Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Teamwork And Equipment: Log Of A Hunting Muther

From Fran's Log, December, 2012.  Pheasant Hunting Near Columbia River, Eastern Washington.  The importance of electronic collar training with a highly driven retriever. 

Fran Seagren, Hunting Muther With Sarge And The Dragon

We had an excellent day.  The roosters are really wily and skittish - what a challenge trying to outwit them.  Our dogs are on their game, but so are the roosters. 

Sarge had been birdy since we started hunting the draw. He already flushed two hens and he was jacked up.  His excitement is contagious and I was pumped up as well.  Scott and Disco were hunting the other side of the draw and we planned to meet up halfway around.  The draw had fresh pheasant beds and lots of tracks.   Sarge was determined and thorough as he hunted the thick stuff.  I expected a noisy rooster to flush at any moment, but none were found.  We met up with Scott and Disco and they hadn’t had any luck either.  It appeared the pheasants had moved up into the sage – so that’s where we went.   Sarge and I headed up the side hill through the sage toward the cover strip that ran along the edge of the cut cornfield.  Scott and Disco angled away from us also heading to the cover strip.  Our plan was for me and Sarge to start at the top and work our way down the strip to Scott and Disco who were working their way slowly back up.  We were hoping to move and pinch between us any roosters that were loafing in the area.  “Stealth” hunting was a necessity if we wanted to get close to a late season rooster. 

On our way up to the cover strip, Sarge got on a scent.  The bird was moving ahead of us.  Odds weren’t in our favor of this pheasant letting me get close enough for a shot.  The sage wasn’t thick enough for it to feel safe, it was already on the move, and no doubt, it knew we were on the trail.  Sarge had his nose close to the ground and he picked up his pace.  He quartered tightly back and forth.  It appeared the bird wasn’t running at full speed.  How could this be?  Maybe it didn’t know how close we were?  But, we were heading straight into a pretty stiff wind that carried our sound away and we were “super stealthy.”  I didn’t use a whistle and certainly not my voice.  In order to keep Sarge from running ahead and flushing the pheasant out of range, I used the e-collar.   Every time he got too far, I “beeped” him.  He knows the beeper means to either stop and look back for direction, or come back within gun range.  “Most of the time” he does pretty well.  But, when he’s on a hot trail, Sarge’s desire sometimes wins over his training.  When he didn’t slow down or come back within range after being “beeped,” I gave a little stimu-zap with his e-collar.   This worked and Sarge slowed down, but his intensity did not.  I was really excited and kept my eyes focused ahead of Sarge. I kept expecting a rooster to flush up ahead, probably out of range.  We continued in this way for another ten minutes or so.   But, this rooster made a terminal mistake.  He held up “just” long enough for Sarge and me to get close.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when that bad boy flushed five yards in front of Sarge.  I heard the wings and his angry cackle before I saw him clear the sage bush.  He looked huge!  He was fast and wasted no time leaving town.  I took the shot at about 35 yards.  Dead rooster!   Sarge made a quick retrieve. Wow!  It IS the biggest rooster I've ever seen!  Scott had just changed my chokes and bought me some new super duper pheasant killer shells – THANKS, Scott!  Sarge and I just bagged a wild “Grand-daddy dragon of the open Sage Country.”   And a running rooster in the sage – who would have thought!

Scott came over with lots of congrats, high-fives, and hugs.  Disco was excited too.  We took a couple pictures and then continued with our plan – hunt the cover strip from two directions.   Scott and Disco headed to the bottom while Sarge and I continued to the top.  When we got to the top, I was surprised to find a large area that was a perfect pheasant lounging spot.  There were acres and acres of great bird cover including heavy bush, weeds and grasses.  But we hardly touched that area – save it for next time.  I sent Sarge into the cover strip and worked our way down the edge.  Scott and Disco were working their way up.  Then, I saw a rooster flush from a little behind and to the left of Scott.  Plan worked!  We “pushed” a rooster their way and it flushed right next to Scott.  As he twisted around, Scott took a shot, and missed.  Not surprising as the bird hooked in front of him about 10 yards.   Scott swung his gun on the bird and waited for it to get out in front.  He took aim, and, then . . .. Nothing.  His gun jammed!  Scott had bought some new super “hex shot shells” and apparently they didn’t work in his new 20 ga. semi-auto Franchi.     Score one for the roosters.  We headed back to the truck.   I didn’t feel “too” bad, though.  I had a pretty “heavy” load in the back of my hunting vest.   Score one for Sarge and me!

Our next hunting spot was perfect for a setter – Robert’s turn.  He is beautiful to watch – there is no other way to describe him hunting.  Working the wind, he made 200-300 yard casts along the edge of the cover.  He’s fast and smooth, flashy and handsome.  No prejudice – just the facts.   We hunted in silence as Robert glided along the edges of a huge tilled field.  As we worked our way down to the irrigation ditch cover, Robert continued his long casts.  He would double back to check out a scent and then continue on.  As I watched, he suddenly whipped his head around, did a quick couple turns, then glanced back at me and stopped for a split second - as if to say, "Watch me, I’m going into the cover."  And, he did.  When I got up to where Robert had gone in, I couldn’t see him.  The cover was over his head.  Nothing was moving as I looked around.  There was no wind on that side of the ditch.  I knew Robert was on a point.  We were nearly at the end of the cover and Scott was less than 80 yards down, blocking at the end.  Then I saw some brush that looked a little “too” red – Robert’s tail at “12 o’clock.”  I walked carefully toward him, trying to not make a sound, gun ready – three steps, and up he came!  I was still about 50 yards away when he flushed; I didn’t take a shot.  Score another for the roosters.  I called Robert over – he’s a good boy.

A while later when driving around to pick up Scott and Seven, I saw a rooster casually land off to the side of the irrigation road.  I wanted to see if he was still there.  I got my gun and cast Robert toward the cover.  He quickly circled around the area and in less than a couple minutes stopped exactly where I had seen the rooster land.  Again, Robert glanced back toward me before slowly going into the cover.  I moved forward as quietly as possible.  I could see part of Robert’s back and his tail that “said it all.”  I continued forward trying to be quiet, but then, the rooster flushed – and again, I was too far away.   Robert stood steady as I shot anyway - just hoping one little pellet would hit him – maybe in the eyeball! 

One last hunt of the day.  I was determined to get Robert a rooster to retrieve.  We went to our “sure thing” spot – if there is such a thing when it comes to hunting wild pheasants.  Scott dropped Robert and me off up the field and drove around the other side of “Benelli Bil.”   Robert hunted the spot beautifully.  I will wrap this one up to say that those birds never gave us a chance to get anywhere near to them.  I saw over a dozen hens and roosters flush wild before we were anywhere close.  Scott saw another five to seven flush wild on his side of the hill.  I can’t remember the last time we saw that many birds flush at once.  We suspect they are now wary of vehicles.  Next time we plan to hide the truck and sneak hunt the backside. 

The birds definitely "won" today.  We saw literally dozens of pheasants, both roosters and hens flushing wild.  But we know where they live and “we’ll be back.”

Yours truly, “the Hunting Muther”