and a set of shorter dunes to the south, also running east to west. Charles was assigned the higher northern dune set and Charity the southern set. This is the first year that they split up in 13 years of hunting together and will probably continue to hunt this way. Charity’s pace is about half that of Charles’s, so the ability to determine their own speeds was the first reason. The second reason is that running four dogs puts too much pressure on these skittish birds at once. So, Charity took the older females, Mae and Sue, and Charles worked four year old male, Sam, and eighteen month old female, BB.

There are various ways to pattern a dunefield when hunting grouse, but Charity selected a straight up an ambling criss-cross pattern for opening day, starting on the southern, low dunes walking west to east, then turning back, walking a bit higher going east to west, then back again in the high chop going west to east. It was in the high chop an hour after starting out that she flushed her first single sharptail just barely out of range, firing shots that didn’t connect. A few steps later, a group of four got up at seventy five yards, flying off of the highest dune in the southern set, disappearing out of view to who knows where. Despite being a bit ragged from each having a litter of pups this summer, Sue and Mae sprang into action once bird activity began. They covered the highest dune to check for stragglers with no success and the descent down the eastern slope began at a frantic pace. So frantic that both dogs and hunter marched right past the sharptail that cackled up behind Charity, so that she had to take the 200 degree shotgun swing for the double-barrel attempt. She saw it wobble and descend, sending the dogs after a retrieve. Sue happily retrieved the first grouse of the season for team Versatile Hunter and it was captured on her new head-mounted video camera. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBoTg3pINGk

Meanwhile, Charles was working the taller northern dunefield, also starting from the west and working his way east in a meandering zig-zag pattern, making sure that either he or the dogs were covering any possible grouse territory in the complex. As he ascended into the target area, a random group of doves flushed off of a high dune and he couldn’t help himself but to harvest one. Not long after he heard the reports of Charity’s missed shot and her success following shortly thereafter, he descended from a dune peak and looked down onto a small flat amongst the choppy hills. Three grouse busted at seventy-five yards, as if they sensed something, but not necessarily imminent danger as they merely popped up and over the next slope. As soon as he entered the marked zone of potential landing, one got up and he shot it at close range straight on, with BB nearby for a quick retrieve.

After Charity and the older females watched the cattle hustle off of the pond on the eastern end of the dunefield and head for the windmill a couple of miles to the northwest, they stopped for a water break before continuing their criss-cross pattern, back to the west on some of the lower dunes, then finally crossing back eastward on the flat right next to the dunes. Charity has taken prairie chickens out of there in years past, but there was nothing to be seen this year. Once she finishing fully covering her assigned area, she and the dogs crossed the valley to meet up with Charles to get the update of his one grouse and one dove in the bag, but he had more ground to cover and an idea where birds were in the high chop. Charity followed the low dunes towards the west and stopped again at a windmill for a break, noting the lack of doves at the spot.

Charles headed northwest from the windmill into an extension of the same northern dunefield that he had been working all morning. He marched his way to the extreme northwest corner and worked his way back and not soon after he reached the endpoint and began hiking back, the dogs got birdy and three grouse flushed within fifty yards, which is in range for Charles even with a twenty gauge. He took one out of that group and while BB was on retrieve, another flushed even closer. His shot merely clipped the wing and the bird began to run. Luckily, catching running wounded birds is one of Sam’s specialties, so while BB was delivering the first bird, Sam put the lockdown on the attempted escapee to round out Charles’s limit for the day.

The sun was arcing higher into the azure sky and getting uncomfortably warm to continue trekking. It was time to return to the truck, which Charity couldn’t see from the windmill but knew it was to the south. She wandered a bit off track, farther east into the valley than she needed to go, but eventually caught sight of the vehicle and made it back just in time to meet up there with Charles.

At first they had it in their mind to sit for doves, but after scoping their two best spots and seeing nothing, they opted to sit out doves this trip and wait until their return to the Missouri River Valley, where they are plentiful this year.

Charles shows off his opening day limit back in town, with BB and Sam, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charity is back in town with her first sharptail grouse of the year, assisted by Sue and Mae, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day two started early again this year, at the “big hill”, the one over by the “hard road”. As there aren’t many landmarks to speak of in the sea of grass, they are forced to come up with their own for navigational purposes. The valley between the two dunefields was much narrower than the previous day’s, only a few hundred yards, but it was a similar approach with Charles covering the northern side of the valley and Charity the southern. Charity decided to use a figure eight pattern on this area, starting at the south and working eastward towards the middle of the dunes, using the highest peak as the centerpoint of the figure eight, then covering the north side of the dunes. It took her an hour to cover the first curve of the figure eight, stopping at a windmill for a brief break, taking a couple of sips of water. She then continued south, then turning westward to continue her figure eight pattern, back to the high dune as the centerpoint, then covering the north side, completing her figure eight. In two hours of hiking, she didn’t even see a flush in the distance.

