Last Wednesday was significant for two reasons: it was the first day of 2020, but also the last day of the upland bird hunting season.
As is usually the case, my upland bird season kind of limped to an end, marked with frustration and failure.
On the bright side, I saw a bunch of pheasants on my last outing, though, as is often the case, these late-season pheasants were survivors, with nerves and reflexes honed to a razor’s edge. They were getting up 50 to 100 yards out, and weren’t about to wait around to hold in heavy cover where they could be sniffed out and flushed by my dog in convenient shooting range.
I fired my gun once at a quickly disappearing rooster, more out of desperation to shoot my gun one last time in 2019 than any realistic hope of dropping that bird.
Actually, that’s kind of how the whole season went, including my last outing for ruffed grouse in early November, before my mountain spots were buried in heavy snow. My Lab, Kiri, and I had just about completed a big circle of a grouse covert that has long been a favorite, if a frustrating favorite.
I was kind of expecting to see some birds in this part of the covert, and sure enough they were there. A ruffed grouse flushed from about 30 yards away, on a gentle hillside above the trail I was following. I made a hurried shot at it and missed. I opened my over and under shotgun to reload, and while my gun was open another grouse flushed within a few feet from where the first grouse flushed.
A moment later, Kiri was running at full speed along a little creek bottom below me, in mad pursuit of a grouse that was half running and half flying through the heavy brush. I couldn’t shoot because I might hit Kiri. Then the grouse broke out into the open and I finally got a shot at it, and, you guessed it, missed.
These birds are now safe from hunters, or at least the two-legged kind. If you’re a pheasant or a grouse, you’re always at the relatively low end of the food chain and there are always predators on the lookout for a chicken dinner. That’s a basic fact of life in the wild.
While the upland bird hunting season is over, there are still a few days left in the waterfowl season.
Here in the Pacific Flyway portions of Montana, roughly west of a line from Havre to Livingston, the waterfowl season closed, temporarily, on January 5. It reopens on Saturday, January 11 and will run through Wednesday, January 15, before closing for good. The season ending dates in the Central Flyway areas of eastern Montana are somewhat different, and there are two zones. If you’re planning on a last-ditch goose or duck hunting trip to eastern Montana be sure to check the regulations.
If I seem to be griping about a general lack of success in this year’s hunting seasons, you can take my gripes with a grain of salt. There are more measures to success in hunting outings than meat in the freezer.
I take a lot of pleasure in being in the mountains and prairies during the long season starting in late summer and ending in mid-winter. I enjoy the changing of colors as the aspen thickets turn to gold at the end of September. This season was a bit different, as early cold weather put a premature end to fall colors.
It’s always fun to see wildlife, even if it’s not what I’m hunting at the time, such as a number of whitetail deer on my last pheasant outing, or moose on an October grouse hunt.
I celebrated a milestone birthday during the hunting season and I feel fortunate that I’m still wandering with my Labrador retriever in search of pheasants and ducks. I’m looking forward to one more duck hunt this coming week, and, good lord willing, the opening of grouse season in September.