Monday, September 27, 2010

It truly is better when you find birds

I won't lie, this season has been pretty good. Call it luck, call it hard work, call it what you may. The way I call it, you can't get birds from the sofa, work desk or at the bar.

I'm lucky to have a good gun dog and good group of hunting buddies that won't mind working hard to get after them. We take our combined efforts of the past to produced great hunts as the season moves on. As the days grow shorter, the birds become more challenging. Locating their general location becomes an anomaly of "here one day, gone the next."

Dusky/Blue Grouse migrate up in elevation as the calender keeps moving towards the end of the year. The males proceed the females and family groups in this effort. Usually by the 4th week of the season, the males are in the "dark timber" and the remainder of the species are not too far behind. I say "usually" because this year is different. The extreme heat and drought that Colorado is currently experiencing is forcing the birds to stay near a source of water, whether it be berries or a stream and sometimes both.

Water was the key to our success on this past hunt. We all knew that as it hit "too hot to hunt" at 10am at 9,000ft. After getting down from the higher elevation we took a nice long break. Not knowing if this day's hunt was over, I thought that this might be the last grouse hunt of the season. We discussed and decided that if we were to hunt the mid day we would only venture into the dark areas that held a water source. We were assured by a few in our group that these draws held those two components.

As we arrived at desired location, the four of us split up in two groups. We each took a draw up the hill. As we first started out, I didn't know how long this hunt would last. It was wide open and only a few willow patches for shade, but my buddy Adam quickly assured me for the 10th time that the draws held water. After seeing the first spring, my worries diminished as Mia took a quick swim to cool off.

Adam , Scott and Ben planning the hunt.

Myself, my nephew, Ben, and Gary, from Silk Line River Horse blog, moved up the the draw on a deliberate slow pace. I was thinking to myself that this what it should be like to hunt the week before October in Colorado. Cool and collective, I thought I wanted this draw to last forever but I also wanted some birds to keep the blood moving.

As I wished for this, I noticed Mia tracking some scent. Her nose hit the ground and I thought just one thought: trust your dog. Right then, Gary shouted that this area was looking good. I agreed and pressed on. 
I took this video clip of Mia working up the draw. You can notice her tracking the bird scent as her nose hits the ground. No more than 2 minutes after I put the camera away, all hell broke loose as one of my personal best wing shooting experiences followed.

Fast flying birds and over head shots enlightened my tired body.  Gary and I quickly took four birds and we marked a few more for the downhill decent.

                                             Here's Mia retrieving my first bird.

By the time we finally got back to the truck, we collectively took six birds between us from two different draws. Of the six birds, four were mature males.
Ben, Scott with Elice, Adam with Razor and Mia

What started out as a hard day's hunt soon heated up to great day in the mountains with great friends and even better dogs.

til next time....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Upland Bum

How I wish I truly was. I gave it my best effort over the last three days. After a crazy week at work and missing the chance to go up over the weekend in pursuit of elk with a muzzleloader, I was ready for a few days of upland hunting.

While this trip is none the Sporting Road by Jim Fergus, it was an adventure with a few loose plans. All I knew is that I had a few days off and I needed them....just ask my employees!!! I did know that I was going to chase some grouse and maybe head out with the muzzleloader. Where you ask? I was asking myself the same question as I drove up I-70.  As I hit the town of Kremmling, I decided on a covert that had some success and had come through from some previous scouting.

Having arrived in the mid-afternoon, I knew it was too early to hit the coverts with a flushing spaniel that thrives on wild birds and has an engine that doesn't stop. So as the clock turned 4pm, I let loose on an area that held a ton of birds only a 10 days ago. After an hour of holding the gun at ready and no flushes to keep us interested, we headed back to camp, the hard way, up hill. Just as the 3 liters of water I was carrying was down to 1/2  a liter, Mia got birdy. As I lost her in the brush, a grouse sailed along the bend of the hill towards my location. It took me split second to recognize the bird as I didn't hear the flush. But then it clicked and my memory skills kicked in as the bird landed only few yards down hill from my location. I was eager to find out what this grouse was feeding on so I immediately opened the crop of this young bird to find service berries, goose berries and rose hips.

