So after the fishing trip this past Saturday, and making my way back home tired and cold, 4:30 Sunday morning came all too soon on only 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Loaded up the truck, said goodbye to the family, poked the Lazy Beagle to make sure he was still breathing, and drove to Grizzly Island, just outside of Fairfield.
The morning was cool, but not freezing, when I arrived about 7:15. I checked in, paid my hunting 'tax', and waited for dad, who promptly showed up about 10 minutes later. After some initial discussion about which field to hunt first, we found our spot, geared-up, unloaded Bravo, and got to walking.
Now Bravo is a good hunter. He has a good nose and good instincts, but he has this urge to just screw around for the first 10 minutes of the hunt. Maybe it's the long rides in the kennel box, or maybe it's just a personality trait. I'm not sure which, but I do know that dog is somewhere between genius and insane. He hunted hard, but I could tell he was a little tired from the previous day's outing further up north with Dad. He worked and worked and worked, but never found a bird. We did manage to bust a hen (I never saw it, I was in a ditch lined with tall brush and the bird took off low), but that was it, and the dog never knew it was there. I suppose a litany of excuses could follow, but dogs, like people, are imperfect. Not a big deal, and besides that, I'm of the semi-informed opinion that as a good bird dog gets older and more educated, he or she learns to discriminate scents on a very fine level. It's possible he knew it was a hen and chose to ignore it and move on.
We moved to another field around 10am, further north, with lots of water-filled sloughs, and brought Tino out. In short, no birds, not even a hen. And Tino reverted to hanging really close to us - it was hard to get him to range. We busted some brush in the drier spots and tried to work him between us. But Dad and I were both tired from our adventures on Saturday, and I for one probably did not work myself or the dog as hard as I should have. That said, I think he still has plenty of potential and room to grow into a good bird dog.
If DFG is reading this, sorry, I forgot to turn in my field card. Let's just call it 0-for-0 for your record books and leave it at that, OK? When I checked in, I saw the tally from Saturday's opener - for something near 300 pheasant hunters, only 89 birds were taken. I recall last season there were about 250 hunters and closer to 140-160 birds taken. So for whatever reason, be it water, predators or mismanagement, this opener wasn't as good as last year. Heck, last year we popped 2 roosters and I had a shot (and missed) at one of them. This year pickings are slim, but maybe some wet weather will turn things around. If nothing else, some good storms, good forage and good spring cover will hopefully make for a bigger brood in 2010.
I did, however, get to see the native Tule Elk herd. I figure I see them 90% of the time I'm up there. Apparently DFG has a special tag hunt that lets you take 1 animal, and I think they issue all of 1 or 2 tags per season. I can't imagine the work involved in hauling out a 1000-plus pound bull from those fields. And having never hunted elk before, are they all that hard to sneak up on? I admit, this time I saw them probably 400-500 yards out - certainly not a shot I'd try with a 30-06 or a 308 with the expectation of a clean, one-shot kill. That's more in 7mm Remington Magnum or 300 / 338 Winchester Magnum territory. I suppose if you can sneak to within 200 yards, nearly anything with a decent 30 caliber bullet in the neck will do the trick. Regardless of trying to take one, they sure are majestic, pretty looking animals. But I'd sure hate to get one angry with me.