We had a great weekend with our dogs. Got to watch them hunt, saw lots of neat things and learned some things about our dogs.
On Saturday we went out to a pheasant farm that we have been too before. It is great for young dogs or dogs learning to hunt upland birds because the birds are planted, stay until they are flushed and the dog has to use its nose to find them. Also, we really wanted to get Saca some good bird time while she was still young. This Sacajawea eagerly waiting to go.
The regular upland bird season is over so the only choice are the pheasant farms which we have never wanted to go to but had heard really good things about Mr. Baum and his place so it seemed like a good place for the dogs to get some real bird hunting. We usually buy 10 birds and he puts 6 out on the other side of a creek down in brushy areas where they stay until the dogs smell them and flush them out.
We hunt Saca first in the creek area because there are more birds and it is a little easier terrain. On Christmas eve morning, she got 5 of the 6 birds up. It was her first time with lots of birds in the area and having to sort old scent from the new birds.
The other 4 birds are hidden up on a hill, again in thick brushy patches. On Christmas eve we took Freezy and Ruger up there. Ruger made an awesome point, Pat shot the bird and Ruger took off on a run back to the car. He loves to go, to find the birds but hates the sound of guns and as hard as we have tried we have not been able to help him with that. I think he learned it in a bird training class when he was not yet a year old. I have since come to dislike that trainer’s methods.
So this past Saturday we went in the afternoon. Again, 6 birds on the creek side and Mr. Baum put 5 on top because we had not found the 6th bird in the creek area last time.
It was very windy and the vegetation very dry; not great conditions for a young, inexperienced dog. But Saca was her eager self and hunted hard but could only get up 3 birds. Pat and I were puzzled and thought maybe the wind had spooked some of the birds out. We decided I would stay there with Saca and hunt some more and Pat would go get Freezy (we felt that Ruger would be scared to go with him and would be less anxious in the car alone than trying to take him out on a leash, forcing him to do something that clearly terrified him. We feel sad for him because he does love to hunt but his anxiety just overcomes him).
Saca and I hunted another hour but we still could not find the other 3 birds so we went back to the car to wait for Pat. We heard him shoot several times and hoped he and Freezy had done well even though we knew the wind would be worse up there. Still Freezy is older with more experience and has an incredible nose.
Soon Pat and Freezy came back. Pat said they had gotten up 4 birds but he thought one was a previous bird that had gotten away since it was down deep in the aspens under a juniper tree and Mr. Baum always says he sets the birds out on top in the brush patches.
So we were a little disappointed but Pat had some exciting news. He said, “Carlene, Freezy pointed every bird!” She too has never had a chance to hunt anything but a few running birds but these birds hold and she had pointed them! Pat said she would not hold the point for very long but long enough for him to get a shot when she flushed the bird and then she was off to retrieve it. He said she was super excited by it all. We were very excited because her pointing is natural. You pay big bucks for what breeders call pointing labs. She must have learned it in our training but I can’t quite remember how.
We decided to take both Freezy and Saca over to the creek area to see if they could find the other 3 birds. But, that did not work very well; Saca thought it was more fun to chase Freezy who was running too fast to really scent any birds. And when she did stop and put her head down like she had a bird, Saca would see her and run over to where she was and jump in. Maybe as Saca matures she and Freezy will be able to hunt together but not that day!
When got back to the car and had put the guns away, we let Ruger out for some run/play with the girls. Then, as the sun sat, we headed home after one of our favorite kind of days.
On Sunday we went up to Freezeout Lake after hearing there were about 1500 Canada geese and waterfowl season goes until 15 January. Also, we were still hoping to see a snowy owl and there have been several reports of them up there.
We drove around to see what was where. There were a few honkers on the lake so we knew there were still many out feeding. Only part of the lake was open, the deeper part that can blow open when the temperature gets above freezing and the 20-40mph winds blow the ice out so the honkers had a big place to sit.
