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Bird-Hunting Heaven
Snow, Porcupines Don't Dampen The Montana Experience

Tuesday, November 04, 2008
by John Johnson

My annual trip to northeastern Montana to hunt pheasants, sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge is over. Too bad for me there's not a chance I'll see as many wild birds the rest of the season here in California as I did on each of my 7 days on the high plains. That's the main reason I plan to move up that way as soon as possible, but ASAP is still a ways off.

Here are some notes from the trip:

> On my fourth October venture to that region, I finally experienced a major weather event. Six inches of snow fell in the 24-hour period that started at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11 (the Montana pheasant opener). On Sunday, my friend Chris Riesen and I hunted in a major blizzard, with the wind blowing at least 25 mph out of the east.

We found lots of pheasants (and a few sharptails) in a couple of shelterbelts on the northern and eastern side of a big CRP field. They also holed up in buckbrush and other types of woody cover as they rode out the storm. It was a miserable day to be outside both for humans and other animals but we'd driven too far and spent too much on fuel to sit it out.

Photo: Chris Riesen
Kota, a 1-year-old pointer adopted from South Korea, pointed and held both pheasants and sharptail grouse on her first visit to Montana.

> Those Montana pheasants usually run like jackrabbits even on opening day, before they've experienced any human hunting pressure. But for a reason unknown to me, on the second day after the storm, they opted to sit tight and forced you to nearly step on them before they'd take flight.

In a stroke of pure luck, that was the day I chose to let Kota (a 1-year-old pointer adopted from South Korea) make her Montana debut. Her point tally for the day was six roosters, at least that many hens, three sharptails and a Hun, and she was rock solid on every one. She even made a retrieve of at least 150 yards on a wing-tipped rooster.

In terms of pure enjoyment and the stuff that produces long-lasting memories, I rank it as one of the 2 best days I've had in Montana and one of the 5 best of my bird-hunting career.

> Thanks to the generosity of a landowner we've become friendly with, we had more birdy-looking ground to hunt than we could cover in a week. We met the guy last year, and when we approached him to ask about the possibility of chasing some birds, his first inclination was to run us off his property as fast as he could. He ranted for a good 15 minutes about the travesties that unauthorized hunters had committed on his land.

We still don't know why he had the change of heart toward us and let us hunt his rooster-laden creek bottom that day, and neither does he. I can say that he's like a lot of people whose families have worked the same ground for generations if you give him your word that you'll treat his land with respect and leave it better than you found it, he might give you a chance. And if you make good on it, he might give you another chance.

I can't identify him here he made it clear that first day that we'd "better not tell another bleeping soul that it was me who let you do this." Just like my vow to respect his property, that's a promise I'll make good on.

> That landowner was also kind enough to show us his Parker Brothers side-by-side that had been passed down from his grandfather to his father, and then to him. His grandfather had acquired it from a shop in the late 1940s it didn't have a price tag on it, but was on a shelf near some other guns marked at $100. The shop owner wasn't around, but after some discussion, the clerk decided that he could let it go for a C-note.

Photo: ShotgunFan
These Montana roosters were riding out a blizzard in the shelterbelt at the top left of the photo.

After the deal had been consummated, the owner showed up and found out what the clerk had done. He offered the guy's grandfather double his money back, but no dice.

Why can't I stumble into a deal like that?

> I'd heard that a lot of dogs don't learn their lesson from their first encounter with a porcupine, and I found out that's true. Mazie, my 4-year-old English setter, got a snoot full of quills for the second time in three trips up there.

It was the end of the week. Almost all of the snow had melted and the temperature was 65 degrees. A lot of creatures were out and about in the warm, sunny weather we even saw a couple of snakes on the road.

Mazie just couldn't let old Porky go about his own business she had to try to catch him. At least no veterinarian visit was required this time I was able to remove all of the quills with the pliers on my Leatherman tool, which I've never gone afield without since the first porcupine incident in '06.

With her face still a bloody mess, she came across another one on the way back to the truck she flash-pointed and started creeping toward it. I have no doubt that she would've tried to catch that one too had I not pulled her away by her ID collar.

She was also wearing an electronic collar, and I missed an opportunity to give her some "Edison medicine" that might've cured the problem once and for all. I just didn't think of it quickly enough my mind was focused on the potential of another nightmarish quill-pulling session.

Oh well, I'm sure I'll get another chance.

John Johnson is ShotgunFan's editor.

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