Firelight Bird Dogs

Firelight Bird Dogs

Thursday, October 25, 2012


The winds were howling and the forecast called for a low of 12 degrees with a wind chill below zero. Highs might break into the 30's and there was snow on the steps as we got up to exercise the dogs. Mike, a man full of surprises, said, "what would you think of leaving MT this morning and going down to Nebraska? Their phez and quail season open on Saturday.". Done deal. As I type this we are in South Dakota, headed for southwest Nebraska. On the road again.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coffee's on

Coffee's on, our days start early

From our warm bed we can often see the sunrise out the (dusty) back window

We hunt most every day but we did take a couple of days off and just relaxed by Fort Peck Lake

It was good to swim the dogs there....especially the couple who had met up with one of this guys buddies while hunting a couple of days before

A serious windstorm later that week covered fences with tumbleweeds

That same storm brought rain which made a mess of the roads and the rig

Mud and our camper are not the only things to watch for on the roads

The reflection in the windshield is of some of the permission slips and maps from the Block Management Areas that we hunt

The prairie sunsets help us to wrap up our busy days

We fall into bed pretty tired, yet happy

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Friday, October 19, 2012


A storm with wicked wind and rain blew in earlier this week. The rain was very welcome in this drought stricken area but the 40+ mph winds with gusts over 60 mph rocked the Open Range and sent us into town for refuge. A white knuckle drive in on slick mud roads with our 50' rig left us happy to be off the prairie for a day. But yesterday the winds had calmed a little so off we went. Our destination was a remote area with dry creek beds and ravines, or coulees as they are known here, to hunt out of the wind.

Pheasants in this area are wild and not widely known about. Their population can vary widely due to winter conditions and such. Just last evening a rancher whose family homesteaded his ranch back in 1911 told us that there are not many of those "Chinese pheasants" around. He had obviously not been on our hunt that same day not far from his home.

It was one of those days when everything went well. All of the dogs had multiple finds and points and we gunners tried hard to do right by them. So far I have carried only the small p&s camera so the photography has not been great but I managed a few snapshots. In this type of terrain most pics of points look something like this. Stickers had Storm's ears pinned to the back of her head.

Retrieve pics aren't much better. Raleigh delivering a rooster to Mike.

It takes a persistence to get these birds pinned and you have to deal with some rough terrain.

The birds would often sneak up draws as they saw/heard us approach and the dogs did a great job of trailing and pinning a number of them. Tweed trailed some birds about 50 yards up into a draw; point, stalk, point, stalk.

Mike and Jack swung over our way and when I moved in above Jack's point near the top of that same draw 2 roosters popped out, I dropped one and Tweed made the retrieve.

This particular draw topped out onto a modest stretch of grass before a huge oat field began. It was late and we were ready to head to the truck when Jack snapped on point toward some grasses at the fields edge. After Mike approached he relocated a couple of times before freezing, pinning the running bird. Knowing that he had nowhere to go, a large rooster burst out and Mike dropped it nicely. The spurs on this bird were much longer than on the roo that I had shot back in the draw: the older birds are much better at escape but he had met his match in Jack.

At this point Mike had shot his limit of pheasant plus had dropped a Hun earlier. We have been passing up on sharptails but he shot one on the way back to the truck to complete a hard-earned trifecta of 3 species from one cover in a day.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012


There are basically 4 species of upland birds to hunt here in eastern Montana: sharptail grouse, Hungarian partridge (huns), pheasant, and sage grouse. Birds seem to be in good numbers and are scattered across the vast countryside. Each hunter seems to have their favorite species and for different reasons.

Sharptail are the most frequently seen birds. Even driving down the road it is common for a group to flush in front of the truck and fly into a field. Early season (September) sharptails are usually scattered plentifully and can provide good training experience for dogs. At this time, late October, there are no grasshoppers and the sharptail have bunched up for winter around here and are now very difficult to get them pinned. Sharptail are easy to shoot and, as I learned, easy to drop with a single shot. They make you feel good as a shooter. However, their meat is dark and bloody and not our favorite so we do not focus on them.

Pheasant are always fun birds to shoot. We will be focusing on them ( and quail) later in Kansas. But here in MT they seem to be scattered in modest numbers. I was very surprised to learn that Montana has an aggressive stocking program and the F&G website provides a map of the release sites. Certain areas of the state, such as the Plentywood area, are particularly heavily stocked/released and many hunters are drawn there for the large number of phez that can be found as a result. Neither of us is interested in hunting released birds so we have not gone up there but have enjoyed the occasional encounters we have since they are good eating.

