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“I think I’ve got a mouse in my boot.”
Once in a while you hear (or say) things during a hunt that makes you scratch your head.
In fact a lot of things were said during my family’s annual hunting trip this past weekend that would make for a good story. Each year over MEA weekend (or whatever they call it now), I have 9 of my family members and 4 friends, pack up and head west. It began with trips to North Dakota for pheasants. For the last couple of years however, resident licenses were all that was needed as western Minnesota would be our destination.
Waterfowl hunting would also become part of the trip since taking aim at a whistling mallard was how we all were introduced to the outdoors. In a “full circle” moment, our group actually started hunting in this part of the state long before my time.
I don’t remember what year we quit stalking that slough around Alexandria, but I remember celebrating a birthday in the Holiday Inn that sits on I-94, after carrying around a Daisy bb gun that morning. I also recall an argument with one of my cousins about a duck that I apparently “shot” with that single, deadly, bb.
This year’s excursion would include a mixed bag of outings. Slough-side duck hunts over floater decoys, layout blind goose hunts with full body spreads and miles of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) walks in search of the dwindling rooster population. On Saturday we took part in the first annual Burnt Powder Festival, put on by the Montevideo Chamber of Commerce and held at the Watson Hunting Camp.
A scary moment opened the trip as we decided on an afternoon duck hunt. Steve Hauge had brought a friend’s one-year-old black lab, Jake, to get him some experience in the field. He learned one valuable lesson thirty seconds in: Barbed-wire fences hurt.
As I was leading the way to the slough, Jake was bounding around like young labs do 99% of the time. He bounced sideways right into a fence with his (get ready to wince), tongue flapping in the breeze.
It all happened in slow-motion: I tried to stop him before he connected but it was too late. His entire body landed on the fence while his tongue dropped right on a pointy barb. He let out a yelp that was half pain, half surprise. Then he proceeded to try to free himself as quickly as possibly by pulling away voilently. I pleaded for him to stop and tried to reach him before the inevitable. He yanked and came loose before help arrived. I expected to see half his tongue hanging from the wire, and peeked through one eye and a pinched face. Luckily, all pieces were intact and he just had a bloody mouth for a few moments. Labs are tough.
We didn’t shoot limits, but we had some great hunts, even saving the best for last. Sunday morning, there were 3 of us left with enough energy to drag our backsides out of bed and head out in the rain-my brother Wade, his son Danny and myself. 3 trusty companions would lope along side of us as we made our way down to the cattails, Wade’s Casey and Echo along with my lab, Mika.
The south wind was a welcome change as we were finally able to set up with the wind at our backs. Ducks were seen here the night before thanks to a scouting report from Tony Crotty, and a heaping dose of optimism crept over me we waited for the ducks to arrive.
A flock of mallards surprised us at first light with a quick fly-by but continued on to somewhere else. Then, without warning, three teal appeared out of nowhere and landed at 10 yards. We each picked one and as they rose to leave, 3 shots rang out. Two splashed down and the hunt was on! A couple of secondary volleys chased the lone survivor followed by a couple jabs at the rusty shotgunner who shall remain nameless, (Wade-oops).
Thirteen-year-old Danny would shoot his first limit of ducks. That included his first wigeon. Earlier in the trip he beaded and folded his first greenhead mallard too. Wade knocked enough rust off to score a double on a flock of gadwall and soon ducks were dropping all over the place. Then as the morning was drawing to a close, a flock of gadwall became visible along the horizon. They were low and tractor-beaming their way in. A few rogue birds dropped from the flock and landed out in the middle. Using my new DRC duck call I begged and pleaded for the rest of them to come closer. A couple more landed and I picked up my intensity. My quacks dripping with invitations to join us. Eventually, there were just three and as they neared the spread the three of us took aim and three shots later, these gadwall were awaiting their ride to shore courtesy of our labs.
We started with three and finished with three.
What I enjoyed even more was watching Mika, the retrieval hog, cramming two of the ducks into her mouth and swimming back proudly, while the other two labs looked on jealousy.
Or maybe that’s just what I thought it looked like.
The nine-year-old, Casey, would do her one better though by finding two ducks that we thought were lost. We had searched and searched for these ducks earlier in the morning without any success. As I was picking up decoys, Casey was back in the rushes, nose to the ground on a search and rescue mission. Sure enough the hardened veteran came through in the clutch, finding both birds in the heavy cover.
A great finish to one of the best hunts we’ve been on. We may have finished 3 short of our limit, but we created a few of those story-telling moments that will be shared many times over.
The origins of this trip involved roosters, so we still needed to get out into the CRP and do some walking. Honestly, I haven’t been able to get too excited for pheasants yet this year for a couple of reasons. One, the numbers are down a bit. They’re not extinct, but with a lot of corn up yet they are tough to find. Two, I’m having too much fun waterfowl hunting!
Thursday we ran into the same problem every public land hunter runs into: competition. We opened our Walk In Access map and found a large section available nearby. We parked a couple of posters on one end and began from the other. As we’re making our way around another group of hunters tried to walk right past our posters, but decided to slide down the field and walked up the other side, passing our group along the way. Soon our WIA looked like Grand Central Station.
That’s the way it goes.
Saturday we started with breakfast at the Watson Hunting Camp as the Burnt Powder Festival kicked off. We ate donuts next to Congressman Collin Peterson, MN Deer Classic founder Hugh Price and other hunters. We told stories of the good ol’ days of pheasant hunting and what we need to do to get more birds on the prairie.
