After a skunk on Sage Grouse in North Park we headed for the high country to see if we could redeem ourselves on Ptarmigan. I had never hunted them before and wasn’t sure what to expect.
The country where these birds live is magnificent and ruggedly beautiful. Well above the tree line, the vistas and views are breathtaking. Had we not seen any birds, the hike alone would have been worth the effort.
This is a different kind of hunt. Most upland game birds stay well concealed in the bush and when you get close (and sometimes when you aren’t close at all) they flush providing an opportunity to exercise your finely tuned wing shooting skills. Not these guys. They sit out in the open and watch you approach with only casual interest. You can look at the covey and count them, pick out the one you want, take a picture and then push into them to get them to fly. Some will take off, which is fun, but others will just run a bit and then sit and watch.
Ptarmigan are beautiful and delicate creatures. They are much smaller than I expected. Their bodies are about the size of a large dove but their thick coat of down and feathers make them look larger. In hand they are incredibly soft and feel almost mushy. I don’t think they put out much scent or at least scent that dogs associate with game birds. Bird dog Rio never really lock up on them and the points we did get were sight points, I think. We had 10 or so right in front of us and she paid them little mind, she was off looking for something else. Possibly the altitude has something to do with that or maybe I had a defective dog.
We had a good time hiking at the top of the world but the hunting was not as challenging as hoped. Possibly if we hadn’t found birds in the first 30 minutes and had hiked all day I would have a different story. The biggest challenge on this hunt was to not scar an expensive shotgun as we negotiated some very rough terrain while operating on 25% less oxygen. We lucked out with perfect weather (a week later all this was under a foot of snow) and it was certainly great to be out there. Ptarmigan have been added to the annual hunt calendar.
These birds are perfectly camouflaged for their world. If they didn’t move it would be easy to miss them.
This year it was a perfectly comfortable morning for the opening of dove season in northern Colorado. The day heated up fast but remained pleasant and bug-free if you stayed in the shade. We topped out in the mid-90s, which is hot for us but pretty nice compared to our sweaty friends in states south of us who hunted in 100+ degrees. Hope they kept their dogs watered.
In Colorado there is a reliable and unfortunate pattern to the dove migration around opening day. We see dove everywhere all summer long – perched on wires, cooing on roof tops, swooping from tree to tree and pooping on my truck – but sometime a week or so before 9/1 they disappear. This is usually attributed to a late August cold snap but this year it was hot up to the 1st and yet their pattern of disappearance still held true. I had not seen a dove for a week when we headed out on Thursday morning. We hunted with the nice folks at Longmeadow. They have about 4,000 acres and have built a really nice event center about an hour and a half northeast of Denver.
Though the number of birds were greatly diminished from a week or two ago, there were still plenty around for us to get our limit, which we did before lunch. It was not what you would call solid white hot action but there were times when we had more birds coming in than we could handle. It was a great start to the bird hunting season.
My hunting buddy enjoying a morning of truancy.
“Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air . . . ”
A limit of pheasants taken with the Beretta 470.
A pair of Sage Grouse hens and a Spanish sidelock in the North Park of Colorado.
Since turkeys are birds, hunting them must qualify as “bird hunting” but if you ask me its much more like hunting big game. Head-to-toe in camo you sneak into the woods, sit perfectly still and then when you get a tom in range you shoot him in the face with a shotgun. No flushing coveys, no dogs, no talking. Just like deer hunting except the spring weather is beautiful and later you get to de-tick your balls.
Joking aside, hunting turkeys is a blast. Being in the woods at day break holds its own magic – song birds erupt, a distant maniacal yelping of a coyote pack, the ungraceful crashing of a turkey flock coming off the roost and then the stirring, booming gobble of a courting tom. Exciting stuff.
Here is a Texas Rio Grande Tom, bizarre but beautifully iridescent. Talk to Mike Wyatt at First Shot Outfitters for a terrific Texas turkey hunt.
Today is bird dog Rio’s birthday. It has been a wonderful 6 years. We miss her puppy days, as destructive as they were at times, but now she is at her bird hunting peak and sweet as pie.
Whoever said “Money can’t buy happiness” never bought a puppy!
Weather, moisture in particular, drives quail population more than anything else. If you hunt quail in west Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico or southern Arizona, this graph is a total bummer.
Also, Texas is on fire . . .
Cost and time effective, the hunting preserve provides an accessible escape for the time-strapped hunter. The shortcomings of a staged event are offset by the opportunity to get the dogs on birds and let them enjoy a morning practicing their art. Most compelling is that a bunch of points are a sure thing. Like finding a date at a strip club, the game is abundant as long as the $20s hold out. Last sunday we hit a perfect morning at Kiowa Creek Sporting Club and captured these shots.
We love West Texas quail hunting for a lot of reasons but mostly because we get to hunt behind these beautiful pointers. I can’t imagine hunting without them. Below are some of the superb animals at First Shot Outfitters. These are hardworking dogs, tools of the trade who spend their lives doing exactly what they were put on earth to do. I can’t think of a place I would rather be than walking up on one of these puppies pointing the way to old Bob.
West Texas Bobwhite quail have pink faces from feasting on prickly pear cactus. These cocks were taken southwest of Sweetwater on a perfect December morning.
While freezing in a Colorado pit blind, waiting for waves of geese to show up, the sun peeks over the horizon behind us and illuminates these ice-covered trees.
Click to launch.
Wild west Texas Bobs and the Garbi shotgun. The title sounds like a magazine I’d like to get.
Smooth, clean kill. Maybe letting that bird get out another 10 yards would not have been a bad thing.
The group shot – smiling hunters, bristling with arms and standing behind a pile of dead animals often results in a common, uninspired picture. But occasionally things work out as with this pic from the 2007 pheasant season. This was taken by the farmer, not much posing or photographic technique other than point and shoot. Pure luck.
click to launch for a better view