Charles took his normal approach into his assigned area and not long after starting to work it, he watched BB run over a dune out of sight and she didn’t check back in quickly like she normally would, so he headed in that direction. Three or four grouse came sky charging away from where BB was last seen, straight towards Charles, with BB in hot pursuit. In order to work on steadiness, Charles elected not to reward bad behavior and chose not to shoot. He marked their likely landing zone back to the west and pursued. Not five minutes later, the dogs started acting birdy and were tracking hard, but once again charged the flushing birds, so he opted out of shooting once again. He did finally get a point out of BB, which is an anomaly in the dry Sandhills, as scenting conditions are basically nonexistent. Charles “whoaed” Sam into honoring BB’s point, then began to kick around the hill trying to flush the birds. But the wind was playing tricks and blowing the scent of a flock from the top of one dune a hundred yards away over to the top of the dune where the dogs were pointing, so the birds saw the motion and activity of Charles trying to find them and flushed way out of range. As he stood at the top of the ridge, he heard the chortling of a large group of grouse over in a dune range that they had never hunted before.

Charity and Charles met up and headed back to the truck for a bit of a break. Charles reported that he heard distant cackling coming from a north/south running set of dunes that they had never worked before, a half-mile across the valley, off to the west. They decided to each take one end of the field, Charity to the south and Charles to the north, zig-zagging to meet in the middle. Charity made it up and into the dunefield and her dogs found a group of three in a pocket of knee-high sumac. She fired off a downhill shot, but the birds were just out of range. As she headed off to take chase, she all of a sudden lost all energy, felt dizzy and her heart was racing. All she could think was, “There is no way that Charles could find me, let alone drag me out of here and I’m not sure the truck could get up here. I’ve got to get back down to the valley so that at least if I passed out he would be able to see me”.

Charles ascended the northern end of the new hunting grounds, just making the climb when seven or eight birds broke unexpectedly soon. Most of them headed deep into the high chop, but others oddly enough headed for some trees on the edge of the dunes. He made his way toward the trees, not usual sharptail grouse habitat, and sent the dogs in to run them out. Sure enough the grouse came running scared out from the trees, then flushed as they came to the prairie edge at about fifty yards out. A pellet found its way to a bird on the shot, but it wasn’t down for the count and sailed into the distance. The bird knew it was in trouble and flushed again at fifty yards, but was hit hard this time and Sam had no problem bringing it in.

They marched higher into the chop, bumping a mule deer buck and a jackrabbit, but BB and Sam knew better than to chase those. Not long after, three grouse got up, then a fourth was a bit slower on the jump that Charles put his bead on and harvested, with Sam once again delivered to hand.

Charity stumbled a few steps at a time back towards the east, sitting down frequently and feeling lucky when she heard Charles shooting just to the west of her, then him finally seeing her stumbling away from the hunt. Her pride wouldn’t allow her to tell him that she was having trouble and was hoping that she would be able to shake off the spell and resume hunting. But after a good 20 minutes of cramping and stumbling and feeling like Gumby, she accepted defeat and just wanted to get back to the truck. Of course, that was when birds got up within her range, but even though she took shots, there was no way that she was focused enough to hit anything.

The birds that she missed raced right past Charles, well within range, but he too was feeling the effects of dehydration and was unable to focus on the task at hand. With two in the bag and the day getting warmer, it was time to go.

They were both coming out of the dunefield at the same time, he with two in the bag and she just happy to have made it out without a medical incident.

Monday, September 3, 2012

As normal for day three, the alarm rang forty-five minutes later than the first two days. Everyone dragged to the truck, sore and tired. But luckily the fresh spot is full of birds and everyone loosened up with the excitement of immediate action. This is a very wide dunefield and they elect to both travel east to west, with Charles to the south and Charity to the north. Charity takes her first and only bird of the day within 10 minutes of leaving the truck. The bird got up front and center, but she failed to disengage the safety at the first shot attempt, but then recovered in time to get a shot off as it veered over to her left. She wasn’t sure if it connected, but swore she saw the bird waver as it topped the dune, so they headed back in the direction of the truck. Mae found the bird and licked the blood and feathers, hesitating a bit on the retrieve. She was called off of the bird and Sue was sent in. The strong natural retrieve is Sue’s greatest gift.

