Oct 4th

Sage Grouse: Living on Borrowed Time

By Sharptail

At 3:00 a.m. there are very few things I am enthusiastically rolling out of bed for.  The opener of Sage Grouse season is among them though.  A special blend of preparation, anticipation and exhaustion are brought together in a sparkling cocktail of bird hunting elation.

It's 6:00 a.m. and I've arrived at my hunting grounds well before sunrise, no longer lamenting the long drive, lack of sleep or trepidation with having a hood altering moment with a mule deer, elk or moose wandering too close to the roadside in the predawn hours.  I'm singularly focused on enjoying the experience as if it could be my last.  My senses are tuned to an environment of vast expanse, the kind that affords me the opportunity to walk in any direction as far as I'm physically able, my hopes high that I will raise a covey of airplanes.

I stare into the blackness through my windshield.  There, I can see the topography only in my mind, that which comes from familiarity of haunting this stretch of ground every year.  I poor a cup of coffee while I wait for my friend to arrive, the truck jiggling back and forth from the anticipation of kenneled dogs anxious to hit the ground running.

wisdom
My window is rolled down so I can catch the fleeting sounds of nature in the last act of darkness before the stage lights come up.  It's fall.  There is a rich presence of loam, fog and sage in the air that stirs my senses, giving me hope for the prospects of good scenting conditions.  After forty-five minutes or so the sun peeks out behind me from some distant peak, reeling in the darkness and giving shape to the landscape.  It's just as I remember it.  As I sit here quietly waiting to get started, an annoying question keeps running through my head, will this be the last year I will have the privilege to pursue these monarchs of the sage?  These birds are in trouble.

If the day ended here, I would be grateful.  But it didn't.  It improved significantly.  The rest I'll lend to your imagination.

Jan 19th

Kansas Quail Hunt

By Sharptail

Always Bet on Bob

Snow never lies.   It's a commonly accepted notion that when the white stuff falls, late season bird hunting will improve.  In some circles, this might even be accepted as gospel.  I can count many days in my bird hunting memory that include a fond association with bitter cold temperatures, frozen snot-cycles hanging from my beard, and hands so cold that my fingers managed to find both triggers at once.  There's an important outcome that's typically brought on by the alliance between cold snowy weather and bird hunting - a plump game bag filled to satisfaction.... or so I thought.
Jan 10th

Late Season Pheasant Rodeo

By Sharptail
Abby's on the mend, chasing tails and taking names!
I had a chance to get together with some friends yesterday to do a little late season pheasant hunting.  I've not had a chance to hunt this section of Colorado much before.  With a considerably large amount of dry crop land, the scope and size of the CRP and other hunting areas we had access to was a welcome change of pace from the irrigated crop circle country I typically hunt.  This gave the hounds a chance to really stretch their legs.
Dec 8th

Solitude

By Sharptail

Flat gray, a reflection of the day, raw, chilly, and wonderful

Vast country is an impressive pull in my life.  In no uncertain terms it's the reason I moved to Colorado.  Every time I stand before it ready for another adventure, unintended, I follow the same routine.  I run through a mental checklist of what's needed to carry with me in the event I bump into troubles, organize my belongings, make sure I'm carrying plenty of water, and check to make sure my truck keys are secured a minimum of three to five times.  Then, I stand before nature and all of it's awesome size, smile at my own insignificance, breath in deeply, and then take a step forward.

Space.  An openness with liberty to stretch my legs and not be burdened with having to engage in conversation.  Time.  A passing in which I allow myself an opportunity to evaluate my life and determine what's next, or remorse over the mistakes I've made.   Connection.  The inspiration I take in from the world around me and the reparation I receive from watching my dog go about his duty without knowing or even caring why.  Solitude.  It's good to spend time alone every so often.

This was such a day:

The first of the day's quarry
The idiot in between romping
Bristlegrass seeds, preferred food of scaled quail
All old wood tells a story, I wish they were all recorded
Blood on the tailgate

He has a few moments of elegance, not many, but a few
A miscalculation in my wanderings.  That white spec is my truck.  Can't see it?  Neither could I.   Scamp, I thought immediately of you when I stepped onto this road and truly felt the gravity of Eight More Miles.
Dec 6th

The Field

By Sharptail

Northeast of where I live, anonymously situated on the prairie near a small town I use as a base of operations for many of my upland pursuits, there is an impressive old barn that stands as a centerpiece among a collection of discarded buildings from a homestead that is decaying into a windblown western landscape.  Sprinkled in its shadows are a variety of old farm implements that decorate the countryside, reminders of a time when life had a clearer sense of priority.  Near the edge of the homestead yard, next to a corner stretcher and a ball of rusted barbed wire is a large dead cottonwood tree currently being reclaimed by its mother.  Buried under the tree are the remains of my two pointers, Phoebe and Chili, who I lost to cancer at the end of last season.