Sage grouse are a challenging bird, both for their habits and habitat. Sage is their food source and are found in areas that are often very rough and rocky. We have not yet headed to any sage grouse areas and may run out of time up here before doing so this year. Mike says they are very good to eat, I guess I'll have to wait until next year to find out.

Huns. Oh yeah. They are fun! These birds are smaller than a grouse but larger than a quail. They are a covey bird and when they flush they make a surprising screeching noise. They are true survivalists and wicked smart. When they flush the covey stays tight together and flies very low over or around the nearest hill or terrain before landing and can be difficult to locate again. I think that these are best tasting birds here and we are really focusing on them. It is important to not shoot more than a couple from a group to not put the groups survival at risk. Mike has hunted these birds a lot and we have been pretty successful in locating groups and especially in relocating after flushing. We call this schooling by these little birds "Hun-ology" and I am an eager student.

The spot where I shot my first Hun

"Got 'em, Jack?"

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Where the deer and the antelope.....have died off

A disease called Blue-tongue has drastically reduced the number of antelope and whitetail deer in the region where we have been hunting for the past few days. We have seen only a couple of small herds of antelope where there used to be many. While pheasant hunting some brush I came across what I thought was a cool 8pt skull and antlers in good shape. Mike packed it out and the back of the Open Range has a new adornment.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Montana pheasant are....different

The pheasant season opened here yesterday. We have seen a good number of birds but they have surprised me a bit with where we are finding them. I expected them out in native grass or wheat stubble but instead they play hide-and-seek in brushy, timbered areas, often along waterways. The dogs have them figured out and have been stacking the odds in our favor. It is a lot of fun watching my east coast grouse dogs figure out these big, noisy roosters.

A couple highlights from today were seeing the setter girls each track a rooster a long distance. Tweeds bird ran up onto the edge of a bare bluff and realizing he was in trouble the old, long-tailed bird flushed wild. Storm tracked another rooster into timber and managed to hold him for a good while. Another highlight was when I shot a rooster that flushed out over the river. It splashed down into the river but immediately began to swim to the shore which was thick with heavy grass. Storm ran along the edge, pointed and dropped down into the river where she stood on point in the water, with the still alive bird hiding in the grasses. Raleigh dropped down the embankment also and when we told them to fetch it up he popped over the top with the bird in his mouth. I actually managed to snap a photo as he came up.

Mike has phez on the grill as I type this. Many dinners come off of this cool little grill.

A couple of birds almost table ready. We eat quite well!

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Arrived in Montana

We have arrived in Montana and the reason for the trip has begun. Our timing was perfect weather wise; it has cooled down nicely,in fact our first night here it dropped to 17 degrees. The Open Range passed its first cold test with flying colors, keeping us warm and comfortable. We are dry camping in a small town, parked in a quiet grassy lot that conveniently is 300 yards from a craft Brewery with most excellent beer. Bird hunters: No worries about hot spotting here, this is big country.

Sitting at the bar there we befriended a young man whose bicycle was leaning against the building by the front door. He was from NJ but had been working in Oregon and is presently riding his bike to Chicago to visit his grandmother. We invited him to join us for dinner as Mike grilled the sharptail grouse that I had shot that day and were a first for me. They were delicious! Unfortunately I missed getting a photo of his custom helmet that included a bison head with horns. Really nice, intelligent guy, we wish him the best.


Birds we are seeing include sharptails, pheasant and Huns. My setters are enjoying the freedom of stretching out on the open prairie on their first experience out here. In contrast, this is the 6th trip for Mike's Jack and I have been very impressed with him out in the grasses, that dog is a machine. I carried a camera only briefly so far but plan to have more photos once the novelty wears off a bit. Here are a few random shots.

We are easing into a nice routine of hunting until later in the afternoon and then heading back to camp to relax and cook dinner.

Worf the Sheriff doesn't like the chill but doesn't let that keep him from joining in on the party

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

From heat and drought to snow

This summer the Midwest has suffered a significant drought with record high temps and non-existent precipitation. Everywhere we have gone it has been bone dry dusty and brown.

Grass fires have been happening in many places and the fire spreads quickly due to the winds. This fire was a large one and they closed the road as we pulled up. There was a nice homestead right in the middle of the fire that the trucks had done a great job of protecting. As we sat there talking with a trucker stuck behind us the fire reignited and flames quickly approached us. As we planned how to turn around our 50' rig the firefighters managed to get that part back under control.

We have been taking our time in getting to Montana because it has been so hot and dry there. Last night we visited at a lovely homestead in North Dakota that belongs to a friend. After a wonderful dinner with them we walked out to the Open Range to discover that our wishes for moisture and cool temps had been granted.

Just a couple of inches of snow but temps are to stay in the 40's with teens at night. Perfect.

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