Simultaneously, Charles enters his area, pushing another nice mule deer buck out of his resting place and hits the jackpot not long after, putting up a flock of 12 grouse, which was the only large group of the whole trip. The birds head east, the opposite direction of our intended march, but birds don’t follow our puny human plans, now do they? As he comes into the marked area where he thought they landed, the dogs loop to the west of the dune and he elects to go east, hoping to pin the wily critters down. Out of nowhere, Sam starts barking, which is never a response to birds. While Sam is barking his head off (which Charity could hear in the distance and was hoping everything was okay), a lone grouse flushes behind Charles that he quickly swings behind and kills, marking the bird down and leaving it lay to figure out the source of Sam’s anxiety. Just as he turns back from the bird to look at Sam and his yucca problem, BB emerges from behind the plant with a face full of porcupine quills. Charles pinned BB down and pulled out quills from her face and paw, while Sam continued his barking but learning the porky lesson long ago, Charles was confident Sam wouldn’t tangle with it. Once he released BB from her operation, she immediately went and found the bird for the retrieve while Charles called Sam off of the barking spasm.

Charity continued west through the dunes, having a few groups of 3-4 get up both in and out of range within a span of a half hour, but the shots didn’t come together. She spent another hour heading west towards a couple of windmills and a lone tree, but saw nothing.

The team of Charles, Sam and BB eased along the southern ridgeline that Charity had covered to the north and pushed birds into. One got up that he missed, but a second bird jumped that he put a pellet into. It soared a hundred yards away, but it was obviously hit because one leg was hanging limp despite its efforts to escape. They worked over to where it was down and BB found and pointed it, but the bird hadn’t given up the fight. It flushed again and with a close range going away shot, Charles had no problem bagging it. They worked their way further into the area that Charity had busted up and a grouse charged them out of nowhere, flying up over a dune straight at them. Needless to say, Charles’s limit was taken care of in that salvo.

Despite the remote location, they were within cell phone range and Charles texted that he had his limit and was coming to get her. She made her way to the windmill by the lone tree and he drove the truck to pick her up, just in time to head back to town to fix the kids some lunch.

Charles shows the neighborhood boys, along with son, Conrad, on left, how to breast out a sharptail grouse

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

As Charity’s family babysitting time had expired, plus there was make-up homework to help the kids with and laundry to do, Charles headed out to “Prairie Chicken Paradise” on his own. He was making his way out to the paradise, in an area that used to surprise us when birds got up, but we’ve been surprised enough years to now know that a flock resides in these very low, almost nonexistent dunes on the way to our usual hunting grounds a mile and a half away from the road. It was there that he took his only bird of the day, with unknown numbers jumping right into the sun, he instinctively fired at the sound of the wingbeats since he couldn’t see and was able to put one on the ground between him and Sam.

They made their way back to the deep dunefield that has consistently produced for us throughout the years, but not a flush was to be had. BB began tracking hard, so since there seemed to be nothing else going on, Charles and Sam followed along. BB was tracking a coyote, who jumped up and ran, but Charles was in no mood for fur and called the dogs off to head for home. It was time to enjoy the company of our family and good friends in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Despite the long summer drought and unseasonably hot conditions, Charles, Charity and the dogs were able to have success on their traditional sharptail grouse and prairie chicken opener by relying on proven approaches to covering ground and relocating known coveys that they’ve hunted for over a decade.

Preparing the trip’s harvest for the freezer, minus 2 grouse that were already consumed.
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On the opening Saturday of early teal season, Charles and Charity hustled the kids to the babysitter as soon as she would take them and headed to a friend’s pond to make their first attempt at sitting over decoys for the little ducks. Sporting their hip boots and limited camouflage, they hauled their “dove buckets” (the camo-covered insulated 5 gallon buckets with the butt pad on the lid) over into a patch of sunflowers.

Charles and Sam sit in the sunflowers waiting for teal

The pond sits on the south shore of the Platte River, just a couple of miles west of the confluence with the mighty Missouri. Their spot was on the southern end of the pond, with a little peninsula jutting northward out into the water, where Charles set up about five decoys on the point. They sat on the western side of the peninsula, with their backs to the rising sun and another 5-10 decoys out in front of them.

