Other folks have been marking the opening of this fall's hunting seasons, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows hunters. The beginning of the year, or the best part of the year, and ready-or-not here it comes!
Doves were always the season opener when I was growing up. We lived down on the border with Mexico and mourning doves were very plentiful. Dove shoots tend to be social affairs, wingshooting skill being more important than stealth and larger numbers of hunters being useful to keep the birds moving, rather than having them all settle in the far side of a field. The first hunt that I can remember, one of the hunters took all of us kids to the side before the birds got flying or anyone dispersed. He had us all gather around, then set up a little, half-rotten cantaloupe on a clod of dirt (we were hunting a picked and disked cantaloupe field, the doves would come in to pick the seeds from the broken melons). From about fifteen feet away, he shot the melon with his twenty gauge, causing it to vaporize. Then Doc turned to the assembled kids and told us "It will do the same thing to your head, too. Always pay attention to where a gun is pointing." That remains one of the more graphic demonstrations of gun safety I have seen and, while not belabored, made a lasting impression on my six-year-old self. My first couple of years were spent chasing down shot birds, then I graduated to a .410 single shot, borrowed for a season, then a single shot twenty gauge (with a case of shells for my 10th birthday!). A week or two before the season, a friend and I would stand out in the vacant lot between our houses, yelling "boom!" at passing doves and watching as the returning birds would sideslip or roll, telling each other that the birds which sculled along without concern would be easy marks soon.
When we moved from the border, we got to an area where the dove shooting was spotty and, by our standards, terrible. Eventually, we turned to hunting mountain grouse, which has remained my favored season opener for twenty years now. Grouse season opens on September 1st, too.
The hunting is pretty hit or miss. Some mountains will usually have birds, others occasionally have birds, still others never or almost never hold them despite having what appears to be the same mix of vegetation and similar elevation. Also, grouse populations are cyclical. Even in a good year, you can walk five or six miles through good looking habitat (all above 9000', here) and never bump a bird. The next day, you might run into a bunch of six or seven in the first half mile. At worst, it is a walk in the mountains right at the start of fall.
Moving from the general to the specific, I managed to get out for one day this past weekend. I headed up to a couple of ridges which have irregularly produced birds for me. I ran into three other hunters or the vehicles, one a twenty-something guy with a young German shorthair who had just finished what I was setting out to do- driving down a ridgetop road that passes a number of meadows, working each one with the dog. to my chagrin, I got called "sir" by the polite sprout. The last few years, I've noticed more grouse hunters around my spots. I suppose the ever increasing population of the southwest means a few more people who know what grouse are and learn that we have them. I know hunter numbers are down, but I'll just warn any of you thinking of hunting grouse in the southwest- the birds taste terrible! Awful, horrible stuff-they'll stink up your house and break your dog from retrieving. Don't bother! Also, they won't sit for your pointer and they aren't any fun to hunt. Just move along, nothing to see here. These are not the giant quail that you are looking for.
The hunt was interesting because I took the new dog, even though he isn't really ready to hunt. The first hour or so, we had to work with him on a check cord, which was an enormous pain. However, I was very pleased that he got the picture and for the rest of the day remained mostly in range. The fact that both of us need more conditioning to be able to energetically quarter steep slopes at high altitude probably helped. Looking for grouse makes a for a nice early season hunt. No snakes, fairly cool temperatures, and ground that is relatively easy on feet that haven't toughened up yet. We found no birds, which was disappointing in that I'd hoped to show him exactly what we were out there for, but it was a pretty productive day in terms of working on some skills, getting some exercise, and just getting out. The only negative was the discovery of a spot where a bull elk had recently been getting his mojo going for the upcoming rut, which Booker apparently felt was the equivalent of Brut for dogs, or maybe Hai Karate. That was followed by a dip in a stock tank that I brought us foolishly (+/- 100 yards) close to. Hot chessie smells water- no point in even trying to call him off. Of course, water was only a small part of the contents of the tank. I'm not sure what all the green stuff bubbling up from the bottom consisted of, apart from cow droppings. In any event, the ride home was a bit fragrant and the day capped off with a short session under the hose; which he probably figured was a perfect capper to a good day.
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