After getting some great intel from locals at the coffee shop, we set out to blindly follow their advice. It is refreshing to trust people I don't know, disconcerting at first, but then truly liberating. When I bird hunt it starts stripping the layers of cynicism that have accumulated over the course of the non-hunting year.
It seems the customary response to my activity is "Grouse hunt? Really? Where are you from?". This area of Colorado sits smack in the middle of a massive tract of BLM and national forest. It is best known to elk and mule deer hunters.
We continue to trek through mountain passes and the grouse continue to elude us. As I talk to residents, the general consensus is 'go higher', and that's what we did today. The problem with higher altitudes this time of year is snow. It's been warm which has made a nice crust on the snow that proceeds to break with every step. Maybe I need snowshoes to hunt these birds this late. I'm not sure they make dog snowshoes and Wyatt breaks through with every step as well.
The oddity I find with going higher is the berries and willow buds which the blue grouse dine on are lower, where the snow is not. Why would these birds go higher where it's more difficult to get a meal? I don't have answers, just more questions.
We stomped through sparse cover, thick cover, lower, higher, all times of day. Wyatt has gotten birdie a few times but that's about it. And still the hunting is great. I fully admit I hunted an area that didn't even look that birdie to me just so I could inhale the view. Wyatt did end up stumbling upon some old bird scent on this hike too, so win win.
I met a guy at the coffee shop that hunts grouse with archery equipment. I really want to see that. I may have to make a follow up trip in the early season which, by all accounts, is when the real bird hunting activity happens.
In this same coffee shop the owners have a photo of a mountain lion taken from very near their property, the same area I've been hunting. Not in a zoo, not on television, nowhere have I seen a mountain lion this giant. I'll try and get a photo to post. Maybe this solves the mystery of where all the grouse have gone.
The biggest news is that elk and mule deer season return statewide on Saturday. The weather here has been warm, at least during the day, which means the elk and mule deer are still up high where I'm trying to find birds. Combine this with a young dog that needs to be put on birds, and it has me planning the retreat to lower country.
We've got one more day before the invasion of men with rifles. Maybe we'll get lucky tomorrow and push a bird. They are out there somewhere, probably higher than I've gone, in steeper terrain, looking down and laughing.
Am looking forward to hunting trip, hope you all have a good hunt!!
Happy Holidays!!! I'll be back!!!
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|
|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
The Hens did it to me again this season, after walking to an area where we could see the hunters and the dog working toward us, I took a stand just at the edge of the grown field and waited until the group came in sight. Several birds flew from in front of the group. As they became closer I thought "Ah, this is going to be great!! Several birds set down way short and the other took the side routes to get away!!!#$%^&. Now I have been standing in this same spot for at least 20 minutes waiting for the group to get to us!! Thought I might as well join them, as I took the first step a Hen went out at about 2 feet from me and I guess you know the rest of that happening!!! What fun!!!
I'll be back!!
|Abby's on the mend, chasing tails and taking names!|
Below are the current results of just one of these polls, pretty interesting feedback. If you have not yet taken the opportunity to cast your votes throughout the site, go ahead and give us your 2¢.
Who's The Maker of Your "Goto" Upland Gun
Don't know about you, but half the fun of owning a bird dog is the time you spent training them. I've never shipped a dog off to bird dog college, trained them all myself. I've always had good dogs, of course, they were mine so I suppose my judgement is impaired, nevertheless, they: found birds, pointed birds and retrieved birds. They might not be TV show perfect but none of my clients ever seemed to care and I've only been stiffed a few times over the years on tips.
I suppose the traditionalists are rolling in their graves when I let my GSP sleep with us (actually my wife's idea), feed him chicken in his food (my wife cooks it for him) and let him have the run of the house. Of course, my dog also has his own personality, something I wonder if those college dogs ever develop? Textbook bird dogs I'm sure are wonderful. For me, I want the dog to hunt because he loves it AND to hunt for me because he loves me. I just don't think you get that when you ship him off to school.
I've always believed that a good dog is made with three things: genetics, time and birds. Genetics are tough, either they have it or they don't and you only have minimal control over what they get from their mom and dad. Time is yours to spend, sometimes you have more of it than others but truely the more time you spend with your pup the less time you'll worry about him in the field. Birds,the more birds the better.
I started my current GSP, Kramer, on live birds when he was 4 months old -he was guiding at 7 months. Kramer's four and a half now and has seen over six thousand birds and has had forty three hundred shot over him. He's a machine. Of course, he'll go on point, wait for the clients to get within 10 yards of him or so and then circle around to prevent the birds from running. Doesn't retrieve to my hand, rather likes to play like he does with the kids, keep away I think it's called. About the only thing "white collar" about him is that he has to drink bottled water -won't touch anything else. So what if he's spoiled and will never be on TV, he's mine and more than anything he's just like his blue collared old man.
4 celery stalks sliced
1/2 lb. bacon strips sliced
1 large onion diced
32 oz. of chicken broth (low sodium if desired)
4 medium size Yukon Gold potatoes - peeled an cubed
3 cloves garlic diced
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups half n half
1 cup parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper
Had an epiphany while eating clam chowder one evening; the texture of the clams in the soup is truly close to that of a tough old rooster. Hope you enjoy the resulting culinary concoction.