They watched the big ducks and geese move along the Platte as the air grew warmer. Canadian geese flew overhead. Shots rang out along the river to the west of them, but they didn’t see any teal flush away from the sound of the reports. A couple of mature bald eagles flew from the river and an immature perched in the tree above their heads, eyeing the decoys for awhile before moving on. Charles worked his teal call every now and again, while his trusty retriever Sam laid next to the bucket, as still as he could be but nervous with excitement and attentive to his master’s every move.

The doves teased them, moving around in nearby trees and shrubs, but they sat patiently for the ducks. A flock of turkeys came out of the woods on the north side of the pond to pick grit off of the beach, while a pair of wood ducks sat lazily in the pond nearby. Herons and cormorants took their time moving from shore to shore, picking at little fish.

Then, like the Air Force Thunderbirds working an air show, a flock of 15 blue-winged teal flew fast and high over their heads. “There they are,” whispered Charles, “don’t look at them!” But it was too late, as Charity’s face and glasses were already pointed at the sky, watching the teal zoom out of range. Charles worked the teal call a little as they watched the flock disappear into the distance, paying no mind to their feeble attempts at fooling them to land. And as fast as it had begun, it had ended. That was the action for the day, without a shot being fired.

They tried changing spots, moving into a tall patch of ragweed that made them both sneeze their heads off, but nothing made the little ducks appear again.

Charles has been back nearly every weekend day since, with no luck. He was able to bring home a handful of doves and get Sam to tree a couple of coons, but no little ducks. Recently, he’s been spending some time scouting the southern bank of the Platte river for an easy access point to get on to the sandbars, but it is a bit challenging since the southern side of the river typically has the main channel. Pack up the canoe with layout blinds and head into the river to set up on some well established sandbars?

Sam’s double coon treeing

With snipe to be chased and big duck season coming on in a few weeks, time is running out on solving the early teal problem this fall, but you can bet it is something that they’ll think about and study for the next year and try some new tactics in 2013.

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HB5029 was passed by the Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 4th by a vote of 64-44 with two members not voting. It made its way over to the Senate, and on Wednesday, November 5th, Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema assigned HB5029 to Senator Shirley Johnson’s Appropriations Committee. During the Sportsmen’s Rally on November 4th, Senator Shirley Johnson introduced the resolution making the mourning dove the “Michigan Bird of Peace”.
This is the resolution that Senators Johnson, Jacobs, Brater, Clark Coleman, Clarke, Jelinek, Leland, Scott and Toy introduced:

Senate Resolution No. 192.

A resolution recognizing the mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, as the Michigan Bird of Peace.

Whereas, The mourning dove is an American bird known for its sad, cooing call. Its grayish-brown feathers and long tapering tail are widely recognized in Michigan, as is its soft and mournful sound. The mourning dove, or Zenaida macroura, as it is known in the scientific realm, is a peaceful songbird; and

Whereas, The day of the mourning dove begins early in the morning when it begins to look for food and water. The doves then rest during part of the afternoon, seek more food and water, and before nightfall, return to their nests built loosely of twigs in a tree or bush or on the ground. Many scientists believe that a male and female mourning dove mate with each other for life. Bird watchers will note that mourning doves are often found in pairs and, as parents, the doves are both responsible for feeding the young, called squabs, which are born blind and almost featherless; and

Whereas, The dove has traditionally symbolized peace. It is often depicted with an olive branch in its beak. Mourning doves do not eat olive branches, but do, however, feed on weed seeds and insects. It is a peaceful bird which will swiftly fly from conflict on strong wings that make a whistling sound as they move through the air. The mourning dove plays a quiet but vital role in the fragile and beautiful ecosystem that is the Michigan water wonderland; now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate, That the mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, be known throughout the state as the Michigan Bird of Peace.

Pending the order that, under rule 3.204, the resolution be referred to the Committee on Government Operations, Senator Hammerstrom moved that the rule be suspended.

The motion prevailed, a majority of the members serving voting therefor.

The question being on the adoption of the resolution, Senator Hammerstrom moved that the resolution be referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs.

The motion prevailed.

I would encourage you to have all those interested in seeing HB5029 become law contact their senators and the members of this committee and also Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and tell the Senators that you want this bill passed out of committee and passed by the Senate and given to Governor Granholm to sign into law.

Remember, the best way to communicate with the legislators is by scheduling and attending a “Face to Face meeting” with your legislator. These meetings can be done in Lansing, but many of the legislators will meet with you in their home districts. The next best way is to write a personal letter and mail it. A less efffective way is to fax that letter. The least effective way is e-mail.

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The best defense is a
united offense.

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