Pheasant Hunters - Charles
It's January 31 and another great pheasant hunting season with the Club has come to an end.
Tj (my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) lay curled on the passenger seat as I drove across Kansas on our way home last night. I realized she had hardly moved over the last hundred miles. I stroked her shoulder and, without lifting her head, she moaned her pained approval
I felt that same fatigue, as well as many pains of my own. My right knee, which had been hyper extended and damaged 35 years ago, was aching. The surgery 3 years ago had helped, but hunting every weekend since late October had again taken a toll.
I felt satisfied and ready for the off-season, although I would never admit that to my wife. It's important for her to believe that hunting is an obsession over which I have little control. Our lives together just go more smoothly that way.
I reflected on TJ's development over her four hunting seasons. The first year had been almost magical. In her enthusiasm for the field she had overrun and flushed a lot of birds, but once on point, she was staunch and her retrieves were to hand without fail.
To the degree that the first year was great, the second season was disastrous. She became what my father called an 80-acre dog. Once released to hunt, she would clear 80 acres of CRP of any fur or fowl without regard to her hunting partner (me). She stopped being a pointer and became strictly a flusher and chaser. After getting what turned out to be good advise, I followed her across the 3 states of the Club's leases carrying my unloaded shotgun. The advise had been simply: "don't shoot anything TJ doesn't point." By the end of the second season, she was again pointing. We had survived the year of adolescence.
TJ's third season was one of great progress. She began to block running pheasants. It was not unusual to see her "get birdy and track for a short distance." She would then circle 30-40 yards down and across the wind with her nose high. It was wonderful to watch and appreciate.
This year, her tracking of wounded birds was a highlight. On a recent hunt, she tracked a wing-tipped rooster over a quarter of a mile across a light CRP field. As she pranced back with the pheasant held high, I was so pleased and proud.
As we drove through the Flint Hills, I reflected on what I had gained and learned from the year. It could be summed up with the picture I've attached and the phrase: "Happiness is a mixed bag of birds, getting the last mile from a pair of good boots, and sip of well-aged bourbon."
We wish you all a peaceful off-season.
Charles and TJ
Jon, John, Shawn and the rest of the unsung heroes of the MAHA:
As the traditional fall seasons wind down, thank you for another great year of hunting. TJ (our 5-year old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) and I were fortunate to be able to hunt nearly every weekend (and a lot of weekdays) since late October and we'll continue walking the fields of Kansas until the end of January. TJ continues to amaze me with her naturally developed abilities, especially on these late season roosters. I read one time that "the training of bird dogs is best left to the birds." Don't get me wrong; we need to help our dogs understand "Come" and "Sit" so they’ll be more pleasant around the house. And "Whoa" is necessary to avoid a dangerous or smelly (e.g. skunk) situation; but beyond that, exposure to birds is all that is needed to develop a good dog. The more time I spend with TJ in the field the more this lesson rings true. My sympathy goes out to those upland members without a four legged hunting partner. In the spring we'll be welcoming a WPG puppy to our home. I'm confident that by this time next year, much of what I thought I knew as a dog-handler will have been challenged. The learning never stops.
This year the duck hunting was somewhat disappointing for us. Throughout October and early November, I kept burning up the phone lines to family and friends in North Dakota and the answer was always the same: "Very little migration so far...ducks are still in Canada." Then the tough weather hit up there and the birds headed south, but it seemed we had the northern birds here in Missouri for only a couple weeks, and much of that time our ponds were froze up. Next year, I plan to do more field hunting. I have a friend in North Dakota who only field hunts ducks. He told me they set out 5 spinning wing decoys (no others) and the mallards pour in. I'd be interested in hearing in the updates pages about success or challenges from other club members who are field hunting for waterfowl.
