It took long enough! A desk-bound, city dweller will tell you the time it takes to get from April to September is the same, no matter what. I disagree! It stretches out like infinity to the bird hunter. Three lifetimes it takes to endure those five months! Throw in some heat, a dash of humidity, a sprinkling of responsibilities and you have one grumpy, old man.
The nasty summer was filled with planning. Routes, motels, camping sites, bird numbers, friends to visit, dogs to prepare, guns, shells, nutrition. All the stuff that needed attention, but really didn't. I'm amazed to find that, when the day arrives, I invariable end up throwing what I think is important in the back seat with guns and dogs and head out. But, all the planning made the waiting bearable.
|Field Trial in Great Falls, MT.|
I towed the camper (above) and, frankly, I was thrilled with the entire evolution. Other than a minor inconvenience finding a suitable hookup, it was a perfect setup for me and the dogs. In one small Montana town, I called the Chamber of Commerce and found the names of three small parks, all suitable for my needs, for $10-$12/night. I'll tow the camper again to Arizona and NM this season. As long as diesel is cheap, there is a $75 penalty, in fuel, to tow 1000 miles. Figuring a 2000 mile (one way) hunt, I'd need to find suitable motels for $300 or less for the trip to make up for the fuel difference. Of course, figuring the cost of the camper amortized over the length of ownership, and insurance, etc., will jack that up to $400 for the two weeks. It seems the motels are now charging at least $50/night now (with some notable exceptions). For 14 nights, that's at least $700 in motels! So, for now, it makes economic sense to take the camper. Besides, I just like it.
|Pointer backing Cap.|
|Cap returning the favor!|
Before the Great Falls trial, I stopped in Eastern Montana for the Opening Day. I met a friend there and we hunted for two days. We couldn't hunt past noon, either day, due to the heat. It reached 90 degrees by 11 or 12, so we drove and scouted. The first day, the birds were cooperative and we had some good dogwork on Sharptails and Huns. The second day, we went to a different area and never moved a bird, even though the habitat was perfect! I subsequently found out about the summer hailstorm that moved through the area, damaging homes, barns and towns. It was postulated that the hail may have hurt the bird population. I believe it.
|A double on Huns. Cap had them pinned.|
After the trial, I struck out on my own for a week or so. I hunted about 50 miles north of Great Falls, hitting BMA and Open Fields areas, with some notable success. However, there is a lot of pheasant planting by the state going on in these areas and, while I'm not averse to popping a ditch chicken occasionally, in season, the season was not open and I didn't need any running birds for my pups at this point. So, after a day or so, operating out of Conrad, MT, we pulled up stakes and moved to a more Sharptail and Hun friendly area. Before we left Conrad, I noticed these fenced enclosures around the area and asked a few locals what they were. "Oh, those are old missile silos. They're all filled in with rock and gravel, now. We've tried to buy the land, but they won't even talk to us. They have generators and everything down there, just buried it all and walked away!" I had to chuckle. No one was worried about the fact that a nuclear bomb was targeted at the mound 200 yards from the house, just upset they wasted all that good equipment! The ever-practical American Farmer.
We hit the mother-lode for the Sharps and Huns. Five days of hunting areas with no other hunters in sight. Of course, we were, literally, 1000 miles from nowhere, but it was perfect. Vast stretches of public land, alfalfa fields, cut wheat and lentils bordering grassy hills. Miles and miles of easy walking. Once, driving along, I noticed a thick alfalfa field alongside the road with a border of grassy hills along the other side. Sharps in the alfalfa and Huns on the hillside, I thought. I put Shack (Brit/M) on the ground and we went at them. He locked down several times and I just knew those birds were there. We covered the field and went to the side hills and still didn't find them! As we were heading back to the truck, Shack went up over the side hills and stayed up there. I eased up over the top, just to see. I came upon the largest alfalfa field I've ever seen in my life! Easily a section, probably more. Laughing, I called Shack in and we went back to the truck. We were both tired by then. I marked the spot for future exploration and would have liked at least another dog, if not another hunter, with me to cover that expanse of perfect food and cover.
|Cap has some Sharps.|
|Pearl retrieving a Hun.|
|Shack and Cap have a large covey of Sharps pinned.|
|Me and Thomas|
|Shack and some Sharps.|
|A road crossing checkpoint.|
|Ruby and Cap|