Again, no grasshoppers so I decided to concentrate all my future covert efforts on the fruits of the mountains. But as my water supply dwindled, a trip back to camp was the next order of the day. As I traveled along a ridge top a familiar silhouette caught my eye. As a directed Mia to the base of the fur tree that held our treasure, I quickly moved to the down slope side of the tree. As Mia leaped in for the flush, I thought a trapped grouse would be a great story as Mia already has two traps on wild pheasants to her credits. She was close but the bird rushed out and I took one shot as I put the second bird in the game pouch.

Here are the two birds for comparison.  It's always nice to take a mature bird and this male was mature. He was huge, by far the largest Dusky Grouse that I have ever seen. It was double the size and weight of the juvenile female that I took earlier in the hunt. When I measured the fan it was 16" across in a fanned out position. A true trophy that I was very proud to put in my bag.

Big Bird!

After a quick break, we headed to a cover that had previously produced birds on the second day of the season. Not only did this covert produce,  it produced a brood for the third time within in 20 yards of the previous flushes. Talk about a hot cover!!! After a few misses I called it a day.


A true vagabond sleeps in his truck!

After a good night's sleep for Mia, we headed out in the morning in search of new coverts within a good hike of camp. Birds were found but so were the misses. A single grouse "back doored" us and a brood of 6 decided to feed on the thickest berries batch in Colorado. It was a good hunt and I decided my new honey hole needed a break. We were on our way to new coverts of sorts.

A view from the top

The next day brought further uncertainty as we headed for on a scouting trip and the temperature hit "too hot to hunt."  After a few hours we wound up on familiar ground. "Nothing wrong with that" I said to myself. I'll only hit new covers and covers that we missed on opening day due to the mass overcrowding.  After hitting a few "for sure" covers we headed back to camp to rest and eat. I almost called it a night but the sad eyes of a springer can almost call your gun to arm. So we headed out to a draw that was only yards from camp. As I walked in I noticed the bright red ripe rose hips and I thought to myself if I was a grouse.......the bbrrr of the flush echoed and my dulled attention brought two misses. As I reloaded, another brace flushed and quickly took the first bird and thought the second would be my first double of the season. Not so fast as the bird sailed too low for a decent shot. I marked the general direction of the first brace that flushed and we were on our way. Just as I turned Mia to hunt toward me, a huge bird flushed only a few feet from my location and then fell as I took my second bird of the day.

An after dinner brace.

The next morning saw more uncertainty as we woke to a few elk bugles. After the previous evening's success I thought a new covert should be order. We were packed up and our way to parts unknown as we drove down the hill. As I hit the pavement I remembered a promising covert only a few miles away. We hunted as hard as we could before the heat of the day set in at 10am. As we finished, the lone flush of the day could not cool us we headed to the truck and back to reality.

I've always wondered why the DOW put these out after the grouse opener. I did add a few specimens for study.

til next time....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why I Hunt

William Tapply said it best but today I will tell you why I hunt.

I have an intense drive that comes out when the days grow shorter and the mornings start to cool.  I cherish the time spent in the great outdoors.  I enjoy the camaraderie with friends and family alike. I have an intense passion for the dogs I follow in the field.  And this is all brought together when the game is brought to the table. 

But where did I get my passion for everything related to springer spaniels, 16 gauge shotguns, wood ducks, grouse, pheasants and deer?

I know where and I have an older brother and cousins a like who will give you the same answer as I;

My Dad.

It wasn't mandated that I hunt by my father but it was rather strongly suggested by the shear overexposure of the hunting culture.  Hunting is something we, our family and in particular my Dad, just did.  Growing up, I longed to be old enough to carry my own shotgun on those magical Saturday mornings.  I tagged along behind both my Dad and brother for as long as I can remember.   Looking back on those days is what got me hooked on this pastime.  Back then I always wished I were old enough to pursue the game and when I became old enough I wished that the sky would be filled with ducks, geese and rising roosters.  I hoped that a big buck, just like the big six pointer my Dad shot "on the old railroad tracks back in '64," would cross my tracks.  I still have those visions of grandeur while afield and I know where I got them from.

6 Point Buck taken by my Dad in the fall of 1964

For as long as I can remember hunting was, and is, a significant part of our lives.  It has only been in recent times that I have began to understand a deeper meaning of hunting and what it has meant to me.  It has brought patience to an impatient person, it has brought dedication and sense of direction to a wandering soul and it has has brought balance to a hectic world.  Many times has a hunt brought solace to hard times.  And for all of this is why I'm thankful that I hunt. 