Jon and John, I have always been impressed with the hunting land you arrange for the members. But you also do a great job of attracting and keeping good members. TJ and I met several folks this year and each time it was our pleasure. We tried to lure teal and chased pheasants with Ed and his black lab from Kansas City; we joined up with father-son combo Chris and Charles (along with their yellow lab) from Georgia for a day of Kansas pheasants ("Charles, the straight-away flying rooster is the toughest shot for me as well"). I sat with two Floridian, long-time, hunting partners, Robin and Ben, in a duck blind in Missouri and witnessed their well-developed and playful hunt-rituals. For example, when Ben stepped out of the blind to relieve himself, Robin poked me in the ribs and with a smile warned urgently: "Ben...ducks...get down." And at 9:00AM exactly, cookies and Diet Cokes were announced, distributed and savored. It was as precise as English Morning Tea.
Another day, I shared that same blind with Mark. There was 2 inches of ice on the water that morning. I was wheezing like an asthmatic in a dust storm after struggling to free a patch of water the size of our kitchen table, while Mark (whom I later learned was a Kansas City Firefighter) smashed the ice on a stretch as big as most folks' back yards (Note to self: "improve physical conditioning or always hunt with Mark").
The opening of Missouri's pheasant/quail season provided another example of the quality of the membership. A true gentleman had arrived at a choice piece on a small farm just before us and then graciously offered to let us join him for the hunt. Encountering sports men and women of this caliber adds so much to the hunt.
I have only two constructive critiques for management this coming year.
1) Jon and John, please ensure an early freeze-up in Canada and the northern portions of the flyways, while maintaining moderate temps and low cloud cover for us here in Missouri/Kansas/Iowa.
2) Shawn, when I call for a reservation in the future, in addition to your pleasant voice and helpful demeanor, please warn me of any skunks scheduled to wander those particular properties on those particular days. TJ got into a disagreement with a skunk around Thanksgiving; despite numerous hydrogen-peroxide and baking soda baths, when she gets damp that black and white critter's calling card still lingers (albeit) faintly.
Your prompt attention to these matters will be appreciated.
Again, thank you all for all you do so well. I've included a couple pictures of TJ doing the things she does well.
Charles & TJ
Staff of MAHA,
Thank you so much for another great year of hunting. Given the continuing (and even worsening) drought in Kansas last fall, I know it was a challenging year to maintain the land quality in the western part of our hunting range that we members have grown accustomed to. I'm predominantly an upland hunter so it was disappointing to see several properties with severely stunted CRP growth this year that in the past have been solid bird producers. Although the moisture we've gotten in the form of freezing rain these past several weeks may take a toll on the immediate bird population, maybe it also signals the end of the drought. That bodes well for our farmer-partners, the habitat and game conservation in the long run.
It was also a challenging year for our hunting party of three. TJ of Plum Creek, our six year old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, had to tolerate the arrival of a pesty Griffon puppy in July. Actually Berkano of Hundgaard (aka Berk) arrived at our home accompanied by three of her whiskered sisters. As a member of a Griffon breeding club I was transporting the three extra Griffs for the first leg of their journey to new homes further west. So these four yowling and nipping puppies descended on TJ that day and immediately set about chasing her around HER yard, chewing on HER belongings and (heaven forbid) even pooping in HER yard. Within an hour, she had gathered all HER toys and bones into a pile in the far corner of the back yard where she guarded them aggressively (to say the least). As those of us who have younger siblings know full well: getting dethroned sucks.
I tried to make it through one more hunting season on a wobbly knee, a decision which resulted in me literally crawling my way through the end of the early prairie chicken season and (with surgeons' schedules being what they are), ended up going under the knife on opening day of Kansas pheasant season. What a revolting development for an obsessed rooster hunter.
To top it all off, Berk came up lame in early October and after a month of tests and pain killers was finally diagnosed with bi-lateral osteochondrosis dessicans in her shoulders. She had arthroscopy surgery during the second week of pheasant season to remove excessive cartilage in those joints and had to be crate restricted for 6 weeks. Another revolting development.
Well, we (literally) limped through the early part of the regular season but came on strong down the stretch. TJ seems to have accepted (albeit begrudgingly) Berk's annoying existence. Berk got vet approval to hunt the final three weeks of January and did a beautiful job on some late season roosters (see included pictures of a snowy hunt). And I healed up enough to attempt to keep up with my dogs...a feat that gets more challenging with each passing year.
