A buddy and I decided while sitting in dead calm weather a couple weekends ago that it was time for a late season upland hunt east of the mountains. We spent that day watching thousands of ducks mill around on a mill pond flat Columbia River. We shot a few birds and got cold and decided we had just enough of that. After some chatting about options and areas we picked an area to hunt and made a hotel reservation.
I took last Friday off. I ran up to Brian's place on Thursday after work since we planned to head east before dawn. We headed out at 4:00 am and made it to the hunting area by 8:00 am. After a quick map review and discussion of Brian's last trip to the area we hit a spot and the hunt began with a bang. His German Wirehair Pointer is getting old and wears out quick. Schnootz started off strong and was pointing quail within a couple of minutes. Bella took a bit of time to get the scent figured out. She had never hunted quail. She got the scent down after a couple of retrieves. Both dogs were working well within 15 minutes. We got into more quail and a few rabbits while working thick brush in that spot. That first hunt ended with some quail in the bag and one rabbit. Then it was off to a nearby spot and repeat. Friday provided great hunting with Schnootz wearing out by noon with Bella taking up the slack. By noon she was on fire. She was picking up the scent up at a good distance, working the birds properly, and making all the retrieves just right. She worked close all day. I only had to be called back once when she broke on a fly away bird I missed. Which is a vast improvement over last season.
Friday started below freezing and rapidly warmed up to 66 degree with a very slight breeze. I ended up only taking one picture of a short afternoon hunt. We were busy enough I forgot to get out the phone. At one spot we found a couple of trees that were holding dozens of collared doves. We shot some as they flushed as we moved into the small group of trees> We set in to shoot the returning birds and it was only a few minutes before they started flocking back to the spot. We ended up back in that set of trees 5 different times over the weekend. We absolutely hammered the collareds. Being an invasive species there is no limit on them. This made for a perfect set up for old Schnootz to get some retrieves at close range. Bella and I worked on her staying steady to shot each time we were ambushing the doves. The pic below is of a few doves from our first stop at the dove trees.
Saturday started below freezing and blowing 30 mph. The day warmed quickly with lightening winds until noon. We hunted a riverbottom and found exactly zero birds all morning. The sloughs we hoped to find some ducks on were all frozen solid, as in actually solid all the way to the bottom. The ice surface was melted on them by noon but the anchor ice was still there. We didn't see any ducks, and a few geese way off in the distance flying somewhere. We spent the early afternoon back on our dove spot and working nearby brush pockets for quail. We managed to find some decent sized covey's during those hunts. Brian popped one rabbit on a snap shot as well. Schnootz was out for a walk and only made a couple retrieves. His old bones and joints had taken enough of a beating on Friday.
Bella was on fire all day Saturday. She was working like a champ. She was finding, flushing, and retrieving birds like a well oiled machine. Brian kept having me run her over to him so she could make the longer retrieves that Schnootz couldn't make. She also handled all the brush falls. Old Schnootz was having none of it by that time. He would retrieve on open ground and close up falls adn that was it. Bella handled everything else.
We had settled back in the dove trees around 2:00 Saturday afternoon. We had a couple doves in the bag when we noticed a cloud of dust coming our way. The wind hit like a hammer a couple minutes later. Limbs started breaking and falling out of the trees around us. We saw one cottonwood about 150 yards away fall over in the first big gusts. I am guessing the first wind to hit us was 70 mph with gusts to 80. We moved out of the trees and could see rain coming our way. We headed for the truck a half mile away to sit out the storm. We actually had points in the walk where we were stopped in our tracks by wind gusts. By the time we got to the truck the rain was pouring down adn everyone was soaked. Bella was not liking the high winds at all. She kept trying to hunt her way back to the truck and would end up ducking behind the brush piles and anything solid to get out of the wind when it gusted.
By the time we were loaded up and headed back to town the squall broke. We stopped to get a good picture of Bella with her retrieves for the day before heading home. I was reminded of some things I should have remembered during the trip. I need to buy Bella a nice kevlar chest guard. The stickers, roses, and thorny brush scratched the heck out of her chest and leg pits. That and I need to buy her protective boots. The tack foot weeds were constantly slowing her down. I would pick them out and she would be right back in them in some areas.
All in all it was a great hunt with a good friend and what may have been the last hunt for old Schnootz. Bella was on top of her game after a little tune up. All in all it was a nice break from what has been a fairly slow duck season.
Oh, and duck hunting doesn't actually suck, except when you are killing dozens of birds in 65 degree weather in your T shirt in January instead of sitting in your boat watching ducks swim around and not decoy.