At the beginning of this year's hunting season I started to feel an overwhelming guilt that I was entering a new season knowing that my Dad wasn't.

That was the first hunting season in well over 55 years that my Dad was unable to hunt due to illness. The future looked clouded with uncertainty but we have the memories and we'll continue to talk about the past adventures as if they happened last season. 

Since I moved to Colorado, I haven't had many chances to get out in the field with my Dad as much as I would have liked.  Over the last few years I tried to go hunting with my Dad every chance I could.  In the last few years I have made a few trips back East to help re-live the memories of the past.

Those trips will be forever etched in my mind.  As will the million other memories of my Dad through hunts, life and everything in between.

Over the last few hunting seasons,  I tried to savor the time afield and perhaps reflect just a little bit more about the hunts of the past because those hunts are the foundation of my passion. 

I'll continue this odyssey as its beginnings started with my Dad long before I started to hunt.

That is why I hunt.

I originally wrote this passage in the fall of 2010.  That was the first autumn that my Dad did not hunt due to illness.  For some reason I never felt comfortable posting this until now.

On April 16th my Dad passed away after a two and half year battle with several illnesses.  His love for the outdoors was known by everyone who knew him.  I will always remember that he passed that love down to his sons and I'll pass that down to my son. 

He will be missed. 

Til next time...

Colorado Pheasant Forecast

This just in from Pheasants Forever

Check out your state's forcaste from Pheasants Forever.

Colorado - Good to Excellent

Forecast: Pheasant crow counts on Colorado's Eastern Plains this spring were up over last year by 27 percent, the highest they've been since 1982. Pheasant hunting should be good across the region, bordering on excellent in some locations, according to Ed Gorman, small game manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Top counties for ringnecks will be Phillips, Yuma, Kit and Carson, though hunters would be wise not to overlook Sedgwick County and the extreme southeast portion of Baca County.

This year, Colorado is making its Walk-In-Access Program free to small-game license holders. The popular program provides access to more than 220,000 acres of private land for pheasant and other small game hunters. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and local Pheasants Forever chapters have been working since 1992 on the cooperative Pheasant Habitat Improvement Program. The program assists landowners in developing and enhancing habitat for ring-necked pheasants, and has also helped increase opportunities for enrollment in the Walk-In-Access Program.

Season Dates: November 13 through January 31, 2011
Daily Bag Limit: 3
Possession Limit: 9

Field Notes: Colorado's 2010 Small Game Hunting brochure has a fresh new design that simplifies the rules and regulations and includes a free DVD titled, "Pheasant Hunting Colorado."

Hopefully we'll have plenty of these photos to go along with the forecast.

til next time...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Training Day

Nichole and I went up to visit the little girl Abby to check in her progress. You wouldn't believe the progress she's making in training. She still needs some work but I was sure glad to see her past the point where she was stuck.

We we weren't the only ones up to train on Sunday. Actually there was a nice small group of amateur ESS trainers up at Tim DeGroff's training field. It's always nice to learn from others that have similar interests and passions.

Here are a few photos from the day. Some of these photos were taken by training and hunting buddy Adis Zilic from Upland Hunting the Spaniel Way blog.

Proud "Parents"!

How did I do, Mom?!

til next time....

Thursday, September 2, 2010


For the past 5 years, on September 1st I have ventured to the Colorado high country in search of Dusky Grouse (formerly known as Blue Grouse). With every season that passes I always take something new to the next season. It seems that these birds are hard to figure out and they "are where they are". While this statement is true you can waste plenty of boot leather searching for these critters and you still could burn the leather when you are in the birds!

This season started out with a lesson that the birds where on the berries: service, choke cherry and goose. When we ventured away from the berries the flushes disappeared. Once we got back into the high mountain berries the birds were plentiful.

We had a hefty crew of 5 guns for this opener. Everyone had action and we took 9 birds on the first day. The second day only 3 guns remained and we ventured to a new area that I discovered last week.  The new covert brought a limit of 9 for us.

I was particularly impressed with Mia. She had great stamina and hunted both days from start to finish. I was also impressed with Rick's two Black Lab's. Between the three flushing dogs that were in the field I was positive that we were covering each cover thoroughly and that every downed bird would be recovered.

The proverbial tailgate shot!

til next time....