One of the things I like best about this club is its mission to provide hunting lands for the single on-foot hunter. That structure puts most of us members in our vehicles alone cruising the properties. While I enjoy my own company immensely and my dogs seem to tolerate me pretty well for the most part, it is sometimes a treat to see and visit with other hunters. The staff of MAHA has done a great job in recruiting some really delightful characters. While out hunting this year we renewed old acquaintances and made some new ones. We had a chance to visit, joke and hunt ducks with long time MAHA-members Ben and Robin from Florida. These two are masters of the practical joke. This year we also met their wives and learned "the rest of the story." Since Ben and Robin don’t get out much for upland birds, I offered "the wives" a few pheasants one day when Ben and Robin were off doing their thing. I learned later that the women had convinced Ben and Robin that they had taken their husbands' prize firearms, gone hunting and collected the roosters on their own. Putting one over on Ben and Robin would be difficult, but oh so satisfying and heartwarming. My best to them all and especially to Ben who is struggling with some health problems.
We also met a new member (Terry) on one of our pheasant hunts. He is the first upland hunter I've heard of who hunts pheasants by choice with a beagle. Terry is one of those lanky, long-legged men who literally glides across the terrain; heck, he has to be to keep up with a beagle on running roosters. He is also a man with world-wide hunting experiences and a knack for telling stories about those hunts.
I also had occasion to meet one of the club's long time landowners. We had a nice visit about farm machinery, ethanol and the price of corn as well as some of the conservation practices he uses on his land. It was truly delightful to hear about life on his side of the fence.
So again, thank you all for all you do so well. The Hunting Pack looks forward to another season with this great club.
Charles, TJ and Berk
The early years.
My Griffon and I had another great hunt this weekend in [location deleted].
Lots of birds and seeing all the hunters patrolling the roads on opening day was a reminder of how good we have it in this organization. Thanks for all your hard work in making it happen.
Thought I'd share this picture of TJ (Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) displaying her new pointing style. She seems to prefer this posture toward the end of a hard day's work, when fatigue sets in, and her feet are sore. I just have to be careful I don't spoil her too much. Charles
Happy New Year Jon and Crew:
I hope all is well for you all. Just wanted to drop you a note with a report on our hunting so far this year.
As always the service from the office staff has been great this year. I'm always greeted with a pleasant and patient voice. That means so much since my calls for reservations are often the first step in a hunting trip and your helpfulness really sets the tone. I know how busy and hectic it gets for you folks and I never feel like I'm bothering someone. Nicole even guided me to my hunting reservation area one day when I was out in the boondocks and had forgotten my maps at home.
Congratulations on the conversion to CD for the maps. For me this is much handier than the old system. Having been involved in computer activities, I know it takes a lot of work and expense. Thank you.
We've had good hunting this year. I'm fortunate to be able to hunt a lot and we'll be eating pheasant, quail and ducks for many months. For those who haven't seen the new Duck's Unlimited Cookbook, it'' got some great recipes (try the Pheasant Marsela and substitute Wild Rice if you can get it).
We also moved more into duck hunting this year with some investment in equipment. It is certainly more complicated than when I hunted with my dad 35 years ago in Minnesota. For one thing the ducks in Minnesota are pretty stupid compared to their level of education by the time they migrate all the way down here. It's also almost a full time job managing/charging and replacing all the batteries that new technology requires. I'm still working on my calling. This year calling worked best when I left the call in the glove box of my vehicle.
My 3 y/o Wirehaired Pointing Griffon really came into her own this year on pheasants. The past two years I've adopted a training method recommended by a NAVHDA Judge from Maine.
The key component of this method is that: birds train dogs on how to hunt...the best bird dog training device is a strip of duct tape placed firmly over the mouth of the handler. Some of the methods fly in the face of traditional theory and training of upland bird dogs. Interesting stuff.
Again, Jon and Staff. Thank you so much for another great hunting season. I look forward to many more. I'm sending you some pictures through snail mail of our hunting success. Sorry I haven't moved into the digital world of photography yet.
