The idea that what goes around comes around can be captured in the simple word Karma. Go ahead and scoff if that hocus pocus doesn’t sit well with you, but Karma isn’t magic and bird hunting karma is definitely real. I believe that in the field, if you opt for what is right, even though it’s not always easy or convenient, there will be a bigger payoff down the road.
Nearly a week ago I ran into a dry spell. Wyatt, my black lab hunting partner and I had not flushed a bird in three days. We had driven over 900 miles and walked through dozens of fields and had not seen a single gamebird. We’ve had tough hunting before, but this was the driest of spells in recent memory.
In the hope that we could get back on birds, we moved camp (Wyatt doesn’t really help much with the moving process, but he gives me someone to talk to while I break down the gear).
The following morning I selected a section to hunt sight unseen. I just wanted to get in the field and walk until Wyatt flushed something besides Meadow Larks.
Not long after 8 AM we started hiking a typical prairie grass section, into the sun and with the wind hoping that when we made the turn hunting into the wind we’d get on the birds. About a half-mile from the car at the top of a hill Wyatt began to get interested. Despite his upwind position he was working well. At least we were back on bird scent. We walked another 250 yards, the entire time he was working birds. He was to my left, upwind, when I flushed a single Sharptail at less than 10 steps. I pulled up on that bird, put the bead in front of its head, and let it sail off untouched. Wyatt saw the bird after it swung in front of him and gave me an inquisitive look. After not seeing a bird for three days, I did not shoot a bird in the wheelhouse because my dog didn’t flush it. Is that a written rule? No. That is a sportsman’s rule. And when you are hunting especially with a flushing dog, they need to believe that they are part of the game. Shoot too many birds that they don’t flush and they will begin to get the idea that their job is something else.
We continued hunting in the same area with Wyatt performing like a champ both up and downwind. In the next 45 minutes I had shot our limit, bringing four spectacular birds to hand, one a blind retrieve, and one a 55 yard shot that made me look over my shoulder to see if somebody else was shooting backup.
Karma. Still doubting, stick with me, you’ll be a believer.
Fast forward a few days. We arrive at first light at a block to begin the day’s hunt. Record high temps are forecast so we want to get an early start. In a few hours it’s going to be too hot for the black dog to run. On the way to the section we intend to hunt we rouse Sharptail right from the road, so the prospects are good that we are in the right spot. I sign in at the permission box and then figure I’ll drive over the hill to the south just to see what we are in for. As I crest a knoll I look east and there is a big mule deer buck silhouetted in the morning sun. I’m just about to pull out the binoculars when a red pickup pulls along side. The window comes down and a young man in camo head-to-toe asks simply “you going after those?”. Nope, I’m a birdhunter.
We discuss matters for a few more minutes. I know that the wind is favorable for a sneak on these deer. I weigh my options. The property is big, I could certainly hunt north of these deer and give this youngster a chance at arrowing one of these five bucks gathered on this hillside. But that doesn’t sit right with me. I signed in before this guy, I have every right to hunt this property… but it just didn’t seem right. Trying to stalk a mule deer with a stick and string is a tough game. So I told him to go ahead and hunt. I would move along to other blocks north of our location. Upon that word, he showed me on a map three additional places to bird hunt. He was a local, he knows the area.
I drive north to the area I intended to hunt in lieu of giving up my previous spot. I open the permission box to sign in and am greeted with a “no bird hunting” note. You have got to be kidding me! The next possible area to hunt was 10+ miles up the road and the temperatures are already climbing to a point where Wyatt was going to be challenged. But Ok, we drive on.
We arrive and sign in at the next box, it is a monstrous ranch, over 19,000 acres. The one caveat, written permission is needed to drive the lane through the property, otherwise you are hunting from the fringes. Guess what? I have no cell service. I proceed up the hill, get one bar, jump out and stand on the car to get a second bar. Rang the owner on a second number, he happens to be at the house and if I show up in the next little bit he would permit me to drive his property.
I get to the house- it was a three mile lane from the mailbox- and am greeted by an old rancher fueling up one of those farm trucks, the kind that’s rusted to the skeleton but is somehow still kicking. He signs our permission slip, but asks if I might be willing to help him out. It’s 10 AM by now, the temperature already pushing 80. We had another hour before Wyatt would be out of the game.
But of course I’m helping out, this guy reminds me of my grandpa. And I wouldn’t trade any kind of hunting for just a minute more with him. So over the next hour I help him jump start a tractor with the farm truck that has no brakes left and a bungie cord for a door latch, I take a gander at his plane that he’s flown for the last 55 years around his ranch. And we talk about his wife who has Parkinson’s and is in full-time care, dying. Years ago my granddad died of Parkinson’s. The words he shares of his wife’s condition bring back memories. This disease is ugly.
When I finally start to hunt, it’s already too hot. 15 minutes out of the truck and Wyatt is looking for water. We soldier on. As we turn into the wind the black lab gets birdy right where the old rancher has told us to go. I see some long flushing Sharptail. We continue on and within 100 yards, a covey of Huns jumps. Still out of range, but we have been searching for partridge for a month with no luck. I mark them down and we continue pursuit. We flush another covey of Huns, once again long. Wyatt and I keep working into the wind but these partridge have us running in circles. He is at the edge of overheating, so I decide to turn back toward the car, with the wind and away from the quarry.
Just seeing Huns is a big moment for us. As we proceed to the vehicle, I angle us for where the first covey lost us. Wyatt picks up their scent right where I expect although his tongue is now dragging the ground. Somehow the birds are still there, and although they flush at the edge of range, I pull up on the last flushing bird and manage to scratch it down. Wyatt brings it to hand with some coaxing.
It is 90 degrees and I have the chills.
I meet the rancher on the way out of his property and I tell him of my adventures. This is my first Hun, ever.
He’s going to visit his wife tomorrow, but I have permission to hunt his property as I choose. He tells me where I might find some Sage Grouse on his land.
I will never forget this day. I drive away feeling so fortunate. I hope that young fellow arrowed his mule deer this morning. And I hope another young fellow finds a cure for Parkinson’s. Bird hunting karma. Believe.