About then we saw a flock coming back in. They were pushing a 20+ mph wind so were dropping low. Pat let me out of the car with my shotgun and I hurried down to the edge of the lake and hid behind a bush but I was too late, the birds had passed by and were landing in with the others on open water.
We had decided I would stay there and wait for more birds while Pat took the dogs to an area where we have seen pheasants and walk them but not carry a gun since the upland season was over.
We have spent so much time at Freezeout Lake, mostly hunting waterfowl with Freezy. But in the afternoon when the birds are back from feeding and are resting on the lake we walk for pheasants. The area has had a very poor pheasant population for several years. Some predation gets the eggs and the pheasants that do make it through fall, cannot tolerate the winters.
Sometimes we will find a hen that will hold and allow the dogs to flush it but you can only shoot roosters. And they are very smart; will often start running as soon as you get out of the car. The dogs will cut their trail and take off after them. Freezy is exceptionally good at following them and finally flushing them up, but by then they are too far out to shoot. Ruger hunts slower and is a pointer so he figures once he points a bird will come up but of course it is no longer there and he takes off after Freezy but by then she is way ahead and flushes the bird.
We have decided that FL is Ruger’s favorite hunting place. He never hesitates to get out of the car and go with us. Sometimes he will stop and head back to the car but this fall we started treating him when we whistled and he came back. He likes it because there are birds he can scent and follow but we rarely get a shot at one. So he had a great time yesterday and it was fun watching all 3 dogs crossing back and forth in front of Pat searching for scent. But they never found a single bird which is really amazing. The few left must be hanging around farms where they can get food and more shelter.
Meanwhile I am still sitting by the lake. I saw another flock coming and it looked like it would come right over me but the SW wind made them drift just enough that though they were only about 20 yards up, they were about 100 yards to my left. So I decided to move over there hoping the next flock would follow their path. But if honkers are anything it is unpredictable and the next flock came over where I had been sitting!
By then they were all in and I went up to the road and started walking to where I thought Pat and the dogs might be. He saw me and came to pick me up. I told him what had happend and we laughed about how those big black birds rarely do what we expect.
We drove around some more and saw a swan sitting on the ice! We figured it must be wounded or had died and frozen in the sitting position with its head tucked behind a wing. We watched it and could see no movement so we decided Freezy and I would walk out at close as we could. I carried my shotgun since I still had a swan tag. But we figured if it was alive it would be wounded and I would just finish it off and take it home to feed to the dogs.
Just as Freezy and I got as close as we could, the bird’s head came up, she walked off the ice, into the water and then flapped her wings and took off. She was flying slowly, and very low. She made a swing around out across the grassy area and I thought she would pile up in there. Pat was watching her with his binoculars and she kept flying low and slow and in a big circle back to the lake and landed on the ice. When we drove by she was again sitting down with her legs tucked into her belly feathers and her head tucked back under a wing.
Even though she can still fly, it is obvious she is hurt inside enough that she cannot migrate and will probably die in the storm that is coming today. Pat and I decided later that she was a trumpeter swan rather than a tundra swan which are the ones that mostly come through the area. That made it even sadder that she was not going to survive.
Pat took the dogs out for another long walk and then they came back and eagerly told me it was time for “cookies”. They got some Flint River Ranch trout/sweet potato wafers, some Cranimal cookies, and then best of all, a couple pieces of jerky and a big drink of water.
We drove up the lake while talking about whether to stay for the evening flight or head home. And then Pat spotted a snowy owl sitting on an ice ridge out in the lake! It was a beautiful female with lots of black feathers and we got to watch her for a long time.
When we lived in ND we used to see snowy owls all the time in the winter but then gradually not many and when we moved to MT we never saw any. So this was the first snowy we had seen in about 38 years!
Last week Pat talked to a biologist who bands snowy owls up in the Arctic. He said the reason so many came down the US states (some as far as Kansas) was because of a bumper lemming crop. That meant lots of food and virtually every snowy clutch hatched. As their population increased and they cleaned out the lemmings they were forced to come south to find food.