Take care. Charles
Dear Jon, Jennifer and John, I hope your New Years are off to great starts.
I wanted to thank you for the good hunting, and great service my son and I enjoyed this year with Mid-America (M-A). We hunted strictly for pheasants and quail and hope to do more variety in the future. This was our first year with you; we are very satisfied and have renewed our membership for next year.
Jon, our association with you was positive right from the start. When we were considering a membership last year, I really appreciated your candor about what to expect from MAHA. I remember you pointing out that this was not a "game farm" with a guarantee of limits of birds for every hunt. That was important for me.
During earlier years in my life in northern Minnesota, I'd done a great deal of hunting "wild" upland game birds (mostly Ruffed Grouse), with a couple trips to the southern part of the state for pheasants. But over the last 20 years my hunting had been limited to occasional outings at game farms with planted birds and rented dogs. I wanted something more authentic and genuine for my young son. I wanted him to earn his shots. Well, needless to say, with this last year's tough winter and poor nesting, and Conservation Reports in all three states predicting pheasant and quail population dips of 40% to 70%, we knew going into the year that it was going to be challenging.
We started the year with the Youth Hunts in Iowa and Kansas and had to end our season early in mid- January due to an injury to the most important member of our hunting partnership ("TJ," our 14-month old Wire-Haired Pointing Griffon). I think we hunted 29 days, with my son having to limit his trips to weekends. I'm fortunate to have considerable time off during the holiday season, so TJ and I hit the second half of the season hard. We split our time pretty equally among the three states, and with only a couple exceptions, tried new areas for each hunt. And we hunted hard. I bought a new pair of boots before the season and noticed the other day that the leather on the toes is worn through. We averaged 8 to 10 miles a day. TJ is a very hard working dog. [Actually, we recently discovered she has a broken bone in one foot in a very unusual place. Our vet asked how much we hunted each day and suggested 8-10 miles a day is too much for a young dog. Jon, any thoughts you or John might have on this would be appreciated].
Your prediction was right that the hunting was better the further from Kansas City we traveled. But we found birds on all by one hunting day. I was particularly pleased with the numbers of quail we found. This was especially surprising as we did not specifically hunt for quail on timber edges or close to beans. We basically hunted pheasants and were shooting full chokes and 3-inch #4s when we encountered quail (by the way, we made only a little dent in the quail population with those loads). Given the state reports and the number of times I have heard the disgusted statement from other hunters: "There's no quail left at all", I concluded any quail we found would have to be at the local game farm.
TJ and I raised five coveys on our best day and we typically saw two coveys per day. On our best day, we saw 60+ pheasants and as I said, we had one day without a feather in the air. Typically we saw 10-20 pheasants with the hens outnumbering the roosters about 3 to 1. For pheasants the rule of: "further nom K/C = more birds" was especially true. At the end of that 60+ bird-day, I talked with a local fanner-hunter, who told me: "After the last two tough winters, we don't have any pheasants left here at all." When I told him I'd seen 60+ that day, he responded: "Well, yeah, there's a few birds around, but nothing like it was two years ago." Jon, as someone who grew up hunting in northern Minnesota, a fabulous day of upland bird hunting for me was seeing 5 or 6 Ruffed Grouse and maybe a covey of Sharp tails. If 60+ pheasants in a day is nothing, I suspect my son and I are in for some unbelievable hunts when conditions improve.
I guess a parallel I can relate to is walleye fishing. Growing up in northern Minnesota, walleye fishing involved a short drive to "Lake of the Woods" which bordered Minnesota and Manitoba. We'd buy fishing licenses for both sides. In those days we could take 8 walleyes in Manitoba and 6 in Minnesota. In a few hours in Buffalo Bay, we'd have our limit of fourteen 2- to 3-pound walleyes each and be on our way home. Down here, I spend all day on Stockton lake for 2 or 3 keeper walleyes.