A 240 acre CRP field was chosen as my group of 13 would need some space. Not long into the walk a group of 20 roosters flushed from a thicket and escaped unharmed into the neighboring refuge of private land. No shots were fired, but spirits were lifted at the sight. Unfortunately that would be the majority of the birds we’d see. We did bump a few here and there and actually knocked down 3 of them, including Danny’s first rooster out of the air! It was a great piece of land that we were thankful to the landowner for the access.
Exhausted and hungry we piled into our trucks and began the drive back to the WHC. Mika was relegated to backseat duty as my dad, Ron, was my co-pilot. I try to capitalize on every chance I get to hunt with him as opportunities have gotten few and far between. We approached a small Wildlife Management Area that held a few birds the day before, and I suggested a quick walk.
It wasn’t long before the sound of wings beating surprised us and a redheaded long-tail lifted out of the grass. I surprised him and soon Mika had secured the cargo and brought it back. Another rooster would be taken out of section of 8 foot cattails and just like that, I had my Minnesota limit. I hoped for one more flush for Dad so he could shoulder his classic 12 gauge, but the companionship on this walk would be my real trophy.
We settled back into Camp and got ready for dinner. During the meal, we were treated to an award presentation for a 93-year-old WWII veteran, Orice L. Larson. It was a Patriot Award from the Civilian Marksmanship Program and it included a certificate and an M1 Garand-the rifle that was widely used in the War.
Watch for the 2nd Annual Burnt Powder Festival next year with the Montevideo Chamber of Commerce.
The guys in my family have shot a few geese, but haven’t done much goose hunting since the popularity of layout blinds exploded. They’ve wanted to experience the rush of being concealed within the decoys as those lumbering 747’s come feet down within 10 yards. We scraped together 6 blinds and scouted out a field the night before. A picked corn field held about 80 birds-not an ideal amount to set up and hunt the next day. I usually try to find bigger flocks, but our options were limited.
I pulled my old Sport Utility Blind out of storage and threw it in the back of my brother’s SUV. After the decoys were placed we went to work on getting the blinds arranged and stubbled. My old blind needed to be set up so I climbed in-phew, it stunk. As I climbed in I saw something streak across the back rest. Apparently we had a stowaway. I quickly showed this mouse the exit and proceeded to stick pins in the door joints. As I was packing my gear inside I noticed two mice that didn’t get out of the way soon enough as I knelt down. Gross. A short ceremony was performed and they were buried amidst the corn stalks. Finally we were ready and waiting for the geese to arrive.
After two hours in a layout blind, you start to cramp up. I was spinning around and my boots were binding up. I felt what I thought was my rubber boot readjusting itself.
Then it did it again. A thought flashed through my head, “Is there a mouse in my boot”?
Then it happened one more time.
“I think there is a mouse in my boot,” this time out loud to the rest of the group.
I opened my blind door and peered down my boot, only to see a furry creature staring back at me!
“THERE IS A MOUSE IN MY BOOT!” I kicked off my boot and that mouse flung straight up in the air and landed square in the middle of my chest!
The whole crew burst out in laughter as I grabbed him by the tail and gave him a fling.
The geese never came back to that field, so I guess I need to thank Mickey for giving us some entertainment on a slow morning in a layout blind.
From first time limits to first time run-ins with barbed wire fences, this trip was another one that will be talked about at Christmas for years to come. It’s trips like this that traditions in the outdoors are built upon. The foundation of sportsmanship, conservation and ethics. It’s because we did this as kids, that we do it with our kids today, and hopefully they do it with their’s in the future.
“I think you should show off what your dog can do at our get together next month.”
That was suggested to me recently when discussing an upcoming corporate-type event. This event would also include representatives from Pheasants Forever.
Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be more proud of my lab, Mika. She went through the live bird and gun-training program at Oak Ridge Kennels and I followed Tom Dokken’s training book when she came home. She’s impressed me the last two falls and I’ve been known to tell people that she’s “pretty much the greatest dog ever.” But doesn’t every dog owner say that?
When you get into the offseason, it’s very easy to get out of the habit of training your dog. Even older dogs can use some fine-tuning during the summer to keep them sharp for fall. I decided it was time to get back to work.
It wasn’t like I’d completely abandoned working with her; it just didn’t have much of a regular structure to it. I always tried to get her some exercise and she has a Kong Frisbee that might rival a rooster in her eyes.
Once it was suggested to me that we do a demonstration, I figured I better get to work. Starting with the basics, the heels, comes, sits and stays. I think it’s a great way to get the dog into the “work” mindset. If I mean business on the small stuff, then I mean business on everything.
Blind retrieves, casting and doubles all get worked into short sessions when it’s cool outside. It’s important to do the work, but do it during a time that the dog doesn’t get overworked and run the risk of overheating.
Now that I’m living out the in country, I’m fortunate to be in an area with a healthy pheasant population. During a recent walk along a sprouting cornfield, the unmowed ditches held 3 pheasants along the way that Mika scented and happily flushed.
Watching her flush pheasants brought back that exciting rush that had been held dormant since my last North Dakota walk in early January. Pretty soon both of us were whipped into a sweat as Mika gave chase to the low flyers and I felt my heart race with anticipation of the opener just over 3 months away.
The instinct and training that Mika has did not disappear despite my worries of her getting lazy in the offseason. Combine that with some summer drills and we should be in for a fall full of long tail feathers and tasty barbeques!