A cold north wind welcomed us to hunting sharptail grouse on the Thursday before duck opener, easily blowing 30, if not 40 mph and the air temperature never peaked the 40 degree mark on the day. It was a pretty brutal start considering that when we left Eastern Nebraska the evening before, it was 70 degrees. I hadn’t even packed my kids jackets, let alone my winter upland gear, so I had to tough it out in my hunting shirt/t-shirt combo. Luckily a person warms up quickly stomping around the dunes and running after birds.
I’ll admit that I was whining and not wanting to get out of the truck at first. I whined my way out of the usual first spot and asked if we could scout for ducks instead. As we were creeping around a pond looking to see if any ducks had arrived, we noticed some sharptails running down the road. We thought we had ourselves an easy pick, so we backed up around a dune and unloaded our gear. Of course we wouldn’t need the dogs, the birds were just 15 feet away, right?
I think we chased them for a good 30 minutes and got up 3 or 4 times before they were flushing close enough to get a shot, even though they were flying into the monstrous wind. Ryan and I got off a few Hail Mary cracks on the edge of range before Charles put the first one in the bag. I captured his retrieve in the first half of this video (the second half is from me on Saturday, but we’ll get to that part later). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4XgYQOzM8c
As we had been walking for a good hour and had left everything unlocked, I made a bee-line back to the truck while the guys chased the rest of that group, with Charles taking one more. Once we got back, secured our things and brought out some dogs, we took a brief hike into some nearby dunes with Charles taking his third bird in no time. Ryan and I had no hard feelings that we didn’t take any on the day and were ready to head back to town to get out of the wind and cold.
Friday’s weather was less windy and warmer, we decided that we wanted to split up, so we headed to a spot that I had navigated on my own before and it had cell phone coverage so that I could communicate with the guys. We set out to make it a “short grouse hunt”, as we had an early Saturday planned for ducks. About 45 minutes in I busted up two way out of range, chased one down and bumped it up out of range once and within range again, but blew the shot. The bird went way north, over a fence and near a giant dune covered with sumac that I had been curious about. So breaking the rule of staying in the fence, I crossed it to chase the bird. I bumped it a couple of more times way out of range. I was coming up on the 2 hour mark in the field and thought I had better turn around and head back towards the truck. When I got in view of the spot where I thought the truck should be, I couldn’t see it, but knew I was on the western fenceline with the gate where it was parked, so I followed the fenceline south, knowing that the guys were probably in that direction anyway based on the gunshots I had heard earlier. Just as I started to panic that I was lost and in despair because I had gone three hours and not shot a bird, I spotted my other dogs off in the distance, so I headed in their direction. I heard the sound of the guys’ voices and a grouse soared about 15 yards in front of me in a perfectly steady left to right flight, just like station 2 at the skeet range. I missed the first shot, but nailed it hard on the second one and Sue delivered my quarry.
When I met up with the guys, they had also just harvested their birds, Charles had 2 and Ryan had 2. So much for the short grouse hunt, three hours later.
We set out early Saturday morning, as we wanted to attempt to sit over decoys for a bit. For me, sitting over decoys is a like a bad day at church, boring and painful. We got our decoys set up on a pond that we thought would be good and hid in the cottonwoods. There were a couple that swam over and a couple that flew over, but nothing in range that was on the wing. We gave it an hour and a half, then packed it in to go jump hunt.
The first spot we hit was a network of small potholes that we had looked at a number of times, but had never taken the time to get out and work. I worked one side with the guys on the other, with Sam on heel to do any retrieving. They got into a nice big flock of teal, Ryan got one green-winged and Charles two blue-winged. I took a shot as some flew by on a return trip, but they were out of range. Charles came into a small group of grouse up on the hill next to the ponds and harvested one of those. It was a productive new spot!
We loaded up and headed into familiar territory, but while we were on our way there, passing through the area that we had hunted grouse on Thursday, there was a dead sharptail in the sandy rut of the road. Charles got out and picked it up and it had been shot. I had put a pellet in one of those birds in my Hail Mary shooting on Thursday and it just so happened to decide to die in the road that we drove down two days later. What are the odds?
We began working along a creek that we’ve spent a lot of time hunting in the past with lots of success. I got into some teal, but missed. Charles got into some mallards and was able to get hens on two separate jumps. I shot a grouse, while we were trying to sneak up on a flock of teal and captured it on video (the second half). The video doesn’t show the 25 teal that bust out of the pond, but that’s what happened when I said “sorry”, plus you can tell that Charles was mad. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4XgYQOzM8c
After I scared up that flock of teal, we had one more opportunity at a flock in a pond surrounded by small willows, but Sam decided to be naughty and break away from heel, scaring them away. So no ducks on duck opener for me. Then Charles started in on the snipe, here’s the video of the first one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7r_TYujq8TA
At that point, we had been out in the field for 8 hours and I was ready to sit in the truck. The boys set out to work another branch of the creek for a couple of more hours. Charles harvested 3 more snipe and a rail. Saturday was an epic day for Charles, giving him a new personal record one-day bag to beat: 3 blue-winged teal, 2 hen mallards, 1 grouse, 4 snipe and a Virginia rail. All of the birds on the day were retrieved by Sam, with the exception of the grouse that I got myself.
Despite the drought, the grouse population has held up in good numbers and they are reporting a record-setting year for ducks further north. I doubt we will make it back out to the Sandhills before the migration is over, but I’m hoping we can get out to the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska for some more duck action.
Next weekend, Charles, Sam and BB will head to North Dakota for the first pheasants of the year and some more ducks. They will be in ND from Saturday through Wednesday and I plan on training Charles on running my equipment, so hopefully we can get some good pictures and video (but it is very possible that we’ll just get phone and pocket camera pics). Also next weekend duck and goose opens in the eastern part of the state, so I might have to strike out on my own on Saturday to try for a Canadian goose.
Hope everyone else out there is having a great season!