I also want to give you folks feedback on your customer services. I looked forward to calling for reservations or stopping by the office so I could visit with Jennifer, then Kris, then Jennifer again (after the stork made its delivery). Everyone was open to, tolerant of, and helpful with my various questions (e.g. "When was that area hunted last? How many hunters?" etc.). Jennifer, I've heard and seen the volume of phone calls you get at busy times and I know the phones must drive you nuts at times. A hunt could get off to a bad start with a sharp word or a bad attitude while making a reservation for a hunt. Your friendliness and patience were so much appreciated. Thank you. Again Jon, Jennifer and John, we enjoyed the season and our association with you. With the winter weather we've had to far (actually I guess the lack of winter weather we've had), we look forward to an even better season next year.
Thank you very much for all your hard work. Sincerely, Charles
Happy New Year:
Thought I'd share some pictures of hunting in challenging weather. To go along with the pictures I have to tell a story about my dad and goose hunting. I first heard this story before I was old enough to carry a gun and my job at that time was carrying his extra box of shotgun shells. That task made me feel I was an integral member of the hunting party.
My dad (Bob) was a serious goose hunter, who had an equally dedicated hunting partner, an old Norweigan bachelor-farmer nick-named "Yep."
It was December in North Dakota in the early 1950s. Dad and Yep arrived at the rainsoaked stubble field at 3:00am. They had permission from the farmer to dig pits for maximum concealment from the wiley Honkers. They trudged in hip boots through the rich Red River Valley mud, packing their burlap sacks of full bodied (and thus weighty by today's standards) Herters decoys. He described how after the first few steps into the field the mud lumped onto their boots so that they left tracks the size of snow shoes behind them. The wind was out of the northwest at 30mph, the sleet stinging their faces as they set up decoys and shoveled the nearly 3 foot deep pits.
At last they finished their preparations and well before shooting hours, they settled into their respective blinds. Dad said the final insult of the North Dakota weather came when he had to sit down and the water pooling in the bottom of the pit soaked through his pants and chilled him further.
So there they were: in the dark, in December, in the middle of a sea of mud, during a sleet storm, soaked to the skin, chilled to the bone, and exhausted from all the physical effort expended thus far.
Dad said he was reflecting on his sanity as he waited in the dark, in the mud, in the cold. Then Yep said in his heavy Scandinavian accent, with complete earnestness and disbelief:
"Oh, Bob...just think...there are people out there who would stay in bed on such a morning and miss all this."
I guess I've always been challenged to live up to those images and thus feel an additional excitement when the weather and conditions are a little difficult.
Picture of ducks on a snowy deck. The best duck hunting I had this year was during a snow storm. I woke early that morning with a reservation for a blind. I was excited to see 4 inches of snow already on the ground and visibility reduced to a block or two. I drove the 35 miles relying on road signs and the slope of the road shoulder to keep me between the ditches. I suited up in my neoprene chest waders and waterproof parka. I carried two dozen lightweight decoys in my shoulder-strap equipped carrying bag across about 200 yards of short cut grass to a rippy grass covered blind. By the time the decoys were out and I settled onto the bench in the blind I was barely breathing hard. And I was snug as a bug in a rug. Yep would have been embarrassed by this level of comfort.
Flock after flock sailed out of the snowy skies and into the decoys. After two flocks, I had 4 ducks and decided to set down the gun and practice my duck calling. Despite the odd sounds coming from my call, the ducks continued to cooperate. After an hour of this, I determined to collect my last two ducks for my limit and head home. About that time, the sky cleared and so did the ducks.
Pictures of two day limit of roostersand a bonus male prairie chicken: The other two pictures are of a recent two day hunt during and following an ice storm. Every blade of grass was encased in finger-thick ice. Every step sounded like shattering glass. But the late season birds, which had been flushing wild the weekend before, now had to be nearly stepped on to fly. Instead of the usual flurry of wings flapping or a cackle at the rise, each flush sounded like a bag of drinking glasses bouncing and crashing down a flight of marble stairs.
Oh, the walking was a little tough and TJ's (my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) nose was rubbed nearly raw from plowing through the frozen grass. But compared to easing one's buttocks into an inch of near freezing muddy water, it was a piece of cake. And the rewards of taking on the challenge of tough conditions were tremendous.
Good luck on the rest of the season, Charles.