Peel and dice potatoes and place in a separate pot cover with the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they are soft.
Slice the pheasant meat across grain into strips similar to the size of a clam strip. Slice bacon and put in a dutch oven on medium heat. Add diced celery and onion and cook until the the bacon and celery is cooked through and onions are transparent. Add the garlic and pheasant. The meat should cook through fairly quickly because of the small sized pieces. At this point add the flour a tablespoon at a time while stirring the mixture which should thoroughly coat the vegetables and meat.
Add the potatoes and broth from the separate pot. Once incorporated stir in the half-n-half and finally include the parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. This chowder is ready to eat once heated through, but if you simmer for a bit the flavors should continue to meld and it will only get better.
Serve on a cold day with some warm beer bread. It is the perfect meal to follow a brisk day afield.
It took a decade of brush busting, sprinting after wingless phantom pheasants, whiffing on bunny shots, losing keys and warping dogs -- but a buddy and I finally discovered the remedy for the bird hunt that has jumped the tracks.
Spiced ham. That gelatinous, pulverized, sodium infused and form fitted rectagonal mass packaged in the convenient pop-top blue and gold tin. It has saved many a hunt since our discovery. Laugh, turn your nose up, gag a bit……. but you really can't refute the results.
The discovery of the mythic ham cure could only have been stumbled upon by two bird hunters accustomed to adversity. Hormel's ham in a can was toted on one of our annual camping, bird hunting excursions for entertainment purposes alone -- not for the obvious nutritional value or ready-to-eat simplicity. I don't think we ever truly planned on peeling that first tin.
It was one of those raw days that was too hot and dry for good scenting. The dogs were done even before being loosed from the kennel.The few birds we did see were flushing wild at far-flung ranges after being spurred by the slightest crinkle of withered grass under foot. It wasn't just that day. It had been one of those bad condition years. But, we're bird hunters and it comes with the territory. If you haven't had the fortune of experiencing one of these days, it is coming… the universe finds ways to test the mettle of every upland hunter.
In danger of completely shutting down from heat exhaustion and the compounded stresses of a relentless week of hunting, my German Shorthair just gave up a half-mile from the truck. She had never shown any sign of surrendering a hunt in the past. I ejected shells, wedged my gun in my game pouch and picked her up. Cradling her with both arms, we all started the return trudge . Time was suspended during that long march back to the truck, but it seemed long enough to saturate every layer of clothing and sufficiently deprive my forearms and hands of all blood flow. We reloaded the vehicle and headed back to camp, whipped on all fronts.
After the comparatively short drive, we unloaded the hounds and sprawled them out in the shade. Breakfast was in order, though after the beating we took, no one could really muster up the fire needed to scarf down a meal.
And that's when it happened; the sun that had brutalized us all week briefly redirected itself and sent a dazzling glint off that golden can of meat. Spiced ham was our beacon, and though we had our doubts, we went towards it and began the proper protocol. The jellied pork was promptly sliced and thrown into the fry pan along with the requisite eggs creating the distinct aroma of frying pig parts. Providing an invigorating scent that transcended pure swine, the canned meat brought an infectiously hilarious feeling to our precarious hunting day. We recounted the miserable morning with laughter and shrugged off the dismal week of bad hunting mojo as we reached for helpings of porky gelatin. Even my stricken shorthair, notorious for lacking appetite while on the hunt, perked up once her fair share of magical meat was added to the kibble and she engulfed a full bowl.
I credit that breakfast with revealing a hunting truth. No longer do I count my hunting successes by the heft of the gamebag. Days afield with friends and hounds, laughing, learning, experiencing both high and lows... I soak it all in. Memories are the true trophy of the hunt.
I used to stroll the grocery aisle and wonder "who eats that?". Now I pass by and can't wait until it's time to crack into the next can. Spam has become a staple of our hunts and a reminder of what we truly pursue.
Brisk. It is just brisk this time of year in the Colorado high country, which makes for fun camping. The movement between the sleeping bag and the rest of the camp are staccato.
We're at 9000 feet in elevation which makes air intake interesting for the first few days as we try and stomp around looking for blue grouse. This country is eye popping and it is such a stark contrast to the Piedmont foothills.
Our first romp through the mountains was more an aclimation hike than hunting for both Wyatt and I. We spent 4 hours hiking around and saw no real signs of birds, but Wyatt did show some interest a few times to no result.
Today, we're starting with some recon. It turns out that elk season comes back in on Saturday up here, so we now know our deadline to clear out. There's plenty of places to hunt and the elk hunters can take over, we'll continue the stomp somewhere else.
So, if I were a grouse, where would I be?
Well it turns out that the local barista was running yesterday on some BLM trails and flushed two grouse. Now, that is good intel gathered while inhaling a cinnamon roll.
The same barista owns cabins out in this area, and if they weren't already booked full of elk hunters, I might sally out on freezing tent life and give them a try. If you're out this way, super nice people www.gofishcabins.com, check them out.
If her grouse intel pays off, I'm coming back for another cinnamon bun.