Joy of Hunting
By Bruce Kania
Montana went to a split season a couple years back. Folks were thinking that our primary hunt is based on migratories. These folks haven’t hunted Shepherd!
We have been boosting production for some fifteen years now. Lots of woodies, blue and green wing teal, and always mallards. More Canadas than ever too!
This year I had a really unusual experience when three gals from Texas came by several days of mixed bag hunting. It was during the first early season so ducks were on the menu, and at one point I had Laura, 83 year young Laura, covering an escape route twenty yards off of one of our favorite jump hunts, wood duck pond. It was the first time the pond had been jumped this year, and it produced! Woodies came off, but not all at once. Laura had several shots and bagged two drakes. Exceptional birds too! Beauties.
Yesterday evening Anne and I were getting itchy towards late afternoon. I’d asked if she had noticed a few ducks at a roosting point downstream on Yellowstone river, which flows by our place. The pocket of quieter water just happens to be visible from the window above her desk. “Yep” she says, “but I can’t tell what they are. Probably teal, but I think there may be mallards there too. Should we give them a try?”
Early season here is ideal for jump shooting as the property has dozens of puddles and oxbows. Hunters can move quietly from one to another, and jump a real mix of birds, including woodies, mallards, teal, gadwall, widgeon, and redheads. Even snipe, which we truly enjoy hunting for their challenging flight plans! Mixed in with doves and pheasants and geese, and indian summer, it makes for ideal hunts!
We snuck on the birds, moving thru willow and tall grass until with my tall frame I had to hold as Anne continued the approach. Finally the birds lifted and we both shot twice. Three birds fell, all green wings. We see more of these guys every year, where initially blues dominated. Now both are here in numbers.
Then we walked farm roads that weave thru our spiral wetland. Breaks in the cattails frequently hold birds, and as we came to open water near one of our designed cobble crossing points, a pair of mallards kicked up, the drake on Anne’s side and a hen on mine. We shot at the same instant, and both birds folded. I’ve never seen it come off just like that. It was as if one shot had been fired at the birds that were twenty feet apart.
The shot had alerted another pair of mallards which we watched until they faded into the distance, so we continued to the wood duck pond. Anne came in on one side, while I held on the other. She and Vio, our youngest yellow lab, kicked up a hen woodie which Anne collected. As Vio retrieved the bird I shifted to cover another smaller pond a bit behind the first, but nothing, so we proceeded on. Between us we’d both passed on four pheasants so far too! We weren’t hunting them just now.
As the sun was edging the horizon we decided to split up…Anne would jump what we call the upper wetland and then proceed onto Minnow Pond, while I would jump a small puddle with a great approach that allows a hunter to appear on the rim within great shotgun range if birds are present. I’d shot a double on mallards there two days earlier.
Just as I got above the pond two rooster pheasants exploded from cover right below me to the left of the pond! This alerted ducks, and they jumped off the right side, but within range. I held on a drake and it folded, then swang my old spanish side by side twelve on another bird, and downed it too. Another double! Then Sam, our matriarch yellow, who hunts for me, did her thing. She’d been on heel for the approach, and actually waited for me to give her a line. Five minutes later she had the birds back to my hand. Deep cover too, but her nose and experience handles it.
About this time I looked up as I heard a shot, and saw birds departing from Minnow Pond. Then I heard the familiar splash of Vio churning water in pursuit of a retrieve.
Anne had connected on a bluewing teal. We were just a five minute walk from home, and enjoyed the orange and scarlet sunset as we headed back. This was t-shirt weather too, and it’s hard to imagine a more pleasant hunt.