It started with a nice get together for dinner at our house. The atmosphere of upcoming holiday led to very relaxed and interesting conversation. The hunting season winding down and most people having little more time off inspired all of us to make plans to get out into the outdoors couple more times. One of my friends at the dinner table is an avid bird hunter with a great dog. He mentioned the Idaho pheasant season has few more days left and that we could go to his friend’s wheat farm. It is about an hour drive from Jackson,directly west of the Tetons as you can see from some of the pictures.
We set out mid morning and planned on hunting as long as the daylight lasts. We were not worried about filling our limits of three roosters per day. I just fell in love with bird hunting two months ago,another friend was also a beginner and the “guide” informed us this will be a tough going through the islands of trees to flush out the pheasants. And it was. Hours of bushwacking the very dense sloped aspen and willow groves. It took a physical toll on us. We are all active guys and welcomed the challenge. The dog did his magic and first flushed out ruffed grouse. I missed. Then beautiful rooster and I missed again. I felt little anxious,not patient enough. Forcing the shot never works. We kept going and I missed couple more opportunities to get my first pheasant. As we reached halfway point,we started to feel what a western pheasant hunt really demands. As tired as I was getting,I began to settle into a better rhythm. I peeled off from the other two guys and tracked down few hens and a rooster. I was walking on soft snow quietly. They were in the sunny spot where snow melted few days ago and the ground became extremely dry. I could hear them,then visually tracked them. So much fun to be able to get that close. The hens were slowly moving on the dry,potato chip like surface and i knew there is still a rooster in there. I heard his cackle earlier. I move in,the hens go flying, ready for a flying rooster but he decides to run away. I readjust my aim to the ground and he takes off. Another miss,but my confidence is growing. I’m in their “kitchen”.
We were just about done with all the wooded section. My friend has gotten a rooster and a grouse. Suddenly the action picked up. Pheasant flies up,I just instinctively point the very awesome Upland Ultra Light,one shot and the dog is picking up rooster from the ground just in front of me. Now I’m feeling really good. No more woods just sage brush sections separating expansive wheat fields. As we’re talking about this being great pheasant habitat rooster gets flushed out right in front of us.
In the meantime I’m walking with my shotgun muzzle pointing up and my right hand near the trigger guard. Index finger off the trigger.
I lower the Upland Ultra Light with one hand,pull the trigger BECAUSE I CAN WITH THIS GUN and bird falls. He never gained more than four feet of altitude in his attempted flight to safety.
I honestly do not think I could accomplish the same feat with any other shotgun. I’ve shot many over the last couple years. Upland Ultra Light is designed to withstand the harshest conditions and perform every time you pulled the trigger in the lightest package possible. It has for me.
Another great experience. All three guns used were CZs. 20 gauge Ringneck and Bobwhite were the classics to my modern 12 gauge Ultra Light. My performance improved with increased fatigue. Sometimes you need to take the edge off to perform better. Same things happened during my playing career. Your mind could be your biggest ally or the biggest enemy.
Well the next day on Thanksgiving this great week continued. My daughter was exercising her horses in the indoor arena adjacent to several hundred if not thousands of acres of open land. Thanksgiving or not, the animals need their exercise. She was riding and I decided to take the dogs for few miles of hiking. The open space is old ranch with dried up creek bottoms full of vegetation. I’ve gone here before and saw tracks from rabbits,coyotes to elk and mule deer.
My dogs look like hunting dogs but they are nothing like the dogs we had in Riggins. Andy Savage from Heaven’s Gate Outfitters has some hunting dogs. Ours are just rescues from all over the Wyoming,Idaho region. Hiking with them gives you less of a chance to see wildlife than taking a tour bus through Times Square. They have fun and I still try to track some animals. Few inches of snow always gives you a chance to asses what is happening in the area. I saw lot of fresh deer tracks. Herd of does,I thought, but I kept seeing single,bigger deer track about 100 yards away from the rest. I slowed down,dogs were gone somewhere. This was my chance. I turn around the big,thick timber and see six does sunning themselves. I quietly moved along the single track not to disturb their siesta. Keep following the track into the even thicker willow patch and spot a magnificent,mature buck. Unreal,I’m fifty yards from him and all he’s concerned with is where his chosen doe was. They are in the midst of mating ritual where the buck chooses a doe and they spent couple days not far from the rest of the herd but in their own world. My dogs returned from chasing what was very likely a “huge” chipmunk and ended the serenity. It was an another incredible moment during this year’s fall.
Our plan for the day after Thanksgiving was to head out to the last section open for elk hunt,cow only. Bull season ended at the end of october. As we driving,checking the boundaries of National Elk Refuge and National Forrest we see something way ahead of us. The elk herd moving into the refuge,antelopes or mountain goats. All of those species I’ve seen more than once this fall. No it was a herd of famous Bighorn sheep with some very mature and muscular males amongst them. We stopped and admired not only the Rams but the country we live in making this all possible. The elk cow hunt became somewhat anticlimactic at this time. It is not a really hunt,you just wait and hope that you see shootable cow before they enter the Refuge boundary. Not for us. We like hunting up in the mountains that provide bigger challenge than we can handle at times. Guns in the car,plenty of ammo(it is Wyoming,we have guns in the truck most days,never know when you feel like being American) we can still go plinking.
We ended up on a nice ridge shooting lot of clays,going through ton of .22 rounds and having a great time.
Time to give thanks.
To our founding fathers for the United States of America Constitution. Freedom of assembly(dinner with friends)freedom of speech(we talked about anything we wanted) and freedom of expression(hunting as a hobby) are our constitutional rights along with the Right to bear arms. Don’t you forget to stand up for it every chance you get. I sure will not.
Some people will read this and think it’s little bit of a stretch to compare dinner with friends with right to free assembly. I for one do not think so. My past or especially my family’s past are the subtle reminders not everyone will always enjoy the same freedoms.
To great individuals who initiated conservation,especially Theodore Roosevelt,the world’s most famous hunter. They showed us the way to balance conservation and hunting in the same land. We all need do our part. Restoring trails,cleaning up streams is a small part of it. Holding people accountable to respect what belongs to all of us is the harder,more important part.
There is so many thanks to give but my writing hand is getting really tired. Just kidding. Nobody writes with a pen anymore.
I’m in the middle of Gene Hill’s book called Listening walk …. and other stories. This book makes me realize there is many much better shooters,hunters,fishermen than I and Gene ever will be but very few of them can match our love for the outdoors.