Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vizslas on the plains of South Dakota

October 19, 2010

The weather has improved. The sun rose to a brisk 39 degrees and a 15 mph wind out of the north. Our weather band radio told us of highs in the upper 50’s today with clear skies. Yesterday was perfect. Today was to be perfecter!

Bailey was BEAT! He had run hard for the last couple afternoon hunts with little rest. I was concerned that he may be ill. On the South Dakota prairie, Bailey yesterday had discovered a cactus plant the size of a walnut with thin, sharp spikes that ranged from ¼ inch to 1 inch long.

These grew in large patches in open ground and stuck to Bailey’s paws. I would have to pull them out with my bare hands as the spikes dug into my fingers. In one patch, I had to carry Bailey out about 20 feet because as soon as I removed one, he would step on another. By this afternoon Bailey had learned to go around these open spaces. Cactus in South Dakota. Who would have guessed? So was Bailey reacting to the cactus or the pond water that he drank and bathed in as we walked the draws that held water? I had never seen Bailey as tired and lifeless as I had this morning.

Ken had to run some errands in Isabel, and I stayed around the house. Took the dogs on a bit of a run next to the Honda Trail 90 that I had brought. I wanted to see how Bailey would do on a short run. The little motorcycle cut through the prairie fields around the house with ease. The dogs running ahead, to the side and at times having to catch up after a stop to check out something of interest. Bailey came alive in the fields and was happy. Once back to the house, he got on the couch for another nap.

By one 1:00 we were in the fields again. We just took Hank and Bailey, as Scarlet had cut pads and Nellie was limping also. A day for resting the girls. The hunting was good for Bailey and me but not so great for Ken and Hank. Hank is a “big-running dog” who is bred for this trait, which is more suited for big country bird hunts with the hunter on horseback. Bailey, partly because he was tired, stayed closer today. No need for the tracking collar. I knew where he was almost all the time. He stayed about 50 to 100 yards ahead most of the day. This is good for a hunter on foot. We are getting better as a pheasant hunting team and even scored a sharp-tail grouse in the open prairie cover.

Over the last three days, I must have walked 30 miles behind my dog. I am tired. It is a good tired from doing what I came so many miles to do – to follow my dog as it served “a dog’s purpose.”

As sunset approached, I found myself on this small rise overlooking Firesteel Lake. The sky was turning orange, and over the lake tullies and marshes, hundreds of ducks were coming back to rest. Thousands of birds were alive and in the air in the maybe 3-mile area I looked down upon. I reached for my camera and found I had not brought it. As I stood there letting the scene sink in to a pleasure moment I will long remember, I knew my camera would be useless in capturing the scene. This 5-minute rest stop was worth the trip even if nothing else good happened. A very good day.

October 20, 2010

Today was a very long day of hunting with very little to show for it. Sharptail grouse live in the wide-open prairie grasses and require a great amount of walking to find them. Bailey is beat, sore, and needed some down time. Ken and I went out with Hank to try our luck with them during the morning (around 9am) since we couldn’t hunt pheasant until 1:00.

Hank is a two-year-old Vizsla that Ken and Janet bred to achieve a “big running” dog. Not all pointers “run big,” and in the world of pointing breed horseback field trials, this is one of the key traits judges and breeders look for. “Run big or go home,” is often heard. A dog who can run an hour while the owner follows on horseback. A big-running dog will cover vast amounts of land quickly. This is the combination that you want to hunt sharptail grouse.

With Ken and I both sore from 3 days of hunting on foot, the combination of a young, not-yet- “broke,” high-octane Vizsla and a rolling prairie going on as far as you could see, the odds were stacked against us. After an hour we were spent and had no birds in the bag. Hank, who at times was out of sight over a ridge 680 yards away, was happily running and running and running. On this morning, the team of man and dog did not hunt together. Luckily, Ken owns a horse and Hank will be “broke” this year, so the team of man, horse, and broke dog will find future success in their sharptail hunting adventures.

One o’clock came and we headed about 5 miles east to some public hunting lands that had looked promising on a trip to Timberlake. The corn fields, stubble wheat fields, and open ground with cover all looked promising. No luck in the fields today. By 3:30 we reverted to “road hunting” where Ken would drop Bailey and me off along a county dirt road that had ditches on each side, and he would drive ahead 3 hundred yards or so and park and act as “blocker.” Pheasant will run along a ditch until they come to the end or something that blocks their path before taking to the air. Bailey, by this point, was happy just to run easily run the ditches in search of pheasant that “held” while at the same time pushing those that run toward Ken. This method had limited success and did raise about 7 roosters and a dozen hen. One bird in the bag was all we could accomplish.

About an hour before sunset, we worked an area of Isabel Park where rows of trees have been planted for natural cover for the local wildlife. We were running out of day and this was an area that was on our “do list.” With about 15 minutes left in day, Ken catches the sight of a rooster flying above the grove of trees and lets off a shot. He hits the bird and it falls. Not to the ground but up in the branches in a tree and gets hung up in a branch about twelve feet off the ground. We try to dislodge the bird, but I end up climbing the little tree to free the bird. Ken and I both have one bird in the back of the Dodge after a very long day of hunting.

There is this thing that happens sometimes when hunting birds with a shotgun. I had hit my bird from fairly close range with #6 shot from the rear as it was flying away. When we got home and I tried to “dress” the bird (remove the feathers, wings, feet and head), I found there was not any good meat. The blast had been too much- too close. I reluctantly gave up saving this one for the bar-b-que I plan to have next week.

At about 7pm we quickly feed the dogs and clean ourselves up for a night out on the town. We were going to the only bar/restaurant in Isabel for a beer and a good meal. The only place you can buy liquor is in the bar. You buy a 6-pack of Miller, Bud, or Bud Lite to go, or you can have any mixed drink or Sam Adams, Fat Tire, or Bud on tap.

The bartender / waiter was a man in his forties with a brown “get-‘r-done” sleeveless t-shirt, jeans, dirty ball cap and a scraggily beard. He was doing his best “Larry the Cable Guy” but was too busy to be sociable.

Ken and I sat at the bar until a table opened up to sit for dinner. The bar was packed. Going though the 2 plain steel doors going into the bar, there was a paper sign “No one under 21 may enter this bar.” Once through the second door into the bar with no windows, 4 pool tables, a 20-foot bar and a dozen or so tables , there sat a mixture of local ranchers, farmers, business owners, and hunters. This was the only restaurant in a 15-mile radius, so families with their little kids sat at the tables or the little ones ran around. This bar was the social hub of the community like a pub would be in an English town.

As soon as we walked in the door, Tammy, who owns the Isabel Hardware and Co-op, greeted Ken warmly and told him to make sure he came by before he left the area for an Isabel Hardware store ball cap.

The next couple hours went by enjoyably as we had a great steak and good mug of beer. We visited with locals and some hunters who had come from all over the country. At one table a pair of long-time married couples sat enjoying some ice cream. They were from the Denver area, and the 2 couples had been coming “up here” for the last 12 years every year to hunt upland birds. We sat and joked with 3 brothers and one of their friends who came in from Washington, Montana, and one who is stationed in Okinawa, to hunt upland birds. All 4 were hunting behind a 7-year-old field Springer Spaniel. They had taken 10 birds. Ken and I were hunting public land. They were knocking on farmers’ doors asking for permission to hunt their fields.

On the 9-mile drive back to the house, I told Ken that this has been on enjoyable vacation. Except for the Phillies–Giants ballgame on the TV in the bar, we have not seen TV or listened to the radio for 6 days. A simpler life and time here in the northern central part of South Dakota.

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