Late Season Bird Blues (not to be confused with bluebirds)

My Lab, Kiri, in her preferred habitat.

Heavy snow was falling outside my office window, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve day, Christmas music kept things cheerful.

I was scheming for one more outing for pheasants or other upland birds before the season closed on New Year’s Day. I have to confess this hasn’t been a particularly successful hunting season from the standpoint of bringing home game to put in the freezer. I’ve had lots of outings, with good exercise and fresh air, so those outings weren’t a waste of time.

I follow a Facebook group that’s devoted to upland bird hunting and someone posed the question as whether they’re disappointed if they don’t come home with game. There was a big response with people saying that for them it’s more about dog work than anything else, so they’re perfectly happy if they get to see their dogs working, perhaps liking it even better if someone else is along to do the shotgunning.

I totally understand that sentiment, and I guess that’s what keeps me getting up early on cold, dark mornings for outings in which I’ve been unsuccessful. Still, I confess that I also get a lot of satisfaction when I swing my shotgun at a departing bird and see it fold and drop to the ground.

Nevertheless, I don’t regret any of those outings for fresh air and exercise, as I’ve always seen some game and interesting sights, and moments of frustration, too.

On a recent trip I was up early and on the road on a sub-zero morning, hoping I’d get shooting at ducks on a warm water spring creek I’ve been privileged to hunt.

Kiri, my Labrador retriever and hunting partner, and I made a wide swing across a field to approach a favorite spot on the creek where I almost always see mallards. We got to the spot and birds start flushing, but I’m momentarily confused as the birds aren’t ducks. They were pheasants, probably half a dozen—all roosters—hunkered down in the tall grasses on the creek bank where temperatures, moderated by the warm water, were probably 30 degrees warmer than the ambient temps. I finally collected my wits long enough to get a shot off at a rocketing cock pheasant, and missed. Then the other barrel misfired, probably because of the frigid morning.

That’s kind of how my hunting season has been going.

The upland bird season is now over. The waterfowl season for ducks and geese is still on, closing temporarily at sunset this Sunday, January 6, then reopening on January 12, before closing for good at sunset on January 16. That juggling of closing dates is done to have the season’s end coincide with another weekend.

Considering the daily avalanche of news out of our nation’s capitol, with the chaos and upheavals, those hunting outings are a good way to not only get good exercise, but a day in the outdoors helps us keep some balance in our lives, or keep our heads screwed on right, as I often think of it. It’s too bad the general hunting seasons don’t run longer, now that I think of it, as we not only have the news from Washington D.C., but the Montana Legislature is back in session.

Issues that will come up, both in the Lege, but in the new Congress as well, will be familiar, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, that funnels off-shore oil tax revenues to states for public land projects, such as fishing access, land acquisitions, etc. Montana’s delegation were working as a team to get LWCF re-enacted, and there was overwhelming Congressional support for it—except for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) who held it up because he wanted language added to forbid further National Monument designations in Utah.

Sen. Lee also held up legislation that would have given federal recognition to Montana’s Little Shell Indian tribe. I guess I can hope that Sen. Lee got a Christmas stocking with lumps of coal, though more likely he already had big campaign contributions from energy companies.

Happy New Year, I guess.

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