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Bird Hunting is my Escape _ Nebraska Sandhills
Sunday, September 2, 2012
Day two started early again this year, at the “big hill”, the one over by the “hard road”. As there aren’t many landmarks to speak of in the sea of grass, they are forced to come up with their own for navigational purposes. The valley between the two dunefields was much narrower than the previous day’s, only a few hundred yards, but it was a similar approach with Charles covering the northern side of the valley and Charity the southern. Charity decided to use a figure eight pattern on this area, starting at the south and working eastward towards the middle of the dunes, using the highest peak as the centerpoint of the figure eight, then covering the north side of the dunes. It took her an hour to cover the first curve of the figure eight, stopping at a windmill for a brief break, taking a couple of sips of water. She then continued south, then turning westward to continue her figure eight pattern, back to the high dune as the centerpoint, then covering the north side, completing her figure eight. In two hours of hiking, she didn’t even see a flush in the distance.
Charles took his normal approach into his assigned area and not long after starting to work it, he watched BB run over a dune out of sight and she didn’t check back in quickly like she normally would, so he headed in that direction. Three or four grouse came sky charging away from where BB was last seen, straight towards Charles, with BB in hot pursuit. In order to work on steadiness, Charles elected not to reward bad behavior and chose not to shoot. He marked their likely landing zone back to the west and pursued. Not five minutes later, the dogs started acting birdy and were tracking hard, but once again charged the flushing birds, so he opted out of shooting once again. He did finally get a point out of BB, which is an anomaly in the dry Sandhills, as scenting conditions are basically nonexistent. Charles “whoaed” Sam into honoring BB’s point, then began to kick around the hill trying to flush the birds. But the wind was playing tricks and blowing the scent of a flock from the top of one dune a hundred yards away over to the top of the dune where the dogs were pointing, so the birds saw the motion and activity of Charles trying to find them and flushed way out of range. As he stood at the top of the ridge, he heard the chortling of a large group of grouse over in a dune range that they had never hunted before.
Charity and Charles met up and headed back to the truck for a bit of a break. Charles reported that he heard distant cackling coming from a north/south running set of dunes that they had never worked before, a half-mile across the valley, off to the west. They decided to each take one end of the field, Charity to the south and Charles to the north, zig-zagging to meet in the middle. Charity made it up and into the dunefield and her dogs found a group of three in a pocket of knee-high sumac. She fired off a downhill shot, but the birds were just out of range. As she headed off to take chase, she all of a sudden lost all energy, felt dizzy and her heart was racing. All she could think was, “There is no way that Charles could find me, let alone drag me out of here and I’m not sure the truck could get up here. I’ve got to get back down to the valley so that at least if I passed out he would be able to see me”.
Charles ascended the northern end of the new hunting grounds, just making the climb when seven or eight birds broke unexpectedly soon. Most of them headed deep into the high chop, but others oddly enough headed for some trees on the edge of the dunes. He made his way toward the trees, not usual sharptail grouse habitat, and sent the dogs in to run them out. Sure enough the grouse came running scared out from the trees, then flushed as they came to the prairie edge at about fifty yards out. A pellet found its way to a bird on the shot, but it wasn’t down for the count and sailed into the distance. The bird knew it was in trouble and flushed again at fifty yards, but was hit hard this time and Sam had no problem bringing it in.
They marched higher into the chop, bumping a mule deer buck and a jackrabbit, but BB and Sam knew better than to chase those. Not long after, three grouse got up, then a fourth was a bit slower on the jump that Charles put his bead on and harvested, with Sam once again delivered to hand.
Charity stumbled a few steps at a time back towards the east, sitting down frequently and feeling lucky when she heard Charles shooting just to the west of her, then him finally seeing her stumbling away from the hunt. Her pride wouldn’t allow her to tell him that she was having trouble and was hoping that she would be able to shake off the spell and resume hunting. But after a good 20 minutes of cramping and stumbling and feeling like Gumby, she accepted defeat and just wanted to get back to the truck. Of course, that was when birds got up within her range, but even though she took shots, there was no way that she was focused enough to hit anything.
The birds that she missed raced right past Charles, well within range, but he too was feeling the effects of dehydration and was unable to focus on the task at hand. With two in the bag and the day getting warmer, it was time to go.
They were both coming out of the dunefield at the same time, he with two in the bag and she just happy to have made it out without a medical incident.