Dan's hard working Lab Gracie
South of the barn, under its watchful gaze and positioned at a lower elevation, lies an oasis of grass, a rectangular section perfectly aged by years of neglect and overgrowth.  It's ideal pheasant holding cover.  The field is surrounded by a number of commercial farming interests, each rotating their crops on neighboring agricultural circles every year.  The field cannot be accessed by a road on any of its sides.  Instead, it is isolated by barren sections of ground and other agricultural edges offering a buffering zone that's just sufficient to discourage poachers from wandering into the field "accidentally," as so often happens this day in age. 

Friend Dan walking through a particularly tall piece of cover

The field is under the protective care of a lonely elderly gentleman I'll call Hank, who I have gotten to know quite well over the past decade.  He lives in a modest brick home that was built many years ago next to the old homestead that overlooks my bird paradise.  Hank is a funny and entertaining fellow.  A religious man, he's always quick to offer me a bit a scripture every time I stop by to pay him a visit.  He has an ominous looking German Shepard named Blue that suns himself on the South facing doorstep every afternoon.  Blue has an unapproachable demeanor and ferociously threatening bark that does a terrific job of keeping other hunters from bothering Hank for permission to hunt his property.  Fortunately,  I discovered early on that Blue has an affinity for fresh ground meat which I bring him each week during the hunting season.  My gift renders him an utter pussycat.

Scott and Elsie after a successful visit to the field

Hank has been generous with his property.  We seem to share the same loathing of pheasants, albeit from different perspectives.  While I am tormented by the long tailed jackal for the number of times it has made a fool of me, Hank is annoyed by how early they wake him up in the morning.  I have been permitted to take many friends to the field each season, which I do often.  The only cost is a pleasant conversation with Hank that I look forward to four or five times a season, a few pounds of ground elk, a roast or two, some steaks, and the toll I'm required to pay Blue with each visit.   I have walked this stretch of ground countless times in a variety of different conditions, driving snow, hot dry temperatures, a rainstorm or two, and once, in a perfect fog that left a succulent bouquet of bird scent on the ground for my dogs.  The birds held that day.  Each trip is special and unique in its own way.  I have yet to pay a visit to field and be disappointed.  Sometimes the field ends my day in only a few minutes with three quick shots and a full vest.  More often than not, it takes a little more searching before a quarry is earned, but never has it failed to produce.

Evening at a cornfield next to the field

Dec 2nd

The Tangle

By Sharptail
Barbed wire in black and white. This photo was...Image via Wikipedia

Monday, November 22nd: my dog has been cooped up in the house for almost two weeks, recovering from an injury he sustained while in South Dakota, the result of a tangle he got into with some barbed wire while chasing after a wounded pheasant.  He injured his back leg and the puncture was quite deep, having reached a joint.  I was instructed by my vet that he really needed to sit back and enjoy some butt kickin' pain killers as well as a heavy dose of antibiotics to ward off the possibility of a serious infection that could diminish his performance permanently.  With those words ringing in my head, I wasn't taking any chances!

Now.... I'm here to tell you... dogs, particularly gundogs, DO NOT know they are injured five minutes after the injury occurred, especially when they are nine months old.  I'm not sure if any of you have ever attempted to keep a nine month old GSP quiet and inactive for an extended period of time, but I can assure you it's an exercise in hopelessness.  Fuel that fire a bit with a two year old toddler that just got the flu, the anxiety that comes with planning a huge family Thanksgiving dinner, and you've got yourself a recipe for some household tension.  If I could just make it to Friday, I would find relief in the form of grass, a dog off the IR, solitude, and birds. 

November 23rd: my son develops the Flu and I still need to get to the grocery store.  Fifty percent of the household is now sick.  The dog is losing patience, taking his frustrations out by chewing up one of the two remaining binky's my daughter has left in the house.  Without those, all hell breaks loose. Friday is just around the corner.  I tell myself I can make it.

November 24th, 2:00 a.m: my wife develops the flu, throwing up everything but her toenails the majority of the night.  Both kids are still very ill.  I ask myself, what am I going to do tomorrow?

November 24th: tomorrow's here and I'm in deep poo.  The kids are showing signs of improvement but are still feeling crappy.  My wife is completely incapacitated.  I glimpse a devious look in my dog's eye and now realize that he's formulating a plan to pilfer the last remaining binky the minute I let my guard down.  I still have to go to the grocery store... the day before Thanksgiving.  I'm in over my head.  Friday is just around the corner though so I press on.

November 24th, 5:00 p.m: I catch my first break.   The family calls and tells me they don't want to come over due to the toxic contaminated air that's bound to be hanging around by Thursday.  No cooking!  I think to myself, I could be making the turn as I throw the bird back in freezer and cancel plans to do battle with the supermarket.  It never occurs to me the risk of contamination is a distinct possibility.  Friday is almost here and visions of sunrise, pheasants, golden grass, and my young puppy frolicking through the field begin to creep into my head.

November 25th, 3:00 a.m. disaster strikes.  I'm down and out through the weekend.  Next year... flu shots all the way around I suspect.  The dog still looks pissed as I put the gun back in the safe Sunday evening.

gt signing off! 
www.silklinesandpaperhulls.com
Nov 24th

Better than a poke in the eye

By Sharptail
DSC_1492.JPG

Just over two weeks into the pheasant season in Colorado and I can say I'm pretty darn happy.  It may not have been the best plan to go to South Dakota for a week... two days before the Colorado opener.  After a walk through a dozen or so unproductive pivot corners and a couple of hit or miss HUGE sections of CRP, I knew for sure I was back in my beloved beautiful home state.  When the dust settled though, there appeared to be more birds than I've seen in years past, strange that this also correlates to an abundance of bird hunters (better hit a weekday if you don't like crowds).  Me, I like the opener for the entertainment value that comes with a sea of orange, bourbon and beer hitting the fields a runnin', so it doesn't bother me that much.  Although I would like to find me one of those Kevlar bullet proof vests just for this occasion.  Frankly, I just like to see a lot of people enjoying good friendship and the outdoors... and smackin' a few long tails. 

I've talked to a few friends and have learned that Sterling and Burlington have both been perhaps better spots than Yuma county this year, at least compared to my success.  Isolated spots around Yuma county were hit pretty hard by a spring hail storm this year.  You'll know right away if a field was damaged by hail.  Best to move on to greener pastures deeper grass.  Still, the area around Yuma is very productive and again there are a lot of birds to be had if you can out smart the rainbow jackal.

The condescending cursing cackle haunts my dreams, laughing at me from distant corn rows!
Nov 22nd

Mythical Beast

By Sharptail

 

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For more years than I'm willing to admit, I've been pursuing scaled quail here in Colorado.  I've had to surrender to the little gray bird for several seasons, simply unable to pattern their daily routine or figure out where the damn things live and thrive.  Growing up in Missouri, and having hunted Gentlemen Bob successfully more than a few times, I've kept a steadfast image in my head that if I remained diligent, perseverance would eventually reward me with a bird, or at the very least give me a chance to perhaps see one.  I mean.... they're both quail, right?  How much different could they actually be?  What a sorry state of mind that turned out to be.

Last season I again took a day off of doing battle with my arch enemy, the pheasant, to pursue these noble birds in what I had been lead to believe was their natural habitat.   Now I ask you, have any of you reached a point in your hunting pursuits when you started out the day already defeated?  You know... where you woke up at dark-thirty in the morning and knew you were probably in for a serious bout of burning boot leather that would likely end in disappointment and an empty bird bag?  Well pilgrims, that's how low I had sunk.  Self fulfilling prophecy's being what they are, I got exactly what I anxiously expected - nothing.

Resolving myself to defeat, as well as a creeping suspicion that scaled quail may not actually exist, I determined that if I was ever to chase these birds again, with hat in hand, I would have to engage a professional.  Then I started this blog, and along the way I met some good friends and learned a lot about the pursuit of all things feather, fur and fin.  As good fortune would have it, I also stumbled across a quail man, Dr. Shawn Wayment, DVM, from Setter Feathers and Groused Tales.  After helping me to solve a dog injury, the result of my over exuberant idiot puppy, I confided in Shawn my inability to find scaled quail.  Confident he could do so, he immediately offered to help me remedy the situation and we made plans to meet on the prairie shortly thereafter.

After a good bit of walking the mythical beast was finally tamed, thanks to Shawn's highly skilled and wonderfully patient dogs, and a stray bee bee or two.